4.05.2020

The Long Emergency

As recently as late February, we were still bemoaning our over-busy lives.

The week that the shit hit the fan in Durham, March 16th, I woke up every day as if waking up from a nightmare, a nightmare where everyone lost their job, and a vague specter of death moved through our community. Every day was like going to war with an imaginary demon. Every day was like going to war, but the army you were commanding was losing badly.

Our potential demise as a modern civilization was rendered far closer than we ever imagined. Suddenly, many bourgeois privileges, like going to bars and restaurants, were spoken of in the past tense as if we were speaking of the one-time wealth of ancient Rome.

We had been so blind, and Covid-19, like a biblical Tower of Babel, or an actual literal plague, laid us bare. The orange-tinted emperor had no clothes. The economy, reliant on consumer spending like a perpetual motion machine, had no clothes. The city officials, teachers, school administrators, health officials, were left listless, wholly unprepared to react to a crisis of this magnitude and scope. There was no reaction. All we could muster was "stay at home".

And stay at home we did, or at least those that could afford to. While time slipped through our fingers, Latinx families were expected to follow English website instruction for homeschooling. (Was this really the most creative solution to this problem? Why weren't teachers reaching out? Even using Google Translate for assignments for grade-schoolers would have been better than nothing.) This was the stratification of information access in its most obvious, blatant, and unsparing form. In an attempt to social distance and for lack of beds, homeless folks slept outside at the shelter in March.

I like to use something I call emetic theory as a way to understand the value, if any, in what is happening. In the Winter of 2014/2015, only a year after I had taken ownership, the Bakery hired an employee who proved to be toxic in the most stereotypical sense. She caused long-serving employees to leave. She was mean to staff and to management. She was resentful and disagreeable to put it mildly. To make matters worse, before things came to a head with her, I hired her partner as well, and the toxin spread. When the fireworks were over, they had both quit in a span of three weeks, and I had lost 1/3 of my staff. The way the Bakery was coming apart, it was as if it had swallowed an emetic and was throwing up; literally every day felt like possibly the last we could go on together. The Bakery at the time was barely staying afloat financially. It was at that point that I realized I needed either to step up as a manager, or I was going to go bankrupt. I began thinking more as a manager, and less as a staff member and worker, which had been my role since I joined Ninth Street Bakery as a bread mixer in 2009. I needed to think about what a leader would do. It was an uncomfortable role for me. I was quiet. I was humble. I wasn't good with people. I wasn't particularly good at giving praise, or letting people know they were appreciated on a regular basis, especially when I was feeling stress, which was every day. All those things needed to change if I wasn't going to go down with the ship. Painful as it was, the emetic the Bakery swallowed as a result of those two toxic employees was positive in the long run, both for the Bakery, and for me as a manager. Covid-19 is not comparable in scope, magnitude, or severity, but a blind man can see the fissures, cracks, and outright canyons laid bare by the unequal distribution of suffering dispersed by this emetic, whether it be access to health care, education, basic goods and services, or something as simple as health education on the risk and pathway of viral transmission. This may actually be a chance to take a look at the dysfunctional things in our economy and fix them, to trim fat and excess, and to redistribute wealth more equitably. A twilight of the idols so to speak.

Trump's reaction to Covid from the get-go has had all the overtones of an alchemist trying to convince a scientist that they can transform shit into gold. The fact that we give him or his administration or the (elected) officials that answer to him hand and foot any credence is a shameful reflection on us all. The idea that we can do very smart things in the field of global capitalism, yet and leave a nation of 320 million to be governed via systemic corruption, racism, monied influence, and willful ignorance hurts my soul and boils my blood. In a world of Covid, or perhaps post-Covid, complacency and ignorance will no longer be tolerated. Why is South Korea so much better than us at this? And Hong Kong? And Singapore? As my Nana would say, "You’re not so great.  You’re not so terrific."

In many ways, Covid has brought everything to fore that Trump always wanted. He wanted the borders closed. He saw international trade come to a screeching halt. Like Trump, we no longer shake hands anymore. Like Trump, everyone is socially isolated in their "tower".  His disputed claims of wealth and ostentatious bombast now fall hollow like never before amid severe economic crisis. He is the loneliest man, and as Deleuze would say, "the ugliest man". And he still hasn't released his taxes. And with his xenophobic race taunting of the "Chinese virus", he opens the door for an international race war. He is so dumb and misguided I can literally see the wheels of cognition turning.

I call Trump "racist grandpa". I had a grand-uncle who survived Auschwitz, and like many persecuted minorities, was subsequently racist to other minorities, having heard him use the n-word once. It was the kind of thing that as a young adult in the late 90's, I tolerated and chalked up to the ignorance of having been a Polish immigrant in a new and often hostile world (he lived and raised a family in Brooklyn when being from Brooklyn meant something). Like my grand-uncle, we somehow allow Trump to continue being racist, as well as classist, sexist, homophobic, etc. How he is not impeached for misconduct and abuse of power has as much to say about his inability to see plain facts and string them together as it does our inability to depose him. He is an embarrassment.

