I had an interesting experience this morning. It was a bit of a mind blower, as I realized the wisdom of George Carlin was, once again, informing me years after his death. Back in the 1980s, I was listening to George do a hilarious routine about driving. It remains one of my favorite bits by him, because there’s so much truth in it. This morning, I realized that some of his thoughts on driving could be applied to other aspects of living.
In “Driving”, Carlin shows us how self-absorbed some of us are when we get behind the wheel. He asks if you’ve ever noticed that “anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.” When we’re behind the wheel, we often think we’re doing everything right. And everybody else is in the way, and undeserving of consideration. How often have you been annoyed by someone trying to merge into your lane during a traffic jam? Sometimes, they’re really blatant about cutting in line. Other times, they’re just hoping someone will be kind enough to let them in the lane before they run out of road.
Carlin’s thoughts on driving are pretty good metaphors for everyday life. Take, for instance, the pandemic. I was reading my Facebook feed, and came across an article posted by The Atlantic. It was about immunocompromised people and how they have to worry much more about catching COVID-19 than other people do. The article, which was written by Ed Yong, asks what we “owe” immunocompromised people. According to Yong:
Close to 3 percent of U.S. adults take immunosuppressive drugs, either to treat cancers or autoimmune disorders or to stop their body from rejecting transplanted organs or stem cells. That makes at least 7 million immunocompromised people—a number that’s already larger than the populations of 36 states, without even including the millions more who have diseases that also hamper immunity, such as AIDS and at least 450 genetic disorders.
The immunocompromised are now living in “pandemic limbo”, because this super contagious virus is going around, but healthy people have gotten vaccinated and are easing back into a more normal lifestyle. The rules and restrictions made during the pandemic’s height are now being rolled back… at least in the United States. Well, they are in Germany, too, but not like they have been in the USA. Naturally, people who can’t fight the virus as easily as others can are worried about the future. They want people to show them some courtesy and deference.
As is my habit, I decided to check out the comment section. It didn’t take long before I ran into something that made me pause. Two men with diametrically opposed opinions were involved in an argument. This thread was actually really long, but I’m just going to post a couple of segments. I think they illustrate things pretty well. And because these guys are perfect strangers, and their comments can be easily read on The Atlantic’s Facebook page, I’m not going to edit their names.
Greg Johnson begins with a blunt statement that we didn’t owe immunocompromised people anything before COVID. And we don’t owe them anything now. He didn’t name call. He didn’t say anything that was overtly offensive. In fact, if you think about it, before COVID struck, it was pretty much a true statement that the vast majority of people didn’t think about how going about their everyday routines was going to affect their neighbors. But now, less than two years after COVID became an international scourge, some people are expecting their friends and neighbors to change their habits on a dime. And if anyone dares say or write anything like Greg did, they quickly get labeled a “sociopath”.
I think it’s fair to assume that Greg and Sam don’t know each other at all. But Sam, who claims to “care” about the well-being of other people, is very quick to call Greg a “sociopath”, “trash”, a “garbage human”, and an “utterly un self aware lunatic”. I would like to ask Sam if he actually cares about other people, when he labels total strangers as “worthless” (ie; trash, garbage human) without knowing anything at all about them. He also calls Greg “dim”, a “twerp”, then tells him to “climb down off [his] cross”. Looks to me like he doesn’t care much about his fellow human, Greg, does he?
Now, in fairness, once Sam starts with name calling, Greg follows suit. He tells Sam to “stick it up [his] ass” and calls him a d-bag and a moron. Then he refers to Sam and his “friends” as “crony asshole[s].” However, while I can see by the other comments in the thread that most people are on Sam’s side, I will go on record to say that I can definitely see Greg’s point. And, in fact, while his first comment was a bit of a jolt to the system after two years of constant sermons and lectures about the importance of caring for other people, what he stated isn’t untrue. Most of us haven’t historically thought, or cared, much about the immunocompromised. That doesn’t make us “garbage humans”. That makes us normal.
I know a lot of people think that self-centered “ableist” attitudes should change, and I will even agree that it would be really nice if more people did become kinder and more considerate. But the reality is, it’s not going to happen, especially not for 3 percent of the population. I know 3 percent of the US population is a lot of people, but it’s still a tiny percentage of the whole. The simple sad fact is, 97 percent of the population is not going to willingly alter their lives to accommodate a tiny percentage of strangers. They will change their habits to help themselves, and them and theirs. It’s not nice, but I think it is reality.
