When Plato described man as a featherless biped, Diogenes the Cynic came to his Academy with a plucked chicken proclaiming “this is Plato’s man!”. The Plucked Chicken Award will be awarded every year to the human being that best represents the folly of our idealization of our species.
Plucked Chicken Award 2020: Covidiots
It is the fourth installment of the Plucha (remember, every award needs its shorthand) and what a way to start a decade. We often romanticize humanity by believing that our species finds a way to put its differences aside in times of turmoil and strife, and work together for the betterment of all. And what better opportunity for that than during the worst pandemic that has swept through the planet in over a century. Shakespeare once wrote that “some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” and 2020 had greatness served to us all on a silver platter. After all, in what other crisis could a president or prime minister simply sit back and let their scientists and medical experts take the reign? In what other crisis could ordinary folks be heroes simply staying home and learning to bake sourdough? Alas, nothing could have been further from what actually happened in 2020.
One would think that in an age where illiteracy among the adult populations of the Western world is almost unheard of and when people have nearly the entire repository of human knowledge accessible for free on a smartphone, they would have the common sense to take all necessary precautions to avoid the disease from spreading. This includes staying at home and avoiding all but essential activities, wearing a mask when outside your home, and generally behaving in ways that shows solidarity with your fellow human beings, knowing that these sacrifices aren’t done merely to save your own life but to save others. These aren’t new concepts that are impossible to comprehend for Westerners in liberal democracies. We’re not explaining viruses and bacteria to a Polynesian cargo cult.
And yet a significant number of Westerners living in the societies that people like Steven Pinker consider the pinnacle of human progress went through 2020 believing that these sacrifices and considerations were an affront to their basic freedoms. As if the minor inconvenience of wearing a facemask when grocery shopping was a slippery slope to Maoism. As if cancelling their travel plans in 2020 meant that they would never be able to visit countries that are probably better off from them never stepping foot on. As if they expected the world to look at them as valiant freedom fighters rather than obnoxious, selfish assholes who are happy to see people die (even people close to them and even themselves) just because they wanted a haircut. That almost all of these people are conservative or libertarian should not be a surprise. Modern conservatism in the Trump and Brexit era is little more than an organized death cult, albeit one that leaves the jackboots in the closet and instead masquerades itself in libertarian patriotism. As if Patrick Henry would have said “give me liberty to get a haircut without a facemask or give me death”.
The saving grace of giving so lame a name as Covid to this disease is that it lent so perfectly to describing these people: Covidiots. These are the people insisting that Covid was not much worse than the flu and flooding their social media accounts with monstrously stupid memes and conspiracy theories, at least until their Facebook pages turned into memorials. Even in the moments before intubation and death many refused to acknowledge reality; we are a species that prefers to die in righteous ignorance than humbly accept being wrong. These are the anti-mask protesters storming into Walmarts and Targets across the US expecting nothing other than to make a scene, one that could be filmed and shared with their Karen and Gammon followers. But worse still, these are the people who politicized their objection to masks and lockdowns, ensuring that a cohesive national pandemic response in a country like the US became impossible.
But in the end, it was not the vocal minority of Covidiots who went viral that ruined it for everyone. It was the silent majority of Covidiots, the ones that broke lockdown rules because they just needed to have drinks with their friends in the pub indoors, who needed to meet with the neighbors for Christmas, who thought that the rules applied to everyone except themselves. These were not limited to the socially bankrupt Anglo-Saxon countries like the US and UK where self-centered behavior is the norm rather than the exception. The silent majority of Covidiots were everywhere in Europe, which is why countries like Spain and France ended up with even worse per capita death rates than the US. It was a cultural, not a national disgrace. And as a result, you are freer to go out and have dinner or a haircut in Hanoi or Dakar than in Madrid, Paris, or L.A.
In the months ahead we are likely to see the Covid vaccines slow down the pandemic to the point we can resume our lives again. But a vaccine for the sickness that is the pathological hyper-individualism, narcissism, and hedonism of modern liberal democracy will still elude us.