By Michael Ray
I just finished reading the book Sapiens by Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Harari. It is a bestseller first published in 2011, translated into 50 language and is a “must” read for intellectual and philosopher types all over the world.
That is because it asks the question: “Outside of our actual physical world, what is real?”
The author’s answer: “nothing.”
Let me explain. All physical things are touchable or observable: oceans, mountains, insects, fish, flowers, animals, bacteria and even atoms.
It was this way for millennia. Then human beings came into existence.
As Yuval explains, “100,000 years ago at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens.” Why? What happened to the others?
Yuval’s answer: “Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in our imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.” This allowed us to organize ourselves over distance, an ability no other species possesses.
Because of that, Sapiens could—and did—conquer all potential competitors with relative ease.
Which brings me to what is “real” in Laguna Beach. The political entity Village Laguna (VL) believes in a self-created (think religious) myth: Laguna is a masterpiece so valuable no change, ever, should come to it. No house should change. No building should change. No new retail should exist except that which is strictly approved in a process that takes years.
Certainly, no big retail or office buildings should be built, not even to replace a forgettable and crumbling old shack.
Further, Village Laguna’s mythology includes the fiction that it is a non-profit organization interested only in the “betterment” of the City, and run by well meaning residents whose politicized agenda have unintended consequences—Laguna Beach has a reputation as a city very difficult to do business in. In reality, Village Laguna is a registered Political Action Committee (PAC), which can and does utilize campaign tactics as dirty as you will find in any local political race—spreading rumors and untruths about candidates and issues—for example, the rumor that heartless developers want to turn downtown Laguna into a Miami-style high-rise city.
All of this VL “construct” exists only in the imagination of its believers. It is a result of a five-decades long, sophisticated propaganda campaign which has been extraordinarily successful, and for that, one must give them full credit.
Now the City is shifting because the physical reality has shifted. Our downtown physically is crumbling due to VL-supported restrictions and obstructions, which led to the well deserved reputation Laguna Beach now has for being anti business. Retail vacancies have skyrocketed for the same reason. Old two-bedroom shack-houses are going to pieces. Young people have left because the place is so homogenized it is boring. And so on.
To deal with our new physical reality, the City is changing its rules and Village Laguna has opposed all of it. It even opposed, with great vigor, the creation of the Forest Avenue pedestrian oasis.
It is a new reality, my friends, and a new day.
Michael is a long-time Laguna Beach resident and developer.