The last fifty years here in Berkeley, California have been dominated by a downward looking bunch of near sighted elite liberals. They have focused our attention not on the many wonderful, and productive citizens of this city, but on the many absolute human failures. The humanitarian urge to help our fellow human beings is strong here in Berkeley, but of course it is strong elsewhere too. The difference here is that we have many fantastically successful people, as proven by the 20 Nobel Prizes brought back from Stockholm, and medals from various Olympics etc. This is not a great metropolis such as New York, which is a hundred times more populous, the center of American culture, and with vastly greater monetary resources, but with a population of one hundred thousand, Berkeley is little bigger than a town.
While the population of the United States has tripled Berkeley has not grown, and a person from the 1930s would feel right at home so little has changed. There has been little input of money or population, and remarkably few new buildings in all that time. In that same span Berkeley people have led the way in most of what made the 20th century remarkable. Modern atomic science was practically born here as may be seen by looking at the new end of the chart of Atomic Elements, (93 and up were first found and named here in Berkeley) and computers had major inputs from our local folks such as the creators of Apple and Unix, and Biology currently has lots to thank Berkeley people for such inventions as polymerase chain reaction which underpins much of modern biology, and the modern medicines derived from it. The list of accomplishments is vastly longer.
With all of our local productivity and success one would think there would be great local praise for our local heroes, and statues erected in their honor and streets named after them and great monetary rewards both to them from the world and from them to the city. But, that is not so. In this place which is still called the Athens of the West, because of its great intellectual traditions, there are no statues to any of these true heroes; instead there are some fine statues to totally forgotten football players, and totally forgotten football coaches. There are a couple of buildings named after some of our famous scientists, but then again you have to name a building something, and it only costs a couple of bucks to put a decal label on a building’s door lintel. The streets were named long ago, but the only one changed to honor someone was for a non-Berkeley person—MLK. But where are the statues to those Berkeley people who will be remembered a thousand years from now? Oppenheimer, Teller, Wozniak, Mullis, Nimitz? There are none. Their only memorials are their works which will still be very much with those people of the distant future. On the contrary if you go to that Athens of the North, Edinburgh, Scotland, and walk down the streets you will find considerable pride in the past accomplishments of their children, Hume, Smith, Scott, Doyle, Wallace, Nelson and Bobby, some 200 monuments in all.
In contrast to the honorifics to Edinburgh’s great people, our notable tower here in Berkeley is a commemoration to Jane Sather, a currently unknown person with a lot of money, and thus with monetary wherewithal to build a beautiful cenotaph tower to herself. Wouldn’t this come under the rubric of arrogant self aggrandizement or of silly self publishing? In Edinburgh there is a similar tower erected in honor of Walter Scott, not by himself to himself, but by an adoring public who valued his accomplishments. All of the above noted Edinburgh notables have beautiful monuments, but none of their Berkeley counterparts have even a decal nameplate on the front door of a building.
Some say to follow the money if you want to know what people really value. What money does currently come to Berkeley for salaries seems to have gone mostly to the football coaches as they receive enough salary to maintain several Nobel Laureate professors. The great libraries of all times have been the glory of their cities, but not so here in Berkeley. No, here we dig a very deep hole, and bury our books, and cover it over with several feet of dirt and grass. This buried library is only a few steps from the Hayward earthquake fault which is known to have a major quake every hundred years or so, and thus that library of millions of books is certain to be destroyed.
The way rugged American individualism has displayed itself in the Berkeley public is in questioning authority with a sickly anti-intellectual whining, and near hatred of the creative elites, and a grudging awe of the professors. The local poets don’t sing praises to our productive heroes, but to the people of the gutter whom they attempt to lift to some sort of spiritual saintliness for striking back at what they term evil dead white men by pissing in the street, taking drugs and never, ever washing. The public statues created in the last half century, actually wall paintings, are of panhandlers, dopers and rioters. The focus of attention by many of the people of Berkeley is toward the bottom dwellers.
It is the new Berkeley people who will continue to bring fame to Berkeley, but they are not the children of the old Berkeley people born and bred into freedom, but outsiders with more honorable inbred social values who come here, and in this city of licentiousness explore the intellectual borders of the known world. Perhaps the freedom to think outside of normal channels must be embedded in a chaotic surrounding or perhaps it generates chaos. They probably feed on each other in a positive feedback cycle. There is a level of seemingly counterproductive stressful chaos on the main streets, and a beautiful well manicured calm a few steps away in the residential streets. Somehow it seems to create valuable new ideas.