COVID-19: Why I Am Ashamed to Be a Southerner
Just to be very clear — this post may undergo some changes in the coming days as I develop more insight into the situation and swivel around my perspective, as I usually do, but the one thing that will stay the same is the fact that this particular crisis has caused me to question everything and everyone with which and whom I normally associate.
After standing on the sidelines for nearly two years without putting in my two cents (especially on social media), I have finally decided to give this opinion piece, but it’s on my own personal blog. That means that the only people who will care to read it are people who are interested in my opinion or simply stumble across it somewhere on the Internet and decide to read it. I hope it provides some insight and could potentially help somebody in one way or another.
To start off, I want to say that during the very beginnings of the pandemic, I started hearing about how the topic of wearing masks was being made into something political. This absolutely blew my mind, and was impossible for me to comprehend at the time. I thought that everyone would be on the same page about this, but come to find out, there were actually people who were fighting against wearing masks when it was publicly mandated for safety reasons. I also started seeing breakdown comparisons of governors who were imposing mask mandates versus those who weren’t, and it was divided red against blue. I thought that surely people were manipulating data to just try and “make” it political because they had nothing else to do besides stir up drama in exchange for views and attention, but over time I have come to realize that of all things, a global pandemic has actually come to be politicized, which I consider to be an absolute travesty. And to be quite honest, maybe it did start out as some people who wanted to make it political when originally that thought would have never occurred naturally, but nevertheless, the seed was planted, and it eventually grew into an enormous beast of ignorance and selfishness.
The Increase in Division
Throughout this entire pandemic, there has been an increasing separation between liberals and conservatives, which has been highly antagonized by the 2020 presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the introduction of the COVID vaccine. I won’t get started on the politics of the election, but the other two things seem to stand out a bit more — Black Lives Matter and the COVID vaccine — neither of which have any reason whatsoever to be politicized, because no matter which side of the aisle you stand on, common sense should say that “yes, black lives do matter,” and it should also say that “there is a vaccine for a worldwide pandemic that will save the lives of human beings — hundreds of thousands of lives, and potentially even more.”
For the purpose of this article, I will leave the Black Lives Matter movement off the table, but for the record, my feelings are that if you protested this movement saying “All Lives Matter”, then you are either racist and stubborn, or a complete idiot who misses the point of the movement entirely. Of course all lives matter — that’s not the point — people were trying to bring the attention to the black community in particular and how they have suffered the result of systemic racism through the centuries, and it’s time to put a stop to that bullshit. But like I said, this article is about COVID and my fellow rednecks…
This increase in division seemed to be pretty instantaneous between liberals and conservatives, but from what we have seen, it has torn through the entire conservative communities even more-so, not necessarily dividing them against themselves, but more like eating away at them in different parts, doing more radical damage in some places than others. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only mutated into different strains, but from a sociological perspective, the conditions surrounding the pandemic itself have managed to spawn somewhat of a mental plague, which in its own right appears to function like a contagious form of cancer — not really choosing which hosts to infect, but appears to thrive in the minds of those that tend to lend toward the conservative side.
This cancer of the mind has caused people to worship a greedy, self-absorbed, wannabe tyrant of a man who obviously has a severe lack of morals, yet we have seen people who hold their morals to the highest standards embrace him as their spokesperson. It has caused victims of this mind cancer to storm their nation’s capitol. It has led to the attempt to overthrow a national election. And for the worst victims, it has led them down the meaningless QAnon rabbit hole and has planted the seeds of conspiracies of the “deep state” in the deepest levels of the mind. At the very least, there have been three main effects of this mind cancer, which are as follows:
- Severe mistrust in the U.S. government
- Severe mistrust in the fields of science and medicine
- Abject judgement and/or ridicule toward anyone who doesn’t share common beliefs
I have made a point above to use the term “mistrust” instead of “distrust”. This is because, while often used interchangeably, “mistrust” refers to “general uncertainty or unease” — whereas “distrust” refers to “lack of trust based on experience or reliable information” — the latter of which there are no clear examples on which to base a foundation.
