More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
I had planned to write something else today, but then I saw this post on tumblr:
“You’ll notice that LGBT pride parades are being cancelled, and LGBT people are not complaining and calling it an injustice. Meanwhile, Christians are calling it an injustice that churches are being closed, and conservatives are calling it an injustice that stay at home orders exist. That’s because LGBT people actually experience injustices, so they know when an injustice is happening. They face way too many injustices to label everything they don’t like as an injustice. And they’re not defying social distancing orders to have the parade anyway.”
“We also know the consequences of an unaddressed pandemic.”
A couple of other things worth noting. The U.S. stock market started going down in response to pandemic concerns the week of February 20, many weeks before the first stay-at-home order. The Dow Jones officially crashed (prices dropping so fast it triggered an automatic suspension of trading) on March 9th. There were no stay-at-home orders in place anywhere in the U.S. at that time. Companies were already laying people off and cutting back hours in anticipation not so much of stay-at-home orders but the fact that simply having lots of people sick, lots of other people afraid of being sick, and so forth was already causing people to cancel travel plans and so forth.
My employer, for instance, in early February cancelled most schedule employee travel (for sales, installation, and trade shower appearances, for instance) out of an abundance of caution.
Personally, in mid February I woke up with a fairly severe cough on a day that wasn’t scheduled to be a work-from-home day, and decided since I didn’t know if I had a something that I shouldn’t go into the office. The following week, again out of an abundance of caution, upper management encouraged everyone who could work from home to do so full time. Again, this was weeks before stay-at-home orders had been issued in any of the states where my employer has offices.
And when people are working from home, a lot of small restaurants, coffee shops, and the like in the vicinity of office buildings have a sudden significant drop off in business. So employees at those businesses get their hours cut. And so they have less money to spend on anything, and that means they cut out (first) non-essential spending, which causes more small businesses to cut hours, and it becomes a self-perpetuating downward economic spiral for everyone.
Lifting stay-at-home orders isn’t going to make everything spring back. It’s going to put a lot of people in the position of deciding to risk getting infected or starve, because if the order has been lifted not working is no longer involuntary and therefore they can’t collect unemployment. The science of the virus tells us that when people stop doing the mandated social distancing, infection rates will start rising again within a couple of weeks. And they will spike if we don’t have adequate means of testing people and a system for tracking down other people who have recently come in contact when an infected person, and so on.
Which means people will get scared and will cut back on activities that put them in contact with others and we continue to have places like restaurants, bars, theaters, and so forth not making enough money to pay their employees, et cetera.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to read a much better (and scary) analysis, check out this article: We Cannot “Reopen” America – No matter when government stay-at-home orders are revoked, the American economy will not reopen. Because the source of the economic shock is not government orders. It’s the pandemic.
Note: My cough went away after about two weeks and I never had a fever… but the cough has come back several times. So far, still no fever. I have long suffered from severe hay fever and sometimes when the pollen count has been high for many days in a row, in addition to sinus congestion and typical allergy symptoms, I also get a cough. And we’ve had a lot of really high pollen days during the last two and a half months, so that’s probably what it is. Probably.
But we’ve had a bit of a scare because yesterday my husband was running a fever and had some non-repiratory symptoms that sometimes occur with the coronavirus… today his fever is gone and the other symptoms are subsiding, but that’s not necessarily proof that he’s well.
It’s really hard to remain respectful in some arguments. For instance, I fully support the proposals of several progressive politicians that we make university education free. Every other industrialized country in the world does it, so why can’t we? Well, one argument that comes up again and again is, “But won’t that make all the people who had to pay off huge college debts angry?” My first response is, speaking as someone who spent many years trying to pay off his education loans, and only managed it because he was lucky enough to be an early employee of a tech start up that succeeded (so guess where 90% of my stock option earnings went?), “No, I would not be the slightest bit angry if no one else had to go through what I went through!”
My middle school wrestling coach (who was also my 8th grade math teacher) was old enough that he nearly died of polio as a child. He had to wear a leg brace the rest of his life, among other negative health issues left over from that ordeal. And while the anti-vax movement hadn’t reached its current level of penetration in society, back when I was in school the early stirrings of the movement existed. There was a story in the news about someone urging parents not to get their kids vaccinated for reasons that indicated they didn’t understand how vaccines or the immune system worked while I was his student, and so one day before we had our math lesson, we were treated to an impassioned talk from Coach about how 1) he wished the vaccine had existed when he was a child, and 2) how could any parent be so irresponsible as to not want to spare their child the pain and suffering or a preventable illness?
Almost every year during Pride Month I wind up writing at least one blog post where I say I am proud of myself and my fellow queer survivors because we survived the bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and oppression and have managed to create beautiful meaningful lives. But while I’m proud of having survived that, I don’t think any less of anyone who didn’t get bullied as much as me. What kind of psychopathic monster would wish that kind of pain on another person?
Part of the answer, I know, is that most of us have been taught from a very early age that misery builds character—that we become a better person by enduring these experiences. It’s reasonable to infer that I believe that from my comments such as that in the previous paragraph. But that isn’t quite what I mean. Misery doesn’t build anything.
It’s like exercise: you’re probably familiar with the notion that engaging in exercise which stresses the muscles will stimulate the body to increase muscle mass. That’s true enough, as far as it goes. But it isn’t the exercise which is building the muscles. It’s your body that is building extra muscle mass, and it can only do that if your diet includes enough protein, and if it has time to rest in between periods of exercise. Exercise is a specific type of stress placed on your muscles. It isn’t random. Beating a person will also stress the muscles, but that kind of stress doesn’t elicit the muscle-building activity at a bio-chemical level.
Similarly, it isn’t the bullying to built character, it’s several other things. One factor is how the person experiencing the suffering responds to it. Some survivors of abuse become abusers themselves later in life. That isn’t what people usually mean by “building character” even though it is a perfectly predictable response to being abused. Another factor is whether the person had other positive things in their life. Were they getting emotional support? Did that have someone in their life who loved them unconditionally? Were the places or times when they could escape the abuse?
I’m proud of people I know who survived bullying and worse not because of the bullying, but because they have embraced kindness and compassion despite the bad times. It’s what they did with it that matters.
Life will always have challenges. But some challenges are artificial. People forget that the very notion of money and private property are things humans just made up. They aren’t like laws of physics. We can change how the system works. And it isn’t that hard, because we do it all the time. Every time we change a tax (whether an increase or a decrease), we’re changing how the financial system works.
We live in a world where nearly 40% of the food we produce each year is just wasted. Yet there are people who can’t get enough food (or enough nutritious food) to survive. We’ve reached the point where large financial institutions are starting to panic a bit because of the sheer volume of wealth that is being hoarded in non-productive ways by the billionaire class. People are finally beginning to realize that the old truism (usually attributed to Henry Ford—hardly a progressive icon) that if workers are not paid enough to afford whatever products industries are producing, those industries will collapse.
I want the world to be a better place. I want people who are small children now to grow up and not have to struggle against problems that are entirely arbitrary and artificial—problems that we know how to fix—even though I had to fight those problems. I’m perfectly okay with them growing up in a better world than I did.
Don’t you agree?