will we repeat (or learn from) history?

“Without consensus, there is no consent — that’s almost a redundancy: The two words come from the same Latin root meaning ‘agree,’ but each has its own special role in the political lexicon. We speak of ‘consensus’ as a generally agreed-upon fact or set of facts, often with the qualifier ‘expert’ or the mock-qualifier ‘elite,’ but we consent to a course of action, a regime, or a state, which can deploy force legitimately only with ‘the consent of the governed.’ That’s… Democracy 101.

When you lose the ability to forge consensus, you begin to forfeit consent, and effective governance becomes difficult if not impossible — as we are seeing right now in the coronavirus response…” (author Kevin D. Williamson) 

One of the challenges in wisely navigating through the current corona crud is discerning consensus; there is not a generally agreed-upon set of facts. All sorts of people say all sorts of things, boldly asserting that their persuasion equates with truth. Additionally, anyone who shares any kind of contradicting conception is simply wrong. The biased media perpetuates the problem.

To be clear, consensus does not mean we each hold the same passion and agree entirely with the depth of every aspect. Consensus is more of a spectrum that allows for variation of response. That spectrum then paves the path to solution, making effective governance possible. Know, therefore, in order to build consensus, we’re not suggesting pure compromise; we are instead suggesting sincere listening. We need to listen better to the different. Whatever the issue. It takes hard work to build consensus. 

I was struck, no less — and somewhat fascinated — that even in our current polarized, socio-political, tribal state — where politics and power often seem to matter more than integrity — that this isn’t the first time we’ve disagreed on an established set of facts during a quarantine…

Per the New York Public Library (select statements shared for the purposes of brevity and relevance):

* Between 1791 and 1807, yellow fever was reported to have caused the deaths of 5,000 people in New York City. 

* In 1799, the state legislature passed the Quarantine Act, “to provide against infectious and pestilential diseases,” including punishments against doctors and ship masters who failed to report sick passengers to the Quarantine Hospital…

* By 1858, there was still no standard agreement between medical professionals about what caused the “black vomit.”

* Residents in the Tompkinsville vicinity [a village in the town of Castleton on Staten Island] formed the Castleton Board of Health as an opposing body to state health officials.

* The Times characterized the hotel [opposition board meetings] as populated by “citizens who congregate there to enjoy their lager and berate the Quarantine.”

* In the summer of 1858, rumors abound of the spread of the “black vomit.”

* Fed-up and panicked, locals mobilized.

* In 1858, residents of Tompkinsville… set fire to the buildings of the nearby Quarantine Hospital [the quarantine comprised over a dozen buildings].

* Quarantine doctors sent a dispatch imploring the Richmond County Sheriff to form a posse and defend the buildings, but the message received no answer and no posse arrived — the Sheriff took sides with the anti-Quarantinists.

* Onlookers from passing boats in the harbor were said to have cheered “in the most hearty manner” in support of the conflagration.

* Newspapers called it “The Quarantine War,” “The Quarantine Riot,” “The Staten Island Arson,” “The Burning of the Quarantine,” “The Staten Island Rebellion,” and “The Quarantine Imbroglio.”

* The state identified the fires as acts of lawlessness.

* The people justified violence as civic duty.

* Local citizens feared the spread of yellow fever and were enraged by the lack of empathy by city and state officials.

What’s the point of today’s more historical post?

Just looking at the dangers when we give up on the hard work of building consensus.