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Works and Days

The Quiet Californians

October 1st, 2012 - 7:51 pm

Failure Is Very Much an Option

We know what would save the state’s public schools — a return to grammar and syntax, reading, history, math, science, and the elimination of the entire therapeutic, multicultural, and politically correct curriculum. But we, the quiet ones, also know that to reset schools would evoke such outcry that it is not worth the effort — take the Wisconsin mess and treble it here. The rich who designed and hence ruined the K-12 public schools avoid them; the middle class seeks to staff and run them; the poor both suffer in them and do their own smaller part to make things worse. (Cannot we also blame the gang-banger who sneers at the teacher while he uses his cell phone in class, or the 15-year-old girl who needs prenatal counseling, or the graffiti artist who destroys the bathroom?)

Why the disconnect between abject political failure and overwhelming public support for what is destroying the state? Silicon Valley is booming. Apple may become the wealthiest company in history. Google, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Yahoo, eBay, and Hewlett-Packard rack up billions in worldwide revenue. Chevron still has lots of oil and gas wells, and is redeveloping them at record prices. The California Rule: Liberals are quite conservative in the way they make money. Apple cuts costs. Google lays off employees. Intel demands results. In an odd Obama-way, California businesses have an advantage: because they vote so liberally, they can do almost anything they please.

As long as someone wants an iPhone in Lima, and another in Mumbai sprinkles almonds on his rice, or a cash-flush Chinese provincial governor sends his only son to Caltech, things in California can go on for some time.

Quietism

How do sane people, without great wealth that might provide exemption from all this, cope? They tune out. They psychologically drop out, in the manner of the ancient quietists of Athens in the 4th-century B.C. (the apragmones in search of hesuchia) who learned that one cannot fight the mob, but only seek to escape it. I bump into and talk with these latter-day quietists quite often. They are generally happy folk but have developed a certain psychological protocol by which to survive. The quietist trusts more the ancient wisdom in hallowed texts that warns democracy implodes when the masses finally assume absolute control and vote themselves entitlements that even the shrinking rich can no longer sustain.  So they don’t get in the way between the mob and their entitlements.

Look on the Bright Side

If the state idles farm land, puts drilling off limits, and drives out business, the quietist accepts that those who do such things do them because they never affect the authors directly, and when in the future they do, they will cease and desist — and it will be mostly too late. He assumes that the whiners at the $4 a gallon gas pump never make the equation that there may be 30 billion barrels in untapped oil 150 miles away, right off the California shore. (Instead, “they” rigged the prices.) The quietist assumes that few connect the horrific highways to an incompetent state whose highest gasoline taxes in the nation have translated into some of the country’s worse roads, or to the drivers who customarily lose brush, limbs, and mattresses from their trucks, shutting down lanes for hours.

No matter  – the quietist adjusts and drives at weird hours, as if he were some owl or nocturnal beast; it is not that hard to live a life pretty much opposite of what the majority does. There are plenty of quietists who can advise you. They are experts on how to navigate in a beautiful but otherwise insane state. Ask a tree-cutter, small garage owner, custom tractor driver, or self-employed tile setter — they all have advice on how to survive. Usually, however, they end with something like, “Of course my kids should get a state job.” In 1960, rare state employees were noble folk who were willing to make less for job security and a sense of public service; today they are lotto winners who hit the jackpot.

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