Summer of 2020

by Daniel A. Kaufman


I cannot recall a time which sent my mind swimming like this one.  Nor can I remember a series of events that have provoked such strong thoughts and feelings as those I have been experiencing of late. Indeed, I cannot recall a summer this tense since the notorious Summer of 1977 – the “Summer of Sam” – in New York. I feel compelled to express these thoughts and feelings but am finding it impossible to organize them into anything resembling an essay. Numbered paragraphs, loosely grouped by subject, will have to suffice.


[1] Given the amount of abuse at the hands of the police suffered by people of every race and ethnicity in the US, it seems quite clear to me that though we have a serious policing problem, it is not primarily racial in nature. If I had to speculate, I’d suggest that it has a lot to do with (a) recruitment and police demographics; (b) a basic confusion on the part of many as to the nature and source of police authority; (c) training; (d) the widespread availability and use of military grade armaments; and, relatedly (e), the so-called “War on Drugs.”

[2] Once ‘racism’ changed from denoting conscious prejudice to indicating systemic disadvantage, it became entirely justifiable to punish ostensibly innocent people for being racist, on no other grounds than that they have benefited from the system. It surprises me, then, that writers like Yascha Mounk (who is a professor of political science), bother to publish articles protesting the persecution of people who “haven’t done anything.” Have they missed the fact that this no longer is the operating standard?

[3] The idea that a state or a nation cannot legitimately maintain public monuments dedicated to its most significant historical figures and events strikes me as unserious from the start, which is why the arguments for their removal and destruction are always either (a) disingenuous; (b) historically ignorant; or (c) grounded in novel, ad hoc valuations and standards that are never applied with any measure of consistency. For example, one claim that is being made is that monuments are inherently aspirational, which means that maintaining them signals implicit approval. That this is nonsense can easily be demonstrated by pointing to examples like Trajan’s Column, which National Geographic characterizes as “magnificent,” despite its celebration of Roman-led mass murder, Mussolini-era fascist architecture, the visiting of which is the business of tourism companies, or the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the Roman destruction of the Jewish people and the sending of our remnants into the diaspora. (Interestingly, I have heard no calls for the Arch to be torn down, because of the offense it poses to Jews worldwide or because it celebrates genocide and forced exile.)

[4] I do not believe that a country that hates and trashes its own history is viable, in the long run. And I do not believe that there is any inconsistency – or even the barest tension – involved in loving and being proud of one’s country, while simultaneously acknowledging its (often acute) shortcomings (something, interestingly, that each and every one of us must do with regard to our parents). Indeed, the capacity to do this strikes me as a basic feature of the mature mind. That we seem no longer capable of it indicates the extent to which the American mind has become essentially juvenile.


[5] Young people were already being transformed into socially inept, anxious creeps by the “social distancing” effected by their abuse of social media and other interactive technologies. That no one is expressing much if any concern about the potential effects on these already damaged young people of the far more aggressive social distancing we are imposing now – and it would seem, for a long time to come – is just one example of the inexcusable, shameful ways in which we have avoided having any public conversation whatsoever about the competing values at stake in our efforts to combat Covid-19.

[6] My daughter was denied her high school graduation and prom; eighteenth birthday party; and her graduation present (a trip to Israel to meet relatives for the first time). She is now confronted with the very real possibility of a substantially diminished college experience. Worse, depending on how long things like mandatory indoor mask-wearing continue, she may be denied the ability to pursue her life plans and dreams: specifically, a career in vocal music performance. And, of course, what is true of her is true of thousands upon thousands of others.

[7] I am no longer comfortable with – no, let me put it more strongly: I can no longer accept – the idea that the young should continue to sacrifice to this extent and degree, on behalf of the well-being of the old and especially, the very old. By kindergarten, everyone should have learned the basic principle of taking turns. We are rapidly approaching the point – one easily could argue we’ve already passed it – in which those of my generation and older are now using up the turns of our children and grandchildren, and this, in my view, is unacceptable. Reinstate mandatory retirement. (Which we should do, regardless) More generally, isolate and protect those at the greatest risk from the virus. And allow the rest of the population – and especially our young people – to get on with their lives.


[8] Not enough people are taking seriously enough what a disaster it is that our two main papers of record – The Washington Post and The New York Times – not only have become rank partisan outlets but have consciously and deliberately cultivated unprofessional attitudes and standards within their respective institutions. Ominously, the news feeds, like Reuters and the Associated Press, have followed suit. I’m not sure a liberal democracy – or even civil society itself – can long survive with exclusively partisan sources of information.

[9] More dangerous still is the politicization of those whom we trust to manage public health. Americans had been told that Covid-19 is such a serious public health risk that they must lock down at home, even if it means losing a family business or some other form of livelihood; even if it means negatively affecting the mental health of young and old people alike; in short, no matter what. Violating the lockdown or even suggesting that it might be ill-advised or cause as much if not more harm than the virus itself, would be sure to receive a torrent of accusation and abuse (“grandma killer” and the like). And then, with jarring, whiplash-inducing speed, these same public health experts told everyone that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is legitimately taken for the purpose of protesting racism; that racism is as big a public health risk as Covid-19 and that consequently, anti-racism protests are justifiable, even if they facilitate the virus’s spread.

It’s not just the breathtaking dishonesty that is so upsetting, but the demented values that underlie it. Whatever you might think of the value of “protesting racism” by taking to the streets and screaming and yelling, to suggest that it is more important and thus, more worthy a reason to put others’ lives in jeopardy, then a family’s ability to feed itself and keep a roof over its head or a person’s capacity to visit a dying parent in the hospital or attend a funeral or an entire generation of young people being able to enjoy and celebrate some of the most significant and singular experiences in their lives is sick and offensive and rage-inducing.  It is no surprise that confidence in the pronouncements of our public health experts has entirely collapsed, and this is exceedingly dangerous, because our capacity to trust and rely upon their judgments and recommendations is essential to our capacity to survive public health challenges like Covid-19.


