Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Listen, People

Here’s a link to my new book! If this topic speaks to you I hope you will read it.


Identity does not mean identity

I had been confused during this lifetime about the word “identity” and even written about it but it was not til just now that I figured out something fairly major that should have been obvious. When people talk about their identity lately or say “I identify as…” or “my identities”, usually they are talking about group identity. The word “identity” originally meant who are are as distinct from everyone else, like your name or anything else that might be on an identity card or that might pinpoint you as an individual. Now it can also mean group membership, or maybe it primarily means membership.

For those of us who don’t really do group membership, there is no longer any identity if we start talking this way. It’s as if we are nothing because we cannot successfully stake a claim to be a part of something. And what happened to the spiritual significance of each person regardless of how you might categorize them? The shift of language signals a shift in values, that people don’t matter. This shift of language occurred mainly in the progressive left of society, so does that mean those people don’t care about people apart from their categories? Western capitalist culture drives people to be seen more as a labor commodity; the progressives are trying to “decolonize” and counteract that; yet they may ironically be doing it the most.

1 Comment »

Who is responsible for the danger of tools?

If you leave a jar of plutonium pellets in the office fridge, labeled “bacon bits”, and someone dies from it, you would be guilty even if the victim committed the lesser crime of stealing your property. Likewise if you leave a gun in a day care playroom, and a child kills another child, then you are guilty of that. Building owners could be held responsible for accidents involving poor conditions, such as a missing stair. In general, a person may be held responsible for the dangerous things they own or unleash even if they did not use them specifically as weapons.

When it comes to manufacturer’s liability, two opposing forces – coming from lawsuits on the one hand, and liability releases on the other hand – creates a very fine-grained madness. There could be a known hazard from using a cutting tool incorrectly, which is not specific to the brand, and essentially comes down to the fact that knives are sharp. The company protects itself with paragraphs of fine print, people don’t read it, and when someone gets hurt, lawyers argue over whether the warnings constitute a contract and whether the contract applies to the case. It is a very silly situation we have created.

I think these things should not be based on a contract in the first place. In other words, the responsibility should not be decided based on fine print. It does not make sense that release clauses would always absolve the manufacturer. It also does not make sense that the lack of fine print would make manufacturers responsible beyond reason – such as teaching people how to use knives and all the injuries people might get from them.

I was brought into this line of thought from considering the Rittenhouse case in August 2020. He brought a gun intentionally to a protest, was accosted and threatened, then killed two people in “defense”. The law is on his side, but the law is absurd in the sense that the same defense can be used to escape responsibility for intentionally provoking deadly violence. The fact that a gun was involved (the “tool”) is not incidental, because the gun was the key difference between life and death. It’s hard to see any other outcome when a person brings deadly force into a high-tension situation, even if he claims it is not intentional. Yet, like the product warning labels, the laws break down the scene myopically into discrete events. The first event is buying a gun, which was legal. The second event was bringing it to a protest, which is legal. The third event was shooting in self defense, which is also legal. But this legal logic does not put together the sequence of events into a story. The common sense observation of the story is that Rittenhouse provoked deadly violence: had he not come with a gun, those people would not have died.

Another news story involved a racist white man who went with a gun to his black neighbor’s house, started an argument, and provoked a fight. Then he shot the unarmed neighbor, claiming (successfully!) that it was in self defense. He was not found guilty because each of his discrete actions, looked at in isolation, was legal.

The myopia of legally separating a story into discrete, unlinked events like this is tied to the failure of recognizing the use of an inherently dangerous tool. It is the tool that connects the sequence of events; without the gun, it would make more sense to treat the events as discrete.

Consider that there are proposals (and perhaps laws, somewhere) making the buyer or seller of a product responsible for its cradle-to-grave environmental consequences. While that’s a different topic, we can apply the same concept to to the lifetime consequences of any dangerous object (a weapon, car, chemical, or building for example). If you purchase a gun, and anyone anywhere is killed with it, you would be responsible, even if someone stole it or wrestled the gun from you.

