March 23rd, 2020

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

A crisis situation usually brings out both the best and the worst in people, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. People have displayed admirable acts of thoughtfulness and self-sacrifice in difficult times, and they've also displayed ruthless selfishness in their efforts to cash in on people's insecurity and make money from the crisis. But I am usually not too much interested in the obvious; the Internet is full of people who like to post things which need no commentary because their content and intent is obvious, but I am usually more interested in things which warrant some consideration.

So it is with the videos which have been posted in various places online of people holding balcony parties, in which people who are quarantined in their homes and apartments step out onto their balconies and begin singing or playing music together, although separated by the street or different levels of the buildings they live in. For the people in such videos, and other people who delight in their spirited jubilations during what is, to be sure, a discouraging time, such vigor represents the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, the refusal of humanity to allow itself to be brought into sadness or hopelessness despite a worldwide pandemic. This perspective ignores the people whom you don't see in such videos, however: The people who are at home and simply want to have a quiet night in without being disturbed by the noise of people having an impromptu party on their balconies.

See, there's a reason why concert arenas and sports stadiums are built, and why they're usually built a significant geographic distance away from residential areas where people live: It's because while there are a lot of people who like to make noise and raise a ruckus, there are also a lot of people who don't want to live in an environment of constant loudness, and so urban planners, recognizing that there are people with nothing better to do in their spare time than scream a lot and play loud music, construct safe spaces where people can make a lot of noise without disturbing other people who want to live in peace. When those concert arenas and sports stadiums become closed, the loud people bring the noise home with them, resulting in a disruption of the public peace. Their "triumph of humanity" doesn't represent the triumph of anything except thoughtlessness and lack of consideration toward their neighbors.

To be sure, I understand that some people are going through extraordinarily difficult times now, and that they may need some encouragement. This doesn't give them the right to make life difficult for others, however. Even children can learn to deal with negative situations in better ways than throwing a tantrum; supposedly thinking, responsible adults should be able to do the same.

Indeed, when I look at humanity, I tend to see a group of people who never actually grew up; they still have no better way to use their spare time than to overstimulate their senses using any means available. This has been amply demonstrated by that widely-circulated video of young adults who refuse to take any precautions in the time of a global pandemic; they complain that the measures which have been enacted for public health are a nuisance ("What they're doing is bad") and that enjoying themselves is more important ("We're going to enjoy ourselves"). Brady Sluder's words which open the video sum up the mood fairly succinctly: "If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I'm not going to let it stop me from partying." (UPDATE: To be fair, Sluder has since publicly apologized on the Internet for his comments, stating that he wants to use the incident and the public response it garnered "as motivation to become a better person.") Here, again, we see a division of perspective: In these partygoers' minds (and perhaps some other people's minds), these people represent the unbroken human spirit, a group of positive-thinking people who refuse to let themselves be discouraged by setbacks. In reality, of course, they're actually just a bunch of stupid kids who refuse to behave with responsibility or respect toward other people. We live in a world that encourages selfishness and self-satisfaction in people, and that leads to a critical lack of adult life skills. That's the real global pandemic. In a few months, the virus which has the world under lockdown will pass and life will go back to the way it was before, but the rampant immaturity and lack of consideration for other people is a disease that will remain with us until measures are taken to eliminate it.

The other handicap which humanity needs to deal with is its inability to think of intelligent ways to keep the human mind engaged during people's spare time. One woman in the video asks openly: "What is there to do here other than go to the bars or the beach?" This is an excuse I've often heard from--for example--people who live in small towns and use recreational drugs to pass the time, insisting that there's nothing else to do in a small town, but this is a bullshit excuse which has never made sense: People who claim that they can't find anything better to do with their lives than take drugs are just making excuses for their own weakness and refusal to be responsible adults. It makes even less sense in this case, because these people are in Miami; do they really mean to claim that there are no bookstores or libraries in Miami? The website of the Miami-Dade Public Library System lists no less than 50 library branches, any one of which would contain more than enough books to keep a person reading through their entire spring break. Admittedly, those branches are now closed due to the epidemic, but to claim that there's nothing to do in Miami except go to the bars and the beach reveals an ignorance that even very young children would be informed against. Truly, human beings are a species characterized by their refusal to develop or mature mentally or emotionally. Pour the alcohol down the drain and start reading something, folks. There are more than enough written words in the world to keep you entertained for many times the length of your natural lifetime.