Mad Cows and Englishmen

Sidney Tarrow recalls how ordinary people in the United Kingdom stepped up during a public health crisis

How does a crisis reorganize our political culture? This transformation is something we will be watching in real-time in the coming weeks, and it will vary from place to place. Here in Western Massachusetts, where I am socially-distancing, the community has quickly reorganized the delivery of food.

This rapid response may be in part because cooperatives are already well-established here. It has taken only a week to reorganize a well-developed business model developed by farmers and workers to home and curbside delivery. Even the Stop and Shop has reorganized: they disinfect the store between 5:00 and 5:00 a.m. and reserve the first hour and a half of the day for self-identified immune-compromised people.

In one of our best-read articles in last week's issue, Cornell political scientist Sidney Tarrow explained to Public Seminar readers that citizens often step up when the government fumbles the ball. During the 1996 panic in the United Kingdom that the so-called "Mad Cow disease" had crossed over into the human population as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, British citizens watched as their government seemed wholly unprepared for the corruption of the beef supply. But "with declining trust," Tarrow writes, "came increased social activism, as citizens stepped up to meet the ethical and practical challenges of the emergency."

Read about it here.

And for those of you who did not catch my reference in the title — even for those who did! — here is Noel Coward's deeply politically incorrect commentary on British Empire, originally written and recorded in 1931.

Weekend Reading:

How-to Corner, Coronavirus Edition:

  • Fresh, seasonal vegetables and other staples (including excellent cheese) are safe and easy to purchase with Mass Food Delivery, a cooperative platform run by Western Massachusetts farmers. As far as I can tell from the order form, they are delivering to other states as well for a 10.00 fee. And the farmers get all the money!

  • Jess Grey at Wired magazine teaches you how to clean and disinfect your home (March 19, 2020)

  • Kimberly Harrington on how to work at home with your kids: "I'm tempted to tell them to do what I did when I was a teenager: Take up smoking and head into the woods to hit things with sticks, be back in time for a dinner of Minute Rice and butter in front of the TV around 6." (The Cut, March 17, 2020)

  • Want to keep the grown-ups from losing it? Tune in free concerts from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.