I sent this story to our local paper, who knows if they’ll be interested, although they have done a good job of backing up medical experts on how to react to the virus still attacking us. I wish I didn’t live so close to GOP HQ. Hope they’re not all as benighted as this person…see below…
A well-dressed, older woman heading into the Republican headquarters in Lancaster stopped us this morning as we walked by (no more than two feet away), and told us we shouldn’t be wearing our masks outdoors. She told us, quite confidently, that carbon dioxide would build up inside our masks and make us sick. She told us she rarely wears a mask anywhere, indoors or out. Disgusted by her disregard for others’ well-being, I hurried away. As we departed, she made clear what she values most: “Freedom!” she shouted. I double-checked the facts when we got home. I wish I could share them with our woefully ill-informed Republican acquaintance: From the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Face masks do not decrease your oxygen intake, nor do they retain more carbon dioxide than usual. Oxygen and CO2, very small molecules, easily pass through a face mask. Virus laden droplets, much larger in comparison, cannot pass easily through a mask. From the venerable Mayo Clinic Health System: For many years, health care providers have worn masks for extended periods of time with no adverse health reactions. The CDC recommends wearing cloth masks while in public, and this option is very breathable. There is no risk of hypoxia (lower oxygen levels) in healthy adults. Carbon dioxide will freely diffuse through your mask as you breathe. To our uninformed Republican acquaintance and her loved ones, I plead: Wear a mask and social distance so we can all get back to something like normal life.
[No, my local paper never did publish my op-ed on keeping the drive for police reform and racial justice alive, so I tried another tack. Maybe a tiny bit of lighthearted ridicule will get by the censors. Gotta’ keep trying…go Joe and Kamala!]
LNP/LancasterOnline’s well-moderated and well-balanced opinion section is always informative and challenging, but I’d like to offer a special thank-you to the editors for two recent offerings. Kay C. James’ hysterically naive warning about the evils of socialism made me laugh out loud. It conjured visions of the late, not-so-great Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, spitting out damaging falsehoods about an imaginary Communist takeover in the 1950s. Ms. James knows full well Democrats couldn’t replace capitalism even if they wanted to, which they don’t. In 50 years in the White House during the 20th century, not one Democratic attempt to scuttle the Constitution. They have supported social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps, but it was Republican Richard Nixon who greatly expanded programs like SNAP, vowing, before Congress, “to put an end to hunger in America for all time.”
I am also especially thankful for Robin Abcarian’s timely reminder that the goals of law enforcement reform and racial justice, widely embraced by Americans after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, have not been achieved. Her rejection of violence and looting as tools of protest is right on target. So is her final comment: “It [racial injustice] will only change once white people fully and permanently commit themselves to the idea that Black lives matter.” Thank you, LNP, for Ms. James’ amusing journey into fantasy land, and for Ms. Abcarian’s heart-felt encouragement to keep our hopes for a more just nation and world alive.
[Herewith my latest attempt to say something relevant via our local newspaper. For the record, they declined to publish my last treatise on this subject. AND IT APPEARS THEY DON’T HAVE THE COURAGE TO PUBLISH THIS ONE, EITHER. KEEP HOPE ALIVE…DON’T LET INERTIA OR RACISM ROB THIS MOMENT OF ITS POTENTIAL. PREACH JUSTICE!]
Let me admit up front that I am a 70-year old white man who only recently learned what the term “woke” means. Wikipedia defines it as “a political term of African American origin that refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice.” Like many Americans (Black, brown and white), I have longed for social and racial justice to descend on the United States, as Dr. King dreamed it would. If white people could get “woke,” could understand the injustice meted out to people of color in this country for so very long maybe things could change. I thought we might have reached that point when thousands of Americans of all colors flooded America’s streets to protest George Floyd’s death by police officer in Minneapolis three months ago. I thought the moment for real change—in police work, in racial justice, and social justice had come. Has it?
Is white America now woke, is everyone aware of race-based inequality and injustice in our society. There was evidence, especially at first, to support that: Thousands of white people joined protests in conservative Lancaster County. An ecumenical crowd of believers signed protest letters and knelt in Penn Square, praying for the abuse of our Black brothers and sisters to cease. But a large slice of the local Christian community, not affiliated with interfaith coalitions, did not share in the awakening. Instead, they followed President Trump’s lead and condemned the protesters, especially those affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Two weeks after the president said “Black Lives Matter” was a “symbol of hate,” the pastor of the largest local evangelical congregation told his flock the Black Lives Matter organization was “filled with hate, violence and intolerance.” He apologized for his tone of voice, but has yet to reveal his source of information on BLM .
