Roger Kimball is an American art critic and conservative social commentator. He is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books.
In the middle of my tiny neighborhood on the Connecticut shore, there is a nobbly, plinth-like stone about 2 feet high surrounded by a circle of grass and some simple decorative stonework. On one side of the stone there is a brass plaque to “the eternal memory” of the 26 men from the neighborhood who fought in World War I, “the great conflict between liberty and autocracy.” On the other side, a plaque commemorates the 17 men who fought in World War II “that mankind might live in freedom.”
Every year for the more than two decades we’ve lived here, the neighborhood has marked Memorial Day with a little celebration: some children parade, place flowers by the stone, someone makes a few remarks at the clubhouse across the street. This year, there’s been no talk of getting together for a Memorial Day celebration because getting together is verboten. Our ancestors fought for liberty against the forces of autocracy, “that mankind might live in freedom.” We cower in our homes, constantly told to “practice social distancing,” and not to venture out of doors without a mask.
In a recent neighborhood survey, 86 percent of the respondents (but not your faithful correspondent) were in favor of people keeping “a minimum 6-foot distance” from one another (my emphasis), 60 percent were in favor of “limiting large group gatherings on common properties.”
One respondent noted that she (I feel sure it was a “she,” though the posted responses were anonymous) would be “happy to wear a mask in the neighborhood” but wanted “guidelines.” For example, “should I wear one in my front yard?” I would say yes, she should. “What about when running?” Definitely when running. Also when showering or eating.
Another respondent advised wearing a mask “when off one’s property,” while a third scolded that “Any event must have social distancing, even by children, have ample space for social distancing, and require masks.”
I wonder what the 43 men commemorated on that neighborhood stone would have made of this Eloi-like display of conformity, egged on by bottomless docility, on the one side, and Nurse Ratched disapprobation, on the other. I do not think they would approve.
For the past two months, the country has been on a moral bender, intoxicated by fear and panic. As with most benders, the aftermath will be painful. But the symptoms this time will not be nausea and headache but shame at our credulousness and rage against those who exploited it. Rage. Look for it in a neighborhood near you in the coming weeks and polling stations across the country in November.