Opinion

Rage is in the air

At times, the pandemic has brought out the best in humanity, but it has also brought out the worst

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

I was recently tooling down the middle lane of a crowded highway when a $75,000 SUV blew past me in the right lane at roughly 100 mph. He abruptly cut in front of me and zigzagged through heavy traffic, braking, speeding up, abruptly weaving in and out of all three lanes. In my rearview mirror I saw another weaving SUV coming up at the same speed, and then a third. Their hyperaggressive driving was deranged, but unfortunately not unusual. As perhaps you've noticed, the roads are now full of deranged drivers doing 90 mph or more, or roaring down residential streets at double the local speed limit, as if no one else mattered. From Maine to California, police say they've caught more motorists driving recklessly and exceeding 100 mph than ever before. "People are flying down the roads," a Maine state trooper tells The Associated Press. "It's just ridiculous."

What's this about? The pandemic, I think, has given us a collective case of PTSD. We have all experienced an acute loss of control; an invisible virus has governed how and whether we work, how our kids are educated (or aren't), how we travel, dine out, and socialize. The Delta surge — a sucker punch to the gut just as freedom seemed near — has inflamed the ambient sense of powerlessness. Rage is in the air. Reckless driving is one way of venting anger and reasserting control. So is refusing to get vaccinated, and attacking your tribal enemies online or in person, with fists and/or guns. Frustration, fear, and loss have us looking for someone to blame: the CDC, masks, Trump, Fauci, the fanatics in the other tribe, China. But these targets are distant, so people take it out on each other, especially in anonymous encounters. At times, the pandemic has brought out the best in humanity, but it has also brought out the worst. And as Yeats observed in 1919, "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Can the center hold?

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