I have to say that it was nice being in a sort of “news quarantine” for five weeks while I was receiving treatment in Tijuana. Of course, we’re never in such isolation anywhere these days—not really. Baja California, especially, was bristling in masks and “Corona panic”. The virus appears to have peaked a couple of months later in Mexico than in the U.S.; and with all the activity (legal and otherwise) occurring daily along the international border, infections were bound to proliferate. Yet my wife and I, having already witnessed the hysteria months earlier, were pretty unfazed. We wore masks, all right—on our walks to and from the Immunity Therapy Center, because the smog was so dense! That’s another reason, by the way, why people in metropolitan centers might perceive CV-19 as the bubonic plague: because their air is so foul, and many of them already have compromised respiratory systems from daily living.
As for the two of us, though senior citizens and (in the case of one) fighting off cancer, we never felt ourselves under siege from an invisible killer. (No, I don’t even regard cancer that way: on the contrary, my body’s healthy cells are cancer-killers.) To return to the states, therefore, and find that panic has revisited—or even exceeded—its original levels was a shock. What’s going on? If you feel at risk, stay at home. If you have to go out, wear a mask. If you happen to know that cloth masks have zero efficacy and mass-marketed models only about fifty percent, then… first of all, good for you: you did some homework. So take your fifty-fifty chance in the knowledge that, if you lose, you’ll probably end up with a bad cold for a few days. And try to stay off ventilators, which earn big money for hospitals but are death traps in most cases. Like masks, they keep healthy, oxygenated air from circulating (cancer dreads oxygen, by the way) and send back to the lungs higher levels of carbon dioxide along with whatever toxic microbes may lurk in your system. I learned that much many decades ago as a young man hiking about in the snow. Wearing a ski mask for hours is a surefire way to wake up with a chest cold the next morning.
Now, I’ve spoken to friends and relatives (not necessarily the same thing) who are terrified of CV-19 because they have personally watched it ravage an acquaintance. The disease is not a hoax, even though it isn’t anthrax vapor. Baseball star Freddie Freeman apparently thought he might die from his round with the contagion, despite being a young athlete in peak form. Curious to me, though, is the way such cases are publicized. Instead of delving into why somebody of Freddie’s demographic should have registered such an eccentrically, improbably severe response to COVID, broadcasters send the message, “See? Even this professional athlete lay briefly at death’s door. Just imagine what COVID could do to you if you don’t wear your mask and stay home!”
Same thing for the unfortunate kids who are playmates of a friend’s grandchildren: she informed me that their faces were all over the news in Florida as they fought for life on respirators. My first question is… why? Why are they news? Because, of course, so very few adolescents even show symptoms when they contract the disease. The press decided to run with these two young sufferers, I must assume, in order to purvey the mistaken notion that, yes, your little ones are also risking their lives when they cross their home’s threshold! A genuinely inquiring mind, in contrast, would ask, “Why these two, out of so many thousands? What in their profile has put a target on their back?”
Hospitals in the Palmetto State have been caught red-handed nudging a decimal point over to shift a 9.8 percent positive result on COVID screening tests to a 98 percent positive; and, of course, we’ve seen similar shenanigans all around the nation. (My brother-in-law personally knows of a case where a man who was shot to death was logged as a CV-19 victim. The bullet, you know, simply hastened along the inevitable!) We can all speculate about the financial and political motives of such fraudsters—or we can do as my sister does, and just break off the conversation once it jeopardizes the “deadly plague” narrative (the same approach as Twitter‘s and Facebook‘s, come to think of it, if “break off” can include throttling your adversary into permanent silence).
But my greater interest here isn’t in sordid profiteering or yet more sordid propagandizing: it’s at the other end. It’s in the population of bacchantes like my sister—people who appear to need the panic at some level, to embrace it as the filler of a great empty space in their lives. What precisely is that space? How did it evolve? As a sign of late-stage social cancer, how many years does it suggest our nation has to live?
Other kinds of irrationality would imply that we’re already in our death throes. BLM: now, there was one species of lunacy I was able to ignore entirely in Tijuana. That it had literally ignited large swathes of our major cities therefore struck me with a smack upon my return. One bad cop uses excessive force in one urban take-down… and, no, it’s not just black folks who have suffered the aggressions of that “one bad cop” in their municipality. Oh, but it is! And it’s not just one cop, but all of them; and it’s not just a municipality—it’s the whole damn country! Take it all down! Take everything down! Take those statues down! Take those street signs down!
