Everyone knows what Schadenfreude means. It is from the German and is defined as taking pleasure in someone else’s discomfort, or even their pain. It’s different from Sadism in that it usually doesn’t involve sexual gratification, and it is a little less fierce. The pain in question is usually mental rather than physical.
I suppose that in popular usage it is most often used in situations where someone has been pompous or arrogant (or is perceived to have been) and then circumstances turn against them. They bring their suffering on themselves, in other words, and we watch their embarrassment with pleasure because it is justice being served.
It is, for instance, what I’m feeling at the moment when I read that once again, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that good and noble man, has wiped up the floor with Rand Paul. I enjoyed that. A lot. (1) Though, it does worry me, because narcissists and bullies tend to get vindictive when they’re shown to be fools. Already, I read, Paul is talking about getting the Department of Justice to investigate the good Doctor, though for what isn’t entirely clear.(2)
Still, while schadenfreude is perfectly fine in Paul’s case, I find it unattractive in another situation. Indeed, I feel real shame.
As I write this (on July 21, 2021), my Foxfire browser is filled with stories of Covid victims…who didn’t have to be victims. All across the nation, people are getting the virus, and sometimes dying of it, because they declined to get vaccinated. They declined because they didn’t think they needed it, or because they thought vaccines are bad in principle, or because they bought into the Right’s anti-vaccine frenzy. The last are the most pathetic, I think, because they weren’t necessarily evil people. Just stupid ones.
So, for example, here’s a story from my old home state, Massachussets. It seems that a former selectwoman from the town of Bourne (and I have friends in Bourne) has just died of Covid. She was only 70. (3)
She had not been vaccinated. She had been a radical Trump supporter. Her Facebook posts were full of conspiracy theories, absurd claims that Trump had actually won the election…and, of course, confidently incorrect misinformation about the virus, i.e., that it is a hoax and the vaccines are useless or even harmful.(4)
And then, of course, she caught it. And then, of course, she died of it.
What has concerned me is that after that, people visited her Facebook page have posted, well, unattractive things. The least offensive of them, and the only one I will reproduce, was something about “enjoy your Darwin Award.”
Schadenfreude…and understandable. Maybe she did get some kind of justice. After all, her claims about the election help undermine American democracy, and her claims about Covid, which might have convinced someone to not get their shots (“After all, she’s an elected official. She must know what she’s talking about”) might have actually endangered other people.
But, still…understandable or not…it is unkind. The woman was wrong, and confused, and, even, in her way, somewhat dangerous. But she was someone’s daughter. Someone’s friend. Someone, somewhere, loved her, and now grieves.
I guess, though, what I’m saying is that if there is a villain in this story, it isn’t the dead woman. She was a sad and tragic figure, yes, and she may have caused harm. But the real evil here is in the men and women elsewhere, the media figures and network pundits and politicians who taught her to hate and fear anyone not like herself, or who did not believe as they told her to.
In other words, she may have been unlikable, but she was a victim.
It is those others…those in power who used her…who need to feel our wrath.
Let us, then, go forth…to the ballot box, to the demonstration, to the rally…and avenge her and all those who have died of this horrid disease but wouldn’t have, if they had not been left vulnerable by Trump and his people. Let us remove them from office and from power. Let us reward them well for their evil.
Then we may enjoy their embarrassment…enjoy our Schadenfreude…without the slightest shame. And, indeed…
Until next time…
Onward and upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker
1. See, for example, “‘If anybody is lying here, it is you’: Fauci turns tables on inquisitor Rand Paul,” by David Smith, The Guardian, Tue 20 Jul 2021 16.26 EDT, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/20/anthony-fauci-rand-paul-coronavirus-research, and “Anthony Fauci Once Again Forced to Basically Call Rand Paul a Sniveling Moron”, by Bess Levin, Vanity Fair, July 21, 2021, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/07/anthony-fauci-rand-paul-covid-19
2. See Levin, above.
3. See Linda Zuern, former Bourne selectman, dies of complications of COVID-19, by Beth Treffeisen, Cape Cod Times, July 20, 2021, https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/news/2021/07/20/cape-cod-activist-and-public-servant-linda-zuern-dies-covid-19/8012431002/, ; and “Unvaccinated Cape Official, Trump Supporter Dies Of COVID-19, Former Bourne selectwoman Linda Zuern promoted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus as a member of a pro-Trump group on Cape Cod,” by Jimmy Bentley, Patch, Posted Tue, Jul 20, 2021 at 12:47 pm ET|Updated Tue, Jul 20, 2021 at 3:16 pm ET, https://patch.com/massachusetts/barnstable-hyannis/cape-official-unvaccinated-trump-supporter-dies-covid-19
4. At least as of press time, you could see her remarks here: https://www.facebook.com/lzuern