There has always been a measurable divide between the thoughtless and the thoughtful, the selfish and the selfless, the cruel and the kind. I live in a small suburban English town where the speed limit is 20 miles per hour in my neighborhood. Most people obey the speed limit because it protects animals and kids and pedestrians and other people’s property from accidental harm and it’s the law. But there’s always someone who races through at 40 or faster. No doubt he or she has an unmerited, inflated idea of their ability to drive. Likelier still they just don’t care.
Oh, they’ll care one day if they kill someone. Mostly they’ll curse their luck and the fact that they got caught. But until that day they will continue to give no thought to the violence they do to the safety of the community.
Thoughtlessness is their hallmark, their calling card. Their solipsistic approach to life means they will park on the white line, use their shopping trolleys to block store aisles, stroll insouciantly down the middle of the sidewalk and generally behave as if they are the only ones in the world.
But never before has there been a clearer divide between common courtesy and rudeness, or even good and evil if you will, as there is today. Never before has it been quite so easy to uncover. I recognise them instantly now every time I go to the grocery store, every time I’m in any place where people gather. They are the unmasked. They are the unvaccinated. They are the lizard people.
Yes, I know, it’s become the hackneyed trope of wackos and conspiracy theorists, but there’s an abiding truth beneath the metaphor. To me the lizard people are the compassionless unreachable, the selfish monsters of banality. They know the government no longer enforces mask mandates so they don’t wear them. They know vaccines are optional so they don’t get them. Most stores in England display signs politely requesting that patrons wear masks and they ignore them. They are the medieval primitives who walk among us.
Unlike with people who speed or drive drunk, these lizard people receive no real consequences for their crimes. The connection between the actual harm they cause by not wearing a mask and our overt ability to prove that connection is too vague, too theoretical. Knowing this they parade in front of us without a thought, daring us to say anything.
Paradoxically, the overt scorn I feel for them is hidden by my mask. I can speak up and tell them what I think, but what good will that do? It’s technically their right not to wear a mask. What’s more, they can always fall back on the excuse du jour, they have a “medical condition.”
Unbelievably most of the scorn is really on their side. Even though science tells us people like them are causing death and misery on a planetary scale, many people are intolerant of people like me who still insist on wearing masks. Wearing a mask hurts no one and helps everyone. Their exaggerated difficulty in hearing me when I speak is feigned for dramatic effect. I adjust my volume and diction to overcome any disadvantage my mask may cause. Yet still they sneer.
Roughly 20% of the people I saw yesterday in my local supermarket were unmasked. That number will probably grow, not shrink. The thing people like them are constantly accusing us of — sheeplike behaviour — is endemic with them. They are doing what many want to do. Soon that 20% will become 30%, then 50%. One day, perhaps, people will look at me like I’m an oddball for wearing a mask. I’m prepared for that.
Coronavirus doesn’t yield to government decrees. Science is not a democracy. Truth doesn’t stop to take a vote. I am told by people who have had Covid-19 and lived to tell the story that it is a disease you don’t want to get and I believed them the first time I heard it. So I’m doing everything in my power to keep myself and my loved ones safe, and I will continue to do so no matter how many of my friends and neighbours turn into lizard people. 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.