Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Santa Barbara Syndrome

Saw this rather intellectual blog posting at today and got a noodge from a reader -- good stuff that's worth a read. Here's a snippet -- but I'd urge you to read the whole posting from the link above:

People who are comfortable do not want change, since that may lead to discomfort.

This "law" was first presented to me by a seat companion on a flight from Santa Barbara to Chicago. She told me that psychiatrists had begun to talk about the "Santa Barbara syndrome." This was a particular form of depression that grew out of the premise that "life was perfect in Santa Barbara." The primary symptom was the total lack of ability to take any significant action, since that action might lead to having to leave Santa Barbara and thus abandoning the state of perfection one had attained! My own corollary generalizes on this little lesson. There are lots of places you can be comfortable; but, once you are comfortable, you want to "freeze" it into a "permanent state." As Isaiah Berlin has observed, this is the "tragic flaw" (Aristotle's language, not Berlin's) of utopianism. More recently Russ Feingold has picked up on the corollary in his argument that Congress was more interested in "political comfort" than in the will of their electorate.

However, the corollary gives rise to another law that looks at change from the other side of the coin:

People who are uncomfortable do not have a voice.

Are we in a cryogenic state because we don't want change? Is NIMBYism a by-product of the SB Syndrome? When personal change, growth and development is affected by our environs and need for stasis (as we spend so much time and money to stay here) -- are we not destined for trouble? How do Einstein's theories relate?

Dude -- this is metaphysical and I putting the spliff down amongst yourselves.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a junk in-junk out theory. I thinks its author has a wee bit of class envy. There is much that is not perfect about Santa Barbara so the first premise is invalid.

Maybe he is thinking of a Montecito Syndrome, but anyone walking around this sad little town of Santa Barbara, past the tourist and upper income areas quickly realizes all of urban ills land also in Santa Barbara.

Perhaps he only sees white Santa Barbara. What a fraud.

5/31/2007 11:08 PM  
Anonymous SB born and raised said...

I have Santa Barbara syndrome. Although I moved away for about a decade, I did return and I know it'll be very hard to displace me again.

5/31/2007 11:16 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

"There is much that is not perfect about Santa Barbara so the first premise is invalid."

Not so. Perception in this case is the reality. Perfection, in our perception, is relative to somewhere else. If you were born and raised here, then your perception of urban ills is severely limited. Try Vegas or Phoenix in the summer for a few months. Try Buffalo or Chicago in the winter. It's not all about money and class struggle.

I might also argue that your unwillingness to leave this sad little white dominated and oppresive town is your own form of SB Syndrome.

Isn't it the comfort zone of non whites to be able to blame their lot in life on racial and economic discrimination? Much easier to say you're disenfranchised than to get up and do something about it. Isn't that a fear of change? Even UCSB excepts illeagal immigrants and only charges them resident rates.

As to my own fear of changes, I've decided to back off the UCSB bashing (even though they still plan to ruin my neighborhood). In the last few weeks, they have set up a specific web site and are beginning a new LRDP process and are going to extra lengths to include the Goleta community at large. I'd like to think that maybe it has something to do with our extended discussions here (and in GV Council meetings) a couple of months ago. I think they are finally paying attention.

6/01/2007 3:24 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

The writer's first assumption is that while in Santa Barbara, the perfection of it all, simply and irrevocably undermines our will to act for the greater good. It makes us morally suspect because of the fulfillment of our self-interest--while others are less satisfied. We are guilty because we are happy while others are not. (sound familiar?)

The second assumption is that others, in a less perfect environment, don't act either--out of their state of having been disenfranchised--undoubtedly at least partially by the uncaring, morally suspect citizen of perfect Santa Barbara.

Crap. Pure crap. The writer is a utopian and seeks an easy explanation of why everybody is not doing what the writer considers the final state of utopia. (I understand we are making "Feingoldian" comments about lack of success in stopping the war by stopping funding--personally I'm for stopping Al Qaeda).

The writer has presented us with one part of the citizenry painted guilty while the other is made victim. It's a common tactic of leftist ideologies when they don't get what they want. This person is a moral absolutist and wants us to all walk around feeling guity for enjoying ourselves while others are suffering. This person needs to read more Emerson.

