“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” – Henry David Thoreau
For those of you who’ve experienced in print the trite isolationist nonsense listed above, masquerading as philosophical tenet, and felt you related to it? Yeah…these times were made for you.
History and the American psyche have always been defined by impertinence. This country was founded on the notion that the rabble, a bunch of undesirables by royal standards, could accept and even thrive in a life in exile and render it worthy of all praise, status and hierarchy by redefining the terms of modern government in favor of individual liberties. That these liberties have evolved to include the ever-human failing of avarice should come as no surprise – American capitalism is ultimately self-defeating due to the competitive, screw-thy-neighbor attitude it fosters; the dark, often-ignored side of the American Dream is the resulting chaos and tragedy that accompanies those who fail, financially and socially, to achieve it.
But we’re a plucky bunch of greed-mongers. Historically, we do not stand for abuses on our civil liberties. We can’t fathom being denied our “inalienable” rights, as loosely guaranteed by our guiding documents (all of which need updates for interpreting our modern times…oh, sorry! That’s for another article). Our current crisis notwithstanding, we experience free speech, free movement, freedom to congregate, freedom to work anywhere we choose (and that chooses us), freedom to vote, free to be you and me, etc. And while it’s alarmist to imply we’re currently experiencing an abrogation of those rights, there’s little question the COVID-19 era will be remembered not for its populist attempts at mitigation or governance, or even the rightly-hyped heroics of active service and medical staff. It will conversely be known for the supposedly-excessive isolation “forced” upon us. It will be seen by some as that time when America buckled under to global pressure and succumbed to fear and paranoia. It will be seen by others as an exercise in public health measures in the extreme, lauding us all for our “teamwork” and solidarity. It will continue to be politicized, because we’re reduced to looking for scapegoats in times of crisis, and the easiest party to blame is often one’s go-to for the same, tired purposes.
Regardless, we’re all locked inside. We’re staring at the walls and each other. We’re debating the merits of the latest “Tiger King” installment or the next relative obscurity posing as entertainment on your preferred media stream. Sure, we miss sports and concerts, but in lieu of live events, we’re treated to yoga and planking displays, family pyramids, assorted media figures attempting to perform their jobs using poor quality individualized technology (I will never again criticize a makeup artist), hastily-written tribute songs by artists that should know better, and combative, ugly presidential press conferences. We’re free to cook any meal we desire or experience the very real anxiety of ordering takeout from a third party. We’re able to dash out for limited restocking missions to our local grocery and (hopefully in your state) liquor stores. We’re reacquainting ourselves with board (bored?) games. We’ve developing strong, tightly-knit bonds with our pets, who have collectively become our nation’s leading anecdotal experts on dealing with the debilitating effects of isolation. And you know what?
It still sucks.
We’ll recover, sure, and it’s this author’s sincere doubt anything will ultimately change in terms of a collective, societal, macro view of the world and its behaviors. Our instant gratification-based culture’s excessive Attention Deficit Disorder has become a feature of our society, and once a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and distributed, Americans will assume they have nothing to fear. As long as some measure of economic stability can be retained, many will forget why we undertook these measures in the first place. We’ll go back to being the same pizza-eating, beer-swilling, belch-producing troglodytes the world has become accustomed to – hey, we’re consistent, and that “ugly American” stereotype has taken generations to perfect. Why change just because of a silly old pandemic?
Isolation is no fun. I want to travel, to again experience the simple pleasure of sitting in a beachside bar with a well-crafted IPA in each hand, the sounds of the waves lapping up the aural spaces not filled by the low clatter of another Jimmy Buffett cover on the jukebox. There’s that cliff wall I never climbed in Half Moon Bay, still there, still taunting me, double-dog daring me to break quarantine and scale that sumbitch once and for all. In the best of times, we’re globally unique in our sheer willingness to flaunt the rules (and get away with it) if they seemingly interfere with our freedoms, which is always an enlightening exercise in rationalization. In short, we’re still…impertinent, and we’re fed up/not going to take it anymore.
The sheer duration of this social distancing exercise is daunting, primarily because there’s no defined endpoint. Although there’s little alternative, simply telling the citizenry we’ll return to a bustling society “when it’s safe” leaves far too much to the average citizen’s imagination, where some have already begun to violate stay-at-home orders, often citing a fear their aforementioned civil liberties are being compromised. Others are experiencing extreme loneliness and depression, which are obvious by-products of isolation, especially for those that previously suffered from these conditions. It’s exceedingly difficult to project a “light at the end of the tunnel” other than referring to myriad statistics regarding COVID-19’s systemic progression and resulting carnage, but our leaders…well, we’ve had mixed results. The proverbial jury’s still out (at least publicly for me. You want my political take, talk to me elsewhere).
I’m not going to throw another cliche-ridden log on the old “reassurance” fire for you. Most operating businesses have produced at least one ad that runs thusly: “In these unprecedented times, please know we’re here for YOU. And we’ll get through this…TOGETHER.” It’s almost as though there’s a media mandate to repeat those phrases across the broadcasting universe because a test group’s collective diastolic reading dropped half a tick while hearing it, but regardless, it’s probably the right message, because the populous is nervous. They’re bitter, paranoid, weirder and weirder by the day, and most are seeing their hair and nails grow beyond comfortable means to control without outside help. Every trip to the mirror produces new revelations about how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other anywhere but a monitor.
I feel the ugly American rising in me. This aggression will not stand, man. Isolation is a killer.
Bugger off, Henry.