Friday, July 31, 2020


It takes a lot of land to make a little hay.

I remember the excitement of haying the few times I go to go as a boy.  Not much haying in a mill city like Manchester, but my grandfather was the egg man for Chelmsford and parts of Lowell, and many of his neighbors had hay fields.  It was an adventure, and in retrospect, more risk of breaking your neck than we would allow now. Children were in the bed of the truck, theoretically helping stack bales in an orderly fashion but mostly hanging off the side and whooping.  I never heard of anyone getting hurt, but then, we wouldn't, because we would have chalked it up to "acting like a jerk when there was work to be done" as opposed to "engaging in a dangerous activity where children shouldn't be allowed."


I dislike the name-calling of Rethuglicans, or Dimocrats; Drumpf or Obummer, or other accidents of sound that can be used as insults.  They just seem middle-school to me.  Yet I confess it did amuse me when my voice-to-text out on my walk rendered "wokeness" as "wackness."


I have been hearing for years now that God has a special love for the marginalised, that Jesus is deeply concerned with the marginalised, that there is something special about the marginalised that Christians need to recognise.

This is oversold.  This is an idea that has grown over the centuries and is especially prominent now, but it is reading our values backward onto the scriptures. There is something to it, but it neglects (as do most opinions) to look at itself and see where it comes from, who likes it and benefits from it, what possible objections people might have to it.  The modern word in such discourse is interrogate. This theory that the various categories of marginalised people have an extra value does not interrogate itself.  As a consequence, it bends our reading of both the Old and New Testaments, particularly the Beatitudes, and hip-checks us in the direction of earthly focus, not as an expression of heavenly focus, but as a competition to it.

The short version is that Jesus was speaking to a culture that believed the poor were in especial disfavor. God must not love them, or not as much.  They must have done something wrong. Most cultures believe this, when there is any stratification at all, that you must have been evil in a previous existence, or your parents sinned so you're blind, or the ancestors are punishing you for some infraction.  The Jews had made considerable headway against this idea - or at least, their finest and most inspired thinkers had - but it was still clearly present.  Heck, it is still present among Christians today.  We see it in the extreme in the health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim it types, but it is not far from the theology of those who teach that God "honors" decisions of ours, or that Jesus rewards nations which are generous and peaceable with enemies that are moved by that example and become our friends.  If you are good you get extra good things, goes the thinking. There seems to be something automatic about it, and it may have been a force to improve cooperativeness for thousands of years, shaping who we are for all I know.

The lesson is repeated throughout the New Testament.  Jesus loves the poor.  The poor are okay. Samaritans are okay.  Women are okay.  Slaves are okay.  Jesus starts it off with the centurion, but Paul brings the message home hard, that even the Roman oppressors are eligible to join us. Greeks, Ethiopians, the formerly-possessed, the murderers, the unclean.  Yet nowhere is there the slightest indication that they are better.  Jesus paid special attention to them because the lesson comes hard to us and needs to be repeated, not because they are special friends of his. (Yes, I'll get to why we think the Beatitudes teaches otherwise - they don't, though it's an understandable error.).

Because some of us can't learn the basic message that God loves the poor just as much as He loves you, Jasper, the counter-message, that he loves them more than the average Bobbi-Sue, has taken strong hold in our culture. There is something of it in Enlightenment thought, in Voltaire and Rousseau.  It is strong in Catholic monastic traditions, but even there it is a shift from the original Benedictine intent. Monks take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and there are verses of scripture which speak of such things with approval.  But these are nowhere absolutes.  Their opposites are dangers and temptations,  and we are told not to despise these conditions. (There are similar near-universal beliefs that if we can direct our own actions rather than having to obey others we are superior people, and that adults [men and women] who don't have children are under a curse.)

If the disciplines were actually virtues, then fasting would be so good that we should all starve to death. Similarly, poverty would be so great that we should all die from that, and obedience would be such an improvement on human nature that we should all follow tyrants and learn to love them. Wealth is a temptation, not a sin.  Poverty is a discipline, not a virtue. Consider the verses about the camel going through the eye of the needle and the competing god Mammon in that light and they make more sense.

