Some years ago when the case of Amanda Knox was becoming quite well known here in the United States I watched an hour long news program on the matter and came away with no opinion regarding her guilt or innocence. What struck me most was that while the Italian and British public were certain of her culpability in the matter, Americans looking at the same information were just as confirmed in their belief that she was being wrongfully accused. It seemed obvious that no one in the public was really looking at the data: Brits wanted someone to be punished in the death of an English woman abroad, the Italians wanted it to be a foreigner, and we couldn’t imagine a nice West Coast girl ever doing such a thing.
Listening to the Useful Idiots podcast this week I heard Matt Taibbi discuss the experience of a molecular biologist in England dealing with Covid-19 and treatment options. In Europe he was finding generally mixed views on hydroxychloroquine, with people looking for better understanding given a wide range of experiences. In dealing with Americans he found absolute certainty both for and against the treatment depending completely on the political views of the person he was communicating with; and so he no longer views information from the United States as being at all useful on the topic. As Emerson says, knowing your party I can anticipate your argument.
At this point I am contemplating the creation of a database with links to articles from ZeroHedge predicting Urban Unrest. One piece had “Rioting and Looting” in the headline without a single reference to either in the text. I am disheartened at what so far seems to be the disproportionate impact on places I care deeply about like Spain, and cities in the Northeast, but I may have to accept that this outbreak will be another setback, perhaps an enormous one, for places that I had seen making progress.
I live, quite intentionally, on a bus line and closely connected to what had been a growing hub for regional transit. My retirement plans included a monthly budget for a bus pass instead of a car. As skeptical as I have always been of the back to the city “Great Inversion” narrative (to me it seems to be more of the same with young people flocking to a select few “Superstar Cities” while third tier places like my hometown continue to decline) I have always hoped to be proven wrong.
There have been paradoxes in the technosphere in the past where the logistical ability to work separately has led to greater concentration, but if working remotely becomes a new norm will soft demand downtowns like Springfield experience a total collapse in the value of commercial real estate? Is this homeless man sleeping on the porch of the newly renovated multi-million dollar shared work space an anomaly of the stay-at-home epoch or is it a harbinger?
Until yesterday every voice I had heard on the matter, including my own, was expressing chagrin that the coronavirus would provide cover to those whose venality and greed had weakened the foundations of our economic system and our society. Everything can be blamed on Covid-19 and so the corrupt stock buy back schemes and the excessive leveraging which always would have led to disaster will never be punished. Dr Pippa Malmgren expressed a completely different view: Perhaps the obfuscatory character of this global pandemic will allow everyone to move beyond blame, whatever the moral hazards, and on to rational responses to our current circumstances.
Every moment, every ounce of energy dedicated to retribution won’t be spent dealing with the issues at hand. We need to be thoughtful. I do think that many of the voices calling for “America to be opened up” are sociopaths with a political agenda, and as an individual sitting just outside the target demographic for an ICU bed with a respirator I take it a little bit personally, but they do have a point; at one extreme of a Laffer type curve of production we all die because no one is producing anything, even if at the other extreme our systems break down because too many people are critically ill at the same time. There may not ever be a vaccine, there still isn’t one for HIV. People may not ever achieve immunity, the common cold is a coronavirus. I have no idea, but experts in the field know that they don’t know; I should at least admit that much ignorance.
A dictator wanting trains to be on time doesn’t make punctuality undemocratic. Not obsessing about the source of an idea, but rather weighing the merit of the idea in and of itself, might be the key to getting ourselves out of this in the best condition possible.
My wife and I just finished watching a Netflix series from France: Le Bazar de la Charite or, by its English title, the Bonfire of Destiny. Even the ugliness was beautiful. I don’t believe in being born out of time or in living in the wrong century but I know that for whatever reason the 19th Century forms the bedrock of my aesthetic. When I have the choice it dominates what I read, what I listen to, and even which period pieces I binge watch. I live in a 19th century home surrounded by other 19th century buildings in a city which perhaps reached its zenith in the late 19th century.
I’m driven by my own subjective desires to want certain things to be true, and certain places to thrive ahead of others, but I know that destiny will be, at best, indifferent to my wishes. I have no doubt but that, at the banquet of consequences at which we will feast, I will do my best to dine on those which I enjoy while avoiding those I find distasteful; but it may be that I will find them all distasteful. From these pages, from my pen (as it were) I’ve never tried to convince people who hated cities that they should love them. I don’t think I’ve ever written an attack on the suburban or the Sun Belt lifestyle. Perhaps others have, or in defending rationally held views about economic viability or safety and security I have pointed out objective differences, and even errors in assessment, that people make regarding urban areas which by their very nature are critical of cul de sacs or horizontal development, but I’ve never told anyone they were wrong to live there.
As I wrote weeks ago, events are in control. If this is the moment when sheer force of will can no longer bend apparent facts to our whim, then reality’s unmerciful judgement will fall upon whatever it will fall whatever the sophistry used to defend it. I am reassessing every day and finding myself satisfied in some areas, but less so in others. In truth I’m as excited as I am trepidatious regarding what will follow. I do believe that evidence would show that there is a great deal more animus projected onto impoverished Rust Belt cities than onto strip malls and big box power centers in the culture at large; perhaps because that IS the “culture at large”. That said, I think we will all be dealing with enough in our individual circumstances that whatever schadenfraude we may experience at the decline of some “other” may need to wait until we see how well the things we cherish fare in the coming discontinuity.