Here are two remaining emails from readers, the second one shaking his fist at the Internet cloud:
Great thread! Online dating, while I haven’t always relied on it, has for me been a net positive. Of the four serious relationships I’ve had in my life, two of them have been initiated online in some form. (One person I met on OKCupid and dated for nearly a year; the other was a friend of a friend who I had originally been “introduced” to on Facebook and whom I later ended up dating for three years after we found ourselves living in the same city.) The two initiated offline were typical younger person romances: high school and college, forced together by proximity with all the success that generally entails.
First, it has allowed me to met people on my terms. I’m friendly, talkative and outgoing, but I don’t open up that readily and therefore having the ability to pre-screen dates for some level of comfort and compatibility before I subject them to my Scandinavian-by-way-of-New-England manners and the obvious series of long pause-filled conversations that will ensue. In other words, I can appear aloof and standoffish if I don’t know you well. I don’t do first dates well (though I’m told I’m a fantastic second date) and I get along better with people who I already have some sort of comfort level with, which is why I often end up dating friends of friends. Online dating allows me to build rapport BEFORE the date and therefore not seem so damn boring.
Second, the first phase of my career had me moving around, a lot—like 20 addresses in eight years. If it weren't for craigslist, OKCupid, Tinder and the like, I would have spent a significant portion of that time lonely, horny, and just plain bored.
Online dating can be depressing and disappointing, but overall I’d say the experience has allowed me to open up to and connect with far more people than I would have if left to my wits. I’m happy for it and plan to keep it a part of my social strategy until I meet that special someone.
A very different view comes from a “25-year-old dude who absolutely loathes online dating”:
I have been called a Luddite many times in my life, but I consider myself a cultural savior for my stances. Online dating, in my opinion, mocks our very humanity and creates misanthropes, incapable of social interactions.
I made this opinion some time ago, when I was stuck in the hospital for a month after undergoing multiple procedures on my lung. For the first three weeks, I was confined to the floor my room was on. However, my doctor was generous, noticing my cabin fever, and allowed me to travel throughout the hospital for the last week. Mind you, I had not taken a proper shower in weeks, but due to the existential crises I had undergone in that time, I surmised I would not dither when I saw an attractive woman (one who was unoccupied, of course).
With a tube in my chest, trailing under my sweater, hospital socks with boat shoes, and soccer shorts, I approached one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen as she ate lunch with two of her girlfriends. My stench was palpable, my hair greasy, but no matter. Long story short, I hit it off with all three; we had a blast. I exchanged numbers with the girl and went on a few dates.
In conclusion, I want my generation, the Millennial generation, to realize we are not all that different. We are all insecure in some fashion, but we all want to interact with each other; we all want connections. If we didn’t, we wouldn't be making online dating profiles, would we?
So, when you are sitting at the coffee shop this afternoon, by yourself, and you see someone else, why not approach them, introduce yourself, and talk to each other? It doesn’t have to end with an exchange of phone numbers or a promise of future encounters. Don’t be like me, where it takes a life threatening moment to realize that staying to yourself is rather boring.
Keep me anonymous, please. And thanks for the Notes section!
Update from the first reader:
Just as an aside, I take issue with reader whose email followed mine. I find it offensive and othering that people who are for whatever reason effortlessly social (or, as we used to call them, glib) are somehow better or more deserving of relationships and that those of us who use some form of mediation are less than. Online dating is merely a digital variant of a singles scene that’s existed at least as long as traditional routes to marriage have been in decline. You might even argue that having a service that relies on an algorithm that puts people together in some way is in essence only little different from a matchmaker. Would that reader have been running around Anatevka pissing and moaning that none of Tevye’s daughters have earned it? (actually...)
The tendency to look down one’s nose at people who use online dating and color it with that broad-brush argument that digital mediation is killing the art of conversation would be offensive if it weren't so, you know, wrong. It’s a specious and fundamentally conservative argument that seeks to preserve the social primacy of the extroverted.
It’s a popular topic among readers, unsurprisingly, and many of them continue to have interesting insights. This Millennial reader certainly reflects her generation:
I’m a 32-year-old woman who has never have a long-term, committed, relationship initiated offline. My first real boyfriend was with another teenager whom I met in an AOL chatroom in 1998. My second serious relationship was started after responding to a Craigslist ad that a friend saw. Last year, after living traveling abroad and having flings and cross-cultural mis-relationships, I started using OKCupid, where I met someone I dated for a year. Then I got on Tinder, and after having a few flings, I met someone who I’ve been dating for a few months.
