Where Is the Public Square in the COVID Era?

 

Lockdowns are coming back and blue-state authoritarians keep granting exemptions to their friends but not their struggling subjects. We all know the impact this has economically and on our dignity. But the hypocrisy of politicians and their buds enjoying lavish entertainment together despite their own restrictions opens a new gap: the social and intellectual stimulation of a public square is available to the few, but not to the masses.

I’m not in a situation to blow my savings at The French Laundry—“Maybe one day,” I sigh to myself. But what’s being withheld by not letting us go to The French Laundry or its more-affordable equivalents goes beyond just entertainment. But we don’t wine-and-dine only for the pleasure of it, and certainly not for survival. We often do so because it’s a manifestation of the public square—a place not in the home where ideas are exchanged, motivations are explained, and alliances are formed.

Restaurants themselves are an example of the exchange of ideas—our greatest chefs are great because they come up with culinary ideas that you would not have realized yourself. But that’s only a minor function of these public places. The great businesspeople of the distant or recent past didn’t invite potential partners they barely knew to their homes, nor to a Zoom call; they invited them out to lunch. The great writers as recently as the year 1 P.C. (Pre-COVID) didn’t just move from the living room to the kitchen when they had writer’s block. They went out to cafés, or bars, or the park, with the company of friends or strangers surrounding them. The public square is critical as a place of exchange, as neutral ground, as an entertainment venue, or as a place to clear your head from the repetition of the home.

So where is the public square in the Corona era? I’m in Chicago and I can’t find it. At the park? It’s 30 degrees out. At the bars and coffee shops? To-go only. At fancy restaurants that can provide tents and outdoor heating? I don’t have the kind of cash to do that every day. At your church’s meeting space? Forget about it. This complaint is being put to writing as I sit on a bakery’s freezing patio, and I don’t foresee that becoming a regular habit, either.

I know that not meeting is kind of the point. But social-distancing extremism is damaging not just our first-order health and prosperity. It chokes the zones where the exchange of ideas occurs, stunting the human innovation that makes us healthier and more prosperous as time goes on. It’s getting really hard to be an active-ish, social-ish person in a blue state, and as social and intellectual ties themselves are being criminalized, the rationale for staying is rapidly disappearing.

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  1. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    I expect we are in a phase of Prohibition-like behaviour. Those in the “know” know where/when/how to enjoy their lives more or less as they always have. There are smaller underground places managed by some not so favoured where food, beverage and fun can be exchanged somehow someway. But for many – this isolation and inability to exchange ideas and mutual concern is the outcome desired by the totalitarians.  

    • #1
  2. Mike Viola Member
    Mike Viola
    @MikeViola

    EODmom (View Comment):

    I expect we are in a phase of Prohibition-like behaviour. Those in the “know” know where/when/how to enjoy their lives more or less as they always have. There are smaller underground places managed by some not so favoured where food, beverage and fun can be exchanged somehow someway. But for many – this isolation and inability to exchange ideas and mutual concern is the outcome desired by the totalitarians.

    Agree – it goes way beyond material having or not-having. There’s a set of Western norms being denied to the proles by our leaders. Meanwhile, a lot of regular people/businesses are getting scrappy about it.

    • #2
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    “Restaurants as part of the public square”….what has happened over the last 5-10 years is that personal interactions that would previously have been direct, personal interactions…over a meal at a restaurant, a conversation in a private home, a telephone call, even an e-mail….are now being mediated by social media and made pseudo-public or fully public.  This is very convenient for surveillance and censorship, it is far easier for a system to scan text on a few centralized systems than to go through all the trouble of putting microphones in restaurants and homes and implementing speech-recognition systems to process what they pick up.

    • #3
  4. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Interesting, that real public squares, and the ability to create them spontaneously, or by appointment, are quashed. 

    And the substitute public square, presented by the internet, is censored. 

    I see the need for formation of a new underground railroad. 

    • #4
  5. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I made comment 4 before reading any comments, but notice the threads of ideas: underground, prohibition, censor, and revolt. 

    Good on us. 

     

    • #5
  6. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Interesting, that real public squares, and the ability to create them spontaneously, or by appointment, are quashed.