41 responses to “Summer of 2020”

  1. s. wallerstein

    If you’re against toppling monuments to notable historical figures, you probably disagree with the protesters who toppled the statues of Lenin in the ex Warsaw Block countries as the Soviet empire crumbled. On an ethical dimension slavery seems as bad as anything Lenin did and thus, if you’re in favor of toppling Lenin, I don’t see why you should be against toppling Robert E. Lee or others who defended slavery.

    Of course you could make the argument that Lenin was an important figure in Russian history and that his statute shouldn’t have been toppled and then there’s no reason to topple Robert E. Lee. Although I guess, we’d both be in favor of toppling a statue of Hitler or Himmler.

    Upon reflection, I’d leave both statues of both Lenin and Robert E. Lee in their place, but not Hitler or Himmler.

    Certainly, those who toppled Hume’s statue were just plain idiots and seeing as Winston Churchill was the first to stand up to the Nazis successfully, I was sad to see his statue knocked down, whatever sins against political correctness he may have committed.

  2. Laurence Mailaender

    The “Summer of 2020” musings were surprisingly…unphilosophical. [1-2] Does our society pass Rawls’ justice test from the point of view of an African-American? [3] Can we compare 200 to 2000 year-old crimes? The culture that perpetrated the offences of 200 years ago still exists, the Roman Empire does not. Roman monuments do not speak for the attitudes of living Italians, they are art and artifact. On the other hand, America believes in Universal (Timeless) Rights and is waking up to the fact that the founders didn’t live up to them, that morality changed. That is a disturbing relativism for some and explains the discomfort with monuments. [4-6] The Coronavirus has presented philosophers with something like a real world ‘trolley problem’…where is the ethical wisdom of your profession now when it is badly needed? Keeping your daughter home may cost her some experiences but may also be saving her life! It is not only the old who die from this thing. Can you advise us which way to pull the lever? In [8] a very serious charge, presented without evidence. “What is Truth, and how do you propose to recognize it should you stumble upon it?” It seems you think you have found a ground for Archimedes’ lever…I wonder where it may be and what it rests upon? Anyway, take my musings for what they are worth, I have enjoyed many of your prior blog posts.

  3. I’m of two minds about statue toppling. I think one can support it in some instances and oppose it in others. I agree with Mr. Kaufman that it’s difficult to elucidate a standard for what we topple, and when, and to do so with any consistency. I’m also of a mind to keep statues instead of toppling them. I’m also inclined to believe that most toppling should be done through a deliberate process and not by a mob. I’m further inclined to believe that adding more statues, perhaps opposing statues, is a better and more constructive answer than toppling statues. (I’m thinking, for example, of maybe erecting a statue to an anti-slavery activist right next to a Lee statue.)

    At the same time, statues do get toppled. Mr. Kaufman notes the times statues, or other memorializations, remain, often despite the horrid things they memorialize. But what about all the others that were destroyed, and destroyed because of their message? Whether they should have been destroyed might be a legitimate question, but I’m not inclined to think the answer will always be easy.

    I offer this comment as a random, not fully fleshed out set of thoughts, in the spirit in which I take Mr. Kaufman’s post to be offered.

  4. Changes in population density can initiate changes in social behaviors. In locusts for example increased crowding can initiate massed flight. In mice it can initiate anti-social behaviors, which can be seen as an adaptive response relieving overcrowded conditions. Something similar is likely to exist in humans. Populations crashing in some countries in Asia as women choose not to have children may be a benign response. Overcrowding may not need to be physical, the impression of it may be enough. We may be experiencing overcrowding simply through excessive contact. Social media may have tipped the species over into a generally sense of overcrowding, and we are responding with appropriate anti-social behavior. Anti-social behaviors caused by such biological factors are not likely to respond to reason, the appropriate response would be not to complain about them but to change the conditions leading to them. World population is likely to subside quite rapidly after 2050, so this is a problem of just another few decades. Until then I suggest we either put up with it without comment and engineer our own solitude, or legislate to reduce the appeal of social media, perhaps by having them nationalized.

  5. On the points:

    [1] Largely agree. However I think the evidence is clear that racism counts much more than it should. Most of the profiling and crowd control techniques began developing during the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. Part of the redress you suggest will have to include race sensitization at every turn.

    [2] I’ve given my understanding of the history of racism in America in comments on “Philosophy’s Woke Follies. The implications I hoped would be obvious, but to make my view clear: The diversion from “conscious prejudice” to “systemic disadvantage,” which has been regular ploy both among White liberals (and some conservatives) and Black activists. has to do with the fact that we have not developed any means to deal with the real problem, which we only glimpse (and in a non-productive touchy-feely way). One reason is that dealing with it fully would threaten many assumptions grounding Black activism (and Black politics) since the rise of Black nationalism in the ’60s. The real problem is this: since before the Civil War and in failure of the Reconstruction, children have been steadily inculcated to racial bias of one kind or another; this requires some self-directed re-education which should be our primary means of redressing the problem. The ultimate goal should be what might be termed limited assimilation – limited in the same way we see with close communities of Orthodox Jews or Mormons, or as enjoyed by Asian American or Hispanic communities in the first and second generation of immigration. But now, not only has this been long denied by mainstream White culture, its rejection has become an article of faith in certain sectors of the Black community. Basically, everybody has become comfortable with divisive race tensions as a way of life. Easier to deal with bureaucratic restructuring than to confront one’s own fears and biases. (I could actually go much further here, but the general point can now be reconsidered, and further elaboration would disgruntle and enrage practically everybody. I oft disgruntle myself on this matter, so I should know.)

