Years ago I was driving home from working the night shift. It was midnight. I came to a four-way traffic light. The light was red.
I grew up in a small town. I knew this road like the back of my hand and I knew it was completely deserted. I knew there was no one to my left; it was a road leading to a mine and the mine was shut down for the night. I knew there was no one to my right; I had a clear line of vision and there was no one for the next mile at least. There was no one in the road along the large pond in front of me.
It was summer. I could hear nothing but crickets out the open window.
I could just drive right through this red light and get home to bed that much quicker and no one would ever know.
I was going to college full-time, studying to be a teacher. I was working the three-to-eleven shift as a nurse's aide to fund college.
I was responsible for ten patients a night. My patients included stroke victims who suffered from aphasia, a quadriplegic in his early twenties whose fate broke my heart, a schizophrenic convinced that her TV was communicating nefarious commands. I fed, bathed, exercised, and diapered ten patients a night. I ministered to fist-deep bed sores that exposed raw muscle and bled vile-smelling pus. I sponged up vomit and had human feces up to my elbows. We didn't even use gloves in those days.
I earned minimum wage and drove a ten-year-old Plymouth Duster that broke down every time it rained. No mechanic was ever able to fix this handicap. The Automobile Club rejected my membership.
I was doing good things for society! I earned the right to go through that red light! I could see that there was no traffic!
I floored it.
The first part of the above story is true. I did work as a nurse's aide, I did work the night shift, I did drive a Plymouth Duster, and I did come to that very four-way traffic light around midnight.
The rest of the story is not true. I did not sit there thinking about what a special person I was, what a gift to society.
I did run that red light once. I didn't do it on purpose. I did it because I was exhausted. A police officer stopped me. I was so flustered and teary that he let me off with just a warning, because he was too nice a guy to give a teary teenage girl the ticket she deserved.
I have known people who were convinced that they were so much better than everyone else that they were above the rules.
John was my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal. At a conference, our country director asked us to sit in a circle and report on our progress. John said that he was helping his family with their "profitable agricultural endeavors." Everyone smirked. John was growing marijuana, smuggling and selling it.
Bill was my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. After he left his post to return to the US, his village headman said, "Bill a ete mechant" – I remember that word exactly, "mechant." Villain. Bill left his bastard, half-white children in the village to grow up without their American father, who had impregnated their African mothers and then flown home, never to return.
Peace Corps Volunteers, far from being scandalized by this, joked about it. They told this joke: "The village headman confronted Bill with his bastard children. Bill looked at a passing herd of goats. Some of the goats were speckled black and white. Bill said to the village headman, 'If you don't tell on me, I won't tell on you.'"
The punchline of the joke depends on one understanding the African village headman as impregnating goats.
Greg was a Peace Corps Volunteer whose job it was to instruct African health workers in modern medicine. They saw him resuscitate someone and concluded that he had semi-divine powers. Greg liked that, and he never corrected the Africans he was assigned to educate. He just swaggered through his term of service letting it be known that he was semi-divine.
Jeff was held up to us by our superiors as being the near perfect Peace Corps Volunteer. I remember him as always having a huge, shared stash of every imaginable drug and a similar stash of women of various ethnicities and availabilities. He was a moving party / orgy.
There are people who do real service and do it humbly.
There are also people who exploit their status as humanitarians to lord it over lesser mortals.
I think that these people teach us something about how some people assess service work. In this interpretation of service, you assume the mantle of helper because it elevates you. The folks who see service work this way sometimes do do very good work. Jeff, whom I mentioned, above, did bring specially designed outhouses to his village. That's a good thing. Before Jeff, the village had had no outhouses. Villagers lived in a very unsanitary environment where dysentery killed many whenever the monsoon flooded old waste into water supplies.
The status of outhouse-bringer lifted Jeff above ordinary criticism. That he was a drug addict and whoremonger was a mere footnote. The good he did canceled out his failings.
Shelby Steele talks about this in "White Guilt." Some whites chose to be part of black liberation because being part of black liberation elevated their status.
I don't know Kaci Hickox, but I do see her behavior.
She insists that she can break rules that lesser mortals must follow. She insists that she can break those rules because her thought processes are superior to ours. She is guided by SCIENCE she insists, while the rest of us act on FEAR and IGNORANCE and POLITICS. I'm using all caps in an attempt to mirror, on the page, her stridency.
Her arrogance is a horrific public example. Would you want everyone in America to make similar decisions? "I am smarter and better; others are stupider and worse; therefore, I need not follow the rules that the little people must follow."
Maybe Hickox is correct. If she is, there are avenues she can follow to change rules. She could approach leaders respectfully. She has fame on her side. Even from quarantine, she could have been interviewed by CNN. That's not what she chose to do.
But Hickox is not correct. It's not just that Hickox refuses to follow rules the rest of us must follow. It's that she is also wrong. The quarantine is reasonable. Hickox says that only symptomatic people need quarantine themselves. In fact people can be symptomatic and make bad decisions, as did the nurse Amber Vinson, who developed a fever and then got on a plane. In fact hospital staff can make bad decisions about symptomatic people, as happened with Thomas Eric Duncan. He reported a fever and travel in Africa and was sent home. In fact people can rapidly become symptomatic after appearing to be asymptomatic. Craig Spencer, the doctor who went bowling and used the subway, became symptomatic shortly after his public peregrinations. There is no guarantee that Ebola sufferers can quarantine themselves rapidly after becoming symptomatic. If Spencer had started vomiting on the subway, which easily could have happened, more lives would have been at risk. In fact people can take antipyretics and disguise symptoms. In other words, yes, there are good reasons for the quarantine. And, no, Kaci Hickox, you are not the arbiter of what constitutes science. Or, as you would say it, SCIENCE. And, no, we are not all ignorant peasants over whom you can reign.
And, no, Kaci Hickox, your service does not make you better than I or anyone else.
I served in Africa, too. I served about two hundred miles from the Ebola River. I almost died twice when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I've had some health problems since directly related to my Peace Corps service.
And I never, ever, felt that my service, my near fatal experiences, or my continued health challenges made me better than anyone.
It isn't your service that makes you different from me, Kaci Hickox. It is, rather, your arrogance, and your eagerness to exploit your contact with Africans to make you better than Americans.
This essay appears at the American Thinker