If there is any consistent NT message at all, it is that the pains and pleasures of this world are unimportant in contrast to the world to come, and that all our human categories are not important in the face of embracing the Kingdom of God. The shepherds were welcome at the manger, and there is perhaps even a hint that they did get a little extra honor, at least as much as the middle-class family that took in the middle-class Mary and Joseph*, and in advance of the important Magi from Nabatea**.  Jesus praises the widow with the two mites, he breaks tradition to speak with a a) sinful, b) Samaritan, c) woman to make a very emphatic point that even she is welcome.  He pounds it home in Matthew 24 that the least of these should be held in equal regard even to he, himself.  Poor and marginalised people everywhere!  Doesn't that prove their special status?  No, because he also speaks with Nicodemus, with the centurion, with Zacchaeus, and takes a tax-collector as an apostle.  But...but...but...they were also marginalised because people didn't like them.  They aren't counter-examples, they are further examples of Jesus's love for The Marginalised.  Well, if your definition of powerful oppressors and marginalised victims overlaps that fully, then I have to say that you aren't really clear what you mean, and also that it doesn't map very well onto current conditions.  Jesus regarded all as equally eligible.  He repeated some lessons because they go against our instincts.  (There is an exception to this.  If no one picks up on this I will probably have a go at it later.)

I would say that to both the violent Zealots protesting in Portland and the Federal centurions who are trying to enforce safety there Jesus would say "Come, follow me."  Any suggestion that he would especially side with the former because they are in some category of "marginalised" I regard as simply insane.

If your counter is that he wouldn't regard the police as especially favored either I will hold up my hands in wonder and say "And who, pray tell, is claiming that? The strongest statement would be that many people believe they are doing a good thing. There is precisely no Christian claiming that policemen are especially favored by God.  All those claims are coming from the opposite direction, that The Marginalised are special." The claims are not on the same ground.

Those ideas stem from entirely secular philosophies. 

*I am toying with an idea for a Christmas: Mythbusters series at the end of the year.
** Same

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mississippi John

Cliff Diving

I am not fond of the snarky modern commentary, but I wanted the true Wide World of Sports effect, not the modern versions. "Spanning the Globe..."

It was one of those annual WWS events, like ski jumping even in non-Olympic years, or the Harlem Globetrotters touring in the Ural Mountains, or log-rolling and tree-cutting events from the upper midwest.

There are young people jumping off the Singer Bridge in Pinardville these days.  The railing maxes at 27 feet, but they stack up some milk crates to get to 31'. Every time I walk past them on my Rail Trail hikes I am tempted to bring a bathing suit next time and jump myself. I'm not playing around with any milk crates because of the danger of bad footing and falling backwards, but twenty-seven feet isn't that much.  I did double that in the 1960's, having gradually worked my way up from 14' to 55'. Diving was supposedly okay if you held your palms in a certain way to "break the water" before your head went in.  I must not have gotten that right, as I tried it at 21' and had a headache for 24 hours after and never tried again.

It was all young boys jumping.  One girl, and one man about forty-five.  That is the same pattern as when I was young.  I thought myself quite precocious for jumping from 55' at 13, but in retrospect, by eighteen years old the boys were mostly just hanging out with girls, and the few adults there mostly just wanted to drink beer near the shallow end. I shudder at the risky climbs, over hard stone, not water, that I regarded as normal at the time. What was I thinking?

Answer:  Teenage boy.  Thinking.  The Venn Diagram of that intersection is small.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Congressional Judiciary Hearings

Early Start

I am doing more physical labor than usual, because new house.  Much of it is just about to end, thankfully. Last project nearly completed. I relearn every time that if you get an early start you don't get as tired, whereas when you get a late start you get tired very quickly. In my career job I noticed something similar, but it worked on the nights of staying late as well as the days of coming early.  I decided in those cases that being able to work uninterrupted was the key, because you can get a lot done when you are alone. But that can't be all of it, because these days there's no one interrupting me but my wife, and I am more to blame for creating stoppages by interrupting her than the other way around. Maybe it's the temptation to interrupt her once she is awake that breaks my rhythm.

