The Bogeyman

34 thoughts on “The Bogeyman”

  1. John, I grew up and went to school (after travel courtesy of Uncle Sam) in and around the Bay Area. I have now spent half my life working, raising family, and soon retiring in the Midwest. Great observations and comments. Everyone, Left, Right, indifferent, has their version of the bogeyman, who is invoked for a variety of purposes. Election years used to be high points for invoking demons and bogeymen, but it has evolved into a 24/7/365 cultural trope. Media, entertainment, academia, politics, religion and education across the spectrum are fully engaged. The real survival issue facing all of us, is how to disengage the combatants, and how to re-engage as a civil society? I see solutions, but others see only their bogeyman.

    1. Yep. I call this, “I hate when mommy and daddy fight.” In the end I expect we’ll be overwhelmed by external reality. Palace intrigue will hit a wall when the palace catches fire and burns down…. Then we’ll have no choice but to pull together and come up with a cohesive plan for solving physical problems. Fun!

  2. My supermarket sold out of milk. Milk? That goes bad pretty fast. Gonna be lots of sour milk down the drain this coming week. What a waste. I had seen this coming so I was pretty stocked up but perishables like milk and bread were a problem for a while. Most things are back, with limited selection, but still no rice, beans, or paper products (I am OK on all 3). I read one explanation which said that the food industry prioritizes prepared and packaged goods over consumers for rice, while paper products are a low shipping priority because they occupy a lot of volume for the profit.

  3. A thought one of our priests posted, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    “When will things return to normal? They’ve never ceased being normal – it’s just our social world that is disjointed and hindered for a time.”

    The artificial (societal) bubble we’ve constructed to (arguably) control reality is simply punctured right now. It’ll be patched, after some time, and we’ll all go back to living in a virtual
    (Matrix-like) wonderland (of sorts).

  4. …the unraveling of the global ecumene that happened with the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire into a multitude of self-sufficient demesnes between the fourth and the sixth centuries. In the resulting economy, trade was used simply to exchange surplus goods for other types of surplus produced by other demesnes, rather than to spur specialized production for an unknown buyer. As F. W. Walbank wrote in The Decline of the Roman Empire in the West, “Over the whole [disintegrating] Empire there was a gradual reversion to small-scale, hand-to-mouth craftsmanship, producing for the local market and for specific orders in the vicinity.”

    In the current crisis, people who have not become fully specialized enjoy an advantage. If you can produce your own food, if you do not depend on publicly provided electricity or water, you are not only safe from disruptions that may arise in food supply chains or the provision of electricity and water; you are also safer from getting infected, because you do not depend on food prepared by somebody else who may be infected, nor do you need repair people, who may also be infected, to come fix anything at your home. The less you need others, the safer and better off you are. Everything that used to be an advantage in a heavily specialized economy now becomes a disadvantage, and the reverse.

    Those who are left hopeless, jobless, and without assets could easily turn against those who are better off. Already, some 30 percent of Americans have zero or negative wealth. If more people emerge from the current crisis with neither money, nor jobs, nor access to health care, and if these people become desperate and angry, such scenes as the recent escape of prisoners in Italy or the looting that followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 might become commonplace. If governments have to resort to using paramilitary or military forces to quell, for example, riots or attacks on property, societies could begin to disintegrate.

    1. I broadly agree, with one quibble: electricity and water (and sewer) are not very likely to fail in this particular situation. In a hurricane, sure. Right now the physical infrastructure is fine; the only concern is keeping the skilled operators (especially nuclear plant workers) from getting sick.

    2. TDH Young,

      I’m very much in agreement with your sentiment but I think needs to be balanced with the understanding that what you’re talking about is a longterm solution and one usually only implemented under duress. In Rome’s situation they changed because they had to, and it didn’t happen overnight.

      Also, while I agree that the solution is decentralization of power by having everyone be more self-sufficient, this is something much easier to do “on paper” as it were. For this to actually take place, North American society would have to change drastically. Once again such stark changes usually happen under catastrophic conditions. And as was probably the case with Rome, it just happens. There was likely no organized task force from the Roman government or anywhere else that came along and instituted a self-sufficiency program – and probably won’t be today either.

      In my house it’s not unusual to experience long power outages. At first the residents blink, slowly waking up to the outside world and each other. Then they are restless, bored and irritated. But the final stage is that they start reverting back to manual hobbies and activities and learning to spend time with one another again. And so it will be when the lights go out around the world, whether that’s a pandemic or a hurricane.

  5. While your comparison of Sonoma County and SF are not more than mere personal observations they definitely gave me pause. Why is there so much hoarding up here? Is it only Sonoma County? (doubtful) As I walk about I am still befuddled at the crowds at the local markets. I have learned to order food online. And use my daytime to enjoy the beauty of spring.

    About the lack of emergency preparedness, I hope you are not annoyed because folks do not hoard a years’ supply! I would be impressed if people planned for enough food and other items for one week. Just one week. It seems the human mind cannot deal with long term survival strategies. Even after all we have been through up here.