Others have pointed out that the women who created #Black Lives Matter studied Marxist philosophy. NOTE: At this point, I was planning to explain why a Black person might find Karl Marx’s contention that workers always end up being exploited by the owners relevant. I was ready with lots of data illustrating how white people have denied people of color access to wealth since the day their ancestors were dragged onto these shores as property. I thought it might be food for thought for those refusing to recognize that saying “White Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” blurs this moment’s focus on Black Lives, and reduces the momentum for real change in America.
That was my plan, until white men with guns shot more Black people. In the last week of August, a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin grabbed a Black man’s shirt from behind and fired seven shots into his back—in front of his three children. He’s alive but reportedly partially paralyzed. Predictably, Kenosha erupted. Then two white men in Bedford County (PA) charged a “Milwaukee to Washington, D.C.” BLM justice march and shot a protester in the face. A day later, a white youth from Illinois allegedly fired his rifle at protestors in Kenosha, killing two and wounding a third. Early reports suggested he was with a group of armed, white men in Kenosha to protect businesses from protesters, much like the gunmen who ascended to the rooftops of Elizabethtown during a protest several weeks ago.
Black Lives Matter was founded to be, as Patrisse Khan-Cullors puts it, “a contributing voice for Black folks and our allies to support changing material conditions for Black people.” Did they have hatred and violence in their hearts, as critics contend? Not according to historian Herbert C. Ruffin, II of Syracuse University, who lists these influences on the formation of BLM: civil rights and black power movements, the black feminist/womanist movement, the anti-apartheid/Pan African movement, the political hip-hop movement, the 2000 LGBT movement, and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. The group rejected the top-down, male-centered structure of earlier civil rights efforts, Ruffin writes, and instead modeled itself on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s. SNCC (pronounced snik) formed in response to Martin Luther King’s admonition to “delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence.” Black Lives Matter embraces SNCC’s founding statement: “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.”
African Americans have been fighting for human rights since the first slave ship left Africa. Thomas Jefferson complained about their uprisings in the Declaration of Independence, when he wrote the King of England “has excited domestic insurrections amongst us.” Black men fought for freedom in the Union Army during the Civil War. But no sooner was slavery’s loathsome yoke lifted than their hard won freedoms and rights, including the right to vote, championed by Lancaster Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, were virtually erased by a southern-sympathizing president and imposition of Jim Crow laws that locked Black people into poverty and oppression. They began marching in the 1950s, and managed to win back some civil rights, including protections at the ballot box. But the Supreme Court recently withdrew some of those safeguards and white society exacerbated the pain of imposed poverty by profiling, beating, and murdering people of color, especially men, out of all proportion to their numbers in the American population. And then came George Floyd’s death.
I’m not sure what it was about Floyd’s death that “woke” white people like me. In a journalism class I teach, I suggest that the Civil Rights Movement was strengthened by the simultaneous arrival of television, and the stark images of racial oppression it beamed into Middle American living rooms. If you can watch the video of George Floyd having the life snuffed out of him and not realize lots of things need to change, then you still aren’t woke. Black Americans didn’t need George Floyd’s murder to know things need to change. They’ve been fighting for change—in employment and housing and education and law enforcement and access to basic human rights—for so long. I don’t think the violence and looting around the edges of some of today’s protests helps the cause, but I think I’m woke enough to understand, in my limited white guy way, why being denied an equal place in American society, and not just denied but intentionally discriminated against, might boil over into angry, and sometimes violent protest against the system. If white Americans get woke and still let this moment fade without working for real systemic change, we relinquish the right to call ourselves “the land of the free and home of the brave…with liberty and justice for all.”
UPDATE: STILL NOT PUBLISHED IN LOCAL PAPER…OTHER OP-EDS SO FAR ALWAYS INCLUDE THE SUGGESTION THAT BLM ORGANIZERS HAVE MARXIST LEANINGS, SO?
(op-ed submitted to our local newspaper–thoughts?)
What do you know about Black Lives Matter?
