To be sure, the town’s business community is mortified to be losing so much of Amazon’s future growth to another city and has roundly blamed the city’s left-leaning “anti-business” politics. But many ordinary Seattleites seem relieved. Most would acknowledge the extraordinary prosperity that Amazon has brought to Seattle since Jeff Bezos and his startup arrived in 1994. But they are also keenly aware of the costs, not least the nation’s fastest-rising housing prices, appalling traffic and a painful erosion of urban identity. What was once a quirkily mellow, solidly middle-class city now feels like a stressed-out, two-tier town with a thin layer of wealthy young techies atop a base of anxious wage workers. As one City Council member put it, HQ2 may give Seattle “a little breathing room” to cope with a decade of raging, Amazon-fueled growth. A commenter on a local news site was less diplomatic: “Amazon = cancer.”
“I like to document the small things people do on a daily basis that are not significant enough to be listed in the history books,” he said. “I would like to think that that’s part of history, too, but not in an obvious or romantic way.”
With that in mind, the Mr. Ito got in a car with three of his best friends from elementary school and drove 90 minutes from Tokyo to Atami, a kitschy seaside city that is a popular destination for family vacations. “I think that’s part of Japanese culture, too,” he said of the country’s goofier tourist attractions.
I have been reading lately about the rise of humanism in Europe. The old scholars often described themselves as “ravished” by one of the books newly made available to them by the press, perhaps also by translation. Their lives were usually short, never comfortable. I think about what it would have been like to read by the light of an oil lamp, to write with a goose quill. It used to seem to me that an unimaginable self-discipline must account for their meticulous learnedness. I assumed that the rigors and austerities of their early training had made their discomforts too familiar to be noticed. Now increasingly I think they were held to their work by a degree of fascination, of sober delight, that we can no longer imagine.
John Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book.” He was arguing, unsuccessfully, against licensing, the suppression or censoring of books before publication. This was usual in the premodern and early modern world, of course. How many good books were killed outright by these means we will never know, even granting the labors of printers who defied the threat of hair-raising punishments to publish unlicensed work, which others risked hair-raising penalties to own or to read.
Wohlleben’s revelations about trees were startling, but it remains hard to entertain the idea that our consciences should be troubled by plants feeling pain and fear. We can feel delight at the intricate, sensitive lives of trees without having to question our continuing use of wood. Animals are another matter. Discoveries about animal feelings and intelligence raise questions of conscience with which we already struggle.