There's a catch

I first read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 when I was about 14, and one of the many lines that have stuck with me over the years is Yossarian’s reply to being asked “But what if everyone thought that way?” when he reports his disinclination to be killed for his country; “Then I’d be a damn fool to think any different, wouldn’t I?” (or words to that effect, it’s been a while since I last read it). It could be interpreted as an approval of selfish individualism, but, in the context of the book, I think Heller intends it to serve as a reminder to be sceptical of those in power who urge sacrifice for some “greater good”, which often turns out to benefit only a select few.

Anyway, I was thinking of this earlier this week, as I stood in the supermarket looking at the empty shelves. I had heeded the official advice to refrain from panic-buying, partly from a sense of civic responsibility, but mainly due to laziness, and had held off heading to the store until my supplies had begun to run low, only to find that my fellow-citizens had not shown such forbearance. There was nothing but some random stuff left, so for the last few days I have been surviving on a diet of organic quinoa and tinned asparagus. Fortunately, I’m not responsible for anyone else’s welfare, so it’s no big deal, and my minor discomfort is nothing compared with that of those who are actually ill at the moment, but still, I feel a little aggrieved.

At least in political life there does seem to have been a turn towards more of a collective outlook. Erstwhile champions of the free market are now overseeing the virtual nationalisation of the whole economy; by next week they will probably be trying to convince us of the merits of war communism. It would be nice to think that this new paradigm will last beyond the end of the current crisis, but I expect the ruling class will revert to type once the existential threat to their system has passed, and it will be back to business as usual.

In other news, it looks like Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for President, after successfully consolidating the centrist vote and seeing off the progressive challenge of Bernie Sanders. I think this is a big gamble for the Democrats; they are going for what is essentially a rematch of 2016, and it didn’t work out too well last time. Of course that’s assuming that the poll goes ahead in November; Trump may try to use the dislocation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to cancel the popular vote. As Hillary Clinton found out, Presidents are not elected by the people, but by the Electoral College, which in turn is appointed by the State Legislatures. In modern times the Legislatures have selected Electors based on the result of the popular vote, but there is nothing in the Constitution to say that they have to do that, leaving the way open for Republican-controlled states (of which there are enough to guarantee a majority in the College) to simply hand re-election to Trump. This would presumably precipitate some sort of civil war, so it might be a step too far even for Trump, who, as incumbent, has a better than even chance of prevailing in a fair contest, but, the way the world is going these days, it’s hard to say that anything is unimaginable.

A plague on all our houses

I was going to comment that recent events had made the light-hearted tone of my last post on this topic look rather inappropriate, but then it occurred to me that, as our Chinese readers might point out, the only aspect of the Coronavirus crisis that had really changed since I last wrote about it was that people in Europe had started dying too, so asking for my previous comments to be excused, on the grounds that I didn’t know how bad it was going to get (for us), would only compound my appalling insensitivity.

If there was any sort of cosmic justice I would now be struck down by a particularly unpleasant case of pneumonia or something, but the one part of my last post that was accurate was the observation that I, shielded as I am by several layers of privilege, am unlikely to experience any serious adversity as a result of the pandemic. I have had to cancel my spring vacation, and I’ll probably have a few days of mild discomfort when the virus catches up with me, but beyond that I’m unlikely to suffer much. There’s an outside chance that I’ll be drafted in to help treat victims of the outbreak, which would be penance of a sort, though if the health service collapsed to the extent that they needed me on the front line then we’d be only a couple of steps above a Mad Max style apocalypse, so hopefully things won’t get to that stage.

I like to think that I’m not too parochial in my outlook, but events like these remind me that I have more progress to make in that regard than it’s comfortable to admit. However this situation works out, if it encourages people to start thinking a little more globally, then perhaps we’ll be in a better state to deal with the next pandemic that comes around.

Super Tuesday 2020

As predicted, the Democratic primary race is resolving into a fight between Bernie Sanders and A. Moderate, though the identity of the centrist champion is still unclear. The withdrawal of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar should, theoretically at least, benefit Joe Biden, after a good showing in South Carolina seemed to substantiate his claim that he can win support across a broad demographic. Michael Bloomberg is on the ballot for the first time tomorrow though, counting on the billion dollars or so that he has dropped on political advertising being enough to buy him victory. Progressives will be hoping that the result will be a split in the moderate vote, allowing Bernie to cruise to a commanding lead in the delegate count, now that Elizabeth Warren’s momentum looks to be fading.

So, an exciting day in prospect tomorrow. I don’t have a vote, obviously, but I do know a few US citizens, who are all behind Bernie, so I’ll make sure they turn out for the Democrats Abroad primary. I’m sticking to my position that a left-focused campaign is the best way to defeat Trump; we’ll soon find out if the good people of American Samoa, Vermont, and points in between agree with me.