It may feel like this panic has gone on for a month, but in reality we are just in our second full week. Technically, the panic began the Thursday after Trump’s speech in which he announced the closing of air traffic from Europe. That was the 18th of March, so we are in day 12 now. The real frenzy did not get going until the weekend, when governors started telling people the end is upon us. Last week was the first full week of people sheltering in place and treated one another like lepers.
The market always offers lots of lessons about the reality of social organization. In the best of times, you see how poorly people naturally organize. The best argument against libertarianism is simply going outside and watching people. Now, the best argument against curve flattening is to see how people behave when told they must assume everyone else has a deadly plague. They take symbolic steps to defend themselves, but the practical necessity of life overcomes those efforts.
At the ghetto market, the poor people, migrants and minorities are doing nothing different from what they normally do. You’ll see some blacks wearing masks, more on that later, but otherwise nothing is different. The store itself is not engaging in the defensive measures you see in suburbia. It’s not that these people are careless or stupid, but that they have a different sense of risk. When you have less to lose, you have less to fear, especially when your neighbor is scarier than a virus.
In the suburbs where the beautiful people live, the market operates like a German concentration camp. On the way in a nice older gentlemen wipes down your cart and directs you to the delousing station for inspection. Once you are sanitized, you enter the otherwise normal market. Again, the blacks have masks on and some old people will look like they are working in a nuclear facility, but otherwise people are spreading their cooties on one another as they do in regular times.
This is the skeptic versus curve bender in a nutshell. The curve benders live and work outside the confines of reality, so their schemes sound reasonable. In the real world where such schemes go to die, something else is happening. That is, people are already starting to show signs of weariness. The cashier whispered to me that she and the other cashiers are getting sick of the nonsense. There’s talk of collective action to either get more pay or stop forcing them to do all this extra work.
This is something people learn when they have to manage people. Just because they are paid to follow your instructions does not mean they will. You have to convince them to accept the rules so they become instinct. That can only happen when those rules do not conflict with their natural instincts or create what appears to be an unnecessary burden on them. Every captain knows the morale of his crew is his top priority, as it is the only way they can be counted on to follow orders.
In theory, locking everyone in their homes until the virus dies out is a great way to slow the spread and eventually eradicate it. After all, this is what the Chinese supposedly did in Wuhan and who does not trust the Chinese? In reality, people will go along with this for a little while, but they will soon tire of it. That and we are not China. Too many Americans will simply ignore the precautions. Unless they immediately drop over dead, they become the example everyone follows.
One amusing exception to all of this, as usual, are black people. In the beautiful people areas, rich Asians can be seen wearing masks in the best of times. This is a cultural habit they bring with them. In this panic, blacks have jumped on the mask-wearing craze in a big way. At the market, it is not rare to see a black now wearing a mask and colorful rubber gloves. Black people love display items. It is a good bet that masks and other gear get Africanized as fashion accessories.
Another reason blacks are jumping on the mask craze is they fear the unknown in ways most white people cannot grasp. It is why they are more likely to believe in ghosts than other races. It’s also why they fall for nonsense like white privilege so easily. To them, it is just another spooky thing about white people that they cannot see, but they are sure must exist. It is just one of the hidden forces that control events. This virus will be the best crime fighting too Lagos has seen in generations.
Anyone who has had to manage a large number of people knows that sentiment can turn quickly against you, unless you stay on top of it. It’s why sportsball coaches have locker room insiders to tell them the mood of the players. It’s why every military has a layer between the officers and the enlisted men. More than a few grand schemes have been undermined by a quiet rebellion in the ranks. This is something we are already seeing that will become more evident next week.
This is why Trump is getting antsy about getting people back to work. It’s not because of the economy, although that is one reason. It’s because he has managed lots of people and he knows this dynamic. By next week, whatever benefit there was to this lock down will have been achieved. The inevitable wholesale revolt against it will make the whole enterprise pointless. Trump will want to be seen as leading the charge to get the nation back to work, so expect that to be the topic a week from now.
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