It is time once again to (dis)honor the recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award. This year we had a small set of nominees, but compensated for that lack of quantity with exceptional quality. The pandemic has affected everything, including the number of nominees as well as the deadline for selecting the winner (and filing our taxes).
Fauci, along with other public health officials, did much to bring discredit to themselves. They cannot be blamed for failing to be prepared for a global pandemic (even though that is in their job description). The scale and uncertainty of the pandemic were just too great for even the most capable public official to have fully anticipated. Instead, what public health officials can be blamed for is failing to accurately convey that uncertainty to us as if we were adult citizens of a democratic republic. Instead, they chose to convey false confidence in an ever-changing set of mandates in the belief that we would be reassured by their confidence. This was both a political and a scientific catastrophe.
While this would make Fauci and other public health officials Higgy-worthy, giving any of them the award would be misdirecting our upset. The pandemic is largely a natural disaster. It is progressive-technocratic hubris to believe that humans are responsible for failing to prevent or mitigate every natural disaster. We are all imperfect and I suspect that most of us would have made similar or different errors if we had been in Fauci’s place. Even during Higgy season we should maintain some appreciation for regular human failings, even if they affected irregular events. I know what road good intentions puts us on, but let’s remember that Fauci probably thought he was reassuring us with his false and ever-changing confidence.
Alison Collins’ behavior is harder to explain with good but mistaken intentions. School boards are often a vanity project for their members, but the San Francisco School Board might inspire Carly Simon to burst into song. No sensible person imagines that spending over a half million dollars to destroy a mural of George Washington and then renaming 44 schools were the top priorities for improving the city’s academically struggling schools. Even if your politics incline you to perceive these acts as virtuous, you’d have to admit that the signal to virtue ratio is exceptionally high.
While helping orchestrate this Jacobin orgy of sending (mostly mistaken) racist symbols to the guillotine, Collins has her own racist tweets surface. Rather than gain some humility about human imperfection, Collins brings an $87 million lawsuit against the school board on which she serves for taking away her committee assignments for her “spiritual” and other imaginary injuries. Collins really puts the petty in petty little dictator, making her a particularly (un)worthy recipient of The Higgy.