Your Weltschmerz Gives Me Schadenfreude

49 thoughts on “Your Weltschmerz Gives Me Schadenfreude”

  1. It is stunning. Our options to confront this virus are no better than those of people 500 years ago.

    Speculation has already emerged as to what this will mean. Will commercial real estate be abandoned as many work and shop at home permanently? Mass transit? Air travel?

    Will debts run up for more bailouts mean even more devastating cuts to the social safety net later? State and local government bankruptcies?

    As noted, while Johnny is most concerned about the epidemic being used as an excuse for more oppression, I worry about the $, who will get them, and who will pay. Especially since the economy was unsustainable and driven by debt to start with.

    1. I wouldn’t use the term “oppression.” That’s too strong a word. Instead I think society will reach out for solutions that work in the short term that gradually create unintentional structural vulnerabilities. It’s more of a paint-yourself-into-a-corner thing not an intentional conspiracy to deprive us of liberty.

      1. I’m referring to the crack down on local independent food growers and the homeless you referred to as a possible outcome of a mindless, fear-driven backlash. To me, that would be oppression.

        Speaking of food, it appears Xi is as bad as Trump. Instead of trying to solve problems, they are intent on shifting blame, with Trump calling it the Chinavirus and Xi saying it was planted in Hunan by the U.S. military. It appears the s__t has risen to the top in both countries.

        If I were President I wouldn’t be so quick to judge China’s food markets. Because sooner or later, the massive, routine use of antibiotics in our livestock industry is going to lead to the creation of a bacteria that makes the coronavirus seem like athlete’s foot.

  2. An interesting counterpoint would be Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”. The plague was actually before Defoe was born, but he collected a lot of stories from people who remembered it. It’s a fictionalized account, but one based on fact.

    One of the notable things was that London did not devolve into chaos. The wealthy and well connected left town to hole up in their country homes, but a lot of people remained. This was the 17th century, but London did not devolve into thunder dome. The only crime the narrator encountered was a few women stealing high crowned hats from the narrator’s brother’s abandoned millinery shop. Farmers continued to deliver meat and vegetables to town. Blowbladder Street, the butcher market, had a fairly good stock of meat. The dead were buried. Nurses tended the ill and dying. People practiced what we would now call “social distancing”. There were clerics holding services, though the mainstream religious leaders had decamped leaving London’s souls to the noncomformists.

    All told, it was a fascinating account. A lot of people died. It was the last great bubonic plague outbreak. Society did not collapse. Oh yeah, and London was destroyed by a fire shortly after the plague, but that’s another story. If I remember correctly, London is still there, though Parliament is working on it.

    1. My expectation is that institutions tend to fail in a really big crisis. Then there’s a period of adjustment before new institutions emerge. That’s not the same as people turning to cannibalism. On the local level people can be generous and supportive of their neighbors. On the other hand, people can also get tribal in a crisis. Perhaps Defoe didn’t hear the stories of how select populations were mistreated during the London plague. I don’t actually know.

  3. The photos of the Princess steaming into SF Bay made me gasp and laugh. Well placed.

    Your writing about resilience and community hits home. Reminds me of the saying “The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago. The other best time is today.” We’re checking on our 72-hour Kit this morning.

    I’m anxious but not so freaked that I’m going to wait in or fight with crowds at Costco. Yet. I’ve often wondered what it’d Ben like when there is no longer a reliable 3-day supply of food 6 blocks from my house with more on the way. Guess we might find out? Trusting that we can figure out feeding each other.

    Another internet person who I follow spent 2-3 months in China under quarantine. He’s home in Ohio with know-how and dire warnings. They figured it out. Despite the mendacity at the top, I know we will too. No choice.

    Thanks for your example, Johnny.

  4. We as a country are not prepared to take the steps necessary to slow the growth of this infection. I am left with the faint hope that we do not turn into Italy.

    I’m glad that you are prepared. We are as prepared as possible, and that is due in part to reading your blog. Good luck, sir.

  5. I expect an exponential increase in infections in the next two weeks, and that’s just counting the “official” ones, which is absolutely an undercount. We as a country are not going to inconvenience ourselves by canceling trips and family reunions, much less take the draconian measures necessary to shut down large portions of the country.

    I’m glad that you are prepared. We are as prepared as we can be, and that is due in part to reading your blog. Good luck, sir.

  6. Johnny, I appreciate the advice and examples you have shared over the years. Your writing and that of John Michael Greer has helped my family become a little more resilient, which will hopefully pay off in the current situation. So thank you!

    Hopefully over time less deadly strains of this become dominant. It seems likely to become an annual blight like the flu. If it keeps the same mortality rate that has been seen in Wuhan and Italy (but not China outside Wuhan, where they were able to prepare better), and it returns each year, then the situation would somewhat resemble the New World in 1492. 5% mortality compounded annually adds up very fast. That said, the Native Americans didn’t have gene sequencing, so the parallel is hardly exact.

