Back in mid-March, I decided I was not going to write at all about COVID-19 in my weekly scheduled posts, and that if I was going to make any blog posts mentioning COVID-19, I’d do it in addition to the weekly post.
Maybe allowing myself to discuss COVID-19 in the weekly posts would have also been a good decision, I don’t know. But I don’t regret imposing this policy on myself.
Yes, it was weird at first to be ignoring the herd of elephants packed into the room that was threatening to cause the walls of the room to burst apart, but after a couple months I got used to ignoring the elephant herd. Quite frankly, aside from personal reflections, anything I have to say about COVID-19 would just be a rehash of something someone else said, and probably said better than me. It would be better for me to do linkspams than blog posts about COVID-19 stuff, but it would take a lot of effort for me to put together a really good yet timely COVID-19 spam (the ‘timely’ part would be especially challenging to me), and there are other people doing good COVID-19 linkspams (for example, Naked Capitalism has a COVID section in their daily linkspam) so I don’t think it’s good for me to duplicate that effort.
I do have urges to write an out-of-schedule post about some TERRIBLE THING that going on right now that is related to COVID-19. But the urge fizzles out. Usually, all I have to say about TERRIBLE THING is ‘TERRIBLE THING is TERRIBLE!’. However, it’s not a secret that many terrible things are going on right now. Maybe I know about some angle about a TERRIBLE THING going on now that you’re not aware about, but if you aren’t already aware of it, would making you aware of it do us any good?
My overall outlook on the future has been grim ever since the fallout of the 2008 crash, though it was only in 2009 after it really sunk it with me that my worldview really changed. It wasn’t even so much the crash itself as that the very people who engineered the crash, instead of being held accountable, were rewarded with huge bailouts, while over a million Americans were pushed out of their homes due to deceptive ‘relief’ that wasn’t meant to help them (yes, I am talking about Timothy Geithner). If the Obama administration had decided to protect homeowners instead of big financiers, and given financiers a reason to, y’know, actually follow the law and not do things that increase the risk of financial crashes, I would have a different worldview now. The fallout of 2008, combined with a growing awareness of the ecological crises we are plunging into, gave me the mindset that the future is probably going to be worse, so I might as well take what limited actions I can to make things less bad, and then enjoy the present as much as I can.
I planted the plum tree I mentioned in this post in the winter of 2009/2010. That’s not a coincidence of timing. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have a place to plant a tree which they are confident they will have access to more than ten years later. And it’s not like it made a huge difference in our lives this year – if we didn’t have our plum tree, we could have bought plums at the farmer’s market, and we only got plums for about three weeks. But it was still nice, psychologically, that something I did as a reaction to the 2008 crash literally bore fruit now.
I didn’t predict this pandemic, but I’ve been expecting for years that SOMETHING would give way and kick a hole through the United States’ decaying institutions. I’m a little surprised that it took this long, though I would have preferred the ‘something’ to have been delayed further in the future.
The other day, one of my neighbors asked if I wished I were still in Taiwan.
My answer was ‘no’.
In Taiwan, I wouldn’t be able to do much to help my parents, who are at much greater risk if they get infected with COVID-19 than I am. I also have a more robust social network here in the United States, which is important during times like these. And I’m not sure how people who are obviously non-Asian are being treated in Taiwan these days. Hopefully well, the Taiwanese people are mostly tolerant in that way, but times like these can test even a tolerant people.
And there is always the risk that Taiwan will be invaded by China. I lived with that risk for years, but I think the risk is even higher now than when I was living in Taiwan. And as an individual, it would be much harder to evacuate from a Taiwan-at-war today than when I was there.
Yeah, spending years in a place which could suddenly be part of a hot war, in a region (Taoyuan) which has a relatively large military presence even by Taiwanese standard precisely because it would be one of China’s top targets if they launch an invasion, also changed my worldview. Being around Taiwanese people so much changed my worldview. They all believe that a Chinese invasion is inevitable, and merely hope that that day can be delayed as long as possible. They believe that, regardless of who ‘wins’ the war, it will be deeply damaging and their lives will be permanently worse then. There are also many Taiwanese people who understand that we are plunging into ecological crises that are making our future worse. I, at least, could hope that I wouldn’t be there when China invades Taiwan. I even still have some hope that the invasion won’t happen at all.
I am scared that the presidential election in November this year will be a perfect storm.
The pandemic is going to be super-disruptive of polls, with voters scared to come, and poll workers (many of whom are elderly) scared to work the polls, meaning polls will be more crowded, meaning that the polls which are open will be even more crowded, and thus more scary to voters. Yet many jurisdictions aren’t shifting to vote-by-mail fast enough, or are keeping ridiculous requirements such as only counting ballots which have been notarized (yep, some states require mail-in ballots to be notarized).
