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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 8/19/20

Good morning!

 

VIRTUE SIGNALING

We are in an era where most of us want to be do the right thing and be “on the right side of history.” That’s great, but I think people are more concerned with how they are viewed in the eyes of others than they are with the actual act.

Here’s an example of our concern with perceptions as much as actions. Most of us tip at Starbucks. But how many of us wait to drop that dollar in the tip jar only when the barista is looking? Obviously, we are not seeking some sort of award—after all, it’s only a tip. It isn’t so much that we expect acknowledgement for the tip as much as that we don’t want to be judged (wrongly) for not leaving one. Our virtue is signaled visually to the barista and those behind us in line.

A friend of mine who is in the alternative energy space commented the rush a number of years ago to put in solar panels. It actually didn’t begin as a rush, but as a trickle. It only gained steam when people saw it as a way to signal their concern for the environment and their inherent “goodness” to their neighbors. While government subsidies for clean energy were a stimulus for installing these panels, the other “stimulus” is that it became a sign of one’s progressiveness to do so. In fact, more than a few of the purchasers wanted to make sure that the panels were visible from the street. Basically, people wanted to do good; but only if the cost was lowered and only if their neighbors could see their good acts.

Now that we are in the era of Black lives matter, people are rushing to put out lawn signs, companies are making statements, and colleges are committing to diversity training. Certainly these are laudable acts and it is important to give people a sense of belonging to a movement seeking change. But these small acts are both simple acts and fleeting moments. There is real risk that once people signal their support, they will feel they have satisfied their obligation to act. They have “checked the box” and are no longer accountable. Where the rubber meets the road, of course, is whether people will feel compelled to take the next step and take further action—with real cost—to right historic inequities.

 

BANALITY OF GOODNESS

Hannah Ahrent spoke of the “banality of evil,” suggesting the evil of “good people” who will stand idly by and do nothing in the face of true evil. The example of which she speaks is the rise of the Nazis, when people simply chose not to act.

I feel like what’s happening here is a sort of “banality of goodness.” Much that we perceive as goodness is really banal. It is so easy to benignly indicate our support of racial justice. It is easy for us to benignly sign a petition. It is easy to put up solar panels, or drive an electric car, or display a bumper sticker. These acts may feel good and they may signal our virtues to others, but do they really move the needle? There really are things people can do to take the next step:


• Don’t just smugly drive your Tesla—you should vote for candidates who want to do something about the environment and the climate

• Don’t just say that taxes are too low—but take the tax savings windfall that you think should go away and, until they do, increase contributions to nonprofit organizations that perform valuable functions—including supporting school children in underserved communities, families in need, battered spouses, and those traumatized by violence. We don’t need to wait for the government to increase our taxes—we can “self-tax” right now.

• If you care about the traumatizing effects of incarceration and the stigmatization of past felons, vote in favor of the initiative this November that would grant vote to convicted felons after they have paid their debt to society.

• If you care about racial justice, demand changes to the system—demand that prosecutorial discretion be restricted, work to overturn the “three strikes” rule, and other things. We should be as concerned with setting maximum prison terms as we are with establishing minimum sentences.

• If you care about policing, demand that training be increased, more community policing programs be established, greater social worker involvement be deployed in dispute resolution, and police unions get out of the defense of accused officers.


Another good place to take action is to stop labeling our political adversaries, those who commit a semantic foot-fault, or who did something stupid earlier in life, as racists or otherwise “cancel” them… We need to listen to each other before labeling each other.

It is easy to say we care—but harder to actually care and do something!

 

MOVIES SET IN CHICAGO

It’s time for more movies. We’ve done legal movies, rom-coms, movies based in Los Angeles and Rom-Coms. Given the music theme on Saturday was Chicago, here are some of my favorite movies set in the windy city:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—One of a string of classic John Hughes comedies and coming of age films from the 80s, which includes National Lampoon’s Vacation, Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Untouchables—As I’ve indicated before, Kevin Costner has had some of the best movies, like this one, Silverado, Bull Durham (among others) and some real clunkers (Waterworld and the Postman). This one he is at his best, with Sean Connery, breaking up the Capone gang as Elliott Ness.

Mean Girls—“And none for Gretchen Wieners.” And “That’s why her hair’s so big—it’s filled with secrets.” I’m sorry; it’s a classic.

Backdraft—Among the best firefighting scenes ever filmed and a great plot. Directed by Ron Howard (which usually promises a great film) and starring Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro and Scott Glenn.

The Blues Brothers—Akroyd and Belushi. Enough said.

Eight Men Out—Also a great baseball movie that isn’t really about baseball. Chicago crime and the throwing of the 1918 World Series by the Chicago “Black Sox.”

The Fugitive—Who thought they could improve on the classic TV show? Yet they did. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (and, of course, the one armed man).

Chicago—“Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle…” A great, visually compelling, musically satisfying translation of the great Kander & Ebb musical to the big screen. Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are magnificent. While he only performs a couple a songs, Gere nails “Give ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle.”

Best regards,

Glenn

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