Free to Die: The Rise of Anti-Lockdown Protesters

Reopen America Protester with anger disgust

“To be, or not to be” . . . that’s the famous question asked in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Our version today in America . . .  whether to follow the stay-at-home approach advocated by medical experts, or ignore their guidance. The photo above captures the two opposing perspectives. A Denver protester is snarling in outrage: “This is the land of the free. Go to China!” A calm medical worker blocks her path. This is not an isolated incident. Across America, gun-toting, MAGA-hat wearing, anti-lockdown protestors are agitating for the economy to be opened immediately . . . or else. Most Americans agree it’s a false choice. We need both our health and our jobs, but in that order – lives ahead of livelihoods. So what is really going on here?

The answer is emotional manipulation rooted in getting supporters to deflect blame and anger. People are hurting, hence the need to turn their anger away from The White House to scapegoats like China, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Democratic governors, or reporters for asking why Donald Trump has been so slow and inept at handling this crisis. Such manipulation is a survival tactic meant to protect just one person: the President and his re-election prospects. Trump is gambling, as usual. In this case, not with creditors’ money on behalf of his casinos and hotels but with our lives, by taking any chance he can to get the economy rolling again. And why not? That’s Trump’s modus operandi. The situation brings to mind this anecdote about risk taking. As Adolf Hitler was preparing to invade Russia in 1941, his henchmen Hermann Goering begged the Fuhrer not to take such a big, foolish gamble, to which Hitler abruptly replied: “I always gamble.”

Trump has called the protesters “very responsible people.” A White House economic advisor, Stephen Moore, has compared them to civil-rights champion Rosa Parks. Never mind that some of the protestors come to these shoulder-to-shoulder, social-distancing-flouting rallies waving Confederate flags. In politics, anger and disgust have their own internal, intuitive logic. Anger means you hit out (verbally or otherwise) at opponents, the “vermin” you’re disgusted with. Will the driver of the aptly-named RAM 1500 vehicle slam into this scrub-clad medical worker, as happened to counter-protestors in Charlottesville? No, no violence occurred this time around, thank god. But if virus history repeats itself, then forget the anger and disgust that divides us as a country. Those emotions are distractions. What we need to feel is fear given what happened in 1918, when the second wave of the influenza pandemic was deadlier than the first.

Heaven and Hell Have Merged

Can technology be wonderful? The left-hand photo shows how facial recognition technology, the scanning of your face, allows this screen inside an airport in China to give you a flight status update, automatically. That’s a low-grade version of heaven. The photo alongside it shows Uighurs being watched in Muslim, northwest China using that same technology. Welcome to outright hell. Lots of people used to doubt me when I said face recognition (identity) and the next step, facial coding automation (emotion recognition), will for better or worse radically transform our world. Not anymore. The Economist magazine, for one, now speaks in terms of the emerging “facial-industrial complex.” Watch out—because they’re watching you. On Monday of this week, the Department of Homeland Security admitted to a large data breach consisting of photos of U.S. travelers taken at scanning post inside our country’s airports. Who did it, and what kind of information do they hope to unlock?

There’s an old business joke about Carly Fiorina going to the afterlife following her merger of HP and Compaq. On witnessing lots of suffering around her, Fiorina goes up to a guard and quizzingly complains: “I was supposed to go to heaven. This looks a lot like hell.” The guard’s nonchalant reply: “Didn’t you hear the news? We merged.”