I have been thinking a lot about Colleyville, the affluent suburban community north of Dallas that has defiantly reopened itself ahead of everyone else. In fact, now it’s hard not to think about Colleyville. I’m not sure I even knew it was there before all this.
Now Colleyville is all over the local TV news every evening, often with the same loop of scenes over and over showing adults laughing and backslapping at sidewalk cafes, children waving American flags, all of them packed together cheek-by-jowl giving a big collective middle finger to social distancing.
You know what? Colleyville is arousing such strong feelings in me as I rattle around the house that I probably should have gone to some kind of Zoom counselor about it days ago. But I don’t want to have to pay. So instead I went to Facebook. I posed a series of questions on my personal Facebook page, warning anybody who responded that I might quote them here at the Dallas Observer.
Almost all of the answers I got were brilliant. Or else I have been rattling around the house too long. And both things could be true.
Drawing heavily on my own background in philosophy, ethics, theology and hermeneutics, I asked, “Is it morally wrong to hope all those people in Colleyville get it?”
There was sharp disagreement among commenters. Some said yes, absolutely wrong, don’t do it, don’t even think that way. But many commenters on the other side were of more nuanced opinion. On that side, people said that, yes, it was morally wrong to wish illness on the people in the TV scenes in Colleyville, but they said they hoped the people in Colleyville got it anyway.
Shannon S. Wynne said, “I am almost hoping for a spike just to demonstrate that viruses don’t fuck around.” Angela Ream replied immediately, “Best quote of the bunch!”
And look, a certain amount of selection goes on before people even show up on my personal Facebook page, so maybe the field of battle was tilted a bit against the defenders of Colleyville. For whatever reason, the few people who bravely tried to argue personal rights and freedom were pretty much impaled in the face with pikes before they ever got on their horses.
Jean Garrett-Nolland said, “I am thinking it’s a balancing act. There are people hurting not just with health issues but also financially. Look at the cars in line to receive food. Maybe we could show more compassion for each other’s choices. I choose to support freedom of choice and less government control.”
Liz Logan, who is sort of nationally famous on Facebook for being Liz the Impaler, shot back instantly: “You choose to support a grifting moron traitor, Trumper lady. Enjoy the ‘freedom’ of your 'rona because you're going to get it.”
Yes, well, I wasn’t putting it exactly that way myself, but I do have to admit that when I read Logan’s comment, a certain blood-thirsty thrill ran down my spine. We are, after all, dealing with life and death, and one of the deaths I am most preoccupied with is my own.
I think Stephen Whitley captured some of the moral complexity: “I don't necessarily hope they get it,” he said. “I just don't want to be in competition with them for a ventilator if it comes to it.” Whitley added, “They don't get one!” When we pursue that thought — no ventilators for Colleyville — to its full implication, Whitley winds up closer to Liz the Impaler than he may realize.
The discourse on that particular Facebook question got pretty bloody and warlike. Bill Holston, who is against wishing for infection, said, “We need to always appeal to what President Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.”
I offered that Lincoln killed a lot of people. Jason Philyaw commented, “So he (Lincoln) didn’t wish death so much as order it? To defeat arrogant people given to hate? How does one call selfish privilege to task?”
If I’m Colleyville at this point, I am at least looking over my shoulder. In fact, it was about then that I started getting images in my head of Gettysburg and decided I might better turn down the flame a bit. So I asked a different question: How should the rest of us who are not nuts behave toward the Colleyville openers?
The big determinants of social behavior over time have not been laws and ordinances so much as expectations and attitudes about what kind of behavior is acceptable, what’s cool and what is uncool. I offered as examples smoking and sexual oppression of women.
A number of readers pointed to another issue that might be more interesting — littering. The change of public behavior on littering between now and my childhood has been night and day. But littering, as a behavior, lacked the immediate personal urgency of smoking, where you got cancer, or sexual predation, where your sister got raped at an office party.
Richard S. Ranck said we should treat the Colleyville openers “with polite contempt.” Now to some, polite contempt might seem a bit mild. But I have known Ranck since childhood. And while he’s a very nice person and an amazing artist, I can tell you that polite contempt from Ranck would feel about the same as a pike in the face from Logan.
So I can see it, except that not everybody is that good at contempt. Paula Colby said we should treat them, “Like the privileged, inconsiderate assholes they are.”
It’s not just Colleyville we're talking about. We all run into people everywhere who do not socially distance and do not wear masks. Joy Dickinson Tipping said, “I just look horrified and hold up my fingers in a cross shape like I’m warding off Dracula. People tend to laugh rather than get mad, and it still sends a message. I’ve had a few then look very sheepish and apologize.”
Christopher Cyrek didn’t defend the Colleyites, but he did try to explain their behavior: “It's transgressive,” he said, “raising a middle finger to the Man — an active declaration that society is for suckers. I think this comes from two places, at opposite ends, disenfranchisement and obtuse privilege.”
A lot to process there. Cyrek’s comment is maybe the first thing I have heard anybody say that comes close to explaining the bizarre anti-lockdown alliance on the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court between white tea party throwback Commissioner J.J. Koch and longtime black separatist Commissioner John Wiley Price.
And you know what, come to think of it? Why couldn’t two people start from polar opposite positions and both get to wrong at the same time?
But a couple of commenters brought everybody and everything back to real life. Justina Walford wrote this about the Colleyville people on TV: “My father is all the way in California," she said. "He is 96 with a heart condition.
“He’s a WWII vet. He survived the Great Depression. And today he grabbed his walker and went to the hardware store. His heart condition makes that mask unbearable so I know he didn’t wear it long. And I’m certain he felt emboldened by last week’s protests in my hometown.
“So treat them like murderers. Because if my father, my war hero father, my amazing father who sacrificed his world for me, my father I can’t get on a plane and see, if he gets sick because the media he watches says it’s okay, then they are murderers.”
Molley Bey said: “My mother lives in Bedford on the border of Colleyville. She’s a grandma who hasn’t met her grandson yet (due to fear of traveling to meet him) and my stepfather is an HVAC contractor and cannot really stop working.
“My mother also has stage 4 terminal cancer and is severely immune-compromised. Wishing bad will on these people is also wishing for my mother’s illness and probably death if she were to contract the virus.”
So, of course, yes, we can condemn them, even call them murderers, but it would be wrong to wish infection on them, and the reasons for that are both scientific and moral. Biologically, to wish the virus on anyone is to wish it on everyone.
There may be an even bigger issue morally. The virus is not a pike that can be thrust at an individual or group. It is a scourge, which the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a thing or person that is an instrument of divine chastisement.”
I am not religious. But just to cover my bets, if there is anything like divine chastisement going on around here, I may lay low for a while and see what happens. I’m not sure under those circumstances I ought to call a lot of attention to myself.
When I asked my Facebook fortune-telling globe if it was morally wrong to hope the people in Colleyville get it, the shortest, pithiest answer I got was from Pittsburgh puppeteer Dave English. He said, “No. But it is tactically wrong.”
I can roll with that.