A world in quarantine — we’ve found out — reveals the snitches and their equally ugly step-siblings: the self-appointed compliance officers. For those who spend some time on social media, here’s an important litmus test to determine if you are — or are not — Paul Blart: Quarantine Edition. If you are not one of them, then you know exactly, with complete precision, who I am talking about. No further explanation is necessary. But if you indeed are one of them, you have no clue who I’m talking about. You may even doubt their existence.
I’ve had to unfollow a few of these Paul Blarts on social media. I even completely unfriended one a while back, and I don’t unfriend people. But I realized our personalities likely aren’t going to produce anything but strife and stress for the both of us, so that mouse click to unfriend was an act of charity and mutual benefit.
Acting as though that inadvertent hand-covered cough by the chubby lady in aisle five is going to kill grandpa across town later this afternoon, these self-appointed hall monitors produce endless citations of selfishness, carelessness, and ignorance against those who even inadvertently violate any of the most basic of rules: A cough in the hand. A rubbing of an itchy eye. Towing two kids to the grocery store. Not wearing a face mask in public. Coming within three feet of someone for a half second. Taking a drive for anything that is not included on the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. The potential sins are legion.
The quarantine guidelines have created a new orthodoxy, and orthodoxy creates an infallible cadre of enforcers. The problem, though, is that not even those issuing the guidelines are as militant. As I’ve interviewed many of them, their general assessment is that people are overall doing a good job, and the pandemic is headed for an encouraging decline, though we need to keep up what we’re doing for a while.
I’ll resist the urge to speculate what inner emotional needs are being satisfied by unsolicited amateur pandemic policing. I almost hate to break it to the Paul Blarts out there, but absolute compliance is neither necessary nor is it the aim of those working to stop the spread. The idea is to significantly decrease the frequency of potential exposure to and spread of the virus. That eight seconds in the grocery store witnessing a woman coughing in her hand is only a snapshot. The only thing with less informational value than the eight-second grocery store observation is the eight paragraph sanctimonious Facebook post written about it an hour later.
A certain number of these undocumented compliance officers have eagerly entered into the realm of snitchery. Early on, police and health departments had to ask the public to stop calling in with their complaints. The rational proponents of general improvement were ironically being hampered by the irrational enforcers of individual compliance. Snubbed by police and health officials, the length and frequency of their Facebook sermons undoubtedly increased. They need an outlet, you know.
I’m guessing those with personalities predisposed to snitching struggle to have a robust circle of friends. It’s not that we all want to get away with doing stuff we shouldn’t. We just don’t want to be around those constantly watching and waiting for a mis-step. Honestly, I’d rather just come out and confess: In the past three weeks, I’ve taken two longer-than-“essential” drives. Ok, three. I coughed into my hand last Thursday, hugged a non-household member (my son) four days ago, and I haven’t worn a face mask anywhere in public. I don’t say that out of disrespect to the guidelines. I’m just not perfect at this. (I also enjoy depriving snitches of their false sense of importance.)
Several times now I’ve seen a meme that reads “If you will snitch on a person for violating quarantine, you would have snitched on Anne Frank and Harriet Tubman.” It’s hyperbole, for sure. But advocates of snitching missed the important point in the hyperbole. Excessive government power always requires the help of snitches. We are under an order that places limitations on worship, commerce, and peaceful assembly. Whether the order is right or wrong, we’re having a tug of war between individual freedom and government restriction.
When this is all said and done, I’m guessing we won’t be able to rely on the snitches to defend our individual liberty guaranteed by the Constitution with the same fervor and favor they’re giving to a transitory government order. What we can rely on, however, is that if tyranny ever does arrive — suddenly or incrementally — we’ll have a pretty good idea who the snitches will be.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. Read more of his work and contact him at www.neallarson.com.