Talking Points

The pandemic turned us into barbarians

You have to wonder. After a year of playing to largely empty arenas, NBA fans have been welcomed back in larger numbers for the league's playoff games — only to see an alarming number of ugly incidents directed at players. In Philadelphia, a fan dumped popcorn on the Washington Wizards' Russell Westbrook. In Boston, another man was arrested after throwing a water bottle at the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving. And in Utah, three fans were reportedly banned from the arena after racist taunts were directed at Memphis Grizzlies' star Ja Morant.

"Fans got to grow up at some point," Brooklyn's Kevin Durant said after the water bottle incident. "I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you have to realize these men are human."

The unruly behavior isn't confined to the sports world. Airline travel is also coming out of a pandemic slump — the Transportation Security Administration screened an average of nearly 1.8 million travelers a day at airports over the holiday weekend  — and that rise has been accompanied by an uptick in disruptive incidents. As a result, Southwest is postponing plans to resume alcohol sales on its flights, while American is suspending alcohol service in the main cabins of its planes.

Some of this may be explainable. Americans started drinking more during the pandemic, and that was on top of a generation-long rise in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths. Many of us who didn't drink were still largely isolated from others, with psychological effects — depression and irritability among them — that researchers say will likely outlast the pandemic.

All of which suggests that we didn't simply forget how to interact with other people during the pandemic, but that many of us may be re-emerging into society with a newly anti-social edge to our personalities. Policymakers are already thinking about this issue.

In the meantime, the rest of us might want to stop every now and again, take a deep breath, and remember an ancient rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.