The coronavirus is reminding us that old wisdom retains its value in new times.
For instance, there’s the issue of copper fixtures, such as cups and pipes, which were used by ancients across the world. As Fast Company’s Mark Wilson recently pointed out, copper has distinct anti-microbial properties—the metal does, after all, have that distinct taste to it. As one expert, Bill Keevil, professor of environmental health care at the University of Southampton, told the magazine, copper could and should be used much more: “We’ve seen viruses just blow apart. They land on copper and it just degrades them.” And in fact, in 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of various anti-microbial metals and alloys, including copper, bronze, and brass.
Still, in most places, copper was long ago replaced by stainless steel and plastic. These latter materials have many advantages, too, insofar as they are cheaper and don’t corrode, and yet maybe the old wisdom about the hygienic qualities of copper is more valuable than we’ve realized.
Now let’s consider some other examples of old wisdom proving its continuing worth; we’ll look at the enduring genius—much smarter than the latest politically correct fad—of borders, walls, distancing, dispersion, and self-defense.
For years, we’ve been told that open borders are a sign of modern, open-minded sophistication. And at the same time, we’ve been told that closed borders are a sign of reactionary, closed-minded thuggery—make that, Trumpery.
So what to make of this modern “sophistication” now, when virtually every country—even ultra-PC Canada—is closing its border, seeking to monitor, closely, who is coming in? Indeed, a March 22 article in The New York Times on the impact of the pandemic in Italy reads as if it were written by some hardcore right-winger. Having mocked the folly of various Italian politicians who had pledged not to change a thing—and certainly not to close the border—the Times article then adds this strong law-and-order flourish:
If Italy’s experience shows anything, it is that measures to isolate affected areas and limit the movement of the broader population need to be taken early, put in place with absolute clarity, then strictly enforced.
And where does that leave “sanctuary cities,” where the rule is that all foreigners are good, with no questions asked about where they have been?
Specifically, we should ask pointed questions of the Democrat presidential frontrunner, Joe Biden. Does he really mean it when he says “no deportations”? That even criminals with the coronavius will be safe from being expelled? And that the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy should be abolished? Will Biden and the national Democrats be willing to quarantine anyone if the American Civil Liberties Union objects? Such PC policies would defeat the whole purpose of having a border.
So if Biden were to win this year, he’d have to think long and hard about trying to follow through with such crazy-left policies, even if AOC insists on it. Sober Democrats might wish to brush up on the wisdom of the nation-state as a sovereign body, an idea that comes to us from such key figures as the 16th century Frenchman Jean Bodin, and the 17th century Englishman Thomas Hobbes.
Yes, if Democrats were to do some studying on the history of statecraft, they would see that those old-timers knew a thing or two. (And some Republicans, as well, would benefit from some classical learning.)
Walls are an obvious supplement to borders. That is, walls, and other kinds of fortifications, prove that you mean business about your border.
Cities, countries, and empires have been building walls for thousands of years—not because they wanted to, but because they had to. For instance, as pointed out by tweeter Wrath of Gnon, back in the 17th century, the city of Ferrara, Italy, insulated itself against the plague by the tough-minded expedient of not letting foreigners inside its walls without first being quarantined. (A more thoroughgoing take on Ferrara’s public-health success can be found in this medical journal.) Quarantines are always, in fact, a good idea in plague situations. And it’s from historical precedent, as well as practical necessity, that we get timeless wisdom—the question is whether or not we are willing to apply it.
In our time, President Trump has been channeling that old wisdom, as he strives to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border. And yet even as the old wisdom still holds true, we keep finding more reasons why we need walls of various kinds.
For instance, in July 2016, we learned of a new terror-tactic requiring a new counter-terror response. That is, terrorists were using motor vehicles to run down pedestrians, and so passive defenses along walkways, such as bollards—which are a kind of wall—were called for. As this author wrote nearly four years ago,
We all intuitively understand the value of walls and fences; even ACLU members live in dwellings, not out in the open. And throughout history, people—as nations and as individuals—have kept themselves contained. Savages may live under the trees, but civilized people live behind walls.
Indeed, this author continued, if the situation was dangerous enough, then the home itself would have to be a castle—or a fortress:
Even individual houses, not just royal castles, were built as fortresses. Outside of San Antonio, TX, is the fort-like Gallagher House, built in 1833, in conditions of near anarchy, for protection against constant Indian raids, plus the occasional Mexican marauder. The Gallagher House is still there for tourist visits; of course it is, the walls are two feet thick, and so it’s not going anywhere.