A friend from long ago used to say "Boss, I came in late, I should go home early."  He meant it for similar reasons.  He was an honorable person who would just rather make up the hours by coming in early another day than try to plod along inefficiently on a day that was already shot.  There's something to that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

More Oppressed Than Thou

Similar to the last post, I recall an article from the 1980s in Tikkun, a socialist Jewish magazine, by a young Jewish man who was questioning where radicalism might be going.  He had been at a conference at which a lot of sympathy was being expressed for Palestinians who were openly comparing their own treatment to the Holocaust. The phrase he used has stuck with me "There was a hierarchy of 'More Oppressed Than Thou' which permeated not only that discussion, but every discussion." People clamored for greater victim status for their group compared to all others. He wondered whether the far-left politics he had regarded as a safe haven for Jews for a century might somehow turn on them in the future.

That was prescient.  I don't know what became of him, but I have hopes, given that he saw so clearly so early. He was influential in my own eventual rejection of the left, because having once had it pointed out to me, I began to see that principle applied in a dozen other places.


Perhaps a dozen years ago, there was a general announcement of a Brown Bag Lunch series being held at another building on campus, with the informal lectures for the first few weeks listed.  Some person working elsewhere in the NH state government sent a "reply all" that the term Brown Bag was offensive to many African-Americans, as it reminded them of the private clubs for light-colored blacks in the bad old days, at which one could qualify for membership in some fraternities and sororities (and even some colleges and churches) only by being lighter than a paper bag.

I knew immediately that no African-American had ever bee offended by brown bag lunches - it was just some white person showing off that they knew a tidbit of black history.  I was typing exactly that for my own "reply all," which we are discouraged from ever doing for this very reason but I thought I would risk anyway, when a notification came announcing that the email was being deleted from the system. Darn.  Missed it by that much.

Please To See The King

"The King" was a wren hunted on St Stephen's Day (various other days across Europe), put on a pole and paraded around by boys looking for money or other gifts. I like this song for its harmony, done in the usual Steeleye Span spirit of group revelry.  The lovely Peter, Paul, and Mary song "A-Soalin" mixes in a couple of other traditional tunes and gets the history wrong, but describes a similar, equally pagan custom.

Jesus and the System

An older pastor I know (in another state - local readers should not be guessing) made the comment last autumn "I think I'm going to become more active in politics this year." I don't know his politics, though I would guess center-left, but either way, my first thought was "This could be the greatest destruction to your faith you have ever faced, and you likely won't even notice." Even worse than politics in general, which has wasted the energies of many a good Christian, I think he means current events, though he doesn't realise that.  Pastors have a legitimate need to preach to people where they currently are and to speak the language of the people, including cultural references.  Yet simply put, the Church does not do current events well. I won't say Never, but contrary examples aren't occurring to me. It is too rapidly drawn into one secular side or another, convincing itself that this is Jesus's side as well. These days, it is drawn into three or four sides and taking sides, even though they are maddeningly oversimplified. Seminaries are not especially aloof from fashions, but especially in danger from academic fashions.


It is a common idea in Christian circles beginning in the 20th C that Jesus's or Paul's, or God the Father's intent with many of his words and actions was to change the system. Paul writes the Letter to Philemon and gradually, eventually, slavery is made illegal.  Jesus speaks to the woman at the well who is a Samaritan to boot and gradually, eventually, the nations of the world learn to live together and found the UN, and women get treated with increasing respect and can even become Prime Ministers of important countries. The idea is attractive to people who think in terms of systems being the important thing.

It seems a rather odd God to prefer, as it places our modern lives on this earth at the center of the plan.  All those people who suffered all those years...well, we have smuggled in the idea that this was all somehow worth it, because we were always moving toward that goal of justice and finally had some victories. It seems rather hard on everyone who is not us, actually. Not to mention all the people still living under oppression today.  If God's main intent was changing the system so that mankind would live in justice, we would have to conclude He didn't do a very good job of it. The delicate tweak of the system in the 1st C that eventually bore fruit centuries later has a poetic feel to it, an admirable efficiency in doing this little bit, this flap of butterfly wings again, but I doubt we would be so impressed if we weren't living at the good end of that deal.

