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The Virginia Appellate Lawyer’s Court of Appeals of Virginia Blog

The Pandemic Did Not Cause Americans to Lose Their Empathy, it Just Exposed a Sickness in the Americ

The reality of the world we live in. The two stories in the images above were on pages 1 and 2 of The Roanoke Times today. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of unmasked people attending the pre-game tailgate at Lane Stadium was on Page 1, while on Page 2 was a story with reporting a warning from the state health department for greater caution in social gatherings and travel on the holiday weekend.

Let me be clear, I fully support your right make bad choices for yourself — but risking the lives of others you could infect with COVID at the tailgate, because you are infected (whether you know it or not), or afterwards, because you became infected at the tailgate, just to drink beer, eat barbecue, and watch a damn football game isn’t just a bad choice — it’s a selfish, self-centered, egotistical, to hell with my neighbor, FU to humanity choice.  And it’s all the worse because, despite being 20 months into the pandemic, I am willing to bet that almost none of people there gave the matter serious thought.

If they did, that thought consisted process was probably along the lines of  “I’ve suffered the last year.  I deserve this.”  Suffered?  Really?  If you can afford to drive to a football game in a truck that probably cost more than my first house, consume quantities of food and alcohol that would give a cardiologist nightmares, and then attend a football game having paid as much as $318 (the average cost for a 50-yard line seat this year according to — a significant increase over the pre-pandemic 2019 season due to demand), I do not think you have suffered all that much.

Somewhere along the way the people of America stopped carrying about each other as a whole, focusing on narrower and narrower circles — my race, my state, may party, my (increasingly gated) community, my friends, my family . . . me. It’s not something that started with the pandemic. I think it started in 1950s when standards of living started to rise and we started to think of the American Dream as an entitlement to be given instead of an endeavor to be achieved.

As the standard of living of the predominantly white., middle class started to rise, we assumed that everyone was better off, which was largely true.  We no longer had to care for or about the least among us. Even the least of us, we reasoned, were better off than most people in the rest of the world — this was, after all, the era of the Marshall Plan.  We — we meant the government, because it wasn’t really our individual duty to help others — were taking care of not just our own poor, but of the poor of the world — meaning the Western European world. And that was great — so long as the government didn’t raise our taxes.  Social concern shifted from wanting all to have enough to making sure that I had more. One car in every garage meant it was OK for me to have two, and two really nice cars at that.

I recall one example of this “I am owed this because I am an American” attitude from well before the pandemic.  For decades, the US Forest Service has allowed camping in parts of the George Washington National Forest that covers a large swath of western Virginia, but there are limits on the number of consecutive nights you can stay in the designated areas and any camping structures must be temporary and removed from the site when you leave.  These rules are clearly meant to allow more people to have access to the camping areas and keep them in a natural state.  The rules, however, we laxly enforced for many years, primarily because there was really no need.  People went to the campsites, stayed a few days or even a few weeks and cleaned up the site when they left (contrary to what many may think, there was a time when littering was considered distinctly anti-social — now it seems to be an American pastime).

However, in the early the 1990s and 2000s the park service started receiving complaints about permanent structures being erected, people staying for months at a time, and excluding others from campsites.  An investigation proved that these complaints were well founded, with many of the campsites having been turned into family fishing and hunting compounds, often with signs asserting the exclusive right to use the site.  The buildings were mostly ramshackle — built of cinderblocks and such — but clearly permanent and regularly inhabited.  “Sanitary” facilities had also been built, though without running water and clearly not sanitary.

After repeated notices of violation were posted and ignored, the Forrest Service moved in with armed agents and bulldozers.  Fortunately, at those sites where the “owners” were present, no one resisted.  The Roanoke Times was there and ran a story.  The attitude of one of residents was a clear expression of the general attitude, “Rich people have hunting camps.  Why can’t we?”

The path to American selfishness is perhaps not that simple — and perhaps there wasn’t really a time when concern for the other, the stranger at our door, the widow, the orphan, was a near universal American attitude.  Maybe we’ve just dropped the pretense that America us a place where your liberty is as precious to me as mine, and my wellbeing is my priority and should be assured, but yours is an “optional extra” that we can no longer afford.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a path to something better.

End of Rant.

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