    And the substitute public square, presented by the internet, is censored.

    I see the need for formation of a new underground railroad.

    We’ve been talking about the need to make new friends and be more outgoing than is our nature in order to add connections and strengthen existing. I’ll probably restart a Sunday “family” dinner routine we had in CA – some church friends but not all/only – in what’s now called a life group. I like to cook, so will do it through dinner, but others may find other ways to make it happen. I think the presence of adult beverages helps….. moderately administered of course. 

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Regarding the public square: there was an interesting Supreme Court decision in the case of Marsh v Alabama, in which the court ruled that Gulf Shipbuilding Company could not prohibit a Jehovah’s Witness from distributing literature in the the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, even though that town was Gulf Shipbuilding’s private property.  The argument was that since Gulf Shipbuilding owned everything in the area, their property must serve the functions of a public square, even though it was private.

    Prager University tried to use this precedent in connection with the ‘restricted’ status assigned to its videos by YouTube.  Their argument was that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument  was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes.

    I think the application of the precedent in this case has some merit.

    • #7
  8. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Their argument was that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes.

    Well, I hope the Supremes live up to their name, and see the parallel. If for no other reason, than a stinking virus can make the internet the only public square available. 

    It can’t be lost on corrupt actors with power that we are being wedged into an impossible corner.

    I’m a stupid deplorable, and I can see it clear as day, the path we are on. 

     May the Supremes ever keep the arc of life bending toward Justice. At least in the United States. 

    • #8
  9. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Their argument was that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes.

    Well, I hope the Supremes live up to their name, and see the parallel. If for no other reason, than a stinking virus can make the internet the only public square available.

    It can’t be lost on corrupt actors with power that we are being wedged into an impossible corner.

    I’m a stupid deplorable, and I can see it clear as day, the path we are on.

    May the Supremes ever keep the arc of life bending toward Justice. At least in the United States.

    It seems this is one area where a “living” constitution might be useful: the USSC ought to be able to recognize new environmental facts and apply precedent. That is, recognize that online is a community or communities. I also think control via internet and digital is a goal. Those with the digital infrastructure have shown themselves willing and able to take on that task, and a whole buncha control has been achieved. 

    • #9
  10. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Mr. Viola,

    Every day when I read the analyses, opinions, and arguments on the edicts of mass isolation, I wonder, why isn’t anyone arguing against this violent destruction of…Of what? What is the word for this essential thing?

    I have never been able to articulate what I think is the central issue.  So I don’t enter the debates by making the point that this something essential to human thriving is being destroyed, and no one on either side of the debate has even called attention to it.  They are explaining or asking about or arguing about only trivia–vaccines, epidemiology, and decadent politicians violating their own rules–while all around them, human society is being savaged.

    You have beautifully articulated my inarticulable thoughts.  This something is the public square, and you have identified its purpose, showing why it is essential.

    Thank you.

    • #10
  11. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Excuse me, but we ARE arguing against the destruction of Society that is being perpetrated by the Leftist media, health “establishment”, and Government.  Right here on Ricochet, and on my personal blog.

    https://rushbabe49.com/2020/08/09/the-war-of-all-against-all/

     

    • #11
  12. DonG (Biden is compromised) Coolidge
    DonG (Biden is compromised)
    @DonG

    Mike Viola: I’m in Chicago

    Return of the speak-easy ?

    • #12
  13. Mike Viola Member
    Mike Viola
    @MikeViola

    DonG (Biden is compromised) (View Comment):

    Mike Viola: I’m in Chicago

    Return of the speak-easy ?

    Considering just about every other bar here calls itself a speakeasy, you’d think at least one of them would have the cojones to live up to the name.

    • #13
  14. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    DonG (Biden is compromised) (View Comment):

    Mike Viola: I’m in Chicago

    Return of the speak-easy ?

    And antifa blm will be the supposed goon-enforcers of said prohibition?

    That is how I see it.

     

    • #14
  15. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Mr. Viola,

    Every day when I read the analyses, opinions, and arguments on the edicts of mass isolation, I wonder, why isn’t anyone arguing against this violent destruction of…Of what? What is the word for this essential thing?