To be sure, the nature of walls has changed; oftentimes, these days, it’s not so much a single wall as an echeloned series of walls, overseen, not only by brave men and women, but also by high-tech sensors and drones.
Today, the coronavirus is inspiring the widespread use of new tools for wall-workers—including those brave health professionals staffing the public-health walls—such as the no-contact infrared thermometer. Such equipment is a vital part of the ongoing maintenance and modernization of those sturdy old walls.
A new buzzphrase of the corona era is “social distancing,” which is pretty much self-explanatory—stay six feet apart.
We can quickly observe: If such distancing is a good idea, then maybe the dense-packed city is not a good idea.
Moreover, maybe loose-packed suburbs are a good idea. That was a point made by U.S. tech executive Farooq Butt in a March 14 tweet:
Interesting to note that American suburbia, with its large empty spaces & single family homes, perpetually got slammed for encouraging “social isolation,” lack of walkability & a lack of community. It’s precisely these qualities that make it a decent place to be in a pandemic.
In other words, maybe it simply makes good sense to keep the population a bit separate, and not piled on top of each other. That’s the venerable logic, after all, of compartmentalizing ships—and to this day, it’s a tried-and-true principle of nautical engineering.
To the PC ear, the words “social distancing” sound, well, “xenophobic,” as if the stranger is being “othered,” as opposed to merely being properly identified.
Here, Breitbart News’s John Nolte was razor-sharp, as always, in dissecting the ostentatious virtue-signaling of “Virtuous American.” In Nolte’s telling, Virtuous American follows all the PC guidelines about recycling trash, reusing cups and straws, mass-transiting—and taking credit for every supposed good deed.
Yet Virtuous America thus puts himself, herself—or theyself—at risk. That is, everyone should have learned a long time ago that it’s best to dispose of germy trash, not reuse it.
Nolte then contrasts Virtuous American with “McMansion American,” the suburbanite driving his or her own car—thus not coughing or sneezing on anyone—boasting a basement big enough “to store enough food and water for four weeks.” In other words, suburban sprawl, and the distance it affords to people, isn’t so bad.
In fact, Nolte went even further, offering up another archetype, “Hick American,” who “lives anywhere from 50 feet to 50 acres from any potential Possibly Infected American.” Right about now, Hick American starts to look pretty smart.
So now we come to the step beyond distancing, namely, outright dispersion.
All through history, people have understood that cities, with their concentrations of people, can be unhealthy. That is, all the crowds, all the sewage, all the contagion—epidemiologically dangerous.
Of course, this danger was doubled in times of plague. And so those who could were wise to flee to the countryside. There, they could wait out the working out of Farr’s Law of Epidemics, which predicts the parabolic rise and fall of the infection-curve.
Interestingly, sometimes, these sojourns of isolation were spectacularly productive; for instance, in the late 17th century, Isaac Newton, fleeing the bubonic plague in London, used his time under an apple tree to figure out physics.
Indeed, the movements of people have often been associated with the restorative powers—real and imagined—of some rural place.
Much of the early settlement in Southern California, for instance, consisted of Yankees going west to the dry desert climate, seeking relief from tuberculosis. And Thomas Mann’s famous 1924 novel, The Magic Mountain, was set in a sanitarium in Davos, Switzerland; yes, the same place that became host, decades later, to a new kind of infestation—the World Economic Forum.
Moreover, the exodus to suburbia in the 20th century was in no small part an effort to find healthier living for the masses. Back in 1902, the Englishman Ebenezer Howard published The Garden City of To-Morrow, in which he called for more dispersed cities to help people get away from the dank, diseased, and polluted dangers of big cities. Howard’s work was enormously influential in the U.S., as well, inspiring officials to plan for highways and affordable mortgages so that ordinary Americans could enjoy a place in the suburban sun.
