Herd Immunity

Four years ago when Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States of America many people including myself characterized the sanction of a former television personality as merely a reaction to what almost everyone accepts as the often discredited self-interest of politicians. Trump’s questionable talent and notable vulgarity were dismissed as that of a “fresh face” who spoke “normally” and who was by extension dedicated to the will of the people and the satisfaction of their needs. Where the deduction goes awry is its failure to recognize the identical dereliction of which it accuses others; namely, self-interest. The more important concern about reasoned decision-making was at the time irrelevant.

The topic of herd immunity has lately arisen in the context of the pandemic. As we now know for certain it is a preposterous solution to the problem.  What however has seemingly escaped the attention of the public is the equally dangerous concept of herd mentality.

Herd mentality, mob mentality and pack mentality, also lesser known as gang mentality, describes how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis. When individuals are affected by mob mentality, they may make different decisions than they would have individually.

Regrettably the persuasion of the crowd – or what Hilary Clinton poetically called the “deplorables” – is a mistaken belief with fatal consequences. It is however imperative to acknowledge that blasting others as a tactic to promote one’s own advancement has never proven to be anything more than a debating strategy – having little value other than being on the side of the government or opposition in a meaningless argument such as whether Little Red Riding Hood is a Sexual Myth.  That is, as a strictly quarrelsome device you can say just about anything you want to strengthen your position as long as it involves a critique of the other side.

Adolf Hitler’s rise to power began in Germany in September 1919 when Hitler joined the political party then known as the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – DAP (German Workers’ Party). The name was changed in 1920 to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party). It was anti-Marxist and opposed to the democratic post-war government of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles, advocating extreme nationalism and Pan-Germanism as well as virulent anti-Semitism. Hitler attained power in March 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933 in that month, giving expanded authority. President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after a series of parliamentary elections and associated backroom intrigues. The Enabling Act – when used ruthlessly and with authority – virtually assured that Hitler could thereafter constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection.

Granted it is a small compliment to the so-called masses that they will believe what they’ve been told – especially if it appears to make things better. But the sad truth is that most people do not spend their day listening alternately to CNN and FOX NEWS – the digestible illustrations of left and right, liberal and conservative, white and black, etc. That is, people prefer to get the “short form” message which “cuts to the chase”. The further unfortunate implication is that most people haven’t the time or inclination to think about things at length – especially if the process lacks the entertainment of comedy for example.  There was a reason Punch magazine worked but humour doesn’t necessarily or always advance the truth. On the other hand, lasciviousness, personal attacks, language of the gutter, showing off one’s money or material, pretending to be educated, excusing failure by heel spurs and claiming to be of upper-class ancestry are far more endearing and palatable.  By contrast, fact, analysis, cooperation and accommodation are tarsome preoccupations.

As much as almost half of American voters are wont to castigate themselves for having promoted a man who is proving to be certifiably insane, the evidence is increasingly against them. The association of this maniac with the entire Republican Party has paradoxically demonstrated the very thesis of the swamp life-style they so willingly clamoured about in the first place.

There is an old adage that you can’t make yourself taller by standing on others.  Even attempting to dilute Hitler’s madness by relying on the putative economic stratagem of “Mein Kampf” (Hitler’s autobiographical political manifesto – itself designed to defray Hitler’s personal insolvency) is yet another example of the combative means by which small men seek to enlarge themselves. Notably the solution is always tied to diminution of others – sometimes with fatal consequences not far removed from Trump’s latest peril of the imposition of marshal law or the recent shocking threats to the life and safety of opponents.

As I listened two days ago to the aspirations of president-elect Joseph R. Biden’s environmental team I was overwhelmed by the intelligence of the speakers, the genuine account of their past struggles and achievements and their devotion to a compromise of existential improvement and the economy.  Pointedly nowhere in any of the addresses was there any attempt to advance the case by ruining others, either directly or indirectly.  Nor should there have been. Clearly every human being from time to time suffers the less than model behaviour of criticism of others; but in the context of public service it is axiomatic that there is no place for purely emotional assault.

The mercurial transition of Trump in his erstwhile alliances and antagonisms is exemplary of the wastefulness of division. Significantly neither posture – whether supportive or critical – does anything to advance the debate about what should be done for the improvement of society. It has however proven Trump’s incompetence and inability to do anything more than run a trifling television entertainment. Meanwhile the Republican Party has over and over again contributed to the tragedy by itself vacillating between condemnation and sycophantic idolatry for self-preservation. The records of the likes of Mike Pence, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are shocking examples of the willingness of party hacks to do whatever it takes – back to the initial abuse of ad hominem argument.

Americans – and all of us for that matter – would in my opinion do well to recollect the entanglement of Germans with a mad man and the resulting defeat of their entire country in a world war at the hands of allies with a common purpose.  After 75 years (1945 – 2020) Germans are still trying to live down their violation of humanity. It is not a flattering inheritance and certainly one Americans should be reluctant to embrace for any reason.

The real amusement in life doesn’t derive from Howdy Doody or Walt Disney; rather it is the tangible and sometimes common details of life and associations which both divert and inspire. Being the predominant character in a room because one has passed wind is not the secret to unification. To mistakenly imagine that one’s own thoughts and beliefs are superior to others for whatever reason is a dangerous and slippery road – and one you may have to take alone. I’d much prefer to acknowledge difference and travel together because there is no escaping the necessity in the end. It is far more satisfying to question why others do or think what they do than it is to isolate oneself by gated communities or any other abstraction of isolationism or nationalism.

As Ebenezer Scrooge was warned by his dead friend Jacob Marley, the business of mankind is the welfare of others.  This resounds especially at this time of universal and unqualified peril.  We are fooling ourselves beyond comprehension to pretend that the colour of our skin or the size of our bank account will do anything to spare us.

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

In the movie, “A Christmas Carol.” One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when the ghost of Jacob Marley visits his old partner Ebenezer Scrooge. Marley tries to warn Scrooge to change his ways before it is too late. It’s too late for Marley, who drags the chains of sin and neglect with him for all eternity; for he had turned his back on mankind. Marley is seven years deceased, and warns Scrooge that Scrooge’s chains of sin and neglect are far greater than Marley’s, since Scrooge has had an additional seven years to commit sin and neglect. Jacob Marley tries to impart some wisdom; to explain to Ebenezer the error of his own ways by stating:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” – Charles Dickens