Informant Culture

This year the tiny tyrants surfaced to lord the new normal over each other.

A long, long time ago, back in 2019, most of us would have never imagined the extreme shift that would occur in our society in just a few short months. It seems like suddenly, out of the blue, the self-vindicating and patriotic act of informing or “snitching” on our neighbors has become accepted and celebrated. And sometimes encouraged or rewarded by public officials. Why this monumental change? Well, when in the name of “the public health” (define that word as narrowly as necessary), it is every good citizen’s duty to police each other, obviously.

Beyond high profile mayors justly cracking down on criminal behavior (a.k.a. normal life), and the heroic investigative journalism exposing the deeply rooted corruption of those who inhumanly expose their faces, average people are busy doing their part too. The brave will confront the non-conformist virus host face to face, but others can always anonymously report the spreaders to the authorities. Do your part!

We used to mind our own business. Keep to yourself, don’t bother people, and don’t instigate were considered reasonable behavior. There have always been times when we see someone doing something that we think they shouldn’t—but then to get involved? No, that’s never been the right thing to do; that’s not self-government. We’ve all got our own issues to deal with. Until this year when the perfect reason to self-bestow the titles “judge” and “executor” presented itself.

This phenomenon didn’t just come out of nowhere though. It may be more obvious today than before, but the walk walked, and the talk talked by our leaders and influencers only reflect society. No matter how virtuously the name of “the public health” is invoked, it’s still a trojan horse to promote collective compliance for collective compliance’s sake. The events of this year simply peeled back the first layer of what I believe has permeated our society for some time: informant culture.

In Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia, and Communist China (all ideologies rooted in collectivism) informant culture was rampant. Regardless of the object of collective cohesion, refusal to participate or having the audacity to disagree were intolerable. The object around which the collective is meant to cohere is irrelevant because that object is the means to the end. And so, cohesion requires that detractors be weeded out because disagreement is not a right and it endangers the common good.

Neighbors surveilled neighbors, children snitched on parents, and employees reported each other for the victimless crimes of having an opinion, helping the society’s deplorables escape injustice, and daring to take any action that defied the predetermined social rule. And the punishment rarely fit the crime. The common good was enforced at all costs, even the cost of an individual’s share in the common good. So, to keep the common good common, those for whom it wasn’t good had to go.

But in a society with an “independent spirit” it’s not so easy to just say “do what you’re told” and expect the results to be satisfactory. People who are used to being self-sustained, who are used to being independent, don’t give up without a fight or at least without some definitive and compelling reasoning. And until this year, it appeared our society still largely practiced self-government and left the control of others to the responsible parties. Only in a society made up of tiny tyrants with laser focus on each other could informant culture swell up to the levels seen in the 20th century’s most horrific collective experiments. That could never happen here, right? It seemed that way.

In my work over the last few years, I’ve had a rather interesting perspective into just how much “informing” is practiced routinely, albeit in the small and (very) petty things. That perspective was newly heightened this year as common sense was almost universally traded in for blind faith in (only some) white lab coats, even after the experience of decades of survival in this harsh world might suggest doing otherwise.

I am familiar with people who dutifully observe and report any and all disregard for the social rule to whoever will listen. I am frequently alerted to flagrant violations like towels hung over balconies; families having too much fun in the pool; people inviting “too many” guests over; a dog that might not be a service animal; people opening and closing doors. And then so-and-so did such-and-such again. Somebody had another party. That person seems suspicious. I have even been questioned about the payment of other people’s taxes.

These people—the kind of people who are so wrapped up in everyone else’s business that they forget to (or choose not to) attend to their own—are the same people who this year, when the panic began, demanded that others do exactly as they did and cheered on any tightened controls. These people—the kind of people who sit, wait, and watch, just to catch a misdeed—are the same people who sneak photos of people’s bare faces to report them. It's not enough for them to choose to be safer at home. They want every one on house arrest. Living life is the problem. Fines and penalties are the solution.

I was told this year that leadership means making universal decisions for the common good. Obviously, because leaders have authority and with authority comes force; but how can the common good be common if the good needs to be enforced? I receive report, after report, about people doing exactly what we all did one year ago, and now something is expected to be done about it. I, for one, have done my best not to abuse my power as if I knew best. I’ve done my best not to do a damn thing about it.

People who don’t choose to follow these new rules (that are not rules) that were handed down to us are increasingly being targeted, reported, and singled out. All in the name of the “public health.” This year it just so happens the public health is the object of collective cohesion.

The leaders who do know the common good, who do exercise force to ensure a compliant constituency, might have an easy job cut out for them in pursuing collective cohesion. The compliant constituency is more compliant than we realized, and that should be apparent now. The compliancy runs so deep that law enforcement is hardly needed—social pressure does the trick.

The kind of people whose private investigator fantasies I’ve had the pleasure of entertaining over the last few years are widespread, and up until now were fairly subtle and even shy about their self-appointed mission of informing on others and enforcing their preferred proper practice. They tended to be outliers and they understood why.

But this year they found a voice, they found a sure footing, and they found comradery. And worst, most damaging of all, they found empowerment by the people who should be defending freedom. This year, the tiny tyrants surfaced to lord the new normal over each other. Anything is better than worrying about your own self. This year, the tiny tyrants found an undebatable reason to position themselves in a justified light: the public health; the common good; the new normal.

You see, the object is irrelevant. Anything will serve as an excuse to unify the collective, and social pressure, informing on each other, reporting each other, are the most effective means. A unified collective funnels power to the top, but the poor fools along the way still get to enjoy their moment on the throne. I don’t think this could happen in a society where people worried about fixing themselves before another. But it’s happening here.

Before, informant culture was limited to petty, frivolous things. Now informant culture has a place in our health, in our daily lives. What the hell will it be tomorrow?

We have to stop this. We have to get back to the simple old idea of self-government.

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Commit your works to the Lord; And your thoughts will be established. Proverbs 16:3