While it is true that unforeseeable accidents happen, a lot of accidents are gray areas. “The building accidentally fell down” is not really an accident because the owner was neglectful in ensuring that it wouldn’t fall down. If the defense of claiming something is an accident was removed from the law, then everyone would be a lot more careful.

Also imagine if there was no self-defense consideration in the law. Suppose you had a gun and were faced with a legitimate self-defense situation, but there was no protection of self-defense in the law. Knowing you would be found guilty of murder for shooting in defense, you might still do it because doing jail time is better than dying, but you would only make that decision if you were very sure that there was no way to escape or de-escalate.

With huge loopholes in the law for “accidents” and self-defense, people can make decisions that inevitably lead to great harm while bearing no responsibility. On the other hand, making the manufacturer or owner of every object responsible for its cradle-to-grave consequences is equally ridiculous.

Here’s a simplified first draft of a legal framework for considering these things all together:

  • Classification of tools: Tools fall into three categories: (1) common objects like a chair or knife; (2) inherently dangerous objects like a building, vehicle or gun; (3) and those not yet classified. While common objects can be dangerous (you can hit someone with a chair, or it you might fall of it), there is nothing about it that makes it more dangerous than any other object. A knife or sword is an edge case (sorry for the pun) but since it has no moving parts and its danger is fully apparent at a glance, it would be classified as a common object. An object that has not been classified by case law would be classified by a court when its use first occurred in a criminal complaint.
  • Classification of natural objects: Because things that are not controlled by any person can be dangerous (such as trees, rocks, wolverines, or blizzards), those things are only classified as “tools” if someone moved or changed them in such a way that created a new danger. For example a pile of logs that someone created would be a “tool”, and would usually be classified as a common object. But if the pile was built into a structure, then it would be classified as a building, which is an inherently dangerous object.
  • Automatic versus manual: A tool that you create, when it does something when you are not present, is treated as a tool that you used as if you were present. So if someone is hurt in a makeshift trap made of natural materials, or by an AI-powered laser drone, the creator is treated as if they were personally there doing the action of the tool.
  • Contracts: There can be no contracts or disclaimers covering tool use: no one can hide behind warnings or liability protection clauses. By the same token, you cannot sue a manufacturer on the basis of failing to educate or warn you.
  • Common objects used for harm: For common objects (category 1), the person in possession of it is responsible for how they use it. If they use it to injure or kill someone else, that case would be treated as if they did it with their own hands and not with a tool.
  • Dangerous objects used for harm: For inherently dangerous objects (category 2), each object must be registered in a public listing until it is destroyed, and the person declaring responsibility for it is responsible for everything that happens with it. They are responsible even if a different person uses it for harm.
  • Self defense: Laws pertaining to dangerous objects supersede laws pertaining to self-defense. Therefore if there was no inherently dangerous object involved, someone can use self-defense as an argument to avoid guilt. But if there was such an object involved, then the registered owner is responsible regardless of who did what in which sequence.
  • Harm from natural objects or events: For natural dangers like a river or mudslide, only the victim is responsible, and not a land owner or other authority. However if the natural materials were moved, then they could be treated as tools as explained above.

I see this framework as a way to assign responsibility in a way that reduces actual harm done, regardless of the status of laws covering the manufacture, sale or ownership of guns or other tools. While gun control measures could drastically reduce gun deaths, these responsibility measures would also have an effect on safety, and the two approaches could be used together. Since the US is not ready for major gun restrictions, a moderate form of gun control combined with these responsibility laws could be a lot more effective than just moderate gun control on its own.

1 Comment »

Kitchen remodel animation

We spent many months remodeling our kitchen. It included a rebuild of a lot of the plumbing and electric, and we had to go through three plumbers and two electricians. And we did all the design, cabinets, floors, and counters.

Here’s the before and after, and here is an animation that runs from beginning to end of the process.

Leave a comment »

What’s a liberal to believe any more?

The plea for a big tent

With political polarization at an all time high, some of us who historically considered ourselves further left than either of the parties will now have to rename where we stand. I’m still “left” in the sense that I wish the world had open borders and equitably distributed land, I wish we would go carbon neutral, I wish we could eliminate extreme poverty and wealth, and so on. But I’m not on board with eliminating police or curtailing freedoms or putting causes of identity above traditional principles of justice.

