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Jerry Brown's Oedipal Struggle

Joel Kotkin gets to the core of what's driving California's water woes, writing a rare must-read voice of sanity in the otherwise mentally arid wasteland that is the Daily Beast:

Indeed, if you look at California’s greatest achievements as a society, the Pat Brown legacy stands at the core. The California Aqueduct turned vast stretches of the Central Valley into one of the most productive farming regions in the world. The freeway system, now in often shocking disrepair, allowed for the construction of mass suburbia that offered millions a quality of life never experienced by previous generations. At the same time the development of energy resources—California still boasts the nation’s third-largest oil production—helped create a huge industrial base that included aerospace, semiconductors, and a host of specialized industries, from logistics to garment manufacturing.

In contrast, Jerry Brown has waged a kind of Oedipal struggle against his father’s legacy. Like many Californians, he recoiled against the sometimes haphazard and even ugly form of development that plowed through much of the state. Cutting off water is arguably the most effective way to stop all development, and promote Brown’s stated goal of eliminating suburban “sprawl.” It is typical that his first target for cutbacks this year has been the “lawns” of the middle-class suburbanite, a species for which he has shown little interest or tolerance.

But it’s not just water that exemplifies the current “era of limits” psychology. Energy development has always been in green crosshairs and their harassment has all but succeeded in helping drive much of the oil and gas industry, including corporate headquarters, out of the state. Not building roads—arguably to be replaced by trains—has not exactly reduced traffic but given California the honor of having eight of the top 20 cities nationally with poor roads; the percentage of Los Angeles-area residents who take transit has, if anything, declined slightly since train-building began. All we are left with are impossible freeways, crumbling streets, and ever more difficulty doing anything that requires traveling.

It isn't just Jerry Brown; since the mid-1960s, the entire new left versus old, New Deal-era left struggle has been driven by an Oedipal Boomer-era hatred of their parents; as this telling anecdote from from former leftist turned pioneering neoconservative Norman Podhoretz highlighted, in an article titled "America the Ugly" at the Wall Street Journal in 2007:

It was of an evening in the year 1960, when I went to address a meeting of left-wing radicals on a subject that had then barely begun to show the whites of its eyes: the possibility of American military involvement in a faraway place called Vietnam and the need to begin mobilizing opposition to it. Accompanying me that evening was the late Marion Magid, a member of my staff at Commentary, of which I had recently become the editor. As we entered the drafty old hall on Union Square in Manhattan, Marion surveyed the 50 or so people in the audience and whispered to me: "Do you realize that every young person in this room is a tragedy to some family or other?"

The memory of this quip brought back to life some sense of how unpromising the future had then appeared to be for that bedraggled-looking assemblage. No one would have dreamed that these young people, and the generation about to descend from them politically and culturally, would within the blink of a historical eye come to be hailed by many members of the very "Establishment" they were trying to topple as (in the representative words of Prof. Archibald Cox of Harvard Law School) "the best informed, the most intelligent, and the most idealistic this country has ever known."

More incredible yet, in a mere decade the ideas and attitudes of the new movement, cleaned up but essentially unchanged, would turn one of our two major parties upside down and inside out.

The following year, James Lileks explored the midcentury America the boomers were handed by their parents and how violently they've been trying to smash it, ever since:

I blame the boomers, of course. ;) If you’re going to make a fetish out of the Authentic Values of Adolescence, with its withering critiques of humanity, then you’re going to value the slouch and the sneer as signs of a Deep and Serious Person.  The Boomers were handed a Utopian ideal – practical, technocratic, rational, with silver wheels in the sky tended over by engineers and scientists -- and they abandoned it for a Dionysian version based on wrecking and remaking the world they’d inherited. Their patron saint: Holy St. Caulfield, who identified the greatest sin in the human soul: being a phoney. Better to be an authentic bastard than someone who cannot successfully convince a teenager that some ideas have an importance that transcend the ability of the individual to manifest them 24/7.

Of course they got sour; if you believe a Utopia is possible if we just retinker human behavior to eliminate greed and dress codes and football and anything else that reminds us of Dad, be it the specific one or the unseen National Dad that rules the boardrooms and bedrooms and cloakrooms of DC, then the failure of this world makes it a dystopia, the worst of all possible worlds.

Some suggest that the great disenchantment began with the assassination of JFK, and I see the point. But it’s strange that it led to a loss of faith in us, given who shot the President. (Yes, I’m one of those lone-gunman wackos. I’m a freethinker! I refuse to accept concensus!) If Oswald had been a card-carrying Kluxer or a dead-ender Bircher or some sort of far-right-wing nutcase, I wonder if we would have accepted the Warren Commission and moved along. But no, he was a Communist. Well obviously there has to be more to it, then. Same with Sirhan Sirhan: his motivation will forever be a mystery, won’t it?

Once you start to believe in the dark shadowy forces, you’re done with the world. You’re done engaging it, you’re done enjoying it. There’s no point. It’s a sham, a shell, a shiny façade erected by the Jews / Bilderburgers / Trilateral Commission/ Council on Foreign Relations /  Project for a New American Century / Masons / Knights Templar / Illuminati / Federal Reserve / Rockefeller-Royal Family Nexus / Bush Crime Syndicate / League of Grim Intent, and all you can do is post on the internet and call talk radio to argue with the hosts who think we’re free people.

And choose the fate of the Delta Smelt over the quality of life of your fellow citizens. Who have been voting with their feet for several years, since their voices haven't been heard in Sacramento for at least two decades.  As Moe Lane writes, "at the rate things are going" vis-a-vis the state's man-made drought, "California is going to start out-migrating within the next three years. Just in time for the next Census… and won’t that cause a ruckus."