God does want his people to live in justice.  He says it often. But the emphasis seems to be on the people, and the living, rather than on what systemic legacy they leave. I imagine He prefers just systems to unjust ones, consonant with His character, but He doesn't seem to mention it much. Yet everything coming out of the denominational schools these days seems to be focused on systems as if they, not the people, were the important thing. I am reminded of this these days certainly, because issues of "systemic" justice are in the news.  But this is a longer pattern, going back to my own childhood when I was in the UCC, continuing on into the Lutheran denomination I was in as a young adult, and increasingly even in the Evangelical Covenant Church I now belong to.

There is a sense in which we can call Jesus's actions and teaching, and more generally the teaching of both testaments of the Bible as focused on system.  Yet I think in its current application it misses a central point of scripture. God's plan was never to reform Ur or Babylon or Egypt, but to call out a separate people acting in contrast.  That those people are organised according to some system I readily concede. Yet that was the point, a new system, not reforming the system they were living in.  In the NT, neither Jesus nor any of his immediate followers say "We have to reform the empire," or "We have to work for peace between Jews and Samaritans," or anything similar that is geared to a system.  As in the OT, calling Jews out of other places to found a new people, Jesus does the same. I suppose you could say he is founding a new system, but I think that is a 19th, 20th, 21st C idea applied retrospectively to all the other centuries, including Jesus himself. In this new system, Christians will treat each other as equals without regard to origins or status.  Yet I don't see much emphasis on rules and institutions, I see commands given to individuals as to how they will treat each other. Calling that a system is an imposed category.

Jesus did not come so that Greeks and Romans could get along better, but to offer any within those groups the opportunity to join a new people that (should) get along. Newness is frequently on His lips.  Reform is not.

It is ironic that this focus on systemic change is now coming from the left with the right resisting, as it was not long ago that it was conservatives who wanted to change systems so that abortion or gay marriage would not be allowed.  I suppose it isn't that odd, because the left wanted to change sexual and family systems also, just in another direction.  It is one of the hallmarks of the age that both sides think in terms of putting their energy into the system, rather than persuading individuals, or being a tribe which showed the correct approach.

I think it would be fair to identify working for justice as a legitimate goal for a Christian.  It may even be that individual Christians are called to that as a ministry.  But I don't see either OT or NT support for the idea that it should be a primary focus for all Christians. Plus, as in my previous post about the dangers of systems thinking, treating it as primary might be dangerous, drawing focus to the things of this world and away from the everyday Eternal Beings that humans are. Focus on systems is a serious departure from scripture and our understanding of the nature of God.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."  CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Two additional notes:  I recognise there are downstream issues about the Church becoming a secular power, first locally and them more globally many centuries ago, and of the relationship of Christian thought on Western Civ and the American founding in specific. As these have been treated at book length many thousands of times I won't attempt any ridiculous summary here.  My objective is to point out that in Scripture, or in the known words of Jesus and the apostles, this fascination with systems just isn't there.  It is a modern idea, which we apply retrospectively only by bending the definition of words to suit ourselves.  Secondly, I have a follow-up post about the modern idea of Jesus being especially concerned with The Marginalised, which I believe is similarly modern.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Systems Thinking

Update Below

I have not forgotten that I am going to write on systems-thinking and its problems in Christian theology.  I am thinking about it a lot, actually.  But in the interim, I have noticed something about how people think of good things versus bad things in their respective cultures.  PenGun  mentioned either here or at Chicago Boyz about a serious medical condition he had, and how grateful he was to the Canadian Health System that everything went well.  I have noticed the same thing from the Brits*, that when they recover from something it is because of the NHS. Scandinavians say such things about almost everything, actually. They perceive their system of everything to be better: policing, military, diplomacy, education, healthcare, traffic. When I went to Romania to pick up my boys for adoption, I went to the schools they had been attending to discuss how they were and what material was being covered to help integrate them to the private Christian school they would be attending in America.  None of the teachers were able to discuss what they were covering this year, and none knew anything about my two children individually.  They all wanted to talk about how the Romanian system was so superior to what we were doing in America.

