Here is the true immorality: ignorance and stupidity; the devil is nothing but this. His name is Legion. – Gustave Flaubert
Stupidity is infinitely more fascinating than intelligence. Intelligence has its limits while stupidity has none. – Claude Chabrol
Frank A. Pelaschuk
Anyone watching the prime minister and the premiers offer their daily scrums updating citizens on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic might be favourably impressed. Not only do they come across as sincerely concerned public servants offering images of gravitas that, while sober, is not too much overdone. They mouth the appropriate words of praise not only for all frontline workers in healthcare but also those responsible for jobs most of us take for granted: personal support workers (PSWs), janitorial staff, grocery clerks, baggers, cashiers, bus drivers, well, anyone really, who place themselves out there silently and in the background, keeping societies going while possibly placing themselves at risk and often for little pay. The politicians all appear duly shocked, sickened, and appalled at the daily death toll particularly of the elderly in retirement and long-term care homes. It is as if they cannot believe the carnage caused by this pandemic, as if this is new and never to have been anticipated. They mutter of how changes for the care of our aged and sick must be made in both the public and private sector. They roll out programs, make changes and announce them with each passing day, their expressions suitably stricken. You know they mean it; know they believe it. But there’s a niggling question: will it last?
And then, kind of late, they begin to speak of the poor and homeless. This after they have thrown billions of cash in promises towards keeping businesses afloat through loans, grants, deferred taxes, rent subsidies, money for workers kept on the payroll. The list of aid to business and displaced workers meeting certain conditions is astounding. Then, among the leaders, who, no one knows, one takes notice and speaks of the homeless, of helping them and of course, not to be outdone, the others take up the call. But, as you listen, you realize, if all this money can be found this quickly, at this time, why not before? Why were people freezing to death on the streets, in back alleys? Why are the poor and homeless noticed now when, before this pandemic, not a nickel could be raised to house them? I don’t believe it’s really to find or create permanent housing for them but rather to warehouse them in temporary shelters to ensure these most vulnerable of people cannot spread the virus. These are throwaway people and if saving the economy means keeping them from harm, we’ll do so. When it’s all over, they’re on their own and we can congratulate ourselves on the lives saved as we shovel the meanest and poorest to the streets and back alleys where they belong.
And what of those PSWs who tend to those beloved but elderly folks shipped off into care homes, this largely anonymous hardworking, underpaid cadre of workers holding down two or more part time jobs as navvies feeding, bathing, changing diapers, wiping asses, of those too frail, disabled or demented to fend for themselves? Today they are noticed and daily praised for their courage and sacrifice and willingness to place themselves in danger neither the public nor politicians having noticed before that these very people, so beloved today, have no other option but to survive to feed their families. The truth is, this pandemic has made us see what we have never wanted to see before: there are those who from necessity are not too proud, too full of themselves, to not do what most of us would not.
Oh, yes, PSWs are finally getting recognized for their value. Changes have been made. They can no longer work at different homes where the elderly and needy are. Their pay has, in some provinces, been elevated to offset the loss of not being able to work elsewhere. Will this last? When this is all over, will we remember these heroic people? Will we value them as much tomorrow as we do today? I hope I am wrong but I think not.
In fact, almost all governments, mostly conservative, from federal to provincial, whether electioneering or not, the mantra has always been: cut government spending. And most do, with a meanness, spite and glee that should enrage most, using healthcare and education as political footballs. The public either ignores the cuts or adjusts and only notices at times like this. It’s madness. It’s predictable.
And it’s stupid.
A sad fact is that, regardless of the situation, whether in political or public life, the stupid will always be with us. We see it in our leaders and the people who support them. Science has been reduced to quackery, history to mockery, and facts to farce.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Yahoos have taken over. They resist authority and common sense swarming on to our streets screaming against measures to eradicate the virus and protect society as infringements to their “civil rights”. They demand that the government reopen the country for business and insist Covid-19 is a “Chinese” disease or, even worse, a hoax, a government conspiracy. They do not explain how that is or why. They are not massive in numbers, but stupidity makes them dangerous. They appear in various pockets across the country waving offensive signs and are a loud, obnoxious bunch popping up in the dozens apoplectic as they hysterically vent the imagined wrongs inflicted on them by Big Government. Everything is a conspiracy, you and I and governments are out to get them. How it is or why they don’t explain, they just know it’s so; their civil rights are being trampled under the guise of health and safety. They are victims. So, they wave placards saying: “Isolate if you want, Freedom is my choice” the crowning touch signs whining about not being able to get haircuts!
The Yahoos offer no argument for their cause, present no evidence for what they say, and none, apparently can see the inherent contradictions even in their paranoia. No one would deny them the right to be stupid; they’ve likely have been so all their miserable self-pitying lives. But no individual “right” can, nor should, be so absolute that it places others at risk and that is what these public Yahoo gatherings do.
But there are also images of sanity, of masked heath care workers in scrubs squaring off against vehicles filled with ugly redneck anti-shutdown protesters screaming that those workers go to China if they want communism. These images of heroic workers standing against stupidity are reminders of another monumental image, that of a lone Chinese man facing off against an army tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The tank driver blinked and retreated. That lone man squaring off against tyranny is imprinted forever in my mind! Those health care workers squaring off against stupidity, is another image! Both then and now, we are offered glimpses of courage standing against brutality and the brute. For the health care workers, I fear their brave stand will come to naught; there is no limit to stupidity. The resistance to social distancing in the name of civil rights is laughable if not imbecilic and self-destructive. For the exhausted doctor or nurse having treated Covid-19 victims day and night and watching too many die who wanted only to live, the temptation would surely be great indeed to allow infected Darwin winners to reap exactly what they sow.
Harsh? Yes. Frontline workers already risk too much; what better cure for stupidity.
Today we love all physicians, nurses, kitchen, cleanup and volunteer staff, grocery clerks, service workers, as well as hydro, fire, police workers and personal support workers while we stay safely at home. But tomorrow? I suspect we will forget all this. We will not notice the grocery bagger unless to complain about how he or she messed the job; we will yell at the cashier who made a typo in ringing up the bill and will spit on the bus driver who refuses you a free ride or demands you put out that cigarette. Life rolls on. Nothing will change.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin