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For a few weeks, we in the coronavirus-stricken parts of the world have been living under “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. The only conceivable purpose of such orders is to keep people from congregating and spreading the disease. But I can leave my house while also avoiding human contact — a truth evidently lost on Italian authorities, who’ve been punishing the criminal scum of their society for engaging in the recklessly dangerous activity of jogging with their dogs; or on the social-media malcontents who believe that carping at their neighbors is 2020’s equivalent of storming the Normandy beaches.
In Britain, police shamed hikers for daring to wander the wilderness in solitude. Do the moorlands have a preexisting condition? Are birds and butterflies at risk of dying from coronavirus-induced respiratory failure? Britain’s own lockdown law allows residents out of their houses for only “one form of exercise” per day. Does combination exercise cause coronavirus to spring up out of nowhere, like maggots spontaneously generating in a hunk of rotting meat? Who cares whether Simon and Bertha spend their entire day camping in the countryside?
There may be no witches to burn but superstition is alive and well. For some, coronavirus panic has become a sign of moral purity — and those who refuse to take part bear the weight of 50,000 deaths, whether or not they’ve done wrong. The churches are closed, but every home is now a monastery, and proper religious practice consists not of contemplating God, but of consuming news and nurturing a vampiric fear of sunlight.
If maintaining public health were the only matter of concern, Mrs. Jones wouldn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about how her neighbors spent their time, provided they kept to themselves. But she does. Whatever’s happening, it involves more than just public hygiene. It’s akin to the social dynamics of a riot, where extremes beget more extremes and the urge to conform becomes more and more irresistible.
For a long time, foolish idealists in our society have said things like, “I don’t understand. How could Germans let Hitler do that to the Jews?” and, “Hundreds of thousands of Stasi informants? How does that happen?” Well, this is how it happens. A crisis occurs (or is manufactured), leaders take extreme measures (some justified) in the name of public safety, and a fraction of the population psychologically predisposed to social policing springs into action, happily harassing and dragooning those the authorities have marked as evildoers.
An apocalypse is a revelation, and this particular apocalypse is revealing who can be trusted with power … and who can’t.Published in