Imagining Post-Coronavirus America
Post-virus America can be a decentralized, more accountable country in school, business, and government.
My parents' generation, that of the War of 1939–45, looked forward to the peace with wistful ballads like "When They Sound the Last All Clear" and "When the Lights Come On Again." I doubt if our time will hear "When I Go Back to the Office Again" or "When We Go Back to School Again." After all, home confinement doesn't match spending nights in crowded basements or Tube stations during Luftwaffe bombings. Nevertheless, the Coronavirus Crisis is likened to a war, and many relate to Thomas Paine's words, "These are times that try men's souls." Paine's pamphlet, "The Crisis," appeared two days before Christmas 1776, the low point of the American Revolution. The day after Christmas, though, Washington led the Continental Army in his surprise attack on Trenton. The ensuing battle ended the Christmas Crisis of 1776, and it was a turning point in the War of Independence. It is possible that COVID-19 may soon be defeated as decisively as the Hessians at Trenton.
The Lenten Crisis of 2020 also tries men's souls. After it, many lives will have been ended; survivors' lives are being changed, temporarily at least, and perhaps permanently. Life may return to a semblance of normal by summer. Will The Normal be identical to The Before? The Coronavirus Crisis may, like wars, bring about changes, often radical social and political changes, that would not have occurred in "normal" times.
More adults, for example, have been telecommuting. More children have been engaged in "distance learning." These changes may not be temporary. Businesses may find that employees working at home, not burdened with the inefficient use of time and dollars in commuting, can be as productive as they are in the office.
Students from pre-K to university may benefit from learning via computer rather than in a classroom, where learning is geared to the lowest common denominator, often flavored with ideological indoctrination. Many students — and their parents — will find that online instruction resources are far more informative, flexible, and rewarding than teachers like the one who bored Ferris Buehler's classmates or those who are soul mates of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
When kids return to school, parents might be far more attentive to their classrooms. As parents become increasingly aware that their school tax dollars have gone to fraud, waste, abuse, and propaganda, homeschooling becomes increasingly attractive. Many would prefer pure homeschooling, others the hybrid model (mixed classroom and homeschooling). The upward thrust of school budgets will end. The future of K–12 education could well be the kids of Little House on the Prairie learning on laptops. Kids made aware of the critical role of medicine and science will immerse themselves in STEM subjects.
College-level distance learning has made inroads. It unchains students from lectures by Professor Dry-as-Dust who cannot compete with well produced videos in which a renowned expert is accompanied by graphs, pictures, maps, and other visuals. The student can replay the lesson to achieve 100% comprehension.
Parents will find their offspring learning more by keeping their noses to the grindstone seven days a week, concentrating on the basic lesson but also following links to related content. Junior and Missy can achieve far greater subject-matter mastery at home. Brick-and-mortar college has distractions like gourmet-level cuisine in the café and a climbing wall in the rec hall. At home, they can't begin "party weekend" after the last class on Thursday.
Learning at home helps parents to become aware of the bias at "prestigious" institutions that costs five figures annually. When Mommy discovers why Missy has become a Trotskyite, she can take remedial actions.
Changes to American life can illustrate Friedrich Engels's "law of passage of quantitative changes to qualitative changes," which he elaborated in his screed Dialectics of Nature, read today by perhaps only tenured liberal arts professors. Engels "borrowed" the concept from Hegel, who stole it from Aristotle, who took it from Anaximines, etc. To illustrate, a quantity change (in temperature) produces the quality change (converting water into ice); another temperature change converts water into steam. To Marxists, there has always been a proletariat, but at a point, it expands to become the majority; it ceases to be the enslaved, becomes the ruling class instead. Here, incremental changes in American life caused by the coronavirus, which originated in communist China, may bring about qualitative changes that transform America into a freer country.
When circumstances force people to distinguish between the critical and the superfluous, the process is truly "radical": it trims away all obstructing the root of things. The pie-in-the-sky thinking of the past will be replaced by recognizing the need to make hard choices.
This will impact consumer demand for goods and services. Reduced demand for some social and consumer goods and services can bring increased demand for others. Less on-road commuting reduces demand for cars and fuel; less commuting reduces the need for road and rail transportation expansion plans (that usually come with out-of-this-world cost overruns). New consumer psychology could increase personal savings, especially for people who realize that they have failed to put aside enough for a rainy day (or year).
This "radicalism" applies to organizations as well:
- need for all employees to be physically present for five days a week allows downsizing brick-and-mortar facilities;
- businesses can reduce real estate expenses by relocating away from crowded metropolitan areas;
- already decentralized, multi-location organizations could reduce travel costs by increasing the use of electronic meetings.
If metropolises are no longer necessary for business in a high-technology world, small-town America could be revived. Manhattan's Upper West Siders might not welcome relocating to Peoria or Butte, but it is what it is.
In a decentralized, less stressed out, mentally healthy America, people would be better able to distinguish among the important, the insignificant, and the in-between.
Governments will also have to make hard choices. After-action analyses must address strengths and weaknesses of crisis responses. Business-as-usual government practices that caused unnecessary harm to physical and economic health to individuals and to the public at large must be remedied by reformation and debureaucratization. Governments will certainly have to address temporary reduction of tax revenues from incomes and sales and adapt to this reality.
To improve accountability, steps have been taken to relocate segments of the D.C. bureaucracy to the boondocks. That could be the wave of the future, especially if we move the capital. The Constitution mandated a territory under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government; it did not specify the location. The Residency Act (July 16, 1790) resulted from a bargain between Treasury secretary Hamilton and secretary of state Jefferson. Jefferson's support for Hamilton's bill for the new government to pay off the Revolutionary War debts of the Confederation and the states was exchanged for locating the capital on land ceded by Virginia and Maryland. A revised Residency Act could relocate the capital to Peoria, Butte, or a field in the center of the country.
A few weeks ago, some unctuous "celebrities" appeared in seriatim in a video of "Imagine." These secular materialists want a borderless, moneyless, godless world in After-Virus Life. The real Americans of flyover country don't cherish that vision. They might welcome a post-quarantine high-tech version of pre-urban America.
Image: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker via Flickr.