Some people are taking regular progressive ideas and making them so extreme that I can’t support them any more. Some of those extremes are:

  • Guilt by association – white people being called guilty because of the actions of their ancestors
  • Compelled speech – such as requiring that people use correct pronouns for others
  • Eliminating police and prisons to the extent that there is no penalty for hurting others
  • Reparations paid based on genetic markers or skin color
  • Pushing the responsibility for ones trauma triggers on everyone else
  • Punishing failures to be accessible – such as missing image descriptions for blind people
  • Canceling well known people for being “problematic”
  • Canceling powerless people for being “problematic”
  • Criticism of culture blending (using words, wearing clothes and adopting anything “from another culture”)
  • The idea that no one should ever be hurt or that life is not primarily suffering
  • Substituting oppression labels for credentials

With many of these things, the more hard and strict they are, the more “radical” and laudable they are intended to appear, as if we are competing to be the most strict and to drive out any nuance. If you follow these things to the limit, you lose compassion and would no longer be communicating. But I feel it is actually more radical and more difficult to listen and accept differences, than to fight, win, and cancel your opponents.

I suspect that the most marginalized among us are not participating in this kind of new-leftism, and actually it is people who are fairly high up on the social ladder who are doing this the most. And I further suspect that they are doing it because it is helping them rise higher on that ladder by pushing the rest of us down.

It’s especially ironic to silence all dissent when the underlying motive is putatively to include marginalized people. I would know if the new ideology was actually inclusive and empowering because I would feel its effects on me. The people with the loudest voices would be championing outsiders like me and giving all of us more of an equal voice. But I can tell that the ideology is not actually inclusive or empowering because every brush-up I have had with it has been in the form of an attack against me rather than support of me.

People who are more marginalized than me have essentially no hope of being heard over the battle cries. The extreme irony is represented by the person who is marginalized by being between worlds and labels – say half native American and half European, who’s bisexual – they get attacked the hardest because they represent the opposite of at least one thing being fought for by each of the sides.

So what’s an alternative? Things that are actually “radical” (if the word has any meaning left), and which I support include:

  • Upholding free speech and the other pillars of the Bill of Rights, even if people are shamed and criticized
  • Competitive and transparent markets
  • Restoring large parts of the earth to non-human use, including eliminating land ownership and migration barriers
  • Understanding there is no such thing as race; moving beyond race as the cornerstone of social order
  • Local direct democracy and many levels of governance all the way up to a world democratic government
  • Pluralism protected, whether integrated or in isolated communities
  • Including people (not just helping) because they are human, not because of certain limited identity labels

We need structure and compassion. The structure is fair market regulation, voting, transparency, blind justice – the dull, stabilizing things. The compassion is the welfare state, prioritizing health over defense, and listening to people who come from an uncomfortably different point of view. Liberals should be fighting for all this, not seeking attention for being the most extreme. We’re individuals, and we’re families, and we’re one world. All of us need to accept that we are different and make the tent big enough to hold all the contradictions. We need to do this because it’s the only way to win over the actual enemy. The actual enemy is not slight differences of liberal opinions; it is the authoritarian rigidity and white supremacy of the extreme right, which treats dissenting people as unworthy of a voice, or even unworthy of life.

Appendix A: The most problematic word

People say a component of a mechanical system is “problematic” when it is developing problems and threatens to break. We can use the word for elements of culture too (terminology, policy or arguments) when the thing is likely to provoke objections. Something is problematic if it is ill-conceived, or possibly well intentioned but not workable. Some people frequently label other people as problematic, which is… problematic. People are not broken, ill-conceived or non-workable. You might not agree with them but calling them problematic is both denying their humanity, and at the same time refusing to engage with the ideas in question. It’s an intellectual-sounding criticism that is just a veiled insult.

