Thursday, April 23, 2020

Action in the Dark

Hope Essay #4

In the previous essay, I wrote about Rebecca Solnit’s call to action, Hope in the Dark, but also my belief in the importance of epistemic humility—awareness of your own ignorance. I shared some of the many doubts I have about my own political judgement and how professional ethics have encouraged me to cultivate a stance of impartiality, especially in the classroom.

But what if epistemic humility is just an excuse for inaction? What if impartiality blinds us to the truth? In the last essay, I wrote about the professional ethic of impartiality in journalism. But some journalists have started to wonder if their attempts to be impartial and balanced allow bad actors to manipulate them and promote untruths and false equivalency on issues where one side is clearly right.  Shows like Jim Lehrer’s PBS NewsHour seem so intent on fairness to both sides that you would expect them to get a flat Earther into the studio in a segment on the shape of the Earth.

As for regular citizens, not voting is the most common form of political impartiality. What if the 40 to 50 percent of eligible voters who stay home on Election Day are the better people—more willing to sacrifice personal interests to promote the common good—and their absence from elections amplifies the votes of those who are animated by selfish interests and who are less concerned with the greater good and the rights of other citizens?

It’s probably true that self-interest is a more powerful motivator than concern for the greater good, or the long term health of the collective, especially among an individualistic people. A study of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 found that for every dollar corporations spent lobbying Congress to pass it, they got $220 in tax benefits. (University of Kansas, Raquel Alexander). Compare that incentive for political involvement to the disincentive for voting in one of the increasing number of places where you have to line up for hours to get to the voting booth. Bernie Sanders’ canvassers knocked on 471,000 doors just in New Hampshire this primary season. What was the return on THAT investment? Certainly nothing like the 22,000% return on lobbying for the Jobs Creation Act. Maybe the difference isn’t between better or worse citizens, but what kind of motives drive people to act? What if some citizens are more politically engaged because they see a clearer connection between public policies, their political efforts and their hopes for the future?

Virginia Woolf, writing in 1915, in the early months of what would be a long World War, said something that has got us thinking about hoping and groping in darkness toward a better future. Events that came after 1915 didn’t offer much reason to think that good guys with wise policies are guaranteed to triumph by default. In fact it appeared to William Butler Yeats, writing in the war’s aftermath, in 1919—the year when the victors imposed a punitive peace on Germany—that:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The decades that followed Yeats’ publication of “The Second Coming” seemed to confirm this impression, as fascists outmaneuvered weak-kneed liberals in Europe and spawned a second and even more horrific and widespread World War. Today, there is much talk of a revival of fascistic impulses and a decline in democracy. On March 4, 2020, for example, Freedom House, the democracy-promoting website, published a story with this headline:

Established democracies are in decline: Despite mass protests in every region, world suffers 14th consecutive year of deterioration in political rights and civil liberties.

Another rough beast seems to be slouching toward Bethlehem.* Is there anything we can do to head it off?

I’m not optimistic, but I do have hope that democracy can be strengthened and we can do a better job of coming together to act for the common good. I’ve been struggling to articulate that sense of hope and to bring this series of essays to a merciful end. The next blog post will be the last in this series (I hope) and offer some tentative suggestions for guiding democratic action toward a hopeful future.

Other Hope Essays: #1; #2; #3; #4; #5;#6



*Yeats' poem is the most pillaged poem in the English Language, according to The Paris Review. Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hope and Epistemic Humility

Hope Essay #3 (Please also consider reading the first two in this series #1 and #2)

In 2019 I discovered a book that makes a pretty good case for a certain kind of hope. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit, takes its title from Virginia Woolf, who wrote these tentatively hopeful words in her journal during one of the most ominous moments of the 20th century, the early days of the First World War: “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” By dark, Solnit argues, Woolf meant unknown, not bad.  Woolf was not siding with optimists who thought the war would be over swiftly and gloriously, or pessimists who somehow foresaw the horrors of trench warfare.  It was a recognition of ignorance, and the impossibility of predicting the future, which, again and again delivers the unexpected. Much of it is unexpectedly awful, like the current pandemic; but it can be unexpectedly good, too.

