Opinion

The menace of coronavirus snitches

Seeing your neighbor as a vector of disease rather than a fellow human being isn't helping anyone

I see them right now, the little monsters. The boys are standing in the empty patch of grass that lies just beyond my shed, the backyard of a house that has been on the market for a while. One of them has a ball. The other three are chasing him, getting closer every second. Six feet? I'd say they're about six inches apart. Not a single one is wearing a mask.

This is not the first time I have encountered these miscreants. Not only are they almost certainly trespassing on the property of whoever has been trying to sell the blue house for more than a year now. They are violating whatever has replaced the now-expired statutory emergency declaration as the pretext for my governor's shelter-in-place order, a misdemeanor in the state of Michigan.

And I'm glad. What am I supposed to do? Open my window and politely inform them that they are not observing the Centers for Disease Control-approved six-feet rule? (They would get more leeway if we were in Europe, where the authorities maintain that distances be kept to 1.5 meters.) Call the cops and demand an immediate halting of this dangerous activity, i.e, a game for which the politest name is muckle? The mind reels.

What in the world is the point of coronavirus snitching? If stories like this one are any indication, we have become a nation of bored joyless scolds. "Four teenage girls with lacrosse sticks and white hoodies just walked past our place." The horror! A few weeks ago, the city of Frisco, California, removed a "compliance" feature from an app after receiving too many complaints. A hilarious poll even reports that liberals are far more likely to snitch than their right-wing neighbors. You can't make this stuff up.

One of the things the pandemic has shown us is that most of America's problems have been hiding in plain sight for ages. We have always known that nursing homes are dens of illness and misery, that most of what passes for public debate about health in this country is empty self-aggrandizement, that much of the official content of liberalism can be reduced to "I am so much better and more virtuous than certain uncouth others." Coronavirus did not turn people into snitches — it just gave people who always wanted an excuse to be tattletales their chance. The people who are screaming "SIX FEET! SIX FEET!" to random teenagers at the park have probably been that way since they were teenagers themselves.

This doesn't make it more bearable. This is true not least because unlike nursing homes, which I expect us to abandon as a society in the years to come, the snitching trend is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Nor will this activity be the exclusive province of amateurs. As I write this, the New York Police Department is harassing the homeless and otherwise enforcing state and city lockdown rules selectively, along the usual racial and geographic lines. Cops are behaving like officious morons across the country, in some cases with the assistance of drones manufactured explicitly for the purpose of spying in (where else?) China. Only a fool would expect this kind of thing to go away once the pandemic is over. Nearly two decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001, our transit bureaucracy still forces us to participate in the bizarre fiction that water bottles and shoes are favorite weapons of terrorists the world round.

Fear, suspicion, hostility, seeing one's neighbor as a vector of disease rather than a fellow human being: these are all incompatible with civilization. This is one of the greatest lessons we have to learn from the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century — and from the current one in Beijing. A country in which children playing outdoors are objects of loathing, as they are in neighborhoods across this country already if their skin is a certain color or their voices too loud, is one in which a return to normal life is impossible. The conditions that make normal life possible were not there to begin with.

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