Two weeks ago, my mom and I went to Costco to do our COVID19 run, before the panic had descended in the US. Frankly, her life experiences have been extremely useful in preparing for a black swan event like this. She grew up in Chile in a time when there really was no toilet paper available for weeks at a time, and frequently, no food. Anyways, she was really in her element, identifying which foods would be best to stick in a cardboard box in storage “just in case”.

It’s two weeks later now, and the hordes descended, clearing out the toilet paper and the frozen foods.

I feel like I’ve aged ten years.

It’s incredible to me that people wrote this off so effortlessly – or so callously. Either they’re too young to care, or they claim that people are inflaming unnecessary panic, or the baby boomers (or older than that) who claim they are just fine and don’t need to worry.

People will show us who they really are. I’m not sure what we do with that information – it’s kind of like finding out somebody voted for the current president – but it will certainly give us a better idea of where we all stand.

If we’re a high trust society, with high regard for others outside of our immediate family units and “tribes”, we’ll survive this. The hoarding of toilet paper isn’t a great leading indicator, but at the same time, I’ve seen a fair amount of people on my neighborhood’s NextDoor app offer to do grocery runs for the elderly and immuno-compromised people. So, that’s something.

Needless to say, we are reaping the paltry harvest of the systematic dismantling of relevant agencies and bureaucracies over the past few decades, an effort championed by the right and meekly enabled by the neoliberal left. If you keep repeating that government isn’t the solution, and that government isn’t here to save us – guess what? Eventually it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, because we haven’t invested in relevant agencies and bureaucracies, and here we are, hoping that major retailers will run drive-through testing stations. Christ.

Democracy takes work. You want it to work? Do the work. I wish it were easier, but it’s not. There are forces that are conspiring to make things not work, because they make more money that way. They want you to not engage, to give up, to say “politics isn’t my thing”, “they’re all the same”, “I’m too busy”. Don’t let those words make a home in your mind. Inform yourself. Trust experts in their field. Understand their incentives. Engage in politics – it’s difficult and humbling – but you must. We must. We cannot stop. We are, unfortunately, being given a dramatic opportunity to re-frame the way we want this country to be run. The case for the right to govern is paper-thin, at this point. There are alternative ways to run a country, driven by principles as shocking as compassion for other human beings and the conviction that policy-making should generally be informed by data-driven evidence and experts in the relevant field.

But the quarantine. I’m at home in the middle of two generations – my parents, who are fairly healthy 60 year olds, and two kids (7 and 8) and a baby (6 months). I’m making the kids keep a quarantine journal – we’ll see how long that lasts. At this point, they’re primarily concerned with keeping the quarantine journals *private* from one another. It’s nice to have them around, in contrast with some unnamed adults who read too much news (me).

Since the theme of this blog was to write about books I’m reading… I’m cheating and recommending Blindness, by Jose Saramago, which I read a couple years ago. Maybe don’t read it now. Read it when this is over, and hopefully it’s not relatable…

Be safe out there. Wash your hands.

Hardcover Blindness Book

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