I hate being told what to do or not do, and almost always side with rebels who reject the status quo. There was an old cowboy song – “Don’t Fence Me In” – which my family used to sing to me – or at me – whenever I got antsy, as a kid. Even now, 70 years later, rather than trying to reason me out of my twice daily snit, my wife simply lampoons my stance – hands on hips, chin thrust out, yelling “DON’T F**ING TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” It sometimes makes me laugh.

Last month I wrote a column dismissive of evangelical and Hasidic crybabies who refused to observe anti-virus precautions. Perhaps that was insensitive of me. (Imagine that!) With church services forbidden, some even took their case to court, complaining that their religious freedoms were being abridged. There are undoubtedly good, sincere folks out there who rely on weekly religious assemblies for comfort and sustenance. (I doubt that they’re the ones who sue. Can’t say for sure.)

Compared to folks in most parts of the world, Americans have led a comfy, unafflicted life. We have never endured foreign occupation, or, almost, not even attack. The U.S. has been blessed with lots of space, generous natural resources, and relatively comfortable – or at least tolerable – living conditions. We are, as a result, somewhat naive: comparatively credulous; comparatively informal; comparatively generous. I knew a German kid who grew up during World War Two. He said that his countrymen, after the war, were mystified by the Americans (calling them “verrukter amerikaner,” “crazy Americans,”) unable to understand how we could be so friendly and generous, sharing candy and cigarettes with those who, only days earlier, had been trying to kill us, as if war were only a game. 

Kathryn and I don’t have kids of our own, but we used to enjoy having our young nieces and nephews over to the house. The kids would have a real good time, play games they liked, eat food they liked, and run around and laugh a lot. But, in the evening, when their folks returned, they’d sober up and cop the peevish stance of kids who’d been through hell. Pourquoi? To rattle their parents, I guess, hoping they could milk the guilt to gain some sort of treat on the way home, like a stop at the neighborhood donut supply.

What’s remarkable to me about the simplistic, Don’t Tread On Me! posture of America’s current rebels (religious and political) is the melodrama: assembling on the steps of the state capitol with their assault rifles, which are really just props, like the six-guns nine-year-olds wear to birthday parties to make them feel macho and cool. (Who do they think they are going to shoot, after all? And to what end?) It’s mostly to impress themselves (and camera crews, of course.)

Rebellion is sometimes a form of distraction. If I believe that COVID is a hoax – despite the full-up ICU’s, exhausted staff, and semi-trailers out in back, overflowing with corpses on ice, then I can bury my nervousness under indignation, which feels much less helpless. If I were a judge in a courtroom somewhere, and those gun-packing, mask-refusing show-offs were brought before me, I’d sentence them to such educational “community service” as emptying hospital bedpans or schlepping COVID corpses to the reefers in the yard. 

Oops, there I go being judgmental again! Oh, well. 

This is an op-ed, after all!