Monday, November 7, 2016


     I grew up in LA and moved to Fresno when I was eleven. I've always thought that freeways in LA are far worse than Central Valley's Route 99, so to my surprise I discovered that according to Victor Davis Hanson, “The 99 is emblematic of a state in psychological and material decline.”
     Save me, Jesus! No wonder I've felt a bit diminished lately. I live near 99 (which is what the locals call it, not the 99), and since our pool of maniacal motorists is far smaller than LA's, I've always believed, mistakenly it seems, that our freeway isn't so bad. I guess I've been wasting my time worrying about global warming, overpopulation, habitat loss, species extinction, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the concentration of wealth, the undermining of democracy, looming economic meltdown, and other inconsequential problems. Mr. Hanson has pointed out the real problem just down the street from me.
     Since I have personally witnessed a number of major improvements on Route 99 in recent years, I concluded that this was just another example of Mr. Hanson's fondness for logical fallacies—in this case the hyperbolic fallacy, which occurs when something is stated much more strongly than facts and observations support. Mr. Hanson is using a bad rating of Route 99 by some animal that calls itself Valuepenguin as a way to prove how political elites are failing to address everyday problems in underserved areas like the Central Valley.
     Route 99 has had more fatal accidents than other freeways recently, so this relatively unknown, private consumer research organization has labeled 99 the most dangerous freeway in the state. My personal theory is that the freeways in major metropolitan areas have become so congested that no one can go much faster than ten miles per hour at any given time, a pace that dramatically decreases the fatality rate.
     I would have ignored Mr. Hanson's hyperbole, but then he equates the building of freeways and bridges with the building of dams and canals, and I recognized yet another fallacy of logic: false equivalence. Freeways and bridges are not the same as dams and canals. For one thing, freeways and bridges benefit anyone with a car, whereas dams and canals, due to California's system of water rights, primarily benefit agri-business. Freeways are conduits of transportation. Dams provide water and hydroelectric power and flood control. They have a different order of magnitude. For Mr. Hanson, however, what links these very different structures is that they are shining symbols of human progress. Even though they are made of concrete and asphalt, to Mr. Hanson they are the “lifeblood” of California.
     In his self-appointed role as a critic of our times, Mr. Hanson has set up a mythical golden age to compare to our flawed modern age. In his golden age people with great knowledge and foresight designed and built dams and canals and freeways and bridges, which allowed great strides in human progress. According to Mr. Hanson, the elites nowadays have their heads in the clouds (or elsewhere); they are more concerned with building high speed rail and transgender bathrooms and with protecting flower-loving flies and other insignificant creatures.

Trail of East Side of the Gorge

     Dams and freeways, ironically, are linked in a way that Mr. Hanson does not discuss: They have resulted in extensive cultivation and in an increase in urbanization that together have destroyed the ecosystems of the Central Valley. Dams have also devastated numerous riparian habitats in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Dams and freeways, in ways never imagined by the members of Mr. Hanson's golden age, are now forcing Californian's to make painful choices about development and water use, choices that may seem easy for Mr. Hanson and the vested interests who own the land and maintain the water rights, but not so easy for the rest of us.
     Strangely, ever since I moved here almost fifty years ago, Route 99 has symbolized for me the tackiness and the crassness of Fresno. Only one thoroughfare in Fresno, Blackstone Avenue, is uglier, in my opinion. As a street, Blackstone is so garish and tawdry in its glaring commercialism that God once sent His angels to destroy it, but they discovered that they could not do anything worse to any city. Mr. Hanson apparently prefers the ugliness of unfettered commercialism to the splendor of nature, which is what people in the Central Valley have lost due to the freeways and dams.
     Before you conclude that I am simply whining about the adverse impacts of progress, let me make it clear that I am actually complaining about the elites in the Central Valley. The elites with the land and the water rights have left the rest of us with a subnatural and substandard quality of life—and they continue to demand more, more dams on public lands and more unsustainable development. They take everything, by hook or by crook, but they don't give anything back. In the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam, for instance, they do not include mitigation providing the public with a park containing the same stunning natural values as the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area—or any park whatsoever even though Fresno remains nearly at the bottom for park acreage within the top 100 cities in the U.S. In Fresno, the majority of us face worsening blight as the rich flee farther and farther north.
     Lest you think that I am trying to limit farmers' access to water, please remember that farmers already receive eighty percent of the water in the state, about four times more than urban users. Yet farmers in the semi-arid Valley continue to irrigate unsustainable crops like cotton, rice, and almonds (the dominant crop in the Valley).
     A dam at Temperance Flat, which Mr. Hanson wholeheartedly supports, is a perfect symbol of what is happening to our region. Dams already exist to the north and south of Temperance Flat's proposed inundation area. A dam at Temperance Flat would bury a majestic public park under hundreds of feet of water, filling up the entire space between two existing reservoirs. If Temperance Flat were built, in other words, three reservoirs like huge shadows would entirely blot out the San Joaquin River ecosystem for many miles. People of the Valley would lose access to a nearby, pristine river ecosystem. To find anything similar they would have to travel to Mono Hot Springs--over three hours from Fresno--on a dangerous one-lane road that hugs the cliff side in many places.

