The Lost Art of Stasis

September 19, 2013

Multiple Pages
The Lost Art of Stasis

It’s coming up to new laptop time, so I headed down to Best Buy. All they had were Windows 8 machines. The assistant gave me a tour of this new operating system. It was different from Windows 7, which I’ve been working with happily for two years—a lot different. I don’t want something that different. I don’t mind an upgrade with a few neat new features, but why do they have to change everything?

I left without buying. Googling around, it looks like I made the right decision. Discounting for the boosters—Microsoft Corp. has lots of money, and they spread it around—it really seems that Windows 8 is a dog. They tried to pack a tablet-type OS and a familiar laptop OS into one package, and that kind of thing never works. (Those may not be the only things they packed in there.) It’s like putting out a vehicle that’s a family sedan and a pickup truck.

That’s not to say anything against tablets. I’m sure they are very handy things. They are, though, as the marketing for those Apple Macintosh gizmos used to boast, for the rest of you. Computer-wise, I’m a pickup-truck guy. I want to get some work done: fiddle with my file system, run the occasional .NET program, tweak a Registry key.

“I don’t mind an upgrade with a few neat new features, but why do they have to change everything?”

I can do all this just fine with Windows 7. Why did they have upend it? Give the tablet people their own OS and leave us working stiffs with what we know. What was wrong with Windows 7? What, for that matter, was wrong with XP (once you reconciled yourself to it)? I don’t bother with half the stuff in Windows 7. What, that I give a fig about, does a *.docx file have that a *.doc file doesn’t? I pass in silence over Vista. Come to think of it, DOS 2.0 was pretty neat….

It’s the same with politics. (Sorry, should have warned you about the sharp turn there. You OK? Put some ice on that when you get home.) They just won’t leave anything alone. Was our healthcare system really so bad that it needed a root-and-branch overhaul? Sure, there were lots of uninsured people, but they all got treated on the public fisc, didn’t they? This will continue to be the case, since they can’t afford medical care at cost.

Immigration? Don’t get me started. Why does it need reforming? We have all the laws we need. We just don’t enforce them because it pays politicians—in donor cash and race-lobby votes—to make sure we don’t. That too will continue to be the case under the new War and Peace-sized legislation. Vast political ructions; legions of analysts working out details; thousands of hours of legislative time; whole new industries of advisors and consultants springing up to help us manage it; all for nothing much.

We have reached a point of diminishing returns in our public life. Hardly anything actually needs doing. We may in fact be past that point; not only does nothing much need doing, but we’d benefit if much of what has been done were to be undone. What useful work can I do with Windows 8 that I couldn’t do with XP?

Politicians make a living—a very grand living indeed at the higher levels—by saying there are things wrong that need fixing. Are there, though?

Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York City, told city voters recently that one of every four city schoolchildren goes to bed hungry each night. Setting aside the temptation to respond to this the way we used to when parents nagged us to eat our vegetables because little children were starving in India—“Name one!”—I really have to ask: Does Thompson believe this?

Are rickets, scurvy, pellagra, and kwashiorkor really features of life in the Big Apple, where federal welfare programs are supplemented with extra handouts from the state and city?

New York State offers Safety Net Assistance (SNA) to the childless, nondisabled poor and to single-mother families that have exceeded the time limit for federal welfare; it’s one of the few states to offer such support. By law, New York City must pay 71 percent of the tab for city residents.

And if New York kids are going to bed hungry in such numbers—one in four!—why is the First Lady lecturing us about childhood obesity?

We are so short of real discontents nowadays, we have to make problems up. There aren’t any hungry children. There aren’t any people dying because they can’t afford an operation. There aren’t any Joad families on the road desperately seeking work and homes. There aren’t any workers being exploited by unscrupulous bosses or tenants being evicted by unscrupulous landlords. Nobody’s being lynched or denied due process or forced by poverty to give up a child for adoption. I wouldn’t say nobody’s poor anymore, but there is no longer what the Victorians called a “deserving poor.” To be in dire straits nowadays, you have to be really, really feckless.

Having nothing to complain about, we make stuff up on some homeostasis principle, adding ever new levels to the hierarchy of needs. You have food, shelter, healthcare, companionship, and work? But you aren’t being recognized for who you really are!

(Concerning which, I have a parenthetical query. If a person is biologically male—one X chromosome, one Y—but believes himself to be female and can lawfully engage surgeons to do what is necessary to bring his body into conformity with his belief, then what about a person suffering from Cotard’s syndrome? In one variant of this disorder, a person who is biologically alive believes himself to be dead. Can such a person lawfully engage surgeons to kill him?)

We have lost the art of stasis, of letting things be. Congress should be sent home for a couple of years; so should Microsoft’s development teams.

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