Government More Deadly Virus

Do you know what I’d rather not think about? The coronavirus panic. Do you know what it seems no one, including me, is thinking about? Anything other than the coronapocalypse.

People think about the things that catch their attention. That’s normal. The changes forced on society over the past couple of weeks are huge. It’s no wonder people can’t stop thinking about this.

It’s wise to take things seriously, but not to let them cause panic.

Here are some other things that might be important to learn from this:

  • If you’re sick, stay home!
  • If you are waiting to see if government can save you, you’re barking up the wrong flag pole. You have the most influence over your own life and health. Use it.
  • Don’t stay submerged in coronavirus hysteria. You can leave the cell phone in your pocket and take a walk. Let the sunlight and fresh air work their healthy magic.
  • The time to stockpile supplies is before a crisis occurs. Otherwise you help cause shortages and increase the possibility of violence. Maybe less so here than in urban areas, but it’s a danger everywhere.
  • There’s no such thing as “price gouging.” Higher prices during greater demand make sure the stores don’t run out. Government’s unwise intervention, imposing socialist economic policies, guarantees empty shelves, whether it happens in America or Venezuela. I’d rather pay a higher price for something I need than to not be able to get it at any price because stores weren’t allowed to charge higher prices during increased demand.
  • When government bungles the response — often by responding at all — and then tries to cover up the bungling with heavy-handed police state tactics as is happening now, things get worse than they otherwise would.

This is also an opportunity for personal growth.

There are people in high-risk groups who probably shouldn’t be going into public to shop. If you aren’t in this group, why not ask them what they need, and go get it for them? Compete with your friends and see who can help the most people. Make it a sport.

No one knows what the coming weeks will bring. I believe the virus itself is less dangerous than the social effects of the panic and the anti-social power-grabs by various governments.

You will suffer in the coming months. It’s not going to be the fault of any biological virus, but of an institutional one. Political government is the deadly virus most in need of extinction.

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Love the Very New and the Very Old

I love old farms and skyscrapers under construction, old cars and Elon Musk’s newest spaceships. I think my ideal way of living would consist of working on a farm (or hunting/gathering out in nature) during the day and working on a high-tech project at night (call it “Jeffersonian futurism.”)

I love the very old and the very new. I see no conflict in that – but I do see a necessity.

Futurists seem to miss the fact that old things contain worthwhile wisdom and usefulness. Traditionalism seems to miss the fact that static institutions become corrupt without change. Meanwhile, the modernists are so tied up in the recent past as to be blind to both tradition and innovation.

But in the years ahead, it’s the futurists who will deliver us interplanetary travel, life-saving medical cures, and clean and renewable nuclear energy in the years ahead. It’s the traditionalists who will help us to remember the human values of fidelity (marriage, etc), individual dignity, self-reliance, and honesty are the foundations of a society that can enjoy technological progress properly (i.e. without self-destructing).

If we’re to appreciate and encourage this outcome, we need a way of thinking that embraces the dialogue between the old and new*. We need to understand that the only conflict is between the life-enhancing and the life-destroying, and that either force can be found in our newest inventions or our oldest customs.

Author Ross Douthat recently summed up the interesting fusion he posits will lead us out of the current “age of decadence” – a combination of old-time religion and high-tech futurism:

“So down on your knees – and start working on that warp drive.”

I dig it.

*Credit to Jordan Peterson for first (in my experience) formulating this yin-yang interplay of liberalism/openness and conservatism/orderliness.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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By The Time We Notice We’re Hungry, It May Be Too Late

“[A]s the top U.S. watermelon-producing state prepares for harvest, Reuters reports, “many of the workers needed to collect the crop are stuck in Mexico …. Without the workers crops could rot in fields throughout the country,” starting in Florida and California where major harvests begin in April and May.

As you can probably guess, the problem stems from the COVID-19 panic. The US State Department has halted routine visa applications and consulates are limiting both staff numbers and staff contact with applicants. That’s making it difficult for the quarter million migrant workers who normally pick America’s crops to get here and get to work.

Most Americans aren’t hungry. Yet.

But unless something changes, we’re going to start GETTING hungry in a couple of months.

And by then, it will be too late. Planting cycles don’t turn on a dime for our convenience and ripe crops don’t wait. They get picked when it’s their time, or they go to waste. We get the food while the gettin’s good, or we don’t get it at all.

There’s a non-trivial chance that Americans are rushing headlong into a horror we haven’t seen since the Civil War — mass starvation — or, at the very least, malnutrition on a scale we haven’t suffered since the Great Depression.

We can’t avoid that outcome with stimulus checks in our mailboxes. All the money in the world won’t buy you a cantaloupe if there aren’t any cantaloupes to buy.

We can’t hold it off with corporate bailouts, either. It’s not money Big Agriculture’s lacking for, it’s permission for its workers to come pick the crops.

If we want to keep eating, our politicians are going to have to knock off this “shutdown” nonsense and let people get back to work.

Yes, even if that means that COVID-19 remains a problem or becomes a bigger problem.

The varying probabilities of catching the disease, and the varying probabilities of dying from it, pale next to the absolute, indubitable, 100% certainty that if we do not eat, we WILL die.

Politicians can’t just shut down major parts of an economy at will, start them back up, and expect things to go well. They can’t throttle the food supply chain without consequences.

We gotta eat.

Which means we’re going to have to insist that the politicians hang their Mussolini costumes back up in the closet and magnanimously permit us to get back to our lives.

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How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a “Year of Wonders”

College students around the world left campus this month, unsure when they would return and what daily life would look like until then. Forced to leave their friends and classmates behind and return to their childhood bedrooms, young people, who on average are less impacted by COVID-19’s dire health effects, may understandably feel angry and resentful. Free and independent, with their futures full of possibility, these students are now home and isolated. It can seem wholly unfair and depressing. But the story of another college student in a similar predicament might provide some hope and inspiration.