As I was reading this comment thread, I was suddenly reminded of George Carlin’s “Driving” routine from 1988. Toward the end of it he launches into a tirade about what he called “courtesy bullshit”. You will find it in the above clip at about the nine minute mark. He starts to complain about the “courtesy bullshit” going around. He says he puts it that way because he doesn’t think it’s real courtesy. It’s a “counterfeit generosity”. Carlin sneers, gesticulating wildly:
“Everybody wants me to go first! ‘You! Go! Go ahead! Please! Go! Go!'”
Then he breaks out of character and says, “Even when I leave the house in the morning, there’s a guy there at 7:00AM waiting for me— ‘I’m waiting for you to come out so you can go first, go ahead! Go! Go!'” as he gestures with his arm to go.
George explains, “I think it’s a post Vietnam guilt syndrome of some kind. You know, America has lost its soul, so now it’s gonna save its body. It’s like the fitness craze in this country well (hilarious fart sound effect that I can’t reproduce here) — doesn’t work that way, you know what I mean? Doesn’t work that way. And I’m sittin’ in the driveway… I know I’m sittin’ there and I’m stuck. It looks like I’m stuck. But I’m not asking for any help. I’m not asking for ANYTHING. Just sitting there! And some yo yo, some putz… some world-class, high-tech, state of the art yo yo, who hasn’t had a generous thought since St. Swithin’s Day, slams on his brakes (hilarious car screeching tires sound effect), kills three people behind him… and doesn’t ask me to go… TELLS ME TO GO!”
And then George furrows his brow and says in a deep, menacing, tone of voice, “YOU! GO!”
He pauses for dramatic effect and concludes, “FUCK YOOOOU!” with his middle finger locked and raised. Then he points with an angry frown and says, “YOU GO! I like it here! (sarcastic smirk)” He makes another sarcastic expression and says, “I come here all the time!” He sneers and points again and says, “You go!”
Then Carlin concludes, “Then when he goes, crash into him! And if he gets out to complain, say ‘Hey, you said to go!'”
What Carlin is describing is a kind of fake “virtue signaling” push for superficial kindness that isn’t based on reality or genuine courtesy. When it comes down to it, the vast majority of us actually are pretty selfish. It’s pretty much a feature of self-preservation. If you aren’t occasionally selfish sometimes, you will end up living a very short and unproductive life. While courtesy and kindness are good things, sometimes they can go too far. Just ask my husband about his first marriage and where being too kind and generous led him. Moderation is the key.
Imagine what would happen, for instance, if everyone insisted on always thinking of everyone else instead of themselves. Seriously, stop and think about this for a moment. First of all, if every single person was always considerate, kind, and thinking of everyone else, nothing would ever get done. We’d all be too busy holding the door open for the next person. There could be no progress in a world like that. No one would actually be walking through the door so that it could be closed, and we could all go on with our lives. We’d all be stuck. Someone has to be the recipient of that generosity. And to be the recipient of generosity, one must be a little bit selfish.
That means, on occasion, graciously accepting the kindness and thinking of your own needs. That means that thoughtfulness should extend to everyone, including the healthy people who have been living drastically altered lifestyles due to COVID-19. It includes the people who, for whatever reason, legitimately can’t tolerate wearing face masks. There are people like that in society– people who have sensory disorders, hearing problems, psychiatric issues, allergies to paper products, or even physical problems that make wearing masks problematic. Very few people seem to have much regard for people in that category. They automatically get labeled selfish, sociopathic, or uncaring, when the person labeling them doesn’t know the first thing about them or their personal situations.
It’s true that immunocompromised people are in an especially tough bind with the COVID situation. But it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to extend courtesy to them in all situations. Once again, I’m reminded of a Carlin truism. In the same “Driving” routine, Carlin talks about things that annoyed him when he was behind the wheel. One of his pet peeves was the “Baby On Board” signs that were so popular back in the late 80s.
And let’s not forget the 3 most puke inducing words that man has yet thought of, baby on board. I don’t know what valueless, soulless, yuppie cocksucker thought of that idea. No idea who. Baby on board. Who gives a fuck? I certainly don’t. You know what these morons are actually telling us, don’t you? I know you’ve figured this out. They’re actually saying to us, “we know you’re a shitty driver most of the time but, because our child is nearby, we expect you to straighten up for a little while.”
