In the two years I’ve been writing Barataria, I’ve taken one sick day and one vacation day off from a MWF schedule. I’m proud of that record, but with my parents in town and a potential new business opportunity starting to fill my thoughts there wasn’t much room left for a piece today. So I’ve decided to do a clip show – a few highlights of pieces from Barataria past that seem to be popular. I hope you enjoy them!
One piece that has constant hits is Make No Small Plans, from 2007. A google search for “daniel burnham make no small plans” returns this essay in the third position, meaning that a lot of people looking for an objective view of Burnham and his famous quote wind up here. That’s not a wonderful thing:
It may seem strange to see large projects as a kind of civic prison, but a quick look at what Burnham was all about shows the problem. His neoclassical style was relentlessly conservative, even while his scale was anything but. In that sense, the massive Corinthian confections he created can best be seen as fascist, especially since his scale and style was cribbed heavily by Albert Speer for the Nazi redesign of Berlin. In this architectural world, heaven and earth were described long ago, and you peasants who traipse through it are tiny in comparison. Your only role is to be “stirred”. No less a critic than Chicago colleague Louis Sullivan said that Burnham “Set architecture back fifty years”.
Another piece that constantly is refereed to by others is one that I am proud of, the essay Trust from last March. In this one, I contrasted two ways of organizing the world that live side by side in Southern Minnesota – contrasted again with the online world. The need to trust the people you live with is very important, so the two ways of living surrounded by different senses of trust came back strongly in the recent Systemic Connections series.
The trust that we have to place is not in individual people, but in an idea. All information and connection between us comes from an understanding that we expect everyone to be, at least publicly, a decent person. That may seem like a good approach, but it greatly magnifies the Jungian concept of a face that we turn to the light and a face that we keep in the shadow. Watching how many people appear to brag about their credentials or how successful they are leads me to wonder who they really are when the lights are low and the clock chimes 3:00 AM.
I’m also very proud of the piece Troubleshooting, which advocates a way of life based on fixing the things around you. I’m not one for the wholesale notion of “perfectability“, because I’m not sure about an abstract notion of “perfect”, but I certainly think things can always be more useful, decent, or interesting. I described it this way:
As some other rhetoric of the 1960s didn’t go, “There are those who see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ There are others that see things as they could be and ask, ‘Why not?’ What we’re looking for are people who say, ‘Let me get my wrench.’”
Another old piece that seems to work for a lot of people is Specialists. This is where I propose that the failure of money that causes Depressions starts with a failure of the real economy, which is nothing more nor less than the sum of the skills and effort of people. I’ve taken this as true since I first wrote it, and I think others are, too.
I said before that if this can be solved with money, the Feds are on it. However, money itself isn’t anything more than our belief and trust. If the money fails, something else has gone horribly wrong in the way people are organized in this thing called an “economy”. It may be a structure that ultimately fails at the root of what makes a free market so powerful; critical information may not be available to those who make decisions because of excessive specialization.
Lastly, I’ve gotten a lot of hits on this piece from February on Healthy Care. The problem, as I see it, is that the current “system” isn’t anything like a functioning free market in the first place. I’m all in favor of government covering the whole population, but I’d still like to see elements of choice and competition – which requires information on price and quality we simply do not have now.
Without information about cost and the relative benefits, the basic tenants of a free market stop making sense in a hurry. A lot will have to change in our accepted standards of care before this is even relevant. Yet making this current system universal without any attention to cost is equally dangerous. The result is almost certain to be a spending spree that may soon appear unaffordable and politically unpalatable.
That’s my clip show for the day. Thanks for reading Barataria – without readers there is little point in writing. I’ll be back with something new on Monday.