An Associated Press article this week featured stories about how much our neighbors hate Californians. This is hardly news. The other seven-eighths of the nation has been dissing us for decades. At least a couple of times a year in print. Is it because most social trends begin here? Trends usually ridiculed right up to the moment the rest of the country adopts them?
Although non-Californians see all Californians as exactly alike, they hate us for wildly different reasons.
To our immediate neighbors we're sanctimonious busybodies--forever crossing the border to throw up ecological roadblocks when they're just trying to make a buck polluting their own private property. Or interfering with their God-given right to blow in their friends' faces fumes from the hundreds of toxic chemicals they've just inhaled. (Remember when cigarette smoke actually smelled like tobacco?)
To Middle America we're hedonistic free-loving pagans who pride ourselves on breaking at least three Commandments a day. In Utah they believe a single Californian, let loose for a few weeks in a God-fearing Christian community, could--like a modern Pied Piper--lead a whole town dancing off to serve Satan if not immediately quarantined. We are implored not to 'Californicate' their gun-totin' Christian communities.
To Easterners, especially New Yorkers, we're naive, starry-eyed optimists--gullible and not too bright. "You lose ten IQ points when you cross the California border" is a New York bromide. This is due to the unfortunate tendency of New Yorkers to confuse intelligence with depression.
It's no accident that all these views mirror the attitudes of foreign nations toward Americans as a whole. Some countries criticize our tendency to impose our values on others as a condition of trade or assistance. Others--especially Islamic ones--view us as Godless sensualists. And to most Europeans, Americans are naive optimists--paying altogether too little attention to the basic hopelessness of the human condition.
As Europe is to America, so New York is to California.
And just as Europeans overlook the incredible diversity of "Americans", so New Yorkers are blind to the incredible diversity of California, which is culturally far more diverse than the Eastern seaboard.
When our neighbors think of "Californians" they're thinking of Berkeley and Marin County. When Middle America thinks of California, they're thinking of the Castro and West Hollywood. When New Yorkers think of California, they're thinking of La Jolla and Santa Barbara. No one's thinking of Bakersfield, Yreka, Salinas, Victorville, Stockton, El Centro, or Watts.
The one thing that truly sets us off from the rest of the country is that most of the people who live here came from somewhere else. Does that ring a bell?
This makes California the most American part of America. Just as immigrants from the rest of the world brought an incredible diversity and cultural richness to the United States, so immigrants from the rest of the United States have brought an incredible diversity and cultural richness to California.
What makes us different is the act of moving. The same vision, energy, and courage that enabled people to risk coming to America, led us, or our forebears, to cross the country and come here.
What Californians really represent is the future--the cutting edge of change, the chaos of possibility, the path to the unknown.
No wonder everybody hates us.