Pessimists, Solnit writes, tend to forget or take for granted past advancements that were unexpected and unforeseeable. They need to open their minds to the possibility that the worst outcomes are not inevitable and recall forgotten times (“untold histories”) when progress seemed impossible right before it happened. During the aughts, when states were passing referendums “protecting” marriage from same same-sex couples, who could have expected gay marriage to become legal throughout the land as early as 2015?

Once you let go of the certainty of future doom you lose your best excuse for apathy and inaction, she writes. “In the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.” Nor does Solnit let the positive thinkers—optimists who “think it will all be fine without our involvement”—off the hook. The good guys never win by default. They must act, and hope is useless if not accompanied by a “belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand” (xiv).

The problem with both optimists and pessimists is they fail to realize that they can’t really—really—know anything. My graduate advisor, Harvard Sitkoff once told me about an idea for a book that he would probably never get around to writing (a prediction that so far has come true—but who knows?). The title would be “The Future That Never Was,” and it would be an amusing catalogue of the predictions that look ridiculous in hindsight—like flying cars. No one knows better than historians how futile it is to predict the future, since we can’t even agree on what happened in the past. And of course journalists seem pretty divided about the present, too.

But wait, shouldn’t this “epistemic humility” make us pause before jumping on the bandwagon of some scheme to improve the world? Shouldn’t we have some uncertainty about our own ability to determine which actions are best designed to bring about which future? Every time people try to improve things, we seem to create worse problems. Jared Diamond claims adoption of agriculture is the “greatest mistake humans ever made.”   Fossil fuels kept us warm for centuries, made us more mobile, and then gave us traffic jams, pavement, the scourge of plastics, and a warming planet. Every successful liberal reform in American history, it seems, has led to a backlash that may have had an even greater impact. The reform and protest movements of maybe five years in the Sixties have been followed by 50 years of backlash. For every Abbie Hoffman then there are 50 conservative radio shows now. Unintended consequences have dogged reformers throughout history.

So maybe conservatives are right some times. Solnit embraces epistemic humility about WHAT will happen in the future, but not about what SHOULD happen. I’m not always so sure. I admire the caution, born also of uncertainty, expressed by the British legislator Edmund Burke, a critic of the French Revolution, and an inspiration to American conservatives. When formulating reform legislation in Parliament, he said, “I set out with a perfect distrust of my own abilities; a total renunciation of every speculation of my own; and with a profound reverence for the wisdom of our ancestors” (Levin, 141). It seems to me that we need more of that kind of uncertainty on both the right and left, but it seems increasingly in short supply as we construct social media environments filled with people and publicans that share our values and opinions.

I encountered the value of epistemic humility while working in two fields—journalism and teaching. My first job out of college was as newspaper reporter, a job that requires fairness and impartiality. I admired the recently deceased PBS News anchor, Jim Lehrer, who was said to be so intent on cultivating an even-handed, non-partisan attitude that he refrained from voting. His unchallengeable reputation for fairness is why he was asked to moderate 12 presidential debates. Journalists like Lehrer were a gift to the democratic process and to the reputation of a free and impartial press that people on both sides trusted. They are increasingly rare, and their absence is a loss for democratic culture, which cannot function without compromise, which becomes more difficult as we all become more and more certain—not only that we are right about the best future, but that it is the only morally acceptable future.

I left journalism and now find myself teaching history and politics at a school in which most teachers and students are one kind of liberal or another, and the few conservatives are mostly afraid to express their views for fear of scolding, ostracism or retaliation. I feel a professional and a moral obligation to protect my conservative students and foster a classroom environment in which they feel safe to express their views. Not only is that fair to conservative students, but it improves the civic education of students who lean left too.

Research shows that students who learn about politics along with only like-minded peers are more “susceptible to becoming politically intolerant.” Education researchers Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy have found that “people who talk in like-minded groups rarely discuss the ideas held by their opponents, and they likely do not consider the question ‘Could we be wrong?’ Instead, they reaffirm each other’s views and move opinions within the group toward polarized extremes.” (Political Classroom, 148). I believe that democratic education requires us to teach “cognitive empathy” —the ability to understand opponents’ points of view, so I do everything I can to encourage conservative students’ participation in our classroom discussions, and to assign readings that take conservative ideas seriously.