    [3] Probably the legitimate removal of certain monuments, following due political process in the appropriate legislatures, would be a good idea. Some were mounted with the support or back-room sponsorship of the KKK, and were intended to be intimidating and refusal of the defeat of the Confederacy. However I think thjis has become a kind of leftie phone-booth packing joke – a kid’s came pretending to be political gesture. It makes no sense to tear down a statue of U. S. Grant, and I don’t remember Christopher Columbus’ participation in the Confederate government. There’s a statue of Lawrence Welk in Escondido, CA. I hate Welk’s music, it’s so White! Why is this statue still standing?! Where is the outrage?! Champagne bubbles engender false consciousness – wake up!

    [4] Denying membership in the national community in order to achieve some perceived ‘moral high ground’ also has the debilitating effect of leaving one, or one’s sub-culture, powerless politically. The best one can hope for is bullying laws into existence which are either impossible to enforce, or which involve enforcement that actually enriches or empowers one’s perceived enemies. At any rate one will end up crawling into some tented camp in protest, reject the responsibility of voting, and contribute to the general cynicism of the national mood – which is what got Trump into the White House.

    [5] Agreed; the CoVid denialism on the left is both shocking and disheartening. Protests were understandable, but they needed planning both to avoid individual ‘wilding’ and maintain health consciousness and responsibility.

    [6] and [7] Here I’m not sure I can agree. That the elderly are at greater risk does not mean that the young are not at risk; and the spread of the virus doesn’t really have much to do with age. That a generation of young people are suffering is tragic, but not without precedent. As with previous such sufferings, much of the suffering could have been mitigated by proper national leadership right from the start. Many of the problems we face, of which you complain, could still be mitigated with proper leadership, planning, and resources. This is what is lacking; and unfortunately this lack is world-wide.

    I do agree that we should re-instate mandatory retirement. In every field, in every public office.

    [8] I don’t think it’s possible to avoid partisanship, especially in the media, in the age of Trump. This current toxic partisanship has been developing for decades now (and probably has its origins, too, in the Civil War and its aftermath). The industry-wide decisions, in the ’80s, to transform ‘news’ into profitable ‘infotainment,’ coupled with the deregulation of the media under the Clinton administration, didn’t help. But Trump provides a flash-point on the issue like no other. He and his fans not only live in their own fact-free reality, they deny any validity to our shared reality; indeed, deny that any sharing of reality is either possible or desirable. This is unfortunate, but I don’t see any viable redress as long as Trump is in office. When there’s a monster in the castle, it is disheartening but understandable when the townspeople start lighting torches and form a mob. (No matter who wins the election, expect three really ugly months of social unrest to follow.)

    [9] Difficult to respond to directly; needs unpacking, due to the differences in medical authorities public and private, and the question as to their influences. I’ll let my responses to [5], [6], and [7] stand as general response here.

    Confidence in the sciences and their expertise, including the medical sciences, has been in serious decline, and under attack from both left and right, since the 1960s. Remember General Ripper’s paranoia about fluoridation? “Organized political opposition [to fluoridation] has come from libertarians, the John Birch Society, and from groups like the Green parties in the UK and New Zealand.” – John Birch and the Greens; I guess we can all agree to be stupid. Maybe that’s our political common ground.

  6. Thoughtful as always, EJ, thank you.

    Re: [6] and [7], if you just eliminated nursing home fatalities and deaths among the 75+, the numbers would not be something over which we would have done what we’ve done and are continuing to do.

  7. Amateur philosopher

    “Once ‘racism’ changed from denoting conscious prejudice to indicating systemic disadvantage,…”

    If it has gotten to this point, then disadvantage resulting from possessing other characteristics can be treated the same way for a consistent standard. For example, Christian college students having to take GE history courses (graduation requirement) containing contents about research results saying that the Gospels aren’t independent eyewitness account of the life of Jesus, or Muslim college students having to read about how the Qur’an was first compiled based on information passed on via unreliable oral tradition. The disadvantage that these college students may face isn’t a result of malicious discrimination, and yet the new standard calls for a redefinition of Christophobia and Islamophobia. This is also applicable to courses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  8. On points 3 and 4 (trashing one’s history and heritage)… Very much agree. “Juvenile” is apt. As is the country/parent comparison (loving and being proud of whilst seeing shortcomings). Of course, some parents are unmitigated disasters and cannot be loved or respected. But it is a mark of maturity when a young person reestablishes a relationship with a basically good parent who had previously been rejected and demonized. I don’t think countries can be judged in moral terms, but regimes and cultural tendencies can be. The relevant point here is that any culturally diverse country (like the U.S.) is a mix of good and bad and any mature person should be capable of seeing and accepting this.

    On point 5… I have similar reservations about the developmental effects of social media and, as you say, the current disruptions are exacerbating the problem.

    Point 6… I sympathize with your daughter and hope things work out for her. Actor friends are facing similar worries, but they are not just starting out.

  9. davidlduffy

    I dunno what I think about 7. eg Pathak et al [PMID: 32282440]
    “Under a cumulative pediatric infection proportion scenario of 50%, 10865 [US] children would require ICU admission, 99 073 would require hospitalization for severe pneumonia, and 37.0 million [out of 74M] would be infected with SARS-CoV-2… the projected numbers of severe cases could overextend available pediatric hospital care resources under several moderate scenarios for 2020 despite lower severity of COVID-19 in children than in adults.”

