The Good that this Crisis has Brought Out in People
I have long felt that we are being conditioned, by politicians and others who benefit by having ordinary people afraid of each other and at each others’ throats, and by an entertainment culture that continually pumps out apocalyptic narratives in which the worst of our human nature rises to the top. This culture gives us worlds in which people are pitted against each other in a desperate battle for survival and the only way to make it out alive is to lie, cheat, steal, brutalize, kill–and sometimes eat–one’s fellow human beings.
It feels to me as if someone with an agenda has been manufacturing these narratives, “training” us to think of each other as nothing more than competitors for scarce resources, enemies even. And to live accordingly. I haven’t seen the film “Contagion”, but I am told that it is representative of this trend: As soon as there is a big disruption in society, the social fabric immediately tears apart and people begin looting and killing each other.
But that’s not what I’m seeing around me now. What I’m seeing is people coming together, helping each other, encouraging each other. Yes, some of the nastier aspects of humanity are surfacing too: The people who report businesses and individuals for violating the draconian orders, and the police officers who unthinkingly obey those orders. But looking around me, the first seem to be the exception, and even the second is not universal. Neighbors are helping each other; people are sewing masks (for all the good they may do); and many local sheriffs across the country are recognizing that these lockdowns constitute a violation of fundamental rights, and are refusing to enforce them.
This is from Bretigne Shaffer, “Will the Grinch Steal Christmas?” LewRockwell.com, May 13.
I don’t endorse everything in her article but I do like these paragraphs. I also have noticed how generous and just simply nice people are being to each other. When I was about to get in my car on Sunday morning to meet a friend and go for our Sunday walk, a woman walked by, a woman I had never met, and we had a nice conversation in which we learned about each other’s lives.
The Pacific Grove High School shut down in March, which meant that graduating seniors didn’t get to do their senior trip, didn’t get the senior prom, and won’t have a real graduation. But someone came up with the idea of professionally made signs in seniors’ yards on which is a picture of the senior and his/her first name. I noticed this when walking around Pacific Grove on my Saturday walk.
The sign above is for Emma, who lives across the street and whom I had never met. Our street is one of the two busiest in Pacific Grove, so at times it feels as if a freeway separates us.
In an act of small generosity, I crossed the street Monday when I saw Emma on the sidewalk with her friends and handed her a $20 bill as her graduation present. (If you read the chapter on virtue in my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey, you’ll see that I’ve had difficulty being generous; the good news is that each year I’m getting a little better.) I think Emma wanted to make sure I wasn’t some creepy old guy and so she asked where I lived. I pointed out our house and told her that I was the grumpy guy who had come over in my pajamas at midnight on a Saturday the previous summer and knocked on their door because some of the kids were making a lot of noise on the trampoline. She laughed and said that that was her younger sister and she didn’t blame me.
I then had a nice talk with her and her 4 friends, all of whom are going to college in the fall, and I gave them a little “Dutch Uncle” (Milton Friedman’s term for his role in my life) advice about what courses to take.
Tyler Cowen links to a much bigger story about generosity combined with the profit motive.