How did jaguar get its spots? In a fight with a porcupine. Jaguar was stronger but porcupine was also strong, strong enough to impact the jaguar forever. It’s an old Mexican tale told, a tale that sounds surprisingly like the one that big cities like LA tale to signify an edge to progression, a decadence after “years of struggling with gang life, etc”. Homelessness? A lack of cultural services in some communities? Jaguar spots.
An extreme economic slump from 1619 to 1622 in Western Europe, amidst an age of religious extremism and a climate catastrophe (too much carbon in the air) led to scientific and philosophical revolutions towards rationality and the 18th and early 19th century revolutions that are today well known. Such was the beginning of the enlightenment and also counter-enlightenments, both precursors of our contemporary progressive movements. The great plague was to reoccur in the 1630’s and 1940’s as food production was down. Stephen Toulmin presents this thesis in his book Cosmopolis. According to Harold Meyerson, the 1992 riots did just this and led to the Renaissance of the jaguar and many of its most crucial organs such as LAANE, a community organizing group founded by UNITE HERE. According to LA native Meyerson, no community group is more important to LA progression. Nevermind that LA got it true start as a booming city when William Mulholland ran the Owens Valley dry, beginning a cycle of depraved decadence and white supremacy that today is the capital of homelessness, the new Jim Crow, city corruption like no other and people of color middle class organizing complicity that underlies massive and savage gentrification. The city is a jaguar ontologically because it has tall buildings, enterprises, homes, unions etc and not a furthered existential crisis ensued by the proliferation of representative community organizing.
This jaguar is no jaguar but it’s hard to say this to folks who have fallen in love with the image of themselves. Mike Davis said it in City of Quartz and then proceeded to leave the city. Instead of taking his writing to heart, the book is now a favorite in LA bookstores as if to symbolize the value of the city. This jaguar is a masked real estate developer and joker broker prancing about as a city of sun, tacos, tattoos, films, rock and roll, etc. It has been the case since LA brought in water and began to market itself as a new polity, one of order and health as yet unknown to the American. Today, real estate capital continues to dominate its existence with a mirage of progression because here, until a real democracy, when the massive amount of homo sacers organize around the ancient question that birds, bees, coyotes, etc all ask “what do I make of my presence in this world”, then this mirage of progression will be the reason why the city exists in the first place and it’s spots a byproduct of this reckless form of capitalism, of a city-commodity.
For this, to become a grand polity, a web of a human relations that exists for the good of the collective, Los Angeles must go back to the drawing board and no longer exist to finance the edenic living of the county’s elite. Palm trees and jacaranda trees pushed aside, the land and those one it must regenerate into something else. In Brazil, such a project was attempted with the early incarnations of the PT, the worker’s party, and their participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre. LA has a vast network of neighborhood councils that exist almost as a little league of government, and recklessly so. With a budget in the tens of thousands, each neighborhood council is not only not given the resources needed to make the impact it should make but also debate existential questions such as gentrification with the sort of despair that ensues when one does not have the resources and the city council and Mayor are understood by virtue of budget to be the adults in the room. It’s a ridiculous situation that should be replaced with participatory budgeting, or else with the political and financial democracy that the neighborhood council project promises and the city it should bring about. A new system of neighborhood councils is just one way that LA can change course.
What is the point to life in mega-city LA? Has there ever really been one? What makes it a noteworthy project in collective life? All questions that a demos being assaulted by real estate capital has yet to answer for itself. Until then, LA remains beautiful when it is sung about, its grid dissolved, its houses no longer transplants of Eastern culture. Joni Mitchell, Rage Against The Machine, LA in song is the other LA, the Jaguar, collective life that means more than an exchange value.