Saturday, September 8, 2018

Traveling through the American West: It Stinks in LA and San Francisco - André F. Lichtschlag

However, in the end the US might be less threatened by decline than old Europe
The United States of America are a divided country. This is a truism, as the entire Western world has long since descended into a culture war. But the assumption is that the divide in the US is perhaps even deeper and the majorities in this domestic political cold war are possibly narrower than in Europe. Reasons for taking a closer look. Last year I visited the heartland of one side, Trumpistan, the “Bible Belt,” home of the Rednecks, Dixie, the great Old South. equity & freedom reported (see ‘The Confederacy Lives,’ 1 January 2018).
This summer we took a look around the “other America,” the epicenter of progressive renewal and politically correct re-education in and around Hollywood and Silicon Valley on the West Coast. In California, where all modern left-wing movements from Haight-Ashbury to Berkeley and Castro Street to Burning Man have their origins, and of course, since we were there, also the neighboring states with their places of outstanding natural beauty and often completely different, more down-to-earth ideas of society.
The most striking difference compared to last year? The countless homeless people in the west coast cities. Many of them are completely unkempt, obviously close to insanity or already far beyond. Gesticulating or screaming wildly and for no reason, they roam the sidewalks. Others sneak around quietly with an empty, vacant stare – one can imagine where Hollywood's zombie stories found their inspiration. But there are also others, at first glance still quite “normal,” where the fact that they live on the street becomes apparent only when, after a friendly smile, they suddenly start looking for something usable in the next garbage can. These must be the people above all who are meant when the fate of more and more homeless people is explained with exploding property prices in the centers of the entertainment and communication industries. However, that’s an explanation that falls short, if no mention is made of central bank dollars spouting from nowhere, which are precisely not caused by capitalism and the principle of competition, but by a forcibly monopolised, extremely socialist monetary system that Karl Marx himself had once thought of.
For the zombies and crazy people, however, and the hopeless drug wrecks, even this explanation doesn’t cover everything. In the Old South, as we were able to observe, the traditional social structures are still largely intact, families pick up members who look like they are slipping away, and the many church communities also provide very concrete local help, through direct contact, supporting and demanding change – and definitely not as an anonymous authority. Much of that has disappeared in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here what you see from time to time is just a lost individual without any support. Family ties, long since damaged by left-wing propaganda, were replaced by the antisocial welfare state. And just as the Soviet flag once flew over the Reichstag (the German parliament building in Berlin), huge rainbow flags hang from some (Lutheran) church towers – as we saw in, of course, Hollywood, for example – as a sign of surrender and takeover. Bureaucracy is growing rampant.
When I returned to California from Nevada and the many places of outstanding natural beauty further east, that was the first time I noticed huge government billboards – “Rebuilding California,” a cynicism we know from North Korea or the EU. At least they add – and this message is usually withheld in Germany – “your tax dollars at work.” Worse still, another Californian speciality that I did not see anywhere else, are the constant calls for denunciation on road signs: “Report drunk drivers, call 911...”
In the end, socialism is the same everywhere, and if there is relatively advanced socialism anywhere in the US, then in “California über alles.” Socialism always kills, in the end. What was new for me was this: socialism stinks. The omnipresent penetrating urine smell on the streets of the metropolises is almost unbearable. The mere sight of the many homeless was, after all, not the worst.
But this account is unfair – because there is also another, positive aspect of modern progressivism. Namely entrepreneurial progress and creative destruction as explained by Schumpeter. Silicon Valley and Hollywood are centers of unbridled capitalism in the areas of entertainment and networking. And this is where the modern “sharing economy” was, and is, being driven forward. There are hardly any old licensed cabs left in San Francisco, and those that are, are dirty and scruffy. For the first time in my life I had a ride in an Uber car – and behold, the driving experience in the free transport market was more comfortable, cleaner and, above all, much cheaper because no bureaucrat was involved. The Uber app alone is an experience – you can see your location on the city map, and around it the nearby vehicles move around like little bugs. One of them came shortly after my call in record time - oh miracle of capitalism.
But while Uber remains largely banned in the EUSSR, Southern California has long since moved on. With short trip offers. This summer's hottest thing are electric scooters standing around everywhere – they look like the scooters of our childhood, but have an electric drive that propels them as fast as a moped. Anyone can download the app from billion-dollar start-up companies Bird or Lime and activate the next scooter standing on the road or, if not in sight, easily locate it like the Uber bug. Then the first ten minutes cost three dollars – and off you go, often visibly with a lot of fun. At the end of the ride, the scooter is left at the side of the road, ready for the next customer or for charging the batteries at night, organised by the company. In California, too, there is of course a discussion about road safety concerns – but unlike in Germany, what is not prohibited is, for the time being, allowed. And by next year at the latest, this new industry will already be too strong to be banned, even if one wanted to, which is unlikely when it has millions of satisfied customers.
