Saturday, January 14, 2012

The notion that Utopia will spontaneously manifest: a dissenting view from the West Coast

The concept of natural self organization had quite a few test runs on the West Coast through the scores of towns formed from nothing by western migration. Unlike the Plains, once the Native Americans were destroyed, the fertile land of the West Coast was amenable to a high standard of living, giving it a paradisal aura. What did these spontaneously organized economic and cultural experiments and demonstrations of paradise in action, of the and the American Dream realized, create?

Well, if their descendants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries are any guide, they created prosperous, rabidly conservative, xenophobic societies. The West Coast's dirty little secret is that in the Northwest and California the settlers who preceded the later industry fueled migration created some of the most reactionary towns in the country. Medford in southern Oregon, a first wave timber town, was famous as a sundown town where black folks weren't welcome after dark. Joan Didion's Sacramento portrayed in "Notes of a Native Daughter" was hostile to outsiders in the extreme, not even tolerating people from Texas, although she indicated no racism.

This suggests that simply leaving folks to their own devices does not guarantee a just, inclusive, society. The very prosperity of the towns contributed to their xenophobic character. Folks are probably just as likely to create an ultra-conservative society as they are a left-wing one.

One can generalize from this to the "Heartland" as well.

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