Thursday, July 27, 2023

#208 / Palo Alto


Pictured above is Malcolm Harris, author of a recent book titled, Palo Alto. Actually, that is a truncated version of the title. The full title is as follows: Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World

As you can probably guess from the full title (and might not have guessed from the shortened version), Harris' book is not exactly a paean of praise for my former hometown. 
Back in 2015, I wrote in this blog that "Where I'm From Is No Longer Where I'm At," intending to indicate, in that blog posting, that I have significant questions, now, about Palo Alto (where I grew up), and particularly about Stanford University, from which I graduated in 1965. 
Harris is at least as skeptical of Stanford as he is of the City of Palo Alto, and he aims his critique, ultimately, at the "Silicon Valley," which has been conjured, as I think Harris might say, from the inopportune coupling of the University and the City. 

While Harris' book is on a list of books I want to read, I haven't read it yet. In fact, I haven't even bought it, and added it to the stack of books on the big table in my office. 

Given the books now ahead in line, it may be some time before I get to read what Harris has to say about Palo Alto. Luckily, I ran across Tim Redmond's review of Harris' book, which at least gives me a pretty good idea. Redmond is the founder of 48 Hills, which provides a continuing commentary and critique focused mainly on San Francisco. I commend 48 Hills to you. You can subscribe to its bulletins for free
Redmond's review of the Harris book is titled, "The Ugly Side of Silicon Valley." It is well worth reading, so click that link for the whole review, which includes an interview with Harris. Here, for your convenience, is a shortened view of what Redmond has to say:

Palo Alto is a big, sweeping epic, 677 pages including footnotes, and it covers a lot of the history of Northern California. There’s more about the details of the interactions and conflicts between different sectors of the New Left in the 1960s than I needed, but that doesn’t detract from the overall message: Silicon Valley, and particularly Stanford University, played a key role in the post-War Military Industrial Complex, in creating the massive economic inequality that plagues the nation today, and in promoting the neo-liberal model that ended the New Deal in the 1980s.
I am not a fan of the "neo-liberal model," and I think that Palo Alto should be read as a cautionary tale. What Harris is saying in his book (at least as I am reading the Tim Redmond review) is that Palo Alto has gone exactly where my current hometown, Santa Cruz, California, seems to be heading. Santa Cruz, too, has a university that is ever more deeply enmeshed (as is the City of Santa Cruz) with the forces that transformed the "Valley of Heart's Delight" into what is now found in the "Silicon Valley."
What Harris is saying, I am pretty sure (even though I haven't yet read his book), should be informing those who live in Santa Cruz today: Watch Out!
Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) - 
(3) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo

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