Frisco’s Dystopian Showcase

What if you took a bunch of ideas that all your most passionate pals agreed were either cool, edgy, just or moral, and mixed them together in a big pot? You would end up with San Francisco.

The basic problem is the steady collapse of livability. Across my home state, traffic and transportation is a developing-world nightmare. Child care and education seem impossible for all but the wealthiest. The problems of affordable housing and homelessness have surpassed all superlatives — what was a crisis is now an emergency that feels like a dystopian showcase of American inequality.

The problem with reducing problems to the “basic problem” is why Farhad Manjoo, and those who view their world with the facile simplicity that created this American Experiment in progress can stare their failure in the face and still fail to understand how everything went awry.

Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape: Homeless veterans are surviving on an economy of trash from billionaires’ mansions. Wealthy homeowners are crowdfunding a legal effort arguing that a proposed homeless shelter is an environmental hazard.

And there is no end in sight to such crushing success. At every level of government, our representatives, nearly all of them Democrats, prove inadequate and unresponsive to the challenges at hand.

The impulse to build a fence around San Francisco, and name it after this guy, Chesterton, would seem hard to resist to everyone who isn’t blinded by self-serving belief. Instead, Manjoo points the fickle finger of blame at the fashionable stalking horses, income inequality and NIMBYism.

It was another chapter in a dismal saga of Nimbyist urban mismanagement that is crushing American cities. Not-in-my-backyardism is a bipartisan sentiment, but because the largest American cities are populated and run by Democrats — many in states under complete Democratic control — this sort of nakedly exclusionary urban restrictionism is a particular shame of the left.

It’s impossible to escape the fact that San Francisco is a progressive paradise, controlled not only by Democrats, but a notably leftist strain, and so something must have screwed up the otherwise unassailable scheme to regulate every tiny inch of justice and morality for all. Much like the proponents of socialism explain, the problem isn’t socialism, but that it’s never been done properly because people just won’t stick with the program. They love humanity. It’s people they can’t stand.

So it’s the billionaires’ fault that they can’t build massive low-rent projects to provide affordable housing for the homeless, forcing them to shoot up and defecate down?

There are many threads in the story of America’s increasingly unlivable cities. One continuing tragedy is the decimation of local media and the rise of nationalized politics in its place. In America the “local” problems plaguing cities are systematically sidelined by the structure of the national media and government, in which the presidency, the Senate and the Supreme Court are all constitutionally tilted in favor of places where no one lives. (There are more than twice as many people in my midsize suburban county, Santa Clara, as there are in the entire state of North Dakota, with its two United States senators.)

And it’s America’s fault, having a system that doesn’t allow Santa Clara County to control the nation, because its local failures would be far more sufferable if everyone lived in the same dystopia? Manjoo blames the progressive billionaires for not “living by the values they profess to support at the national level.”

Is he mad? If they did, if all progressives did, they would give up their college seats, their Teslas and their house keys to the oppressed. There would be no billionaires, no millionaires either, because hoarding undeserved wealth is unjustifiable and inexcusable. There would still be homeless, but they would all be former billionaires. Then there would be new wealthy people treating the old formerly wealthy people like dirt because they don’t want them delivering feces on their front lawn.

Creating dense, economically and socially diverse urban environments ought to be a paramount goal of progressivism.

America, the dense, is the dream? A city reduced to its lowest common denominator? A nation where no one lives above the average so they can share whatever they’ve got to lift up everyone below the average, no matter why they’re down and out?

This is where some passionate wag throws out the challenge, “So what’s the answer, dumbass?” And some even more passionate wag snarks, “So, you support Trump, you racist shitlord?”

Cities are the standard geographical unit of the global economy. Dense urban areas are quite literally the “real America” — the cities are where two-thirds of Americans live, and they account for almost all national economic output. Urban areas are the most environmentally friendly way we know of housing lots of people. We can’t solve the climate crisis without vastly improving public transportation and increasing urban density. More than that, metropolises are good for the psyche and the soul; density fosters tolerance, diversity, creativity  and progress.

There is no “answer.” Every “answer” carries with it new problems and trade-offs, which aren’t white-washed by fuzzy rhetoric like “good for the psyche and the soul.” Density fosters tolerance? It also fosters competition for scarce resources, like a little peace and quiet, the ability to enjoy one’s home and life without having your neighbor breathing down your neck.

But before we can begin to decide which choices, if any, would best serve our cities or our nation, we need to take a non-ideological and brutally honest look at the problems. Extolling the fuzzy virtues of social justice one notion at a time may be good enough for most insipid progressives, but the outcome is San Francisco, an American experiment in social engineering.

