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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Who are the idiots and the maniacs?

Comedian George Carlin's comments on how we

 Comedian George Carlin's comments on how we perceive other drivers also opened a window on how we perceive ourselves. Credit: Getty Images/Stephen Chernin

Ever since George Carlin unleashed his legendary bit about how we perceive other drivers, that smidgen of stand-up gold has mostly been misunderstood.

"Have you ever noticed, when you’re driving, that anyone who is driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?" Carlin famously mused.

"You know, I have noticed that!" thought millions of drivers, including myself, between roars of laughter. "I curse these meandering idiots blocking my way, and the maniacs motoring madly to get in front of me are worse!"

But Carlin didn’t bog down his act by explaining the next logical step, nor did I when I wrote about this quote years ago: To everyone driving faster than us, we are the idiots impeding their progress! And to everyone driving slower than us, we are the maniacs endangering life and limb.

We often, instinctively, define normality as how we ourselves act, and deviancy as anything else. And we do so, mostly, because we experience the world as a drama about our own lives, with our own troubles and triumphs as the plot.

So many people say they are "mostly moderate" that it’s like a password. It doesn’t matter if they support death sentences for parking in residential neighborhoods during hockey games, or think publicly devoting one’s life to the Lord ought to be a high school graduation requirement for all — most still see themselves as middle-of-the-road.

So someone who worships more than us is a religious zealot, and anyone who worships less is a heathen. Folks who exercise harder than us are fanatics, while those who work out less than us are sloths. Those who drop more cash than us on frivolities are spendthrifts, and those who watch their money more closely than us are skinflints.

And in the age of omicron, it can feel like those who take more precautions against COVID-19 than us are hostages to fear, while those less careful than us are consumed with foolishness.

With over 800,000 reported deaths from COVID in the United States and just three linked to a COVID vaccine, common sense says get vaccinated. And most Americans were willing to, once. A smaller majority were willing to endure two stabs. A somewhat slimmer group got boosted.

But imagine how these behavioral divisions will grow if doctors decide a booster every quarter, or even every month, is the best counter to new mutations. Would you take a monthly shot for a disease that seems more benign with every variance, or make your kid? Would you scorn those who decide differently?

Divisions are also growing with masking, as some feel shots and a weaker variant are enough protection, and others argue that any possible precautions are prudent.

But if omicron portends the future of COVID, what’s coming may be a long period of weaker variants dangerous mostly to the unvaccinated and the elderly, ill, and weak. It's possible, though rarer, for new mutations to be more deadly, but assuming that's not the case, the time for harshly judging those whose response to the disease differs from our own should draw to a close.

Because with most behaviors, ones that aren’t so obviously matters of life and death, believing that people whose choices differ from ours are idiots and maniacs makes us the butt of the joke, not the intended audience.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.