For most of my adult dating life, I’ve felt conflicted about my inability to have more serious relationships that start in other venues than online. I’ve spent some time thinking about this, but I hit the crux of why this works for me: 1) I’m shy; 2) with online dating, people are (usually) upfront about what they are looking for; and, 3) I have time to spool out the “getting-to-know-you” phase.
Another young woman with lots of experience dating online shares her lessons:
Hi Chris! Your reader’s note feels a little like the story of my life right now. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that love is so much more than and nowhere close to a fairy tale.
In short, I’ve been on 45 first dates in six months (not including second or more dates, or the hundreds of messages exchanged), and I’ve learned more about myself than I could ever imagine. More importantly, though, I learned what love should be. It’s not algorithmic, sure, but it’s also not a flash in the pan and all Cinderella-like where you look across the room and you see the person and fall madly in love with one life-changing look.
Online dating has taught me that love isn’t something that comes out of nowhere; it grows and it changes and it is, most importantly, a CHOICE. You choose the person you like being around the most and you make a choice to grow and learn and fight it out with someone. In a world (and especially a city!) where we constantly have what Barry Schwartz terms “the paradox of choice,” love is something that is special because it’s a choice to commit, and that’s hard to find.
In that way, online dating is the answer to so many questions and concerns. Life would be great if everyone could find that one person destined to be their great love, but I don’t believe that’s how it works. One day the shiny newness will go away, and we will have to choose to still muddle through together. I’m thankful that online dating allows me to get to know someone “long distance,” even if that just means I’m in Harlem and he is in Brooklyn. We can all put our needs and wants front and center, and the anonymity of online dating makes that easier than ever.
So online dating saved me in a weird way. It made me put my priorities in line so that I could articulate them to another person and weed out those who don’t want to commit to the same choice I do. It allowed me to realize that I have control of this ship, and sometimes that’s half the battle.
That theme of “choice” is especially emphasized with Bumble, the new-ish dating app that doesn’t allow men to initiate contact; women have to send the first message. It’s a small difference from other apps like Tinder but theoretically has a profound impact on dating culture, since it both empowers women to make the first move and lets guys off the hook for once—and limits offensive messages. Kelly Diamond, a blogger at xoJane,recently tried it out:
By forcing myself to take Bumble seriously after downloading it, I realized how hard it really is to reach out first. I understand now why some guys crack and say disgusting things. Their brains are haywire from all the pressure. It doesn’t mean I excuse their behavior in any way, but I (sort of) understand it.
Another reader provides a window into the very early days of online dating:
My experience happened before the ‘net had much to offer. First I put an ad on the local cable channel, which did lead to a six-month relationship. After that I took out an ad online for a site that let scientists connect for non-science interactions. Though that didn’t lead to a romantic relationship, I did communicate for several years with a woman I met there.
I subsequently took out an ad in the newspaper that got me three responses (though one of them left a six-digit phone number, either through a brain cramp or last-moment cold feet). I married one and have stayed friendly with the other. This was 18 years ago.
To me, the takeaway from this experience is how it short-circuits the typical tentative beginnings. Because I was quite frank and open about what I had to offer and what I was looking for, my future wife and I were able to have serious discussions immediately. If I attempted to talk about marriage, children, retirement locations, etc. on a first encounter in a bar, how likely would that lead to a relationship? But because my respondents “pre-screened” themselves (meaning any other woman who read my ad and wasn’t interested simply didn’t respond), we were able to cut through the typical uncertainty when meeting in any other social situation.
I suspect that these dating sites, algorithms or no, allow for the same sort of pre-screening that happened for me. (Though I didn’t get any information on them; it was all one-way back then). If your “about” page says you are looking for casual hookups, you won’t get any attention from someone looking for a long-term committed relationship. Try and make those sorts of screening decisions in a bar!
A final reader suggests some further reading:
I just thought I’d pass along an article about how a programmer found his fiancee through gaming the online dating system: “How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love.” As if to give both the “true love” and “love is probabilistic” viewpoints support, the programmer ended up proposing to a person he had only a 92 percent match with, as opposed to those the algorithm gave much higher probabilities for.
I may be coming at this discussion from a different perspective, but I think it’s an important one. I have cerebral palsy, which made traditional dating a little tough, to say the least. I’m lucky in that my case is extremely mild. The only visible indication is that I quite noticeably walk on my toes and am pigeon toed. But I do also have to deal with muscle, hip and knee pain, plus the occasional shakes.
None of this has stopped me from living a full life. I have a BA, have traveled through quite a bit of the country (though not nearly enough of it, or the wider world), performed Moliere and Shakespeare on stage, enjoyably got my ass kicked in many a mosh pit, lived on my own, and, much like many other people, was moderately successful in a cubicle-drone type of job that I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Being the shy, introverted soul that I am, walking into a bar, club, party, or any other similar social situation was nerve wracking at best. Couple that with the fact that I naturally draw unwanted attention simply by walking into a room, and my already high amount of social anxiety shoots right off the charts.
