Back in the waning days of the apartheid era, South African Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi made an observation that echoes across the centuries. “We cannot have freedom if we don’t have bread.”
Such a predicament does not exactly repeat itself in California today, but there are echoes aplenty. Californians are oppressed, in different ways, for different reasons, than the blacks of South Africa during the apartheid years. But instead of demanding the equivalent of bread, in the form of affordable and reliable water, energy, and housing, Californians are divided into two warring tribes, with one side demanding pedagogy and policies oriented to critical race theory, and the other side rising up to stop them.
Meanwhile, in California today, water is rationed, energy is expensive and unreliable, and the prices of homes and rentals consume the incomes of all but the most fortunate.
It might be forgivable to obsess over issues of race and gender if California’s people of color, women, and gays were subject to anything remotely akin to the brutal regime of the Afrikaner. But California is the most tolerant state in the most tolerant nation in the most tolerant era in the history of the world. The hardships that members of California’s so-called protected status groups endure are indeed the result of systemic oppression. But this oppression is not the product of discrimination. It is caused by a ruling oligarchy and its retainers making the calculated decision that there is power and profit in denying economic opportunities to ordinary Californians.
There is utility in convincing Californians they are victims of phony oppression based on race and gender. It prevents Californians from uniting to fight their true enemies. An entire industry has been propped up in the service of this lie. The function of this industry is to identify a group, any group, so long as it isn’t white, straight, and male, and either demonstrate that this group does not achieve desirable things at a rate proportional to their percentage of the general population, or that they suffer undesirable things at a rate greater than their percentage of the general population.
This concept, disproportionate outcome, devoid of any normalizing nuances, is the tactical bludgeon used to demand a host of dysfunctional and epic shifts in policy. Defund the police. Empty the prisons. “Mainstream” students who should be expelled. Abandon advanced placement courses in the public schools. Construct prohibitively expensive low-income housing in the most expensive parts of town. Force people to sign diversity pledges and submit to sensitivity training. Rewrite history to accentuate the negative.
As these pointless excesses are carried out, they occupy center stage in the minds of activist proponents and activist opponents alike. Meanwhile, projects that might restore a reliable supply of electricity and water are denied with barely a squeak of protest. Reforms that might lower housing construction costs are shelved without comment.
None of this is happening by accident. Where there is scarcity, there is profit. Where there is rationing, there is power.
There was a time when there was nothing Californians couldn’t do. They built the best freeways, the best water infrastructure, and the best universities in the world. They exported energy and food, and led the world in aerospace engineering. But those men and women have come and gone.
Their descendants are a different breed. A new consensus exists among California’s elites, and it goes something like this: If we ration water, energy, and housing, prices go up but our costs stay the same. Since we are the ones who either privately own these productive assets, or wield public regulatory control over them, engineered scarcity will make us more money and we will wield even more political power. At the same time, our friends in Big Tech can embed surveillance devices in every water or energy consuming appliance, and into every modern home. Not only will this “help” people ration their consumption, but over time this will result in additional hundreds of billions in profits, with the added benefit of data collection and political monitoring.
What could possibly go wrong?
These are the overlords of California. Convincing even themselves, they feign concern over prejudice and the fate of the planet. But in reality their agenda evinces a misanthropy that would make an Afrikaner blush.
California’s reality today is one defined by owned, monitored space. Cars that watch you drive. Utility meters that track every drop of water or electron of energy you use. Televisions, phones, palmtops, virtual reality goggles, browsers, and social media accounts that watch, listen, and record your every move. This is the 21st-century version of apartheid. This is the high-tech Bantustan. You can’t see it. You can’t cross its border. But it’s all around you.
A famous book published in 1948 in South Africa during the heyday of post-World War II apartheid was Cry, the Beloved Country. In this desperate novel, the protagonist travels across South Africa, observing the inequalities and injustices tearing the nation apart.
But California’s inequalities and injustices are not rooted in racial prejudice. That is the great deception. That is the great distraction.
Californians must unite not to demand freedom from racial injustice, because they already have that freedom. They must demand bread. They must demand more water projects, more diverse and more conventional energy solutions, and fewer housing regulations to lower construction costs. That is the challenge that can unite them. That is the pathway out of poverty and that is the escape from oppression.