Last week I attempted to romanticize the city known for a song made famous by Tony Bennett, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Inclusive in that city’s allure is the pervasive counterculture or its more contemporary concept, progressivism. To understand such a city, one must understand its politics.
In the 1950s, San Francisco was a haven for avant-garde thinkers whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics during the post-World War II era. Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac began the literary movement known as the Beat Generation, and San Francisco became its bastion. Today San Francisco is largely a product that evolved from the Beat movement.
According to a Wikipedia listing about Beat culture, its central themes “are a rejection of standard narrative values, making spiritual quests, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.”
The Beat movement attempted to show the world the way to beauty, to authentic culture. They were rebels. They were so sexy in their black leather jackets with cigarettes dangling from their lips as they sat in Vesuvio’s on Columbus street, pontificating on the ills of capitalism and working for the “man.” They envisioned a world not yet in existence. Who wouldn’t want to identify with Jack Kerouac?
Last week when I entered the Powell Street Station in downtown San Francisco, I held my breath to avoid the smells from the corridors where people were sprawled in various states of consciousness. I witnessed the pervasive problem of addicts injecting heroin and discarding the needles and the predominance of human waste on the city’s streets.
The current power brokers of San Francisco have no shortage of solutions to the city’s problems. However, I was taken aback by the rampant homelessness. It is a definite failure of the city to grasp the causes of the problem and to deal with its symptoms. It is especially striking because of the ostentatious wealth of some the narcissistic youth of the area.
Homelessness is an epidemic and is affected by mental illness, dependencies, lack of family structure, lack of employment and myriad other issues. The mentally ill need support. City, state and national policies related to job training and the importance of a family structure would surely, in the long term, help to mitigate the problem.
What would make America great again is to maintain our cities’ independence while also understanding we have a unique responsibility for each other. This is what we have lost and must regain to restore hope.
If the city doesn’t develop policies that effectively deal with this urban decay, then its progressive past will be forgotten and San Francisco will represent the worst of what this nation could become.
As in the case of the Beat Generation, counterculture revolutions call for total freedom, which eventually evolves into a demand for total control. This phenomenon of political correctness, with its speech codes and groupthink enforces ideological conformity and is a predictable result of progressivism.
It is ironic that the very act of trying to run counter to the culture is what creates the next wave of culture, which people will in turn attempt to counter.
I heard that the blueberry maple donuts are the bomb at Cafe 101 on Holloway Avenue. I had to get two. As I walked from the cafe, I noticed a sign affixed to a telephone pole. It read, “Down with capitalism.”
My thought at the sight of it: “Are you kidding me?”
Contrary to Jefferson Starship, San Francisco was not built on rock ‘n’ roll. It was built on capitalism.