I would also like to make the point that I have always hated politics (still do), and discussing politics always seems to lead to disharmony between individuals who can ordinarily agree on things and get along together just fine. However, as we saw in the 2020 presidential debates, it has become near impossible to have an honest debate anymore, when one side is convinced of certain “truths”, of which they hold so near and dear to their hearts, that they will not even honestly debate with you, because there is literally nothing you can do to convince them to compromise on their beliefs. They do not believe in viewing alternative perspectives, because the only perspective that matters to them is their own, and it doesn’t even matter to them to investigate how they came to have those perspectives in the first place. Now I have never considered myself to “be” a Democrat or a Republican. Generally, I think labels are stupid, albeit necessary in some cases for the purposes of categorization. That being said, I always make a point to stick to common sense and the greater good of humanity, and the past couple years have shown me a severe lack of these two fundamental characteristics in the Republican Party and the vast majority of those who label themselves as “conservative”.
I have no allegory or comparison that would lead to a Chewbacca Defense in this scenario. We have an actual black market for fake vaccination cards right now, where people are spending upwards of $400 on a card they can literally walk down the street and get for free just by getting an injection in the arm — an injection which has the ability to potentially save their life, not to mention countless others lives. I only have the single relevant phrase to describe the resulting symptoms displayed by the victims of this “coronavirus of the mind” — “IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!”
The Arguments of the “Victims”
We will refer to the people in question as victims from now on, because they have obviously been victimized by “fake news” (using their own words), as well as a barrage of targeted misinformation — and by targeted misinformation, I am not using that in nearly the same way as targeted disinformation — which would be a reference to the intentional spread of misinformation and propaganda (although I’m not saying that QAnon could not be classified as disinformation). But the point is this: we have all of these people on social media, which is algorithmically designed to show them what they want to see. The algorithms don’t care about morals and truth. The algorithms are designed to keep you on the platform by pandering to your personal interests. Combine this with the fact that these victims mainly associate with like-minded individuals who share their same mistrust and beliefs, and you have an echo chamber that has quite literally created a mob mentality.
The Slippery Slope
These victims are most often seen using the “slippery slope argument“, which is a known logical fallacy that often leads to fear-mongering. They will complain about their employer creating a rule where if they contract COVID and are not vaccinated, then they will have to use sick days and personal time off, whereas COVID time off is covered for individuals who have received the vaccination. They see this as unfair and consider it mistreatment, when in reality it is only being used as a strong incentive to protect against the spread of disease within the organization. Before COVID, if you got the flu, you would have to use sick days. The only difference now in this particular situation being discussed is that there is an additional incentive for individuals who receive the vaccination. The “slippery slope” argument often includes the phrase, “I mean, what’s next –“, which is an automatic red flag that someone is about to use a logical fallacy. “I mean, what’s next — are companies going to only start hiring people with proof of vaccination? Is the government going to start requiring to see proof of vaccination before you are allowed to fly on a plane?” These are perfect examples of the slippery slope argument and how it absolutely does not apply to the situation at hand.
“My Body, My Choice”
This one is kind of a low blow. Not only are they misappropriating a slogan from their rival Pro-Choice activists, which originally came from the use of women who don’t feel like it is the right for the government to tell them whether or not they were allowed to get an abortion. We won’t get caught up in the politics of whether abortion is right or wrong, but this argument (and statement itself when not being used in a Pro-Choice context) is just bad all the way around. Let’s try to tackle it from a few different perspectives.
First of all, this slogan, when used by anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers, is a direct slap in the face to the people who don’t share the same views as them, thus automatically implying intent to harm and disrespect straight out of the gate, without even giving real reasons for their actions or thought processes. You will often see these victims get a kick out of trolling, ruffling feathers, and by doing anything that will cause others unlike themselves to be offended. To put that into perspective, they are bullies. They get off on hurting other people.
Secondly, a major staple of these victims is “small government”, as in, the government should have as little mandate over their lives as possible — they should be able to make their own decisions without the government requiring them to do a certain thing that might go against their morals. Yet, when others who don’t share their same points of view want the right to the same (e.g. Pro-Choice females), they all get together and have the government step in to make sure that all women “do the right thing”. They are flip-flopping all over the place, with their only concern being themselves, their own lives, and the emotions that they themselves feel. This is blatantly selfish and borderline narcissistic behavior on the deepest level.