On the few occasions where I managed to gather myself and approach someone in a setting like this—usually with the help of a not inconsequential amount of alcohol—I was generally greeted with awkwardness and embarrassment after the inevitable “so … why do you walk like that?” question. Then it usually devolved into polite disinterest from them and one or both of us walking away. There were even a few instances with some variation on “oh, I just thought you were slow or something,” which didn’t bode well for future interactions.
Workplace romances also always seemed to end particularly badly for me, so I also swore those off by my late 20s. So my teens and early 20s were, without fail, dismal failures on the dating front.
Enter online dating. I initially hid my cerebral palsy from my profile and messages, fearing I would scare people off. And I assumed it would be no big deal to reveal this once we actually met. If we were already hitting it off during a date, why would it be a problem, right?
Well … after a couple awkward first dates where I was accused of lying by not disclosing this fact, I decided to put my CP front and center, recognizing the dishonesty in my thinking.
After these initial missteps, the beauty of online dating for someone in my situation really presented itself. Being able to communicate with someone who’s fully aware of who I am and everything that entails before committing to an in-person meeting made things far less intimidating and awkward when we finally did meet. We could have days or weeks of in-depth conversations, to the point that we feel like good friends before ever laying eyes on each other in real life.
I had my first real, serious relationships with women I met online, and while obviously not all of them turn out perfectly, I did eventually strike gold. I met my wife online and am now more in love than I ever thought I would be. We met shortly after exchanging a few messages and have never looked back. (And yes, like your other reader, we were matched by the OKCupid algorithm.) I enthusiastically followed her across the country so she could follow her career, and now I get to stay home and spend all day taking care of our 18-month-old twin girls and their two-and-a-half-year-old big sister. I couldn’t be happier.
I’m certain there are others out there with CP or a different condition who can light up a room with their raw animal magnetism and have no problem finding dates and relationships. I was not one of those people. For this shy, nerdy kid with CP, online dating really did save me. I have no doubt that I’d still be single if not for OKC, and for this I thank Mr. Rudder. I obviously can’t speak for everyone with disabilities or severe social anxiety, but I imagine that others in similar situations have had similar experiences.
I just read your very interesting post about online dating. After a long string of failed conventional relationships, all of them with women I met in college courses or extracurricular activity groups, after graduation I shifted over to online dating. I had just broken up with the last girlfriend I knew from my college years and was working very long hours in my new career. That mixture of a much busier schedule and being completely severed from my college network of friends really did a number on my social life.
So online dating was actually a bit of a last-ditch measure at the time. But long-term, it turned out to be for the best, and I think I was “Saved” in exactly the manner your reader describes. After something like 200 messages sent out over multiple sites and 20 or so face-to-face meetings, I met my future wife via OKCupid in 2009 and got married the following year. Five years later, things are as good as ever.
The biggest benefit of online dating to me was that it exponentially increased my pool of potential mates, far beyond the choices available during any of my years in school. I grew up in a small town in rural northern Pennsylvania and was completely miserable around the opposite gender in high school.
College started out the same way, but after making a few lifestyle adjustments two years in, I was at least able to have meaningful—though over-dramatically dysfunctional—romantic relationships. If online dating had not existed, I think I would have had no choice but to “settle” for one of these women I met in college, due of a lack of other options. But I know I would not have been completely happy long-term being with someone with whom I wasn’t 100 percent compatible, setting myself up for affairs, divorces, or other nasty events later in marriage.
It’s important to note that my wife and I met on an algorithm-based dating site like OKCupid, and not the shallow “meat markets” like Tinder that have become more popular since we met. My wife and I are both techie/intellectual types, and while we’re not ugly, we’re not the type of people likely to prosper in an environment like Tinder where looks are everything and words are meaningless.
So I hope despite controversies such as the OKCupid founder playing “mad scientist” with his matching algorithms, that there will still be a place out there for other dating sites used by ordinary-looking people who want to connect on an intellectual level.
Another reader makes an interesting connection:
I haven’t read Dataclysm, and since I’ve been married 35 years, I’m not dating off or online. But your reader made a perceptive comment about algorithms that made me think of matchmakers and arranged marriages.
I live in China, where the title of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” describes a surprisingly common attitude towards marriage. Stable job, house, car, status, future, health—those are the things that count. Maybe you love, maybe you don’t. A rather objective consideration of financial prospects carries more weight.
