In the game of soccer (what Britons prefer to call “football”) the act of scoring a point for the other team is called an “own goal.” It is usually done by accident as an inadvertent deflection where the ball bounces into the deflector’s own net. The term is also sometimes used as a metaphor for poetic justice.
Then there’s the verb popularly used on the internet whose infinitive form is “to own.” It has come to mean to win a point in an argument, and is typically used these days by conservatives when they (almost always mistakenly) think they have “owned the libs,” e.g., they have scored a spurious polemical point against a liberal or a Democrat in the course of a debate.
I would like to introduce a new term that I call the “own own.” It’s where, in a paroxysm of ironic, ignorant masochism, conservatives manage to own themselves. Its most piquant and paradoxical instantiation occurs when a conservative anti-masker and/or anti-vaxxer gets sick and dies of coronavirus.
Typically it is on their deathbeds that their recantation comes. They are ever so sorry they didn’t get vaccinated as they gasp between agonized breaths from around their ventilators. If they had it to do over again they would have worn a mask and gotten the vaccine. They regret if they led anyone astray. And so on.
Few of the other mallet heads who spout the same anti-vaxxer excrement ever manage to learn anything from their departed fellow-travellers. They must go down the same road themselves and wind up in the same hospital bed on the same ventilator.
In the annals of ownership such miserable cretins have committed an “own own.” They have owned themselves. They can have it engraved on their tombstones: “Here lies the gormless cretin who, in trying to own the libs, owned himself.” They commit existential suicide. They join the society of morons whose famous last words are, “Hey everybody, watch this!”
It turns out there’s a cure for stupidity after all. It’s called death. Unfortunately, in taking their own miserable, stupid, pointless, unlamented lives, anti-vaxxer “own owners” also often take innocent lives as well. A drunk driver typically kills one or two other people, but an anti-vaxxer own owner — especially a famous and influential one — can kill hundreds, even hundreds of thousands before he or she dies a miserable death.
Sadly, very few anti-vaxxers will learn anything at all from the inevitable deaths of other anti-vaxxers. Just as science can’t penetrate their thick skulls, neither can the obvious object lessons of life. They are bulletproof against logic. They are poster children for the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They are clowns without a clue, imbeciles without an idea, rubes without a reason. That’s why they call it “stupid.”
Not all forms of human ownership are, well, onerous, of course. We are a species capable of great things, particularly in America. Just by way of a reminder, permit me to take you on a brief tour of times when we Americans really could own the opposition, and own them with class. Even some Republicans.
I’m thinking of a time way back in 1863 when a man named Edward Everett spoke to an audience outside a small Pennsylvania town. He regaled that audience for more than two hours. He scaled the pinnacles of soaring, inspired rhetoric. He held the crowd spellbound in the palm of his hand. He enthralled, inspired, awed and wowed them.
Trouble is, to this day nobody can remember a damned thing Edward Everett said. Because after he sat down a tall, skinny lawyer from Illinois got up, said in effect, “I got this,” handed Everett his beer and spoke for 2 minutes and 271 words and knocked everything anybody recalled that Everett said for the two previous hours into a cocked hat. The man was Abraham Lincoln, and the words were the Gettysburg Address. With mostly single-syllable, simple words of stunning grace Lincoln owned the nation and the bigots who were trying to divide it.
About a hundred years later another man stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of a quarter of a million people and gave voice to the most inspired and beautiful words ever assembled by one person in a single speech in the history of the world. The man was Martin Luther King Junior, and the speech came to be called “I Have a Dream.” The words “I have a dream” weren’t even in the original speech. He ad-libbed them on the day. On that distant day in April of 1963, King owned the Ku Klux Klan and every fool who ever judged another man or another woman by the color of their skin — and not the quality of their character.
About six years after that Neil Armstrong stood on the surface of the moon and captured the imagination of the world. On that day he owned the Soviets and every nation that ever disparaged America or worshipped the superstition of anti-science ignorance.
That is how Americans at their best own the opposition. Not by whining and crying about having to wear a piece of paper over their noses and mouths while shopping for 15 minutes at Walmart, not by having temper tantrums at airports, not by screaming that Bill Gates is trying to inject microchips into their veins, not by parroting easily disprovable lies they learned on YouTube. Real American ownership has class, style and, above all, truth on its side.
Truth endures. Truth doesn’t care what party you belong to or who you voted for. Truth remains true no matter what. Truth is backed by science and experiments and the experience of real people living in the real world, not the fantasy world of performative outrage, not the deceptive world of bad faith counterfeit indignation.
While many Republicans are refusing to get vaccinated, it should interest them to know what the people in charge really think — including many of the people who misled them — about vaccines. Consider this, Donald Trump and every living US president, all 50 governors of both parties, 96% of America’s physicians and 75% of America’s military have all been vaccinated.
Would you like to know who hasn’t been vaccinated? 99.5% of all the people who are currently dying in hospitals on ventilators of Covid-19.
And to think that Donald Trump once referred to the men and women in the military who gave their lives for their country as “losers and suckers.” But the real losers and suckers are the anti-vaxxers who died pointlessly because they refused to get vaccinated. They owned themselves. They are the own owners, and they leave behind a shameful legacy of craven ignorance and voluntary stupidity. Don’t repeat their mistake.
It takes courage in some places in America to wear a mask and advocate getting vaccinated. There’s a price to be paid for protecting others against the spread of this awful disease, and some Americans have the courage to pay that price, even when “freedom fighters” try to get in their faces and bully and intimidate them. Any fool can be an anti-vaxxer or an anti-masker. Don’t be a fool. Wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance and get vaccinated. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.