One of the uncomfortable confessions I can make now as a distantly former journalist is that we were always trying to superimpose reason on unreasonable situations, explaining things that were far too complex for even a collection of veteran reporters to understand and recount.
We’re at that point again now, I think, and once again, people are trying to find a description we can understand to explain our situation. I would suggest the people who argue society is about to explode are wrong. Parts of it are very, and justifiably, angry. But that doesn’t mean it’s all going to blow up on us and leave us without a country.
I don’t think anything we have experienced justifies the level of violence we are seeing in some cities at night. It could be “outsiders”, whoever they are these days, are coming in to agitate. Or it could be people are just so angry that when they bunch up after dark, some bad shit can play out.
Given that, a little context might help.
First, the nation is still struggling through a pandemic unlike anything we have ever seen. It has killed 100,000 people, at the very least, shaken trust in government to its roots and frightened the life out of many senior citizens or members of vulnerable classes. The response to the virus has wrecked the economy, for the moment, leading to business shutdowns, the highest unemployment since the Great Depression and a big decline in the nation’s capacity for its favorite pastime, making lots of money. I blame President Trump for a lot of that, simply because he deserves it. But I don’t blame the federal government. Lots of people have been working themselves to the bone to address this crisis. God Bless them.
At the same time, a bad cop in Minneapolis put his knee on a black man’s neck long enough to kill him, another one of those examples of how power corrupts and sometimes kills. But that’s not all black men, and it’s not all police. It’s one situation, a bad thing on a bad day. It is not connected to Corona virus or economic decline. It is connected to a police problem we have all known about for a long time, violence against people of color. The why is a mystery to me, and probably to you, too. But I don’t think it characterizes how I feel, as a white man, about black people, or as a civilian about police, or anything else.
On the radio the other day, I was listening to a woman rant on about how the real solution to this was to get rid of all police. That’s probably the dumbest thing I have heard in the past week or so (there’s lots of candidates for that title, starting with much of what President Trump says about anything.) I have known great cops all over the place. Generally, they chase wrong-doers and protect the rest of us. Does that mean they never make mistakes? No. But you don’t judge institutions by the mistakes they make, I would suggest, unless you are also willing to judge them by the good they do. So we should put down the “get rid of the police” argument right now.
What we really need to do now is fall back on our capacity for keeping things where they belong on the shelf of human experience. Not all disasters are the same and they should not be placed on the same shelf. Individual experiences are just that, individual experiences. They don’t generalize most cases, even though we tend to try to do that.
Will California burn up this summer? I suspect it will. But that has nothing to do with the rest of these things. Will rising waters cause flooding along the coast? Yes, but we know what that’s about. It’s its own thing connected to global warming, not to the virus, not to the racism, not to anything but itself.
Some kind of trouble will hit Australia again, too, because that is its fate. A hot dry place is going to burst into flames on occasion.
There was a great cover in the Review Section of the New York Times a couple of weeks back that I have hidden now in one of my piles of “I-am-certainly–going to-read-that” papers. Basically, it suggested no one knows what is going to happen!
That is a life condition we have been struggling with forever. “No one knows what is going to happen” is pretty much what you get from life all the time.
My wife and I were out for a three mile walk this morning (It’s required as I get over my brain surgery from last summer and try to find what normalcy I can in my life. It also adds up to 90 miles a month of walking. Pretty healthy! ). Up on Ridge Avenue In Evanston, we walked past a couple of big maple tree limbs that had snapped off and landed on the sidewalk.
Now, had we been under one of them, I might need even more brain surgery, which I can assure you I want nothing more of. But it could well have happened. I would not for an instant pair it up with everything else and conclude life on earth is coming to an end.
Of course it is! It has been since the day it started. We’re all going to die! Just not yet, I would hope.
We don’t know when, and it’s not prudent to predict that kind of thing because, as the Times told us, No One Knows What Is Going to Happen. The prudent thing would have been to conclude, “Shit…a tree limb just fell on my head.”
My inclination would have been to blame President Trump.
But even I know that would be crazy.