“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” goes a pre-woke idiom, perhaps more respectfully phrased as, “it isn’t over until the beautiful human being sings their final farewell song.” Either way, it’s over, California, at least the latest eco-cultural tech-bro (anti-) social media wave. Musk has cut Twitter into Twit, Zuckerberg has meta on his mind, and the army of Peter Pan app developers has decamped to Miami or Manhattan. Goodbye to a grim era, which was nowhere near as fun as the endless Summer of Love, the 1950s beatnik and 1990s art explosion that begat Burning Man, or the period in which Apollo missions to the moon and other space-related activities were the state’s high-tech darlings.
What next, a Californian might ask. Because there’s always something next. And here’s what it is: a return to the can-do creativity in which the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the State Water Project was constructed, and the University of California, supported by California State Universities and the community college system, emerged as the nation’s most prized higher education system. It’s time, that is, for us and our government to excel at creating a better future, in real life.
The stakes are far higher than whether a video of a baby licking a cat will go viral, or if calling Trump a poo-poo head violates Facebook’s moral code (the correct appellation is President Poo-Poo Head). As this, last year’s, and next year’s Marvel movie might have it, the fate of the entire planet rests on California. The state, almost alone, will determine whether a significant population can withdraw from fossil fuels as a climate right strategy while maintaining not just a decent standard of living, but a joie de vivre that makes life worth living. What’s more, with democratic discourse and political fair play beaten down throughout the globe in part because of California’s contribution to creating social media, the state has an extra responsibility to safeguard civil society, including here at home.
The stats are well known. California is the biggest, baddest, coolest, trend-setting nation-state of them all, courtesy of our incredible native awesomeness, world class economy, and a megaphone as large as the Hollywood Hills and Silicon Valley. When we triumph, everybody knows about it. When we fail, same.
Right now, in this moment, we’re not exactly triumphing. The outgoing message is that our streets, formally paved with gold, are presently surfaced with drug-addled mental cases, bedded down on copious amounts of litter, occasionally rousing themselves to hammer a politician or their spouse in the head. Our houses are way too expensive. Our schools are meh, forced to grapple with a myriad of challenges with insufficient resources. Our elected officials try their best, but many suffer from undiagnosed, or perhaps intentionally cultivated, ADHD, and rely on deceptive promises to attract votes. Many of our bureaucratic institutions need to be beat like a rug to dislodge the ground-in dirt. The views are nice, though.
Let’s turn it around, California. For our sakes, and for the world’s.
Excellent government requires excellent citizens, whose goal is not to get rich quick, but to improve the lives and environment of those around them, in a disciplined, transparent way. Fortunately, we’ve been training for this moment for decades. Jungian therapy, primal screaming, Esalen, Hoffman, and Star retreats, LSD and psilocybin, EST, Dianetics, heliotropic breathing. We’ve dived deep to change our consciousness, to be ready for the call, to be the change we want. Black Panthers, United Farmworkers, Vice Versa – the first North American lesbian publication – all emerged in California, a creche for collective individualism. It’s again time to harness our unique and sometimes conflicting mix of intense introspection, self-absorption, communitarianism, creativity, eco-localism, live and let live prosperity and channel it into building a place where everyone wants to be, so that they’ll want to make where they live the same.
We’ve done it before. We can definitely do it again.
We’ll need to focus, to be sure, in ways that we’re not so good at. The adage, no shoes, no shirt, no service – or no foot coverings and torso wrappers of your choosing – should be relentless applied as part of civil society, democratic discourse and associated institutional implementation. Meaning show up, listen when someone else is speaking, don’t lie, don’t steal. Pay people, especially teachers and journalists, what they’re worth, and congruently but in a different direction, do the same for venture capitalists and chief executive officers. Avoid worshipping excessive wealth. Simple rules, really, but revolutionary in today’s free-for-all, even, especially, in California, where the search for gold, metallic or otherwise, is part of our cultural fabric.
At its best, California is the world’s dream machine, and, occasionally, an actual paradise on earth for those who love beauty, tolerance, and creativity. Let’s be at our finest, model to the world a place of environmental peace and equitable prosperity. The next big thing could be authoritarian eco-chaos. Or it could be us.