  6. Sociology Perspective: What keeps coming back to me is something Johnny said several posts ago. When the original simple way of life doesn’t work, we come up with a complex solution. That works for awhile. When it breaks we then come up with an even more complex band-aid to fix it. That cycle continues until the whole house of cards finally collapses.

    Our current society and related economy in North America is extremely complex and absolutely unsustainable. Relying on just-in-time food & supplies (as an example) ultimately does not work. Each household needs to have a basic understanding of how to take raw materials in order to provide for their needs. What they can’t make they need to barter for. I’m well aware that we keep expecting the utopian world of Star Trek to be realized and we don’t have to know such basic things anymore, but resets like this have a way of correcting this mistaken notion.

    As Johnny says in this article, both sides of the coin give roughly this same advice. They use different bogeymen as motivation, but the end result is the same. Pointing fingers doesn’t put food on the table or enable there to be food again the next day.

    BUT…only the few will heed advice like this. The population as a whole won’t reset until it’s forced upon them due to some kind of catastrophe. That’s the way we work. Looked upon in this way, COVID-19 is a blessing in disguise. People are rather gently being forced to stop and think about what’s important to them and where they’re going to turn in an emergency. I say gently because nuclear war would be much more abrupt and things like forest fires don’t just lock people in their homes.

  7. Lots of fair analysis and good advice here. Grounded you are. However, the examples of emergency situations you have cited have not been, as far as I can see, a universally global threat at a time when artificial intelligence is, let’s say, as brilliant or maybe even more so than you are. That is not to say I assume we are doomed to be fed into the machine, though it sure feels like it. On the contrary.
    I once belonged to a college whose Director addressed the cadets when we arrived with the this stern welcome. ” New arrivals. Here at the college, we will get to know you better than you know yourself.” I know I have searched my heart and soul these last few days and I would say that I am okay with who I am and with the community of world at large, all trying to figure this out. Nothing is under the table. Local government, state or provincial government, national government, religious authority, you name it: collaboration and calm is the key. Your practical concerns about supply chains versus panic hoarding are timely and wise. Love the granola. Not so sure about the shotgun. Best regards.

  8. Johnny,

    I vote the government as the biggest bogeyman. After all, the evil corporations cannot lock anyone up. And I am certain one of the enduring legacies of this pandemic will be bigger government.

    What truly disgusts me about the corporations is that, with the coronavirus pandemic barely started, they’re looking to be bailed-out with taxpayers’ money. You – and a lot of others – prepared for bad times, so why didn’t they? Let them go bankrupt, I say – and I’m no socialist.

    Glad to see life in SF is going on pretty much as normal. Here in Florida, the governor has more-or-less shut the state down. All parks have been closed indefinitely, as have, more crucially, the beaches. Anyone who ignores the closure order risks arrest and jail time. Most businesses have also been ordered to close, with a few exceptions, including food stores, pharmacies and gas stations. Restauarnts are also allowed to stay open, but only for take out or delivery. The City of Miami Beach has gone further and imposed a midnight-to-5am curfew in the Entertainment District (basically Ocean Drive and the adjacent streets). I think that was done to get rid of the spring breakers, who were still hanging around, despite being repeatedly told to go home, and despite all the bars having already been ordered to close.

    I find all this a bit of an overreaction, especially in Florida. After all, it’s hot and sunny here most of the time, which is just about the exact opposite of the conditions viruses need to flourish. It’s also noteworthy that a typical winter ‘flu epidemic can kill tens of thousands, yet hardly make the news.

  9. It’s true that in the first few days of this shutdown people are going out and about. Being semi-retired and what work I do do is from a home office, I so far haven’t noticed it much. I still go out for walks or hikes (I heard in Europe some dog owners are charging a fee to borrow their dog for a legal walk). I seldom go to bars but I do miss some of my favorite restaurants. I also got one of the last haircuts in town before the shut down. Hardware stores are still open so I can get stuff for pottering around in the garage. My wife can still go shopping.

    The real question is how long this can be imposed? I know some small business owners who are genuinely scared. Their revenues have been cut off. They live too close to the financial edge. They’ve personally guaranteed their lease payments; they may miss their mortgage payments; suppliers may cut them off. They’ve let go employees. Families where both spouses work may see one need to leave their job for months if schools remain closed. There are some relief programs available. Many laid off employees will receive unemployment payments. For business owners there are programs such as SBA disaster loans, but the SBA will take a lien on your house, so that is not without risk.

    There is undoubtedly a limit as to how long this can be imposed before people begin to rebel, probably in quiet ways initially. Barbers might offer to cut hair in peoples’ homes, for example. Eventually, there will be more flagrant defiance and we’ll how far the government will go in its enforcement. We’ll also see how far that will be accepted.

  10. The parks and bike paths in Denver are unusually crowded. Yes, people are keeping their distance from each other but they’re out in force.

  11. Thanks, Johnny, good points, and interesting to learn about these pundits.

    You write, “Get your own house in order before you go looking for someone else to blame.” A calming reminder! And my gosh, in my experience, that’s something most people could tattoo across their own forehead to excellent effect.

    P.S. I’m in a small city in Europe this week– doggie heaven here, too. And the cat people seem to all be out jogging.

