Where’s Mel Gibson When You Need Him?
George Miller’s 1981 post-apocalyptic film The Road Warrior envisioned an impoverished world of the future. Tribal groups fought over what remained of a destroyed Western world of law, technology, and mass production. Survival went to the fittest — or at least those who could best scrounge together the artifacts of a long gone society somewhat resembling the present West.
In the case of the Australian film, the culprit for the detribalization of the Outback was some sort of global war or perhaps nuclear holocaust that had destroyed the social fabric. Survivors were left with a memory of modern appetites but without the ability to reproduce the means to satisfy them: in short, a sort of Procopius’s description of Gothic Italy circa AD 540.
Sometimes, and in some places, in California I think we have nearly descended into Miller’s dark vision — especially the juxtaposition of occasional high technology with premodern notions of law and security. The state deficit is at $16 billion. Stockton went bankrupt; Fresno is rumored to be next. Unemployment stays over 10% and in the Central Valley is more like 15%. Seven out of the last eleven new Californians went on Medicaid, which is about broke. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients are in California. In many areas, 40% of Central Valley high school students do not graduate — and do not work, if the latest crisis in finding $10 an hour agricultural workers is any indication. And so on.
Our culprit out here was not the Bomb (and remember, Hiroshima looks a lot better today than does Detroit, despite the inverse in 1945). The condition is instead brought on by a perfect storm of events that have shred the veneer of sophisticated civilization. Add up the causes. One was the destruction of the California rural middle class. Manufacturing jobs, small family farms, and new businesses disappeared due to globalization, high taxes, and new regulations. A pyramidal society followed of a few absentee land barons and corporate grandees, and a mass of those on entitlements or working for government or employed at low-skilled service jobs. The guy with a viable 60 acres of almonds ceased to exist.
Illegal immigration did its share. No society can successfully absorb some 6-7 million illegal aliens, in less than two decades, the vast majority without English, legality, or education from the poorer provinces of Mexico, the arrivals subsidized by state entitlements while sending billions in remittances back to Mexico — all in a politicized climate where dissent is demonized as racism. This state of affairs is especially true when the host has given up on assimilation, integration, the melting pot, and basic requirements of lawful citizenship.
Terrible governance was also a culprit, in the sense that the state worked like a lottery: those lucky enough by hook or by crook to get a state job thereby landed a bonanza of high wages, good benefits, no accountability, and rich pensions that eventually almost broke the larger and less well-compensated general society. When I see hordes of Highway Patrolmen writing tickets in a way they did not before 2008, I assume that these are revenue-based, not safety-based, protocols — a little added fiscal insurance that pensions and benefits will not be cut.
A coarsening of popular culture — a nationwide phenomenon — was intensified, as it always is, in California. The internet, video games, and modern pop culture translated into a generation of youth that did not know the value of hard work or a weekend hike in the Sierra. They didn’t learn how to open a good history book or poem, much less acquire even basic skills such as mowing the lawn or hammering a nail. But California’s Generation X did know that they were “somebody” whom teachers and officials dared not reprimand, punish, prosecute, or otherwise pass judgment on for their anti-social behavior. Add all that up with a whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast that was more worried about wind power, gay marriage, ending plastic bags in the grocery stores — and, well, you get the present-day Road Warrior culture of California.