Of Models and Living

Photo by John Matychuck on Unsplash

My sons and I are modelers.  We love to build models.  We have spent many a pleasant time, creating very pleasant memories, building models together.  I prefer constructing models of buildings, houses, and bridges.  My sons make those, too, but their preference is for vehicles, especially airplanes.

Building models is beautiful and satisfying.  Models and making them stimulate creativity.  Modeling is a bridge between fantasy and reality.  With enough abstraction, you can model just about anything, real or imagined.

Models are not reality, though.  They are a thin representation of elements of reality, on a scale reduced from reality.

Modeling, by intent and purpose, is always a tremendous simplification from actual things, a focus on certain characteristics.  If we want the fullness of reality, we go to reality itself.  You cannot model life, for example, only aspects of it.  Doing so can help with our understanding of a particular aspect, which new idea we can take back to life to see how it fits.

The model itself, though, is not reality.  You cannot live there.  I am reminded of a story from The Twilight Zone.  As I recall, it goes something like this.  A man finds himself trapped inside of a child’s model village.  At first it looks quite real, until examined more closely.  He looks about him, and with increasing anxiety finds that things do not work, discovering an artificiality in all about him.  In despair he discovers how thin a replication of reality the model village is.  He struggles to make sense of it all, until he hears above him the laughing voice of the child who built the model.  He abandons hope as he finds no way out.

Sometimes we build model environments for fish or other pets or creatures to live in.  They never seem to be quite convinced, always trying to get out.  Even the ants in the ant farm work to get beyond the limits of the glass.

In recent months we have all been placed by our governments—especially by our state and local governments—in a model and forced to live there.  We are assured that, according to the models guiding them and us, this will all be for our own good, or at least for the good of someone even when we can see that it is for our direct harm (such as farmers and business owners and their employees, all put out of work).

With each day we see how far from reality these models are.  They are growing increasingly thin in meeting our social, economic, and health needs.  In this model we are separated from family, friends, and neighbors.  Virtual reality turns out to be very little reality at all, highly artificial and daily less satisfying, the virtue going out of it.  Economic buffers like savings erode.  Government relief plans, based on economic models, do not seem to work anywhere near as well as the real economy did.  Educational substitutes are a joke to the students and frustration to their teachers.  Many valuable healthcare treatments are put aside, postponed to some indefinitely promised day, governed by those who control the model in which we are living.

Back to reality, as a cause for rejoicing, which should be embraced and celebrated by all, the horrific models of the future used as justifications for the models imposed upon us by our governors, are turning out to be very thin, indeed wrong.  That is great!  That means that fewer than predicted are dying, fewer are getting sick.  We are thankfully learning each day that the actual numbers used to measure the extent and effect of the flu disease have been and remain a small portion of the overall population.

Policymakers need to make policy based on facts, with a view of and concern for the whole population.  The gap between the models and reality yawns wide.  Time to let us out.

Of the Great Cessation and Accountability

Photo by Remy Baudouin on Unsplash

The first Friday of the month is “Jobs Day” in the United States, when employment numbers for the previous month are released by the Labor Department.  A bit out of date for events moving quickly, the report—really for the first part of March when the data were collected—is that there was a net loss of 701,000 jobs.  More recent information from the Labor Department, gathered in the last two weeks of March, was that 9.9 million people filed unemployment insurance claims.

Those are firm, real, and disturbing numbers.  Perhaps you personally know someone tested positive for the virus or even made sick by it.  I feel more confident that you know someone who has lost his job, or whose business has closed, or one way or another is out of work.

Those people were not put out of work by the virus.  Up to this point the virus has reached but a small portion, some 240 thousand, of the 330 million Americans.  Those 9.9 million job losses were caused by government order and the fear spawned by government pronouncements and predictions of what may yet happen.

This unemployment is actual, not a forecast.  Each person of the 9.9 million has a very real story to tell, and it is not a happy one.  Many are tragic.  There are careers that have been disrupted, some only just started and some now ended.  There are businesses closed that will not reopen.  There are painful ongoing worries for people and families over what to do to cope.  None of us dismisses the sorrows involved with those who die, from whatever the cause.  I fear that the real, here and now unemployment wounds are too flippantly disregarded.

At some point, reasonable questions will need to be answered in a calm and deliberative way.  The actions taken and their consequences must be weighed, aside from professed intentions.  And the policies of policymakers will need to be evaluated in light of what they in practice wrought.  Among such questions might be these:

  • Did the realities of the Great Cessation—the sudden orders to stop activity and association, the practicalities of work lost, earnings gone, closed businesses, disrupted human interaction—caused by government decree, do more harm than good?
  • How many of those lost jobs are coming back?  How many of them are career-ending?  How many businesses are closed not to reopen?
  • Which actions ordered are unrelated to the health emergency but rather take opportunistic advantage of public fear and disruption?
  • What scars will remain on the body of our freedoms?

No doubt you also have important questions, calling for some explaining.

Involved officials might respond that the forecasts should not be unnoticed in the review.  Which forecasts?  Certainly good policymaking would rely upon future expectations.  Was a broad picture evaluated of what might likely occur?  How closely did policies applied align with appropriate and realistic forecasts (taken together)?  Which forecasts turned out nearest to what indeed happened?

Shall we go to the current forecasts?  Oxford Economics visualizes the loss of 27.9 million jobs in the U.S.  The most recent government estimates of U.S. virus deaths are between 100 thousand and 240 thousand.  For the full picture, we should include predictions of the fallout from prolonged social disruption and human isolation.  How much harm and how many deaths might those policies cause?  When we tally up the score to see whether it all is worth it, include all of that in the tally.

