Tuesday 30 November, 2021

Scotland viewed from the English border last Saturday morning

Quote of the Day

Thanks to Alina Utrata for spotting it.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Randy Newman & Friends | “I Love L.A.” | 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony


Long Read of the Day

Is Society Coming Apart?

A Guardian Long Read by the historian Jill Lepore on how the 1950s ideas of sociologist Robert Nisbet have continually been repurposed to find explanations of, and putative solutions for) the tearing and fragility of the social fabric that constituted ‘society’. Despite Thatcher and Reagan’s best efforts, she argues, there is and has always been such a thing as society. The question is not whether it exists, but what shape it must take in a post-pandemic world

Liberalism didn’t kill society. And conservatism didn’t kill society. Because society isn’t dead. But it is pallid and fretful, like a shut-in staring all day long at nothing but a screen, mistaking a mirror for a window. Inside, online, there is no society, only the simulation of it. But, outside, on the grass and the pavement, in the woods and on the streets, in playgrounds and schoolyards and ballparks, in council flats and shops and pubs and agricultural fairs and libraries and union halls, society hums along, if not with the deafening thrum of a steam-driven machine, then with the hand-oiled, creaking clatter of an antwacky wooden loom.

Omicron and magical thinking

Ever since Covid arrived what’s been astonishing is the apparent inability of democratic societies to understand the scale of the challenge. This inability is a combination of

  1. Ignorance — which is understandable; few people know much about epidemiology, exponential growth, genetic sequencing, vaccines, the nature of scientific knowledge and research, probability and risk, etc.
  2. What now we can only call wilful blindness – not wanting to notice or acknowledge what you don’t wish to see — which in this case is that our world has been profoundly changed by the pandemic.
  3. The power of magical thinking – the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, desires can influence the course of events in the material world. Because we passionately want Christmas to be ‘normal’ we believe that it can be normal, even if circumstances conspire against that.
  4. The power of the electoral cycle in democratic politics and the jostling for post-pandemic preferment among political elites.
  5. Psychological exhaustion of the kind that people must have experienced in 1914-18 and 1939-45.

There are doubtless other factors at work too (including perhaps boredom) which prevent many people from coming to grips with the reality — which is that for as long as the virus exists anywhere, this is going to go on. The Omicron variant is just the latest actor in what will be a long saga.


My Commonplace booklet

How to keep social media from ruling your day.

Helpful blog post by Quentin.

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