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KPBS Commentaries

Post Election

We San Diegans have shot ourselves in the foot often enough. With a new mayor and a fresh chance, will we just turn the city over to them again and get back to our own lives?

Or can we remember that our part of the democracy deal is to watch and listen and help out when necessary?

For reminders, I have two obscure words chalked up on my office blackboard. They are invaluable in understanding San Diego. It took me years to find them.


"Anomie" is one of the words. It derives from the Greek, and it seems to have originated with a sloppy habit that Greek colonial settlers seem to have got into as they conquered and fanned out around the known world.

The Greek migrants got sick out there in the colonies and never mixed in. Everything was too different from back home in Athens. The word that arose to describe their condition was "anomie".

It is something that still happens when we move from region to region, new settlers in new surroundings with new friends, new mores, new living habits, new freedoms, new frights.

Anomie is a debilitating mental condition in which you lose your old standards and don't pick up replacement parts.

The Greeks out there in the far provinces got sloppy. Irresponsible. Lost enthusiasm for their government. They had to be recalled to Athens to get punished or to get well and get back on the job.


My other favorite new word is velleity.

Velleity is a condition familiar at times to all of us. It's when we develop a longing or craving or need for something but do absolutely nothing to achieve that goal.

While my heart and all the rest of me belong to San Diego, I ask you if anomie and velleity might be used in discussing the lackadaisical feeling most of us have about City Hall?

I plead guilty.

These revelations of malpractice and corruption by our public servants have been shocking, terrifying, disgusting, and a sinfully enjoyable diversion. One headline worse than the next. Can't wait for tomorrow's scandal. Who's going to jail?

The trouble is that we are we and they are them.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and his awesomely effective chief of staff, the diminutive lady admiral Ronne Froman, can't do it all by themselves.

Somewhere along the way between anomie and velleity, we decided that city government was another horror show. It's not entertainment, no matter how gory. It is not them and us.

The way democracy works, we are all responsible. Or we all go down together.

As for myself, I'm going to try to do something to help. We'll all need to. Pay attention. Watch and listen.

Or we'll be back in the same old hole.