A deep recession caused by government order has never happened in our history.  Now it has and is part of our story.  Those who ordered it should, with due deference and full fairness, be called upon to justify it.

Of Social Disruption & the Great Cessation

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This is not an alarmist post. It is anti-alarmist.  It is a request for a better way.

Last evening, at the quiet end to a quiet day, I ran the numbers. These are not my numbers, but numbers from oft-quoted sources:  The Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. Census Bureau, and The Wall Street Journal.

I live in a state with 8,500,000 people, not far from the average of 7,000,000 for all 50 states.  As of last night, in our state, just below 300 people were reported infected with the virus, and 9 had died from it.

I ran the numbers.  The percentage of people in my state currently hit by the virus is 0.003%, that is three one-thousandths of a percent.  Very large and very small numbers are hard to visualize.  In visual terms, if you had one hundred people to demonstrate the numbers, have one person step forward.  He would represent the 1%.  If that person weighed 100 pounds, 4.8 ounces of that person would represent the three one-thousandths of a percent.  That is my state, so far.  You can multiply that many times before you get to just 1 person out of the 100.

There is genuine hardship for people infected by disease, and as their neighbors we are concerned for them and wish to help.  Are social disruption—which social distancing has become—and the Great Cessation of business the best way to help?  That is a rational and reasonable question.

What about all the rest of the people in the state?  Unfortunately, our governor has chosen to be alarmist.  Invoking worries fed by extreme scenarios of how bad things could get in the future if this or that happens or does not happen, he has declared that all should be affected today, that 100% social disruption should be applied now.  When you run the numbers, that is truly an abundance of caution.

But it is not an abundance of life. You do not see an abundance in the grocery store, in the churches, in the places of work, on the streets.  You have seen the Great Cessation where you live.  You are recognizing the social consequences of cutting people off from one another, people who are by nature social animals and who need real, genuine social interaction.  You have also seen how our economy rests upon that social interaction, and you are seeing how the Great Cessation is affecting the people—you and me and the millions of people who are that economy.  Ask yourself if this is healthy, personally, and for your neighbors.  It does not feel right, it does not look right, it does not sound right.

We hear that essential businesses and jobs may continue.  Which businesses and jobs are to be labeled “essential” and who decides?  That is another reasonable, rational question.  The answers so far have not been reasonable or rational.  In practice an unflawed answer proves impossible, yet the force of law is being applied anyway.  You have to look away to argue that some jobs are essential and others are non-essential, ignoring the many job roots of each designated “essential” job.  It is a fool’s errand—no matter how well educated or official—to make up such a list.

Tell the man and woman put out of work that their jobs are “non-essential”, and include their children in the discussion.  Tell the small businessman who has been forced to close his doors and receive no revenues to pay his rent, keep his infrastructure, and meet his payroll, that his business is non-essential.  On Monday we went out to eat, the last day that the governor’s edict would allow in-restaurant dining.  I was troubled by the fear that I saw in the eyes of the employees, which their gratitude for our business could not hide.  That is the human perspective, which the officials show little signs of considering in their orders.

As President Trump said this week, in the midst of the national social disruption/Great Cessation experiment, the cure must not be made worse than the problem.  Let cool, rational, and reasonable consideration prevail.  I recommend a Wall Street Journal editorial, “From Shutdown to Coronavirus Phase Two.”  It is a rational and reasonable call for a better way forward.  What we have now is hurting everyone.  There must be a better way.

Of Introvert Heaven and What to Do with Extroverts

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The Introverts must be taking over the world.  Utterance from official sources is that gatherings—if they must take place at all—should be narrowly restrained.  The new limit is to be 50, tops.  Governors in states from New York to California are ordering these social curbs or yet stricter limitations.

Private sector organizations are closing their doors entirely, some with a mentioned end date, others indefinitely.  Sporting events—professional, amateur, scholastic, even clubs—have been shuttered.  The local rec center has closed its doors.  Movie theaters are locking up, voluntarily or by official order.  New movies are rescheduling their start dates or being offered on-line.  Schools, government and private, are sealed (home schoolers remain unaffected, no reports on what home scholars think of that).  The list grows by the hour.

In short, it all sounds like Introvert Heaven.  Stay home, keep inside, work on the computer, read a book, watch a cable movie, play a video game, take a walk, go for a drive, do a puzzle.  As an introvert myself, I recognize that while I would soon tire of it, the thought of solitary confinement has never held terror for me.

I ask, but what of the Extroverts?  No allowance seems to be made for them.  Being the father of both, I know that the sense of being “cooped up” comes quickly to extroverts, who draw personal energy from human interaction, the bigger the group, the better.  Sustained restrictions on access to people are not easily tolerable.  Social media can be a temporary substitute, but a poor substitute, clearly suboptimal for an extrovert, who craves face-to-face association, the more the merrier.  Suppressed long enough, they will revolt—no hyperbole.

Sporting events, theater, parties and such like were invented by and for extroverts.  Since they may make up half or more of the population (the Internet hosts a mildly interesting debate on the exact proportion), the broad assault on extroverts surely will have societal consequences, ones for which the introverts who seem to be making the rules (or who fancy themselves exempt) manifest little recognition.  Promising that the restrictions are probably for no longer than eight weeks offers little comfort to extroverts.  Neither should introverts who must live with them find therein any comfort.

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