    1. Even without a vaccine, we would be able to prepare for corona season (mostly by making sure we have enough ventilators). That would mean mortality rates <1%, concentrated among the very elderly, though there's long term damage to be concerned about.

      1. True. I am also seeing hopeful stories about treatments (Japan has a flu medicine that has been fairly effective in reducing recovery time and reducing lung damage).

  7. Ultimately, the U.S. will have the most deaths from this virus, on either a per capita or absolute basis. The U.S. is a de-centralized, polarized and individualistic country. That’s an advantage in certain areas of life. In the case of a global pandemic requiring empathy for the vulnerable and coordinated nationwide action to mitigate, not so much.

    The most successful countries (Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea) implemented measures swiftly and with a high degree of social cohesion. Italy hasn’t done too bad, all things considered, although this will only be apparent in hindsight. For most, the most dangerous thing isn’t the virus itself but an overall fragile system (health care, finance, supply chains, etc), which we’re all reliant on to various degrees, grinding to a complete halt. It will ruin lives even if it doesn’t kill outright.

    Bottom line, life is short and nature is in control now. I expect the country to be shut down by the end of March. Perhaps it will get as dark as herding the undesirables, as you say, but for sure the poor and unprepared will bear the brunt of this. Get prepared while you can and protect your loved ones.

    1. “For sure the poor and unprepared will bear the brunt of this.”

      In the U.S., so far it is the better off — those who have the position to travel abroad on business or the money to travel as tourists — who have been hurt. In Italy, it is the old. I fact I read yesterday that Italian ERs are triaging the old out, because they have less of a chance of survival. I heard that, and decided that I probably wouldn’t be making that trip to see my aging parents after all.

      If you are among the executive/financial class, the political/union class, or the most affluent generations in U.S. history, those now 62 and over, and those who serve you have a problem, then you have a problem, perhaps an even bigger problem. The social audit may be coming.

      1. I could argue the opposite. The media attention focuses on the prosperous people who have been exposed to Corona. (Cut to The Onion’s satire. “Missing blond six year old girl pushes missing five year old black girl off headlines.”)

        The underlying knock-on effects will have real consequences for many people that will never be reported. Those with the least resources to fall back on will be hurt the most and receive the least support from society.

        I have a cousin in LA who is at high risk of losing her job at the moment. She works for a company that organizes foreign exchange students. She places them with families, monitors them, troubleshoots as need, and takes them on multiple field trips to sporting events, Disneyland, music and theater… Everything is cancelled. Once she gets the current batch of kids settled there may not be much for her to do for the duration. But she still has bills to pay. A month or two without that income could seriously mess with her life yet she’s completely “unaffected” by the illness itself.

          1. I’m guessing you don’t know many people in the wage class, then.

            If you’re salaried, you’re likely to still get paid, even if your job isn’t one that can be done at home. If you work for a wage, though… well, how many wage jobs can you think of that can be done from a home office?

            The working class gets stiffed, as usual.

          1. Speaking of the economic effects, the U.S. (and world) entered this crisis with vast public and private debt. For 25 years we have been in this era of a global savings glut, when more and more money could be borrowed by interest rates fell to zero, people could be paid less and still sold more, and imports could be paid for without exports.

            I had expected this to unravel gradually, as the high savings countries in East Asia aged, and the best off generations in the U.S. aged and died and were forced to sell assets to the poorer generations to follow.

            What if the coronavirus turns gradually to immediately?


  8. Any artists or authors here? Johnny has just given me a great idea for a book or movie!

    It starts with the homeless being rounded up and put in a huge empty shopping mall during a plague, as he said.

    Cut off from whatever substances they had been abusing, they go through withdrawal. Some die, but most recover, and they start taking care of each other in the process. Next thing you know they start forming family and community, expanding on the bonds they had formed while on the street. Once they feel needed and accepted, the mental illnesses of the mentally ill start to improve.

    It turns out you had people with lots of skills who had been dispossessed by economic changes. They convince the guards to allow them access to the closed garden store, and bring planters, seeds and equipment up on the roof. Soon they have enough of a garden to provide their own food — just in time, because the deliveries of supplies have ended.

    Because out in general society, things have gone in the other direction. Families break up. Why be faithful to your spouse and children when you could be dead tomorrow? Spouses abandon each other for wild orgies (got to see tickets after all). The economy collapses. Workers realize corporate management may not pay them and they might starve. Those at the top are hoarding, fearful for themselves. Key personnel die of the new germ, leaving others unsure what to do. Production, including food production, grinds to a halt. Government breaks down. The cops and soldiers and firefighters and politicians and judges are hold up to avoid infection, and stop doing their job. The President is an aging slime ball who is gradually losing his mind.

