Dear Culver City Neighbors,
November 3, 2022
We are currently experiencing a ‘spiral of silence’ in Culver City. It can and should be stopped.
In 1974, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a political scientist, coined the phrase ‘spiral of silence’ to describe a situation in which an individual’s willingness to express his or her opinion in public is a function of what he or she perceives the public opinion to be. More precisely, people who believe that they hold a minority viewpoint on a public issue will “remain in the background where their communication will be restrained”. The more people perceive their viewpoint to be in the minority, the more they will self-censor and silence themselves, the more others with a similar viewpoint will also think they are in the minority, and so on; this self-reinforcing behavior is what the spiral imagery is meant to convey.
It is important to note that, in a ‘spiral of silence’, the self-imposed restraint on speech is not due to ethical or epistemological standards. In other words, a person does not choose to restrain his or her speech because they know that their arguments are made in bad faith or are weak, meaning they are not evidence-based or will not stand the test of logic or reason. That type of self-restraint would be coherent and, to some degree, desirable in civil society. The type of restraint that is characteristic of a ‘spiral of silence’ is driven by a fear of social isolation. A fear that voicing a contrarian viewpoint – simply because it is perceived to be the minority viewpoint – will make you a social pariah and put you at odds with what some people want you to believe is the majority viewpoint. It is the fear of modern excommunication. It is the fear of being ‘cancelled’, even if it means in your small group of friends or on your block.
What we are observing in Culver City is a ‘spiral of silence’ concerning homelessness and the homeless population. Over time, like the proverbial frog in the pot, the residents of Culver City have been growing accustomed to a situation that any rational person would find fault with. Homeless encampments, doubling as open-air drug scenes, have expanded in their prominence. Residents walking the streets of their neighborhoods are forced to maneuver around tents that have been popped-up obliviously in the middle of the sidewalk. Drug use has become more common, public, and blatant in the streets, with people shooting up in broad daylight behind retail stores. Homeless people have been urinating in the streets, in plain sight. Several of them have just walked straight into people’s yards and homes during the day. A type of “Homeless Corridor” has been established on Culver Blvd., between Sepulveda and Venice, and witnessing homeless people walking up-and-down it, shouting obscenities, littering, and disturbing retailers, is almost a daily occurrence now. Linwood E. Howe Elementary, near this Corridor, has found it necessary to install fence slats to shield the children from individuals walking past the playground acting inappropriately.
All of the above has become a permanent backdrop to our city, seemingly baked into the fabric of our lives forever. It's a reality that we've all just sort of resigned to accept, as if there was no alternative. The reasons for this reality, we're told many times and in different ways, are systemic. They are simultaneously simple (capitalism, corporate greed, oppression) and complex (every story is different and nuanced). To contest such claims is, you're told, a sign of your Conservatism, privilege, ignorance, cold-heartedness, implicit bias. You are made to feel like a bad person. A bad person who is in the minority.
I don’t know what the solution to the homelessness situation in Culver City is. I am not an expert on the matter and the appropriate policy should be subject to debate. But I do know one thing. People who don’t agree with the Harm Reduction and Housing First viewpoints that have become the near orthodoxy of our time, even if their effectiveness and long-term sustainability are questionable, are not bad people. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to see people high on drugs or strung out walking the streets of your neighborhood. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to drive past an ever-growing homeless encampment every day. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to see a homeless person peeing in the arch at the entrance to the Culver City City Hall. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to see someone injecting drugs out in the open. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to ride your bike by tents on the La Ballona bike path. You are not a bad person because you don’t want to put up with someone shouting obscenities at you while walking down the street. You are not a bad person because you’d rather cross the street instead of chancing yet another uncomfortable interaction with a homeless person. You are not a bad person because you don't want to subject your child to erratic and unstable people when he or she leaves school. You are not a bad person because you believe that we should be less lenient of unabashed antisocial behavior. You are not a bad person, and you are not alone. A lot of other people think like you. And many of these people are good-hearted, moral, Liberal, and even Progressive, despite what some politicians want you to believe.
In February 2022, San Francisco residents made national news when they voted to recall three members of its Board of Education after wide criticism that it was failing to focus on students amid the pandemic and choosing to focus instead on the renaming of 44 schools and other policies deemed ineffectual or low priority by parents. In June 2022, San Francisco residents again made national news after they voted overwhelmingly to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, one of the nation's most progressive top prosecutors. These two events represented the beginning of the end of a ‘spiral of silence’ in San Francisco, a city who many people – within and outside – believed was politically and philosophically homogenous. For me, the politics of the school board and of Mr. Boudin are practically irrelevant in this case. The real significance was that a seeming orthodoxy was being shattered because the less vocal people, the ones who thought that their viewpoint was a minority, finally decided to speak up. We can and should do the same thing in Culver City.