My father taught me at a very young age that discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious or sexual preference, etc. was morally indefensible because some things are realities of birth and weren’t comparable on a spectrum of good/bad, and others were covered by the right of free people to choose how they want to live.
But being discriminating, he said, was terribly important. Especially when it came to behavior. and most especially when it came to being committed to living in a civilized society versus a society dominated by chaos (Ok, I inferred that last part, but I’m fairly certain he’d agree).
And I’m increasingly convinced, particularly after an encounter I had yesterday on the street in front of my home, that the many frustrations related to the seemingly interminable lockdown have led to an absolute need for the discriminating among us to stop looking the other way at what has become a breakdown in civil society. Not just in Portland or Seattle where riots and destruction reign, but in everyday interactions among humans as we all try to navigate this pandemic together.
We’re all used to the nastiness of political discourse on social media, and doubtless many of us avoid political topics — or those applications altogether — for exactly that reason. But when people can no longer have personal conversations between friends without an in-the-flesh twitter troll popping up and hurling insults, society has reached a threshold and something’s gotta give.
As I was making my way home yesterday, I saw a friend who serves as a waitress at the pub next to my building and, after a few exchanged pleasantries, she expressed some real exhaustion with the way things were going. She was down, and she’s a person that rarely is.
And, in an effort to ease her mind and offer information that maybe things are shifting in a different direction, I began to tell her about the story out of Florida that COVID cases in that state have been inflated (I never got to tell her about Texas, or Utah, or others). And as we were talking, a woman neither of us knew approached from behind and immediately interjected herself into the conversation and began to loudly proclaim her opinion that the cases in Florida were not inflated, that they were, in fact growing exponentially, and that I was liar and a conspiracy theorist.
I tried to calmly address my friend, but the woman was really yelling now, and drawing the attention of others on the street and those dining on the patio. And, as I pulled the story up on my phone and made mention it was a local Fox35 investigation, the woman loudly laughed while putting on her mask (she had not been wearing one, nor had I) and exclaimed, “OF COURSE IT’S FOX NEWS!” That told her all she needed to know (apparently not on her need-to-know list is that local stations on Fox-affiliated networks have nothing to do with Fox News). She then masked-shamed me and accused me of not caring that others may die.
It was bizarre. If I tried to speak, she immediately began yelling over me, and telling me I was crazy. And she was rooted to the spot; she was in it to win it and was going nowhere. And I had absolutely no idea who this person was. I felt like I had been jumped and verbally assaulted from behind. Which, in fact, I had been.
My blood boiled and I managed to mostly laugh it off (which is a feat unto itself because, trust me, there was a time in my younger life in which, if memory serves, I would not have remained calm). I wished my friend well (I called her later to apologize for situation) and walked off toward home because what else can you do? But it got me to thinking…
What are we, those committed to a civilized society, doing to discourage that kind of interaction? It’s easy to believe the woman may have had mental problems (she looked healthy enough, upper middle class, white, well dressed, very angry), but even so: we’re empowering the lunatics to run the asylum, aren’t we, by giving them all the tools they need to break the healthy norms of a functioning society and start screaming at people as they chat on the street? And as I watch those in leadership like Dr. Fauci (who recently praised the disaster in New York as a model for correct handling of the crisis, for Pete’s sake) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom suggest we need to keep going the way we’re going, and maybe even go backward, I’m having a hard time giving them the benefit of the doubt. Their continued fear-mongering over a virus that literally almost everyone will survive is empowering antisocial interactions like the one I had on the street.
I don’t know the answer here. I’m certainly not in favor of getting down in the dirt and street fighting with a living, breathing Karen from the internet. But walking away felt wrong, too.
My friend says people like that must be ignored and shunned. Until they are, he said, we’re stuck with their obsessions and fears and attempts to cause chaos and discord. Maybe that’s right, but I wonder if the best way to start ignoring them is to take away the tools of their chaos: their masks and lockdowns and fears of dying from coronavirus.
And the governments that have mandated masks and lockdowns and fears are the only ones that can roll back those rules, unless they’re hoping the citizenry finally just reacts and does it for them, further damaging civil discourse. It’s about time these leaders became more discriminating about the behavior they’ve fostered and encouraged, or forever be seen as actively — not passively — on the side of those who seek chaos and the destruction of civilized society. And not just on the side of, but aiding and abetting.
And if legislators and those in powerful agency positions don’t care about carrying that reputation, my fervent hope is that voters will care for them.