Originally published at Convivium on November 24, 2021.
When I encounter Frankenstein, the word that most readily comes to mind is ‘monster.’
I chuckled at the meme, “Albert Einstein was a genius. But his brother Frank was a monster.” The word association instantly conveys a humorous image, even knowing the connection between the two is a non sequitur.
Have you read Mary Shelley’s original story of Frankenstein? Perhaps you’ve seen one of the movie or television depictions that are variations on the theme of her 19th century novel about a scientist who builds a creature out of an assortment of body parts from those who in life evidenced the imago Dei. Re-animated, the fragments together once more reveal something human in their assemblage.
In Shelley’s book the creature is portrayed as intelligent and kind-hearted. He knows his monstrous size and hideous appearance stimulate fear in the typical person and so is cautious about being seen.
In video versions, the laboratory-resurrected curiosity ignites an implacable mob of fearful and angry citizens in scenes not found in the novel. Like any mob, there is an agitator stirring them up who would see the monster dead, whether because of personal anxieties or ambitions.
In reading or viewing, have you―like me―felt a sense of caring or empathy for Victor Frankenstein’s creature? How do you feel about the mob in the movies? Or, in the book, Victor’s determination to hunt down and kill the creature?
When is the last time you realized you were―or might have been―part of such a mob? Or doing your part to incite one? Or, felt compelled to crusade―even click-crusade―against one or more of life’s flesh-and-blood monsters?
Recent Canadian media coverage has provided stories accompanied by still and video images of monsters in our midst. Sizeable and loud groups of protesters gathered outside hospitals and on the grounds outside government buildings declaring resistance to the vaccine. Another group interrupted a Remembrance Day service to proclaim that freedoms fought for in war were being trampled over in peace. Did I say ‘groups’? Maybe they weren’t the monsters but the mob?
Results from an Angus Reid poll released on November 15 suggest we may not be entirely clear on who the monsters are, but we’re ready to set them ablaze. Are we mob or monsters if we align with the nearly 70 per cent of Canadians who think medical professionals, police officers, and schoolteachers should lose their jobs if not vaccinated against COVID-19? Do the 30 per cent who disagree inherit the other label?
What about the airline employees, restaurant workers, and people working in other private businesses also mentioned in the poll?
Fear and freedoms. Livelihood and life. Mob and monsters. Or monsters and mob?
Regardless of which side of the equation we are on, when we debase people who disagree with us we ‘other’ them into something unlike us. Unlike us in opinion. Unlike us in humanity.
Earlier this fall I played a round of golf in a mixed foursome. The unvaxxed in the group took the initiative to make sure the vaxxed were comfortable with the arrangement.
I have visited in the home of friends who recovered from COVID-19. On medical advice they were not vaccinated. That proved the right decision when their natural antibodies answered the call to fight off a second bout of COVID-19, this time with a few days of mild, cold-like symptoms. All members of the family are ineligible for vaccine passports. Monsters?
It took less than a week for Ottawa’s police chief to yield to public and political pressure to realign a policy of accommodation through testing for unvaccinated peace officers to instead require mandatory vaccination for all by the end of January 2022.
Until Friday, August 13, 2021 the type of policy proposed by Chief Sloly for the Ottawa Police Service was the model for nationwide navigation of temporary pandemic measures. The rash rush of mandatory vaccination policies didn’t start with vaccine availability in March, but five months later following a Nanos poll showing a majority of Canadians favoured mandatory vaccination, and subsequent electoral posturing by a sitting prime minister who declared that all federal public service employees would be vaccinated or face consequences. Following re-election, that policy has not been as assiduously enforced as it was assertively announced, but the announced dogma has spilled over into the policies of public and private sector employers from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Impermanent pandemic. Permanent job loss.
I don’t agree with disruptive public demonstrations outside hospitals. I don’t agree with interrupting a Remembrance Day observance.
I also don’t agree with coercing people to get a ‘voluntary’ vaccine which has been received to date by, perhaps not coincidentally when one considers results of the Angus Reid poll, over 70 per cent of those eligible. Am I with the mob or a monster?
When we consider the unvaccinated, how other are they from the vaccinated? Albertos Polizogopoulos and John Sikkema have written about unvaccinated people contacting their law firm for advice, stating “they are educated, intelligent people with thoughtful reasons for not wanting this vaccine at this time. They are reasonable people willing to mask, self-screen for symptoms, and take rapid antigen tests before arriving onsite. They are willing to accept reasonable accommodation, which used to be central to human rights law in Canada.”
I take umbrage with Polizogopoulos and Sikkema on one point, perhaps only interpreting their use of hyperbole. Reasonable accommodation is still central to human rights law in Canada. The very definition of human rights is that our rights are not subject to majority rule nor angry mob.
Perhaps we Canadians are not always as sensitive to the other as we might like to believe we are, or try to convince ourselves we are. We prefer uncomplicated definition and division of sinners from saints. But the portrayal of monsters in our midst is not always as well-defined as them being eight-foot-two tall with sallow, greenish skin. Neither is the mob as readily evil in appearance as those carrying lighted torches and pitchforks. Both can look too much like the reflection we see in the bathroom mirror on a morning.
In The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties either―but right through every human heart―and through all human hearts.”
The key, I think, is to recognize we’re deliberating about human hearts, not monsters.
Another glance in that mirror and perhaps we’ll be ready to treat others the way we would like to be treated.