6/01/2007 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps related to this alleged syndrome is another aspect of SB life that I have noticed during the nearly 12 years I've lived here. I used to work for a large national company that has since moved out of town. Every few months, we would hire a succession of temporary support staff (secretaries, administrative assistants, etc.), a significant number of whom were middle-aged former UCSB students (often women, I have to say) who had gotten undergraduate degrees here in town, fallen in love with the SB lifestyle, gone on to get graduate degrees and then stayed in town without hope of ever finding a job to match their qualifications. Instead, these people have worked for decades at jobs that were clearly below their education level and barely paid enough to get by in SB. Some were clearly very bitter about this compromise.

6/01/2007 8:36 AM  
Anonymous Eckermann said...

I am not all that sure that comfort is the driver for the quality of life advocates (call them NIMBYs if you wish). I have lived around here for a long time and consider myself very fortunate that I get to live here. I left a very comfortable place, where my salary paid for a mortgage and moved here where two salaries would not. But time and luck worked together and my wife and I were able to buy a home. But I was a NIMBY when I was a renter. I know many resourceful NIMBYs who started out as renters (with roomates!) and still voted for no-growth candidates. The southern coast of Santa Barbara County is far from utopian perfection. However, despite our social challenges, it remains one of the few (maybe only) areas on the Southern California coast with plenty of open space, relatively clean air, the cultural amenities of a large metropolitan area, and the natural beauty of a resort. That is why people are willing to put up with significant discomfort in order to live here, that is why there is an infinite demand for homes here, and that is why a lot folks, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable are willing to wear the NIMBY label in order to protect what is so special about the place where they live.

6/01/2007 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe this is why Santa Barbara is facing a Voting Rights violation lawsuit according to Grand Jury investigation of endemic under-representation in city offices and appointments. Is this the Santa Barbara Syndrome?

6/01/2007 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The phenomena of hiring UCSB grads is not specific to Santa Barbara. Grads from Cal Poly often stay in San Luis Obispo, grads from UC San Diego often stay in San Diego, grads from UC Santa Cruz often stay in Santa Cruz, etc. I think anytime you have a college in a desirable location you will find graduating students who want to stay.

As for the Santa Barbara syndrome, I say get over yourself. Yes, this is a nice place to live but it's not the be all and the end all. California has hundreds of nice places to live, this is just one of them.

6/01/2007 2:22 PM  
Anonymous paradise refound said...

Maybe this is a tributary of this thread but it is about change.

I lived in the SB area for a couple of decades & in that time it changed beyond any recognition. When I first arrived, many many moons ago, it was paradise.

I can see why it is so attractive to those who move here from larger cities, especially LA. So by comparison, SB is an improvement.

But for me, SB had long ago lost its charm. So I moved over the mountain & am happy to say that I've found heaven on earth! Here the lifestyle is relaxed, the roads are relatively unconjested, the drivers are courteous, the people are friendly & for the most part, salt of the earth. Everywhere there are breathtaking stretches of open land as far as you can see.

I know that many longtimers bemoan the changes, just like I did over SB. In spite of those changes, I feel like I've discovered paradise (once again).

SB is not far away for visiting friends & ocassional activities but there is less about SB that draws me there as time goes on.

So for those willing to move & who crave a more peaceful place & if your circumstances allow it- it may be an option. Just thought I'd add my dos centavos worth of experience.

6/02/2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Reading Comprehension said...

"Voting Rights violation lawsuit according to Grand Jury investigation"

I do not think so. That is not in the report anywhere.

6/02/2007 3:24 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

"How do Einstein's theories relate?"

Darn you Sara, my mind hurts. While mowing the grass in my Sisyphean way, I came up with the following:

When I Grok the art of Zen, I'll be able to create a faster than light vehicle probably using Heisenberg and Bell's theories of uncertainty and hidden variables. Albert says no but he's been wrong before.

Traveling faster than light, I could overtake in the void that point in the Abschattung that might be "my" perception of the time of a "perfect" SB existence. Let's say before Paseo Nuevo but after the stoplights on 101...hanging out at Rocky G's on a warm Sunday afternoon, listening to live music and watching the girls dance on the bar. At this point, I slow exactly to the speed of light, settle in and do not have to precede to the next of infinite manifistations of the Abschattung caused by the impact of the fourth dimension (change over time) to the observer of the phenomenon, or Abschattung.

Having the ability to speed up or slow down, I could visit the various manifistations and appear to all other observers in the Abschattung as omnipotent and God-like. The Universe could thwart me though by actually being deterministic rather than existential in which case I maybe never able to Grok the art of Zen...and so it goes.

6/02/2007 5:34 PM  
Anonymous donaldo de Santa Barbara said...

