CONFRONTING AMERICA’S DRIVE TO COLLECTIVE AMNESIA
It seems that there is a deep pent-up desire in America to avoid meaningful change at all cost. It is hard enough to confront issues honestly and forthrightly in the best of times. But it is nearly impossible to do so in an environment that prizes consensus over responsibility. The vocabulary of avoidance is everywhere and reaching epic proportions.
Nowhere is this more obvious and dangerous than the way in which the vaccinated dance around the unvaccinated. If you are paying attention, there is simply no good excuse not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in America, with some very minor medically-sound exceptions. But instead of just saying that in a straightforward way and then demanding policies and programs that mandate vaccinations, we are acting like vaccinations are some prize for knocking over a stack of steel bottles at a carnival stand. “Step right up, little lady, a quick flick of the needle and you are on your way with this keepsake stuffed elephant. Bring that big guy along with you, and you win the daily double, the stuffed elephant and a genuine MAGA hat.”
It is time to stop begging ignorant people to do something smart, and selfish people to do something selfless. How about: “Step right up little lady and show me your vaccination certificate if you want to eat here. Same for you big guy.” Or: “Mom, your kid wants to play high school football, but he hasn’t turned in the required COVID vaccination certificate.” Or my personal favorite: “I would have invited you to join us, but you are not vaccinated, and adding someone so stupid and selfish to the group seemed like a bad idea that would only serve to validate your stupidity and selfishness.”
Validating willful ignorance is never a good idea, but it is a really bad idea when doing so puts people at risk. Further, most of us usually try to avoid truly selfish people, so let’s double down now to contribute to the common good. For impact, we have to be willing to tell the ignorant and selfish what we are doing and why. We have to be willing to demand that our institutions meet this challenge as well. It is beyond time for the CDC to aggressively mandate vaccinations wherever they are authorized to do so.
Another useful component of the avoidance vocabulary is the word “colleague.” The word seems to imply someone with whom you work, a co-worker.* It shouldn’t apply to the SOB in your midst who seeks to undo everything you are trying to do. So, stop using the word “colleague” for those you believe to be willfully ignorant, selfish, dangerous, and/or just plain too stupid to get out of your way. This is particularly so in the public arena, where every moron seems to be somebody’s colleague during any discourse – “My colleagues are unable to see that making it harder for Black people to vote is racist behavior.” They could either not be your “colleague” or not be “racist,” but they shouldn’t ever be both.
How about “normal” and “new normal” to make things sound just great as we surge forward as a nation? Returning to “normal” only works if your "normal" was fine with you. It avoids the uncomfortable truth that many people don’t want to return to their “normal,” because it sucked. As for a “new normal,” it is hard to imagine a less precise way of confronting the critical need for change to actually achieve a more perfect union. It surely creates an easy path to avoiding any measured discussion about hunger, poverty, access to meaningful healthcare, access to quality education, rampant gun violence, and racial and social justice, among other difficult issues.
So, when I hear people say they want a “new normal,” it sounds a lot to me like they are talking about some vision of a better world that will miraculously emerge if we hold hands and pray a lot. What is needed is not a “new normal” but a new and transformed America where eliminating poverty is more important than giving up a tax break for your vacation home, where healthcare isn’t rationed by insurance companies and their medical allies, where school buildings and the teachers in them provide the same resources to Black children that are provided to White children, and no child, not a single one, goes to bed hungry in America.
That’s the America that I want to see and to which there is so much resistance. “Normal” and “new normal” are comfort food concepts to spare the already comfortable the discomfort of sacrifice for the common good.
And then just when you think you might be getting at least some Americans to turn their attention to a better life on earth for the community of man, along comes billionaire space “tourism” to further distract a population grasping for the most banal of distractions.** If you can’t afford Disneyland, an RV, or even a trip to Taco Bell, America’s wealthy can give you the illusion of tourism in space. It is truly heartening to hear the mega brats talk so lovingly of opening up space to the masses, while working so hard to avoid sharing their wealth with those same masses. And take note that this illusion is getting enough attention and gushing good will to give us another touchstone on the golden road to “normal.”
While I await my economy center seat with Kim Kardashian on one side and Martha Stewart on the other, I am getting pumped up for the debates to come as schools are about to open and the parental handwringing season of rage is commencing. This is so much fun, because in America’s dysfunctional democracy school decisions are seen as local decisions, thereby ensuring that everything from masks to midriffs, from Black books to White books, from defunding teachers to defunding cops, and the like, will be on the agenda somewhere everyday beginning now.
This will be fine theater that is inconsistent with informed dialogue and ensures further avoidance of confronting systemic issues of import. Optics again will win the day, and the symbolism of preserving norms will overwhelm the content of change.