I’m not sure anyone actually finds anything useful or interesting in these RSS/newsletter roundup posts I’ve been doing, but I’m keeping at it anyway. I think today’s batch is especially compelling.
But in this essay, I want to persuade you not just to wear a mask, but to go beyond the new CDC guidelines and help make mask wearing a social norm. That means always wearing a mask when you go out in public, and becoming a pest and nuisance to the people in your life until they do the same.
Maintaining distance from other people is, indeed, the task at hand, and as Mooallem writes, it is a noble one—as noble as saving a person from a burning building. Social isolation takes a toll, however. Loneliness can be deadly, increasing the risk of heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure, and potentially weakening the immune system’s ability to fight off diseases like COVID-19. Urban parks can provide anxious, weary citizens a bit of much-needed fresh air and sunlight, along with the sights and sounds of others—reminders that we are not alone. For those suffering from depression or domestic violence, such small reminders might be as important as not contracting a virus.
But the problem of time is also a problem of space. Homes, too, in this moment, are taking on a new kind of indeterminacy: They are now serving not only as shelter and refuge, but also as workplace and school and gym and theater and restaurant and bar and laundry and town square. They now contain, for many, an entire day’s worth of demands. But whether a house or a compact apartment, those dwellings were never meant to be as profoundly multifunctional as a shelter-in-place scenario requires them to be. American homes, Don Norman, the founding chair of the cognitive-science department at the University of California at San Diego and an advocate of user-centered design, told me, are simply not meant to be lived in 24/7.
In an interview on the Fox News Channel on Monday, Trump explained his objection to Democrats’ efforts to appropriate billions of dollars for election security in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. “The things they had in there were crazy,” he told the hosts. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” On Wednesday, the Georgia House Speaker, Republican David Ralston, echoed Trump. He opposed sending absentee ballots to the state’s registered voters because the effort would lead to higher voter participation. That would “be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.”
The problem, of course, is this vocabulary does more to misinform than it does inform. The major parties are in fact unequal in their influence. The Republicans can and will use democratic institutions to sabotage the American republic. The Democrats, meanwhile, mostly try defending these institutions, nurturing them when they can. The public, however, often doesn’t see the difference. As you often hear me say, most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics.
But essential workers — doctors, nurses, grocers, pharmacists, delivery drivers, and others — are still commuting, and homebound folks must still make trips for survival goods. Now local governments are taking action to help that critical movement happen more easily: They’re striping new bike lanes, retooling traffic signals, suspending transit fares, closing some streets to vehicle traffic, and taking other temporary transportation measures. CityLab has mapped some of the changes happening on city streets in the U.S. and around the world as of April 3, using data from the National Association of Transportation Officials’s Covid-19 Transportation Response Center, a newly launched repository of emergency responses.
Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.
Imagine a representational voting system that has nothing to do with political parties and that guarantees that the voices of we the people are heard. Such a system exists — in fact, it has been in use in various parts of the U.S. for some years now. More and more places are getting on board. It’s called ranked choice voting.