    Soon the homeless guards decided to move their own families INSIDE the mall. And instead of aiming their guns inside to keep the homeless in, they are aiming their guns outside to keep the growing chaos out. It ends when people on the outside realize that the people in the mall, whom everyone has forgotten are the homeless they put there, have food and supplies and are hoarding them. You end up with the mall being over run by a mob.

  9. Next on my pile of books (after finishing my daughter’s Hunger Games trilogy): Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
    I just got it from the library, it seemed appropriate.

  10. Hey Johnny: Is there a good web site you can suggest for specific ideas on preparedness? I know you have written a lot of posts on this over the years. But I’m wondering if there is some sort of central resource you can recommend?

    I’m in a subdivision in rainy WA state with a very robust local municipal water system and an actual lake in my subdivision and stream behind my house that never goes dry. So I don’t see the point in stockpiling water. I have multiple backpacking filtration systems and can always boil water.

    Food is a different issue. I’m thinking today of swinging by Home Depot and buying a dozen or so food grade 5 gallon buckets with sealing lids to start packing with Costco bags of rice, beans, etc. If I just set the bare bags in my basement the mice get to them. Stuff we use anyway, just larger quantities.

    1. The best resource for household preparedness comes from Mormons. I have no affiliation with the church – they just have this stuff down cold. It’s kinda like asking Israelis about security protocols.

      My recommendation is to store lots of different kinds of food you already enjoy and eat on a regular basis. Don’t start with 50 pounds of rice and one kind of bean. Get 5 pounds of ten different grains and proteins as well as the spices and sauces that make them taste good. Arborio rice is great for Italian risotto, Thai jasmine rice goes with other recipes, Basmati with others, Texas long grain… lentils make good soup, corn meal is perfect for polenta which can be topped with all sorts of things, oats for breakfast, and mix up your beans: Cuban black beans, pinto, northern white, adzuki, split peas, garbanzo… So you can make Texas style chili or Puerto Rican style arroz con pollo, rice pudding for dessert, Indian curry… In other words, start storing all the components of entire meals not just “rice and beans.” Then store them in rodent proof containers. I’m a big fan of Gamma Seal lids. Then actually use this stuff and rotate your stock over time. Steadily increase your supply over time.

      Click to access LDS-Preparedness-Manual.pdf

  11. Then you remember the messaging during the 80’s unfolding: this is a disease of homosexuals, haitians, IV drug users and hemophiliacs. That messaging went on for a lot longer than it should have.

    Why stockpile wheat when you can have a hotdog from the cart of Ingatius Reilly?

  12. A Confederacy of Duences. A respected friend has been urging me for years to read it. In this election and plague year, never a better time.

    1. Flour is perishable. Mostly I store wheat which keeps for years and I grind it into flour as needed. But that flour is very brown and nutty. The flour in the freezer is for cakes and pastries.

  13. I am also worried about what this will give them an excuse to do, though my worries involve $.

    Are they really going to bail out the rich, the financial sector and other sectors and try to inflate asset prices again, all with borrowed money and contingent liabilities design to explode on poorer later-born generations? While doing as little as possible for ordinary people. Not our fault, it’s an emergency!

    “I’m a free market guy except when…”

    This in a country where there is no right to basics health care — including the treatment of infectious disease. Something that might come back to bite the better off if this thing gets out of hand.

    1. This. Tax cuts will help people who get fired for missing work (because they are quarantined, or taking care of kids whose schools are closed, or because there are no customers at their hotel or restaurant)…exactly how?

  14. This all reminds me of the Jose Saramago book ‘Blindness’ (later made into a movie staring Julianne Moore). A strange and highly contagious disease causes blindness. The afflicted are rounded up and quarantined in abandoned buildings and basically left to their own devices. Needless to say, it does not go well.

  15. “I was precocious and came of age during the early 1980s. Highly infectious disease? Check. 100% fatality rate? Check. No cure? Check. Lackluster official response? Check. There’s a huge demographic hole in my life.”


        1. I think the point might be that until a disease strikes or threatens the “right” people, or simply can’t be ignored, it gets no real attention.

          When it finally does threaten “everyone” (white teachers and nurses and cops and bankers and lawyers and bureaucrats) it becomes an official and sometimes overblown “crisis”.

          If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could spin some dark tales about the endgame of this particular “crisis”. Is it to get rid of Trump, or Pence, or the excuse to bring the black helicopters and OneWorldGovernment? Is it related to Alex Jones being busted for DWI? Or the all purpose one: the Clintons are somehow behind it. LOL.

          On the other hand, tens of thousands of people have died of influenza in the past year. Did that cause people to get flu shots and wear face masks and give lessons on handwashing and cancel travel and university classes? Did it cause the stock market to melt down?