Of course, all through the 20th century, liberal elites mocked the suburban impulse, deeming it to be hopelessly middle-class and middle-brow; it was much better, we were told to live in big cities, near, say, the theater, the museums—and the toniest restaurant. And yet when the coronavirus hit, guess who was hurrying out of town? Hence this March 14 headline in the New York Times: “The Rich Have a Coronavirus Cure: Escape From New York: When fake rumors inspired a run on toilet paper, the 1 percent made a panicked exodus to their second homes.” As the article detailed:
Outside a prewar co-op on lower Fifth Avenue on Friday morning, well-dressed people were loading cats and canvas bags into their hatchbacks. “The building is empty,’’ one woman entering with her dog explained. “Everyone’s gone to the Hamptons.”
More broadly than even suburbanization, nations came to realize that it was in their strategic interest to disperse their population. Way back in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was willing to pay Napoleon the princely sum of $15 million to buy the vast Louisiana territory because he wanted to get Americans off the Eastern Seaboard. As Jefferson wrote, “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man.”
In the 20th century, the rise of aviation put a new premium on geographical dispersion. Germany, our enemy in two world wars, was eager to find ways to bomb its enemies, via dirigible, airplane, rocket—anything. The Germans had, after all, dropped bombs on England during World War One, and during World War Two, Hitler commissioned a prototype for an Amerikabomber.
In response to such threats, prudent American officials not only built up our air defenses, but also moved the country toward industrial dispersion—building new factories in the South and West, as far away as possible from German reach.
There’s a simple, yet timeless, point here: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Yet today we realize, to our horror, that we have put too much of our economic production—including for vital health wares—in a foreign basket, namely, China. That was a huge mistake, which Trump was struggling to fix even before the coronavirus.
Not surprisingly, the coronacrisis has accelerated the effort to diversify our national “portfolio.” That is, in a life-and-death crunch, we can’t be dependent on a country that’s halfway around the world—and that blames us, in warlike terms, for the virus that arose on their territory.
So it’s pleasing to report that the West is finally waking up to the dire threat of dependence on Big Panda. And while political figures such as Sens. Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio are demanding a “de-coupling” from China, others have already taken matters into their own hands.
For instance, in Italy, a hospital has figured out how to use a local 3-D printer to fabricate parts for life-saving machines that would otherwise have had to be imported.
In this bit of inspired do-it-yourself, we can see the vista of a new world, in which people can make their own parts and perhaps whole machines—and who knows what else they can make.
Indeed, it’s possible to see an economic renaissance for “flyover country,” of the sort that this author has written about here at Breitbart News. More localized manufacturing, plus nationalized problem-solving, could be the key to Making Rural America Great Again. Moreover, as Rep. Matt Gaetz has shown, it could even be possible to turn the boondoggle Green New Deal into a job-rich Green Real Deal.
In the meantime, the coronavirus is going to force a substantial upgrading in the teleconferencing capacity of every organization and perhaps every individual. Right now, the many video-chat services are mostly seen as poor substitutes for human closeness and contact, and yet over time, that will change. That is, the nascent technologies of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will provide new opportunities for rural folks who wish to be connected while staying on the farm, as well as new options for suburban folks, weary of long commutes. And in the meantime, new forms of online software collaboration will develop.
Anyone who has ever watched a zombie movie knows that in some stark worst-case scenario, basic civilizational order can break down.
So while we all hope nothing like that ever happens for real, we should regard the safety of ourselves, our loved ones, and our law-abiding neighbors as a top priority.
And such safety, of course, requires the means of safety: Hello, Second Amendment. As the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein liked to say, “An armed society is a polite society.” And if we have politeness, we certainly have law and order.
Many times in the past, this author has written in praise of the “Thin Blue Line” of cops and other law enforcers. And more recently, he has written about the “Thin White Line” of health professionals, stoically facing the corona onslaught, as well as the more familiar health needs of 330 million Americans.
In the weeks and months to come, we are likely to be reminded, yet again, just how much we rely on these new centurions, guarding the ramparts of public order and health.
And yet, all too often, in the end, it’s up to the individual to provide for his or her own defense. That’s about as ancient a lesson as there is, going back to the time in the Book of Genesis, when Abel let his brother Cain get the jump on him.
So with the perpetual need for self-defense in mind—and with the possible chaos associated with corona as a refresher—it will be interesting to see what happens if the Democrats ever attempt to go Full Bloomberg on gun-grabbing.
So while the coronavirus, in and of itself, is nothing but bad news, if we learn—or more precisely, if we re-learn—the old verities, we might just find that much good can yet emerge from this disaster.
And that, as Gandalf said in the first Lord of the Rings movie, is an encouraging thought.