Appendix B: Identity politics

Read the rest of this entry »

My cat’s death

I had been sick for a long time when death came for me in pieces. It came with pain and weakness as I still tried to move and eat but lost circulation. After weeks I fell into delirium, going under then summoning a yowl or a shudder to push it away and bring me back into the light. I no longer needed food or water. Days later I lost fear and went past delirium into a new place beyond the pain, my eyes and tail motionless and only holding one breath. I didn’t know if her hand was still on me; nothing more was needed. Then I let go of of that place and moved into yet another place that no one knows about, where I was an ember of memories detaching from my pelt and claws. Now as time stretches to infinity I am releasing the ember.

Leave a comment »

Thick-line taxation

This paper is a proposal for a simplified, fair and enforceable common national system of taxation.

The basic idea is there is a thick line dividing different entities, and only money that passes through that line is taxed. Above the thick line are all business entities, which can exchange with each other incurring no taxes – all that exchange is above the line. Under the line is all individual and family entities, which can also exchange with each other (to a limit) with no taxes – all that exchange being below the line. The only type of transaction that is taxed is any value going through the line downward, from a business to an individual or family.

This thick-line taxation replaces income tax, payroll tax, sales tax, capital gains and investment taxes, rents and royalties, estate and inheritance taxes, and corporate tax.

Money that exists under the line has already been taxed and can therefore be used for anything, while money above the line can only be used for business.

Read the rest of this entry »
Leave a comment »

On reading auras

When I read auras, I am collecting information about someone that they present to me; I am not magic and I am not channeling some esoteric energy from another plane. I cannot guess what number they have in mind or know facts about their past for certain because it is not that kind of power.

But what I can do is listen and deduce, without letting myself get in the way. It is a superpower that certain kinds of autistic people seem to have – in particular those who have a history of being less space-filling, more scared of people, and always on the alert. By contrast, those who have a solid personality are often busy pushing their words and needs outward, and that gets in the way of the perception of auras. But those of us whose personality is wispy to nonexistant are not pushing anything out and we can be very sensitive to auras.

The kinds of things we can deduce include lies, paranoia, safety versus danger, motives, and mood. By extension we can deduce some relationship history and information akin to psychological diagnoses. Because it is not magic, we can only learn things about someone that they show, and people show a lot more than they intend to. Or it can be received through a person talking about a third person, by receiving the intermediary’s emotions about them. A person might give clues in complaining about a friend or her job, then put on a fake smile and try to get validation for something – all clues. The superpower is getting those clues as they are without falling for the lies that the person paints over them, and without filtering them through our own personality. The painted layer is often invisible to autistic people because it is socially constructed “paint” and social constructions tend to be more invisible to us.

I have seen abuse in people’s past and how it prevents them from doing things now. I have seen the ways they don’t understand the things they claim to be experts in. I have seen why they are with a partner, what they are afraid of, and what they are looking for. Occasionally it can be quite specific, like knowing someone is pregnant without seeing them. More often though it is their moods, what they are hiding, and why they are engaged in what their inner struggle is. Often I see what they are trying not to see, and my seeing exposes it to them as a mirror. Much of the time it doesn’t have words, and I only bring it into words if I happen to be asked what I think about a person or situation.

Someone might wonder what it is like to discover that you have an unusual ability like this. They might think it is like flying: if a person one day discovered they had the power of flight, the revelation would completely upset their world. But with this kind of ability, there was no discovery of it since it had always been there. They only discovery was that other people do not have the ability as much. I was often baffled by how easy someone could lie to someone else and be believed, until I understood that they were not seeing what I was seeing; they had turned off the channel that I was watching.

I haven’t talked about it much because of a few reasons. One is that I did not know other people were not the same for a long time. Also, saying that I have a superpower sounds like a claim of the ego rather than a mere observation, and there is no point in getting into a space of having to prove it over the claims of those trying to refute it. Becoming aware that it was a thing that could be discussed and refuted was a change that also brought awareness to the fact that it could be attached to the ego, which in turn led me to understand that once it was ego-driven it would no longer “work” and wouldn’t exist at all. Verbal communication about something so central can spoil it. However, I now am at a place where I doubt the ego will attach to it much, so it feels safer to talk about it.

Reading this you might also wonder how I might exploit this power. This brings me to the reason I wanted to write about this. I want people to know that it is impossible to be used against anyone. While I am using the word “power”, it is not “power over”. The information comes through compassion, not through spying, so if I learn a “bad” thing about someone that they did not want me to know, it only softens them in my perception. Even if they turn vitriolic against me (which happens sometimes) the things that came to me from their aura are still connecting, compassionate things, not leverage.

