"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We're All Californians Now

Victor Davis Hanson has a brave and chilling article up in which he riffs on his experiences as a farmer in the Central Valley of California, and the current wave of drive-by thefts that is terrorizing its citizens, analogizing the decline of California to the decline of America to the Decline of the West and, ultimately, back in time, to the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   Here's a taste, but read the whole thing if you want to be depressed and angry:

I have been on the lookout around my farm for a predatory, nearly new, grey/silver Toyota truck that drives in and then speeds out — always a day or so before the nocturnal theft....

One of the stranger things in the California Corridor is to periodically walk around a barnyard and notice: “Hmm, that set of rusted furrowers is gone? Hmmm, what happened to those sections of 2-inch pipe? Hmmm, didn’t I have an old compressor next to the shed? Have I got dementia, or wasn’t there once upon a time three metal ladders leaning against the shop?” It is as if they became animate, grew legs, and quietly walked off in the sunset.
Twice I ran into the barnyard to see the truck, with its two gangbanger youths, peel off in clouds of dust....  The Toyota is always around when theft occurs, and always speeding off when anyone spots it....   I know of no neighboring farm that has not been broken into or fought/scared off such intruders.

So it is that in 1935 poor people scraped and saved to cast a bronze plaque for their Depression-era new city hall, and in 2011 rather more affluent people ripped it off to melt it down for a layaway payment on some chrome rims or another round of meth.

Where are we going with this?

Yes, I confess once more to the same destination as the flash mobs and the London riots. What we think in the West now as too little is far too much. Both these thieves could trade in their multi-thousand-dollar trucks for cash to buy food, rather than steal the property of others and cause mayhem to make their payments. Heck, the rims alone are worth $1000.... To suggest that they could do without the trucks or go without the dole, is not — channeling the president’s most recent speech warning against anti-government zealots — the same as wanting children to suffer from mercury poisoning or to render us helpless against the healthcare industry or to destroy government and want to start over from scratch....

Maybe it is a fine and noble thing that the Obama administration vastly extended unemployment insurance. And, bravo, that nearly 50 million are now on food stamps. But a tragic voice from the past warns us that the more we diminish human incentives and guarantee a sort of cushioned permanent poverty, two things result: one, fewer people scramble to find productive work; and, two, envy sharpens as they begin to turn on their benefactors as being cheap, or mean-spirited in never giving quite enough to ensure parity with “them.” A cherry-red new truck or silver Toyota is never quite what others might have.

The problem with those who invaded my farm this summer was not poverty, but too much — at least in the sense of driving late-model trucks as they sought to destroy the lives and tranquility of others to get things that, by the very fact of their mode of transportation, they did not need. For the last two years, I have witnessed two constants: late-model cars in the valley shopping centers, an epidemic of obesity apparent to the naked eye, majorities on plastic food stamp debt cards, without apparent work in mid-morning, and a general unhappiness in the check-out lines that the government, state, city, etc. is not doing enough for them. All that is coupled with a media message of a cruel, heartless society that needs to do more for its oppressed — and a popular culture that damns any so witless and heartless for pointing the contradictions out.


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