Isaac Newton’s Quarantine Experience

In 1665, “social distancing” orders emptied campuses throughout England, as the bubonic plague raged, killing 100,000 people (roughly one-quarter of London’s population), in just 18 months. A 24-year-old student from Trinity College, Cambridge was among those forced to leave campus and return indefinitely to his childhood home.

His name was Isaac Newton and his time at home during the epidemic would be called his “year of wonders.”

Away from university life, and unbounded by curriculum constraints and professor’s whims, Newton dove into discovery. According to The Washington Post: “Without his professors to guide him, Newton apparently thrived.” At home, he built bookshelves and created a small office for himself, filling a blank notebook with his ideas and calculations. Absent the distractions of typical daily life, Newton’s creativity flourished. During this time away he discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics, experimenting with prisms and investigating light.

Newton biographer James Gleick writes: “The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.” (p. 34). Newton himself would say about this forced time away from university life: ‘For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.’”

The Great Plague eventually ended and Newton returned to Trinity College to complete his studies, becoming a fellow and ultimately a professor. The discoveries he made during his time away from campus, though, would form the foundation of his historic career for years to come and become some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs.

This is a trying time for all of us, as our lives are upended and our routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. There is much to despair about. But this could also be a time for reflection and discovery. The sudden change to the rhythm of our days, and the associated isolation, could unleash our imaginations and inventiveness in ways that might have been impossible under ordinary circumstances.

Rather than being a nadir, this “social distancing” experience could be the peak of your creativity and production. This could be the time when you formulate your greatest ideas and do your best work. This could be your year of wonders.

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Keep Healthy Habits, Help Others

How will you spend your time now that civilization has been canceled by executive command? Is it time to brush up on your stone-age skills?

This would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the edible wild plants growing in your yard and to learn the natural substitutes for toilet paper.

Learn to make and use an atlatl and stone-tipped spears in case you need to bring down a mammoth. Pool cues might be a good raw material for this sort of thing. Of course, the recent scarcity of mammoths could put a kink in this plan.

A bonfire in the backyard for roasting your kill would probably attract the wrong kind of attention anyway. This should be a last resort.

Perhaps you could choose to go to the opposite extreme and retreat to a virtual world for a fortnight or two, where your biggest dangers are ransom-ware and scammers promising eternal love in exchange for airfare to America.

Or will you ignore the hoopla?

I’m always in favor of taking precautions against unnecessary risks, but people can go overboard. There are times precaution gets replaced by panic. Politicians love taking advantage of panic since they rarely pay a price for being wrong. They claim the credit if people believe they got it right, but you pay the price every time they are wrong.

I’m going to hope you’re a regular reader of this column and as such you’ve listened to my frequent suggestions to be a “prepper” and stock up on essential supplies in case of unforeseen circumstances. This means you were already prepared and didn’t get caught up in the last-minute scramble for essentials … or for the luxuries some people consider essential.

Aren’t you glad you listened?

The phrase “May you live in interesting times” is said to be a curse. I’m not certain it is. Would you rather be bored to death? Times can be interesting, but — when you’re ready for whatever life throws at you — not cursed.

This too will pass. You’ll be fine when all is said and done. There are lessons in all this. Smart people will learn and remember these lessons; others will stay clueless.

Don’t let the hand-wringers and fear-mongers upset you. Do things you already know will help you stay healthy. Healthy habits haven’t suddenly become dangerous. Lend a hand to those who, due to age or health conditions, may be more at risk. Together, but maybe not within coughing distance, we will get through this.

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The Overton Window is Broken

The Overton Window is a simple framework for understanding what is politically possible at any given moment and how the range of options can shift through time.

I used to work at the think tank where the concept originated, from the late Joseph Overton who was the VP there just before I started. I found it useful and valuable, and built much of my understanding of social change and the direction of my life and career around it. (Here’s a talk I gave explaining this process.) It had amazing explanatory power.

Now, it’s broken.

I don’t mean the window has shifted. I mean the entire framework of a continuum of political possibility from total freedom to total tyranny that shifts, shrinks, or expands is broken. It doesn’t explain the current world or where it might go.

I had no idea this was even possible, but it seems to me to be the case. Anything and nothing are politically possible at the same time. There is no boundary, no framework, no popular principles to shift. There is case by case chaos, openness to everything and nothing.

It happened fast. Within a few weeks, legible political paradigms disappeared.

It is possible the window has just shifted in the extreme, allowing for total tyranny. Or expanded to include a broad range that ends in total tyranny. But it feels less legible than that. It feels like there is no window at all. I suspect that in this chaos, anything is within the realm of possibility.

A good way to judge what’s in the window is to ask, “Could a political figure talk about this idea without losing election”. It doesn’t have to be a passable policy, just one that you’re allowed to talk about. For example, for most of my life, any politician who even talked about the idea of slavery as something worth considering would lose election. Or someone who talked about ending all public schools would lose election. The window didn’t extend that far towards tyranny in the first instance, or freedom in the second.

But right now, it feels like almost anyone could mention almost any idea and I’m not sure it would be too far from whatever is now normal to eliminate them from political discourse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see calls to make the income tax 100%. Or calls to eliminate it altogether. There are already states that have moved to totalitarianism, with 24/7 house arrest and tanks in the streets. Maybe some will cease government operations altogether.

I have no idea. No framework. No clear picture of a window or its shifting or direction.

The Overton Window of a few weeks ago seems to have exploded. There’s no legible direction. I have no idea what comes next.

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