Tread carefully with progress so you don’t step on a needle or feces on your way out of this dystopian showcase. There’s not much point in being a billionaire if your life sucks. Like it or not, the goal is to improve one’s lifestyle, to attain a degree of wealth and comfort, which is why it’s easier to emote about social justice on social media than hand over the keys to the Ferrari to the next homeless guy who comes along.

26 thoughts on “Frisco’s Dystopian Showcase

  1. DaveL

    More than that, metropolises are good for the psyche and the soul; density fosters tolerance, diversity, creativity and progress.

    Yes, crowding people together is good for them. Hey, it worked for crops in the Soviet Union and Maoist China, why wouldn’t it work for people in America?

  2. Guitardave

    ( Big thanks to Cluthu for turning me on to Toino K….Alfredo Alweg on the kit.!!!!)

  3. Noxx

    I always particularly fond of the argument that states like the Dakotas should give up their representation and just be quietly behaved colonies. The hypocrisy is delicious over my coffee.

    1. SHG Post author

      The love of democracy ebbs and flows with the belief that you’ve got the numbers to get what you want. If it was reversed, the argument would be that the masses are asses and the truth must prevail, even if its only grasped by the passionate minority. In the meantime, we’ve got the system we’ve got, even if Nevada is happy to give up its representation to Santa Clara County.

      1. Nigel Declan

        So the problems in San Francisco are so bad as to have “surpassed all superlatives,” but it is still a model for rural America to emulate. Makes sense.

  4. Skink

    “Dense urban areas are quite literally the ‘real America’ — the cities are where two-thirds of Americans live, and they account for almost all national economic output.”

    The link is to the Census, which does not discuss “dense urban areas,” but all incorporated places. That includes an Alaskan city with an area of 28,000 square miles. Two-thirds of the U.S. population do not live in “dense urban areas.” They live in places with a local government.

    But, go ahead, let loose the primary protection against populism. Give San Francisco eight senators!

  5. Rojas

    Out here in the middle where the buffalo roam, we’re putting up towers for your cell phones.

    1. Fubar

      Leave whatever anatomical part you want.

      Just don’t call it Frisco. Or the ghost of Herb Caen will haunt you forever.

  6. L. Phillips

    “Dense urban areas are quite literally the “real America” — the cities are where two-thirds of Americans live, and they account for almost all national economic output.”

    And I would wager that dense urban areas account for almost none of national food output, or essential mineral output, or building products output. It’s almost like a symbiotic relationship that, if based on mutual respect, could be the basis for a great nation – or something.

  7. B. McLeod

    Since the San Francisco billionaires do not need to work, they could all devote their time to cultivating elaborate rose gardens. They could work out an arrangement with the homeless junkies whereby they would pay the homeless junkies to deposit their feces around the bases of the rose plants, rather than on the lawn. The rate of compensation should be fairly based on what the billionaires would accordingly be relieved from paying to have composted manure delivered by their local nurseries. The billionaires would benefit from a rewarding hobby, aesthetically improving the appearance of their property. San Francisco would benefit from its new image as a city of rose gardens, and the homeless junkies would have a new source of income.

    You’re welcome, San Francisco. You should have brought this to my attention sooner.

    -B. McLeod-

    1. Jeff

      Over a decade ago, I threw out the idea of using the homeless to deliver food to workers in the urban centre. You’d need lock boxes where the end customer had the key – you couldn’t trust a homeless person with the smell of your McDonald’s fries – but they’d get an income and something to keep them moving on the cold winter streets, and you’d get your Starbucks without leaving your desk. If a cabbie would do it for a surcharge, why not a bum?

      Then, of course, came skip the dishes and uber eats. Corporate America is literally stealing food from the mouths of the downtrodden. Nothing new under the sun, I guess.

  8. Anthony Kehoe

    People talk about how 1984 is not supposed to be a how-to manual. But reading this brought different material to mind – Judge Dredd. Is the author seriously suggesting that we should model our society after the Megacities? I mean, we’re a long way there, especially with social justice “Judges” that act as judge, jury and executioner. It’s not too far a stretch to take the ultimate penalty of death as the logical end-goal. For the people who really deserve it, of course, like shitlords.

            1. B. McLeod

              I have a poetic license as well, and am willing to sub-license the Admiral for purposes of the “Frisco” reference.

  9. Pedantic Grammar Police

    In the 1950’s researcher John Calhoun experimented with mouse and rat utopias where unlimited food was provided. Common areas were provided as well as a few secluded “apartments.” The results were much like San Francisco. The strongest rats defended the sparsely populated apartments and lived in luxury with their chosen companions; the rest were crowded into the common areas where they lived in feces and attacked each other.

    Another case of politicians using a dystopian prediction as a blueprint instead of as a warning.

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