California used to be a living example of social democracy in action. As our social safety net deteriorates, un- or underfunded by scarce government resources, we are seeing an alliance of tax-fearing business interests, and tax-weary workers who refuse to consider a reasonable and progressive tax program that can ensure adequate funding for schools and universities, health care facilities and services, infrastructure, and social services, especially for our most vulnerable -- the poor, the ill, the elderly, the young, and the disabled.
Why have so many otherwise kind and caring people turned their backs on their community and focused only on their own needs. Tough times certainly have limited the amount of money or time that people feel they can contribute to the support and survival of others. Right-wing media brainwashing has also played a critical role in promoting viewers and listeners guilt-free self-interest and selfishness over their commitment to civic duty and charity for their community.
The key word for this unfortunate evolution is, in fact, community. Over the past 20 years, changing demographic patterns have allowed significant numbers of Californians to lose their altruism and compassion amidst the growing waves of tribalism that have washed over our diverse populations. Many of you are probably familiar with Dunbar 's number: Anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorizes that each human has the average capacity to maintain 150 stable social relationships. These relationships become our community, or, as David Wong has identified, our "Monkeysphere". People outside this "community" or tribe become objectifiedi.e. less than human and less deserving of our attention, investment, and empathy. Wong uses an example of mourning the loss of one's best friend while reacting less strongly if at all to the human losses outside one's community, from accidents, natural disasters, or wars.
The growth of our population over the past forty years, including through legal and illegal immigration, has overwhelmed not only the Monkeysphere of our local communities, but of our states and country as well. Citizens who understood the value of contributing to good schools, clean streets, and adequate fire, social, and police services, now see taxes as going to the large numbers of "others" who exist, unvisualizable as fully human, beyond the community's doors. These "others", whether grouped by race, ethnicity, class, or ability, are identified as objects undeserving of empathy, understanding, and support. The response is to hunker down and put up wallswalls between the "haves" (Us) and the "have nots" (them). No longer do we care about the health, safety, and education of those outside our wallsto whom we deny contributions or charity. Our humanity is preserved for our own enclaves, for "our own", whoever they may be.
California must address the impact of this tsunami of figurative tribalism if economic and social recovery is to be a realistic option. We can neither ignore those who have moved within our borders and are struggling, like us, to survive, nor yield to our natural instinct to objectify and subhumanize them to assuage our selfish guilt. It's time for us to promote our own evolution from human limitations to humanistic policies that will give each and every human in our state and country an opportunity for a safe, healthy, and happy life.