          1. I wouldn’t underestimate this. Hopefully there are many undiagnosed cases with mild symptoms, and the actual death rate is only 0.1% like the normal flu, with the prime impact on older and sicker people who might only be losing weeks or at most months off their lives. But we don’t know that yet. At the 1.0% to 2.0% death rate some are suggesting, we’ll all lose people we care about, perhaps years sooner than would have happened.

            If you want alarmism…


            I was getting a Vietnamese sandwich at a shop in Manhattan yesterday, and heard a conspiracy theory more crazy that yours. Who does Trump think we have to fight? China and Iran. And that’s who the coronavirus is hammering. It must be the CIA! And as for the crashing stock market, a cabal around Trump must want to buy things cheap!

            I think the broader lesson is we all share one atmosphere, biosphere, etc. If we don’t wipe ourselves out with weapons of mass destruction, nature can do that for us if we don’t cooperate. The social audit is on.

  16. Two recent twitter threads paint a dire picture of the situation in northern Italian hospitals:

    It turns out you don’t need a high percentage with serious symptoms. Hospitals are set up to deal with a certain number of admissions per day, distributed across a variety of conditions and therapies. When they suddenly get 2x the normal admissions — not a large number, one thread mentions 15-25 a day — but all of whom need exactly the same treatment (intubation) to keep them alive, the system is overwhelmed.

    This could easily be the situation in… Santa Clara county? … in a month.

    1. My view had the right idea. Stop treating veterans in VA hospitals. Offer to pay other hospitals Medicare rates to care for them.

      Then move all the coronavirus patients to VA hospitals, which would be used exclusively for their treatment. Get everyone with some medical training to work there — dentists and dental hygienists for example — in addition to the doctors and nurses who usually deal with these things.

      The VA hospitals build for WWII vets probably have many unused floors in poor repair. Military personnel could be cleaning, repairing and prepping them for emergency use right now.

      They should have been thinking about this six weeks ago.

  17. 30 days of systemic chaos might prove healthier for America in the long run if it opens a window into our fragility.
    Also America: our freshly rediscovered fragility might create greater public reliance on government to solve all things, including things it shouldn’t.
    I do see a silver lining: a repatriation of the China supply chain. Our economy can remain global without being dependent on a single source.

  18. I agree with a lot of this. Somewhere around 50,000 Americans die each year of the flu, largely without media notice (some sources say 12,000). The coronavirus is apparently a particularly virulent virus, but most people suffer through it and recover. I don’t want to take it lightly (I’m married to a nurse who would never let me do so), but I expect to survive it. It does seem that the media attracts into its employ people who are prone to fret at everything.

    Heh, I too look wistfully at some current airfares, but with a 15 year old dog that I wouldn’t put in a kennel at her age, I reckon I’ll stick to road trips. I’ve never been intrigued by the idea of a cruise, and now I’m about as uninterested as one could be.

  19. >>>The ability to feed yourself may eventually become both illegal and culturally unacceptable.
    >>>The danger here is that as society becomes overwhelmed we start to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily even think about.

    Yep, I share the uneasiness with more centralized power structures and enforced globalization. I also think that society (and by that I mean “people”) is fragile enough that it won’t need to be “overwhelmed” to allow a tyrannical overreach to happen. The moment most people are inconvenienced, they are likely to cry out “save us!”. Any (perceived) threat to the safety bubble we all live in–the one that shields us from actual reality–will be met with complete acquiescence to globalizing interests.

    1. The ability to feed yourself may eventually become both illegal and culturally unacceptable.

      We’re under no moral obligation to obey laws like that, though I think the cultural trend is TOWARDS more small farming and “knowing where your food came from.” The State may pass all kinds of laws, but can it enforce them?

      Great shot of “The Event Horizon,” Johny. Check out this instagram page to see the daily fires in SoCal. The county government is spreading vagrants all around this highly-flammable county to the north of you, so whatever filth they leave out will soon be purified by fire. Don’t worry!

  20. Dear Johnny,

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post– a reminder that things can get to a level of degradation we never imagined possible, as they have in certain times and places, and as they most likely will again, if in some different way.

    You write: “Might otherwise respectable people find themselves in dead malls under guard and out of sight with expedient poorly funded overseers? Welcome to what might become the new normal.”

    Indeed. Alas.

    P.S. If you ever have a look at it, I’d be interested in your take on DEATHS OF DESPAIR by Case and Deaton.

    1. So they have a book? Good. I encouraged them to keep bringing up this issue. Here is my reaction to their original article.

      Things aren’t really SO bad here that people should be killing themselves. But they are worse than they once were, and mentally that seems to be a big problem.

      Social breakdown, from the family unit up to the federal government, may be the biggest problem. If the coronavirus forces people to feel that we are all in it together, they aren’t facing things alone, and people start cooperating, it might actually help.

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