    My simple-minded view is that the economic fallouts are due to disorganisation – everyone in the OECD at least can suffer a 2-3% drop in GDP (would be ~$7T/y I think) for a year or two *provided* appropriate distribution of support. After all, we went through a similar financial event in 2008 for no gain that I ever heard of. Our public servants use “$3.5m for the value of a [40 y] statistical life and $151,000 for the value of statistical life year”, and distancing is effective, so let’s pretend we could save 3.5M*10865 children = $38 billion straight off just in the lowest risk age category (I’m too lazy to do the rest, but other people have).

  10. AcademicLurker

    Certainly, those who toppled Hume’s statue were just plain idiots

    If I’m not mistaken, Hume’s statue wasn’t toppled. Someone hung a sign on it with some cherry picked quotes from his work revealing – que horror! – that his attitudes on race were 18th century rather than 21st century. Still silly, but idiocy of a different order.

  11. s. wallerstein

    You’re right. I just glanced at the headline about Hume’s statue, without clicking on it. However, I have a real question, which maybe you or another reader can answer. Did any European or American thinker believe in the equality of races in the 18th century? I am aware that some were anti-slavery, but that’s not the same thing as explicitly believing in racial equality.

  12. I’m sorry you found my remarks “unphilosophical,” though I’m not exactly clear why they ought to have been. I am many things other than just a philosopher. I am a husband, father, son, cousin, friend, etc., and these “identities” also inform my perspectives, as I would hope they would anyone.

    Let me address some of your points in the order they appear:

    Re: 1-2, your question seems inapt. It certainly doesn’t address the point re: what happens when one shifts to a systemic account of racism. Also, I didn’t take any particular stance on that point, but simply expressed it. As for 1., my view stands until I hear a good argument to the contrary. Unfortunately, one cannot make such an argument on the basis of the actual policing data.

    Re: 3, the fascist architecture spread around Rome is not 2000 years old. Indeed, it is the product of grotesque criminality far more recent than civil war statues. As for the Arch of Titus, I don’t really get the point. Are you suggesting that there is an unofficial statute of limitations on offense and outrage? I’d love to hear what it is, as well as a non-question begging, non ad-hoc argument for it. One that can be applied with consistency.

    (I should add that I am *not* in favor of demolishing the Arch of Titus. Nor am I in favor of demolishing the Mussolini architecture.)

    As for your characterization of America, it’s not one I recognize. Perhaps it isn’t as widespread as you think it is.

    Re: 4-6, you seem to forget that people used to engage in all of the activities that we are now locking down from, when we had zero vaccines for anything: polio; smallpox; tuberculosis; etc. Anyone doing anything is risking his or her life. The question is how big of a risk are we willing to take for the sake of the activity in question. Answering that requires a serious discussion of competing values, something that we have yet to have.

    Re: 8, unless you have been living on the dark side of the moon for the last several months — and really, longer than that — you cannot fail to notice what has been happening to the NYT and WaPo. If you really are not aware, then I can start linking to examples indefinitely, but I’m not really convinced that you don’t know what I’m talking about, so I will spare myself the labor. And I don’t see why I require some “lever for truth” to understand that *this* (see below) is not how Newspapers of Record behave.

    I appreciate your comment and readership.

  13. Bunsen Burner

    I am not sure how comparable the toppling of statues of essentially an occupying power is to getting rid of unpleasant historical reminders in general. Especially as the majority of the statues attacked seem to me to be of the ‘unknown and uninteresting historical figure who owned slaves and became a philanthropist’ variety. However, even the Warsaw Block countries had many different reactions. Have you eve been to Budapest? On the outskirts, you will find a park where many of the Soviet-era statues were placed. It’s a very surreal and affecting place. Apparently Hungarians didn’t want even the bad parts of their history erased, and found a way to mix education with tourism.

  14. cinchloc

    “it’s difficult to elucidate a standard for what we topple, and when, and to do so with any consistency.”

    It seems clear that the values of the past were different and that, if we go back, we can always find behaviors we disagree with. All current societies emerged from earlier periods with problematic views. So the fact that there were racists among America’s past leaders, for instance, should be unsurprising. The question is what to do about statues of them? It seems to me that the issue is not “whether” someone did something objectionable in the past, but “how central is this behavior to what we remember them for.” Confederate statues are problematic precisely because they venerate people for defending the confederacy and being pro slavery. Here the objectionable behavior is central to (the reason why) the statues exist. Can we say the same about (e.g.) Jefferson? No sensible person sees a Jefferson statue and says, “this statue is here to venerate his slave ownership.” Everyone knows that Jefferson is remembered for articulating the values in the DOI and other things. Here his problematic behavior is not “central” to what we venerate him for. So, despite some of his other concerning practices I think we should leave Jefferson alone. This could be tightened up, but it gives the basic idea. Not that I think the protesters care about any of this—they seem to think any infraction warrants being cancelled immediately, which is not going to leave us much history to tell.

  15. iraglazer

    I will try to hold to the Chinese proverb, ‘Seek truth in facts’ (with one exception).

    (1) As I believe Adolph Reed Jr, and others, have shown the relevant variable wrt police brutality is class not race. This is, however, a bit like looking for your keys under the streetlights: apart from driving, under what other situation do cops on the beat encounter the average citizen ? In corporate boardrooms, professional offices, or on the streets ? And in which neighborhoods are police more likely to be deployed ? i.e ‘blue collar’ cops interact with ‘blue collar’ citizens.

