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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• This Could Never Happen in Malibu •

ANNE SOBLE

Once upon a time, there was a community that was so special that people all around the world knew about it and just hearing its name conjured up visions of beauty and euphoria. Although others thought that the community was a virtual paradise, its residents were very unhappy. They did not want to be special. They wanted their community to be just like every other community.
One of the reasons they wanted their town to be like everywhere else is because it takes effort to be different. It’s much easier to conform to established norms. Being unique requires thought, creativity, and imagination.
When the special community originally formed a local government, they said it would remain small, avoid bureaucratic metastasizing and serve as a laboratory for socio-political and environmental experimentation. Citizen-representatives would be change-agents implementing a new political paradigm.
But the residents didn’t want to spend time at meetings. Soon the government looked more like every other small town government. It grew, and it grew. Decision-making became standardized because pre-existing models could be utilized instead of having to create customized ones.
Residents also grew tired of business centers that started out to be as unique as the special community’s internationally renowned environment. They were delighted when the community’s commercial centers became replicates of the centers that the surrounding communities have. The residents could now boast that they had all of the high-end amenities that every other community has.
When the special community opened a school, it was going to break the mold of educational facilities that followed the same formulae that resulted in teen malaise and academic indifference. The school was going to be innovative and make learning exiting. Because it was near the sea, it was going to focus on water sports, and even look at alternative athletics, such as archery, fencing, and riflery.
But many of the special community’s parents did not want their children to be different from children in other communities. They wanted their children to be able to fit in. They were willing to stifle the uniqueness of their special place so this could become the case.
The “everyone else” logic well known to every parent—everyone else is doing something so the child should be allowed to do it—took hold among the adults in the special community. More and more residents contended, “Every other community has such-and-such,” and they wanted to have it too.
Soon the residents clamored for the community’s specialness to be completely undone. The uniqueness of its setting slowly faded into the background. Residents were content knowing that their lives were becoming more and more like the lives of people everywhere else. They no longer had to worry about the stigma of standing out.
Before long, the special community became increasingly ordinary, and all of the people around the world began to realize that what they once thought was such a special place had become no different than their own hometowns. The community’s name no longer conjured up images of beauty and euphoria.
After a while, people everywhere else ceased to talk about the changed community. As it no longer merited special attention, many of them even forgot its name.

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