You might think that just by law of averages alone that the Americans could have gotten something right, seeing as by objective measures...

My cousin-in-law from Belgium would speak in similar fashion, that the system of schooling she was used to from childhood was so far superior to the schools she was sending her children to now (Concord, NH, very good.  Their boys went on to do well at MIT and UChicago).  Relatives of my sons who moved to Norway for better jobs took their girls out of Tromso abruptly and moved back to Transylvania, with part of the reason being that they felt the school system was much better. Similarly, when I speak to people from Quebec (and thus maybe all of Canada, or maybe not) it's the same thing.  They believe that Quebecois everything is better in general. Stores, food, politeness - oh let me guarantee you that this is not so.  They have old-world gestures and customs but are solidly insulting - This attitude is so strong among Swedes that even other Scandinavians notice it, and resent it.  It is considered arrogant to put yourself forward as better at anything in any way, but there is this universal idea that their systems, their way of doing foreign policy, or religion, or serving food, or crossing the street is simply better. It is fascinating that all of these cultures consider Americans arrogant because individuals are boastful, or because we notice that we clearly have aspects of our culture that show considerable success - such as a longer life expectancy than any other country  after receiving a cancer diagnosis, regardless of what your income level is - and say so.  To most other places, you can brag about your culture in extreme fashion, but you should not give the merest hint of excelling in yourself. It's an interesting value.  Once adopted, people outside of that will seem unconscionably rude, sure. We offend them in this way, and that we do not change even after they have pointed this out repeatedly just infuriates them more.

I think I get it.  I see the point, and see why that would be annoying to others.  We regard New Yorkers the same way ourselves, as braggarts who can list for you why their bagels, their coffee, their hospitals, their museums, and a hundred specific items are better; while our Californians, Texans, and probably a few other groups are more like the Europeans and Anglospheric cultures, lauding their entire culture as superior.  But mostly, this way of looking at things strikes Americans as insane.  We are more granular.  This particular hospital is outstanding, because it saved my son's life, or because it is a great teaching/research facility.  This particular school/college is world class, though another college might suck. No one says "Whew! The American health care system saved my wife's life!"  We attribute such things to the specific expression of a doctor, a program, a hospital, not the system. We do have the somewhat contrary, somewhat ironic belief that the American system is better precisely because there is independence and variation. The system is a non-system, and we like that. There are no better hospitals than here. There are no better militaries, though we have an amazing array of stupidities in all of our branches. The highways are better, though we have some terrible roads. Yet we do not even think in terms of saying "All American hospitals are better than those you find in other countries."  Though we do note that people from everywhere come here, but also know that they don't come to any random American hospitals because the average is better, but come to specific hospitals.

Critics would say that this is precisely because our results are so uneven.  The excellences  may be real, but look at all your citizens who don't have good things because of the inequality.  That would be a fair criticism in theory, if it could be backed up.  Yet because a black family in Mississippi has a higher real income than an average family in Sweden, I have to call that criticism a bit weak. There actually are poor people in those other countries, you know.  They just don't talk about them, and pretend that this is an American phenomenon.

You could call either arrogant with some justice. I think Americans are more used to dealing with the accusation and acknowledging it.  I don't think Brits or Scandinavians or Canadians think they even have to consider the question, so certain are they that they must be right. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Update:  There may be a midpoint in that granularity that I did not originally credit, though I intuitively came close.  Americans are more likely to think of themselves in terms of regional, state, or even urban units and describe things that way.  I might say "In New Hampshire we are likely to..." while Southerners, Westerners, or Midwesterners might give credit to their entire region for getting things right.  LA, NYC, and DC think of themselves as cultures in their own right. This is not the same as a Canadian, who would never say "In New Brunswick we have designed things so that..." or a Dane breaking things down by region.  Yet even there, In Newfoundland they do think that way a bit, and the Scots or Welsh certainly do in the Isles.  I think the contrast between America and other places does hold and is worth noting, but I think I drew the lines too sharply.

