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Swamp Dwellers and Their Decadent Quarantine

Social distancing hasn’t really changed Americans—it’s made us even more of who we are.

(By Andrey Sayfutdinov/Shutterstock)

DC’s depressed and lonely denizens buzz close enough to power to be intoxicated by it but can never really seize it, so they overcompensate with brutally long days at work followed by happy hours until last call, eventually ending the night in an Uber ride home with a regretfully purchased pack of cigarettes and maybe a taquito or two from 7/11. Some of them might be happy, but they never stop working or drinking long enough to find out.

Don’t let the shallowness fool you—the swamp creatures are some of the most privileged people in our society, and their time in quarantine has only underscored just how good they have it. They wake up just before noon, fix themselves a Nespresso, telework for a few hours on the couch, order food delivery, and watch a Netflix show about crazy tiger people in Oklahoma. Rinse—unless they’re skipping showers—and repeat.

The new book by conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society, warns that our society has become so successful that we’ve been lulled into a sad state of complacency, seeking small and tasteless comforts to ease our anxiety about the future. If that’s true, then call this the decadent quarantine. No one knows just how many deaths we’ll be left with after the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 hits its peak spread or how society will function in the aftermath, so we coddle ourselves with mini vacations in our homes, refusing to change out of pajamas long enough to feel like a real human.

Americans are doubling down on decadent behavior to deal with the fear and stress associated with battling an “invisible enemy,” as the president calls it, but it’s taking a toll on our physical and mental health. According to Axios, fitness tracking apps have found people are moving less, alcohol sales are up, porn consumption is up 6.4%, and weed sales are “soaring.”

The coronavirus could have been the event that shakes us out of our fat slumber, and it still might be. But instead, too many of us have retreated even further into our cocoons, soothed by the convenience of city life and technology. The concept of food insecurity doesn’t hit when you can have the steak frites from Medium Rare dropped off at your front door without ever coming into contact with a delivery driver. PornHub is offering free premium memberships for those who would like to self-pleasure their way through house arrest. Consumerism is alive and well, with many stores offering massive online sales and extended return dates because they’re desperate to stay in business. Some of us crave our nights out at the bar with friends, but don’t worry—that can be remedied with a wine club mailer and calling up 20 acquaintances on Zoom.

Some of these quarantine activities may sound like good fun, but quickly become quite sad when stacked together to fill weeks of time. In one hilarious but depressing video, an Amazon worker begged white women to stop ordering dildos from the service because, contrary to the belief of lonely single women, they are not actually considered essential items.

Even those of us who seek self-improvement during quarantine have the tendency to overshare our progress for social media clout. Sometimes posting the photos of our fresh baked bread or our newfound knitting skills fulfills a strange technological need to prove that we’re working harder than everyone else rather than doing these things solely because they’re valuable to the self.

Don’t expect things to change when the pandemic finally passes through. Despite spending weeks wrapped up in a security blanket, the DC elite who never had to worry about a missed paycheck will somehow make themselves the prime victims of the quarantine. Any relationships they managed to build in their communities or their families will dissipate after the first bottomless brunch, leading them right back to the disconnected and overly individualistic society they’ve created. Social distancing hasn’t really changed Americans—it’s made us even more of who we are.

Amber Athey is Washington Editor of Spectator USA. Find her on Twitter @amber_athey.

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