How much would you have to be paid to commit social suicide? What if a paycheck wasn’t the only perk, but it also entitled you to a sickening sense of self-righteousness and an air of superiority?
This appears to be the tradeoff many college students have made this semester as universities’ “Student Health Ambassadors,” paid adult hall monitors whose job is to patrol their campuses and enforce mask policies and distancing regulations. Several different institutions have opened this position, each one slightly different but all giving students authority over their peers in the name of public health.
One of the most egregious examples comes from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where student Covid commissars have been given the authority to “break up social gatherings” and to check students’ “clearance certificates.” Students who violate COVID policies can face suspension and expulsion. The enforcers, who are paid $15 an hour, even don vests and T-shirts emblazoned with the health ambassador logo.
Other universities have taken similar approaches. The school that I attend, Pepperdine University, has launched a program to “train and deploy” students to “monitor” their peers for “COVID-19 policy compliance,” a gig that conveniently comes with a high visibility bright blue T-shirt. Pepperdine has also decided to use the carrot instead of just the stick, now giving out raffle tickets to those who are wearing masks.
Similar “health ambassador” positions have opened up at various universities, including at the University of Rochester, the University of California at Davis, New York University, Penn State, and the Washington University in St. Louis, where the student workers wear yellow shirts bearing the phrase “If you can read this, you’re too close” and an elite division has been dispatched to be “cubby monitors” who monitor private study rooms.
Sycophancy As Virtue
Although these paid roles are new, they formalize a preexisting social dynamic in which average citizens have been taught that fear is a virtue and sycophancy makes them morally superior to their peers. Accordingly, they’ve been given authority over the super-spreading, science-denying troglodytes they find.
That this misguided sense of superiority has been institutionalized at various places of higher education only feeds the existing narrative that compliance is a virtue, regardless of whether it makes any sense, and that righteousness can be attained through obedience to even the most absurd diktats.
The fact that it is other students who are enforcing mask and distancing policies makes the situation far worse. Not only are adults getting paid to be professional hall monitors, an embarrassing proposition in and of itself, but peers are being elevated above one another, ascending a hierarchy through dutiful compliance to asinine regulations.
Performative Pandemic Protection
It’s worth pointing out that students taking on this role may genuinely believe what they’re doing will contribute to the public’s health. But even if masks do work, a proposition that has by no means been conclusively confirmed and deserves a healthy degree of skepticism, the realities of college life, coupled with the contradictions within the regulations, render the mask policies that these “health ambassadors” are enforcing little more than petty, performative exercises in compliance.
After roughly a year and a half apart from our friends, “social” distancing has been entirely discarded as college students desperately attempt to make up for lost time. Anyone who believes that mask policies in libraries and classrooms, no matter how meticulously enforced, will have virtually any beneficial effect on transmission in light of all of college’s parties, social gatherings, bar-hopping, and even just the day-to-day unmasked interaction that happens as soon as the library is left, is kidding himself.
Those in a social gathering that UCLA Covid commissars are paid to break up will by all likelihood find themselves packed shoulder to shoulder sharing drinks in a frat house or a Santa Monica bar by the end of the week.
But even granted perfect enforcement and compliance with the regulations, such policies still won’t work on account of being utterly absurd and increasingly amorphous. It’s insulting that we’re expected to pretend the lone students behind closed doors in study rooms who are frequently pestered by the blue shirts pose a risk to campus safety. Equally laughable is the assumption that there’s a legitimate reason we’re only allowed to drink water when sitting down, not standing up.
It’s all theater, but refusing to believe in this cult of paranoia makes it all the more important that people are pressured into outward displays of obedience. The more absurd the rules get the more they require frequent social reaffirmation through unquestioning obedience.
The fragile trust that does remain is only dampened by the ever-changing goalposts. We were told by Joe Biden that the choice was “vaxxed or masked,” but now those with the jab are still being told to keep muzzled, and regardless of any antisocial distancing.
It also cannot be denied that a very particular type of person is attracted to such a role. In an August article titled “America’s Elites Want To Control You More Than They Want To Control COVID,” I detailed an experience on the DC metro when a double-masked passenger got up from her seat, came within six feet of me, and told me to put on a mask. When I declined, she began filming me.
This amalgamation of neuroticism, self-righteous condescension, paranoia, and a desperate need for authority is no doubt present among those who willingly sign up to be campus mask enforcers.
Defenders of the health ambassador program will point out that these restrictions, at least in the case of the schools in Los Angeles County, aren’t put in place by these universities. Such institutions are merely upholding policies they have no control over. Set aside the university’s ability to just say no on behalf of their students, or to even try to use their negotiating power with local authorities. The fact that students have become an enforcement wing of the state carries dangerous implications.
We are hurtling towards a future where neighbors, coworkers, and even friends are turned on each other and the power of the state is diffused through the civilian population. In some ways we’re already there, with the existence of these paid, formal roles showcasing the encroachment of such a paradigm. Just like how the Soviets clung to control, with average citizens becoming informants for the state, the deputization of college students against one another creates a culture of social distrust.
This sad state of affairs disproves the old libertarian talking point that “it’s not right versus left, it’s the people against the state.” Real cultural battles are much messier than that, particularly when the state has contracted out its work to college students, among others. This diffusion of power necessitates a newfound understanding of the threats to conservatism.
But this decentralization can also be demoralizing. When threats to the right are coming from the government, the corporate media, the entertainment industry, woke capital, and even student COVID commissars, it can be overwhelming to discern where to even begin pushing back.
The best place to start, perhaps, is to simply mock that which deserves to be mocked. Our opposition’s humorlessness is just as much a sign of their paranoia as it is a marker of their insecurity. As their grip over our minds slips, physical manifestations of their control become all the more important.
But all except for the most dedicated “science-trusters” realize how absurd and condescending it is to tell lone students sitting alone behind closed doors to put a mask on or to “break up social gatherings” at a university. Humor, derision, satire, and the occasional act of malicious compliance are the only appropriate responses.
It’s so self-evident that it hardly has to be argued, it just needs to be mocked. Only by supplementing intellectual takedowns with mockery and humor can the system’s self-indulgent totalitarianism be fully exposed — and eventually overcome.