Except in some remote areas, matchmakers are uncommon, and arranged marriages have all but disappeared. But I think the algorithms of online dating are emerging as fair substitutes.
A reader just stumbled upon a piece Jim Kozube wrote for us last year, “Love Is Not Algorithmic,” which is deeply skeptical of online dating:
As a pure coincidence, I’m actually reading Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm right now and enjoying it. I think Kozube is taking a bit too harsh a view on this book, but I might also be misreading his intentions. As a software engineer, I’m enjoying Dataclysm because I spend every day thinking about the best ways to manage large volumes of online data. I think it’s important for us, in this age of “big data,” to understand what kinds of data are being collected, how this pool of data is currently being analyzed, and what the future applications for it might be.
So I don’t see Dataclysm as some sort of futuristic “turning love into equations” robo-pick-up-artist manual. I think it’s supposed to be more of a “hey, look at the trends that are appearing in this staggeringly huge pool of data we’ve collected over the years. Isn’t this neat?”
I also wish that people wouldn’t keep getting so worked up about technology replacing love. It’s possible that I’m just speaking from the viewpoint of the single (as a 25-year-old woman with no long-lasting relationships since high school). I mean, yes, love is obviously this great and amazing thing. But love can also be horrible, especially when it’s not working out for us.
When I was a depressed 19-23 year old, one of the largest contributing factors to feeling I’d never do anything worthwhile with my life was the fact that I couldn’t get any of my relationships to stick. I fell hard for a lot of people, and they were just never as interested in me. You know how I got over that cycle? Online dating.
Online dating made me realize you can have casual relationships, then they can end, and the world doesn’t end with them. It made me realize that when relationships don’t work out, it’s almost never the fault of one person. Sometimes people just don’t get along, and that’s completely normal, because some people are just not your type, or you aren’t theirs—and that doesn’t mean anyone is a bad person.
It made me realize that, yes, love is great and amazing and whatever, but you can survive without romantic love. And I think it’s good to, at times, be able to apply that more scientific, algorithmic representation to love, because then you can take a step back from it and survey it objectively when your idealization of it, and your painful awareness of your imagined failure to achieve it, might be destroying you.
Kozube also makes a point that he would overall rather stick with Badiou than read Dataclysm. That’s perfectly valid. However, I just want to counter: why not both? Reading things we might not agree with or enjoy is how we challenge our own opinions and strengthen our convictions. I’m enjoying Dataclysm. I’ve also read, in full, such books as Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Blood Meridian, so I feel like my lit cred can’t be questioned here. Don’t be like this about literature. Not all literature needs to be serious and full of lofty ideals.
Sometimes the loftiest of ideals are disguised in the simplest of language. Sometimes it’s much harder to make a truly universal, meaningful point in words that everyone can understand.
If you had a big breakthrough with online dating you want to share, drop me an email.
Critics are letting their disdain for the president blind them to geopolitical realities.
When a new coronavirus emerged in China and began spreading around the world, including in the United States, President Donald Trump’s many critics in the American foreign-policy establishment were quick to identify him as part of the problem. Trump had campaigned on an “America first” foreign policy, which after his victory was enshrined in the official National Security Strategy that his administration published in 2017. At the time, I served in the administration and orchestrated the writing of that document. In the years since, Trump has been criticized for supposedly overturning the post–World War II order and rejecting the role the United States has long played in the world. Amid a global pandemic, he’s being accused—on this site and elsewhere—of alienating allies, undercutting multinational cooperation, and causing America to fight the coronavirus alone.
The coronavirus pandemic and a chapter of history that should have expired long ago
In a large windowlessroom in the bowels of the CIA, there is a sign that reads Every day is September 12th. When I first saw those words, during a tour of the agency’s operations, I felt conflicted. As a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks, I once felt that way myself, but by the time I saw the sign, during the second term of the Obama administration, it seemed to ignore all the things that our country had gotten wrong because of that mindset. Now, as COVID-19 has transformed the way that Americans live, and threatens to claim exponentially more lives than any terrorist has, it is time to finally end the chapter of our history that began on September 11, 2001.
