Two entirely disparate stories in the news today caught my eye.
In the first was a report of proposed efforts to compel COVID vaccinations in Europe. The teaser reads: “France is taking the lead in making life unpleasant for the unvaccinated, even requiring some people to get shots. Protesters see a soft dictatorship dawning.” The article goes on to say, in part:
“[Macron’s] approach of ordering health workers to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, and telling the rest of the French population they will be denied access to most indoor public venues if unvaccinated or without a negative test by Aug. 1, has prompted other countries including Italy to follow suit, even as it has stirred pockets of deep resistance.”
So….“deep resistance” to “a soft dictatorship.” In other words, people are maintaining that they shouldn’t have to receive a vaccine that could protect all those with whom they come into contact. Expecting attendees at group events to be healthy and to show concern for their fellow citizens is some kind of draconian authoritarianism. Individual preferences should take precedence over the good of all. Hmmm…
The second story is local news with an international twist. Briefly, a man in Tennessee had a desirable Twitter handle, or public user name. A group of five young people (ages around 20) wanted the man to surrender his handle so that they could in turn re-sell it. This mini criminal cadre was making efforts to persuade others with equally valuable handles to likewise turn theirs over. If the targets of the demands refused to de-couple themselves from their public personas, the group of five proceeded to bombard them with harassing texts and phone calls, order food and have it sent to their homes, report fires at their houses, and so on. In the case of the man from Tennessee, they quite openly threatened him, then posted his name, address, and phone number online. For some as-yet undisclosed reason, a minor “child” in the U.K. picked up that information and called emergency services in the targeted man’s county, then reported that there had been a shooting at his address, and that there were pipe bombs set up as booby-traps around his home. A SWAT team arrived, ordered the confused, terrified man out of his house, insisted that he crawl under the gate in front of his property, and were going to arrest him. However, before they could do so, he collapsed and later died of a heart attack.
The police tracked down and arrested the leader of the group of five perpetrators and charged him with conspiracy. Though he professed remorse, even after he pled guilty to that specific charge, he continued to harass and attempt to extort other people for their social media handles. This thug was sentenced to five years in prison, with his attorney citing youth and inexperience as mitigating factors. The actual 911 caller in the U.K. may or may not be extradited to the U.S. for trial. How it happened that emergency services did not pick up on the overseas origin of the call has not yet been explained, but the county has pledged to institute training to help spot similar fake calls.
In one instance, then, we see people protesting attempts to make them take measures to protect their families, neighbors, and the strangers they encounter. In another, we see individuals who believe they have a right to others’ identities to make money for themselves, so those others should submit, or else. Criminals have always preyed upon victims, but here, the arrogance and total lack of reference to morality are breathtaking.
The question that might occur to a reasonable, responsible, compassionate person is, “WHO DOES THESE THINGS?” The answer is, those who feel privileged and entitled. Yes, I’m equating protest actions with bona fide criminal behavior. The former are legal, while the latter obviously is not. The protests, and the underlying refusal to receive a vaccine, theoretically directly harm no one, while there’s a direct line between the extortion and physical, mental, and financial harm to others. However, the no-vaccine-for-me people may cause the deaths of any number of those around them, so arguably, theirs is the more egregious wrong.
Legal/moral issues and degree of severity aside, though, both sets of conduct stem from the same root; that is, the conviction that it’s acceptable to do what one wants, simply because one wants to do it, everyone else be damned. Or dead.
How did we get to this place? Broadly, the insistence on a libertarian approach to life—the rights of the one outweigh the rights of the whole. Without having been named as such, this philosophy has gained prevalence in the last forty or so years as a backlash against the hippie culture of the ’60s and ’70s. First came Nixon’s law-and-order regime, set up to oppose the free love, drug-infested war protesters, along with those who demanded Black justice. Then Reagan emerged (“this tired old man that we elected king”*), the champion of anti-government forces, to declaim that nobody at the federal level should tell us what to do. By rapid extension, that propaganda devolved into the “me” generation, the subject of some of my previous posts. It’s the epitome of irony that the hippie mantra of, “Let it all hang out,” has been perverted into, “If it feels good, do it,” in the 21st century. The logical extrapolation of that directive being that selfishness is the way to go, an end in itself.
While there are plenty of old white guys who think that their desires (“rights”) reign supreme, still, it seems that until perhaps the latest one, “me, first” has strengthened as a mindset with each succeeding generation, undercutting general welfare on a global scale, but especially in Western nations. I’m seeing a small glimmer of light with today’s young people, though, who seem to be at least somewhat more responsible and thoughtful overall than their predecessors. They are cognizant of the inevitable ravages of climate change, and they appear to be more willing than in the past to eschew labels while demonstrating political will (the five conspirators mentioned above notwithstanding). In a very real sense, the future depends on their jettisoning a destructive sense of entitlement.
* The End of the Innocence, Don Henley, 1989