What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
— Hamlett, Act II, Scene II
There is a story in the Bible about a mighty General Naaman who was a leper. He was directed to the Prophet Elisha for a cure. Elisha directed him to bathe himself in the River Jordan seven times to rid himself of the disease. Naaman was indignant, replying more or less, “Aren’t the rivers around here better than the stinky old Jordan?” To which his servant replied, “You know, Boss, if he’d asked you to do something hard, you would’ve done it.”
A pair of tightly woven but seemingly contradictory truths emerge from the current crisis. A paradox, if you will.
Truth number one: People want to be taken care of by their government, by each other, by Big Brother, or by someone else besides themselves; it doesn’t matter who.
Truth number two: People don’t like being told what to do and by and large won’t do it.
One might argue that there are two different groups within the population with one typifying one attitude and one the other, but I’ve been paying pretty close attention. There are two groups, but the overlap within the two groups is quite high. I believe it is a majority.
As an example of this, let’s talk about the mask thing. Maybe they work, maybe they don’t. I’ve not seen the numbers; I’ve not read the studies. Since I try to cover my nose and my mouth with a handkerchief when I sneeze or I cough, having what is essentially a handkerchief strapped in place seems like a reasonable solution; it keeps me from being caught unaware.
I think that I might keep the practice of wearing a mask whenever I have a cold from this point on out; it strikes me as being a considerate thing to do, now that I think about it.
But wearing one makes my glasses fog up. My glasses are not optional; I’ve got a card in my pocket from the state of Kansas that says so. So it is annoying to wear the mask. Sometimes when I step out of my office to go to the toilet, I forget and suffer the terror of having a finger wagged at me. The horror.
But wearing one is not a big deal. I will put it on top of the stack of all of the other things I do because I am trying to be a good citizen: putting gum wrappers in my pocket; not throwing fast food sacks out the car window; not passing gas in the elevator.
However, I am not shocked that people don’t want to go along with this. Religion — not only Christianity, any religion that has been good enough to survive for generations — has offered a set of principles about behavior. They are largely in agreement, shockingly so.
Yet the phrase “You can’t legislate morality” comes quickly to the lips and trippingly on the tongue. The fact is you can legislate morality; we do it all the time. But sometimes it’s simply the devil to enforce.
I am about to tell a disturbing story; gentle souls might want to tune out for a paragraph. Back in the 80s, Jeffry Dahmer captured men. He killed them and had sex with their corpses and then ate them, storing body parts in the refrigerator. He always wore a condom. (As one stand-up comic opined, “Somehow THAT message got through.”)
The point of that story is that people do have the information. It is not that they don't know any better. They are just more keyed-in to taking care of themselves than they are to taking care of others, though this is an extreme case.
In the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin and Jason Robards, Robards’ character had a ne’er do well son (played by Tom Hulce) who had gotten into trouble with the mob. Robards’ character had put together a plan that would have saved his son’s life, but would’ve required his son to change, to live life in a way other than the way he planned to live it. The son replied, “That’s a great plan, but let me put a twist on that ...”
The twist was not to do the plan.
As a species we don’t like being told what to do, but the Nazis still managed to convince the soldiers in the camps to six million Jews.
We are a paradox, I tell you.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.