Here we are at the end of Week 2. This “reconfinement” is not panning out like the last one. First, people don’t seem very confined. There are way more people (and cars) in the streets. People are congregating in parks and plazas. Grocery stores aren’t doing the kind of social distancing they did in the spring. The only ones who seem to be affected are small business owners: restaurants and shops.
Perhaps some of the reasons for the changes this time around are that schools are open (which explains the groups of kids hanging around in the street at recess), and certain enterprises deemed important for the economy, like construction and manufacturing, are also operating this time. And now that we have masks, maybe limiting customers in shops is no longer necessary (though I’d like to see the data on that).
This lockdown feels different, too. Seems harder the second time around. The days are getting shorter instead of longer; we lose sun around 4:45pm now, adding to the solitude. And there’s fatigue, the not-again-itude of it. It’s sadder, too, coming around the holidays. Florists are closed, which means there are no Christmas trees for sale. Les Grands Magasins are closed, too, their holiday windows hidden under blinds. The venerable Au Printemps just announced that after three hard years (Gilets Jaunes protests 2018, transit strikes 2019, and now lockdown during their busiest season) that they will be closing 7 stores in France. It’s really sinking in now.
Last time, we knew nothing about this disease that took us by surprise, and so we hunkered down inside, almost willingly, where we could control the uncontrollable. We noodled around at home, baked bread, cleared out our closets, wrote in our blogs. We waxed poetic about the forced slow-down of our lives, the newfound perspective on the preciousness of life. We applauded the healthcare workers every night in solidarity.
No one is clapping this time.
People seem more defiant. Daily numbers are still high here in France, and ICU beds are at 96% capacity as of today. Still, people continue to flout confinement restrictions. A survey conducted in France by the site Consolab uncovered that 6 out of 10 people polled have admitted to flouting at least one of the confinement rules, a 27% increase from the last lockdown. And clandestine house parties promoted on social media are becoming popular among younger people. Police had to break up a party of nearly 400 people just outside Paris this past Friday. At least one of the party-goers tested positive for Covid.
Defiance? Or despair?
That younger people seem determined to create havoc in our lives—and their own—is probably the most troubling part of this pandemic. It’s easy to call it selfishness, but it’s something much darker. It’s acting out their hopelessness and anger, just another symptom of a troubled post-modern world determined to tear down every long-held belief and institution, where people feel their destinies are not their own, and governments seem to care more about their big money cronies, and reelection, than the well-being of their constituents.
I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was in my early 20s as a student at Parsons School of Design in New York, when AIDS was just being talked about. Right as we were coming into our sexually active years, this disease shut it down. The carefree and open sexuality of the 1970s came to a screeching halt, fittingly during the rigid and almost prudish Reagan administration. But no one called AIDS a hoax, though it did not get the attention it deserved because it largely affected the gay community at that time. Still, none of us in New York felt immune even if we were straight. It was all we could talk about; we worried all the time. We thought twice before we hooked up in a club. We protected our young lives, which we held dear. We took it all very seriously.
I’m not a sociologist or a psychologist; I have only a layperson’s ideas about the difference between my generation at 20 and this one. As a young art student, I was not a fan of Reagan, but I felt empowered to create change if I didn’t like what I was seeing. I trusted in science and data, and when medical experts spoke, people listened. Rumor and gossip were confined to the student lounge, not packaged up as news and put out to millions in a flash. We feared a nuclear war with Russia, but never had to question whether our elections might be manipulated by them. We felt we had institutions we could count on, with rules of conduct that would ultimately protect these institutions from corruption or coup.
This generation’s voice has more platforms to be heard than ours did. That voice can say more, reach more people, travel farther—instantaneously. And yet, collectively they seem more impotent, confused, vain, hopeless. Social media leaves them feeling less connected, more depressed, studies report. Is this, in part, what is fueling this self-destructive behavior? Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die? We did some stupid things as kids, but we didn’t throw orgies just to see if we could get a venereal disease, or AIDS. The goal in life was to not get sick. It was to flourish and live long. In spite of the looming threat of nuclear war and AIDS, we had hope, and believed that right had might.
Then again, we were allowed to be young and naive. This generation, bombarded by information and imagery all day via social media, is not. There is no escape for them.
These are the thoughts that occupy my mind today, two weeks in. I’m frustrated, like many people. The government let us down this summer and, especially, failed the healthcare workers by not doing more to prevent this second wave. This flouting of confinement rules, the clandestine parties, are these ways of expressing that anger and frustration? Or a kind of denial of just how desperate it could possibly be?
We are both problem and solution. We can’t control our leaders, but we can lead our peers, our communities. We can stop calling our youth selfish, and instead assuage their pain and fear. We can show them that taking responsibility for themselves is the ultimate power.
And hey, it’s only Week 2. Maybe people just need time to accept this current reality. Resistance is always more painful than acceptance.