You might think that massive layoffs of public employees, cuts in services, and the prospect of insolvency and tax increases would cast a pall on the essentially all Democratic state government in California, especially since this chaos comes scant months after a large budget surplus. But if you did, you would be grossly underestimating the enormous combined political clout of the Golden State’s teachers’ unions, limousine liberals, tribalistic minorities, entertainment industry morons, rapacious developers, and ultra Leftist major newspapers.
Who knows how high the sales tax rate will climb? California’s corporate tax load is already higher than the Fed’s bill for many companies, since the state abolished most deductions to make up some of its shortfall. The bloom is most definitely off the rose in this former golden land, and shows no sign of coming back in this writer’s lifetime. Perhaps things would be different if the other party were in charge. My purpose here, though, is not politics.
There seems to be little point in lamenting the California of my youth, when housing was affordable, freeways were not congested 16 hours per day, and we had something now called “quality of life.”
There are as many definitions of this term as there are self-styled authorities on the subject, but beyond the special matters of how people’s lives are changed after surviving a serious illness, most of us would emphasize those factors in our environment that make our lives more (or less) pleasant. Are we happy in our workplace? How stressful is our commute? How difficult is our financial situation? How much air and noise pollution are we exposed to? Are we satisfied with the services we are receiving—both from the public and private sector? Is there too much tension in our family? Are our homes and neighborhoods too crowded?
Or, put more succinctly, do we enjoy our lives? If not, why not?
Is it the natural fate of man to live a life of “quiet desperation”? As Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) puts it, in his 1854 classic Walden:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.”
If man has free will, this rat race prison must be of his own making! Fortunately, Thoreau also offers a method of escape from this incarceration:
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”
“In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
It sounds easy enough—follow your dreams and simplify your life. The emphasis, of course, is on changing yourself more than changing your environment. In the late 1950’s, the rush was on to leave the hustle and bustle of the city, and find solace in the suburbs. Now, the trend is to avoid the horrible commute, and better enjoy all the city has to offer, by moving back from the suburbs. Ironically, at a point in about the middle of this time line, there was a trend to urbanize the suburbs by moving the workplaces there.
Many will be slaves to contemporary fashion and will never achieve peace, being caught up in a nonstop barrage of newer and hipper trends and events. Many will believe that if only they had more money, or had married someone else, or had a different job, their quality of life would be so much better. But the world is full of wealthy people with supposedly excellent jobs, who have changed spouses, and are nonetheless unhappy or even suicidal.
The proliferation of government requires that people believe their problems must be solved by some external agency, trumping their inherent self-reliance. With the public schools pushing this philosophy nonstop, it is a wonder that they still teach Walden. Then again, the administrators probably never read it, and only include it in the curriculum because it is fashionable and expected of them.