My in-laws love playing pickleball. The local courts are closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, so they chalked a court in the street in front of their house and set up a temporary net so they could play. When a car would come down the street (which has seven houses in all), they would quickly move the net. Simple American ingenuity.
This past weekend we had been playing a few hours, and had moved the net a grand total of two times for cars, when a police SUV pulled up. The officer told us someone had called in and reported us for “blocking the street.” His words told us we had to keep the street clear, while his tone told us, Whoever reported you is pathetic, and if I could, I’d tell them to go pound sand.
During this pandemic, conservative media has done an important job documenting the proclivity of government officials to use this crisis to extend their authority to draconian lengths. A small-town Arkansas mayor had Parks and Recreation Department employees come out and remove a basketball rim because a solitary child was using it.
In Louisville, Kentucky and Greenville, Mississippi, respectively, drive-in church attendees were individually ticketed $500 and threatened with mandatory two-week quarantine. In New York City, Mayor Warren Wilhelm…er, I mean Bill de Blasio threatened to permanently shut down churches and synagogues that didn’t comply with orders to cease worship (he mentioned nothing about mosques).
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is galloping a full lap ahead of these greenhorns, having issued a decree prohibiting family and friends from gathering in private homes, as well as closing what she has unilaterally determined to be “non-essential” businesses, even though liquor, marijuana, and lottery sales are apparently essential. Even Rep. Justin Amash took pause of his rake-step schtick to defend citizens’ rights against such arbitrariness.
Snitches Feed Overbearing Power
Writer John Daniel Davidson and others are quite correct to expose the petty tyranny being attempted by governors and mayors across the country (a few of many examples are here, here, and here). But as every centralized tyranny needs the support of the local commissars, those local commissars in turn need both the support of local snitches and the silence of everyone else. That’s why these mayors and governors are shamelessly calling for citizens to snitch on each other.
One can suppose these mayors and governors are corrupted by the intoxicating effects of power to which most people, you and I included, would eventually succumb. At least they have the excuse of having been irresistibly tempted with the lure of unrestrained worldly authority (or the illusion thereof). But what excuse does the neighborhood weasel have other than spite?
One police officer I spoke with told me his department has gotten multiple calls reporting couples—couples!—for walking down a sidewalk without maintaining a six-foot distance. Leave aside that these couples sit on the same couches, eat at the same tables, and sleep in the same beds, presumably within six feet of each other. Assuming one of these couples actually had the virus, the responding officer who is forced to “investigate” their afternoon constitutional is likely to have contracted the virus from them, and will pass it on to whoever he interacts with for the rest of his shift.
But the petty little tyrant who calls police to break up a couple walking is not actually interested in their health. He’s interested in making the situation more miserable for the couple.
The Virus Is an Excuse to Mess with People
During normal times, it’s annoying enough when the neighborhood curmudgeon calls the authorities to shut down the street hockey game or the kindergartener’s lemonade stand. But when, during times of crises, when the leash on state power is suddenly loosened, these more aggressive attempts to shut down normal human interaction reflect something darker.
Whoever called in on the church services, the lone girl playing basketball, the walking couple, and our pickleball game did so not out of any concern about a spreading virus. They did so out of deep-seated resentment toward their fellow man, and out of a sadistic pleasure in wielding the ability to worsen other people’s lives.
We have an alarming number of citizens who are more than willing to use whatever sudden increase in available state power to squeeze their fellow citizens. While we don’t toil under totalitarianism, we are undoubtedly fostering the turn-in-your-neighbor culture under which such a system would thrive.
Push Back Against the Busybodies
So what do we do? The U.S. Department of Justice has promised to take action against heavy-handed municipalities that violate citizens’ rights to assemble. This is promising, but top-down litigation bound to ensnare itself in the reeking putrescence of our court systems is inadequate to stem the tide. What is needed is a grassroots, intrinsic realignment (or a renaissance, if you will) of what it means to be a citizen and a neighbor.
History’s most prominent example of successfully countering a snitch society is perhaps that of Michael Collins, whose genius lay not so much in his adaptation of guerilla warfare to urban conditions but in his ability to effectively blind the legislature of Northern Ireland by cutting off their vital supply of local informants. Collins’ bloody tactics are not warranted here, of course, but a cultural paradigm against the increasing acceptability of this turn-in-your-neighbor mentality certainly is.
We can get back to debating the usual rigmarole after this crisis has passed and the waves of bureaucratic overreach have ebbed. For now, keep the focus on calling out the turn-in-your-neighbor mentality for the sad exhibition of snide control freakishness that it is. If you witness someone sneering about how she snitched, shame her for it, and do it loudly and publicly. Put snitches on defense. Isolate them. Make their behavior unacceptable.
Bosnian and Rwandan ditches are full of corpses whose betrayers were lifelong neighbors a week prior. For those who think that our society is immune to this terrible human condition, I wonder on what you base that assumption.
We haven’t experienced it to such extremes because we haven’t yet found ourselves in a set of circumstances unfortunate enough to see it fully unleashed. But if the unsettling embrace of this dark human mentality in our current crisis is anything to go by, our veneer of civilization is even thinner than previously thought.