To win at a public health intervention like Covid takes conformity. We all need to move like a school of fish to win at social distancing. But to win at a political intervention like new civil rights (read upending structural racism, gerrymandering, expanding Medicaid, installing Medicare for all, fighting environmental racism, removing insider trading, lying Senator Burr, etc.) takes concerted and sustained action, both at the national and state level. When you look at a relief package like the CARES Act, it turns out that all along we had the money, lots of money apparently, to give direct payments to poor and working class people, we just didn't have the political will to stomach it. As with massive outlays for wars of deception and interference, the money is there and has been there to lift people out of poverty, just not the political will. It's abysmal. I didn't realize that the government had 2T dollars to give to poor and working class people, it just took a global pandemic to show it.  And the amount of that actually going to actual folks is like 230B. It's so wrong. We could actually lift every poor person out of poverty tomorrow if we wanted. I think what this shows is that all the time we had the money to provide direct payments to citizens. We just didn’t have the political will.  We willingly and voluntarily let people live in poverty. We could raise the living standards of millions of people and create a generation of voters that believe justice means bringing everyone up to a basic level of safety, security, and well being. Do we keep growing, or do we redistribute what we have? Ironically, Covid is a virus built on stratification. The first people to transmit and fall victim to Covid and transmit it internationally were the folks that have the income to travel by plane regionally and internationally: NBA stars, movie stars, health ministry officials, international soccer players and coaches, for example. The next tier of people to get it were those bourgeois who fly in planes, go to bars, restaurants, clubs, concerts.  A lack of discretionary income to be in places where people gather for leisure meant that the poor and the working class, the 3rd world, were both the last to get it, and also the least prepared to perform behaviors like social distancing or to get adequate health care or health information. At Wholefoods, only 25 people at a time can be in the store. At Compare Foods, there are no limits and people confusedly negotiate and ignore the blue taped Xes on the ground near checkout meant to indicate appropriate social distance.

I put this all in context to stake the claim that there is still time to put our intellectual capital and moral wherewithal to work.

I wish I had right now:

Better information!

Information is the foe of panic and fear of the unknown.

I wish I had:

1. Confidence that contact tracing is happening for all hospitalized and non-hospitalized cases. How many public health workers are intersecting with the community to do this work?
2. Where are the hotspots in your community? How is the community being messaged about this?
3. Public health advisories. How are we communicating about health behaviors to all communities?

This is a public health crisis, and it has already proven fatal in communities where information is not shared effectively about risks and behaviors.

Leaders need to step up and think as hard about the transmission of information as the transmission of the virus. Leaders will step up through this crisis, and pretenders will step out or step aside or step down or be deposed.

If there is any opportunity in Covid, it is to think twice about getting back on the capitalism treadmill if and when things return to normal. Covid effectively pulled the Andon cord on our economy. The question is what and how we will fix what was broken. What if we didn't keep growing and instead redistributed what we have? If we base wealth on growing GDP quarter after quarter, we are doomed to fail eventually as a society and as a civilization. What would it mean to clean the slate? What type of people are we going to be when we return to the capitalist treadmill, how are we going to be changed by this? What will we demand of our leaders? Covid has taken the wheels off of the capitalism train, and not eager to get up back on that treadmill, I see the pain in the eyes of all who have been laid off or affected; there must be a 3rd Way, a way to distribute wealth equitably without these extremes and lack of safety nets. What would I do if I got off this treadmill?

Virus culture

Coronavirus culture is really STI culture gone global.

The blame.
The resentment.
The guilt.
The confusion.

Axioms of Viral Culture
1. Information is often insufficient, inadequate, and untimely.
2. No one tries to give someone else a virus.
3. You can blame others, but it won’t be as half as bad as the blame you hang on yourself.

1.17.2020

So rather than feel that we are on the continual upswing of consumer capitalism, i think we are somewhere closer to peak or overshoot.

I've been mildly obsessed with this stuff since 2005.

Around that time, the theme was "peak oil" as the catalyst for societal change, which proved to be false. But even if peak was not 2010 but instead will be 2030, the societal changes that will occur will be the same. There's been no meaningful decrease in the amount of oil consumed since the peak oil scare, which leads me to believe that we will go on consuming as much as we can right up until the point that supply decreases not through conservation, but because producers are literally running out.

I spend a lot of time trying to predict the near future (10-30 years out), which is problematic. More useful is to know where will be 150 years out and backwards-solve to discover what we should be doing in the immediate term.

Year 2200 - global warming has made large swathes of the Earth virtually uninhabitable, without access to fresh water or capacity to grow plants or tend animals. Weather is highly volatile, leaving island nations and low-lying places constantly flooded.

Year 2100 - the end of liquid petroleum means that nations are burning shale, coal, gas and wood for energy, exacerbating global warming. Liquified natural gas and battery cells provide a modicum of energy for transportation fuel. Communities reduce sprawl for walkability and use of lower-energy-use transportation like motorcycles, scooters, electric carts, bicycles, trains, and light rail. Nuclear plants are going in at high cost, but it is difficult to maintain consistent maintenance of power grids across depopulated areas.

Year 2050 - In an attempt to maintain a bourgeois lifestyle and consumer economy, oil producers continue to produce until they literally can no longer satisfy demand. Conservationists are outdone by politicians shouting empty promises to a public that doesn't want to see the writing on the wall. Prices skyrocket, and inflation combined with reduced GDP torches financial markets, setting interest rates high, devaluing currency, and putting businesses into a conservative wealth hoarding. Unemployment increases and publicly funded programs and safety nets retreat. The price of commodities increases. Nations begin saber-rattling and with nuclear arms at the ready, catastrophic attacks are imaginable for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the name of preserving a way of life that upper classes in 1st world nations have enjoyed for decades while lower income people and 3rd world nations continue to suffer deprivations and hardship.

2050 really isn't that far away. It's possible we'll live to see it. Our children certainly will. And their children will likely live to see 2100. What is the the likelihood that the quality of life that we enjoy will be also shared by our grandchildren? What is the probability that they will inherit whatever wealth we or our children generate in our lifetimes?

1.02.2020

i looked up and asked, what happened?
suddenly no one cared about anything anymore.