In the Greek myths, the villain Procrustes would ensnare hapless travelers on the road to Athens and tie them to his iron bed. If they were too short, he would stretch them out; if they were too tall, he would cut them down. Procrustes’ reign of terror came to an end when the hero Theseus overpowered him and tied him to his own bed.
It seems clear that many of the petty tyrants of the pandemic – Newsom, Whitmer, Cuomo, De Blasio, and the rest of their sorry lot – are disciples of Procrustes, or might as well be. They have procured a great iron bed of bureaucratic fiat, and they are relentlessly chopping and stretching us all until we have met their cold Procrustean standards.
Many of the COVID restrictions put in place in recent months are an exercise in arbitrariness and caprice. Why did Governor Cuomo limit private gatherings to ten people, in studio apartments and mansions alike? Why not nine? Why not eleven? The only answer seems to be that ten is a good round number. The nuances and complexities of individual situations are irrelevant; we must all fit the bed precisely, however tall or short we may be.
Daily life in our society, for the past year, has been oriented around the magical social distancing number of six feet. This distance seems to have been selected largely at random, considering that virus particles can travel far more than six feet when someone coughs or sneezes. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, people are told to stay two meters (or around six and a half feet) apart. It is very thoughtful of the virus to accommodate users of the Metric System.
Procrustes’ motivations remain a mystery. He was a bandit, but presumably, he could have robbed his victims without putting them through the gratuitous torture of the bed routine. Most likely, he did so because of the sheer thrill of it. It is that same gleeful exertion of power that animates our modern Procrustean politicians. They enjoy making citizens jump through a series of increasingly complex hoops, swiping away with a pen stroke the autonomy and livelihoods of ordinary Americans because they can.
When dealing with such villains, we can only defeat them by tying them to their own bed; that is to say, by holding them to their own arbitrary and impossible standard. This is happening now, as many of our politicians are slowly being exposed as rank hypocrites. The most flagrant recent example of this was that of Governor Gavin Newsom, caught eating dinner maskless with a dozen others at a birthday party for his lobbyist friend, in one of California’s costliest restaurants. To heap insult upon insult, two of the state’s top public health officials were also present.
Newsom later apologized for having made “a bad mistake;” his guilt certainly would have gone unconfessed forever were it not for the investigatory journalism of the San Francisco Chronicle. He pleaded pathetically for lenience, saying that “We’re all human. We all fall short sometimes.”
This is precisely the point: we are all human, and Newsom’s inhuman guidelines are impossible to follow. Human beings simply cannot live without social contact for extended periods of time. Loneliness, some research shows, is as bad for your health as smoking or obesity. Fun, joy, companionship, and, yes, sex are all human needs (as Dr. Neil Ferguson, another Procrustean hypocrite with a bed featuring in his story, can attest). “Social distancing,” in its purest form, is antithetical to our nature. Newsom knows this on some level, or he would not have done what he did.
To be sure, Newsom is not the only powerful politician breaking his own rules. He is simply one of those stupid enough to have been caught. All the way back in April, D.C. insiders and elites were hosting secret dinner parties in their houses. They can be forgiven for acting like human beings, but not for the insufferably insouciant way in which they lectured the peasanty on our comparatively smaller transgressions.
Theseus is known best for having slain the Minotaur. The defeat of Procrustes was a footnote for him, a brief diversion from his main objective. That is because Procrustes was unimportant, a minor bully in the grand scheme of things, worthy of only a throwaway line or two in a much larger myth. Our petty COVID tyrants are much the same. For all the harm that Gavin Newsom and his ilk are causing to the long-suffering blue staters caught behind the Lockdown Curtain, these loathsome small-time despots shall quickly be forgotten to history.