Why is crowd partying so popular? Science warns us against it in these Covid times, but large numbers will still party relentlessly and hardly ever come up for air. The reason behind this puzzle lies in the fact that those asking this question are the ones who must explain themselves, and not the other way around.
Covid protocol upsets social institutions like the family, the corporate office, the school, Diwali celebrations, and so on. These are founded on repetitive, interactive practices involving other people over long periods of time. Social institutions are essentially relational in character; it needs others. If we were to take that aspect out, they become taxidermal: a lifeless replica.
This is why it is normal to meet other people because that is what institutional behaviour recommends and, pay attention, it is institutions that make society. So, who are the erring characters? The ones who uphold society in their everyday lives? Or, those who bring a wrecking ball to a party on the say of a clutch of doctors, a few ministers, and a handful of judges?
Covid appropriate behaviour devastates institutions much more than what earlier safety norms, like wearing a seat belt or a crash helmet, ever did. Those were limited to specific acts and not to all of social life. Even so, they needed decades of persuasion. In the beginning, wearing a seat belt was tantamount to admitting a testosterone deficit and no real man would stand for that.
Still those were much easier to follow as they were for short durations and applied only to a few designated acts like driving or public smoking. In contrast, Covid norms are everywhere and they constrain nearly all aspects of our social lives, round the clock. This is why they best suit egotistic, asocial characters who believe they are superior to the rest.
These lifestyle restrictions offend the majority who need others to lead a normal life. Society matters to them, not in the abstract, but in the here and now. The gulf between them and Covid norm observers is somewhat akin to earth calling out to aliens. Being on earth has the added advantage of not having to think too much, if at all. That is the add on bonus.
As our social lives are pivoted on institutions built on repetitive practices, we are freed of the pain of having to think and contemplate every step. Apart from some personal touches, our roles are already laid out. A mother knows her job, a boss knows how to handle underlings and a child can anticipate what will happen in class, unless the dog has eaten the homework.
Society recharges itself through the collective and the crowd is an affirmation of our social selves. We are pleased to be with others and do what institutions have taught us to do. As DH Lawrence said, “Most people have a certain stickiness, they stick to the mass.” That way, we are eased of the burden of thinking and can lead much more joyous and fulfilling lives.
It is not as if everybody in a cultural region behaves the same way, but denying social interface hollows institutional behaviour and that shakes the basis of our social identity. Only alienated souls, who lead rarefied lives, can be happy under such conditions. This is because they hardly depend on social relationships and let their hair down with just a few.
These people are individualistic, think too much and tend to be critical of revered, time-tested social institutions. They often scoff at majority opinion, seeking instead minority views and frequently summon science to support their claims. Not surprising then that they are the ones who have embraced Covid norms with such enthusiasm. For them, it’s like living a dream.
A society cannot depend on this tribe for its continuation for they walk a narrow path and not too many can fit in there. As they are given to supporting minority views, governments, especially democracies, balk at relying on them for too long either. In a democracy, the majority counts, and this often prompts administrations to junk in practice what they officially preach.
That which is scientifically correct is rarely socially correct, at least, not at first sight. It takes time for certain recommendations of science to take root and we saw that happening with mask wearing and vaccinations. There is greater acceptance of these today than was the case a year back. Social distancing, however, is tough as it hits at the heart of institutional formation.
It is not as if the line separating Covid norm acceptors and rejectors is forever firm. In the real world, strict adherents to Covid protocol will be at one end who won’t budge a self-righteous inch. Then there will be different degrees of shrug-and-wink acceptance in the middle who will make minor concessions in select gatherings. Finally, the majority who’ll openly party, en masse.
Governments respond to this majority urge, but not too brazenly. They are happy to press on with vaccinations but are inconsistent about social distancing and masking. They realise, spontaneously, that keeping people apart only pleases the asocial minority. The vast majority need DH Lawrence’s “stickiness” to thrive. It keeps them from the tedious act of thinking.
If truth be told, governments need this stickiness as much as society does. Who said the collective was smart?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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