I’ve also been learning about the mental roadblocks we all have to cognitive empathy—cognitive distortions, motivated reasoning, backfire effect, and such. Wikipedia lists 188 cognitive biases, and that entry includes a graphic, the Cognitive Bias Codex, which I’ve printed and hung on my classroom wall. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind explains the moral basis of conservative and liberal beliefs and argues that liberals have a harder time understanding conservative morality than conservatives do of understanding liberal morality.

All of this leads me to more questions, and the subject of my next Hope Essay (#4).   Solnit’s book is a call to action, but if we can’t know, how can we act? And should we act?

Sources:

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2004, 2016).

Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left (2013).

Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy, The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education (2014).

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012).

 "List of cognitive biases," Wikipedia.

Other Hope Essays: #1; #2; #4. #5.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Presidential Hopes

Hope essay #2

Sometime around New Year ’s Day, 2020, I found this Jesse Jackson campaign button during a casual stroll through the BAD ART store in Littleton, NH. Jackson visited Lowell, Massachusetts during his bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1984. My friend, the legendary history and political science Professor, Dean Bergeron, hosted Jackson at the university when he campaign in the city. I was finishing up my undergraduate degree that year and I got to join Jackson’s entourage as he made the rounds. Sadly, that was before the era of selfies, or else I’d have a better memento of that day, like the one I got this year with Liz Warren. All I got was a handshake from Jackson, but now I have this button.

Jackson’s candidacy that year was considered a hopeless long-shot—or rather, a long-shot based on nothing BUT hope, kind of like Bernie Sanders in 2016.

When I think back over the many presidential elections I’ve lived through, it seems that they all have been contests over who could come up with the most compelling vision of hope for the future. There was Reagan’s morning in American (also: “Make America Great Again”), and in 1992, Bill Clinton promised to “bring hope back to the American Dream.” Then, of course there was the iconic Shepard Fairey Obama “Hope” campaign poster. The best line of the 2020 Democratic debates was Elizabeth Warren’s zinger, directed at John Delaney: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it.” No candidate has ever identified so many things to hope for in such concrete and specific detail as Warren, I think.

In 1988, Jackson ran again, this time making hope his dominant theme with the slogan, “Keep Hope Alive.” His stirring convention speech that year overshadowed the nominee, Michael Dukakis, and anticipated some of my own questions about hope. “Face reality, yes, but don’t stop with the way things are. Dream of things as they ought to be,” Jackson said. “Don’t surrender to cynicism.”
From the 1988 campaign

What is the relationship between hope and reality? What happens when hopes are raised, but not fulfilled? Should we direct our anger about unfulfilled hopes at the politicians who raised them, or at the system that defeated them? Have all the hopes and dreams that we voted for done us any good? How should we evaluate the hopes candidates are throwing at us this year? What are the similarities and differences between having hope in our personal lives and collective, political hope? How do we even know what to hope for?

These are some the questions that I ran into after the new year, as I watched the democratic primaries unfold this year and tried to write about hope.  It led to one ever-expanding essay that just wouldn't end, so I've tried to break it up into smaller units and HOPE that a conclusion will come to me after I've posted what I have so far.  If you would like to help shape that ending, please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. 

Next: A compelling theory of political hope. You can read Hope Essay #1 here.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hope, history, politics, and the pandemic

Hope Essay #1

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, President Trump has been peddling something like hope. As recently as early March he said he was “not concerned at all” about the virus. “Just stay calm. It will go away,” he said. I hoped that he was right. Who wouldn’t?

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been thinking and trying to write about the role of hope in history and politics. My brother, Tommy, and I have been grappling together with the question of whether hope is a helpful or a harmful state of being that should be encouraged and cultivated in ourselves and others, or discouraged. Does it lead to mental health or mental illness? Does it encourage action or passivity? Does it facilitate or prevent progress? Is it a necessary tool of valuable reform, or is it something like an opiate of the masses, preventing political action and involvement? (The comments on Hope Essay #4 reflect our conversation about hope, where we disagree and, I hope, agree.)

