Note: I originally wrote this a few weeks after the Jan 6 insurrection and published it on another site. I’m publishing it here with some minor updates, but otherwise it’s unchanged. -NEM
You build a house.
It starts off as a small house – a couple of bedrooms, a proportional number of bathrooms, a decent-sized kitchen, a living room, but a shoddy roof. It’s on shaky ground, and you need to work on reinforcing your foundation. Still, you invite a bunch of people over to your house and say, “Hey, come over and store your stuff in my house! It’ll be fun and we’ll party!”
I and a bunch of other people say, “Ok, sure. We’ll come over to your small house and see what the fuss is all about.”
We’re not too impressed. I don’t know any of the other guests; none of them know me. We try to make small talk, but it doesn’t really work. But you’re insistent that we stay. “I’ll make the house bigger,” you say. “I’ll make the foundation stronger. More people will come over and party. You’ll see!”
And to your credit, things change. The house grows and more people come over. Well, more famous people come over. Celebrities. In fact, celebrities start giving you money to make your house bigger. I manage to talk to a couple of them and it gets exciting. I convince a few other friends to come over to your house and they start having a good time. I meet people I never would have met in real life at your house and we become friends at this house.
Your house gets bigger and bigger. More and more people show up. The party feels like it’s never going to end.
But then I start seeing two problems. First, I’m starting to hear rumors about you sharing my stuff I stored at your house with people who gave you money to build your house bigger.
“Well,” you say, “it’s my house. I can do with it what I want. Plus, I need that money to keep the house big and keep everyone here. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Doesn’t that seem a little sketchy though?” I ask. “Shouldn’t you have told me that before I came to your house?”
“I mean,” you say, “shouldn’t you know that before you go to anyone’s house? Besides, if you don’t like it, build your own house.”
“But not everyone knows how to build their own house. That’s a disingenuous argument.”
Several other people feel the same way. This argument starts to pick up steam and you get a bit flustered. Eventually, you put a sign on your door outlining what stuff you sell to other people so new guests can decide if they want to go to your house or not. Some people don’t like this and leave the house. For the most part, people don’t care and stay for the party. I’m uneasy and against my better judgement I stay.
What if I miss out on something? What if someone says something really cool? Or really bad?
The second thing I notice is much worse. I start to notice roaches in your house.
“Hey,” I tell you. “You’ve got roaches crawling under the sink and in the basement.”
You’re not bothered, however. “Oh, them. Don’t worry about them.”
I scratch my head. “But…you have roaches.”
“Yeah. Lots of houses have them.”
“Um, no. That’s not true. There aren’t any roaches in my house. And if my house had roaches, I’d spray for them. And if that didn’t work, I’d call an exterminator.”
You shrug. “You can just ignore them.”
“What?! They’re roaches!”
“I know. But you can just go into another room and not look at them.”
“Um, even though I’m in another room, they’ll still be there. Just because I went into another room, doesn’t mean the roach problem is gone!”
You get exasperated with me. “Look, the truth is, they have the right to be here, too.”
My jaw drops. “Are you serious right now? Cockroaches? They’re vermin! No one likes cockroaches!”
“I know you don’t agree with them, but I can’t just get rid of them. I let them in here and they have the right to be here, too.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. These are cockroaches. They’re disgusting, filthy bugs. They crawl around the trash and spread their filth all over the place. And this is your house. You have the right to get rid of whoever you want to — and that includes cockroaches!”
You don’t say anything.
“Wait, am I to believe you don’t want to get rid of the roaches? For some reason?”
You still don’t say anything.
I’m dumbstruck. Thousands of guests in this house are dumbstruck. We look around and cockroaches are crawling up the walls, on the tables, and across the floors. They’re attacking some guests. When guests go up to you to do something, you have the same excuse — You can hide from them. But that doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it makes the roaches more plentiful. They get bigger and bolder. They evolve to grow wings and fly around the house and outside of it as well.
Finally, a number of us decide that enough is enough. We’re done with your house, your party, and your cockroaches. We dust off our hands and leave for good. We don’t come back.
From the outside, I look at your house. It’s a shoddy, rickety shack on stilts near a hurricane beach. The walls buckling and thousands of tiny, winged insects buzz around it. I can’t recall the allure of your house in the first place. What I thought I would miss feels superficial and artificial at the same time.
Not long after, I hear that a bunch of roaches from your house got together and flew off to attack the country. Suddenly, after all those years of claiming “those roaches have the right to be here” and “you can just ignore them,” you’re singing a different tune. You’re actually worried that your roaches might make your house look bad.
Imagine that. Roaches making one’s house look like shit.