As news keeps coming in of California’s decline – budget, public schooling, even the UC system – some strategic stock-taking is in order.
I have written before of the disastrous divide between the culture of Silicon Valley and that of Washington, DC. Here’s a sample: http://nigelcameron.wordpress.com/risk/the-valleydc-divide/ Part of what I note is that one thing these two highly geographical communities have in common is their mutual disinterest. They are culturally as far apart as any entities in the United States; indeed (as I suggested in the aforementioned commentary) in the Solar System. The nation’s creative powerhouse and its seat of government are seemingly unbridgeable.
I sat in the office of a well-known Valley VC some time back discussing this predicament, and he offered me two reflections that I shall not easily forget. First, “we see Washington as a European city;” and, secondly, “when I look out of the window I see China.”
Well, OK, let’s work with that for the moment. Let California be California. If its interest in engaging in the transformation of these United States runs no further than technology and commercial enterprise, what of the state? As California crumbles, it also hosts most of the self-proclaimed hotbeds of ideas and smart people – quite apart from, though inter-related with, the Valley community itself. Like TED. Singularity University (oddly perched on a NASA campus). The Singularity Institute. (Both homage a Kurzweil.)And a host of other futures-focused centers and projects. On it goes.
But how much interest do they have in what takes place in Sacramento? Is their other-worldliness (OK, I have also written of technoculture a la SxSW, which epitomizes it, as a new fundamentalism) – is it a federal disengagement or does it pertain also in the shambling state they mostly call home? (Yep – SxSW is a Fundamentalist Bible Camp –http://nigelcameron.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/sxsw-nxne-and-the-new-fundamentalism-a-perspective-from-the-analog-polis-of-a-digital-people/)
My concern here is this: California is the United States’ border with China. This is true on several levels. And just as we need to revivify this nation by bringing to a common focus our government and our creativity, we need also to engage with full force the fact that this faux-European nation in the 21st century will live or die by its engagement with Asia. Some time back I suggested we move Camp David to Menlo Park for a start. The President could, I think, do that in a memo. (Main response I got was complaints from Valley friends about the traffic holdups that would ensue.) But in the long term the issue is when, not whether, the federal government is relocated to the west coast. The prosperity and geopolitical status of the United States hinge in part on when and how that transition takes place. The United States has dwelt for two centuries in Europe. In the third, its home will lie increasingly as a Pacific power.
Point is: the Valley culture and the creativity and far-sightedness it represents are the keys to leveraging the democratic and humane values of this nation into the third millennium and across the Asian continent. I am no naive technophile; what I am arguing is that a failure to engage vigorously with the technological future will gravely set back both our values and our prowess. And technology developments must be grounded in a healthy polis.
So, California, what about it? Revamp the state with the smartest and wealthiest and most creative to whom you are home. And give this ailing nation a bridgehead into what comes next.