New York City’s East Village went viral recently after a local blogger posted a 45-second video of Friday night revelers on St. Mark’s Place, complete with a jazz band.
The armchair epidemiologists of Twitter took the partyers to task: “I hate these people,” one woman wrote. Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo got involved in the online smackdown: “Don’t make me come down there . . .” he tweeted; he has since threatened to reimpose shutdowns in Manhattan and the Hamptons.
It’s easy to understand the Twitter rage over all this. We’re living through a global pandemic, one that has taken more than 100,000 lives in the United States in a little over three months. People are scared. But the attacks on the revelers are less about coronavirus than they are about expressing a flawed moral judgment. We are asking people to sacrifice in a way that’s clearly unsustainable, and then dumping hate on them when they fail to live up to an inhuman ideal.
Call it corona fatigue or quarantine exhaustion, but the celebrating is going on across the nation. There’s Los Angeles, where underground dance parties are back; Florida, where people are once again mobbing the beaches and bars; and Nevada, where it appears gamblers are not worried about picking up the virus along with their winnings at a casino. People are tired of the shutdowns, impatient with social distancing and increasingly inclined to let things slide, at least occasionally.
On one side, you’ve got people who refuse to wear masks to prevent the transmission of infection even in situations where they are clearly called for. On the other, people who all too often come off as moral scolds, calling out people for gathering in front of bars.
Yet the idea that people would stay shut inside and eschew almost all social contact for an indeterminate length of time — especially if someone is young and not a member of a high-risk group — is the sort of thing that seems delusional in retrospect. Humans are social animals. And this is the United States, a fractious country of disobedient, sometimes slightly paranoid people, where the social contract is more than a bit frayed. In some ways, it’s all but a miracle people complied with the stay-in-place orders as long as they did.
The shutdowns allowed us to at least temporarily paper over societal fault lines the virus highlighted, from decades of under-investment in health care to the fact that, no, actually, we aren’t all equally vulnerable to the virus’s worst effects. (Both the elderly and African Americans are more likely to die from it, as well as those with underlying medical conditions.) But now, the cracks are beginning to show.
Watching the attacks on Twitter, it occurred to me that the hate piled onto the revelers bears a strong resemblance to attacks on people for spending money on lattes instead of retirement savings, dining out on avocado toast when they could be using the funds to pay down their student loans or buying an iPhone in lieu of paying for health insurance. We’re expecting individuals to compensate for government and societal failures, and then yelling at them when they fail to do so — and act like people instead.