    I have never been able to articulate what I think is the central issue. So I don’t enter the debates by making the point that this something essential to human thriving is being destroyed, and no one on either side of the debate has even called attention to it. They are explaining or asking about or arguing about only trivia–vaccines, epidemiology, and decadent politicians violating their own rules–while all around them, human society is being savaged.

    You have beautifully articulated my inarticulable thoughts. This something is the public square, and you have identified its purpose, showing why it is essential.

    Thank you.

    I think the reason you don’t see many arguing against this “violent destruction…” is that so few people see it, or feel it, this way. I don’t.

    Whatever the merits of the COVID reactions have been, they are clearly, to most people, temporary measures and do not represent an existential threat to our Liberty, constitutional order, the public square, etc.

    I don’t want to be misunderstood. These lockdowns may be a bad idea, and there may be certain relatively minor ways that life changes for a long time. Certainly many are suffering from the lockdowns and I can’t blame them for being angry. But the source of the problem is obviously the virus. When it departs or subsides, so will the rationale and public support for the lockdown orders. And those orders will go away.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    EODmom (View Comment):

    I expect we are in a phase of Prohibition-like behaviour. Those in the “know” know where/when/how to enjoy their lives more or less as they always have. There are smaller underground places managed by some not so favoured where food, beverage and fun can be exchanged somehow someway. But for many – this isolation and inability to exchange ideas and mutual concern is the outcome desired by the totalitarians.

    The return of the speakeasy!

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Regarding the public square: there was an interesting Supreme Court decision in the case of Marsh v Alabama, in which the court ruled that Gulf Shipbuilding Company could not prohibit a Jehovah’s Witness from distributing literature in the the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, even though that town was Gulf Shipbuilding’s private property. The argument was that since Gulf Shipbuilding owned everything in the area, their property must serve the functions of a public square, even though it was private.

    Prager University tried to use this precedent in connection with the ‘restricted’ status assigned to its videos by YouTube. Their argument was that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes.

    I think the application of the precedent in this case has some merit.

    Interesting. I didn’t know this argument was being used by Prager. Maybe it’s time for me to make a contribution again. I don’t particularly like Prager stuff, but I am extremely opposed to their being censored by YouTube.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    The Reticulator

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Regarding the public square: there was an interesting Supreme Court decision in the case of Marsh v Alabama, in which the court ruled that Gulf Shipbuilding Company could not prohibit a Jehovah’s Witness from distributing literature in the the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, even though that town was Gulf Shipbuilding’s private property. The argument was that since Gulf Shipbuilding owned everything in the area, their property must serve the functions of a public square, even though it was private.

    Prager University tried to use this precedent in connection with the ‘restricted’ status assigned to its videos by YouTube. Their argument was that the precedent also applies to on-line communities, even though these do not involve physical presence…this argument was rejected, though, by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit…not sure whether there will be an appeal to the Supremes.

    I think the application of the precedent in this case has some merit.

    Interesting. I didn’t know this argument was being used by Prager. Maybe it’s time for me to make a contribution again. I don’t particularly like Prager stuff, but I am extremely opposed to their being censored by YouTube.

    I would like to see part of their argument being that this forum is where a lot of government entities (e.g. the CDC) communicate with the public, therefore it is part of the public square. Now if a counterargument was made that the CDC and other such entities also make their information available on alternative forums that are equally accessible, that would make a difference.  But if that was the state of affairs, it would also signify that YouTube doesn’t have quite the monopoly we fear it has. 

    • #18
  19. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Mike Viola: I know that not meeting is kind of the point. But social-distancing extremism is damaging not just our first-order health and prosperity. It chokes the zones where the exchange of ideas occurs, stunting the human innovation that makes us healthier and more prosperous as time goes on. It’s getting really hard to be an active-ish, social-ish person in a blue state, and as social and intellectual ties themselves are being criminalized, the rationale for staying is rapidly disappearing.

    The same issue has occurred to me. I think some the answer is in Walker Percy’s struggle to understand man.