If you got your information about the Black Lives Matter movement from President Trump, or the senior pastor of the largest evangelical congregation in the Lancaster area, or from some of the critics who write letters to LNP/Lancaster Online, you are likely grossly misinformed. The president has singled out BLM for special attention in his sweeping condemnations of demonstrations calling for police reform and racial justice. Attempting to tie Black Lives Matter to instances of looting and vandalism that have accompanied some of the protests, the president has called activists: an angry mob, professional anarchists, arsonists, looters, rioters, dangerous thugs, and domestic terrorists. On July Fourth, Mr. Trump added all Democrats to his hit list, telling supporters that “the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions.” He told his supporters,“The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society.” He vowed, “We will not be intimidated by bad, evil people.” The president recently told New Yorkers that painting Black Lives Matter on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower would be “a symbol of hate.”
Closer to home, the local pastor told thousands of parishioners, “Saying Black lives matter is simply saying what God himself says,” but, the pastor warned, “The other is an organization that is filled with hate and violence and intolerance.” (The minister later apologized for what he called “inflammatory” language, but he did not disavow his accusation of BLM. I inquired as to the source of the statement, but have not received an answer.) A couple of weeks ago, LNP published a letter from a reader who said, in his view, “BLM wasn’t started to help the Black community realize equality, justice and a better way of life, which I believe it deserves.” (LNP, 6-30-2020, “Concerns about Elizabethtown op-ed”) A letter published in the July 8 LNP (“Coverage does not reflect reality) declared that “Black Lives Matter and other groups have used the justified rage about the killing of George Floyd to create an unjustified and dangerous fear about police in general, particularly in the Black community. That view is seemingly not based on facts.” The writer called on the paper to “report all of the information regarding the Black Lives Matter narrative, including parts that are wrong and dangerous, to show how it’s hurting this country. We need the facts, not propaganda.”
Okay, let’s do that. Here are the facts about Black Lives Matter, based on the scholarship of historian Herbert C. Ruffin, II, Associate Professor of African American Studies at Syracuse University. Black Lives Matter was born out of the heartache experienced by three women of color in the summer of 2013, when, according to Ruffin, they “all responded similarly to the July acquittal of neighborhood coordinator George Zimmerman in the murder of 17-year old Trayvon Martin.”Alicia Garza was an organizer for domestic worker rights in Oakland, CA; Patrisse Khan-Cullors was involved in anti-police violence organizing in Los Angeles; and Opal Tometi was an immigration rights organizer in Phoenix, AZ. In a letter posted on the BLM website (“6 Years Later and Black Activists Are Still Fighting,” blacklivesmatter.com), Patrice Khan-Cullors described their thoughts and feelings when the verdict was reported that day in 2013: “When George Zimmerman was acquitted my body and spirit was moved into action. I couldn’t imagine how in 2013 a white passing person could kill a young boy and not be held accountable. I didn’t want George Zimmerman to be the period to the story. I didn’t want his name to be the name held up over and over again by the media, by his fellow white supremacists.” In that moment, Alicia Garza wrote a Facebook post entitled, “A Love Note to Black People,” urging them to “get active,” and “fight back.” The post ended with: “Our lives Matter, Black Lives Matter.” Cullors responded with “#Black Lives Matter,” Tometi added her support, and, as historian Ruffin put it, “a new organization was born.”
According to Cullors, the three women “firmly believed our movement…needed to be a contributing voice for Black folks and our allies to support changing material conditions for Black people.” Did they have hatred in their hearts, as the president and others allege? Cullors wrote this: “For more than 500 years Black people hve been fighting for our freedom. We have fought back against slavery, Black codes, Jim Crow laws, policing, incarceration, some of the highest unemployment rates, consistent homelessness, dying while giving birth, being murdered for being trans or non-binary. We have been the consistent moral compass in a country that has thrived on harming the most vulnerable of its population.”
Ruffin reports that the newly formed, grass-roots organization drew inspiration from earlier efforts to combat injustice, including the civil rights and black power movements, the black feminist/womanist movement, the anti-apartheid/Pan African movement, the political hip-hop movement, the 2000 LGBT movement, and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. The group rejected what Ruffin describes as the “male-centered, top-down movement structure that had been the model for most previous efforts” and instead modeled itself on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s. The SNCC or “Snick,” as it was called, formed in response to Martin Luther King’s admonition to “delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence.” SNCC did, structuring itself around the teachings of Vanderbilt University student James Lawson, who drafted their founding statement: “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.”