Looking back at the dozens of people (maybe a hundred) who will not speak to me any more, I can see that many were uncomfortable with the exposure and that being unable to hide from me was one reason for running. Only one (also autistic) person recognized what it was and said she could not be friends because of it. Everyone else just got nervous from seeing themselves in the mirror that is me, and needed the false safety of living in a bubble where they could keep secrets. From themselves.

I wish it could be turned off so that I would not lose so many people. But barring that, I wish I had the ability to reassure people that there is no actual danger in it.

For example one person told me about helping victims of trafficking. In the telling I said nothing but she realized I suspected that she was not only a victim in the past, but that she was reliving the pattern with her boyfriend currently and she was apparently scared she would be seen as a fraud if people knew she was still holding the fetish. I knew her motives were pure and that it is hard to get out of the self-oppression, but I didn’t say that, or say anything at all. She was only talking to a mirror about the painted over layer, accidentally giving me the whole story without words, and then possibly afraid of me exploiting it. I wish I could have reassured her that it was okay to be incomplete, and that I could not go against her, but at the time I did not understand that most people routinely exploit information they have on others; therefore I could not understand the intensity of her fear at the time, or why she ran.

If you are an autistic person who reads auras (even if you call it something else) and you have figured out how to temper it and reassure people, I would like to know how you learned that.


On confrontation

One of the things police do is confrontation, but they do many other things. This essay examines just the confrontation part, which I suspect is the core aspect beneath the calls to “defund” the police.

When I was a teacher and youth retreat leader, I noticed a near-universal truth about confrontation: it does not work. When the kids were being disorderly and chaotic and it was my job to bring focus and order to the situation, I found there are several ways to approach that:

  1. My favorite approach was to notice if they were having fun in the chaos or not, and if so, join it rather than contradict it. I got looked at warily by the actual grown-ups in these situations because they would say I was letting them run amok. But with children and anyone who is emotionally free, laughing and engaging energetically is usually a sign of growth and health, so if they are already doing the most important thing, why would I intervene?
  2. A second approach is one-on-one relational. I discovered how this works in groups when a sunday school class defiantly said they would never leave the park to go back to their parents, and I just wasn’t authoritative enough to fix that the usual way. So I went around to each one and talked individually until they understood why it was important to go back; then they complied as a whole.
  3. A third approach I’ve seen work very well is to give clear expectations, then only talk to the youth after the violation has occurred, rather than during it. At the later time, both parties can ask questions and reflect on it with the needed attention, and some kind of restoration or retribution can be determined then.

The practice of confrontation during the infraction is one that a lot of teachers use, but it doesn’t work most of the time. There are cases where a school fight in progress should be broken up to prevent injury, but usually there is not an immediate danger. Confronting kids in the act of not following rules takes away their agency, which takes away their opportunity to make a decision to follow the rule or not. It results in a context of no buy-in: The youth’s choice in those situations is between (a) retaining their freedom of choice and agency by continuing to try to break the rule, or (b) follow the rule out of fear without internalizing the moral or practical imperative of the rule.

With that in mind, I started considering what police do. Here is a breakdown of five areas of police activity that I’m most aware of:

  1. Responding to crimes that were reported after the incident. Basically this is the legal/prosecution system (DAs and investigators).
  2. Pro-active public safety. Setting up surveillance, visual and other communication systems, trainings and such.
  3. Armed defense and raids and other things that respond to crimes in progress – hostages, active shooters and such.
  4. All the things that have nothing to do with public safety or crime that the police get assigned to because we lack other systems of support.
  5. Patrolling and checking out suspicious activity, and confronting people involved to try to determine if a crime might have been committed or if there might be intent, or if there is any danger; then also following up with trying to prevent danger or chaos based on the situation at hand.