This is before we get to the U.S. Post Office, which is being sabotaged by a Trump crony who could make a personal windfall if the post office is privatized in a distress sale, on top of act of Congress back in 2006 which imposed the ridiculous pre-funding of retirement which crippled the Post Office’s finances.
And this is before we get to how many people are going to have a change of address / not have an address anymore when the ballots are mailed out.
Under these conditions, I’m afraid that a presidential election would only be accepted as legitimate if it were an overwhelming landslide. By overwhelming landslide, I mean that there is at least a 10% percent difference between the number of votes claimed by the winner and by whoever gets the second highest number of votes. You would think that would be possible, given how badly Trump has handled the COVID-19 crisis and the really high unemployment rate, but Biden is such an ineffective candidate that he can’t manage to get 10% ahead of Trump in national polls. This is not about what I personally think about Biden; if someone else had been the Democrat party nominee, and also failed to get at least a 10% lead on Trump under current conditions, I would also label them as ‘ineffective’.
Suffice to say, Trump definitely isn’t going to win in a landslide either. (I think he probably won’t win at all, but given how ineffective Biden is at generating enthusiasm or getting a 10% lead under current conditions, I think it is still possible for Trump to win the election, especially if he gets a lucky break.)
With a presidential election which I expect to have an outcome that a large swath of the population doesn’t accept as legitimate … I think the United States government could totally fall apart. I hope that it doesn’t, because I believe the power vacuum would be filled by something much worse, but just because I hope it won’t happen doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Many governments have suddenly collapsed throughout history after a long institutional decline (the collapse of the Soviet Union comes to mind, but it’s not the only example).
I really hope that my fears about all this are overblown.
Besides, there isn’t much I can do about it. My local government has already decided to mail ballots to all registered voters, even if they had never voted by mail before, and I believe the have the infrastructure to pull it off, so I see little reason to engage in local activism on this issue. I’m sure Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah are all prepared to do full mail-in elections.
As you may know, I’ve been reading quite a bit of ancient Greek literature lately. Including part of Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War. Including the part where 25% of the population of Athens dies in an infectious disease epidemic – in the midst of a war (though there was a silver lining for the Athenians – the Spartans were so scared of disease that they refrained from attacking during the worst of the epidemic). And war and disease wasn’t bad enough – at the end of the war, some of the Athenian upper class conspired with the Spartans to create an artificial famine in Athens – which killed many more Athenians – so that they would submit to an oligarchic takeover by an upper class group known as ‘the Thirty’ backed by the Spartans. During the rule of the Thirty, most Athenian citizens were effectively stripped of their rights, non-citizens could be murdered by the Thirty with impunity, and anyone who vocally opposed the Thirty without first fleeing Athens was also likely to be murdered. IIRC, the rule of the Thirty only lasted about nine months, but a lot of Athenians died during those nine months. War, epidemic, famine, overthrow of a democratic government by an authoritarian dictatorship, all within about a generation. It’s amazing that Socrates lived to be 70 years old through all of this (according to “The Apology of Socrates” the Thirty had intended to murder him too, and the only reason they didn’t was they collapsed just before they got around to killing him).
Then again, if the ancient Athenians managed to produce so much great literature precisely because they lived through such a horrible time, I think I’d rather live in an era of mediocre literature.
So why, again, do I think it is good that I don’t mention COVID-19 in my weekly posts?
I think it was good for me, mentally, to push myself to think critically about things other than COVID-19. (Not that all of my blog posts are based on critical thinking, but they require more active intellectual effort than, say, watching pop music videos). No, my blog posts are not about the most important things going on in the world, but quite frankly, they never were. I don’t think making flower bouquets has ever been the most important thing going on even in my own life, let alone the world. Heck, that could be a prompt for a science-fiction story – imagine a set of conditions in the world in which making flower bouquets is, in fact, the most important thing going on for the human race as a whole at that moment. I continue to see doom and gloom in the future, just as I did in 2008, but I’m not going to let that get me down more than circumstances force me.
I’m grateful you made this decision! I increasingly take a kind of head-in-the-sand approach to my reading. It may be dumb or selfish, but I find reading depressing news depressing, and I don’t want to be depressed, so I prefer to read something else, when I have a choice.
I think it’s good to take in bad news when it prompts good action – I have no regrets about planting the plum tree, and I think it’s important to know enough about COVID-19 to know how to judge and minimize risk of spreading it. But if bad news is just depressing and not prompting good action, then I think ignoring it is sensible.
> it’s important to know enough about COVID-19
Indeed. I find I am “naturally” (?) already incredibly well-informed on such questions, not that I couldn’t know more, but probably well past the point of diminishing returns. The information is everywhere! And so, when I have a choice, I prefer to avoid more of the same. A little goes a long way.
Some days the Internet feels like a newspaper where every single article is about the same topic…