Published at 22:31 on 30 May 2022
I just got back from a (quickie, not nearly enough time) trip there, and it begs a number of questions. Namely is it a paradise or a Potemkin village, a model or a cop-out?
On one hand, the general vibe there is amazing, even if the place is more developed and technologically-impacted than I had imagined. Yes, there are more cars and roads (which, although almost entirely unpaved, are wider and better-travelled by motor vehicles than I had imagined), but it is still a beautiful place with an amazing aesthetic.
On the other hand, there is basically nothing definitive to rule it out being Santa Cruz North. (The latter is a small coastal city just south of San Francisco that has huge pretensions about being some sort of alternative and model for the rest of the country, but the reality beneath the veneer is that most of the worst dysfunctions of American life remain, in spades, and are largely not being challenged by its residents. The overall pattern is more of escapism and self-delusion than of an alternate model.)
There are, in fact, some worrying signs, first and foremost amongst them the growing proliferation (the structures are mostly new) of “snob gates” — very fancy gates across driveways on the main road, gates that do far more than just demarcate a private road to a private home. These are gates that literally scream “You may not be able to see my fancy house, but you better believe I have one behind those trees. Look and me and give my owner the social status his money entitles him to!”
The reaction of the one Lasquetian I pointed the gates out to on the ferry ride back was also troubling. He seemed taken aback about my very use of the term “snob gate;” it all gave me the distinct feeling I had committed a faux pas by traducing his blessed island. He evidently could not perceive the troubling trend.
The choice to use the term accidental Eden in the book I read while staying there (plus the largely self-congratulatory close to that book) could also be troubling. It all mirrors a lot of how Santa Cruz residents see themselves.
As one of my travel partners pointed out, it’s also all White people there. At least, all the people we saw were White.
Ultimately “back to the land” can be a sell-out. It can legitimize using one’s racial and class privileges to disengage from a world that desperately needs engaging (and changing). It is not enough to merely “live by example” (and what sort of example does an almost total lack of racial diversity say)?
Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about building hippie havens… if they are somehow used as a base with which to engage the world. This can, at its simplest, be merely to function as a refuge from that wider world where those in need of such can recuperate and repair. But the danger of refuges is that they can very easily lead to escapism.
So far, however, the jury is out. To reiterate, it was a quickie trip. There just wasn’t enough time to do the sort of investigating to see which attitudes and trends predominate.