I tend to think it’s an essential prerequisite for both mental health and political action. Tommy—the psychologist—worries that it encourages complacency, especially in our personal lives. But he can’t dispute the results of the Google search I just did, which says:

Hopelessness is listed as a symptom of many behavioral and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance dependency, and suicidal ideation.

In terms of politics, the absence of hope should also be listed as a symptom of many political behavior issues, including cynicism and apathy. Hopeless voters don’t vote. Hopeless workers accept pay cuts passively, they don’t join unions and they don’t go on strike. They might even cross picket lines. Striking workers hope the workers can win; scabs have no hope for working class victory. Their hopelessness helps another class of people realize their hopes.

If there’s one thing the Kochs and their comrades have, it’s hope. Everything they do begins with hope. They hoped that the federal judiciary would be taken over by conservative judges, so they gave money to the Federalist Society, among other things, and now, somehow, the federal judiciary is overrun with conservative, originalist judges. They hoped that state legislatures would enact conservative policies like “right-to-work,” so they threw money at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and voila, dozens of states have put model legislation, written by ALEC, into law—things like “stand your ground,” corporate tax cuts, and voter ID. Read the history of conservatism going back to Barry Goldwater’s humiliating defeat in 1964. It is, depending on your perspective, either an inspiring story about the power of hope, or an ominous tale of what happens when the worst people have the strongest and most realistic hopes. One of their most significant hopes was to destroy the power of labor unions.

(I concede that if brother Tom was a historian, he could write a parallel history of how the left of the 1960s was led astray by false hope and utopian dreams.)

Donald Trump may have been the most hopeful person in America since at least the 1980s. He just keeps hoping and hoping. Every smart person I know thought his hope to become president was delusional. That’s the thing about hope. You never know. Today’s pie in the sky sometimes becomes tomorrow’s reality. As The Donald likes to say: “What have you got to lose?” It’s important to note that Trump’s hopes were often dashed, as in Trump Airlines and Trump Steaks.

Trump ran on a platform of hope in 2016, like every presidential candidate does. He won, I guess, because many of our fellow citizens—distributed among the states in a way that satisfied the Electoral College—found his hopes more appealing, and perhaps more realistic than Ms. Clinton’s, who gave the impression of not hoping for very much when she insisted that “America is already great.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, Trump articulated what turned out to be false hope, that the coronavirus would be less deadly than the flu and that there would be uninterrupted prosperity and rising stock prices. He continues to search for reasons to hope, for cures—hydroxychloroquine—and a V-shaped economic recovery. We’ll see.

I don’t blame the president for promoting hope. It’s his job. Another president, during an equivalent national crisis said that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, and he is remembered by many as our greatest modern president.

So what, if anything, is the difference between the hope of Trump and the hope of Roosevelt? When is hope counter-productive and when is it essential? How should citizens in a democracy hope? How do leaders use hope to motivate the people?

Tommy and I usually arrive at a place where we can appreciate each other’s point of view. I have to agree that unrealistic, false hopes can lead us astray. It seems likely that Trump’s false hopes led him to ignore good advice to enact social distancing measures sooner and that people are dying because of that. Tommy agrees that something like hope can be put to good use in both the personal and the political spheres—there is an undeniable connection between depression and hopelessness. Maybe, we both come to think, the problem is semantic, and we need to find a better word—or two different words. One describing false hopes, another for the good kind. So maybe it all just comes down to: how do you hope and what should we call it?

Postscript: A dictionary defines hope as "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen" and "grounds for believing that something good may happen." In reading this over it strikes me that there is an important difference between having a hope and using hope to motivate or manipulate other people.  Parents do it all the time: "if you do your chores I'll give you $20"; "if you study hard you'll be a success"; "If you are good, Santa will bring you presents." Sometimes we lie to motivate good behavior.  Sometimes we express confidence about future outcomes that are far from certain (the connection between  study and  success).  It may well be that president Trump didn't have a genuine expectation that the coronavirus would just disappear like a miracle, but he wanted stock market traders to expect that, so they would do more buying than selling and the Dow Jones Average would keep going up.  