Pyscotherapists once used Las Vegas as a place for studying quirky human behavior. I doubt Santa Barbara will ever replace Las Vegas but it does have it's own quirkyness that must be great for studying. Santa Barbara has three things that seperates itself from the rest of the planet. 1.) the immediate mountain backdrop. 2.) the California Coastal climate ( the best on the planet ) and 3. ) the name Santa Barbara. I wish we could drop the name if only to bring us down a notch. The people here are no different from people anywhere....we're all Grifter NIMBYs and we're also all full of crap!

6/02/2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

Bravo sa1! Good job at distilling the theories...

6/03/2007 5:45 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

SA I: Using Star Trek technology, and thereby finding ourselves instantaneously and easily beamed to Hyeres on the French Riviera, one would find Channel Islands, Mountains to the rear, Stop lights recently removed, and also great restaurants, great wine, women still dancing on the bar (and dressing much better with fewer tatoos), and everyone going to French bullfights where the Bull never dies--no need for risky Einstein inspired, faster than light travel, nor risking Heisenberg's uncertainties.

Note well Donaldo, it's not called Santa Barbara.

Donaldo is a provencial. Hyeres is our sister county. Oh, I forgot to mention drought and forest fires in the summer. Nimby's about, and one should not forget a curious set of more senuous syndromes to ponder.

6/03/2007 6:53 AM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

"no need for risky Einstein inspired, faster than light travel"

Agreed. Better to plant myself under our own Bohdi Tree and await enlightenment. My corporeal being can then trancend these earthly bounds and reach Nirvana. I would then have no worries of high density, creek pollution, mansionization, homelessness or disefranchisement.

Say it with me now...


6/03/2007 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...


Is there a song?
"Don't sit under the Bohdi Tree
with anyone else but me,

with anyone else but me."

6/03/2007 2:08 PM  
Anonymous jqb said...

It's interesting that there are such strong reactions that totally miss the point of anything Mr. Smoliar wrote -- if he had mentioned some other town than Santa Barbara, it would be people in that town who would be defending themselves against a charge he never made. He certainly didn't claim that everything's perfect in Santa Barbara! (a: it was a quote that was at best fourth hand; b: it was presented as a premise from which depression arose, suggesting it isn't valid).

Mr. Smoliar offered 4 descriptive "laws" and 2 corollaries:

People are willing to share poverty, but they would prefer to keep wealth.

Survival comes before quality.

Terrorism is protest by other means.

Comfort is the enemy of will.

People who are comfortable do not want change, since that may lead to discomfort.

People who are uncomfortable do not have a voice.

I think these statements are, at least, not obviously wrong, and deserve some consideration by discerning minds, rather than angry dismissal.

6/05/2007 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

BEWARE of people bearing laws and corollaries...

6/05/2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...


I agree with your assessment. The article does need parsing as the author throws a lot of concepts into the mix. SB is clearly far from perfect in a utopian sense. Mostly what he talks about is self evident but...

I think the concept that people who are uncomfortable do not have a voice is the most powerful. The manipulation of public opinion by the media and those who control it has a deleterious effect on one's
(ones?) ability to properly percieve and appreciate their lot in life. Probably why therapists, drug makers and lawyers do so well.

It would be very stimulating to discuss these concepts but in a society where we would rather fund police than schools...

6/06/2007 8:20 AM  
Anonymous A soon-to-be EX-Santa Barbarian said...

"Life in Santa Barbara is perfect"? Puh-leeze. I have never seen a more self-absorbed community. It reminds me of the fable about the Emperor's New Clothes - everyone so eagerly telling one another how "perfect" it is here, no one notices that the Emporor is naked - and probably is not playing with a full deck.
Individually, there are lots of nice decent folk here, nice weather (if you don't mind a couple of months of gray skies when most places are enjoying Spring and Summer sunshine, not to mention the near constant threat of wildfires and, of course, the ever-present threat of "the Big One" which - let's face it - will come one day as it has several times before).
Let's be honest - the town doesn't have a decent newspaper, the lone TV station is amateurish to put it politely. Gang violence is rampant and growing and there are serious drug and alcohol abuse problems among the teenage and college student populations.
There is next to nothing open late at night, other than a couple of rowdy bars on lower State Street and forget about trying to go to a movie after 8PM most nights. Although there are a couple of good restaurants, most are located in shopping centers and lack atmostphere.
Santa Barbara is, at the end of the day, a sleepy bedroom community, inhabited mostly by students and an aging and/or retired group of people - half the population has lots of money, the other half does their gardening and housecleaning.
We moved here two years ago so our son could attend school and I can't wait until he graduates and we can get out of Dodge. (I must not be the only who feels this way - ever notice there are more "FOR SALE" signs per square inch in this town than almost any place on earth). It's been tolerable but I long for some intellectual stimulation, even some intellectual controversy as well as "the energy" - that feeling of excitement when you step out the door in the morning to start your day. This place has none. What I long for obviously is not for everyone and I would never presume to impose my values and predilections on anyone but I am tired of people here constantly asking and/or telling me how wonderful this place is. If you like it here, why not just shut up and enjoy it. As for those who still have functioning brain cells, wake up, open your eyes, look around before it's too late - life in Santa Barbara is far from "perfect" - and it isn't getting better.

