Why We Obey
When the crisis began, I was as scared as the next person. We in the western world had never encountered any such thing, and there were so many unknowns, and too many unanswered questions.
And just like everyone else, I suddenly became, at least temporarily, afraid of touching doorknobs or getting close to anyone who sneezed. I even stopped pulling my gloves off with my teeth, and that's saying a lot.
But before long, things began not adding up, the details of which are another matter for another day, and a different blog entry altogether.
I started to read, a LOT. I got informed as much as I could.
And I began to see the writing on the wall.
They said flatten the curve. Stay home for 2 weeks. Do the social distancing thing. Luckily for me, the industry I work for - newspapers, therefore media - is considered an essential service, and I never had to quarantine. Even more luckily for me, I have a rather unconventional workplace, a little anarchistic. Rules are only enforced when they make sense. Otherwise, as long as you get the work done, nobody cares how you do it.
So my own world didn't change much, but the one around me did. And slowly, I observed the slippery slope that began with lockdowns, rules on how many people could be in a store, and which side of the road one could walk on. I warned people that before they knew it, masks would be made mandatory. Narratives about being responsible for your granny's death had me worried about people being forbidden to visit their grandparents. Rules made in the name of safety had me worried about exponentially stricter restrictions - where one could go, how many people could assemble privately, if the police might stop us and ask for ID. Talks about a potential vaccine had me worrying about the possibility of a vaccine being made mandatory.
I was called a nut, a conspiracy theorist. I was asked by family and friends, politely, to stop it already with all the negative talk and fearmongering. Yes, I was the fear-mongerer.
And then it all happened. Some of it not to completion just yet, but there's no disputing that vaccines are being pushed, with Bill Gates aiming for "the whole world" to be inoculated. But gradually, each one of them reared its ugly head.
So did the well-meaning accusers relent? Stop to take the pulse? Admit I may have been right? Become alarmed in any way?
They just shrugged their shoulders and reacted with a symbolic "OK, then". Went along with the whole kit and kaboodle of impositions, restrictions, warnings and threats.
The litany of consequences, mocked as a conspiracy up to that point, suddenly became just another fact of life. No resistance. No questions. No pushback. Just blind, quiet acceptance of this new normal which was anything but.
I was stunned.
Any appeals to proof being in the pudding, to logic, to their heart or their common sense hit a brick wall. There was no reaching them. I had no choice but to keep moving, and so I did. Hoping that, in time, they would see what I saw.
The starting point is where we diverge. Theirs is the present. They live in a world where the future, and the outcome, is undetermined, and so they adapt to their changing world as they go along, somehow trusting the process and the good intention of all those in charge.
My starting point is the future as I see it already planned out, rolling back to the present moment and seeing how the powers that be are molding it to make it lead to the intended goal.
But it's more than that.
I've discovered, as harsh as it seems to say, that people love their servitude. They crave rules and regulations that establish which lines they are not meant to cross. It takes the responsibility off their hands. Just like a child who needs boundaries for a sense of safety, many adults have not grown out of that need. Having someone decide for them keeps them neatly in line, and they don't have to break their heads over where that line might be. It serves them well. So like a child, they feel safety in being told by what time to be home, which friends they can see, where they are allowed to go and what they should be wearing. Sure, they mumble and grumble about the rules, but they ultimately bow to the authority that threatens them with consequences should they disobey.
But then, it's even more than that.
People have this inborn need to bond over shared experiences. In an office of superficially connected coworkers, news about Amy over in advertising having lost her son to suicide suddenly makes everyone feel united in their concern and compassion. An accident maims someone on the construction site and everyone comes together in grief. A company has to close its doors and everyone becomes best friends. For a while anyway.
Nowhere is all of this more pronounced than in the army, where obeying commands is a matter of life and death, especially when fighting in the field. Add to that the sense of brotherhood, of living an existence where tomorrow is not promised, the critical importance of having each other's back, the bond strengthened by a common ideal, that of fighting for one's country and its freedoms, and you have it all in one package.
When they return, they often fall apart, as they can't find their footing in a "real" world that is so devoid of all those things. No more strict rules, nothing to fight for, nothing to connect over.
Prison is another example. Of course nobody wants to be behind bars. But inside, you are safely contained. There is structure, and there are rules. You have an excuse to be passive, and even play the victim.
Outside, freedom comes with a sense of responsibility, that of doing the right thing even if you can get away with NOT doing the right thing. Self-discipline is a requirement, accountability a must, and all of those are extremely difficult to carry when you're not governed and micro-managed. A parole-board friend of mine, facing an inmate who was eligible to leave at the 1/3 term of his sentence, found him begging her to allow him to continue serving time until the mandatory 2/3 because he felt that he would derail as soon as he got out.
So it becomes apparent that people crave rules. It doesn't matter if they constantly change - and yes, I get it, part of it is adjusting to new realities as things evolve. But there was a time, somewhere in the last 10 months, when masses of people wore rubber gloves. That's gone. A time when cities created "walking corridors" and people made laaarge circles around each other when they crossed paths. That's also a thing of the past. A time when all we heard was stats on deaths, but now that the deaths have plummeted, the narrative has changed to "cases" (how they are counted, again, a subject for another day). Masks were initially considered ineffective, then suddenly effective, and they remain enforced even though the WHO itself has openly backtracked and admitted that their effectiveness is disputable. The idea of curfews, early on, was tossed out, because that was a measure that should only apply in wartime or in the face of terrorism. Now they are par for the course.
Whether the rules are short-lived or long-term, they are all headed in one direction, one evermore restrictive direction.
And so this becomes the question: Where's your line? Because you're going to need to establish one. Ten months ago, you laughed at me when I suggested what might be coming, and you never imagined it to play out, or that you would ever go along with it, yet here you are. Will you comply when you have to get a test to prove you're negative just to go to the movies? Will you accept biometric chips to keep your job? Will you go along with wearing masks for an undetermined amount of time? For how long, you ask. I dunno - you tell me. What's acceptable to you? Another six months? A year? Five? More? How about forever, is that ok? And don't say that's not going to happen, because you said that about a half dozen other things, too.
Will you get the experimental vaccine? If you say no, like the majority, will you cave when you can't board a plane without one? Can no longer get certain health benefits? Or send your kids to school?
Where. Is. Your. Line?
Because it seems you have already crossed it many times over as they keep shifting the goalposts.
You are not at their mercy. You don't have to blindly trust, and follow, and obey the rules. You are perfectly free, capable of thinking for yourself, using common sense, being responsible for your health and that of others, even if the relentless media coverage tries to instill fear and render you paralyzed.
You are NOT selfish for asking to be treated as a responsible adult. For wanting to be autonomous. For asking that your rights, as written in the Constitution, be preserved. For protecting your body from a vaccine without being punished for it. You are not selfish for wanting to see your aging mother, or long time friends. For wanting to take a stroll at midnight. For living as a free human being.
Ultimately, it comes down to this - you can stay in prison, behind the bars of safety, security, restrictions and rules.
Or you can draw your line, push back and reclaim your freedom.
It will have to be one or the other.
Sandra is a blogger, life coach and activist.
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