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Fred Allebach
Connecting the Dots
Fred Allebach

Alternate universes of facts collide again

Here in Sonoma Valley we inhabit the same physical space, but have the propensity to occupy alternate universes of facts. The hillside homes imbroglio, hotels, wine tasting on the Plaza, and various housing or development projects are good cases in point. These issues bring out alternate opinions, testimonies, appeals, and lawsuits where the facts collide in spectacular fashion.   The latest example was the city’s expedited $15 minimum wage ordinance hearing. This particular collision pitted purists from two factions, Labor and Management. Like yin and yang, you can’t have one of these without the other, yet their interests remain opposed, forever in tension, orbiting a black hole in eternal conflict, the release from which is like a Norse primordial battle at the end of time.   The expedited $15 was one more Ragnarok-ian struggle, between the same local forces that always seem to take the same sides, over and over again. Who might these sides be? Right and Left, Conservative and Liberal, Free Market and Progressives. For $15 however, no potential little guy allies showed up, no hotel, green, climate, or small town character universal forces showed up to cross swords one more time with that eternal adversary, Business. Social equity is indeed, the forgotten pillar of sustainability, in about all cases. The poor have no chits to trade other than their labor. Labor benefits are held down, in a vast right and left wing conspiracy, and there they stay, eternally dominated in that greatest of human advancements, hierarchical Civilization.   It’s not in anyone’s interest but Labor’s to show up and advocate for the few crumbs they ask for. This persistent pattern does not bode well for solving “the housing issue”, as the people who have all the cards, and whose interests are those of big fish, will again control all.   Full disclosure, I am a Labor guy, and while I can see bosses may have a point here or there, my sympathies along the wheel of the cosmic battle are set. I’m with the little fish and not the big fish. It is in big fish’s nature to desire to eat little fish and keep little fish in their pecking order place; this game emerges out of a deep past of life only being able to get by, by consuming other life. A decent wage not be about facts at all, eating the little guy may just be an indelible property of life itself!      With an Anthropology degree, with emphasis on culture and language, I also see universes of justifying facts as relative, and as Gary Witherspoon said, “the whole (social) world is built on top of unprovable, primary metaphysical assumptions.” Four years of college and University to come away with that little gem. And yet, all this layered meaning and symbolism, of which facts are the tip of the iceberg, only stand as a proxy for the underlying material interests of who eats who, and who has the power and control to set the terms. The masks in this play of life are not that subtle to be able to see through…   And so, here in the erstwhile bucolic valley, whole constellations, galaxies, and universes of facts are contending for primacy, power and control: the big money free market guys, the philanthropy/ charity/ non-profit symbiosis, the local protectors, the social justice folks, they all must be, in the end, strained down to an almost unimaginably dense singularity of three votes. How could it be so!? All those solar systems, comets, and asteroid belts of facts have to be delivered to the alter of the decision-making gods, who at the Scales of Justice, never seem to be able to satisfy the true believers who offer their sacraments of real and symbolic facts, in support of their material interests, in great hope and expectation, during the vaunted three-minute ritual.   At the end of the current $15 process, all supplicants were pissed off. Management had to eat an expedited $15 to $16, but Labor did not get the money fast enough, nor a 3.3% COLA, nor any small protections.     A great Management comment during the hearing was, “I don’t know where these (Labor) numbers are coming from, they don’t apply to us...”; “that data is not from around here.” “How can you gloss over the facts?” Well duh, of course facts from the Labor galaxy don’t apply to the restaurant owner galaxy, even if such Labor facts and figures were put together in the Sonoma Valley Fund’s Hidden in Plain Sight study, with up-to-date county Economic Development Board Census-based info specifically targeting the lower Sonoma Valley labor/management situation. Never mind either that restaurant work has the highest percent of working poor people and of job turn-over… and that the UC Berkeley Labor Center, the consultant the city hired to present the facts, said that with $15, 61.5% of restaurant industry workers would get a raise.   The logic of little fish does not apply to big fish, and never the twain shall meet.   During the ritual to shape the singularity of the Final Outcome, a swing vote can tip the gravitational forces and leverage the whole deal. The $15 staff report had two sets of hard-worked-upon facts and frameworks (plus the state 2023 deadline for $15), and there was a reasonable expectation by the contesting parties that these charts constituted the merits, yet this was torn apart at the decision-making event horizon by council member Hundley changing the nature of reality under everyone’s feet, or else no deal.   The power of the swing vote is kind of like a lion figuring out that zebras have to come to the water hole; the lion has them, and will extract a price.     Chaos reigned, deliberation went off into uncharted, unplanned-for waters, no one was happy; facts and order fell apart. The tip credit angle turned out to be an illusion. The union carve out and actual enforcement evaporated. Yet, when the dust settled the next day, Sonoma had indeed expedited a $15 minimum wage tied to 2.1% COLA. Labor did not get all they wanted, by far, and those losses were compromises and gains made for Management, even though Management and its ally, Business, will continue to disparage HHH as socialists anyway. Labor was seriously T’d off: why set up a symbolic gravy train for the little guy, to give them what everyone knows is not enough anyway, and then not throw the whole handful of crumbs to them? Not bold enough, not consistent with the 3.3% COLA the city already has for its own Living Wage Ordinance, especially when only criticism waits HHH anyway.   