This morning there was a fire in the adjacent municipality of West Manchester which released toxic fumes. I didn’t find out about it till my phone clamored with an alert. The alert was to tell me that the shelter-in-place advisory had been lifted (the initial alert must not have disturbed my sleep). It is the first time I’ve seen that sort of alert, but it was the same mandate that was instituted back in March for the Coronavirus.
It makes sense to have a shelter-in-place alert if toxic fumes are billowing out of a fire. And it contrasts with the response in March. There is a large portion of the population that is not woke but is awake to the silly things we let our government get away with. They are indignant and disgusted. One of the effects of this is that there are more people that I know of more closely tracking what their representatives in government are doing than before. I certainly do not give the government today the benefit of the doubt the way I would have previously. They have squandered a lot of the capital of their personal credibility.
One of the things churches are dealing with right now is the use of facemasks. There are those who believe it is imperative, there are also those who are equally adamant about not wearing them. The thing has turned into a symbol, and it is lamentable that something like that should take on symbolic resonances. It seems to me that for something to become symbolic there is a narrative, a story which gives it momentum so that it can be a vehicle for meaning. The mandatory use of the facemask rather than the voluntary use of the facemask is the helium causing this balloon to rise. The narrative that colors the balloon, or gives it direction, is whether or not you trust or distrust the government. Is it looking out for us? Is it out to get us?
And the truth is that there are unquantifiable elements of both. Surely there is a lot of malevolence going on, but also a lot of clumsiness and stupidity. I think it is important to realize that these are different things! One is deliberate and the other is accidental, even if it the second is the result of perverse and obstinate choices: the wrong is not intended quite the same way. But the symbol kind of takes on a life of its own, and in our day when politeness has been distorted beyond being considerate of others to demanding consideration from others without first extending consideration, it acquires a certain power.
Anyway, people are thinking about how the government does things, and about the powers that are permitted to those in government. In PA, the governor alone can declare a state of emergency. As a result, he then posses a greater set of powers than otherwise. There is a real question now, as Pennsylvanians look at what other places do, about the wisdom of placing the power to declare a state of emergency in the recipient of the enhanced powers that result. And people are thinking about it, prodding representatives, and legislation is being ground through.
It also seems to me that we’ve reached the point in the excess of cancel culture that we can draw two conclusions: the first is that if you don’t stand up to the woke demands and you appease, they will not stop until they destroy you. They have made themselves into such a thing as has no possible end other than to obtain every petulant demand they can think to make. It really is the spoiled child mentality Richard Weaver spoke of, and the thing about it is that at the moment it has real political power. I think it is becoming increasingly apparent to the indifferent that succumbing is misery, and the only alternative is to resist. The alternatives are clear, and this is making for interesting new coalitions and bedfellows. The second conclusion is that because of all this a lot more people are being forced to be engaged, to do the difficult work of understanding, of thinking, of asking the question about how we got here. The answer to that question is suggested to me in an interview that William Buckley did with Mortimer Adler back in 1970: if you don’t educate people by reading the great ideas, if the great books are ignored, the only thing that can result is that people will not know about them. We have what the good we have because we have in the past figured out how to implement great ideas. And that is what we represent in the monuments that we have erected and why they are being targeted with unironic and blatant ignorance.
And so the disruptive coronavirus the whole world was primed for like a powder keg continues causing choices to me made. Good choices can be made, and I hope the moment keeps making them increasingly apparent. There is a lot of confusion, but I wonder if there aren’t pockets of clarity for more and more people.