Fuck these people. I run them into a goddamn utility pole. Right into a pole huh? Roll that car over. Bounce that kid around a little bit. Let him grow up with a sense of reality, for Christ’s sakes. Life doesn’t change because you post a sign. I’m supposed to alter my driving habits because some woman forgot to put her diaphragm in. Isn’t that really nice? Isn’t that a real treat for me? Baby on board. Child in car. Don’t tell me your troubles, lady.
Why don’t you put up an honest sign? Asshole at the wheel! Asshole at the wheel. They don’t sell many of them, do they? No. They give them away free with Volvos and Audis. God help us. And Saabs. Some of these misfits buy Saabs. We bought a Saab. Well, what’d you buy a Swedish piece of shit like that for? It’s a safe car. These people think if they buy a safe car, it excuses them from the responsibility of having to learn how to drive the fucking things. First you learn to drive, then you buy your goddamn safe car.
George is describing the same mentality some people have in the wake of the pandemic. Lots of people are climbing on a moral high horse, shaming people who just want to live normally again. Living “normally” means not constantly being so worried and concerned about everyone and everything else.
Maybe that sounds callous and selfish, but it’s reality, isn’t it? It’s not realistic to expect the whole world to permanently change in order to protect the tiny percentage of the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s certainly not realistic to expect everyone to adopt that generous attitude on a dime. It takes time for people’s attitudes to evolve, and even then, some people will never change. What good does it do to call those people “garbage humans” for being who they are?
If every single person did nothing but consider the other guy all the time, not only would nothing ever get done, but we would probably all be legitimately mentally and physically ill in short order. We’d be overanxious, starving, homeless lunatics. Life requires some basic selfishness. You have to take care of your own needs before you can help other people most effectively. If you’re constantly giving away what you need to help the next person, you’re going to have a short, and probably very boring, life. Yes, it’s good to give to others, but you also have to take some things for yourself. And before anyone comes at me, condemning me for being cruel, stop and think for a moment. You really do have needs that require some selfishness to fulfill. We all do.
In the above comment section, these two strangers quickly became uncivilized because they have different perspectives, and I suspect, different political leanings. Imagine what might have happened if the two of them had shown some basic respect and consideration for each other’s perspectives. What if Sam had taken a breath and, before labeling Greg a “sociopath”, softened his approach a bit and been more thoughtful? What if he hadn’t sanctimoniously qualified himself as a “caring person” as he hypocritically called Greg a “garbage person”? What if he had acknowledged that the pandemic has been hard on EVERYONE? Yes, it’s been especially hard on the immunocompromised, but the truth is, it has affected everyone. And everyone is entitled to a little bit of grace… and a little bit of selfishness.
Has it occurred to Sam that the prospect of living the COVID lifestyle has been soul crushing for some people? Does he think about the people who have suffered real losses, even though they aren’t immunocompromised? What about people whose businesses have failed? How about people who have been so burdened by loneliness and despair that they have considered or even actually committed suicide? Or people so overwhelmed at the prospect of following the rules for social contact that they avoid doing things like going to the doctor or shopping?
Why can’t there be compromise? For some people, the prospect of this lifestyle dragging on forever is unbearable, even if it might benefit the immunocompromised. They deserve some good news and hope for the future. And, the sad reality is, every single one of us is going to die of something at some point. However, I do think it’s reasonable for the immunocompromised to get some consideration. Like, for instance, I think the ability to work from home should be normalized. That would be beneficial to a lot of people and the environment as a whole, not just those who are at a higher risk of being around other people due to their health.
I will agree that some people truly have been very selfish. Some people have not cooperated at all, and have taken belligerent and downright reckless attitudes toward the public health guidelines, especially when COVID was at its most dangerous. This post isn’t about those people. I’m referring to regular folks who have been patiently waiting and hoping that they can have some semblance of their lives back. It’s not wrong for people to want to get back to a normal lifestyle. That doesn’t make them “garbage human beings”.
Everybody has perspectives that have been formed by their own experiences. Before you go labeling someone a “sociopath” because they don’t agree with you, stop and think about whether or not you’re being a total hypocrite, and whether or not your virtue signaling shaming routine isn’t just “counterfeit generosity”. If you call someone trash just minutes after you praise yourself for being caring and kind, you might want check yourself… and maybe take down that “Baby On Board” sign on the back of your Volvo.
For those who would like to see George Carlin’s hilarious routine in its entirety… all sales made through my site result in a small commission from Amazon for me. That would be nice for me, but really, this is just one of my favorite Carlin shows.