Yet HHH, occupying those in between dimensions and fabrics of alternate universes, must endeavor to see the logic of the facts brought forth from therein, respectively, and are destined, in a battle of colliding universes of facts, to piss off all, and please none. I say HHH, bc they are the current players; Mr. Cook is a known type of Conservative elemental matter currently on the local wane, and Ms. Agrimonti, is proven by experience to be in her own parallel string theory zone.   Are Labor and Management, and all the other contesting universes-of-facts parties around here in some kind of Alice in Wonderland dance of a zero-sum game where if one universe wins, the other loses? “How could that be?”, said Alice, “if all are part of the same system? How can that which is already irrevocably tied together be so opposed to its own nature?” And then Humpty Dumpty said, “well, facts mean exactly what people want them to mean, nothing more, nothing less.” And so when all hopes and expectations, for large classes of people, have to get strained through three votes, and all manner of arm twisting happens to dilute the purity of championing one cause of fact or another, many are bound to be disappointed.     If there is to be any reconciliation of disappointed parties, first of all, the myopic, slavish allegiance to particular universes of facts has to be laid down. Facts have to be seen for that they are, relative and symbolic representations of underlying material interests. If we can be honest about our interests, then we don’t have to pretend it’s all about facts, but rather about who wants what, and who has the power and control to get their way. Facts are a charade, a  form of Kabuki theater.   A good solution for restaurants; share the wealth, all pay the prevailing min wage, and better than that, and d away with tips altogether and make a mandatory 15% gratuity, and pool this tip bonus for front and back house employees. Everyone is working hard to make that $18-dollar burger be a good experience. Better yet, tip every worker a mandatory 15% and do like the city does and tack on charges for insurance, retirement, admin, postage and the kitchen sink as well. That would being front and back house and all min wage workers to an equal plane of $83 an hour, which is what city Public Works laborers charge for moving barricades at Plaza events. Now that’s a living wage!  Forget $15 and alternate measures of the “total cost” of labor per hour. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Let’s talk $83, and if not, ask why that is OK for the city but not Joe Sixpack?   A win-win that syncs alternate fact-streams is a fantasy for people like Quakers and Rodney King, that we could actually get along, and not have to replay the same Ragnarok-type drama over and over again. We’re not lions and zebras after all, we came endowed with the capacity for Reason. The definition of stupid after all, is doing the same dumb thing over and over, and what could be dumber than not finding a way to work in everyone’s best interest?   This is not really about the facts after all, or proving by rational means that Group A should buy into Group B’s take. Reason is a strong and potent brew, but its limited power can be and is used to serve only partial and parochial interests, susceptible to the dreaded Confirmation Bias mosquito born virus. Reason can build a house of cards on a wrong assumption… We’ll need more than Reason and Facts to get out of this pickle. It’s about how to co-exist and steward this life in the most benign way possible, to work to cause the least harm and suffering in our necessary consumption of labor and goods, at least you would hope so, from a little fish kind of view.     And so, Mayor Harrington said, “this is a moral issue, should we allow people to live in poverty?” Well, who can disagree with that? No one really, (unless Business is willing to say that “tough luck for the little guy” is their MO) but somehow restaurant owners and their allies still pursued a tack that $15 was not fair and would hurt them, and warned of “unintended consequences”, and that the Plaza is a sort of special economic ecosystem where structural equity should be forsaken in favor of a Sonoma special benevolent dictatorship system.   Maybe unintended consequences will mean some will just take all their marbles and go home. “I quit!” Shoot, after centuries of Business wins, a small victory for the little guy and there will be “unintended consequences?” Give me a break! Word to the bosses: just dial down your annual income by 5% and share it back, put off that trip to Rome or that new Mercedes for a year or two. That’s not asking for the moon and heaven too.   How is it that reconciling opposing forces in society, Labor and Management, which are inextricably linked anyway, becomes a contest of alternate facts? Maybe because one side has all the power and other not. All the parties do is to repeat their facts over and over, as if endless repetition will actually change hearts and minds. For reconciliation, somehow the zero-sum channel needs to get changed, for common sense stewardship, for groundwater, housing, wages, for Sustainability.   Conclusion, just like climate change, a simple listing and laying out of facts in a win-lose scenario does not work, it doesn’t resonate with already-set interest group primary assumptions. The facts of climate change and labor exploitation are really irrefutable (this is why the HHH council had a clear direction, even if the framework of getting there got messy), but a plain listing of them, or forcing changes down doesn’t work to get people to change. A different tack is needed to head off the inevitable collision of alternate universes of facts. The first step to reconciliation is to do as George Clinton suggested, “free your mind, and your ass will follow.” If we don’t want an eternity of revenge politics, get a little flexible, make the process like jazz, where there are no wrong notes, keep playing until we all find a groove. Without the will to play together, we’ll never make music.  
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