6/06/2007 1:51 PM  
Anonymous jqb said...

I think it's more proper to beware of people bearing false witness. For instance, you wrote "The writer is a utopian", and yet Mr. Smoliar wrote of utopianism's "fatal flaw" -- he was criticizing utopianism, not promoting it. But rather than deal honestly with substance, you simply hang an ad hominem "beware" sign around his neck.

6/06/2007 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

jcb: I was talking about his unstated utopian reference point--that there was someplace in the world where people in perfect places always cared, and people who were disadvantaged always voted the right way as he saw it.

Soon to be ex-santa barbararian:

Well now you know the full dimensions of the expression: "another dull day in paradise." Is it you or is it Santa Barbara?, that is the question.

6/06/2007 7:31 PM  
Anonymous Eckermann said...

From a recent survey of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties called The Central Coast Survey, published May 2007 by the Social Science Survey Center at UCSB:

73% are very satisfied with their lives.
72% are very satisfied with their homes and neighborhoods.
84% Feel safe in their neighborhoods.
91% Think the current rate of population growth and development is either too fast (43%) or about right (48%).
69% have lived in the area for over 11 years.
70% own their homes.

Not perfect, but sounds like a pretty happy and satisfied community to me.

6/07/2007 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Soon to be Ex-Santa Barbarian said...

In the words of a certain President - from this area - "There you go again".

6/07/2007 2:39 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

I wonder if the 73% very satisfied is the same who've been here for 11 years and own their own home.

"ever notice there are more "FOR SALE" signs per square inch..."

NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD ! (Try Miami, San Diego or Vegas)
There maybe more NIMBY's per sq. in. though. Hmmm

"trying to go to a movie after 8PM most nights"
Can't afford to as my HD cable bill is so expensive. (but the picture is awesome!)

"the ever-present threat of "the Big One"
Oh, you must be from out of state...We just have the media spread that to the hinterlands to keep the immigration to a rolling flood.

"other than a couple of rowdy bars on lower State Street" You don't get out much do you?

"I have never seen a more self-absorbed community." You got me there...It is a bit nauseating at times...

6/07/2007 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lived here for nearly 18 years, I rent, i don't have much in the bank. Things that have NOT changed at all in the last 18 years, traffic, high rents, gang violence, all the ridulous coffee stores, stupid people from LA, drunken college students, rich montecito, airport flights too expensive to fly out locally.


Those of you who think any of the above has changed at all have to pull there head out of your ass. Media has made it seem worse.. the only thing that has changed are the temporary people who live here for only 3-4 years and move on. If you live here long enough you AGE; get older, and lose patience for the things you once tolerated.

At one time I enbraced the local scene that contained the most over-embundant stock of really HOT women. Now, I have aged, married and grown out of that scene....I know that there are still a plethora of really HOT women, just that I am too old for that.... is my analogy sinking in?

The survey doesn't point out that after 11 years of living here, your ideals, wants desires etc, change drastically after you age.

Whenever you own or have something you like its a universal truth that you resist change.

Accept you own reality and move on!

When houses were 250K when i first moved here, i could not afford them. Now the same house is 850K, i still can not afford it. If it came down to 100K i still can't buy it... It doesn't matter if they go up to 18Million... I still cannot afford them, and nothing has changed.

I am still happy living in SB and when I hear someone complaining that there is hardly any jobs in SB, and that there are thousands of jobs in LA......i just reply to them, " All you need is one, my friend, all you need is one."

6/22/2007 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mountains and the sea provide much more than beautiful vistas: The energy from the Santa Barbara area offers a fine balance for healing, which God knows we all could use.

6/23/2007 10:46 AM  

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