Policing area #1 (investigating and prosecuting) corresponds to teaching approach C (non-confrontational resolution after the fact). There are deep problems with how we are doing this – two of the main ones are that it is full of bias about race and wealth (rich white people can afford bail and attorneys and get off much more often than others), and that it is mainly punitive (based in vengeance rather than restorative solutions). Despite that, the concept of doing investigation and prosecutions in some improved way does not seem to be questioned. This is something we need to do. It’s adversarial by nature, but does not need to be confrontational.

Policing area #2 (pro-active safety) gets little news attention but seems like it could improve safety much more than other areas for the investment, if we focused more on it. Again, no confrontation here.

Policing area #3 (raids/active shooters) is confrontational but it does not seem to be defined as the core problem by news or the activist leaders. I’m thinking about this area as including only definite crimes in progress, not raids based on suspicion. In those situations, everyone seems to want the police around, even those who say they never want them around. While the need for this is much more rare than the TV crime shows suggest, it does seem like there is a need for it – not daily but occasionally. Perhaps this should be composed partly of a reserve force instead of full time officers, and only called into action in those extreme circumstances.

Policing area #4 (non-safety-related) has been in the news a lot and reasonable people seem to agree that money should be diverted to properly funded services that are more suitable. But the discussion tends to be shallow so far – as if throwing money at mental health magically yields mental health. The broader truth is that an equitable and educated society with layers of socialist-style support is going to be safer and healthier than what we have now. The way we approach “mental health” appears pretty diseased because people are said to be sick as individuals rather than in systems, but that is not the subject of this essay. In this whole realm there does not need to be confrontation; every one of those services can be on-demand by the person seeking help. As a side note, there is confrontation and brutality in the mental health system too.

Policing area #5 (patrolling) is where most of the daily confrontation is, and the subject of the rest of this.

We really have to ask why we think we need patrolling and confrontation as part of our system in the first place. People will say we need “order” but that word rarely is defined. There are at least two ways to look at “order” – the opposite of mob rule, and the opposite of diversity. The second definition is where things are all in place, in order, obedient, undifferentiated and maybe even un-free. People who feel safer with confrontational patrolling happening all around them are people who don’t expect to be the ones being confronted, and this indicates that the real desire is for those other people to be managed and controlled. The origin of some policing in the US is to keep this kind of “order” among freed slaves, thus the origin is in white supremacy and the reality today is a continuation of its origins.

The other definition of “order” is more about rule of law. Although the concept of the rule of law has long been obvious, it bears repeating in the current political climate that the idea is for all people to live under the same set of laws consistently applied rather than the president being the ruler. From what I know of history and the present, it seems that without the rule of law, mob rule always arises in the form of elite/corporate control, mafia and so on; there is no benign anarchy. This kind of order is not related to patrolling and confrontation though, so you cannot really argue that patrolling is necessary to create this kind of order.

Others will raise the point about someone in distress who is being threatened by a perpetrator, and say they should be able to call for help. But the prevention of a potential crime happens so rarely that it should not be in any kind of central position in policy. Most of the time, either you can get away from the situation and seek help non-confrontationally, or the crime will have been committed long before any help can arrive. If it’s really a drawn-out hostage situation where the police come and save the victim like on TV, that’s a rare case that falls into the active shooter category and is still not a basis for patrolling.

Others will raise the point about traffic patrolling for road safety. The argument is we need to pull over and ticket people who are not obeying traffic rules, as a safety incentive. Decades ago, maybe. But now we can capture video evidence and bill violators by mail, or use technology in other ways, such as automated transit, driverless cars, and speed control.

Others will raise the point about finding a criminal on the run, and say we need to pull over everyone who matches the profile so they don’t get away. If they are on a crime spree, yes (again that’s more in the active shooter category), but otherwise the crime has already been committed and rushing out to catch them confrontationally won’t retroactively stop the crime or help the victim, and therefore should not be the priority.

The myth of “being caught in the act” as the ultimate goal of confrontation is rare and not even that helpful, and cannot explain why we need confrontation as a daily policy of policing. Just like it doesn’t work with teachers in classrooms, I don’t think confrontation works with policing either, for mostly the same reasons. The main reason we seem to have this policy is white supremacy, and more generally the desire for conformity.

