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Simon: I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not happening here in the city in which you are sitting. It’s not happening in New Orleans. It’s not happening in any city where mainstream media has retrenched. It is not happening.
reason: In a recent interview you did with Bill Moyers you said, and I’m paraphrasing, "I don’t believe in institutions anymore, I believe in individuals." Have you boxed yourself in? If you don’t believe in institutions, then what? How do individuals change things?
Simon: I’m a grownup. And it comes down to this and this is where I get exhausted with the notion of "There has been corruption there so let’s throw up our hands and declare there’s too much government."
What is your freaking alternative? There’s never going to be permanent institutional stasis. Everything will corrode. Everything will rust. Everything will need to be replaced. Everything will need to be challenged and continually policed.
Somebody much wiser than me, my father, used to say at every single Passover Seder, "Freedom can never be entirely won, but it can be lost." And the way in which you lose it is not by acknowledging the inevitability of communal action and institutional necessity. But it’s by walking away from our collective ownership and demand on the performance of those institutions.
reason: But things like charter schools, like school vouchers, getting out where you can get on a life boat, or out of Casablanca on the last plane—these are libertarian ideas. They are a way of changing the institutions so they serve the individuals they’re supposed to serve.
Simon: If it’s funded. If you’re willing to take the same dollar that you were giving to a public school system.
reason: We have not stinted on increasing the amount of money we spend per pupil over the past 40 years. We have nothing, literally nothing, to show for it.
Simon: You will not get me defending the performance of public education. But the idea of public education, lower case p, lower case e.
reason: As we go through the third season of Treme, would you say that you start to show the green shoots [in the recovery of New Orleans]?
Simon: Yes, individuals start doing what they can. And there is nothing in The Wire and there is nothing in Treme that argues against individual responsibility towards the collective. And that’s where I find patriotism and citizenship. You’re not seeing people in Treme in season three begin to police themselves and to make their neighborhoods safer. That’s beyond their capabilities. For that they need law enforcement professionals. But you do see them start to stand up on their hind legs and say, "The way you’re behaving, as an institution, is unacceptable."
reason: And by creating alternatives. I mean they’re building their businesses or they’re creating art that is empowering to themselves and the people around them.
Simon: Well, they’re seeking reform. And sometimes that involves trying to reform the necessary institution. And sometimes if they’re starting a new business, that’s a new business. I’m not arguing against venture capitalism. What I am arguing against in that piece is disaster capitalism.
reason: Or disaster socialism and the two things may be inextricably linked.
Simon: Disaster socialism?