Friday, March 20, 2020

Through Plague Eyes: David Brooks and Solidarity Forever

I was starting to worry about David Brooks, who's been filing his copy on time ever since he got married but didn't seem to have shown up last night the last time I looked, but my phone says his column went online by 8:00 PM, and he seems to have recovered from the sense of dread he was showing last week, of the world relapsing into Hobbesian savagery; now he's as jaunty as Mrs. Miniver getting the family ready for an air raid ("Screw This Virus!"):
While we’re at it, screw certainty. Over the past few weeks I’ve been bingeing on commentary from people predicting how long this is going to last and how bad it’s going to be. The authors seem really smart and their data sets seem really terrible.
I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom that cancer patients share: We just can’t know. Don’t expect life to be predictable or fair. Don’t try to tame the situation with some feel-good lie or confident prediction. Embrace the uncertainty of this whole life-or-death deal.
Screw the grim data sets and the feel-good lies. Make it a threesome!

I haven't seen any commentary offering certainty, or making false claims about data quality—I see general agreement that the administration's failure to get data through adequate testing, treating testing as a kind of privilege that needs to be rationed to the very sick and the very famous and apparently unaware that it is data, is one of the very worst, alongside the consistent denial, which goes all the way back to before the inauguration, that pandemics might be a real problem, which led to the disbanding or whatever it was of the National Security Council's pandemic response team (Tim Morrison, the NSC honcho who was famous a little while ago for having listened to the Trump-Zelenskyy phone call without suspecting Trump was doing anything wrong, was in WaPo the other day arguing that it wasn't disbanded at all, merely trimmed of bloat, and he ran it himself until he quit last year, which may well account for why it's performed so badly).

As to the feel-good lies, Trump has generally dropped his insistence that we don't have a problem at all and explained that the purpose of the lies is to make himself feel good
so we don't have any reason to take them seriously. Which may be the reason ABC-Ipsos polling found 55% of the adult population (to 43%) approve of the president's handling of the crisis, because they understand that he's largely let go of the decision process and left it to people more competent than Jared Kushner (who would have thought Steven Mnuchin would be more competent than some other randomly selected person? but it's strange times we're living in). It's not a change in judgment on the president himself, who remains stuck around 53% to 43% disapproval in polls on the general question.

Brooks has completely forgotten the certainty of his own predictions of a week ago .
Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart. These are crises in which social distancing is a virtue. Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection.
Now, to the contrary, it turns out that social distancing can bring us all together!
The great paradox, of course, is that we had to be set apart in order to feel together. I’ve been writing about the social fabric for years now, but you really see it only after you’ve lost it.
It’s like when you’re starving, and food is all you can think about. Suddenly everybody has human connection on the top of mind.
All the little acts of social contact we took for granted now seem like candy. I miss choruses and sports bars, the weird way we all used to stare straight ahead in crowded elevators.
He's been using the social fabric analogy for years, but he secretly thought it was false until now? He's a habitué of sports bars? And choruses? What does that even mean? Does he perform in choruses? Does he go to choral concerts? Is he still attending a variety of religious services, each with a choir of its own? Does he realize that staring forward in an elevator, however socially synchronized it may be, is a method of avoiding human contact?
Judging from my social network, the absence of social connection is making everybody more ardent for it. People are geniuses at finding ways to touch each other even when they can’t. On Twitter I saw a picture of a house where an older lady was self-isolating. Two neighborhood kids put on a cello concert on her front porch.
When you start reading that paragraph you think "social network" is in the sociological sense of people in a multiplicity of one-to-one contacts with one another and then it suddenly falls into the Mark Zuckerberg sense in which a spatially distributed group looks at things they are not in contact with more or less simultaneously. I saw that video (not picture) too, it was pretty cute.

The piece was one of Dr. Suzuki's catchiest pieces, a Perpetual Motion from the beginner book.
Through plague eyes I realize there’s an important distinction between social connection and social solidarity. Social connection means feeling empathetic toward others and being kind to them. That’s fine in normal times.
Social solidarity is more tenacious. It’s an active commitment to the common good — the kind of thing needed in times like now.
This concept of solidarity grows out of Catholic social teaching. It starts with a belief in the infinite dignity of each human person but sees people embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together, and to the nth degree.
OK, I'm not putting up with that. This concept of solidarity grows out of the international labor movement ("Solidarity Forever!") and was introduced to the church by lay activists like Dorothy Day before the Second World War and Marxist worker priests in Western Europe after the war and un-Marxist rebels like Karol Wojtiła and Lech Wałȩsa in Central Europe, no matter what the authorities do to persuade you it's all really implicit in the thought of Aquinas—
While the term “solidarity” is relatively new, emerging in the last century within the documents of Catholic social teaching (adopted from the labor movements of Europe), the idea of solidarity is well rooted in the earliest of Judeo-Christian understandings of the human person in relation to God and society. Our task here is to understand how this term relates to other principles of Catholic social doctrine and what it might mean for Catholics trying to live out this important principle of the faith in today’s world.
—and it starts with the belief that the union makes us strong.

It's the same old Brooks in every way, extruding the same old sausage out of every contingency, trying to shoehorn the liberal ideas that attract him into a reactionary hierarchalized worldview, refusing to accept the possibility that the hierarchy is a problem. Screw this column.

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