HAPPY MASKING BY STEVE DAVIS
Updated: Mar 27
Any of you who know those of us behind the launching of the New Social Democrats or who have checked out the recommended readings section of our website know that George Orwell is one of our giant inspirations. During WW II, Orwell wrote a regular column for Tribune, which he described as a “left-wing weekly.” As the column’s title “As I Please” indicated, Orwell had a free choice of topics, commenting on current news and personal experiences. As always, Orwell’s political analysis and prose style in these articles was exemplary. The clarity and honesty in which he communicated should be a model for academics, politicians, and all other prospective writers right now.
This blog feature on the New Social Democrats site is written in the spirit of “As I Please.” We will invite short contributions on an unlimited range of subjects. This initial piece is written in that manner to “prime the pump” for subsequent contributors. Let’s get started!
This past Saturday morning, strapped for cash, I went by a local convenience store to use the ATM and grab a breakfast taco. As this is Montgomery County, which gave Trump more than 70% of the vote in November, I am very conscious of the conservative culture that seemingly dictates masklessness while the pandemic still rages. Having received my first Moderna shot though about ten days prior, I thought I would brave the outing into a business that I already knew did not enforce mask-wearing. I needed the money and was really salivating over that chorizo taco.
The place as it turned out was packed with motorcyclists who had just rolled in from somewhere. I saw lots of Bandido jackets (“these colors don’t run”) and those of some other clubs as well. It brought a memory back of the biker gathering at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco in May 2015 in which all hell erupted and nine were shot and killed. My wife and I were in Lisbon on our honeymoon and in our little apartamento watched the bloody coverage on the Portuguese channels as well as on the BBC. There were no masks or social distancing evident Saturday. And suffice to say, I didn’t confront any of the motorcyclists about it. Had I been so foolish, I can imagine the resulting headline in the local press: “Outlaw Biker Gang Stomps Hell Out of History Professor at Local Gas Station!” I simply got my money, skipped the taco counter, and vamoosed from there as quickly as possible.
Now what if anything does this have to with social democracy? What COVID has revealed in this country is not only the intolerable inequities rooted in capitalism and racism, but the disheartening lack of social cohesion that marks our society. The news this morning is of super spreader cavortings on spring break beaches and of a club in Houston that plans a “go maskless” party this Wednesday to celebrate our Neanderthal (President Biden picked the right adjective) governor’s decision to fully re-open the state. Social democracy offers an opposite vision to the preceding, one that values solidaristic ties of community over rampant, irresponsible individualism. It is not just a vision that is radically different, but one that is far superior.
I am reminded of Rick Steves’s wonderful chapter on Denmark in his Travel as a Political Act. That chapter is entitled “Highly Taxed and Highly Content,” which captures much of social democracy’s appeal. After all, you get what you pay for, and the differences in areas like education, public transportation, and health care between the U.S. and Denmark measure our country’s sad comparative shortcomings. Steves talks about how the Danes combat the “free rider” problem, the temptation to take more than one’s own fair share if the freedom exists to do so. The Danes surmount this with their greater public spiritedness, by realizing that the kind of selfish behavior that infects American society would bring the collapse of their own. Steves relates drawing ugly looks when he jaywalks in Copenhagen so adjusts his behavior accordingly. In my suburban neighborhood by contrast, people in giant pickups and SUVs, blow through stop signs as if they were non-existent, oblivious to the potential dangers. That sort of thoughtlessness reflects community standards just as much as maskless Bandidos at the filling station.
In conclusion, social democracy proposes not just new policies for the country but prescribes an alternate mindset. Let’s hope that the health crisis helps many Americans realize that a strong dose of “social-ism” is just the medicine we need for COVID and our many other ills.
March 8, 2021