*The UK, especially the English, still has more of this "American" attitude than other places. We got it from them, after all. Hence Oxford and Cambridge, perhaps overrated but still exceptionally good.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Do Wop

Added Complications

Thinking further about the Balancing Acts, as below, it occurs to me that it is diffficult to know where to draw lines.  A person who becomes suicidal because he is a workaholic who defines himself by his employment but lost his job - do we call that a pre-existing condition?  Wouldn't we think that all people who become suicidal have some sort of pre-existing condition?  A lot of energy has been put into minimising C19 deaths that happen to people with such complicating factors as heart disease or obesity, that they were likely to die soon anyway (though I admit I don't read that as much anymore).  So too with jobs that are lost.  Some businesses are in industries that were hit so hard that even the strong ones are reeling, or even have gone under.  Yet weren't some of them already on the edge, in danger of failing anyway?  I think it would be blaming those business owners unfairly to not be sympathetic to their plight having shut down due to CoVid by shrugging them off saying "Well she made some bad decisions last year anyway.  She was more likely to fail." Or "Yeah, you never should have taken a job in a vulnerable industry anyway."

It's one reason why I reject that distinction when discussing C19 deaths.  If you do that for the disease, you have to apply the same standard to the economic pain as well, and I just think that's unfair.

Unhealthy Focus on Systems

I have said “There is no system” but I believe there are systems at a smaller level.  Collections of many school systems are not necessarily an Educational System but they do qualify as systems in their own right. There is a Health Care System, because the parts interact and affect each other, but I think the systemic nature of this is overestimated. We don’t have a Religious System, but denominations have systems.

There are dangers in focusing on systems that involve human beings rather than deliveries or hydraulics. I am reminded of the first rule for graduate students in ethology: Don't use cats.  Cats mess up your data. Humans mess up system data.  I am very much at the point where I doubt many references to systemic racism, systemic oppression, systemic causes of homelessness.  Give evidence for the systemic nature of such things.  Merely being widespread doesn’t cover it.  Show me that there is something overarching, something beyond individual decisions, where we might make a change and see an effect. Even legislation affecting such things are not quite a system - though I admit that is getting us closer.

However, let me grant that some areas of human interaction may still pass that test.  I still think it a dangerous focus.  Fascination with the system takes our attention away from individuals and their decisions.  If the system gets credit or blame, then individuals are seen as having less agency.  I do not say that everyone who focuses on system necessarily neglects the individual. Yet the temptation to do so seems clear. We can only look in so many places at once.

We also become fascinated with that type of solution, looking for those elegances of a little tweak there yielding great results elsewhere.  We are forever waiting for the great cost-savings of preventive medicine for example, and sometimes we do things that seem to help, like early screenings.  Yet mostly not. We become enamored of the butterfly effect, of a swallowtail in Rio de Janeiro causing a tornado in Arkansas.  But that works both ways.  Sometimes large local effects are simply swallowed up in the whole, affecting nothing.  Sometimes setting off a bomb in Rio doesn’t even affect the rest of Rio that much.  It is a particular unreality beloved by our culture, because it gives us hope of being powerful after all. I am butterfly, hear me roar.  It is, I agree, a noble ideal to do the right thing on the slim hope it will help.  But there is a darkness underneath that.  When we have false hopes that do not come about, the temptation increases to become angry that someone, somewhere, has ruined things.

We see exactly this anger in advocacy groups today, so I don’t think calling it a temptation is merely theoretical on my part.  Governments have enforced changes that allowed us to pick the low-hanging fruit.  Hard-working black kids with IQs of 140 aren’t encountering any problems getting a college education at this point. Cities aren’t dumping raw sewage into rivers anymore. To make an analogy, if a board is lying on your lawn the grass underneath it will turn yellow and eventually die.  If you pick up the board, the grass recovers rather dramatically.  But that does not mean that all bad lawns are the result of boards, with our goal being to find more boards to pick up. Yet system-focus seems to breed this anger. Not only have many butterflies flapped, but we set off a bomb, and still –nothing.  Evil forces are interfering with the system.  They are preventing the system from changing.  Yet if it’s not a systems problem, no amount of bombs will change things.  Well, change is difficult for people.  Yes it is, and even more difficult when the changes you are insisting on won’t change the result.