Like millions of Americans, I had thought that I might escape the lunacy by losing myself in the faintly resuscitated baseball mini-season. (At the very least, the quality of play in today’s game is a sure antidote to insomnia.) But ESPN and the MLB aren’t content to pummel you with the Freddie Freeman narrative multiplied exponentially; that left jab is infallibly followed by the right hook of BLM. Entire teams kneeling as the flag is raised, “BLM” emblazoned on the side of bases around the infield… it’s so very much like the marketing of Freeman’s misfortune. Instead of inquiring into the specifics of abusive police practices and suggesting constructive solutions, the message is… what, exactly? Abolish police forces? Kill “pigs”? Or can it be tailored infinitely to suit individual taste? My son speaks of a case involving an athlete whose locker was defaced with the “n” word during high-school hazing incidents. Okay… so you’re against that. So am I—so is every sane human being. I also assume that any competent principal would suspend the bully who slams a weaker kid into the wall and shouts “faggot” at him. Does that mean that we should close down gymns across the nation?
Uh… what’s that, again? What are you saying?
That you hate slavery? That all whites, or all Southerners, should be punished for the institution’s presence in our history? Is that why all Confederates in bronze on rearing horses need to be torn down throughout Alabama? Is that why all streets and high schools named “Lee” or “Jackson” need to be rechristened “Marx” or “Engels”?
The so-called, self-styled Right has in fact primed us for this particular species of lunatic excess. I have taken the estimable Glenn Beck to task many times in recent years for truculently insisting that our Civil War was fought only and completely—by all participants—over the issue of slavery. Never mind that several Northern states allowed slave ownership, never mind that Lincoln excluded these from the censures and mandates of the Emancipation Proclamation, never mind that the vast majority of Southrons in uniform owned no slaves, never mind that some Southern slaveholders were themselves black, never mind that there were more abolitionist organizations in the South than in the North before John Brown’s murderous uprising torched the countryside, never mind that Lincoln could never have been elected had he admitted openly that he would meet secession with armed suppression, never mind that violent resistance to the war erupted in states as far flung as New York and Illinois when Lincoln’s draft was enforced… no, never mind history. Mr. Beck—Grandpa History in his rocking chair—would have none of it. And, to be fair, neither would a great many other Rightists who saw deploring the South as a slam-dunk manner of declaring their broad-mindedness, their distance from anything smacking of the John Birch Society. “I may be for ending food stamps, but I’m not a racist. I think flying a Confederate flag should be considered a hate crime.” Yeah, thanks for that, Conservatives. Beck’s own “defense” of Southern monuments was that we should never forget the evils of our past lest we slide back into them. A statue of General Beauregard, in other words, should hang like a scarlet “A” around the South’s neck perpetually so that all Americans may ensure that they don’t become like that!
Such projection of evil upon the Other is precisely—and I mean *precisely*—what BLM is doing to white people everywhere (and, somewhat more implicitly, to various other non-African minorities). It’s what Hitler (and Stalin, with much less “coverage”) did to Jews. It’s what mask-fanatics are doing to non-maskers, often (as YouTube has not yet managed to suppress) attacking free-breathers physically, sometimes with deadly force. The insane, homicidal self-righteousness of John Brown—and the Brownshirts—is in those attacks.
I happened to read just days ago a passage well over half a century old from Karl Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies. One of the keenest minds of the modern era observed that the Hegelian, historicist distortion (we would say “progressivism” today) had infected, not just our Far Left and Far Right, but also our conservative center. We all have the inclination to view our civilization’s past as a Darwinian kind of climb up a staircase that this or that group seeks to impede. Leftist loons are destroying everything! No, Rightist racists want to conduct bloody purges! Mask-resisters are going to kill us all! Something’s very, very wrong with the world, and it’s… it’s them! It’s him! It’s outside of us, absolutely not us! We need to eliminate the not us, or we risk being pushed back down the stairs. Silence is violence! All good people must stand beside us!
You know what? The Left is right, the universities are right: there’s something very wrong with our society and our nation. It’s that we created them—and then denied our creation as them. Stalin and Mao didn’t force them upon us. They’re our children, our brothers and sisters: we made them. Yet we only ever point to them as what’s wrong without looking within ourselves to find what we did wrong in birthing them: the examples we failed to set, the message we failed to convey, the practice we failed to bring to what we preached. They’re full of hate because, though we’re not “deplorables”, we did something deplorable along the way. And penitence is not a matter of sharing half-and-half in their lunacy: of shutting down schools but not requiring masks, of taking a knee before the flag but supporting the local P.D., of melting down General Lee’s statues but safeguarding General Washington’s. The nature of our sin isn’t that we wouldn’t let our wayward children have half the house to tear up at playtime.
We have all sinned, and not against each other, but against Him who made us. We sin when we imagine we can make everything better than it was—that the fatal element of “what was” is not enduringly latent in us as we are. Our faith in staircases, in “progress“, is a sure symptom of our sin. And we give no sign from day to day—any of us—that we have diagnosed the illness.