    Despite this, an inconvenient fact for many wokesters is that much of the demand for the criminal justice crackdown of the 90s came from the African-American community itself. Mirabile dictu, who is more likely to need strong police presence — a gucci marxist on fifth avenue or a poor resident of Bedford Stuyvesant ? (By now, bed-stuy, as it’s locally known, has been gentrified three or four times over, so at the local Starbucks one would encounter not only Marx, Engels, and Lenin, but Chairman Mao himself). Anticipating the response of, ‘well people on fifth avenue have more money, so obviously they would need more police protection’, let me assure you that the Navy Seals, Green Berets, and Delta Force would be deployed before it becomes dangerous to walk on fifth avenue.

    The authoritative book on the topic is Yale law prof. James Forman Jr. ‘Locking Up Our Own: Crime And Punishment In Black America’

    (3) Here’s the exception: I would knock down almost all the statues on aesthetic grounds alone. They’re hideous. And I do know of Jews who were offended by Titus’ Arch.

    (4) The reason that the notion of ‘America’ as a nation (a term you might be surprised to know Latin Americans think applies to themselves as well) is arguably problematic is precisely that everyone (apart from Native Americans and the descendants of African slaves) are the children of immigrants, most of recent vintage. Three of my four grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century. When we studied American history in grade school, I was not imagining my ancestors in the thirteen colonies or home on the range, but rather in their shtetlach (or in Warsaw, as was the case with my maternal grandfather.) There was no way I could relate to American history as having anything to do with my ancestors. How could it be otherwise ?
    What you’re asking for is the concretization of something imaginary. What Benedict Anderson calls ‘Imagined Communities’ in his iconic book on nationalism, of the same name. It’s a good bet (I would say almost a certainty) that in 1776 my ancestors had not even heard of the United States (or very possibly even of the American continent). And when they got on the boats leaving Eastern Europe, they probably had no idea where they were going — they as easily could have wound up in Argentina, as many did.

    (9) The salient feature of the protests vis-a-vis covid19 is that they are taking place outdoors, mostly by masked young people. So far, the data show no significant increase in caseload where the protests have taken place. The terrible increase in southern/southwestern states is mostly due to indoor transmission, much of it from unmasked interactions, as is to be expected. This is not a commentary on whether the protests have been warranted, simply a statement of the epidemiological data.

  16. al

    1. You might have added lead poisoning which also disproportionately affects minorities.

    2. Nothing has changed. Racism and observations about racism have always consisted of attitudes, actions, and effects – some of which are multi-generational. The story you linked demonstrates the problems with at-will employment, anti-unionism, and the level of stupidity and cowardice one often finds in corporate America (also the evil of social media).

    3. “The idea that a state or a nation cannot legitimately maintain public monuments dedicated to its most significant historical figures and events strikes me as unserious from the start…”

    The issue is who and what not if. The Confederate monuments were part of the Lost Cause ideological movement (i.e. a cold civil war) and as a way of reminding African Americans who was in charge (or else!).

    Davis, Lee, Stevens, etc. were all traitors who violated their oaths to the Constitution in order to advance slavery. That treason is their claim to fame and absent that all would be footnotes (if that) in scholarly works. I seem to have missed all the statues and monuments to Benedict Arnold.

    As for Washington, Jefferson, et al see point 1. Ignorance and stupidity isn’t confined to the Right and corporate America. We stopped teaching history and civics long ago so we should expect a lot of both.

    I assume you are aware that the statue of Trajan on top of the column was removed at some point and a statue of St. Peter put in its place a few hundred years ago. There is, of course, a statute of limitations for atrocities. There has to be as we are basically over-clocked chimps and killing each other is what we do and we have only so much bandwidth.

    4. I don’t get it. Significance and worth are two different things. Significant folks get written about in books. Worthy folks get statues on public land (regardless of his significance or worth, the Welk statue is irrelevant as it is on private land). Taking down a statue isn’t somehow wiping out history. Those with historical or aesthetic value can be appropriately displayed. (I just heard that the Mississippi legislature just voted to take the treason flag off their state flag.)

    Historical figures are always subject to re-evaluation (e.g. Grant has had at least a couple of cycles, ditto Hamilton). Jackson was a genocidal and racist figure who also screwed up the economy bigly when he was president – no statues for Andy! BTW, he also failed at achieving the one good thing he proposed – hanging Calhoun (another bad actor who deserves no statues).

    I don’t get 6 & 7. “And allow the rest of the population – and especially our young people – to get on with their lives,” is simply irresponsible. There appears to be long term effects from this virus that transcends age and may even include asymptomatic folks.

    Your thinking here seems short term as we should have a vaccine within a year. I assume your daughter’s trip to Israel gift has no expiration date and does anyone even think about HS graduation after a few weeks have passed? Lots of folks had to postpone college back in the early 1940s and were able to catch up. Losing a year is not nothing but a year or two does wash out (I’m old enough to remember the draft). In ten years, should the coming election tank the Republican Party for the next twelve years, we have the potential to come out of this OK and better.

    9. The NYT isn’t partisan, ditto the WP. The op-ed and political reporting suffers too often from both-siderism, an artifact of forty years of neo-liberalism, but they do some good reporting. It’s not enough to point to one or two stories and truth does seem to have a liberal bias these days.

  17. Well it seems we disagree about almost everything. Ah well, that is the way of things. Thanks for the comment.

  18. AcademicLurker

    Jackson was a genocidal and racist figure who also screwed up the economy bigly when he was president – no statues for Andy!

    I guess Jackson, at least, is no stranger to statue vandalism. In 1834, a figure of him was used as the bowsprit for the newly built USS Constitution. But he was sufficiently unpopular, at least in Boston, that someone rowed out to the ship in the middle of the night and cut off the head.

