The only right you’ll get there is the right to die
May 11th, 2020
We had a mass gathering of morons about 75 miles down I-5 over the weekend, a rodeo in a town called Cottonwood. Over 2,000 attended an event whose only rationale was that it was semi-traditional.
“This event’s been going on for 50 years, it’s a tradition for probably most of us, the rest of them that are here have been tired of being cooped up for months,” rodeo-goer Don Johnson told KRCR News.
“We have constitutional rights, we have inalienable rights given to us by God,” he added.
Well, first there’s the matter of the fact that 2,000 yahoos got together to yell at cowboys mistreating animals. Yes, Northern California has been lightly hit by the pandemic (my county, which is adjacent to Shasta County where Cottonwood is located, has had five cases, none fatal, with the last one on April 10th). Yes, California has moved to Stage 2 of the lock down, and our county has petitioned to be moved to Stage 3. So it’s reasonable for people to drop their guard a bit. But you can be sure none of the yahoos were staying six feet apart, and wearing a mask to fight something a millionth your size just ain’t manly, yuh know?
There was a show on HBO called Avenue 5, about a luxury cruise liner in space which gets knocked off course, and instead of a projected eight weeks, it’s three and a half years from Earth. Written two years before anyone ever heard the phrase “Covid-19” the passengers chafe against the involuntary and seemingly endless isolation, and in the penultimate episode many passengers become convinced that the whole “marooned in space” thing is a hoax, and a number “die of stupidity” in the Captain’s (Hugh Laurie’s) words, by “exposing the hoax” of being in space by stepping out the airlock. You couldn’t watch that without thinking of the whole “ReOpen” movement.
With the exception of certain high-ranking members of the administration, I don’t wish this disease on anybody, and I sincerely hope that all the attendees at the rodeo are in good health two weeks from now. Given the generally light contagion in this region, there’s a chance that wish will pan out. If if just ONE attendee is feeling fine right now has the disease, the stage for an outbreak is set. But I’m sure you’ve been following the course of the pandemic as closely as I have, and know all this.
One line that Johnson uttered was particularly grating. “… [W]e have inalienable rights given to us by God.”
The first thing that crossed my mind was medieval Europe, when contagions swept through (including, most famously, the Black Plague), and people would gather in churches and cathedrals seeking shelter and salvation from the curse. It was a habit that killed additional tens of thousands of people, perhaps more. And while people did not know how the disease spread from one person to another, they couldn’t help but notice that more people who were at those gatherings died. It’s pretty hard to miss something like that, especially if you’re in a small town and it’s easy to see who is dying, and the rate at which they are dying.
But they couldn’t talk about it. It was sacrilege, you see, and at various times and in various places, suggesting that a gathering in the sight of God for salvation wasn’t working out, was in fact making things worse, could get you burned at the stake, or hung, drawn and quartered, or any number of other medieval amusements designed to protect the gods from doubters.
The other reason it irritated is that none of the rights American enjoy were “God-given.” The phrase does appear in the Declaration of Independence, America’s “Dear John” letter to King George III. It was inserted, over author Thomas Jefferson’s objections, as a rhetorical flourish intended to give the document some gravitas in the eyes of the King by citing the one thing in England deemed more powerful than the King himself. Didn’t work, but hey, nice try, guys! Kings are kinda notorious for having only cosmetic reverence for God, and George III was no exception.
The rights that god-struck types like to describe as being Ordained from Above were actually torn from the long history of feudal oppression in Europe by the people themselves. It’s for a reason that the opening words of the Constitution, “We the People…” set the tone for the entire document. Not only did gods and churches have no role in the government of the people being proposed, but the Constitution specified that neither church nor state should interfere in the working of the other, and that no religious qualification should be permitted for any office or position of public trust in America. Nor was that a mere flourish: by its language, “…but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” it’s the one thing in the entire document that cannot be amended.
So when people talk about ‘God-given rights’ not only are they talking about a different set of rights assigned to God by a half-hearted and ineffectual flourish, but the rights they are talking about (incorrectly, in the case of the rodeo) are very explicitly created by People for People. No gods need apply.
I’ve said at several occasions that I social distance, not because the government said so, but as a matter of common sense. Not only am I protecting myself, but I’m lowering the odds of my wandering around with no symptoms but crawling with disease, and thus am protecting you and yours.
I don’t have the government violating my rights because god likes rodeos, and I see no need to take advice from a god that, following the logic of magical thinking, caused the plague in the first place.