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The frustration of the socially responsible

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Lili Loofbourow has a brilliant piece reflecting on r/HermanCainAward, which posts screenshots of aggressive anti-anti-COVID people who die of the disease. The first is that while there has been a great deal of focus on the anger and frustration of MAGA people the anger and frsutration of people against selfish people who refuse to take a de minimis step to end the pandemic is also very real:

It is cruel, a site for heartless and unrepentant schadenfreude. This is a place where deaths are celebrated, and it is not the only one. While endless ink has been spilled on the anger of Trump voters and Fox News viewers and QAnon adherents, there are other angers that haven’t been nearly as well explored. The exhaustion and fury doctors and nurses feel, for example, as they deal yet again with overwhelmed ICUs. Instead of being hailed as heroes, this time around they’re risking their lives to serve while walking through anti-vax protesters and being called murderers or worse by misled family members demanding or indeed suing for sick unvaccinated relatives on ventilators to be dosed with ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine or vitamin C. There is the anger of family members of those without COVID who are dying or sicker than they should be because treatment was delayed or denied to them at dozens of hospitals that had no beds available. There’s the frustration of parents trying to keep their children safe, the constant, destabilizing calculations and adaptations people are forced into when (for instance) the governor of Texas prohibits schools from taking safety measures and then two teachers at a single school die, forcing closures once again. There’s the run-of-the-mill anger of those weary of living under pandemic conditions and demoralized—in the most literal sense—by the selfishness of their compatriots.

Subscriptions to the HermanCainAward subreddit are increasing exponentially, from 2,000 subscribers on July 4 to 5,000 at the beginning of August to more than 100,000 on Sept. 1 to 243,000 Friday to 276,000 today. If that rate is any indication, rage is growing toward anti-vaxxers deliberately prolonging the pandemic out of an anti-social and deadly understanding of their rights. Now, it’s true that not everyone on the subreddit assents to its spiteful premise: One exhausted nurse wrote a long post about how much one of her anti-vax patients suffered, as an attempt at counterbalance. She acknowledged her own compassion fatigue but also urged readers to think harder about how we got to this sorry pass. Plenty of the discussions do orbit around that basic question. But most of the comments are angry. A collection of screenshots generally elicits a common sentiment: The person got their just desserts.

I don’t endorse this cruelty, but I can certainly understand it.

Another interesting thing is that the site is apparently a very instructive compendium of just how horrible it is to die of COVID:

You don’t see most of this stuff in these r/HermanCainAward screenshots, either, but you do see a lot you just wouldn’t otherwise. Specifically, you see the suffering. It’s filtered, of course, usually through collapsing defiance and positive thinking that fails. People post that they’re not feeling well when they’ve already become patients. They usually put it simply, with a request for prayers. The contrast to their grandstanding in prior posts acts as an intensifier; that they aren’t commenting on the very thing they’ve preached about so much comes to serve—cumulatively, as you read these—as evidence of just how awful they feel. The selfies can be brutal. The photographs family members post are worse because the patient is frequently unconscious, bloated, clearly in a bad way. Relatives’ updates tend to feature obsessive medical details like ventilator settings and oxygen saturations, and you learn to recognize the time course of the disease: When mentions of dialysis start up, you know, as a reader, that the prognosis is poor. The death announcement—once the requests for prayers and hopes for miracles are over—frequently reveals how much worse it really was than anyone let on: You find out the patient also had MRSA, or had developed an autoimmune disease, or had struggled with strokes and clots.

Jaded though they are, many r/HermanCainAward readers have experienced this much as I did: as a truly frightening look at what COVID can really be like. What hundreds of stories about deaths told through mean-spirited screenshots reveal is that the disease—when it gets bad—is worse than even the most pro-vax person really understood.

And that’s what sets r/HermanCainAward apart from the didactic pleasures of other schadenfreude-based forums like r/LeopardsAteMyFace: It’s more horrible than satisfying because the horror isn’t going to stop. These individual stories do not produce conversions.

The Republican elites have invented a specious, novel “right” not to get vaccinated rather than doing what they can to stop these horrifying, senseless deaths — them, I have nothing but pure contempt for.

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