Local Scolds Are Using This Crisis to Grow the Police State
My posts on social media lately have focused on national and international issues related to COVID-19. I occasionally cruise through posts from my neighborhood's Facebook page and Nextdoor.com and just throw up my hands. The local "Karens" are condemning people for traveling, looking for offending groups of more than three people to narc on to the local hotline, and calling for increased police patrols of the neighborhood, etc. The most fundamental of civil rights mean nothing to these people.
We are being careful in my household. We don't go out much. Fortunately, we have jobs that allow us to work from home. When we go out, we take precautions as recommended.
But the mostly upper middle-class residents of my neighborhood and others—at least the ones who have time for social media—are worked up into such a lather about this that they've forgotten that there are important things about our society other than avoiding getting sick.
We will all have to live in this society after the pandemic has passed. On a national scale, we will have to live with the powers government obtains during this crisis. Whatever powers they take won't all be given back (see Robert Higgs's "ratchet effect" and his book Crisis and Leviathan). And whatever powers government obtains won't all be used to effectively fight a pandemic—they will end up being used for political purposes, as the "stimulus" act should have amply indicated. People in government are no less selfish, no more ethical in their conduct, than the rest of us. And they don't always know what is best. Local information, often at the granular level of the household or individual, is vital but usually unavailable or ignored by officials in Washington, DC, or a state capital. Even if totalitarianism is an effective way to fight a pandemic—and I'm certainly not persuaded that it is—can anyone reasonably suggest that people granted such power will nobly and promptly relinquish all that power when the crisis has passed? Despotisms have arisen out of a fearful population in a crisis calling for government to rescue them.
On a more local scale, we're all going to be neighbors when this is over. In this crisis, a neighborhood should be growing closer, chatting (from a six-foot distance of course) with the people who live on our streets, picking up items from the grocery store for those whose risk of an outing is greater, or sharing a couple of extra rolls of TP. Instead, I'm seeing posts on Facebook calling for the arrest of kids in the neighborhood who dare to assemble in groups of more than three. Unqualified shaming of people who don't "stay home," when we really have no idea what the personal situation is that might result in venturing out. Calls for draconian policies from government that would have warmed Stalin's heart and that could severely impact neighbors. I'm not doing anything that would contravene current policy where I live. But I'm appalled at the instincts of some of my neighbors. The thought has already crossed my mind as I walk or run around my neighborhood—who among these people would inform on me if I appeared to be doing something that doesn't comply with a government order? Will they knock on my door and share their concern (from a six-foot distance) or just call the cops? (Is it paranoia if they have already publicly stated a desire to have people arrested?) Or worse—a few days ago an eighty-six-year-old woman died in a New York City hospital after being shoved by another patient who didn't like how close the elderly woman was standing. Will violence increase?
We may have a long way to go before the restrictions on our activities begin to be loosened rather than tightened. Stress is building. Most of us are worried about getting sick, or having a family member get sick. Many households are struggling financially. Family members who don't get along well at the best of times are living together in a pressure cooker environment. Parents are trying to shepherd children through online schooling. Some employees are trying to adjust to working from home and are worried about the future of their employers. People are already reaching a breaking point.
In the face of all this stress and anxiety, a commitment to civil and peaceful relationships with neighbors is even more important. Let's think before we condemn neighbors for not "social distancing" enough, and have polite conversations to persuade those who disagree. And let's refrain from calling on the social institution whose primary distinctive is the use of force to induce compliance. After calling the cops on our neighbor or our neighbor's kid—or advocating policies that render our neighbors jobless—we will still have to live around each other.
We have an opportunity to build relationships with those around us who have perhaps been ignored for years. Let's not squander that opportunity by looking for chances to narc on each other. That means you, Karen.