They are Pro-Life, so they don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose whether or not to bring a brand new life into the world, yet at the same time, they are only concerned with themselves and the possibility of encountering some sort of unexpected longterm side effects of a vaccine that has been proven to reduce the effects and spread, and for the most part prevent COVID-19 — which is actively taking the lives of people who have already been born, and have established histories of already living in this world, and yet their futures are being ripped away by this disease in the numbers of hundreds of thousands. These people, by refusing to take the vaccine or wear a mask, are making themselves willing accomplices in the deaths of others as a result of their actions (or inactions). That is not freedom — that is manslaughter.
How can you be pro-small-government, yet applaud governments for attempting to stop the prevention of birth? At the same time, how can you be Pro-Life and yet criticize governments for attempting to prevent death? How can you be willing to spread a deadly disease with no damage to your conscience? This presents itself as a severe lack of empathy, which is a borderline sociopathic trait. Essentially these people get off by enforcing their will and morals upon others, yet they get offended when they are suddenly in the spotlight for not doing what the majority of humans feel to be the morally-right thing to do.
During this entire pandemic, I have come to observe the following character traits and/or attributes in essentially all of these individuals we are currently discussing:
- Inability to view other perspectives than their own and/or unwilling to entertain possibilities outside their existing frame of reference (which itself falls under the previous general category of “stubborn”)
It should be noted that many are also quick to anger and try to make others feel bad with a “wanna fight about it?” attitude, which gives the persona of “my views are the only truth, and yours are wrong, you should feel bad for believing what you believe, and unless you want to start an argument you can’t win, then you best shut your mouth.” However, I find that this only applies to a large portion of the majority and can not apply as a blanket statement to necessarily cover all individuals, as opposed to the bullet points which cover the vast majority, if not all, of the individuals in question.
Also, I should make it very clear that being “insecure” is not something that these people appear to be on the outside, because they would have you to believe that they are “most definitely secure” in every conceivable way. What I am referring to by “insecure” is that they are always concerned with what their peers will think of them, so they always tend to act in a way that is expected from their peers, because if you step out of line with their way of thinking, you will get shunned and gossiped about and made to feel like you are the one in the wrong — never the other way around.
Where It All Goes South…
If you haven’t seen where this is going by now, then I don’t know what to tell you, but I guess keep reading. I am from Alabama. Southern born, southern bred, raised country — or about as country as any “Xennial” could be when growing up in a town in a population of less than 10,000. Luke Bryan gives us a pretty good definition of “what country is“, and as he would say, “I got my dirt road cred when I was twelve,” etc., etc. The fact remains, I moved once, but I stayed in Alabama. I’ve been here all my life, because it was always home. There’s something about living deep in the Heart of Dixie that makes you never want to leave. It’s a magical place, but it holds a lot of dark hate, stemming from an even darker past.
My daddy was raised more country than me, and his daddy was raised on a farm, which is just about as country as you can get. I’m raising my son in the suburbs — a product of myself and a beautiful yankee gal from Connecticut, so my son will have to learn to be country on his own without being born into it like I was. But as much as I have let my Southern pride describe me over the years, I have never let it define me. My father was the first generation on his father’s side of the family to go to college, and I was the second. I’m not saying that having a college education is necessary to be a good or smart person — hell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are proof enough of that.
However, I would like to think that each generation becomes an improvement on the previous, and the more I’ve thought about it, I really don’t give a shit if my son is “country” or not, because these days, it’s not associated with Southern gentlemen anymore. Being “country” has almost become synonymous with being a stubborn, ignorant redneck who doesn’t believe in science and education, but they do believe in God — oh no, sorry — not necessarily your God, just their interpretation of God, which is passed down generation to generation by Southern fundamentalist Christian preachers who were trained by their predecessor Southern fundamentalist Christian preachers, so that God can fit in a nice little nifty box for them, and anything outside of that box is not “of God” and is considered to be “bad” or “evil” or “silly” or “crazy” or just flat-out ridiculous.
Well, here’s a news flash: the world is a big place. Not everybody in it is from the Bible Belt, and Southerners make up a very small percentage of this bigger picture. But let’s keep in mind that this is a worldwide pandemic — it’s not just confined to the Southern United States. And others states and countries have their own protocols that as a whole unit, they have determined to be “safe”. So what we are essentially dealing with is a like-minded large group of individuals who all think the same, all act the same, and for the most part, are all united under their collective worship of an idealized version of God that fits neatly and nicely with exactly how they were raised to believe, but completely discounts everything they were raised not to believe (yet which the rest of the world views to be morally-justified). They would tell you they are special. They would tell you they are God’s chosen people and that everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they believe are going to hell and will suffer for eternity. I could think of a few words to describe such a group of people. The words “cult” and “terrorist” come to mind, but I won’t go that far. I would simply call them ignorant, misled, misguided, and horribly confused. To describe something, we have to view it in contrast with things it is not. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and I doubt I ever will, but if I personally tried to describe God, my first go-to would be that God is definitely not what I have described above.
