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Through the panic-driven empty shelves of early spring to the mandatory mask mandates, it’s been a surreal experience to see the society around me as I knew it, and took for granted it would always be, crumble into an inexplicable chaos. We are left with a gaping hole of empty promises and uncertain projections. It’s a crisis of mind and reality that threatens our very foundation.
I remember at the beginning, seeing the images of Chinese government officials welding apartment doors shut, reportedly to stop the spread of this disease from which no one quite knew the origins, or its final destination. Then the waves of people fleeing Asia and Europe, trying to outrun both disease and mandated lockdowns. Soon, the reports from Washington State nursing homes where clusters of deaths occurred, quickly followed by the mass infections in New York.
In Minnesota, we were promised by officials and politicians it was only a matter of time before it arrived in our state. And it did. First came the nonstop phone calls from people needing to know if we’re open. Yes, we were deemed ‘essential.’ Just like grocery stores, pharmacies, car repair shops, liquor stores, and candy shops. Now, customers interrogate me about why I don’t have the particular Fancy Feast Garden Medley with béchamel sauce. Precious Muffy won’t tolerate the pâté. Then they yell at me for not throwing out another customer because he forgot his mask. Not too scared to come out for artisanal cat food, but intolerant of not tying a bandana around one’s face.
This is the hallmark of a pandemic that is to be taken deadly serious but by committee and favor and popularity. It’s the hallmark of a society that turned its back on liberty and creativity and self-determination.
With the disease, we didn’t know how much fear to conjure up in its stead. Many who could shuttered themselves off from the world, sealing themselves into an antiseptic environment in which the unknown was the only certainty, and was certainly the enemy. Slowly, the scientists and the politicians gave their permission to let most of the country live, that hadn’t already died one way or another. But for those who paid attention, who sat on the observation deck as the tidal wave demolished everything in its path, we saw the inconsistencies that made our skepticism. And it turned us into heretics. Why were we not allowed to question the World’s Biggest Candy Store – a building in the middle of cornfields, swollen with confections that could make Mr. Wonka himself get a toothache – staying open while the St. Paul barbershop owner, with a single chair and mandated safety precautions in place lose his livelihood? Could any reporter question the Minnesota Governor about his personal ties to the candy man? But we are told that to question authority is akin to killing someone’s grandparent, or teacher, or make a nurse work an extra shift. The politicians and scientists tell us what we must do and how we must live; their words are prison sentences without appeal.
We should have expected this. The real disease is much more widespread. It has been slowly and steadily making its way through our society and cultural institutions. The casualty rate will reach one-hundred percent.
It is suicide by conformity.
Freedom of thought, individualism, the gallant pursuit of principled morality, and holding ideas up to an established truth, are now diagnosed as the disease by a judgment class. We are told to follow rules for our own hollow self-preservation by people who appointed themselves as the experts. And we follow largely without question. Scattered amongst us are nonconformists, but our voices are shouting into the wind; our pleas are never heard by those we desperately want to reach. Those with power, who we hope will elevate our appeals, dismiss us as not having quite the polished tone or purity of allegiance. Or worse yet – are afraid to be separated from their comfortable perch and be made to struggle through life’s battles with us, the outnumbered warriors.
Now liberty is traded for safety; common sense for unreasonable hyperventilating. The chains of comfort keep us from the exhilaration of discovery, even if it results in disappointment. What is there in life to carve out one’s place if he can be dumped like an interchangeable cog into the next machine?
No longer is there wonder in creating the beautiful, the unique, the characters that inhabit the heart and are expressed as a tribute to our god and our humanity. Now, it’s making the things that are easy to replicate for mass consumption and satisfy our basic thirsts. That is not in itself bad; it allows an inherent increase in lifestyle quality for broad swaths of our society. But it seems like the motivation for it is to put an expiration date on our material desires. We cannot build from the past because we are constantly destroying it. We cannot learn from ourselves because we are all children, discovering the pain of fire as if it were for the first time, and praising our discovery of the sun as if it didn’t exist but for us. And while we try to convince ourselves of our own specialness, we hide in groups that share the exact same thoughts and views so we don’t appear too extraordinary, but then not so plain as to be cast out.
Consequently, we partition ourselves into protected groups, warring and dehumanizing those with which we may disagree. The purity of thought is an ever-expanding morass that will eventually take us all. Those who want to prevent this type of future see first-hand what becomes of the victims and the compliant dupes who eventually succumb to the same fate. The Girl Scouts were once an organization that fostered the idea of being female as a blessing to be nurtured and encouraged. Now they are ashamed of a woman and mother who will champion equal justice under the law for all Americans. News organizations and media outlets that smugly boast of being courageous stalwarts for truth, glibly cast aside any principles, and ostracize good faith writers such as Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald. They relinquish intellectual honesty and blindly follow baseless attacks on Abagail Shrier and J.K. Rowling by faceless mobs. All the while they protect actual predators such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Harvey Weinstein. Twitter and Facebook allow anti-Semitic screeds from Louis Farrakhan and Holocaust denier (and generally evil person) Ayatollah Khamenei, but flag news stories from the New York Post.
We covet the conformist, never the contrarian. What a shame to be without the works of Shakespeare, Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Orwell. How bland would our cityscapes be without the great cathedrals, ornate museums, or even the graceful lines of a Frank Lloyd Wright gas station? Our own great American Experiment would be nothing more than a dream if not for free-thinking men such as Locke, Hamilton, and Madison. It leaves us in a society that mourns the death of its culture, but does nothing to try to revive it. Instead, there is a collective, fatal blow ensuring its swift demise. We lament the fears our children are swallowed by, yet willingly abide by the rules giving life to such fears.Published in