Opinion: Displaced from Paradise
In L.A. and Hawaii, gentrification’s winners and losers both fail to attain the real prize: happiness
By William Hicks
Early childhood memories of Thanksgiving conjure up images of oddly dressed Pilgrims gathering with the Wampanoag Indians to share their harvest bounty with each other.
These memories, however, are greatly outnumbered by General Custer’s last stand, cowboys and Indians fighting, and Native Americans being moved to reservations.
To Native Americans the idea of land ownership was foreign, whereas we just take it for granted.
This idea of owning land dates back to Adam and Eve, who leased the Garden of Eden until their landlord kicked them out for eating from his apple tree, which was a breach of the lease agreement.
The Landlord of Paradise apparently gave away the deed of Earth to several kings and queens who fought over it like spoiled siblings for thousands of years. The victors then divvied up Earth amongst the nobility and gentry.
These edicts of land ownership eventually morphed into the idea of monetary ownership as the money supply worked its way into private hands via banking.
The Pilgrims were fleeing these ideas of land ownership and therefore were more willing to cooperate with the Native Americans. As we know, ideas of land ownership caught up with them and the indigenous people were forced off their land with guns.
In today’s world, and especially in Southern California, longtime local residents and artists are displaced from their neighborhoods and in some cases even pushed onto the streets through the market forces that result in gentrification.
My wife and I were recently in Kauai, Hawaii, and saw the same thing happening over there — many of the locals can’t afford to own or rent, so they either leave paradise or live in tents.
Imagine eating at a nice restaurant and the owner walks up to you and says, “Pardon me, but another couple is willing to pay twice as much to sit at this particular table, so I am going to have to ask you to move.”
Meanwhile, a local and I discussed how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently paid about $100 million for 700 acres of land on Kauai’s North Shore so that he doesn’t have to deal with “friending” any nosey neighbors.
California voters supported Proposition 13 and cities here in the Southland have enacted rent control laws to at least slow this trend. The results have been a mixed bag.
So what is the end game?
I always thought that it was happiness. Our forefathers sacrificed lives and fortunes to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Does driving locals from their hometowns by increasing property values and rents make us happy?
My oldest brother told me that the happiest people he has ever observed were the poorest of those he encountered on a journey through the Amazon rainforest. Many people here, however, seem to have adopted the idea that owning more, traveling more and doing more creates happiness.
The documentary “I Am,” which explores our addiction to materialism, discusses how we are unhappy when cold and hungry but happy when warm and fed in a house, and therefore we adopt the idea that more food and more house would mean more happiness indefinitely. Of course this idea is foolish, but when we look at humanity’s history, this belief seems to be a very seductive one.
In a psychology study, children were given art supplies and they happily created. Later the children were given money for each art piece. After a time the payments were withdrawn and many of the kids refused to create unless they were paid. Money gets associated with this desire for “moreness,” so it is pursued as a happiness surrogate.
I noticed a lot of indigenous Hawaiians working menial jobs — giving up their way of life in exchange for indoor plumbing and heating, a smartphone and a car.
While staying in Princeville, my wife and I met a Broadway conductor and composer who flies regularly to Kauai to write music. So I came up with a new word: “Kauaification,” the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to human beings’ hunger for nature and open spaces.
I remain optimistic because, to paraphrase Victor Hugo, nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
There is a way to harmoniously merge two worlds together as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag did for at least one day of feasting. We can cooperate with each other and be stewards of Earth without monetary bullying.
An old story goes that an entrepreneur once told a fisherman that if he worked really hard he could create a large and very productive fishing business, then he could sell it and do whatever he wanted. To this the fisherman replied, “That’s what I’m doing right now!”
No, we don’t have to invent Facebook and buy an island paradise in order to attain liberty and happiness.
Happiness is a choice and a frame of mind.
William Hicks is not rich but lives pretty happily in Marina del Rey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.