What Caused Me to Turn My Back on My People
I have always had a thirst for knowledge. I have always been a spiritual person. I have always wanted to “do the right thing”. This thirst for knowledge led me out of my nest and into a world of experiences. I didn’t want to not do things simply because I was taught that they were bad. I wanted to learn if things were good or bad based on my own personal experience. So I tended to always take the more adventurous path by doing things I was told not to do, being friends with people I was told not to hang out with — and often times I found that the previous advice I had received was sound and valid — yet it now means something to me because I have lived the experience.
I always found myself branching out from “the norm” — making friends from other states and dating girls who had moved to Alabama from the West Coast and the East Coast, and of all people, I finally fell in love with an Irish Catholic yankee girl. Being married to a girl who grew up in the North brought with it lots of changes, lots of surprises, lots of compromises, and definitely viewing myself and my entire situation from a brand new perspective. I started going to Catholic church, and the last time we ever stepped foot in any church was when the priest gave a sermon on how you should tell any gay person you encounter to change their ways or they will go to hell. Pardon if it’s been a few years since my last Southern Baptist Bible study, but I believe it says specifically in 1 John Chapter 4 that “GOD IS LOVE.”
How do you define love? You can’t. It’s simply a feeling — an experience. If you can’t define love, then how can you define God? The answer is that you can’t. It is a feeling that has to be felt and an experience that has to be experienced. It may be completely different from one person to the next, and this is why I no longer let “The Church” define the rules that my family and I live by. It says directly in Romans 2:14-15 that God’s law is written on our hearts, and that whether we have read the Bible or not, our own conscience will instinctively accuse us or tell us we are doing right. It’s in these particular areas of study where I feel like our group of “victims” should learn to practice what they preach. If the rest of the world is trying to prove to you that you are doing something wrong, while everyone else is in agreement, and they are providing proof that what you are doing is not right — then if it still feels right to you, that means there is something wrong with your conscience. Either these victims are simply too ignorant to know any better, or they have been indoctrinated (read: brainwashed) into believing that their way is the right way, and it doesn’t matter to them what anyone else thinks or says, because they know their “truth”, and this is a truly sad state of affairs.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you look at all the scientific statistical data, The South is as bad as it gets when it comes to the spread of coronavirus, especially since the introduction of the delta variant. I get on Facebook and check for mask mandates for the schools, and the majority of the comments are filled with hate from people talking about how schools were harming kids by making them wear masks last year, and they better not do it again, etc., etc. It makes you feel hopeless when you are giving up two years of your life by sitting at home not doing normal activities that people and their families should be able to do, while our “victims” are out galavanting around like nothing is wrong, without either realizing, or much less caring, that they are the ones who are causing all of the problems.
When the CDC relaxed on the guidelines before the delta variant came around, it felt good to get out for a change. My wife and I were vaccinated as soon as the vaccines became available, so we enjoyed being able to be out and about without masks in what seemed like forever. The only problem was that there were no masks in sight. The rules were supposed to be that everyone who had not been vaccinated were still required to wear masks, and Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, yet nobody was wearing a mask. Which meant that the ones who weren’t vaccinated just didn’t care — and that there were a lot of them.
Since the CDC went back on their guidelines after the delta variant trouble started brewing, our state governors have not put mandatory mask mandates into effect, but strongly encouraged people to wear masks. What do you think happens when you strongly encourage a stubborn redneck to do something they don’t want to do? They laugh in your face and do whatever they want to do. Thus, our problem.
We registered our kids for school before the delta variant started to become a problem, especially for kids. We were not offered a school-based remote learning option — this time it was via a third party and managed by the state, which meant that the kids wouldn’t be in remote classrooms with students from the same school. My wife and I decided to risk it and send them to school this year because last year was hell for her trying to manage the kids’ learning, and at the time, if kids got COVID it wasn’t that big of a deal, and we were already vaccinated, so we were like okay, what the hell, let’s send them.
