The Social Distance Dance

You’re walking.

They’re walking.

Probably for the same reasons: health, cabin fever, wondering if you’ll be allowed to leave the house in a few days. Or, for fun. To surface from the media soup and breath a little fresh air.

And as you approach each other on the winding path, you make quick, nervous eye contact. You head right, veering off the asphalt to the grass. So does the other person. Sometimes you get a cheery, apologetic hello. Sometimes a reproachful glance. Some mothers actually start shoeing their kids away from your direction.

The older the person, the wider the distance.

Even though you’re doing the same, it still feels personal. It’s not. You know it isn’t, not exactly.

But it sure is strange to feel like a leper.

GDR in the USA

The current administration asked its citizens to inform on each other. With predictable results.

From the article in Splinter:

In April, the Trump Administration launched what it called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) hotline, with a stated mission to “provide proactive, timely, adequate, and professional services to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens.” But internal logs of calls to VOICE obtained by Splinter show that hundreds of Americans seized on the hotline to lodge secret accusations against acquaintances, neighbors, or even their own family members, often to advance petty personal grievances.

When you read memoirs about life under totalitarianism, what strikes you is how quickly and deeply snitching spreads. It’s astonishing. It’s nearly universal, too, whether you’re talking about Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Fidel’s Cuba or my favorite example, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Without the rats, the state would have a much more difficult time both enforcing fear and rounding up rogue elements.

Their power rests on the foundation of people narcing each other over; no state intelligence agency is as big and as powerful as the gnawing hunger of angry citizens ready to sell out their neighbor, yeah, THAT guy, the one who looks at my wife funny and leaves crap on the stairway and who called me a jerk under his breath last week. Him.

It’s possible that some of the denunciations were motivated by ideological commitment. Sergei is not sufficiently communist, Klaus and Carlos isn’t truly with the program to bring on the next bright chapter of human history.

Mostly what you find are people settling grudges. This willingness to destroy a life or, at least, do irreparable harm to someone because of a perceived slight or deviation is terrifying. And if you denounce a person, usually there’s a whole family involved, a mother, a daughter, a son, a sister, all of whom will be wounded or even ruined by that report.

In this case, yes: laws on the books should be enforced. But what’s worse than just about any crime is to cultivate corruption, encourage informers and indulge the lust for vengeance.