What keeps social order today are not much-needed principles but tattered social habits. Leftover manners from the past provide the basics for getting along. People go through the motions of meeting and greeting, but they have lost the reasons why they do these things.
As these old habits gradually fade, people do what they want without regard for others. The result is the lack of civility and order everyone feels.
A Significant Transformation
The situation was already bad before the pandemic. However, the lockdowns made things much, much worse. It disrupted what was left of these habits and manners. The crisis broke the rhythm of fragile customs, and people have yet to return to normal ways. Many things will never return.
The pandemic also changed how people interacted in society. People turned inward and now find it difficult to socialize. Personal relations were thrown out of sync. Many do not want to try to reestablish those essential links that keep the general balance of things.
Indeed, people tend to measure the immense economic, political and educational impact of the pandemic. However, its effect on social life is now surfacing. And it is devastating.
The pandemic might be called the great social disruption of 2020—2021.
The Loss of the Norms of Civility
This drastic transformation can be seen at social events and public spaces all over the country. People are engaging in increasingly aggressive and uncivil behavior. Event organizers report controlling and managing crowds after the pandemic is harder. People think that they can let go of old habits and rules.
Indeed, self-quarantined people are expressing themselves with little regard for others. After two years of isolation, they are acting as if at home, where they do whatever they wish. Some even reach the point of hurting those around them. The norms of civility and charity are forgotten.
Throwing Objects at Performers
One new trend is found at live concerts. People are throwing objects at entertainers, often injuring them. These incidents have even become a social media phenomenon. Concertgoers share videos of artists being hit by objects, drinks or bottles as if it is part of the entertainment.
Concert promoters are ramping up security by screening fans and forbidding potential objects that might cause injuries. However, not everything can be controlled.
In one case, a singer was hit in the eye by a friendship bracelet, while another needed stitches after a cellphone smashed into her face. The performer, Pink, reacted to being hit with a drink by throwing a microphone at the offender, almost starting a brawl.
Fans are rowdy, shrieking at artists and singing along with them when they are not supposed to be doing so. The concert has become a personal experience of the show projected on social media.
Turning the Theater into a Personal Theater
Another disturbing trend is misbehavior at movie theaters. The COVID home streamers are now returning to movie houses. They are bringing with them private habits that reflect a disregard for fellow viewers. It is as if they feel entitled to break the rules after such a long absence from the big screen.
Before COVID, the unwritten rule was not to disturb the viewing of others by taking out cell phones with their bright and distracting screens. Now, the cellphones are everywhere, disrupting viewing.
Some moviegoers complain of camera flashes as people post videos of the movies. Sometimes whole films can be found piecemeal online. When the film gets boring, others whip out their screens in the darkened theaters, scroll through emails, use TikTok, or even listen to loud YouTube videos.
People are also taking selfies at climatic points of the plots. A new generation of moviegoers has turned the theater into a private one from which they can post their antics on social media.
Turning the Theater Into an Experience
And there are many antics. It seems the goal is to transform films from passive to active experiences. It is not about the movie anymore but how the viewer views the film.
Theaters report drunken outbursts, fights and exhibitionism inside this public space. Those who protest against the antics say they must pick their battles carefully due to the number and volatility of the offenders.
Moviegoers can expect loud talking or disruptive entrances and exits. Some people dance during films. Drunken viewers will engage in dialog with movie characters.
People are so used to doing whatever they want when streaming and posting at home that when they go to the theaters, they dress, talk and behave without regard for others.
Some theaters resort to videos to remind people how to behave during viewings. However, many managers find themselves stuck between the need to make money off new crowds of unruly patrons and the obligation to expel those who cause disorder.
The post-COVID public space has changed for the worse by destroying the fragile habits and customs safeguarding social interaction. The new normal is to expect outrageous behavior.
Other Social Skills at Risk
The decline of civility in public spaces is not limited to shows and performances. Other social skills degenerated during the pandemic and are proving hard to recover. These habits impact business, education and faith.
The great disruption is reflected in the following:
- the reluctance of people to come back to the offices after years of working online;
- the decline of skills needed to conduct a business lunch or successful in-person meetings;
- the loss of pious habits by people who have stopped going to church;
- the difficulties of schoolchildren in catching up academically and socially after two years of isolation.
The Flight From Sociability and Virtue
The flight from sociability during the pandemic triggered a mania of self-centeredness, entitlement and comfort. In their seclusion, people did not care how they appeared before others. Nor did they pay attention to social interactions. They did not realize the importance of those old social habits that kept society functioning smoothly.
Thus the pandemic also has a moral dimension that needs to be addressed. It not only devastated supply lines, institutions and education. It shattered the practice of virtue that undergirds civility. The violence and misbehavior in public places are a sad reflection of this desolation. Once forgotten, these habits are not easily replaced.
Worst of all, this flight from virtue happens in a time of social decadence. The pandemic dramatically sped up this process. Now worse things are coming down the road. Restoring tattered social habits is not enough. America needs a moral regeneration to bring back the principles behind social habits.
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