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Arrogant and Entitled
A delicious little sign from god
The dark view out my window this unseasonably warm morning is spoiled somewhat by the Christmas lights strung along the roof of my neighbor opposite's porch but I don't mind. I hate the landfill-stuffing nature of all the inflatable Christmas yard decorations soon to appear but I still love modest displays of cheery lights. I like the festive spirit of holiday decorations. Simple little efforts by people to spread some good cheer should be celebrated, I think. It's something that one may enjoy alone or in quiet company, out aimlessly meandering around, energy which gets more and more difficult to evoke as these next few weeks unfold. I will say though that, of all the holiday-related days of the year, for the last five I've enjoyed Christmas Eve Day at the bookstore more than any other and I'm certain it will arrive with some melancholy knowing that it isn't part of my life anymore. I’ll figure something out.
I’m relieved this morning that after being gone for pretty much the entirety of November I am home and, gratefully, don't have a ton of obligations scheduled in the coming weeks. I’m leaning hard on this sticker I have affixed to my computer monitor that is a quote from Eloghosa Osunde that reads:
Time is not real. Urgency is fiction. Whatever we’ve been told must be done right now can wait.
I am going to do my best to maintain that open calendar because my social anxieties are higher than ever. It's just good to have a break from it all, even as the wider world just keeps pounding on the barred and barricaded doors demanding attention.
Covid, and news of a new variant, remains the most pressing concern, doesn't it? You'd think we would be better at it by now but it doesn't seem like we are.
I recently read and enjoyed Michael Punke's latest book, Ridgeline. It is historical fiction based on an actual event called the "Fetterman Fight." The fight was an 1866 encounter in which a combined force of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians ambushed and killed over 80 men under the command of Captain William Fetterman, who had once (allegedly) claimed, "Give me 80 men and I can ride through the whole Sioux nation."
Punke's narrative shifts the overwhelming arrogance away from Fetterman and onto a man under his command, a cavalry officer named Lieutenant George Washington Grummond. Grummond seethes with disdain for the Indians—who he had no experience fighting—and refuses to take the advice of others who do; notably the famed scout and explorer Jim Bridger. Regardless of where the blame lies in the actual story, it comes down to the arrogance of one over-privileged dude who leads others into early death.
The story reminds me of another great book, this one a work of nonfiction called Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier, by Peter Stark. In this case, a young U.S. naval hero, Captain Jonathan Thorn, plays the role of the arrogant, disrespectful, and ignorant dude whose disdain for Indigenous people and their millennia-old traditions dooms him and his entire crew more than half-a-century before the events Punke's book focuses on.
It wouldn't hurt either to fast-forward to 1876 when George Armstrong Custer lets his own arrogance and disrespect for the knowledge of people who knew better than him lead to the demise of pretty much the entire 7th cavalry at the Battle of the Greasy Grass.
Is it reasonable to suggest that egotistic, entitled pricks like Aaron Rodgers are a modern equivalent to these guys? He's a dude lauded for a few essentially meaningless talents placed in a leadership role whose own arrogance about something he knows nothing about—Covid—in the face of people who do—scientists—puts other people at risk and he does so without seeming to care. He didn't get anyone killed (that we know of) but he certainly could have. Meanwhile there is an entire industry—the NFL—that generally looks the other way and celebrates the personality type of men just like him. And he spews bullshit in defense of his choices when his “facts” are dismantled. It's despicable.
Nor is he an anomaly. This past week one of my favorite writers, Paul Kingsnorth, posted an essay called "The Vaccine Moment, part one" to his Substack newsletter in which he revealed himself to be an arrogant—if erudite—and clueless member of the anti-vax crowd. What an utter disappointment. You can read it for yourself HERE.
Kingsnorth's main point is that the pro-vaccine crowd is leading to a kind of enforced totalitarianism that he is opposed to. I'm opposed to that too. Who isn't? I also agree with him that government does trade in conspiracies and shouldn't be trusted. I'm against the intrusive technologies Kingsnorth has advocated against for years—it's a big part of what drew me to his work. All of that stuff. I understand why so many people are fearful of what is happening around them and can't allow themselves to trust these institutions. I don't either.
The pandemic has revealed huge fissures in our world, yes. In particular the capitalist nature of our health care system and the power it wields over people is something that must be torn down and rebuilt. It is disaster capitalism in every sense of the way Naomi Klein was writing about it back in 2008 with her magnificent book, The Shock Doctrine. It is loathsome and inhumane.
Still, in addition to having his various “facts” debunked in various places (like Rodgers' were) Kingsnorth, via his smug “I'm the smartest guy in the room and I know better” arrogance, is way off the mark. He is trading in the very fear mongering he says the State is and whipping people into a frenzy with a dangerous brand of rhetoric more than capable of killing people. Nor, if one reads the comment section, does he seem to care.
The authoritarianism I see in the Covid response, at least in the USA, isn't coming from the pro-vaccine crowd, though. It is from the racists and fascists who worked people up to try and overthrow the government on January 6th. It is the type of “Christians” who hate anyone who isn't CIS, hetero-normative, and white like them. It is the people who spread fear and threaten violence at school board meetings. It is from people stewing in their own cruelty, inhumanity, and lust for power and wealth at any cost. It is the worse elements of our society that Kingsnorth and his ilk are stirring up and it is just making things hard.
I don't trust the government. I don't trust corporations or the capitalistic nature of our society. I don't trust “experts” bloviating as talking heads on corporate media or websites. But I do trust my friends and acquaintances who work in the healthcare industry who just want to go to work, help people, and then go home to their families. They are the ones reporting that intensive care facilities are overrun. They are the ones telling stories of people's last dying moments, begging, too late, for vaccines. They are the ones saying masks and vaccines save lives. They are the ones exhausted and, in many cases, dying alongside their patients.
Our efforts to resist Covid have been less than perfect but what would these folks like Kingsnorth have us do? These people who are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-everything? How many people must perish? I doubt there are refrigerated semi-trailers packed with corpses from overflowing morgues anywhere near Kingsnorth's bucolic little off-grid hideaway in Ireland. What a soulless, pretentious jerk he's turned out to be. He is a modern descendant of the entitled, arrogant personalities like Grummond and Custer and Thorn so puffed-up by ego that they led others into meaningless death. He’s just another asshole doing his own “research” on the internet.
I have no qualms about having been vaccinated, whatever the potential risk. I have no qualms about wearing a mask. Life is full of risk and inconvenience. It is in trying to eliminate risk and inconvenience no matter the cost that we create larger problems. There was a time when maybe I would have been inclined to be as callous as someone like Paul Kingsnorth, I don't know, but age has inspired me to love more, not less. What must be dead inside a person to make them so cruel?
I have a smaller circle of people I interact with on a regular basis now than at any point ever in my life and yeah, it sucks sometimes. Covid is only part of it. I rue many of the circumstances that have created this situation and sometimes crash emotionally because of it. But that doesn't mean I'm ready to give up. It doesn't mean I am ready to stop loving the world.