Hope Essay #2

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Coronavirus, democracy, sacrifice

Rarely has there been a national emergency with the potential to unite the country in universal sacrifice like this one. In my sixtieth year, this is the first time I’ve been required to make any significant personal sacrifice as a citizen. I was too young for the Vietnam draft and our many wars since then have been fought by volunteers. We were told that our only patriotic duty after 911 was to keep shopping. Now we are all being asked to stay at home and sacrifice our plans, our normal routines, social gatherings, and even to drastically curtail shopping. And if we fail at it, if we can’t get ourselves to keep a six-foot social distance—the hospitals will be overwhelmed and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens will die.

Not all of us are being asked to sacrifice equally. Some are managing to keep our jobs and won’t have to worry about paying the monthly rent. Others are losing their livelihoods. Health care workers risk being infected every day at work.

And not everyone is going along with the plan—those spring break revelers, for example, or the toilet paper hoarders. In a past war, they might have been called “slackers.”

There were quite a few slackers in the First World War, which happened to coincide with the last major flu pandemic, when the accompanying photograph was taken. That’s why the federal government felt the need to run a major propaganda campaign with posters like the one in the background of the photograph. Some outspoken opponents of the war, like Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, were thrown in jail; “slackers” faced community censure, and in at least one extreme case, death by mob violence for failing to purchase a “liberty bond.”

In World War II the American people got closer to unanimously embracing sacrifice in the national interest than they ever have, before or since. Beating Nazis was something we could pretty much all get behind.

You might think that beating the deadly coronavirus could inspire a similar degree of national unity and willing sacrifice. But instead the nation is divided and ambivalent about what should be done and who should sacrifice what. Only recently has the President himself gotten fully behind the drastic social distancing measures that professional health experts are calling for, but he could do more to define it as a patriotic duty and call out those who don’t do their part as something like slackers. It’s Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters, after all, who are putting up the most resistance to social distancing, egged on by the pro-Trump media.

Part of the problem is uncertainty. Instead of an enemy shooting at us with bullets and bombs, we are fighting invisible germs, and our response is based on statistical modeling by health experts, which most of us can only take on faith—at a time when many of us have lost faith in expertise.

And that uncertainty leads to questions about the validity of the sacrifices we are making. The president himself can’t seem to decide whether it’s all really worth it. He said just a short while ago, “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” Or as Glen Beck put it, “I would rather die than kill the country.”

And I confess to having had my own doubts. How do we weigh the suffering caused by over-burdened health care workers and a perhaps massive rise in virus deaths against the cost of shutting down the economy? The latter leads to real suffering too, and it has already begun, with 10 million losing their jobs (and health care coverage?) in the past two weeks, students struggling to adjust to online learning (a struggle I’ve witnessed; it’s not pretty), rents and mortgage payments coming due, small businesses ordered to close, victims of mental illness cut off from needed therapy.

This suffering is reflected in the headlines: “Some cities see jumps in domestic violence during the pandemic,” one CNN headline proclaims. And I have seen it in person: the store clerk who said his cancer treatment has been postponed, the 20-somethings in my orbit whose launch has been interrupted, the small businesses in my neighborhood that have had to shut down. Meanwhile people I know personally who have the virus have so far had only mild cases and been told by doctors not to come in for treatment or even testing.* Are such cases being factored into the experts’ models, I wonder?

But then the other day I listened to a Throughline podcast about the 1918 pandemic, which mentioned the photograph of the nurses making masks. The Red Cross poster on the wall behind them defines virus transmission-mitigation measures—like making masks—as a patriotic duty. More Americans died in that pandemic than in either of the World Wars. I got to thinking that instead of feeling put upon about the sacrifices we are enduring now, what if we could manage to feel patriotic and ever so slightly heroic about doing our part in preventing that from happening again?

That sense of shared sacrifice for a worthy goal is something we have not experienced as a nation in a long time. Since Vietnam, the burdens of war have fallen on an ever shrinking number of citizens. And there have been very good reasons to oppose wars like the one in Vietnam.  For once, defeat of the enemy we face today—certainly a just cause—requires something of all of us. We may not be suffering equally, but we are pretty much all suffering to some extent.