Black Lives Matter grew rapidly and internationally, thanks in part to its skilled use of social media as an organizing tool. From August, 2014 to August, 2015, BLM ( now with more than 40 chapters) organized more than 900 demonstrations worldwide. And, despite claims to the contrary from poorly informed individuals, it has remained true to its non-violent roots. Organizers have utilized several non-violent techniques to draw attention to their issues, some of them provocative, like die-ins, but none of them violent. That was the message from the BLM chapter in Salt Lake City last June 1, after violence and vandalism broke out at a protest there. Lex Scott, a founder of Black Lives Matter Utah condemned the violence and said, “If we catch any members destroying or inciting violence they will be removed from the chapter and I will testify against them myself.” (KUTV, Utah)
A New York Times review of federal arrest records since the racial justice protests began shows that “a majority of the violent acts that have taken place at protests have been attributed by federal prosecutors to individuals with no affiliation to any particular group.” (NYT, 6-11-2020) No arrest of Black Lives Matter activists. But a man wearing a shirt reading “White Lives Matter,” with a Confederate flag on the back, was arrested in late June, in Branson, MO, and charged with “a peace disturbance.” The local police chief said, “The gentleman was warned several times to layoff from the inciteful words that he was using…the officers over there [at a BLM protest outside a Dixie Outfitters store] made the decision that…he was inciting the potential for violence and initiated the arrest.” (Springfield News-Leader, 6-27-2020)
So, who are you going to believe—a president who has lied to the American people more than 20,000 times since he took office, or three women of color who overcame the disillusionment of an American system that has tragically shortchanged Black people and built an organization that is educating and helping to change America for the better? Here’s one satisfied student: Charles Defever, a 28-year old White man living in Washington state, who admits he was lukewarm on Black Lives Matter before George Floyd’s death but is now fully on board. He credits BLM protests with opening his eyes. “I’ve spent a lot of time at the State Capitol listening to young black and brown youth speak about the world they want, and that’s the world I have.” (NYT, 6-27-2020) There it is in a nutshell. Do you believe it?
Herewith an op-ed printed in the June 13, 2020 edition of LNP/Lancasteronline, written after white men with very large guns, dressed in military-style garb took it upon themselves (with a little encouragement from a few local business owners) to ascend to the rooftops of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, for the purpose of….well, it’s not totally clear what they were planning to do, but seeing them up there was a scary proposition. And, of course, their show was no doubt encouraged by the wickedly insane man in the White House:
If armed militia groups are going to give themselves permission to “police” local Black Lives Matter demonstrations, as they did in downtown Elizabethtown on June 6, I think it’s important to know a little more about them.
One of the groups in Elizabethtown — the Carlisle Light Infantry — claims to be the direct descendant of the Carlisle Light Infantry that marched with George Washington against the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania and fought for the Union in the Civil War.
The other, now calling itself the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, identified itself as “Anti ANTIFA” on a newly created Facebook page June 1, but changed to Domestic Terrorism Response Organization shortly after President Donald Trump declared the loosely organized American anti-fascist movement to be a domestic terror group.
The president’s attempt to avoid addressing concerns about police brutality expressed across the country failed miserably. Under U.S. law, the federal government can only “deem entities terrorists and impose sanctions on them” if they’re from another country, according to The New York Times on June 10.
The Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, claiming a membership of about 300 in central Pennsylvania, apparently intends to “respond” to anti-fascist demonstrators wherever they find them in local communities.
No public officials, elected or appointed, say they invited these armed groups to Elizabethtown. News accounts have suggested that a few business owners may have done so. One store operator told LNP | LancasterOnline that the green tape on her shirt was a signal to the gunmen, apparently so they wouldn’t take aim at her if trouble started.
Elizabethtown Police Chief Edward Cunningham told LNP | LancasterOnline that he “became aware” on the night of June 5 that some shop owners had arranged their own security, but said he didn’t invite the militia groups or approve their plans. Apparently, Councilman Bill Troutman didn’t either. Nearly a week later, he was still demanding to know “who put those people on the roof,” according to LNP | LancasterOnline.
One gunman told LNP | LancasterOnline his name is Niels Norby Jr. and stated “I was there to protect everybody” — store owners, police and protesters.