Then the delta variant hit and started taking a larger toll on kids. The time for remote registration had passed, so we were stuck hoping there would be a mandatory mask mandate for the school system. Nope. The superintendent said that they would keep an eye on the data, and if there was an outbreak, they would implement a mask mandate. So…instead of taking precautionary measures to prevent young students from getting sick, they decided they would wait for kids to get sick, and then take reactive measures instead.
A couple weeks into school, and here I am sitting at home with my 7-year-old daughter who is sick with a fever. She and her brother wear masks to school every single day. They are an extreme minority. Every day when I drop them off at school, there is barely a mask in sight. Not even the teachers are wearing them, even though they are strongly encouraged. I’m hoping my daughter doesn’t have COVID, but the pediatrician can’t see her until tomorrow morning because they were booked solid and were only taking appointments over the phone because the entire office was under quarantine due to exposure…to kids with COVID. It’s definitely taking its toll in Alabama.
This is most definitely a real disease. It doesn’t take a genius to see that. It doesn’t take much effort to prevent the spread of it, yet some people just can’t be bothered to take such steps. We have tried to take a look into the minds of those who willingly choose to ignore this worldwide pandemic, yet I am still baffled daily at the contrast that I see when I look at the distribution data and how this virus is ravaging The South in particular. I drove last night to meet with my parents who picked up our immunocompromised son (diagnosed with Autoimmune Encephalitis) so that he could quarantine with them for a few days until we find out whether or not my daughter has COVID. I have a deep, loving respect for both of my parents, both of whom constantly showed me true love and allowed me the freedom to be different. They are both conservative, and they are living proof that there are always exceptions to the rule.
Before I met up with my parents last night, I had a phone conversation with my dad, in which this very topic came up, and he hadn’t read my blog post. He described an incident at their church in Sunday school where the topic of vaccines came up, and it caused an uproar between two guys who both had lots in common, but the anti-vaxxer got pissed off and shunned everyone. When they reached out to him, he refused to even communicate. My dad said that it was ridiculous how so many people in The South were reacting to this pandemic. To paraphrase his words, “you know, we [meaning The South in general] don’t really like being told what to do around here. If you recall, we fought a war over that, not that long ago…”
My parents are proof that not all conservatives are assholes. They, along with the majority of people in their Sunday School class are also proof that not all fundamentalist Christians fall into the category of ignorant redneck anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. There are genuinely good people in The South, and that is what has kept me here this long. However, the fact remains that there is an abnormally-large group of people — the ones that fall into the category of the “victims” that we have been mentioning — and that group is unfortunately too large to be ignored.
The South is deeply steeped in tradition, more-so than anywhere else in the nation. That “Family Tradition” is a double-edged sword, when it comes to Southern living. Yes, tradition feels good, and it feels right — but therein lies a problem. It is extremely difficult to change your ways if those ways have been the only way for generations. At some point the cycle has to be broken, but it’s easier said than done. Just throughout my own life, I have seen racism come to a gradual halt in my own family. It ended completely with me. Southern tradition comes with a few things that start to not seem right over time, but people are slow to question it, much less go completely against it, but it has to stop somewhere.
So what to do? At this point, we are seriously considering a move up North. And we’re not alone. There are two other families we have spoken with recently who have been discussing the same. Would it be a hard decision? Yes. My wife and I feel like we are somewhat duty-bound to be a couple of the few “black sheep” in this large herd, which could potentially provide a loving voice among all the shouts of hatred. The obvious goal would eventually be for the loving voices to grow loud enough to drown out the hate. But how long will it take before The South can reach that goal? Generations? And will they ever be able to reach it? Those are questions I am unable to answer.
How far does the hate have to spread before you consider cutting your losses and looking out for your own wellbeing — not to mention the wellbeing of your kids? We would like to believe that our kids could live as examples to their peers…but there is always a large chance that they will be more influenced by their peers, who greatly outnumber them. Do we want to risk raising our children in what is obviously a more toxic location for their education and mental growth? We’d rather not.
Would I feel bad about leaving at this point? Not really. Living in the South for 36 years has made me realize that being “country” is not about where you live, and it’s especially not about the things you believe. It’s just a feeling and an experience. Like love, and like God, it’s just one of those things in life that will never leave you, and something that nobody will ever be able to take away.