Matthew Crawford finds his home state evolved into the classic Third World kleptocracy.
I grew up in California, moved away in the early Nineties, and moved back in 2019. One of the new things I noticed upon my return was small signs stuck to the side of a car, or printed on posterboard and erected on a street corner, advertising “DMV services”. After some intercourse with a few of these, always conducted in halting, heavily accented English, I came to understand that these entrepreneurs are “fixers”, a species that most Americans are unacquainted with. If you want to get something done in the developing world, you often need to engage the services of a fixer. This is someone who has connections in the bureaucracy, often by virtue of kinship. Being a naïve visitor without connections, you couldn’t possibly know whom to bribe, how to approach them, or what forms must be observed. These things must be accomplished with delicacy. You, brainwashed to believe in the Weberian version of bureaucracy as impersonal rationality, are too naive to navigate a real one in most parts of the world. Too European.
They say California is the future. However that may be, the state has become more like the rest of the world, less like the erstwhile United States. The old European ways of procedure-following are anomalous, and perhaps never made a lot of sense. Or maybe they made sense only within a framework provided by something like Calvinism, Prussian organisation, ecclesiastical administration, or some similarly ascetic institutional morality that is “no respecter of persons”. By contrast, ties of kinship are easy to grasp, more robust, and make sense to more of the world’s peoples as the ground of cooperation, particularly in societies where the clan may be as far as trust extends.
I was very happy to have found my way to Smog Lady. I spotted her 20 minutes after I arrived at the parking lot. She was making her rounds, leaning into cars through the driver’s side window. Finally she approached me: a toothless matron who spoke only Chinese beyond a few key words in English such as “odometer” and “VIN number”. I noticed she had a large wad of cash in her hand. I gave her my $200. She then got in her car and drove out of the parking lot. I had a moment of panic, thinking I had just been ripped off. But sure enough, 30 minutes later she came back with my fraudulent smog certificate.
The Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine coined the term “service nomads” for distinct peoples, typically itinerant or diaspora, who perform functions within a society that can only be done by outsiders. That is because these functions, though indispensable, are shady in one way or another and can’t be openly avowed as necessary. Things such as usury (that is, providing credit), burying the dead, magic, puppeteering, prostitution, peddling, cobbling, knife sharpening, dispute mediation and all manner of border-crossing and go-between work that allows the principals to negotiate without losing face or being compromised.
Every society has such liminal populations (gypsies, Jains, Travellers, the “overseas Chinese,” the Sheikh Mohammadi of eastern Afghanistan) who develop some kind of “transgressor expertise”. They must keep themselves apart, as integration into the bonds of reciprocity and communal honour would make their trade impossible. As Slezkine lays out: they are regarded as unclean, and in turn they guard their own purity against contamination by the host population, from intermarriage, say, or simply by accepting hospitality from them. Dietary restrictions and other taboos of self-segregation serve to keep the boundary intact. They speak their own language, and may pretend not to understand the host language.
At first blush, the providers of DMV services appear to fit Slezkine’s description of “service nomads”. But that concept only makes sense when framed against a surrounding society that is settled and cohesive, with taken-for-granted norms that secure a basic solidarity among the host population. Without such a background of belonging, and therefore communal honour to uphold, there would seem to be no need for a separate population and social type invested in transgressor expertise. California has become a polyglot of unrelated diasporas, opportunity-seekers, guest workers, tech Brahmins and multiple-passport-holding functionaries posted to the Pacific Rim economic zone. It is more like the bar scene in Star Wars than like Tolkien’s Shire. We are all wanderers.
Let’s face it, the U.S. is gone and in it’s place our politicians have brought us a new shit hole country. There is no fixing it and there is no justice for those who broke it. It is well past time to give Biden a ride to the train station and most of congress too. I think it would be appropriate that as the old generation, I mean 70’s and 80’s gets that word from their doctor to put their affairs in order that as one last service, or perhaps favor, to his country that he takes a filthy politician with him. Yes you will be arrested and yes you will be found guilty by a jury of your “peers” (that’s a laugh) but probably before they can send you off to do hard time the lord will call you and at those pearly gates your real and actual peers will cheer you for the hero that you are. Probably won’t happen. I can dream can’t I?
It would be kinda nice to go out like the warrior’s of times long past…
In a totally unrelated story the CDC is advising all adults to get the Hepatitis B vaccine. Remember when Hepatitis B was something that only people in the shit hole third world countries got? Well thanks to the DemocRATS they brought it here for all of us to share.
In the event that 2024 turns out to be DeSantis vs. Newsom, the theme of the election will be “Do you want America to be governed like California or like Florida”?
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