The Domestic Terrorism Response Organization members present in Elizabethtown apparently offered no explanation for their presence there. “Anti-antifa” — a name it previously used on Facebook — is a term that has been coined by and linked to some white supremacist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The Carlisle Light Infantry, in its modern incarnation, describes itself on its website (carlislelightinfantry.com) as “the living, breathing, operational element of the 2nd Amendment as defined by the signers of the constitution of the United States as ‘a well regulated militia.’ ”
Asserting to be the revitalized progeny of the Colonial-era Carlisle militia, the current leaders explain why they had to get the unit back up and running: “We live in a time where we as citizens are apprehensive, even afraid of our uniformed officers. We’re doubtful and suspicious of our local elected officials. We’re convinced that our leaders do not have our best interests, our families and livelihoods, in mind as they make decisions that effect every aspect of our daily lives. We live in a time when our open arms to the world and it’s many peoples and cultures invites risk and harm to our own. We therefore live in a time where it’s our personal and civic duty to stand up for what’s right, and protect what matters most.”
If we link the group’s fear of the world’s “many peoples and cultures” to its fear of “the difficulties these times present in maintaining order and vigilance with the growing number of diverse people who reside within our communities,” I believe that a clearer sense of the Carlisle Light Infantry begins to emerge.
Despite its assertion that “we do not, and will not, discriminate against anyone,” there is not one black or brown face in the several group photos posted its website. Put all of that together and you come up with what sounds to me like another white nationalist group intent on imposing its jaundiced view of 21st century American society on communities (as it did in Elizabethtown on June 6), whether we ask for it or not.
Shocking as it is to view photos of these people brandishing their weapons on the rooftops of downtown Elizabethtown, it really is nothing new. Militia members essentially threatened to lynch Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month to express their displeasure with restrictions imposed to protect them from the deadly coronavirus.
But they go much further back than that. I met these disaffected Americans years ago when I was reporting in Michigan, Indiana and upstate New York. Like the Carlisle group, they called themselves “real” patriots. Those I met had lost faith in this country and its institutions, including the political system, the police and the military. Like the Carlisle Light Infantry, those militia members lived in fear; for them it was fear of a one-world government, secret messages on the back of road signs and black helicopters on the horizon.
For the Carlisle Light Infantry, it’s — in my view — fear of people of color, immigrants, diversity and a world not dominated by white people.
I felt sad talking to those militia groups back then, and the same sadness washes over me as I listen to these militia groups today. Their members seem so desperate that they’re willing to take up arms against their fellow citizens.
Back then, I tended to write these folks off as an insignificant splinter of the American body politic. But I don’t think we can ignore them anymore. They have a president who seemingly encourages them to take the law into their own hands and who shows no signs of understanding the traumatic experiences of any Americans, black or white.
Notice that today’s militia members seemingly express no sense of identifying with the struggle for racial equality and justice now sweeping across our country. It was a peaceful desire to support Black Lives Matter that triggered the protest in Elizabethtown on June 6. But the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization and the Carlisle Light Infantry didn’t come for that. They stood with trigger fingers at the ready — an intimidating, self-appointed presence — apparently prepared to take out anyone who crossed whatever lines they drew for acceptable behavior during a demonstration against police brutality.
Although the Carlisle Light Infantry puts in a lot of time drilling, these members are not trained police officers. Thank God the day did not end in tragedy. But the challenge posed by these groups did not end at sundown in Elizabethtown. A civil society cannot allow violence or the threat of violence to usurp the rule of law.
These are tragically disappointed people, gripped by fear and a mindset that will lead to nothing good. We must invite them back into the community dialogue now — for their sake and ours. There’s no better time than the present.
Mark Kelley is a retired journalist and journalism professor, now living in Lancaster. He holds a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communications from Syracuse University and served as the main anchor for WNDU-TV in South Bend, Indiana.
Nothing really new to see here, but the sentiments are as intensely felt, as sincere, as urgent as ever, maybe more so. Pray, shout, march, demonstrate, protest, vote, say it over and over again, tell the truth, do whatever comes to mind (nonviolently) to remove this dangerously insane man from public life (and maybe help save democracy in the process.) Hence, the following appeal:
Yes, we have a right to protest police brutality.
No, violence by demonstrators does not help the cause.
