Americans have been wading through the pandemic, all the while kicking and screaming against what they see as a breach of their freedoms. This would be laughable if it wasn’t causing so much avoidable suffering. Our embarrassing and uniquely American disposition betrays a level of privilege heretofore unseen. It’s as though in braving the same pandemic that everyone else has, we thought ourselves to be above it all, cementing the undying stereotype of the foolish American that foreign countries have held for decades, if not centuries. Yes, the “dumb” American deserves a great deal of blame for why this country continues to struggle as it does against COVID-19 while some countries have reported being case-free.
It all boils down to utter selfishness and a grim misunderstanding of the word “need.” Needs, quite simply, are things you require to survive. Hyperbolic language is the new American way: “I need this,” “I literally can’t deal with this.” We’ve forgotten what a need is, and we’ve certainly forgotten what “literally” means. And so, it comes as no surprise that the American people’s reaction to pandemic restrictions on gathering, shopping, as well as social distancing measures and mask regulations, has been so selfish and shortsighted. It’s as though Americans truly believe that their astounding privilege is their right, that luxuries are a need.
The complaints started early. Videos surfaced in the first weeks of lockdown showing people defying stay-at-home orders because they wanted a haircut, or I should say, they “needed” a haircut. Once again, the definition of “need” has been distorted to mean “want.” Of course, everyone wants a haircut – not me, I’m bald – of course everyone wants to go out to eat, go to bars, gather with friends, and meet new people. But, those things aren’t needs. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the developing world who considers those things to be survival necessities. This pandemic has revealed who we all are: some of us are real selfish assholes.
The shortsightedness of refusing to wear a mask or gathering in large groups is mindboggling. Americans have heard that one must wear a mask for the benefit of everyone else, that COVID spreads significantly less with everyone wearing a mask, that you owe it to the more vulnerable citizens to wear one – they heard it, and they rejected it. What they “need” is to be able to do exactly what they want. It’s a tragedy of our own making.
Our unparalleled privilege is such that when we’re asked to stay home and wear masks for our safety and the safety of everyone around us, we refuse to give up our all-consuming tendencies. The “ugly” American tourist stereotype has been around for years. Americans show up places and selfishly refuse to act according to the customs of the place they’re visiting, instead continuing their appalling behavior abroad, culture be damned. We’re now seeing the tragic effects of that stereotype domestically. When the CDC says that if everyone wore masks, transmission rates would plummet, that should be enough for everyone to band together. Obviously, it’s not.
Americans barely believe in science anymore. Young people have gathered in droves for beach parties with people chest to chest, not a mask to be seen. They either think they’re safe, or they don’t care if they catch COVID-19 because they’re young and resilient. It turns out none of that is true at all. There are those of us following the rules, being cautious, and there are those of us who “need” to go out. No, you don’t. You don’t “need” to go out, you don’t “need” to dine out, you don’t “need” to go to the bar. First of all, it’s always been cheaper to buy your own booze, take it from a drinker; bars are a grift. More importantly though, the things that Americans say they can’t live without are things that people in other countries can’t even fathom ever having. Our stupidity is quite literally killing us this time, we’re too dumb to live.
Noticeably, all of the above complaints revolve around spending money. The great tragedy is of course that the business owners suffered and continue to suffer greatly because of the pandemic’s world-stopping effect. But those protesting the COVID restrictions so aggressively aren’t the business owners, they’re the consumers – and they’re claiming their freedoms have been violated. Not their freedom to run their business, but the freedom to buy shit. Armed protestors took to capital buildings, fuming about their uncut hair and inability to eat at restaurants, claiming of course that their freedoms have been taken away and that they’re not going to stand for it. Could there be a more shortsighted idea of freedom than the freedom to consume? It is so uniquely American and so supremely embarrassing that while the world hunkered down to protect its own against a global pandemic, Americans clamored for their right to buy things and not wear masks. I’ve even recently seen “anti-masks,” which are essentially rope nets to put over your mouth as an antagonist gesture towards mask-wearers. To even consider your freedoms being violated when you’re only minorly inconvenienced is ridiculous and a heinous show of privilege, especially in a country grappling with such radical social change. Americans are selfish brats, that’s what it comes down too. And once again, I’m embarrassed to be an American.