Ceanothus next to Loop Trail

     Numerous dams have already destroyed ecosystems elsewhere on the San Joaquin River--the real "lifeblood" of the Valley that once supported a salmon run and replenished the wetlands of the Pacific Flyway and flowed out through the delta and San Francisco Bay. But due to water diversions (eighty percent for agri-business), the river in the Valley dies at a sinkhole. Mr. Hanson and the vested interests clamoring for the dam want to take everything, in other words, without any meaningful compensation to the public, without any real consideration for the threatened and endangered species or for the integrity of the web of life.
     To support his fallacious belief in a golden age, Mr. Hanson once again uses a fallacy of logic known as oversimplification. He implies that a flower-loving fly is less important than “damns” [sic], canals, bridges or freeways. Flies serve an essential function within the web of life, eliminating dead bodies that would pile up a mile high if it weren't for their services. Given the choice between a dam, a freeway, or a species of fly, I would choose the fly every time.
     The flower-loving fly sneered at by Mr. Hanson serves another significant function: It is a pollinator. As many have realized due to the extensive loss of bees and butterflies in recent years, pollinators are essential to the survival of the human race. Hardly important, I guess, compared to the bottom line of the elites.
     Mr. Hanson once again flagrantly ignores the significance of the endangered species list! Quite simply, an endangered species is an indicator of great loss or damage to a habitat and the other creatures in it. The pesky flower-loving fly, in other words, is emblematic of habitat destruction due to over-development. It apparently has never occurred to Mr. Hanson that the destruction of one link in a chain could make the chain fall apart.
     Freeways and dams are responsible for tearing apart the web of life all over California, and species just about everywhere are now at risk, whether or not they are listed as threatened or endangered. Fifty percent of the wildlife in the world has disappeared in the last forty years, but that does not give Mr. Hanson pause: To Mr. Hanson, concern about the extinction of one fly is just another sign of the stupidity of “elites” in our time.
     The mythical wise ones of Mr. Hanson's golden age somehow didn't realize that dams kill rivers or that freeways induce development. Strangely, Mr. Hanson does not recognize the one true equivalence of dams and freeways: Both are responsible for the large-scale destruction of ecosystems.
     Along with Donald Trump, Mr. Hanson is guilty of what I have concluded is a new fallacy of logic. I call it the negativity projection fallacy, a combination of the mind-projection fallacy and the hyperbolic fallacy. Donald Trump as a politician and Mr. Hanson as a writer are so full of anger and fear that they project their negativity onto other groups, such as democrats or socialists, or other individuals, such as Hillary Clinton, or other creatures, such as the flower-loving fly or the yellow-legged frog. The projection, however, is a distortion of reality. Instead of dealing with their negative emotions, in other words, those who use this fallacy project their negativity onto others, blaming them in exaggerated, distorted attacks.
     The negativity projection fallacy can be found in other articles by Mr. Hanson. In one article, for instance, entitled “The Republican Dilemma,” Mr. Hanson resembles a snake that beats its head on the ground after being run over by a car: How could the Republican Party nominate Trump? As he writhes in agony, he hallucinates, believing that even though Trump is bad, voters would be suicidal to support Hillary Clinton.
     Suicidal, really? Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified and competent people on the planet? Has Mr. Hanson swallowed so much Koolaid that he can't admit that pay for play is not a fact of life among Democrats and Republicans everywhere? Does Mr. Hanson believe, like Trump, that if Hillary were elected, 650 million immigrants would flood into the United States in her first week in office? The U.S., as most people know, only has a population of about 319 million right now. It seems that Mr. Hanson is so angry at liberals that he would support a dangerous ignoramus for president.
     The facts suggest the exact opposite. Without distorting reality through hyperbolic fallacy or projection fallacy or any other flaw of logic, many of us have come to the conclusion that electing thin-skinned, combative, sexually assaulting, uncivil, lying, negative, ignorant Donald Trump to a position where he is in possession of the launch codes could result in nuclear annihilation.
     This sense of a golden age, of a once-great country that is now being destroyed by crooked democrats, is a common theme for both Trump and Hanson and has captured the imagination of a large number of people. It is an appealing coping mechanism that justifies exaggerations and oversimplifications and distortions and outright lies. It allows them to spew venom at anyone or anything that challenges their dream of a world of perfect progress and harmony where they no longer experience internal negativity. That promised land will never exist, but a great many voters have been seduced by this dream of a golden age. Unfortunately, in the real world far too much is at stake to take it seriously.

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