Daily Bread for 11.14.22: What Ails, What Heals

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be increasingly cloudy with a high of 39. Sunrise is 6:46 AM and sunset 4:32 PM for 9h 45m 28s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 67.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Planning Commission meets at 6 PM

On this day in 1889, pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochrane) begins a successful attempt to travel around the world in less than 80 days. She completes the trip in 72 days

No catalog of civic maladies and their cures could ever be complete. The list below is partial, knowing as anyone should that a complete list of good and bad, even in a small town, is beyond any person’s abilities. 

What ails — 

Boosterism. The view that if one accentuates the positive, the community will reap economic gains. Ignore the poor, ignore incompetent government, ignore injustices — simply tout good news and everyone will be better off! 

Boosterism is narrow of mind and small of heart. This was the dominant public policy view when FREE WHITEWATER began publishing in 2007. It’s much weaker now, the Great Recession and its aftermath of stagnation and low incomes having tarnished what was once a civic religion in this town. There are yet a few adherents who hold to this view, but the occasional use of a dustpan and brush should suffice to clean up their lingering messes. 

Out of boosterism, self-importance: the boosters mostly boosted themselves. There is no Mr. Whitewater, Ms. Whitewater…whatever. There never was. There never will be. Life itself, of so many different people in this town, makes impossible the claim to be highest, best, or most important. 

Toxic Positivity. More delusional than boosterism, but more hopeful in its own way. Toxic positivity is the view that every outlook should be a positive one, and everyone else should fall in line. This perspective loves superlatives beyond even the boosters: awesome!, amazing!, astonishing!, etc. A person could bleed out on the street, and those in thrall to toxic positivity would say that at least he lost a little weight. Boosterism falsely claims economic gains; toxic positivity falsely describes the world.  

Regulatory Capture. Government should be limited, responsible, and humble. Whitewater’s government is not by law, and never should be in practice, the private property of a few. The Whitewater Community Development Authority, for example, is a public body, not a private clubhouse. The last generation has seen the special-interest manipulations of landlords, bankers, and public-relations men. They’ve left the city only a low-income community, yet they still want and expect legislation to be crafted to their liking. See Boo! Scariest Things in Whitewater, 2022 (No. 2)

Populism. Whether of left or right, populism sweeps individual rights aside for the sake of the group, cadre, or horde, while demonizing all others:

it indeed does have two detrimental consequences for democracy. The obvious one is that populists are going to claim that all other contenders for power are fundamentally illegitimate. This is never just a disagreement about policies or even about values, which after all in a democracy is completely normal, ideally maybe even somewhat productive. No, populists always immediately make it personal and they make it entirely moral. This tendency to simply dismiss everybody else from the get-go as corrupt, as not working for the people, that’s always the pattern.

Then, second, and less obviously, populists will also suggest that anybody who doesn’t agree with their conception of the real people, and therefore also tends not to support them politically—that with all these citizens you can basically call into question whether they truly belong to the people in the first place. We’ve seen this with plenty of other politicians who are going to suggest that already vulnerable minorities, for instance, don’t truly belong to the people.

Whitewater has only a populism of the right; there is no leftwing faction worth mentioning in this town. See The City’s Few Progressives and (about those who think there are more than a few) Trolls and the Exclamatory, Interrogatory, or Declaratory Response, and [updated with addition] Identifying Types and Spotting Issues

While elections are decided by majorities or pluralities, there’s an underlying thirst of the populists falsely to declare themselves a majority and then wrongly torment and oppress minorities of whatever kind (ideological, ethnic, racial, religious, or sexual).

One type, one family, one viewpoint — no.  Our city, while small, is bigger than that. We’ve never been so uniform in Whitewater, insistence of a few notwithstanding. 

Closed government. Too busy or too important to explain candidly and fully? Then you’ll get a room of rightly agitated people. Won’t talk to the press? Fair enough, but someone less complacent may come your way. It’s true enough that many have been transformed after only a glance. Occasionally, and fortunately, a man gazes deeply yet does not turn to stone. 

News Deserts. We don’t have a professional press in Whitewater, and that’s a huge loss. There is, however, a professional press that serves Whitewater: Fort Atkinson Online. The nearby APG newspapers aren’t newspapers as much as shopper-advertisers, and the Whitewater Register has been next-to-dead for years (dearly beloved, may we bow our heads for an anticipatory moment of silence?). 

Violence.  Violence includes sexual harassment and assault, or unjustified use of official force, and the supportive reflex only to look the other way. There is no right to touch uninvited, and no right to force excessively applied. No one needs America, Wisconsin, or Whitewater to live as a savage and lie afterward like a child. The most degraded places on this planet would suffice for that base conduct.

What heals — 

Free Markets. Voluntary transactions between people and groups uplift from poverty into a true prosperity. Free markets respect and support each person’s right to choose, buy, and sell.

Charity. Our small city is beautiful, yet beautiful while in need. Government, politics, business, journalism, and commentary have not been enough to alleviate all loss and suffering. The city should turn to something more than each of these, more than all of these. See Waiting for Whitewater’s Dorothy Day, Something Transcendent, and in the MeantimeAn Oasis Strategyand The Community Space

Tragic Optimism. A true optimism, that forges on despite the occasional tragedies that befall a community. See Tragic Optimism as an Alternative to Toxic Positivity.

Open Government. Government is a mere instrumentality, established for limited purposes, constrained by law. It must be obvious and transparent to the people from whom its authority derives. 

Impartial Government. Whitewater doesn’t have a few stakeholders — she has 14,889 residents. When this libertarian blogger writes, for example, he’s an emissary only of one, so in Whitewater that’s simply 1 of 14,889. If a room has one landlord, one banker, and one public relations man, for example, then it holds 3 of 14,889. 

Not one who’s important, or three who are important — merely one or three. That’s all. 

A Professional Press. The city could use greater focus and respect for professional journalism. A common frame of reference for political and social reporting by Fort Atkinson Online would be a start.  

Individual Rights. Each person is accorded by right an equal moral and legal status. No one forgotten, no one swept aside, no one by birth or birthplace greater than another. Talk about what the majority wants sets aside by omission or intention the rights of people as persons. A person has rights worth defending against cliques, factions, hordes, and herrenvolk

I’m confident (optimistic, if tragically, one might say) that Whitewater has better days ahead. There may be a few lions, leopards, and wolves in our way, but we will yet come through to something better. 

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1 year ago

I’ve come back to this several times honestly to read and consider. Thanks for sharing.