Chico is a university town of about 90K population, an island of "big city" in a sea of farms, ranches, and small rural communities. Like Austin, Ashland, and Kalamazoo. While visiting last night I decided to take a little walk downtown. Downtown Chico is now officially a foreign country. Drugged-up loons and angry, vacant faces haunt every corner, determined to make the place unfit for civilized company. The explosive growth of bodily desecration among young people, in the form of tattoos and body piercings, is worse than I've ever seen or imagined it could be. As if mere indecency were not shocking enough. Seedy tattoo and piercing shops, with their freakish clientele and vulgar advertising, are moving in while legitimate businesses move out. In fact they are almost the only small businesses prospering and multiplying. I wanted to stop by a nice cafe I remembered from a couple of years ago, but found a busy "magic store" in its place full of the tools of the occult. And why do such places always have the same demonic smell? Do they all burn the same incense from hell? We can no longer support a Catholic bookstore in this city, but the "magic store" is booming.
Disappointed, I decided to take refuge in a used bookstore. What I found there only confirmed the trend I have been observing for the last 25 years: quality books are disappearing and being replaced by a deluge of New Age, occult, quasi-pornographic, and vaguely "spiritual" offerings. I stayed a while, browsing the local history section, listening unwillingly to a Cat Stevens album from that awful decade that never ends. The whole depressing experience reminded me of the Waterloo moment I once had in the university bookstore at Stanford: a spontaneous realization the vast majority of published books are trash. Fit for roasting marshmallows, at best, or maybe hot dogs if written by philosophers. They say that the proliferation of wicked and senseless books, and the marginalization of the good and true, is the price we have to pay for a "free" society. But that's too high a price to pay if you ask me. We don't know what freedom is anymore. Freedom is not losing your downtown to an infestation of demons. The joke is on us.
Caution: not for children.