Gongol.com Archives: July 2023

Brian Gongol

July 20, 2023

News Disturbing the public tranquility

In Federalist Paper Number 49, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison (probably Madison) wrote, "The danger of disturbing the public tranquillity by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society." ■ It is an argument with some merit: Even people of ordinarily sound judgement can make bad decisions when in a moment of high intensity or strong emotions. And because we humans are social animals, our feelings have a tendency to spill over onto others. And we have the unusual experience of living in a country of 335 million people, who despite our many differences, share an unusually strong common culture. It's a much larger country than it was in Madison's day, but there's a good case to be made that we're more culturally homogenous. Someone living in the farthest reaches of rural Oregon gets the same news at the same time as someone living in Manhattan. ■ That evolution makes the warning even more prescient. If Madison could see that the people around him in his own time were prone to "public passions", then we shouldn't be willfully ignorant or indifferent to the same problem now, when the feedback loop he anticipated is even tighter. There's no need to wait for a midnight horseback rider to deliver news. ■ Maturity consists, in part, in recognizing how often our own problems have been contemplated before. And for as much as people like to point at what they think are the unique evils of social media or cable news programs, the only distinction about them today is their speed -- not the content itself. We are who we've always been. ■ Jonathan Sacks once sagely noted: "Virtue is a matter of judgement and balance, weighing considerations and deciding between them. Aristotle called this 'the golden mean'. Maimonides, in the same spirit, called it 'the middle way'." There is no way, via either law or technology, to keep people from infecting one another with social contagions of panic (or, in Madison's phrasing, "passions"). We have to turn to inoculation instead: By committing our social institutions -- schools, clubs, churches, and even our group chats -- to finding Sacks's "virtue...of judgement and balance".

Weather and Disasters Feeling exceptional in Iowa

The state is effectively carved out of a much broader swath of severe-weather risk affecting virtually all of its neighbors. Odd indeed, but not unwelcome.

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