  19. James Beattie in his Essay on Truth belabours Hume on the subject of slavery. Samuel Johnson approved of this view and looked after his black manservent Francis Barber with great solicitude. Daniel O’Connell deplored slavery. Edmund Burke produced a ‘Negro Code’ or a plan for the gradual abolition of slavery and proposed that slavers and slave holders should be barred from the House of Commons. The Clapham Sect as a group were active. In short the notion that Hume’s racist views were commonplace amongst even the enlightened is false.

  20. I realized I commented above, about the statues, here are my comments on other points. Again, my comments are rather random and not as well thought out as they should be:

    #1. [Racism and policing] I’m inclined to think that policing abuses disproportionately affect persons of color. I may be wrong. I am aware of studies that purport to show that, once we account for income, etc., the importance of race disappears. Not having actually read those studies and not (probably) having the chops to critique them, I can’t really comment. Even so, such studies, in order to convince me, would have to address the very pervasive anecdotal evidence that bad policing, or policing in general, affects persons of color more. It also would have to address the fact–and I take it to be a “social fact”–that persons of color seem to feel more beset by law enforcement: they seem more afraid than I, as a white person (but a privileged white person: I don’t know what it’s like to be poor), am. I realize those are squishy objections on my part, but there they are. I do agree with the other things you say in point #1, though.

    #2. [call out culture and “institutional racism”] My thoughts are very confused and self-contradictory here. I strongly dislike the “check your privilege” mentality of some activists, and the overuse of such otherwise useful ideas like “white fragility,” “white tears,” “white knighting,” etc. But I’m not quite convinced the point is necessarily to punish people in the way that Mounk article explains. That said, Mounk isn’t making it up. Those things do happen, and they’re wrong.

    #3 and #4 [statues and eradicating “history”]. I’ve mostly said my piece in the comment above. My only addition is that “history” is not necessarily only “what happened.” Or rather, the controversies aren’t necessarily only about “what happened.” It’s how we choose to memorialize what happened. And that can change over time. I do agree that one can consistently love one’s country and acknowledge its major shortcomings.

    #5. and #7 [competing values in covid19 discussions and the way we seem to sacrifice the interests of the younger for those of the older] I don’t agree that people have avoided “any public discussion whatsoever,” but we certainly haven’t had enough. I also believe that the concept of the younger sacrificing their interests for the older predates covid19. See, for example, Social Security. Of course, you suggest the same thing, too. I don’t know what to think about mandatory retirement. I guess my thoughts would depend on how it would be enforced and whether that means older persons would be forbidden from contributing their wisdom and skills to society.

    #6. [Daughter’s post graduation situation] My condolences on what your daughter is going through. I cannot really agree with one commenter’s dismissal, above. True, people in WWII had to forgo graduations, etc. But “it’s better than WWII” is a low bar. At any rate, when I was 18, I had the full range of experiences (except for the part about travel) that your daughter is being (hopefully temporarily) denied.

    #8. [partisan newspaper] Not much of a comment, except to agree with someone above who suggested that in today’s circumstances, it’s hard not to be partisan. I haven’t actually read enough of the WaPo or NYT to have an informed opinion on whether or to what extent they are partisan and how that affects their reporting.

    #9. [politicizing public health officials] I mostly agree. I just hope the politicization is not complete, or that it is “less enough complete” that the damage can be repaired.

  21. This is a thoughtful and fair comment. Thank you.

  22. Re: (1), I think that there’s a good chance that the problem is significantly (but not primarily) racial, but in kind of a weird way. First, I think black men commit a disproportionate share of violent crime, quite possibly for reasons of past racism (from 1619 to about 1955, government discrimination against blacks was literally the law of the land; in addition, many non-blacks were explicitly anti-black until well past that). I wouldn’t be surprised if this has had long-term consequences in explaining why black men are disproportionately violent, and so you could call that itself a result of racism. In addition, I suspect that police officers, black or white, develop stereotypes of people they apprehend. Since police suffer risk of violent death themselves, and since they have weapons that can deal death, their radar may be, on average, improperly calibrated, making them more distrustful of black men than, say, a perfectly informed robot would be (or the average non-police). In addition, there is systemic racism–Ferguson, and many counties around St. Louis, used their populations basically as a way to raise funds for police through repeated petty fines. This would likely make the population in such places dislike police. That said, these are generalizations; there are over 17,000 police departments in the USA, and they differ in sometimes dramatic ways from each other, so it’s hard to say anything about “the police” in general.

    Re: (2), you write, “Once ‘racism’ changed from denoting conscious prejudice to indicating systemic disadvantage, it became entirely justifiable to punish ostensibly innocent people for being racist, on no other grounds than that they have benefited from the system.” Indeed, though I would like to see more said about how non-black people benefit from this system. I think there’s a good case that they (we) are harmed.

    Re: (5) and (7), I wonder if there is a hidden variable that has significant explanatory power: drugs. I see the CEOs of powerful companies who appear to me to be either on steroids or human growth hormone (e.g., Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk). I realize this is an out there speculation, but I’ll continue: I think it’s possible that (a) testosterone has powerful effects on people’s behavior, and that (b) testosterone naturally declines once you hit 40, leading to a kind of chilling out and greater aversion to risk-taking. This might have effects on business’s life-cycles — when they’re led by young men, they engage in riskier behavior, and when they’re led by older men, they engage in more conservative behavior. But now that older men are pumped full of testosterone, they continue to engage in risky, ultra-competitive behavior, preventing upstart businesses from arising. (Again, I know this is out there, but I thought it would offer it up). As for the young, I’ve heard from journalists Michael Moynihan and Matt Welch that young journalists as a class are addicted to Adderall. I’ve also heard from Alex Berenson that the pot nowadays is a lot more powerful than it used to be. I wonder what effects widespread prescription and recreational drug use are having, if any, on young people.