  12. * Your lens captured that rarest of creatures in the wild…..a toddler in San Francisco. =)

    * Happened to chat with a few other folks walking their dogs late this afternoon at a popular park here in OC. I mentioned to them that Doggie Nation will look back at this period as the happiest in their doggie lives —– Huge spike in walks, huge spike in petting and attention. =)

    * One thing that does stick in my craw are these grand statements from our political “leaders” that “everyone should work from home”. Really? How many people CAN work from home? No one ever says. Chances are if you spend your days at a desk, then yes, you probably can. (25 years ago even that would have been impossible).

    But I’d prefer these hacks to consider all those who work in some fashion in the service sector —— and consider that before making these sweeping pronouncements.

    1. Or construction. Or warehouses. Or factories. Or truck and delivery drivers.

      But a lot of people who make or move stuff are being laid off as the automakers shut factories.

  13. The “guvmint” bogeyman, eh? American as Apple Pie: San Francisco is probably closer to the Netherlands on the spectrum I imagine, but considerably less competent than the Dutch.

    I’d like to think I’m apolitical. I listen to either team if I think there’s useful information. This pandemic is a political Rorschach test on steroids. Right wing folks see a feckless Fed, regional powers testing the limits of their authority and social unrest. Left wing folks see a dysfunctional & balkanized for profit health care system that is getting trounced by more compassionate nations in the pandemic response.

    They’re both right of course. What the pandemic has exposed is the fragility of our systems. Government isn’t gonna save us. Neither is Capitalism. The Overton Window has shifted. Panic buying is irrational but it’s an understandable first reaction.

    1. Not irrational. If you don’t normally keep a 2 week supply of groceries and there is a real threat of a 2 week isolation period and total restaurant shutdown, it makes perfect sense to run out and buy double your normal grocery order.

  14. Aside from the direct impact of the virus on the healthcare system and its workers, my other large concern is the impact of the virus on our agricultural system, which relies on underpaid, unprotected, mostly foreign workers who live in cramped quarters during picking season. Those near you shelves are stocked now. I wonder about what they look like in three months.

    We haven’t seen widespread food insecurity for middle income people in the United States in a long, long time. The effects of that could be very hard to predict.

  15. Some of this stuff is coming down from the top.

    There are perhaps hundreds of thousands of health care workers, scientists, and logistics workers all over the world trying to find treatments and a vaccine for this disease, and get essential supplies where they need to go.

    Meanwhile you have President Trump and Xi Jinping completely focused on using tribalism so someone else gets blamed, with the Chinavirus stuff and the conspiracy theory that the U.S. military intentionally released the virus in China. It’s disgraceful.

  16. In defense of jack & Curtis, in France, Italy, Spain and maybe Germany as of next Monday if the guvmint is not satisfied with our behaviour this week-end, during which it will be closely monitored (no, really, that is what they said today) the police is out in the streets to enforce lockdown and you have to give your reason (on a form!) for going out. Hard not to call this a police state, isn’t it?

    1. I can only speak for my direct experience here in San Francisco. We have a voluntary home quarantine with no police keeping us indoors. The mayor and health officials encourage exercise and outdoor activity as individuals.

      1. Reporting in from a Seattle suburb, halfway between Seattle and Everett (Boeing). I for one am enjoying the silent skies that are normally thick with aircraft heading in and out of SeaTac, Paine Field and the Boeing Factories.

        Everyone here is walking their dogs and themselves -day after day- in this eerily sunny and dry March weather. Almost like Gaia is throwing us a bone this spring, up in this usually gray corner of the country.

    2. Reporting in from France, we do have to show paper forms to the police from time to time, forms that we print and fill in ourselves (you can write them on a sheet of paper if you don’t have a printer).

      French people do not feel like it’s an over-reach of the government authority. If there’s any complaint it’s a grumble about how measures could have been done better and more efficiently. And my social media feeds are full of people who went outside and complained about all the french people outside not respecting the confinement measures (which I think is funny).

      It’s important to remember that only a few months ago most of the nation was on strike to keep (and expand, if possible) government benefits. The idea that your life would be better if there was no government at all is completely alien to France (and probably most of western Europe too) whose citizens benefit from a plethora of laws and worker protections they otherwise wouldn’t have, and whose first reaction in case of a problem is to demand the government to fix it.

      I do think this is a cultural difference that colors the reaction that countries have toward a pandemic. If there is a nation-wide confinement, the US will encounter resistances that would never happen in Europe.

      1. Once when working overseas we had a situation where people had to contend with some regulations we considered ridiculous and with officious bureaucrats. There was a bit of grumbling, though we Americans tended not to express our opinion in front of the locals considering it not our place to do so (and also recognizing that we’d get no benefit, and probably the opposite, if we did). It was the locals doing the griping. However, one eventually said that “well, they must know what they’re doing else they wouldn’t have that job.” I have never, ever heard an American express a similar sentiment and I expect I never will.

      2. My husband spoke on the phone yesterday with a French colleague, whose 97 year old mother still goes for walks, and is highly offended at having to show her papers. She recalls having to do that with the Nazi occupiers.

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