I was made aware of this recent conversation. My name came up, and an Influential Person said, "But he hates Arizona." The other person responded: "No, he actually likes it quite a bit." Influential person: "OK, but he's blinded by nostalgia."
Nostalgia has its appeal. Indeed, it can be healthy, as an article in the New York Times recently pointed out:
Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.
Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.
“Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” Dr. Sedikides says. He considers the first great nostalgist to be Odysseus, an itinerant who used memories of his family and home to get through hard times, but Dr. Sedikides emphasizes that nostalgia is not the same as homesickness. It’s not just for those away from home, and it’s not a sickness, despite its historical reputation.
But nostalgia is not what attracts people to Rogue Columnist, why traffic here keeps growing every month, or why people — even the Kooks — consider this a must-read.
Instead, they come for edgy commentary, informed by facts, on issues of importance in world and national affairs — and, yes, the condition of Arizona. Week after week, we examine and discuss the things that the Influential People in the Grand Canyon state want swept under the rug: An underperforming economy, dismal social conditions, a worsening environment, urban problems, land-use mistakes, water supplies, civic disengagement and the power of the Kookocracy and the Real Estate Industrial Complex. If someone else were writing about these things, I would happily step aside. But they aren't.
Even the Phoenix 101 series is not driven by nostalgia or a cheap longing for the past. A nostalgist would not write about the mob's influence in old Phoenix or the miserable treatment given to minorities in a state that, as a territory, had a delegate to the Confederate Congress. Nostalgia for my youth would prevent me from writing about how future Chief Justice William Rehnquist was involved in voter-suppresion efforts in south Phoenix, how the great Barry Goldwater was deeply flawed and hardly worth the veneration given him now. But I did write about those and more. Inquiry, context and history, on the other hand, are very important here. They are the enemies of the current status quo and notably absent from most journalism about the state and city.
Otherwise, one would never know that Phoenix indeed had a real downtown once and killed it. That Arizona was a competitive two-party state and most of the Mormons were once Democrats. One would not understand why most Phoenicians were vehemently opposed to freeways, but thanks to the reactionaries in charge didn't pursue sensible land-use planning and transit — thus, we're left with one of the nation's most expansive freeway systems (and financed disproportionately by the working poor through sales taxes). Few people remember all that was lost, from historic buildings to the Japanese flower gardens and miles of farms and citrus groves that kept the place cool. Most don't understand that every problem that Phoenix and Arizona face is a result of deliberate policies and purblind blunders. They don't know that Phoenix once had a real economy beyond real estate, from a major agricultural sector to leading-edge technology companies far beyond what exists today. They don't know the heroic acts that ensured water and how overpopulation, sprawl and climate change are putting it at risk. That the city once had real civic stewards and a sense of self. A history that didn't begin when Charlie Keating rolled into town. Republicans who weren't nihilists and fools, but capable of putting the state's interests above party and ideology. People need to know that Arizona once produced leaders of very high caliber. And that state and city would not exist without copious amounts of federal dollars and attention, a dependency that continues to this day. An examination of these and more repays the interested reader.
A big mission here is to explain and examine why. Why are state incomes not only low but have been falling from the national average, and that Phoenix trails its peer cities. Why state and city are at the bottom of almost any measure of social well-being. Why the Kooks became dominant and the Democratic Party that once ruled the state has become a shell. Why what passes for state leaders refuse to address the most important issues, from immigration to climate change. Why SB 1070 had almost nothing to do with stopping illegal immigration. Why Tucson, supposedly progressive, turned out as a Phoenix Junior instead of a Portland. Why arts organizations struggle and Phoenix fails to attract the young talent it needs, suffering instead from a perpetual brain drain. Why the "Sun Corridor" and all its elegant salesmanship is a mere ruse to continue sprawl development. And why the Yarnell fire, the deadliest event in the history of modern wild firefighting, is a symptom of much deeper problems and something that must not be swept under the very crowded rug of scandals and sins.
These are the uncomfortable truths pursued here. And if the powers-that-be can't delegitimize Rogue by saying "he hates Arizona," then they can try, "he's blinded by nostalgia." It won't work. The real Arizona haters are blinded by their greed and a toxic nostalgia of their own, for an Ayn Rand paradise that never existed, certainly not in my hometown.
Sorry to be late this week. My paying gigs were especially demanding.