It was a pity that you absolutely still need a US driver's license to activate the scooter the first time to prove your identity, but by next year at the latest hundreds of thousands of tourists willing to pay will certainly not be turned away again – it’s all a question of optimization and ever better programming.
The densely populated southern part of California is a world in itself, an urban sprawl – to the east and north of it one encounters fewer people. More agreeable. And more conservative. Other parallel societies are the huge Native American reservations in Arizona or the Mormons in their state of Utah. Native Americans can't drink alcohol, we joked before we could watch four of them at the bar in the evening, three men and a woman. The woman drank and never uttered a word, while the male Native American trio spoke, babbled, laughed, screamed out loud for two hours as if from one throat, just one word. F…! F…! F…! Compared with these four indigenous artists in the small town of Page, every hearty Oktoberfest visitor will be remembered as a meek choirboy.
A few miles further, we cross the border to Utah. Of all places. Maybe the Mormons could tolerate alcohol better. But that’s not the only thing they don’t drink , they also shun coffee and tea, I don’t know how they manage it – and of course it’s not only marijuana they don’t smoke. But the center of its capital Salt Lake City, Temple Square, is impressive. Non-Mormons are not allowed to enter the sacred building itself. We looked at the scaled-down model in the information centre. There is no mistaking the relationship to Freemasonry. Then I smiled a little about their faith in a Jesus who appeared in America immediately after his resurrection – and heard the wise question: What is less likely about that per se than the beliefs of any other religion? Well, I didn't see any homeless people in Salt Lake City, and I didn't smell tons of urine or clouds of narcotics on the street. But Uber exists here too. Unrestricted. And once again we are reminded of the social value per se of every religion that creates civilization, as long as the religious freedom of the individual is guaranteed – which is in essence, by the way, a Christian dogma.
A word about Las Vegas. As in the centers of Southern California, marijuana can be smelled at every second corner. In an intensity, by the way, against which every coffee shop in Amsterdam still passes as staid Café Kranzler in Berlin. But this is rather a pleasant change for the afflicted noses. No, Las Vegas is much more than a new or mega-Amsterdam, a tasteless mixture of Ballermann on Mallorca, Disneyland and Reeperbahn in Hamburg in the middle of the blistering heat of the Nevada desert, a very special cultural mystery whose puzzling success must be explained by the many Americans who go there one to four times a year to play, drink and eat very badly - from glittery plastic dishes.
But, even in the west, the small and medium-sized towns are really beautiful. While last year we had come to appreciate and love Natchez in Mississippi, Savannah in Georgia and the entire state of South Carolina with pearls like Beaufort and Charleston, in the north of San Francisco we recommend wine-loving Napa and the picturesque coastal town of Mendocino, extolled by Michael Holm, south of the bay the Monterey peninsula and the student and artist town of San Luis Obispo (connoisseurs may say “Slo”) and two insider tips, small and large: first Black Barts Steakhouse in Flagstaff (the town near the Grand Canyon) – an inconspicuous saloon with guests from the nearby camp site, in which all waiters (film and music students on part-time jobs) suddenly start singing one after the other and sometimes simultaneously, accompanied only by a bar pianist. Unique. And second, the state of Idaho, where you quickly feel just as comfortable as in Bavaria. Because it looks like Bavaria.
Oh yes, even the house breweries on the Pacific coast (that brew craft beer with the courage to include hops) are better than in good old Germany with its bad old industrial beers. In addition, there is the wine from Napa and Co, mostly pure grape varieties, which in many locations has also qualitatively left behind the old European masters. Thanks not least to omnipresent automatic irrigation systems, of course – when it comes to profit thanks to product optimization, even Californian “Eco-Stalinists” don’t mind turning a blind eye.
What impressions remain after two exploratory trips through the US? America is divided in a different way from Europe. More. And, at the same time, less so. For the United States are marked by further, older, perhaps even deeper divisions than just those between right and left, or countryside and city; just look at the largely autonomous parallel societies such as those of the Native American tribes or the Mormons. The ethnic groups, this first impression from the South was confirmed, also largely keep themselves to themselves. Black people keep company mainly with blacks, Asians – of whom there are more in the West – with Asians, Mexicans with Mexicans, and so on. Their strengths – such as the proverbial warmth and helpfulness, apparent again in the West, albeit not quite as often and deep as in the great Old South – and weaknesses, see “cultured” Las Vegas, to which progressives and conservatives pilgrimage, unite all Americans, with or without Trump. Just like their pleasant, unideological pragmatism in everyday life and, as a little eccentricity, their love of extraordinary sports. In the end, the culture war fronts run only partially parallel to those in old Europe: very few progressives in Germany defend the freedom of Uber or Bird. Our conservatives even less so. So we have very different cognitive-intellectual problems. No one is forced to consume and finance the politically correct teachings from Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Our licence TV broadcasters ARD and ZDF operate on the basis of other principles. America is better at some things. Even on the west coast.

Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on 28th July 2018.