    Re: (9), I believe that confidence in public health officials has collapsed (though I’ve been looking for data supporting that belief, and I haven’t found it, perhaps because pollsters don’t want to find out), but it’s happened before. I recall in the mid-1980s that public health officials were warning us that something like 20% of all heterosexuals would get AIDS in the coming years. That turned out to be false, at least in the USA, and I don’t know if public health officials’ credibility suffered a long-lasting blow.

    Thanks for the post!

  23. Josh Mozersky

    The sentiment behind these comments is on the money. There is much here to ponder and much to worry about, even for those who disagree in parts. I hope many read this and grasp its spirit. Thanks.

  24. I really appreciate that. It’s what I was going for. Spirit more than letter.

  25. s. wallerstein

    Even though I’m far to the left of you, you bring up a lot of issues worth thinking about. Maybe you could write a little book, “Conservative Common Sense that Every Radical Should Take into Account”. It might just be a best-seller.

  26. I think maybe I will!

  27. s. wallerstein

    I don’t live in the U.S., but from what I can see, you can divide the U.S. radical left into the Chomsky watching, Leiter readers (I’m in that group) and the woke brigade. To a certain extent it’s a generational difference, but not entirely. They coincide on some issues (they all support Bernie Sanders and AOC), but on others there is a huge gap. The woke brigade is never going to like you or buy one of your books, but the Chomsky-watchers, Leiter readers might.

    A lot of conservative people turn off people on the left immediately. By the way, I don’t consider Trump to be conservative, just a gangster. But you don’t: you’re not a snob, as conservatives like Buckley or Scruton appear to be, you’re not a warmonger like Bolton and the neocons are, you’re not a ultra-free market “if they don’t work, they starve” Ayn Rand libertarian like so many conservatives are, although actually, there’s nothing conservative about Ayn Rand.

    So I think that there might be space or even a market for your ideas on the Chomsky watching, Leiter reading left.

  28. You think that I’m essentially a conservative? I’m not saying you’re wrong, but don’t I embrace too many liberal values?

  29. s. wallerstein

    You’re the one who said that Eisenhower was your ideal U.S. president. Wasn’t Eisenhower a true conservative?

  30. I guess so. The terminology has gotten so muddled. Today, Eisenhower would be more like a liberal, no, with Reagan defining what people called “conservative” until Trump. Post Trump, I have no idea how to categorize it.

  31. s. wallerstein

    The U.S. Republican Party has gone crazy, but think of Europe. Angela Merkel is considered conservative there. She has nothing to do with Trump or even with Reagan. The Republicans swung way to the right with Reagan, but Nixon was also considered conservative in his day. I take Edmund Burke as the essence of a conservative, not someone who wants to roll back the clock (that’s a reactionary), but someone in favor of very gradual change while respecting the wisdom of the past.

  32. But Nixon was very socially conservative. I am a liberal on almost every social issue. I don’t know about Merkel’s views on social issues.

  33. s. wallerstein

    I find you conservative because of your basic prudential, go slow, Roman wasn’t built in a day attitude towards almost every issue. I can’t think of any issue where your attitude is “damn the torpedos, full speed ahead”.

  34. Yes, I think that’s fair.

  35. I very much appreciated this sub-discussion.

    My views are probably somewhat near those of s. wallerstein (on the topics discussed there). In particular, I would agree that you are conservative, perhaps of the Eisenhower brand of conservatism. Perhaps we should call that “principled conservatism”, though recently I have started to wonder whether there is any such thing.

    For myself, I’m a Leiter reader but not a Chomsky watcher. I’m aware of Chomsky, and I occasionally read what he says when I am pointed to it. But he’s a bit too radical for me. And yes, I support AOC though I don’t agree with everything she says.

  36. cinchloc,

    That’s a very good way of putting it.

  37. ombhurbhuva

    To state the obvious the original idea of the erection of a monument was to commemorate someone who was held in high esteem by the committee that raised the funds to do it. That sense of commemoration may no longer apply or may be in contention. Taking away the monument does not make the history behind it not to have happened. For a populace that is largely ignorant of history the monument may be a history lesson in stone. Take Cecil Rhodes away and the fact that he, or the imperialist past of Britain ever existed may simply enter into general amnesia. Now the school children of Oxford will be denied the reminder that there was a man who had a country named after him, Rhodesia.

    In Ireland we have a statue in Fairview Park of Sean Russell chief of staff of the I.R.A. who died on board a U boat on his way to Galway. He was buried at sea with full military honours by the Nazis. Here is a little excerpt from the Wikipedia article about him:

    Arriving in Berlin in May 1940, Russell was informed of Operation Mainau, the plan to parachute Hermann Görtz into Ireland. Russell was asked to brief Görtz on Ireland before his departure that night, but missed his takeoff from the Kassel-Fritzlar airfield.
    Accorded the privileges of a diplomat and provided with a villa and a chauffeur-driven car, Russell’s liaison officer while in Nazi Germany was SS-Standartenfuhrer Edmund Veesenmayer.[7] At this time the IRA was extremely pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic [8] Veesenmayer indicated particular interest that the IRA had no clear idea of what form an Irish government would take in the event of a German victory. [9]
    By 20 May 1940, Russell began training with Abwehr in the use of the latest German explosive ordnance at the training area for the Brandenburg Regiment, the ‘Quenzgut’, where he observed trainees and instructors working with sabotage materials in a field environment. As he received explosives training, his return to Ireland with a definite sabotage objective was planned by German Army Intelligence. His total training time with German Intelligence was over three months.

