A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 112

CCTV: The All-Seeing Eye is watching you.

Sunday, July 12

“The common man is ruled by the expert, certainly. He obeys the persuasive power of the propagandist in his eating, drinking, sanitary, and even sexual habits, in the clothes he wears and the entertainments he attends, in his attitude towards his fellow men and towards God. But at the heart of obedience there is the desire for revolt. There are few things the common man…desires more than to see the expert utterly discomfited….they applaud the expert’s occasional collapse as they are delighted when a top-hatted man slips on a banana skin.”

—Julian Symons, The Colour of Murder

So much for mask-wearing, know-it-all epidemiologists and lockdown-prone mayors! Yea for Trump and all freedom-loving true Americans!

Here, then, is the problem with the assessment that an appeal to reason can defeat MAGA man. New York Times writer Thomas Friedman recently suggested that Biden’s bumper sticker should be: “Respect science, respect nature, respect each other.” This “science,” however, is just what stands behind the blundering weather report that leaves you soaking wet on a supposedly sunny day. Then there’s the constantly shifting advice on diet—drinking alcohol is bad for you, but a bit of red wine is good for your circulation. Be sure to eat fish, which is good for your heart—unless that fish contains mercury! 

Radiation can cause cancer—so let’s have another X-ray of your teeth, your back, or maybe that sprained ankle. 

And—perhaps we should get a second opinion; the more expertise the better.

It’s no wonder that the public is skeptical of experts, whether they represent medical wisdom, computer mastery, or even military know-how. It was, after all, Colin Powell and George W. Bush’s team of “weapons of mass destruction” discoverers that sent us into a catastrophic war in Iraq—as Trump never tires of reminding us. Trump has his own teams of experts—and he frequently takes issue with them and calls them names. One minute Jeff Sessions is a fantastic pick for Attorney General, the next minute he’s a no-good coward and traitor.

Today’s Times brings a story of yet another bit of expertise that the public mistrusts. A wealthy tech executive named Chris Larsen is spending his own money to install a private network of CCTV cameras around the city of San Francisco.

These cameras are meant to deter the spate of petty crimes, especially robberies, that are taking place there. But Larsen’s CCTV isn’t under the control of government or the city police. Instead, neighborhood watch groups are in charge. “Neighbors band together and decide where to put the cameras. They are installed on private property at the discretion of the property owner, and in San Francisco many home and business owners want them. The footage is monitored by the neighborhood coalition,” says the article.

But wait a minute: Isn’t this Larsen guy representative of the wise-guy Silicon Valley types who are turning Baghdad by the Bay into a high-priced bedroom suburb peopled by snotty tech wonks? Google’s mega fleet of private shuttle buses, a soaring cost of living, and an end to many of the San Francisco quirks so beloved by long-time natives—isn’t that what he represents?

Who elected Larsen? Who elected these neighborhood watch committees?

And why is my smart phone so plagued with problems. Experts, phooey!

Dinner: barbecued pork chops, potato salad, and a lettuce and tomato salad.

Entertainment: Two episodes of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.