I’ve noticed, and commented on my blog, that over the years I have seen a definite mean turn in the attitudes of my fellow San Franciscans. Before 1990, San Franciscans were consistently kind to each other in public. The hippie spirit fit into San Francisco perfectly. By 1990 that spirit was on the decline and has gotten much worse since then.
I’m not talking about the city government which is a hate machine. Pure communist ideology: ‘I know what is good for you and I am passing laws to make sure you behave the way I want you to’ 'We hate commerce to boot'.
While the deep anger that creates most Democrats plays a role in the mean-spiritedness of current San Franciscans, that part only comes out in conversation. There is a mean-spiritedness on the street that seems to have another source.
I think it may be ‘sympathy fatigue’. I wouldn’t use the term ‘compassion fatigue’ because compassion is rare in our society. Compassion is a feeling one has towards beings that are different than us; such as mosquitoes, ants, worms, cockroaches and UN delegates. Sympathy is a feeling towards people ‘who could be us’. Sympathy applies to the feeling some of us have for street people. ‘There but for the grace of god….’
I started working with street people in the late 1970’s when I built a park for them. There were less than 500 in the whole city then. I could see that the issue was not going to go away because these were mostly men who wanted to live outside our society, often to do drugs. Our Puritan society could not tolerate that idle stance. They had to be sober and get jobs.
I wondered how society would cope with this issue in 20 years. It is now more than 35 years later and I see how society copes. San Franciscans are angry. They want to help street people to get jobs and be sober and be out of sight. Now there are 7,000 still on the street and many more in government programs costing over $100,000 a year per person.
Puritanism is in conflict with sympathy, misdiagnosis (they are not homeless), and persistent filth and intrusion on public walkways.
I diagnosis this as ‘sympathy fatigue’. A difficult emotion to live with, a political problem that can not be resolved (by government which San Franciscans believe can fix anything) and a city filled with angry people.