Yes, we need serious reform in American law enforcement.
No, nothing this man Trump is doing helps at all, but he can’t help it.
Yes, he is mentally unhinged and increasingly dangerous.
No, we can’t let him destroy our nation.
Yes, it’s time to use the 25th Amendment and lock him up someplace where he can’t hurt anyone else or himself.
[Coming soon: The kick-off of a “Billy Sunday crusade” to call evangelical Christians back from the gates of hell where they currently stand guard for this grossly immoral and mentally defective man, Trump. Jesus would want us to save these tragically misguided souls from perdition.]
Reading that armed anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan threatened to lynch Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer(D) over the coronavirus reminded me of my reporting days in Michigan, Indiana, and upstate New York in the 1980s and 1990s. In all three states, I met radical, white supremacists—they called themselves militias and claimed to be the “real” patriots of America. They talked constantly of overthrowing the government. They told me about secret messages posted on road signs by one-world government advocates, like President George H. W. Bush. They told me black helicopters would one day come rumbling over the treetops to rob them of their “freedoms.” And they were confident they had enough fire power to defeat the National Guard. I felt sad talking to them, these people who no longer believe in the great democratic experiment known as the United States of America. Back then, I tended to write them off as an insignificant splinter of the American body politic. I don’t think we can ignore them anymore. Our current president is egging them on. While he subverts the rule of law in Washington, he encourages them to take matters into their own hands whenever they disagree with health precautions ordered by elected officials where they live. We can’t let violence replace civil order, even if it’s encouraged by the president. Somehow we must invite these citizens back into the community dialogue, for their sake and ours. The task will be easier if we dump the anti-government cheerleader in the White House in November.
Please find below my latest offering to our local paper (LNP/LancasterOnline). I’m hoping it will make it into print soon. As always, I welcome your thoughts and reactions:
T.P. and guns won’t save us from the coronavirus, but empathy might
After weeks of reading and reflecting about our reactions to the frightening virus creeping among us, here’s where I come out. Those of us hoarding toilet paper and buying guns should not be criticized. In both instances, our actions are driven by an unconscious instinct laser-focused on our own survival and the survival of those dearest to us. That instinct, fueled by fear and uncertainty, bypasses the part of our brain where we normally think about things—like threats posed by a dangerous virus. We can reverse those actions if we want to, but why would we want to? Because thoughtful reflection about the situation and about our true human nature might lead us to change course. That course correction could improve our chances of surviving this pandemic and whatever lies beyond it more than all the toilet paper and guns in the world.
Scientists tell us this about human nature: Thousands of years ago human evolution brought us to the point that human relationships were regulated by sympathy and gratitude, which merged into a highly successful survival strategy known today as reciprocal altruism—I care about you and you care about me. In 1978, Dr. Richard Leakey reported that empathy and cooperation are hardwired intohuman nature (People of the Lake), a fact confirmed by Dr. Nicholas Christakis in 2019. Christakis wrote that our “capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals” are so embedded in our genes that “humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.” (Blueprint)
Think what it would mean in this difficult moment if empathy guided our actions rather than basic survival instincts. There’d be no hoarding of toilet paper because we’d realize everyone else needed it as much as we do. We wouldn’t need to buy guns and stand terrified watch for the starving hordes if we entered this dark tunnel already committed to meeting each other’s needs.
It’s encouraging to note that some wealthy individuals are doing this, and many more could. So could those of us who aren’t rich, and many already are. But if we poured the thousands of dollars spent on guns since the coronavirus arrived into meeting needs, think how far it would go toward reducing the desperation engulfing the less fortunate. If we altered course from self preservation to focus on everyone’s preservation, we could truthfully shout from the rooftops: “We’re all in this together.”
And there’s this thought—a somewhat selfish one, perhaps. Health experts say reaching out to our community is good for us—mentally and physically. With fear and uncertainty wearing us down, why not take advantage of behavior that builds us up and serves others at the same time?
I hope we can transcend the urge to stockpile T.P. or stand in our doorways clutching a gun. As we face this terrifying pandemic, I believe a thoughtful, empathetic reaction to friends and neighbors and those we don’t know will bring more of us out the other side than surrendering to a self-focused, survival instinct. And, just for the record: toilet paper and guns have no known preventive or curative properties. Doctors do not recommend them as the most effective way to survive a viral pandemic.