Journal of the Plague Year: Once More Into the Breach of "Political Correctness" and Its Opponents

Could everyone PLEASE stop sharing this video of Michael Lofthouse? He’s the founder & CEO of Solid8, a tech company based in San Francisco. If it goes viral it could hurt Michael Lofthouse and Solid8, his company. Let’s all be nice to Michael Lofthouse and Solid8.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) July 7, 2020Last night, Patton Oswalt, an (in my opinion) very funny comedian, Tweeted out to his many followers a video of a man shouting racial slurs at a family having a birthday celebration at a restaurant.  But, he didn't simply do that.  He also provided identifying information about the man that was shouting those slurs, and more importantly about his company and its business activities.  It doesn't take deep analysis to understand what Oswalt was trying to do here--the idea is to create social and economic consequences for this person stemming from his racist views and actions.  In the ideal world, from Oswalt's perspective, this dude would lose …

Journal of the Plague Year: On History

History is the story we tell about our present, using the past as the main characters.
Up until I was ten, I lived in New Jersey.  For those readers who do not live in the United States, New Jersey is a small state (in terms of area, not population) located between two large metropolitan areas--New York and Philadelphia.  Where we were, in central New Jersey along the coast, we were in the orbit of New York, and so we got all of the New York media and New York oriented content.  And yet, Oceanport was not a suburb, at least in the newly-built post-World War II sense of a suburb.  It was really more of a small town--older, more conservative--that happened to be 90 or so minutes on the train from New York City.
Fourth grade was the last year I lived in Oceanport, and for social studies we spent the whole year on New Jersey history.  That study culminated in the fourth grade class putting on a play about New Jersey history.  I think about this play a lot, mostly because every time I tell t…

Journal of the Plague Year: Why This Is, and Is Not, Like 1968

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese army launched the Tet Offensive, a campaign the profoundly and permanently undermined the American public's confidence in the Vietnam war.  Over 16,000 American soldiers would die in Vietnam over the course of 1968.  In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  In the spring of 1968, riots swept American cities.  In June, Bobby Kennedy, who was almost surely going to be the Democratic nominee for President in the fall, was assassinated.  Ultimately, in November, former Vice President Richard Nixon, a Republican, defeated then-current Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Given these facts, it is natural to look to 1968 as a model for 2020.  And, those that do that tend to think that this analogy would favor the Republican, Donald Trump.  But I think that is facile.  Yes, there are many parallels between 1968 and 2020, but those parallels point as much against Trump as they point toward him.  And there are some important discontinuities, almos…

Journal of the Plague Year: An Evening with Tom Hobbes

In 1651, in the middle of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, or more fully "Leviathan: On the Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil."  Leviathan is a classic of political theory, and is read alongside Locke, Rousseau, and Machiavelli as part of the basis of "early modern" or "Enlightenment" political thinking.  It is also, I think, a deeply misunderstood book.  It's misunderstood because there is a surface-level argument that Hobbes is making (which is the one that everyone focuses on), and then there is a a much more interesting and I think much more relevant argument that he makes under the surface.
Hobbes begins his thinking with the notion of "the State of Nature"--what human beings are like without any of the constraints of society.  Unlike those that would follow him (like Locke and especially Rousseau), Hobbes thinks that this State of Nature is unambiguously terrible, expressed in …

The Politics of Anti-Politics

This is a post about Bernie Sanders, and also about his once and (maybe) future supporters.  I write this post with full awareness that what I am about to say is likely to piss off people, including people who are friends of mine.  My goal is not to troll them or antagonize them, but I expect I will do so, and for that I am sorry.

The bottom line, though, is that I think Bernie Sanders was and is a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign.  Moreover, much of the discourse coming out of the Sanders campaign, and especially from Sanders supporters, lacks a recognition, or care about, the basic nature of politics.  Which is OK as a philosophical proposition (I mean, you do you), but does not advance the ball of becoming the nominee for a political party and eventually get elected President, which was the ostensible goal of this exercise in the first place.  Sanders and his supporters ran an anti-political political campaign, and the fundamental incoherence of that enterprise is what ultimate…

Apocalypse Now, Part 7--A Journal of the Plague Year

“I recommend it to the Charity of all good People to look back, and reflect duly upon the Terrors of the Time; and whoever does so will see, that it is not an ordinary Strength that cou'd support it; it was not like appearing in the Head of an Army, or charging a Body of Horse in the Field; but it was charging Death itself on his pale Horse; to stay indeed was to die, and it could be esteemed nothing less.”

--Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

I have about 75 pages written of a science fiction novel.  It is set about 50 years in the future, in the aftermath of a plague.  The plague killed off around half of the Earth's population.  But what the novel is really about is the ways in which that event changed our political and social life.  The origin of the book is in a thought experiment--what it really take to get people to do the work necessary to reverse climate change?  What would it take to allow for conditions of truly significant, radical economic reform?  …

On the Amazon Document and the Questions Behind the Question

First off, I want to thank everyone who has written to me in the last couple of weeks and months, wanting to know if everything is OK and wondering if I will be writing again.  When I started this blog six or so years ago, I did so with the expectation that no one would read it, and the fact that people did, and do, read it has been a wonderful surprise.  I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read what I have written and engage with it.

My reduced output on these pages has been a product of a couple of things, but mostly the fact that in the last six months or so I haven't felt like I have much to say.  I don't want to be flogging the same horses over and over, and so when I don't feel moved to write something in particular, I just don't.  I would not be surprised if the pendulum swings back in the near future, but as long as I don't really feel like I have particular ideas to put out, it is probably going to continue to be quiet.

In fact, I re…