    “What interested me was the Martian [someone from the outside] method of taking man as he found him and looking at him as if here were the strangest of fauna, which he is. That is to say, instead of coming at man from the traditional approaches, this or that theological assumption or scientific assumption about the nature of man … why not come at at man like the Martian? Instead of marking him down as the outset as besouled creature or responding organism,  why not look at him as he appears, not even as Homo sapiens, because attributing sapience already begs the question, but as Homo loquens, man the talker, or Homo symbilificus, man the symbol monger? Instead of starting out with such large vexed subjects as soul, mind, ideas, consciousness, why not begin with language, which no one denies, and see how far that takes us toward the rest?” — The Message in the Bottle, p. 17.

    “Start with God and man’s immortal soul and you’ve lost every reader except those who believe in God and Man’s immortal soul.

    Start with B.F. Skinner and man decreed as organism who learns everything he does by operant conditioning and you’ve lost every reader who knows there is more to it than that and that Skinner has explained nothing. Skinner explains everything about man except what make him human…” p. 18.

    The lockdowns are contrary to our basic nature. To be human we must communicate, nearly everything we do in daily life results in an attempt to communicate something to someone else. Much of it is the small, simple, nearly unnoticeable parts of everyday life–like choosing what kind of meal to have, or learning what a colleague did last weekend, the things that make us human–are under assault. It seems to me to be a great irony that the thing that is to save us, aside from distancing, a mask, also hides or muffles a great deal of the communication that casually occurs between ourselves and our fellow humans.

    • #19
  20. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    My husband keeps asking how long it will be before the churches have to go underground, and how we will find out about it. Long before this virus brought hiding out into the open, there were many situations in this country where if you knew what was good for you, you kept your opinions and thoughts to yourself. A prime example is a conservative teacher.

    Because of the madness that seems to have taken hold of our society, I believe there are many more who either say nothing, or parrot the party line in order to save their livelihoods. But how do we find each other if we are afraid of our co-workers, afraid of our neighbors, afraid of family, afraid of the truth?

    I always thought ‘never again’ was more than just a slogan. This is truly frightening. Covid is just a blueprint – a rehearsal for what is to come. A trial balloon floated to see how far you could push people if you frighten them enough. We are seeing the future, but want to believe it will end with a vaccine. This is just the beginning and I don’t know how to fight it.

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    When it departs or subsides, so will the rationale and public support for the lockdown orders. And those orders will go away.

    That is the question, though. When I see epidemiologist Michael Osterholm (on Biden’s team) advocating wacko extreme lockdown measures, and when that same Michael Osterholm has been the main source of information for articles (such as one in Wired magazine) that make dishonest attacks on the proposed use of at-home antigen tests that could relieve the need for such lockdowns, I am not so sure the orders will go away. I am not sure what body of opinion is represented by Osterholm, but the fact that Biden put him on his transition team (whether or not for more than symbolic purposes) is not reassuring.  Biden didn’t come up with that idea by himself, of course.  And there have been no calls for politicians to distance themselves from Osterholm.  

    • #21
  22. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    EODmom (View Comment): I expect we are in a phase of Prohibition-like behaviour. Those in the “know” know where/when/how to enjoy their lives more or less as they always have. There are smaller underground places managed by some not so favoured where food, beverage and fun can be exchanged somehow someway. But for many – this isolation and inability to exchange ideas and mutual concern is the outcome desired by the totalitarians.

    One effect of the lockdowns is to separate the social haves from the social have-nots.

    Have friends? You can organize clandestine meetings with them in one of your houses. Married already? Hunker down and enjoy some quality time with your spouse. You just moved to a new city, and you don’t know anybody yet? Just give up.

    • #22
  23. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Whatever the merits of the COVID reactions have been, they are clearly, to most people, temporary measures and do not represent an existential threat to our Liberty, constitutional order, the public square, etc.

    They’ve been called temporary measures, but they’ve been going for about 3/4 of an entire year now. When does temporary become permanent?

    ******************************

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    When it departs or subsides, so will the rationale and public support for the lockdown orders. And those orders will go away.

    In my opinion, the numbers have never justified lockdown orders of any kind – not at the beginning and not now. And yet, the orders are not going away. In some places, they’re getting worse. I’m beginning to think that the only way they’e ever going to go away is if people start ignoring them and simply getting on with their lives. I don’t think some of the officials are ever going to officially rescind them.