System focus causes our reward and punishment to go into personal actions directed toward the system, not individuals.  We praise or excoriate people for what they have done for the system. This darling little girl raised money with her lemonade stand to give to racial justice.  How does that work, exactly? She will end up giving it to some group who believes it's all system.  Or, we consider this man dangerous because he said something bad about our group or about a program we like, not because he has done anything wrong to any person. Cancel culture does not hesitate to sacrifice individual people, formed in the image of God, in hopes of doing good for The System, and systemic problems.  How much worse when that particular system is not the cause or is not even a system.

System focus tempts us to focus on powerful people rather than the individual opportunities for cruelty and kindness that are in our everyday lives. Again, while this is not necessarily so – there are people who can keep focus on both,  but the odds go down.  We put more and more of our energy into leveraging powerful people, or the great forces of our time, or becoming a tiny piece of a great whole rather doing the truly great acts nearby. Having a platform, or getting into the news becomes the goal.  We pursue athletes and entertainers for our cause. We try to be powerful on FB or Twitter to change the world that way.

Rather than simply doing good. 

I am going to go to the practical theology of all this next, and I am betting that most of you can see the outlines of what that will be.

Balancing Acts

I have recently brought up an article on possible long-term effects of C19 and not long ago, an update on possible effects of the economic shutdown.  Thank you for your comments.  I do want to make it clear that these are both areas where there are tradeoffs, and I try to be mindful of that, not simply stating advocacy statistics on one side.  There are still no excess suicide numbers I can find, and I would be suspicious of all estimates.  However, I think it is probable there will be some.  People do react badly to hard events.  We do see increased suicides, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc in economic downturns.  Because this one is different, in that parts of it are clearly temporary and there is less stigma attached to job loss (I think), response will be different as well.

Children, not only adults, are also somewhat cooped up and limited in their activities.  Children need to be kept busy, they need structure, so there will be some deterioration of behavior, of them getting into fights with each other, getting into mischief, getting on their parents’ nerves. There will be more abuse, mutual abuse, criminal activity.  On the other hand, they aren’t going to get beat up at school as much, and that is often the most dangerous area of their week. They will have contact with smaller circles of friends, which means less mischief.  There has been a push, especially from conservatives recently, to encourage more unsupervised time for children, and that is happening.  So on balance is this going to be an improvement or deterioration?  We don’t know.  It will be individual, certainly, good for some and bad for others.

I will note again that shutdown and lockdown are not the same thing.  There was going to be a lot of shutting down anyway.  Governments added to that. We can only estimate the percentage at this point.  I suspect that is variable as well.  In some industries, the government declarations did not create any limits that weren’t going to be there. Airlines are devastated, and that ain't changing for a while.  In others, the government actions made a large difference. I read an evaluation that in summary said “Well, we should have shut down the major urban areas sooner, and the rural areas later.”  That would have been better in general Jasper, yes.  When we perfect time travel we’ll do it that way next time.  Do you think those Democratic cities would have gone along with a shutdown two weeks earlier, when Democrats were still saying there was no real problem? (Remember those days? It was just crazy racist China-haters on the right who believed this was going to be a pandemic? The WHO assured us things were localized?) And even that strategy would have had great holes.  Shutting down LA or Dallas sooner would have been worse for their economies for no advantage. Also, lockdowns have been done by state, not by population density. The urban/rural difference has been enormous in many countries, so that would have been a good rule of thumb. Except not always, only about 70% of the time so there would have been major errors. Paris is not the trouble spot in France. The debate over the last few months in the US has been over whether it should have been done at all, or at all in some states.  Now that we have seen that reopening does result in at least some increase, especially in urban areas because of higher contact, we can put that on our time travel list as well: Note to governors: Maybe county-wide orders or targeted orders would be better.  You’re welcome. As we have previously noted, that’s not perfect either, as rural hospitals can be more easily overwhelmed.