May 29, 2020

Living in fear

Mr. Neff is senior editor of The Last Ditch.

BACK IN 2013, I GAVE MY REASONS for thinking that the American public was a pretty docile bunch, and not the least bit likely to make use of Second Amendment rights in the way that they were intended to be used, big talk of their champions notwithstanding.

I have to say that the last two months of this despotic lockdown have done nothing to change my mind. Most Americans have lowered their heads, put on their masks, stayed home too much of the time without visiting their forebears on Mothers' Day, let their churches be closed down, and said, "Massa know what's best, yes, he do."

It is pretty obvious that at root, the explanation is simple fear.

But fear of what?

The easy answer is fear of getting sick, fear of getting infected, and fear of dying a horrible death. Others — even those too craven to admit their fear that they themselves may become sick — will say: fear of infecting the heroes on the front lines who are protecting us. (The reference is to doctors and others who continue to work and to be paid while telling the rest of us not to go to work and to go broke.)

I wish to suggest some other fears. I will not attempt to prove that I am right. Indeed, I could be as wrong as wrong can be. To quote Norris, General Sternwood's butler, "I make many mistakes." But I will offer my suggestions as ideas; you decide whether they seem reasonable to you. Maybe you will even be able to think of reasons to judge me right in this matter.

The first fear is the fear of social disapproval. "Why aren't you wearing a mask?!" "Keep back!" Or this preening one, actually thrown at my wife: "I'm wearing this mask to keep you safe." Unspoken: "you ungrateful wretch." The fear of social disapproval can be strong, so strong that entire psychological disorders can be traced to it. Possibly the worst is what Nathaniel Branden called "social metaphysics," the idea that what other people think determines what is true and what is real.

Most people don't want to be outcasts, most people don't want to be different, and most people don't want trouble from other people. It's probably just as well. I suspect those people don't have what it takes to be anything else.

Then there is the more serious fear — this one more related to business than to non-commercial interaction: the fear of being sued. "I went into your store and you weren't telling people to practice social distancing, and now I'm sick, and it's your fault." Who wants that kind of trouble?

We know that businesses operate in dreadful fear of the lawsuit. Why else do they have "human resources" departments to advise them about hiring practices and behavior protocols and speech codes? When you want to hire someone, and you check with his previous employer, do you think you are going to get anything resembling the truth? The person you talk to will say what needs to be said so that your potential hire cannot come back and sue the previous employer.

There is also the fear of the big pettifogging lawsuits — not the one from the irate customer or employee or a stranger who trips on a poorly maintained sidewalk, but the ones from law offices who make it their business to seek out violations of some paragraph in the code of Hammurabi or something. People whose job is to find weak members of the herd and slap them with a lawsuit that results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to a regulatory agency, pour encourager les autres, as it were. Embedded in this fear is the fear of losing a business license.

No, we Americans are a pretty brave bunch. We don't want any trouble. And we'll do whatever we have to, to stay out of it.

Moreover, there is the virtue-signaling beyond what I've already described. We have to show that we're good citizens. Why else did the religious leaders of the country tell their flocks that they didn't have to gather to worship after all? Why else were Catholics told that they didn't need to receive the Sacraments regularly after all? That they didn't need to meet their Easter duty after all? It's because Catholics have to be good citizens. They have to pay their taxes. They have to obey the laws. Their priests say so from the pulpit. Long gone are the days that a St. Ambrose will stand up and tell the Despot that he has to obey the Church's laws.

No creativity in meeting a health problem was to cross the minds of the state's church stooges. Instead, we get abject obedience to heathens followed by self-congratulation at how you could just turn on your computer or TV and watch a worship service. No participation necessary. You can hardly blame them for being such mouthpieces, though. After failing to raise their voices to object to the state's unjust wars, you can hardly expect them to behave in any other way.

Is there yet another fear? I think so. We all know that everyone would rather obey the law (or decrees) than "make trouble" by defending their sacred liberties. Everyone understands that even if you win in court, it will cost you damn near everything you own. It's so much easier just to do what you're told. Don't risk your pension. Don't risk your livelihood. Just shut up and do as you're told.

And when a brave barber or restaurateur showed up, what happened? Some of us stayed on the sidelines and cheered him on (but not too loudly) and hoped he would be successful when his day in court arrived. No Second Amendment champions showed up at the shop to protect him or discourage the troopers who came to arrest him. The most the few resisters could count on were some donations to their legal fees on a GoFundMe page.

Because, apparently, most of us treasure our pensions, our livelihood, our possessions, our standing in the community much more than we treasure our liberties. We will stand up for our liberties and those of others only when it's safe. What craven toads we have become.

And so I return to where I was in 2013. A people who will submit to this obvious exercise of tyranny, a people who will not rise up against the despotism of the last few months, a people in love with their comforts and possessions and material wealth are not a people who are likely ever to rise up in defense of their liberties with their guns.

We are, indeed, the dead, and our cry can only be something like Matthew Arnold's:

Years hence, perhaps, may dawn an age,
More fortunate, alas! than we,
Which without hardness will be sage,
And gay without frivolity.
Sons of the world, oh! speed those years;
But, while we wait, allow our tears!
Not advocating violent revolution. Just sayin'. Ω

May 29, 2020

© 2020 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2020 by WTM Enterprises.

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