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As the curve of the current pandemic increases world wide, we need to heed the lessons of the past and not let the less scrupulous among us advance their agendas using the pandemic as cover.

 “The New York Times called the vigilantism “the most diabolical and savage procedure that has ever been perpetrated in any community professing to be governed by Christian influences.” Those arrested for leading the action were found not guilty in a trial. But authorities got the message: quarantine facilities were moved off-shore to a boat named after Florence Nightingale, then two islands off Staten Island, and finally, in 1920, to Ellis Island.

Stephenson argues that the well-prepared arsonists were led by men of property who wanted to “remove an obstacle to development and investment.” The xenophobia of the islanders was also a factor, echoing racist voices today who claim foreigners bring in crime and disease. For all their stated fear of disease, however, locals happily paraded through the smoking ruins and the displaced patients, seemingly unworried about infection. Stephenson writes: “The destruction of the Quarantine was less an irrational act of hysteria than a planned effort to allay community anxieties.[…] These actions suggest a crowd that was more intolerant and cruel than freedom-loving, and more vengeful than afraid.”

 

  An interesting article over at JSTOR by Manisha Claire  It reminds me that that the reality we live today were conscious choices that were made by people in the past.  Part of the American zeitgeist is a strong emphasis on personal responsibility and ‘rugged individualism’.  These qualities did not mysteriously poof out of the ether, they were constructed and promoted for a reason.  It is interesting see how the the historical seeds planted in society have come to fruition.

” instead of addressing housing inequality or the shortage of affordable units, political leaders were presenting home ownership as an attainable choice for all Americans, implying that an inability to live the BHA way was a matter of personal, rather than institutional, failing.”

 

 

“The ideology behind BHA ultimately privileged a white, middle-class version of home ownership. In 1922, The Delineator began to devote multiple pages to BHA and its mission, including suggestions for home furnishing and contributions from the organizers. In the October 1922 issue, Herbert Hoover wrote an article called “The Home as an Investment,” declaring that urban overcrowding and poverty “means a large increase in rents, a throw-back in human efficiency, and that unrest which inevitably results from inhibition of the primal instinct in us all for home ownership.”

In Agricultural History, Hutchison writes:

The homes put forth by the national leaders varied somewhat in design but included new household technology that stressed convenience and room layouts that emphasized both family interaction and privacy… In front of the ideal house lay a green, well-tended yard, while behind it might be a small garden. In short, the prescription endorsed by the Better Homes leaders at the national level was that of a suburban dwelling replete with new technological amenities and private space.

Meloney ran “The Ideal Small House,” a column by the architect Donn Barber, which stressed modernity, thrift, and American design for the entire home. There was also a “Rooms for Boys and Girls” column by Mrs. Charles Brady Sanders, dictating “dainty, bright and frivolous” furnishings for girls’ rooms. In boys’ rooms, “masculinity must be foremost.” These columns reinforced the ideals of BHA and made it clear that, despite any structural or financial barriers, readers could and should pursue them.

However, while this ideal was encouraged in literature disseminated to Americans across class and race lines, the realities of achieving this goal were not addressed. Segregationist housing policies, discrimination by banks, and poverty among racialized Americans prevented many people from buying and maintaining homes the BHA way. But BHA rhetoric made it clear that, instead of addressing housing inequality or the shortage of affordable units, political leaders were presenting home ownership as an attainable choice for all Americans, implying that an inability to live the BHA way was a matter of personal, rather than institutional, failing.”

 

via Flickr

“On display at the national exhibition in D.C., the National Better Home included modern amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity, reflecting an attempt to encourage homeowners to purchase new appliances and embrace scientific thinking at home. Hutchison writes that the living spaces in the house were designed to “evoke sentimental images of family unity” while “the kitchen conveyed efficiency and cleanliness.” That approach to home design was emulated in cities and towns around the country, as local communities vied for the title of Best American Home. These exhibitions were written up in newspapers across the country, and the movement’s leaders emphasized thrift and sensibility over “commercialism.”

For Black and immigrant homeowners (or would-be homeowners), BHA offered a kind of aspirational modeling that decried their current living conditions, but offered no substantial way out of their circumstances.”

The psychological need for security is important.  The people who formulate our politic know that can can often use our natural tendencies to gain our acceptance of polices that make little sense, from a strictly rational point of view.  Border walls and the many issues that surround them occupy this idealized territory as the amount of actual security provided is quite limited, but the psychological return on investment is huge. Eric Schewe writing at The JSTOR daily site looks into this feature of the walls we build, ostensibly to protect ourselves:

 

In this column, I’ve explored the idea that security ideology creates a mirror version of the world around us. Beyond any specific technology or procedure, security “works” when it makes us believe that it solves an identified problem. This is not to deny the real risks of death or injury as a result of terrorism—but only to point out that satisfying beliefs is security’s highest priority. This is why we have spent billions of dollars and uncountable hours on security theater although terrorists have killed only sixty-five Americans per year since 2002. Terrorism receives a disproportionate amount of news coverage compared to say, car accidents, which kill tens of thousands of Americans every year.

The American political system is now seized by conflict over the symbolic threat of illegal immigration. President Trump has proposed an equally symbolic solution—building a bigger border wall. Interestingly, while vilifying illegal immigrants to his supporters as violent criminals, he has not penalized the industries that rely on their labor. After settling the budget standoff that shuttered the federal government for a month, he declared a national emergency to fund wall construction, although he immediately admitted there was no emergency—that he “didn’t need to do this.”

[..]

Every border wall has a particular historical context behind its creation. Yet they all announce the same message to the world: Our diplomatic and economic relationships with our neighbors have failed, and we are unwilling to repair them.

I’m in agreement with Eric’s conclusion.  Wall are indeed a testament to our failures.

 

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