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Sunday, September 20, 2020

192 daze

I'm starting to look pretty ratty.

On August 23rd, 2018 I underwent open-heart surgery to replace my failing aortic valve. That December I "graduated early" from post-op cardiac rehab. A year later, having now moved to Baltimore, I was back on the court playing pickup hoops 5-6 hours a week (cleared by my new cardiologist).

Then, on Friday, March 12th, 2020, my BYKOTA center in Towson closed because of Covid19. That was my last time on the court. It remains shuttered 192 days later. I'm still getting about 3 weeks to the gallon of gas. We continue to lie low. My Parkinson's is increasingly no fun. But, everyone should have my "problems."

We live in the bucolic Homeland District of Baltimore, due north of downtown. Walking distance nearby are the University of Notre Dame of Maryland and Loyola of Maryland. Quick rides to the south, southeast, and north of us are Johns Hopkins, Morgan State, and Towson Universities respectively. The campuses all sit eerily silent. No clear end in sight at this point.

Below: Just finished this excellent book (click the cover). All part of a piece to come.


We do not have much equality of condition today. Public spaces that gather people together across class, race, ethnicity, and faith are few and far between. Four decades of market-driven globalization has brought inequalities of income and wealth so pronounced that they lead us into separate ways of life. Those who are affluent and those of modest means rarely encounter one another in the course of the day. We live and work and shop and play in different places; our children go to different schools. And when the meritocratic sorting machine has done its work, those on top find it hard to resist the thought that they deserve their success and that those on the bottom deserve their place as well. This feeds a politics so poisonous and a partisanship so intense that many now regard marriage across party lines as more troubling than marrying outside the faith. It is little wonder we have lost the ability to reason together about large public questions, or even to listen to one another. Merit began its career as the empowering idea that we can, through work and faith, bend God’s grace in our favor. The secular version of this idea made for an exhilarating promise of individual freedom: Our fate is in our hands. We can make it if we try. 

But this vision of freedom points us away from the obligations of a shared democratic project. Recall the two conceptions of the common good we considered in chapter 7, the consumerist and the civic. If the common good consists simply in maximizing the welfare of consumers, then achieving an equality of condition does not matter in the end. If democracy is simply economics by other means, a matter of adding up our individual interests and preferences, then its fate does not depend on the moral bonds of citizens. A consumerist conception of democracy can do its limited work whether we share a vibrant common life or inhabit privatized enclaves in the company of our own kind. 

But if the common good can be arrived at only by deliberating with our fellow citizens about the purposes and ends worthy of our political community, then democracy cannot be indifferent to the character of the common life. It does not require perfect equality. But it does require that citizens from different walks of life encounter one another in common spaces and public places. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences. And this is how we come to care for the common good. 

The meritocratic conviction that people deserve whatever riches the market bestows on their talents makes solidarity an almost impossible project. For why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due. A lively sense of the contingency of our lot can inspire a certain humility: “There, but for the grace of God, or the accident of birth, or the mystery of fate, go I.” Such humility is the beginning of the way back from the harsh ethic of success that drives us apart. It points beyond the tyranny of merit toward a less rancorous, more generous public life.

Sandel, Michael J.. The Tyranny of Merit. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 

I can scarcely think of a better place to hide a $100 bill from Donald Trump than inside this book.

Speaking of "daze," there are, at this posting, 44 left until Nov. 3rd Election Day.

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