American Decline

COVID and the Tyranny of Comfort

By Matt Purple, The American Conservative

One year ago this week, my old boss here at TAC told us to start working from home. I remember riding the Metro train back to my apartment that evening—the last time I took public transportation, as it turns out—and naively looking forward to the staycation to come. My inventory was in good shape: lots of canned soup and coffee, plenty of toilet paper and soap, books to read, whiskey in the pantry, a countertop grill, some new recipes I wanted to try, board games, Netflix, Hulu. “Two weeks to flatten the curve,” they said, like it was our “Remember the Maine,” and two weeks at home sounded nice. We would defeat this foe by sleeping in until eight and then maybe taking up homebrewing or knitting.

One year later and those two weeks still haven’t ended. Since then, well over half a million Americans have died, the economy has been paralyzed, racial wounds have been reopened, riots have broken out in cities, a contentious election has further depleted public trust, an insurrection has been carried out at the Capitol building, and that same Capitol has been fenced off and patrolled by gun-toting sentries. It’s a dismal anniversary, all in all. One never wants to dramatize the suffering of moderns—we’re plenty good at that on our own, and telecommuting is hardly the Somme—but all that talk about a lost generation increasingly sounds not just real but literal. This month brought news that hundreds of thousands of students have gone missing from their schools. I don’t think Hemingway had in mind truants pressing elevator buttons with their wrists, but here we are.


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