Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Cupcakes and the Politics of Caring

My wife ordered treats to be delivered to the staff at a local school. Each treat had to be individually wrapped, so the bakery informed her that donuts were the best choice.  I threw up my hands that the school would have this requirement.  It is left over from last March, when we were still learning about how the virus was spread and everyone was washing down every surface six times a day.  But the school told my wife they were telling her this so that she didn't waste her money.  There had been a bridal shower with a plate of cupcakes that were not individually wrapped, and few people took one.  So that's not a government intervention, that's a response from individuals.

I started to go down the road of thinking how this also makes me crazy, that we can't get teachers to understand what things are risky and what things are not.  In doing so, it occurred to me that the anger and divisions over the school issues have caused people to retreat into bubbles.  Teachers and their paras include a lot of social people, and they are in frequent contact over the last months, perhaps even more so now.  They are likely not as much exposed to the information that surfaces are extremely low-risk.  Look at the information from inside that bubble, which they share: in a classroom and going about the school, they are exposed to a lot of people, sharing a room with many of them for extended periods.  They know that children are notorious for not always being careful and with following through with directions because well, children.  They have seen many, many children do dumb things and invade someones space, hug someone or whisper in their ear even when told not to, or with older ones, huddling together to tell secrets and openly flaunting rules they consider minor to show their independence.  So it's going to look and feel unsafe based on memories and what they know will occur.  They aren't making that part up.  No one wants to get the disease at all, so reassurance that there is extremely low incidence of children passing it to teachers is not going to penetrate.  They've got lots of kids in their space, and even if their personal risk is low for the younger teachers, some of them are older and some have other medical conditions.  Also, even the younger ones may have parents they want to see and not infect. (Not that they deserve special consideration over any other young people living near parents, but still, when it's you, and it's risk, you think of your own.)

So there is a strong impression of risk, and they are all talking together. As the argument heightens and people are getting angry about kids going back to the classroom it is very natural to think "They don't care about us. We are in danger and that doesn't matter to them. No one is listening to us.  We only have each other to fall back on here."  This is politically and culturally a very powerful feeling.  It's what drove a lot of new voters to sign on for Donald Trump.  He convinced them he was actually listening to them and cared what happened to them. My father-in-law was a Roosevelt Democrat who could never get past the idea that Democrats are for the little guy, and the Republicans aren't.  Even when he was prosperous and locally important, he still thought of himself as mostly one of the little guys who was not going to get heard if the Republicans won. Tariffs are a bad idea in the long run economically, but various businesses like them because they feel it helps give "us" an advantage over outsiders. The appeal is to more than economics, but to whether our government actually cares about businesses here. 

It infuriates me whenever I see it (I don't think I saw any of this question this last election) but the poll question asking whether someone thinks that Senator Hassan or the Libertarian Party "cares about people like me" is very powerful. It's how a lot of our politics moves.


Donna B. said...

"cares about people like me"

arrggghhh. I hate that phrase. I'd rather vote for the guy who promises to "leave people like me alone". Even if I wanted a politician to care about "people" it wouldn't be those like me. It would be like those I love and care about and none of them are "like me" except that they might like to be left alone too.

Ignore me. I've been grumpy all month. Maybe more than a month.

dmoelling said...

What is missing is the sense of duty. It seems to be ok that police and firemen need to take some risks because it is their duty (pace Calvin Coolidge), but others don't feel the same need. By having government be responsible for everything in theory, you can get your self off the hook. People benefit by being asked to be responsible and take some risks for the general welfare.

For COVID this lost sense of responsibility to keep society moving contributed greatly to the sense of fear and helplessness in the public.