Wednesday, September 15, 2021

All The Lonely People: Where Do They All Come From?

Before the advent of our current troubles, the Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur won widespread acclaim for his sports reporting. Since the arrival of the pandemic, however, his writing has achieved an entirely new level; his coverage of various aspects of the disease, especially the social consequences, has been superb.

In his latest column, Arthur turns his sights on the irrational protests that have been occurring outside of hospitals, some resulting in obstruction of patient and healthcare worker access. His analysis is well-worth the read.

“You’ve all got blood on your hands! You’re worse than the Nazis!” one middle-aged man yelled at the TV cameras, outside Toronto General Hospital. “You’ll have rocks thrown at you, next!” A few yelled Fake News like they were at karaoke. Mostly, they rejected vaccines. Society, too.

But at ground level there was something piteous about it, malignancy and all. The trappings of a brain-poisoned movement dotted the crowd: a couple of red Make America Great Again hats, some purple People’s Party of Canada gear, a hat from a disgraced barbecue joint. There was a one-page anti-mask, anti-lockdown, ivermectin-boostinghydroxychloroquine-boosting pamphlet handed out that claimed a vaccine passport was the mark of the beast.

Arthur considers who is so lost as to be protesting a hospital. Some of the misbegotten, of course, are the rabid anti-vaxxers, along with rag-tag followers of the People's Party of Canada. But Arthur offers an interesting perspective about many of the others.

 most people protesting outside the hospital were clearly lost souls. One carried a giant wooden cross; one had tattoos drawn on with a marker; one had a sign that misspelled the mayor’s name as J. Tori. Some seemed hungry for confrontation that never really came, but it was largely social: they swapped conspiracy theories, or recorded one another. More than anything, they seemed lonely. But then, so do QAnon fanatics, or Trumpian rallygoers. Lonely people are easy prey for conspiracies.

One of the more rational attendees was 35-year-old Torontonian Radu Dragon, who posts videos of protests to TikTok and YouTube. A smoker who refuses to get vaccinated, he seems to have found a new fellowship.

So he comes to the protests, and the people there have replaced his former circle of friends, even dotted as it is with the paranoid, the stressed, and people who vibrate on strange, off-reality frequencies. Society has always had people like this. But if you communicate on Facebook, Telegram, Instagram and TikTok, it can become a social circuit.

And for many, there seems to be no coming back, and outreach to them will prove futile.

There is a school of thought that if only we are nicer to people who think health-care workers are criminals and vaccine advocates violate the Nuremberg Code, then they will come around.

But there is an anger out there in Canada living at the conservative end of the spectrum, as the PPC surges in the polls.

“Some of these movements are like a bug light for more radical groups,” says Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at Queen’s University who specializes in the study of extremism. “It’s not something you can just not have a police presence for, otherwise you wind up with a smaller version of Jan. 6. The vast majority of people on Jan. 6 weren’t violent, but some were.

 “A lot of these groups are getting their content from abroad as well; there’s this theory that our crazies are not as crazy as America’s. Yeah, but they’re reading American content. They’re talking to them on Facebook … these movements are transnational.

 There is an anger and misinformation virus in this country that has been encouraged by some pretend and even mainstream media, and it could absolutely eat our conservative movement. This time there was no violence, and no ambulances were blocked. Thank goodness.

Instead it was mostly a bunch of sad lonely people together on a sidewalk, loosely united in a cause, feeling like they had a purpose, and unaware, while outside a hospital filled with the truly sick, that they had become the monsters.

And it is precisely this aspect of the pandemic for which there is no real treatment available. 





  1. These folks remind me of the lost souls in Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locust, Lorne. They're doomed. And they know it.

    1. I have not read the book, Owen, but I do remember the film. Its grimness mirrors today's desperate circumstances in many ways.

  2. A powerful bit of journalism, Lorne. It's going to become increasingly difficult to make sense of our rapidly changing world and these "piteous" group will remain sad and lonely, social outcasts. Our challenge will be to find acceptable ways to manage them and limit the damage they create.

    1. That is indeed a challenge, Mound, given the sense of community that social media have given them.