Volume 3, Issue 78: Shouldn't Be Ashamed

"If it's not like I told you, then it's still your call."

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I am always suspicious of anyone who is too confident in themselves. This is one of the (many) reasons I am terrible at social media. That social media does not do nuance well is baked into the platform, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal except for the fact that America’s media organizations have started using Twitter as an assigning editor, making it increasingly impossible for anyone to have a large-scale good-faith conversation about anything. (Afghanistan only being the most recent example.) But I’d argue social media does uncertainty even worse. Nearly everything on social media is posted with the utmost conviction and self-assurance, as if each statement is so painfully obvious that it’s embarrassing that anyone would even have to say it. This makes sense: It’s our strongest thoughts and beliefs that we feel compelled to broadcast to the outside world; it’s why we’re broadcasting them so loudly. Few leap to exclaim, “Here is something I haven’t made up my mind about!”

But this leads, inevitably, to the sort of combativeness that has invaded every molecule of our public life. I can say with absolute moral certainty that I am manifestly correct on this particular subject and if you do not agree with me on every point there is something inherently wrong with you. The goal is not to persuade, convince or even put forth a cogent argument: The goal is to signal to a tribe that you’re on their side, not the other one, the bad one, whatever this perhaps-imagined bad one might be. It’s to “win.” (What you win exactly has never been clear.) It’s all performative. To be on social media is to be surrounded by human beings who are always certain they are right about everything all the time. I’ve long argued with my friend Charlie Warzel with his assertion that “Twitter Is Real Life.” He remains wrong. [Will says with absolute moral authority that he is manifestly correct.] People are simply not this certain of themselves in the actual real world. These people, when they are alone at night, in the dark, in the silence, looking up at the ceiling … are they so pristinely sure of themselves? Do they look into the darkness, completely alone, and think, yeah, I got everything right today. I completely nailed it. Everything I said will hold up forever. I have zero doubts about any of it.

This is particularly damaging during a time like this, because we all keep constantly being proven wrong about everything. This week, I went in for my annual checkup with my doctor. I was relieved to receive a clean bill of health and then spent the rest of my time in the office hearing the doctor talk about how awful the last year has been for anyone in the medical profession. When I had walked into his office, I saw a picture on the wall of him with his sleeve rolled up, receiving his vaccine shot. (It had “I got vaxxed!” written in black magic marker on it, like a headshot of an Italian actor at an NYC pizza joint.) I had been in his office for some blood work last December and had seen this same picture, right after he’d put it up. I was so inspired by it back then, to see someone I knew and respected, someone who lives just down the road from me, receiving his shot. It was a sign that we were almost through this, that shots were coming, that the exit ramp from this horrible time was just around the corner. It did not even occur to me that someone would not want a vaccine. Hadn’t they gone through the same thing we’d all gone through? Wouldn’t they want a way out of that? Seeing that photo on the wall this week hit a lot differently than it did in December. Back then, it had been an augur of a better future; seeing it now, it made me nostalgic for a more hopeful past.

Just constant wrongness, from the get-go. The college students have returned to campus in Athens this week, and it reminded me of last year, when the influx of students led to widespread fears in town that they would spur a Covid-19 outbreak. (“The students are back. And they’re bringing hell with them,” I wrote last August.) It is true that there was a surge in cases when the students returned. But it quickly abated. But it was not the end of the Athens outbreaks. A year later, before the students return for the next school year, our cases are actually at a higher level than they were this time last year.

It turns out we don’t need to lambast students for Covid irresponsibility: We’re more than capable of being irresponsible on our own.

Wrongness, everywhere you look. Exactly two months ago today, I wrote about masks being “the physical artifacts of our time” and wondered aloud what I was going to do with all these masks that I obviously wasn’t going to need anymore. Don’t chuckle at my idiocy too much there: You thought we’d turned the corner too. (So did the CDC, and the President.) Right now, parents are at school board meetings everywhere screaming at each other about masks. It seems sort of clear-cut to me that kids should be wearing masks in schools—and I don’t think there’s any doubt that parents care about this a lot more than kids do—but now there are new studies, studies actually done here in Georgia, that say masks for kids may not make much of a difference in transmission at all. Are they right? I have no idea! But I sure do see a lot of people, from every possible angle, being stone-certain in their conviction that they are.

People have decided they are right, often with very solid reasoning, and then right there they will no longer budge moving forward. But this pandemic has done nothing but throw us curveballs, over and over and over. There are good signs, both from Europe and from current trends, that this fall is going to be a better period than what we’re currently going through, and I found this post even rather optimistic, in both the short- and long-term. But I don’t know. I’m just guessing. More than that: I’m guessing based off certain inherent parts of my personality. I am hopeful and believe that people, even sometimes in spite of themselves, are inherently and collectively good and will try to do the right thing, even as they screw up constantly along the way. So of course I think it’s going to turn out all right. If you look differently at the world, with a more caustic, even fatalistic, approach, you might think it’s going to end up much worse. That doesn’t make you any more right, or wrong, than me. It just means we’re both still guessing. That our guesses on outcomes happen to line up with our views of the world should make us more suspicious of our thought processes, not less.

