I’ve coined a word for what happens to most people who are in Berkeley, Oakland, etc. for any length of time. I call it, “Berkeley-cized.”

Berkeley-cized refers to once normal people from normal parts of the world. They come to this area with their faculties still intact. But before long, they usually become, “Berkeley-cized.” 

Let me give you an example, actually a true one.

Claire is an older woman who moved to these parts to live near her adult son and grandchildren. She had, for years, lived in a bucolic, safe town in the South.

I met Claire about a year ago when she was working as a cashier in one of the local pharmacies. I was enchanted by her Southern accent and politeness, as we talked about her recent move to the Bay Area. She was aghast by what she was seeing: the filth, crime, and the general level of meanness.

Her ardor for this place hadn’t grown by the time I chatted with Claire a few months later. While we were talking, a man ran into the store, purposely threw over some items, and grabbed a few more and ran out. She and I both looked at each other, horrified. Claire shook her head and said, contemptuously, “This happens all the time. I can’t believe that people act this way around here and that no one seems to care.”

Sadly, though, when I last encountered Claire, just this week, she had morphed into someone completely unrecognizable. I started making chit-chat with her on the checkout line, and I said, “How are you doing in this crazy area?” Defensively, she countered with, “Oh, it’s not so crazy here. It’s a lot crazier in Florida.”

Startled, I responded with, “I don’t know what is going on in Florida since I don’t pay attention to the news. But I can’t imagine any area being more insane than this one.”

She argued that, “Oh, no, it’s a lot worse in Florida. The governor there is crazy.”

Now I don’t know what is going on in Florida or the governor there. I wasn’t sure what Claire was talking about. But one thing I was sure of: Claire had become Berkeley-cized. My formerly reasonable acquaintance was now one of “them.”

I’ve seen this same phenomenon occur over and over again, which, to me, looks a whole lot like cult behavior. It also reminds me of the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages fall in love with their kidnappers in order to survive.

I suppose there are only two viable options when encountering the insanity that is Berkeley. One choice is to see reality for what it is. But that requires much intestinal fortitude because, when it dawns on you that you left hearth and home for Hades, it can be terrifying.

So most people choose number two: they, like Claire, become Berkeley-cized. Somehow it’s easier to chuck reality for something easier to tolerate. And people console themselves by imagining some other place, somewhere else, as being “worse.”

Being Berkeley-cized is similar to what abused spouses do to calm themselves down at the end of another traumatic day. Rather than see the wreckage of their lives, they rationalize it with, “It could always be worse.”

It was sad to meet up with Claire, and to behold yet another previously-intact person having her brain hijacked by the Body Snatchers. Though Claire was once a rare and refreshing voice in the maddening crowd, she clearly has decided that it’s easier to join them, rather than fight them. Maybe her newly programmed self will have an easier time coping the next time that a thug storms into her store to rob it.

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