    (Veesenmeyer was responsible for the death of 300,000 Hungarian Jews for which he got 20 years, but was released after 10 thanks to the interventions of the U.S. High Commission)
    Now you might say that’s all old history but it isn’t. The present leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the I.R.A., Mary Lou McDonald in 2003 spoke at a rally to commemorate him. Sinn Fein were in line for being part of the government due to a hung parliament but didn’t make it. The statue played its part in reminding us of who they are and what they stand for.

  38. Bunsen Burner

    I’m beginning to warm to John McWhorter’s assessment that anti-racism is now a new secular religion in the US. I don’t have much more to add on any of these points but instead let me leave you all with the typical British view on all this.

  39. Marc Levesque


    I agree with ej, un-readiness coupled with bad management are the culprits here.

    “… the numbers would not be something over which we would have done what we’ve done and are continuing to do”

    You’re making a common error. Preventative measures need to be evaluated first in the light of the number of deaths that could have occurred had no measures been take, not in light the number of deaths that have occurred as a result of the measures.

  40. Zac

    [1] Impunity is a major problem. And us throwing police at a slew of social problems they have no business in. Whether racism is the “primary” problem is neither here nor there for me, but there’s a reason that black people have lead this sea change of sentiment on the failures of our criminal justice system. They’ve born the brunt.

    [2] When I talk about systematic racism it’s precisely to downplay accusations of individual guilt and refocus attention on collective harms and institutional reforms. These are shameful cases, but it’s not clear how any of them condemn the notion of racism being understood systemically rather than psychologically. The driver was even being accused (falsely) of endorsing racism in the old-fashioned, psychological sense. The problem here is a vindictive mentality coupled with an hostility to due process. This is the mentality of “Fuck you, be quiet, go away. Suffer for the ideology I see in you.”

    Of course, we’re also not lacking for anecdotes of this mentality and a systemic failure to reign it in among people invested with the power to beat, arrest, and detain citizens at will, and they’re doing it daily. Several days ago police in my city did just that, attacking peaceful protesters and making it a point to specifically target live-streamers. With over 10 thousand people arrested last month, we’re not lacking examples:

    [3] I don’t see what you get denying that monuments are aspirational. Of course they are. And as many have rightly pointed out, the bulk of Confederate monuments were produced near the beginning of the last century (sometimes mass produced in factories) to reinforce a Lost Cause mythology and Jim Crow laws. We know that from history from books, not monuments. There are stupid people who just want to tear anything down, but if you want to use them to distract from the former, legitimate argument, then I don’t think you’re honestly dealing with the historical debate here.

    As for Trajan’s column and Titus’ arch, I’d make two points. One, these were obviously aspirational as well, justifying the actions, regimes, and ideologies of their builders. Should one of the groups oppressed by the Romans have toppled their rule and decided to destroy these monuments to tyranny at the time (toppling was less ideological than habitual back then), it wouldn’t incense me. But two, this was 2 thousand years ago. We are not grappling with the enduring defense of this ideology. These are historical artifacts at this point with none of the ideological purchase or social impact. If you’re concerned about the continued existence of Confederate monuments, many will remain, moved to places befitting objects we’ve refiled from Ethics to History proper.

    And I just don’t see what Fascist buildings have to do with anything. Many buildings survive from the Nazi era too. No one is calling for the destruction of all VW Beetles. These obviously have more instrumental value beyond the purely symbolic, and are more readily divorced from the glorification of noxious historical figures. Mussolini built this. So what? Doesn’t mean I see any need to take them down or that I wouldn’t stridently reject the notion of someone putting up a statue of him today “because he’s part of our history”. I see no great tension here.

    [8] Frankly, I see this as a juvenile sentiment. I think the WSJ’s opinion section (which like the NYT’s is a separate entity) has been rank nonsense for years. I think some of its news coverage can be skewed too. I don’t completely dismiss it as a rank partisan outlet just because it makes decisions or has political leanings I disagree with. Our news media has extensive failures (though I think your ideological obsessions hinder you from seeing these in their full character and extent), but we’re flush with more news, more information, and more ways of getting to it, than we have at any other time in our history. So long as our impotent scorn won’t fix the problems with our news environment, we’re better off cultivating responsible, perspicuous habits of consuming our news, not petulant, blanket dismissals.

    [9] You take umbrage at people who scorn, as threats to public welfare, those who push for violations of social distancing because they think trade-offs should be considered. But then you selectively pour your scorn on people who do just that, their trade-off being a widespread protest of racism and police brutality that’s brought a once-in-a-lifetime shift in public sentiment. Very well. I don’t think we should treat the militia protests as being perfectly on par with the BLM protests. You have people calling for opening up for opening up’s sake, which doesn’t even understand that it isn’t simply the lockdowns, but the virus itself that’s holding us back from any kind of normalcy. And then you have people protesting, and police manifesting, an unjust criminal justice system. That a bunch of health officials felt similarly doesn’t matter to me. That they tried to put the BLM protests on a similar vector because racism can impinge on health outcomes also doesn’t matter to me either. I consider the latter a weak rhetorical move, but anyone who uses that to dismiss health experts as such in the middle of the most virulent pandemic of our lifetimes is totally out to lunch. They will get things wrong, they will have opinions that don’t immediately bear on their expertise, they will not fit perfectly into anyone’s and everyone’s conception of right political speech. I’m not going to judge them on behalf my conception of what everyone else will think. I’m concerned about reaching the best judgments themselves.