In her great meditation on democracy, Talking to Strangers, Danielle Allen shows how sacrifice is key to the survival of a system where the people vote. It is the willingness of the losers to abide by the results of elections that allows the system to survive. Allen writes:

An honest account of collective democratic action must begin by acknowledging that communal decisions inevitably benefit some citizens at the expense of others, even when the whole community generally benefits. Since democracy claims to secure the good of all citizens, those people who benefit less than others from particular political decisions, but nonetheless accede to those decisions, preserve the stability of political institutions. Their sacrifice makes collective democratic action possible…. The hard truth of democracy is that some citizens are always giving things up for others. (28-29)

Allen shows how some Americans have been asked to sacrifice more than others.  Since the 1970s, for example, rust belt workers lost livelihoods in manufacturing jobs when the majority embraced free trade and globalization.  When such unequal sacrifice is not acknowledged by those who benefit from it, she argues, trust among citizens is eroded and the survival of democracy is at risk.

I would imagine she might see moments in our national life when we all have to sacrifice something for the greater good as an opportunity to build trust and solidarity and strengthen democracy. 

It is unfortunate that we are all still so far from unanimously embracing as patriotic the sacrifices currently being asked of us. But a corner may have been turned on the last day of March, when the president seemed to abandon his ambivalence about what needs to be done and to ask us all to make sacrifices for the greater good. Here are his opening remarks in that day’s Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing:

Our country is in the midst of a great national trial, unlike any we have ever faced before. You all see it… We’re at war with a deadly virus. Success in this fight will require the full, absolute measure of our collective strength, love, and devotion. Very important. Each of us has the power, through our own choices and actions, to save American lives and rescue the most vulnerable among us. That’s why we really have to do what we all know is right. Every citizen is being called upon to make sacrifices. Every business is being asked to fulfill its patriotic duty. Every community is making fundamental changes to how we live, work, and interact each and every day.

Those good words—including “sacrifice”—are a start, but need to be followed up with many more words and actions—and really a wholly different approach to presidential leadership. Since Trump has shared their skepticism about drastic measures to slow the spread of coronavirus he may be the only person who could get the opponents of those measures on board with the program. And then maybe the collective experience of sheltering in place will help us see the way that sacrifices are not equally borne by all, and that could do something to restore trust among citizens, in their government, and in democracy. Hope springs eternal!

More food for thought:

Danielle Allen has a column in the Washington Post. She has written four essays on the pandemic starting on March 13. And her book is worth reading. I haven't done it justice here at all. In fact I think I need to read it again: Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education (2006)

This Atlantic essay by McCay Coppins offers a sobering look at how our pre-existing political divisions are reflected in our reactions to the pandemic. 

"The Daily," (podcast of the NY Times) ran a segment on the leadership of governors, many of whom spoke about the role of sacrifice in managing the pandemic.

On the point that the sacrifices are not equally shared, listen to Bob Garfield’s hilarious send-up of celebrities and how they are coping with social distancing.

This recent Ezra Klein podcast featured sociologist Eric Klinenberg discussing the real suffering and sacrifice involved in social isolation. They also discuss the ways that some of those who are being asked to make the most sacrifices for others happen also to be people that society was treating pretty shabbily up to now.

Someone asked if by saying "some of us" when referring to rising mistrust of experts meant that I shared that mistrust. The answer is yes, to a point, though, as in the present crisis, we nonetheless often have no choice but to rely heavily on expert advice.   Just one example of the problem with expertise—the financial experts who were largely to blame for the last great recession.  See, for example, this PBS Newshour segment.

*Postscript: On April 11 (last night), I learned of the first death of a person close to me. Since I wrote the blog post, above, the predicted acceleration of coronavirus has arrived. A friend, also yesterday, posted this graphic representation that drives the point home. Click on the image and watch the daily death toll rise over time.


Update. On his release from the hospital after surviving the coronavirus, Boris Johnson delivered this video address to the nation on April 12. I think it is a model of democratic leadership in the way that it acknowledges sacrifice. It's hard for me to to imagine citizens listening to this and then refusing to cooperate with social distancing measures being asked of them.