I mentioned in my previous e-mail that I thought it might help to provide all of you with a forum to discuss everything going on. For the indefinite future, I want to provide an opportunity to talk about how you are coping and share ideas that might help others. If you have an interest in participating in these Zoom events, let me know.
As a reminder, Community Dining has always focused on connecting people through shared meals that engage us in means by which we fuel ourselves, stimulating substantive dialogue, and strengthening social bonds. While we can’t currently do the first part, we can still focus on the other two.
I also want to elaborate on the meaning of strengthening social bonds. Until recently, it may have seemed like some positive, but vague and empty slogan. But now there is an opportunity to more clearly define this term, which these articles illuminate.
The social-distancing police are among us. Would you call out a neighbor for unsafe practices? Or call 911?
“Reeves, the Oregon-based author (and Oregon State University professor) on citizen surveillance, said vagueness is often what happens when the government asks its constituents to serve as an extension of the law.
“In fact, having a citizenry call each other out doesn’t enhance intelligence in most cases,” he said. When a government not eager to come off like Big Brother asks its people to spy on each other, those people often feel uneasy with the request, and community trust breaks down. “Things may turn against officials.” Last month the Western Springs Rotary Club posted a picture on Facebook of village leaders with donated food for first responders. Everyone in the image wore a mask. But no one was six feet apart. The first comment on the post asked: “Where is the social distancing?”
Lindsay Wiley, a law professor at American University focused on public health, has studied shame and health initiatives, such as campaigns centered on smoking and vaccinations. She said normalizing social actions — not smoking in restaurants, exercising — works better than campaigns, which backfire. “In the pandemic, the early emphasis was individual behavior, washing hands, staying apart. Reporting others who don’t may be a way of feeling a control at a scary time. But it can lead to assuming some communities don’t do their part: ‘That won’t happen to me, I’m good.’” Indeed, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month found 53 percent of Americans gave themselves an “A” for social distancing, but only 35 percent gave their neighbors an “A.”
We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds.”
Corona-snitches thrive in lockdown Europe
Some countries have been keen to take advantage of their citizens’ rattiest instincts.
“Sociologist Patrick Bergemann, author of “Judge Thy Neighbor,” a book that analyzes denunciations in Inquisition-era Spain, Imperial Russia and Nazi Germany, said that snitching and semi-authoritarian behavior often surge in times of crisis.
“Fear-based denunciations are motivated by a perceived threat against individual or common safety,” he said. “Traditionally, they’ve been targeted against a group — outsiders, immigrants — but in this case people are afraid of a virus, so it’s less clear-cut.”
Bergemann, an assistant professor of organizations and strategy at the University of Chicago, said that fear-based snitching is often also tainted by spite, with many attempting to settle old scores by filing reports — including false ones — against rivals.
“In Nazi Germany, an estimated 42 percent of the denunciations were false. Authorities debated changing the system, but they ultimately decided to keep it because it was great for keeping everyone in line.”
Historian Jean-Marc Berlière, who extensively researched the denunciations that were filed by up to a million Frenchmen during the period of Nazi occupation, said that situations in which snitching was encouraged tended to bring out the worst in people.
Even in a critical moment when defying stay-at-home orders can constitute “irresponsible, even criminal” behavior, Berlière said governments should beware of promoting behavior for which “France still pays dearly.”
“What can appear to be a civic gesture … can ultimately be morally reprehensible,” he said.”
Brendan O’Neill, editor of spiked and host of the spiked Podcast expressed similar sentiments.
“The instinct to name and shame is so deeply corrosive of the social bonds and public trust we need to get through this pandemic. It is a mix of two of the most obnoxious social trends of recent years – virtue-signalling and social shaming. By squealing on other members of the public, people think they can demonstrate their own respectability and fealty to the new rules, while also giving a release to their own anger and frustration with what is going on right now. Their instinct is to find someone, anyone, they can rage against, be it their jogging neighbour, the mum buying food in an outdoor market, or construction workers getting on the Tube. These are the new witch-hunts, where we fume against a demonic figure to make ourselves feel temporarily better. It’s nasty. Stop it. Let people have that second run.”
Community Dining aims to strengthen social bonds by creating an environment that brings out the best in people. The focus centers on inclusion, allowing diverging ideas to collide, and building an atmosphere of trust. Turning people in for non-compliant behavior, reporting others to authorities, and offering rewards for snitching go against the core of Community Dining’s purpose as these behaviors bring out our worst tendencies and break down the mutual trust required for communities to survive. Knowing that even small actions can have a profound effect, we can strengthen the bonds of our communities by using our time and energy to help people rather than bringing them down. These two recent blog posts illustrate some ways we can help.
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