I say that as someone whose life was shaped by 9/11. I was a 24-year-old graduate student working on a city-council campaign when I watched the second plane curve into the World Trade Center and then saw the first tower collapse. Everything that I’d done in my life up to that point suddenly seemed trivial. I walked several miles to my apartment, as my fellow New Yorkers came out into the streets to be near one another (as we can’t be today). In the days that followed, my Queens neighborhood was the setting for a number of funerals for firemen. I will never forget the image of one devastated widow sitting in a lawn chair in her front yard, receiving condolences from a line of the toughest—but most broken—men I had ever seen.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
What is actually known about hydroxychloroquine, the medication that Trump is fixated on recommending for COVID-19
Two weeks ago, French doctors published a provocative observation in a microbiology journal. In the absence of a known treatment for COVID-19, the doctors had taken to experimentation with a potent drug known as hydroxychloroquine. For decades, the drug has been used to treat malaria—which is caused by a parasite, not a virus. In six patients with COVID-19, the doctors combined hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin (known to many as “Z-Pak,” an antibiotic that kills bacteria, not viruses) and reported that after six days of this regimen, all six people tested negative for the virus.
The report caught the eye of the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who has since appeared on Fox News to talk about hydroxychloroquine 21 times. As Oz put it to Sean Hannity, “This French doctor, [Didier] Raoult, a very famous infectious-disease specialist, had done some interesting work at a pilot study showing that he could get rid of the virus in six days in 100 percent of the patients he treated.” Raoult has made news in recent years as a pan-disciplinary provocateur; he has questioned climate change and Darwinian evolution. On January 21, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Raoult said in a YouTube video, “The fact that people have died of coronavirus in China, you know, I don’t feel very concerned.” Last week, Oz, who has been advising the president on the coronavirus, described Raoult to Hannity as “very impressive.” Oz told Hannity that he had informed the White House as much.
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
New York’s Bill de Blasio seems irritated by the need to fight the coronavirus.
Bill de Blasio has long been spoiling for a fight, just not the one now before him and his city. When he became the 109th mayor of New York, on a colorless winter day in 2014, he promised to lead a struggle against “injustice and inequality.” Although he has had some genuine successes, he has failed to turn the city into a Copenhagen-on-the-Hudson. He hasn’t turned it into Caracas, either. New York is pretty much the same global metropolis it was when he took over.
Aware that his progressive ambitions have been frustrated, de Blasio has complained that legions of enemies—conservatives, capitalists, newspaper headline writers—are arrayed against his vision for the city.
However determined these forces have been to undo him, they are not responsible for whatNew York magazine called, on March 26, “his worst week as mayor.” Worse than the week in 2014 when two police officers were shot and killed, degrading his relationship with the department. Worse than the many weeks in 2016 of overlapping ethics investigations, which threatened to ensnare the mayor and his top aides.
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 7:22 p.m. ET on April 4, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
The president belatedly acknowledged how dire a threat COVID-19 is, but many of his enablers in right-wing media refuse to take his cue.
Mainstream news descriptions of the right-wing media’s approach to COVID-19 typically go something like this: At first, prominent conservatives on television and radio downplayed the threat; only when Donald Trump himself acknowledged that the coronavirus was likely to kill large numbers of Americans did his enablers on Fox News and talk radio reverse course.
On March 31, the New YorkTimes contributing opinion writer Kara Swisher asserted that Fox News had “dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis” and had only recently gotten “much more serious in its reporting on the coronavirus, as has Mr. Trump.” On April 1, the Times reporter Jeremy Peters described an initial “denial among many of Mr. Trump’s followers” in the press about the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat, followed by a “sharp pivot” to acknowledging its severity but “blaming familiar enemies in the Democratic Party and the news media” for the destruction the virus has brought.
The pandemic seems to be hitting people of color the hardest.
I dread every time my partner leaves our home. I dread every time Sadiqa marches to the front lines of the war against COVID-19—the emergency department. I dread every time she comes home and removes her personal protective equipment.
Sadiqa is worried like a soldier in a total war, seeing so many medical providers going down, seeing so many patients going down. I am worried about her health—and my own, as someone surviving metastatic cancer. I am worried about all medical providers, all Americans who have compromised immune systems, all Americans who are infected, all Americans who are healthy and want to remain that way.
As a student of health disparities, I am especially worried about the well-being of people of color. And people of color appear to be especially worried about their own well-being. Black people, at 46 percent, and Latinos, at 39 percent, are about twice as likely as white people, at 21 percent, to view the coronavirus as a major threat to their health.
Far from making Americans crave stability, the pandemic underscores how everything is up for grabs.
Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.
This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious. The onset of the next Depression, a challenge akin to World War II, a national midlife crisis—these comparisons have been offered and many more. But few are calling our current moment a revolution, and some have suggested that the coronavirus pandemic—coinciding as it has with the surge in Joe Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the decline of Bernie Sanders’s—marks the end of any such possibility. “The Coronavirus Killed the Revolution,” declared the headline of a recent essay in The Atlantic by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the COVID-19 crisis makes people crave “normalcy” over deep structural change. As a historian of 18th- and 19th-century France, I think claims like these are mistaken.