As a final point, each of the areas of policing other than confrontation can be set up with clear goals and oversight. We should be able to ask of public servants: what is the goal of your activities, and did you accomplish the goal? We should be able to collect data and know if the department is doing its job. Many government jobs are bound in red tape because we don’t want those public servants to be making personal decisions from their own bias. But with patrolling and confrontation, there is no specific outcome known in advance, no way to measure effectiveness, and it’s completely open to bias, putting way too much power in one person’s hands. When decisions have to be made quickly without enough time for consideration of the options, they tend to be made based on bias and not on logic. Corruption and discrimination fester in those conditions.

Conclusion: Let’s keep several areas of policing, but eliminate confrontation except in cases of active shooters and similar extremes.

Leave a comment »

Pandemiconomics: Economic lessons of a pandemic

The pre-pandemic world was a kind of health and economic bubble where a false sense of stability reigned since about the 1940s. During that long stability, global travel was on the rise year after year, so it was only a question of when contagious disease would catch up. Ever since the dawn of life, disease has regularly destroyed whole communities but rarely reached global scale because travel was rare.

Those times are over. We are now in a pandemic era, and even if this particular one “blows over”, it is the new reality – actually the all-time reality, but we can see it clearly now that the bubble has popped.

We can organize appropriately, and be stronger and more resilient. Since humans are a social species, we must have physical communities; we won’t survive being virtual, touchless. But those communities need geographical definition and separation as it was in the ancient world, such that if an infection sweeps through one, its communication to other communities would be restricted. This is a great opportunity to build on the Jeffersonian town halls and ideas of local participation and belonging: imagine being a “member” of your neighborhood, officially listed on a roster, in a way that promotes us all looking out for each other. It’s an opportunity to align the schools and representative districts with all other districting so there is a sense of place and coordination. It’s an opportunity to revitalize local culture and end the colonial-minded trend towards sameness across the world.

One of the best potential outcomes of this crisis (possibly second to learning to wash hands and doorknobs) is the US becoming less me-first and more communitarian, as the species is meant to be. Me-first-ism is an aberration of history, not its peak development.

So what about trade and travel? We will need free travel within the community units, but barriers to travel between units. Those barriers can shift with the collection of known threats at the time, but could be as strict as requiring health testing and quarantine routinely for all travelers. The cost of air travel should include all that, and it can become the new norm. With higher costs, excessive travel for salespeople and other routine business travel can be cut way back, while tourism will still be allowed with the precautions in place. It may sound draconian to our current in-the-bubble way of thinking, but it could be a way to flourish economically and in health and culture too.

The reality now highlights the absurdities of state capitalism, by which I mean the power structures protecting the accumulation of wealth over human needs. Even Republicans are saying in these times, we must pull together and centrally coordinate the economy, in stark contrast to their academically stated principles; this makes me wonder if they actually believe in those principles. The central aspect of the absurdity is the false equivalence of speculation and value, as revealed by the sentiment that “I lost 30% of my money because the market crashed.” Speculation is not value. If we care about the market for investment more than the market for goods related to human needs, we won’t be good at meeting our needs.

A corollary absurdity is the notion of not being able to afford what people need. We only get to that notion because of policies in place that protect extreme inequality, but with equalizing measures like universal basic income, we can continue to have stable markets for goods and we will be able to afford everything we need. We still have the same number of hours available, and the same ingenuity, so there is no need for an economic crisis at all.

One shock to the economy has been the obliteration of the sports and entertainment sectors. While all those people’s livelihoods matter, it’s important to remember that those sectors are not at the bottom of the human needs pyramid, and they can be reinvented. Meanwhile we could use universal income to make it easy for that to happen without disruption of basic needs. Schools and other places where people are herded in large groups can be reinvented too, since herding like that is not a real need that people have; it’s just a top-down decision from power centers.

I always try to remember that people are happy when their actual needs are being met – needs for food, shelter, connection, health, learning, and expression. They are never happy simply because they travel a lot or go to concerts or have electronics. The things we cannot do in this pandemic are not barriers to happiness, and we should not try to resurrect the bubble and go back to the time of false stability. Instead we can reinvent everything to align with real conditions better and meet our needs better than we ever have before.