     

    • #23
  24. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Weeping (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Whatever the merits of the COVID reactions have been, they are clearly, to most people, temporary measures and do not represent an existential threat to our Liberty, constitutional order, the public square, etc.

    They’ve been called temporary measures, but they’ve been going for about 3/4 of an entire year now. When does temporary become permanent?

    A few weeks? Temporary. A month or two? Temporary-ish. A few years? Not really temporary. Sorry.

    You can say “they’ll go away once the virus goes away,” but realize that, even with a vaccine, the virus won’t disappear from the face of the earth. Just this morning, I read a CNN article in which a WHO official insinuates that the end goal is “zero COVID,” and that restrictions ought to continue until that goal is reached. Keep in mind that polio still exists in parts of the world, more than half a century after Salk’s invention. Perhaps COVID will be eradicated someday . . . in 2092.

    This will only end if we make it end. The arrival of vaccines is exactly the time to do it.

    • #24
  25. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    The business press had glowing reports in April and May about companies “discovering” that they didn’t need offices, and that everyone could work from home indefinitely. But by summer the reports were changing as companies started noticing that innovation was declining and employees were increasingly disengaging from the company’s goals. There’s a reason business architecture for the last 30 years has focused on establishing places for employees to come together and to share ideas. 

    • #25
  26. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    The lack of social interaction also contributes to extreme ideas. Without broad public spaces in which to hear and to discuss ideas, it is easy for people to get stuck in nooks and crannies of thought. Normally, people hear and see different ideas as they go about in various public places. Isolated people have to go out of their way to hear different ideas. Even before the Covid-19 era, this was a known problem at universities and at some other closed institutions. I believe that social isolation was a major contributing factor in the riots of late spring and summer. 

    • #26
  27. Mike Viola Member
    Mike Viola
    @MikeViola

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I believe that social isolation was a major contributing factor in the riots of late spring and summer.

    No doubt about it. A mix of people being in an emotionally tense state (esp. in blue cities) and wanting an excuse to get out. A bit of transference of blame, too: the feeling of entrapment from COVID can’t come from those they chose to represent them, so it must be ascribed to the police or capitalism instead.

    • #27
  28. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    I made comment 4 before reading any comments, but notice the threads of ideas: underground, prohibition, censor, and revolt.

    Good on us.

    Revolt?  Never.  Never, I say.

    Who needs a life warm and gay?

    Though the internet’s cold

    I’m not quite so bold.

    I’m completely loyal to the NSA.

    • #28
  29. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    DonG (Biden is compromised) (View Comment):

    Mike Viola: I’m in Chicago

    Return of the speak-easy ?

    Literally.

    • #29
  30. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Weeping (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Whatever the merits of the COVID reactions have been, they are clearly, to most people, temporary measures and do not represent an existential threat to our Liberty, constitutional order, the public square, etc.

    They’ve been called temporary measures, but they’ve been going for about 3/4 of an entire year now. When does temporary become permanent?

    They’ve continued (though the strictness varies greatly from place to place, and in some places they’re not very strict and very lightly enforced) because the virus is still going strong. Well over 200,000 new cases and over 2,000 deaths a day. Some days it has gotten very close to 3,000. It was the leading cause of death last week, even surpassing heart disease and will be in the top ranks for the entire year. So…of course some of these lockdown orders haven’t ended yet. And I didn’t even get into the strain on hospitals. 

    But nobody likes this crap. Everyone hates the lockdowns. When the reason for them goes away, so will they.  Again, that’s not to say they are a good idea, or necessarily effective, but the virus is why we have them. It will end.

    ******************************

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    When it departs or subsides, so will the rationale and public support for the lockdown orders. And those orders will go away.

    In my opinion, the numbers have never justified lockdown orders of any kind – not at the beginning and not now. And yet, the orders are not going away. In some places, they’re getting worse. I’m beginning to think that the only way they’e ever going to go away is if people start ignoring them and simply getting on with their lives. I don’t think some of the officials are ever going to officially rescind them.

    If the vaccine is effective, and so far it seems very promising, or if it naturally gets weaker and weaker, what on earth would make them want to keep them in place?

     

    • #30