An intentionally key location for Synchronis since the firm’s founding, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also holds the dubious distinction as the most expensive place to buy a house in America and, with the exacerbating effects of the Great Pandemic, strongly gives the impression it is crumbling before our eyes. We worry its recently constructed and famously leaning Millennium Tower is a like a symbolic compass needle, making incremental steps to pointing due South in what is still the early part of this millennium.
Since the 1850’s California Gold Rush, the rise of the City as a key West Coast financial center through the 20th Century, and its ongoing ties to Silicon Valley high tech, San Francisco has made countless fortunes over its rough and tumble history. In keeping with its infamous past and recalling the mythic Babylon, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen often referred to the City as Baghdad by the Bay. It is indeed both beauty and depravity, simultaneously a center of late 1960’s universal love and society’s most flagrant greed. It was the city of America’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, and his brutal assassination after less than a year in office. It is both the home of BART, California’s early and most successful mass transit network, and now some of America’s worst automobile rush hour traffic across the overburdened bridges connecting the City to nearby suburbs.
It was here where Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood’s policeman persona, famously threatened a criminal captured at gunpoint to “go ahead, make my day” and where today’s San Francisco police are purportedly duty-bound to effectively allow free reign to shoplifters and other petty criminals, making daily life for city dwellers and tourists an exercise in disappointment and frustration, if not worse.
In essence, San Francisco is the poster child of living in duality in this stage, perhaps the end game, of Western civilization as we know it. It is both a picturesque paradise and a kind of hell, wrapped up inextricably into one complex whole. Its redemption may be the same redemption as that of the monarchic France of Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities. There is only so much disparity of wealth that any city, let alone a society, can stand without crumbling under the weight of its hypocrisy.
Numerous critiques of present-day San Francisco are available to view on YouTube, mostly focusing on an overly-progressive, overly-lenient city government that is soft on crime in deference to the human rights of perpetuators. These are arguably valid, but short-sighted critiques of how to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. The cause runs much deeper and well past the city limits, both West past the gateway formed by the Golden Gate bridge and East past Oakland and its surrounds. The solution is nothing a thousand Dirty Harry’s can really bring about, as Evil is not something you can simply eliminate with a Magnum .44 pistol, nor jail away, as comforting as that simple approach may be.
Evil is part and parcel with Western society’s own celebration of virtually unrestrained free-market capitalism and the assignment to corrupt, subservient-to-elite-interests, and outgunned governments to deal with its impacts on the less capable, less ambitious ones who fall by the wayside.
Evil, as evidenced through crime, is not simply the natural product of evil people. It is also an act of rebellion by complex people against a system that is perceived as being incapable of creating a level playing field. If the game is perceived as being rigged, there will inevitably be a segment of the population who will refuse to play. The rules of this reality are freestyle and extremely uncomfortable to most of us on LinkedIn and the powers that be. As much as we love the simple concepts of good and evil, of right and wrong, and of the efficacy of punishment to correct a subset of society’s errant course, reality stubbornly refuses to comply with our theoretical construct of what it is or what it should be.
I will posit that the billionaire-minting and Darwin-esque Silicon Valley (and by association San Francisco) mindset of looking out for Number One was great and is great, until it isn’t. By 2021, maybe we need to call it as we see it and admit defeat. When the stack of chips are so disparate, society can no longer participate in one game of poker. Either something has to change or San Francisco and every other major Western city needs to be two cities: the central, secured compound for the wealthy elite, and the periphery for the “unwashed” masses.
What is the solution? Not likely is it some sort of government-sponsored wealth distribution as favored by the far-left. Nor is it some sort of Law and Order police state as favored by the far-right. The solution is arguably to stop relying on government to solve what it clearly is incapable of solving and look to the grass roots. Crazy and improbable, I know, but I expect San Francisco homelessness can be greatly improved-upon next week if every $3 million townhouse owner in the City dedicated a non-profit AirBNB additional dwelling unit for use by the unhoused. The municipality of San Francisco, like many California cities, can stop overregulating real estate development so that more housing can be cheaply and rapidly built. And, once back on its feet, the leftover food from San Francisco’s world class restaurant industry could feed many thousands at minimal cost. Why haven’t these and potentially many more obvious, common-sense approaches been already brought to bear? Because we constantly look to others, the incompetent and/or corrupted others, to solve what they cannot and honestly never will. They had the ball, they dropped the ball, and too few have had the fortitude to pick it up. Either rally around the central compound and build-up the fortifications or break down the walls we already have. Choose wisely–the plight of one of the most beautiful cities in the world hangs in the balance.