I don’t remember a time in my life I was angrier than in the days after January 6. I was appalled and saddened and repulsed and downright pallid with rage, particularly with the complicity of some people I knew and cared about. My rage was correct: The remains one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. But that rage was also eating me alive. I was grouchy and snarling and generally just difficult to be around. I realized that I’d been carrying with that me the entire pandemic, being obsessed with what other people were doing, how they weren’t wearing masks, how they seemed to lack the ability to care about their neighbors and the rest of the world around them. It was a daily thought process: Did you see who wasn’t wearing a mask at the grocery store? I can’t believe they’re pulling their kids out of public school. Oh, I guess they’ve just decided the pandemic is over for them. It was all so snide and self-destructive … even if I was right. I wasn’t changing any minds. I was just eating myself from the inside.

So I’ve tried to stop. I do not agree with every single decision all of my friends and family has been making, but I also am sure many of them do not agree with all of mine. I cannot control that, and besides, particularly as this drags on, we’re discovering that everyone’s risk assessments are different, that there are more shadings in our behavior than we even realized last year. Some people feel comfortable going out and being completely normal if they’re vaxxed; some are more cautious; some are furious at people who aren’t vaxxed; some want to tailgate; some want to go into the office; some want to work from home forever. Every single person is different. This has of course always been true: Every single person has always been different—that’s why they’re, you know, people. But the pandemic has drawn a big circle around every single little difference, and made us sit and marinate with those differences. All actions lead to judgments. And the only thing we all have in common is that we are so exhausted.

The only wise response I can come up with is to stop. Stop being so sure of myself. Stop being so certain that what I’m doing is right. Stop looking at others and tsk tsking, even if I might personally find their behavior irresponsible. After all: There will be a time when this is over, probably when Covid-19 is just endemic, when we get shots every couple of years for it and don’t think about it anymore than the flu shot I just got at the doctor’s office this week. And when that happens, we’re all going to have to still live with each other. I have spent much of this pandemic either shaking my head in disapproval or with a vein popping out of my head in frustration. If I keep that up, if we all keep that up, we’re going to kill ourselves. I’m going to do the right thing for myself and my loved ones, and I’m going to try to continue to make the case for doing the right thing, whatever that is, as best as I can understand it. But this faux-certainty is draining us of our souls. It’s tearing us apart.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. NFL Teams and Colleges Need to Make Fans Get Vaccinated, New York. Want Covid-19 numbers in the South to go down? This is a pretty solid way.

  2. The Ten Best Players With a Chance to Win Their First World Series This Year, MLB.com. I am christening these “The Marinos.”

  3. Parents Are Running Out of Covid-19 Options, Medium. Boy, it sure is great to be back at this place again one year later, isn’t it? Just wonderful.

  4. This Week in Genre History: Piranha 3D, SYFY Wire. This is my last piece for SYFY Wire. Hey, good run!

  5. Crazy League Leaders You Would Have Never Seen Coming, MLB.com. I love nerdy little things like this.

  6. Internet Nostalgia: Diamond Joe Biden, Medium. People are taking Uncle Joe a little more seriously these days.

  7. Bruce Willis Is Getting Paid to Deepfake Himself, Medium. Disturbing! But also surely the future!

  8. The Thirty: Every Team’s Top Pending Free Agent, MLB.com. With the CBA expiring this offseason, it is definitely going to take a while to get the hot stove going.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, discussing “Free Guy,” “Respect” and “Beckett.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I looked at a then-resurgent Cardinals..

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we did our big SEC preview.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“A New Variant of COVID Denialism Has Emerged,” Jonathan Chait, New York. This is opinion writing at its very best: A clear narrative through-line, entertainingly written and a resolute focus that makes the conclusion not only persuasive, but almost impossible to argue with.

BOOK I’VE READ THAT YOU SHOULD READ

“Very Recent History,” Choire Sicha. For the second time in my life, I work for the same people as Choire does. Choire is one of my favorite writers in the world and is thankfully no longer wasting his talents editing. (I kid, editors! I love you!) Choire actually wrote about my little kerfuffle with people who are cheering people who are dying of Covid-19 this week for New York, which was nice and a great piece and also reminded me how much I love this book. It is also now so dated that it feels like was written during the Roaring 20s.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“People Who Died,” The Jim Carroll Band. I wasn’t as high on The Suicide Squad as Grierson was, but the soundtrack is fantastic. Did you know this song is in E.T.? Apparently it is! 1982 Steven Spielberg couldn’t have possibly been into Jim Carroll, could he?

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

I’ll be here in exactly one week.

Have a great weekend, all.


Best,
Will