Plain English with Derek Thompson - It's Not Just You America's Epidemic of Bad Behavior

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Today we’re going to talk about a sociological mystery, which is the epidemic of antisocial behavior.

That is sweeping this country.


You saw it at the Oscars Will Smith smacking Chris Rock in the face.

You see it in viral videos of people losing their minds about mask rules on airplanes.

You see it at school?

Where violence is up in shootings of Spike?

The last year, you see it in hospitals, where there’s been an increase in attacks on healthcare workers.


You see it in sports.

From The Washington Post December 18 of last year, quote, over the past year alone.

Alleged incidences, of abuse by fans have been reported in California, Tennessee, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Maryland and New York, and some longtime stakeholders in high school, sports agree.


The behavior among students in the stands has never been worse and quote.

You see it in crime, homicides Rose by record rate in 2020 after years of decline.

You see it in the air.

Are early 2021 saw the highest ever number of what the FAA calls unruly passenger incidents.


That is people acting like a jerk to flight attendants and you see it on the ground pedestrian, fatalities and traffic fatalities.

Both increased by a record Pace last year.

What is going on?

What is going on?

Why did America suddenly decide to lose its mind?


Today’s guest today is tour of the new American berserk is older.


Olga is a staff writer at the Atlantic who collected, all these statistics and more and talked to a bunch of experts psychologists sociologists in a recent viral essay, for the Atlantic called, why people are acting so weird.


So no, it’s not just you.

Americans really are losing it and we’re going to tell you why.

I’m Derek Thompson.

This is planning brush.


Well, good because on Welcome to the podcast.


Thanks so much for having me do this.

So is you wrote in the Atlantic Americans are kind of losing their minds.

All sorts of antisocial Behavior are on the rise, and I want to start with the most significant antisocial behavior.


That is on the rise.

And that is violent crime.

What is the evidence?

We have that?

And crime is rising.


So in 2020, the murder rate actually Rose by nearly a third, which is the largest increase on record and there was a smaller increase in 2021, but it still did go up and actually aggravated assaults or also up, which is sort of like the most common form of violent crime.


Those also increased in 2020 car, thefts spiked 14 percent last year and a lot of cities have seen carjackings, which is like we’re Someone like takes your car from you, you know, while you’re sitting at it which is you know, really scary and is another form of, I would say, violent crime.


So car thefts.

When a car is being stolen and you’re not in the car.

Those are up carjackings the cars being stolen.

When you start off in the car.

Those are up, assaults are and homicides are up a bit of History here.

In the last half-century.

There should have been three distinct periods of violent crime, Trends, sort of act, 1 of this story.


Is that violence was surging in the u.s.

Between the 1960s, the 1990s, then you have act to, which is that violence has been declining in America since the 1990s or at least from 1992 about 2014.

And then you have act 3 and that is the actor that in right now, violence has stopped declining.


It started to slowly rise and 2014 15 16.

And then in 2020 is you said it absolutely surged to the highest by the highest rate on record.

What are some reasons?

Why violent?

Crime might be surging now.


Well one pretty obvious reason is just gun sales gun sales really spiked in 2020 and in 2021 and more people are being killed with guns.


So in 2020, police recovered twice as many guns within a year of purchase as they did in 2019, and that’s this is was new to me, but that’s called like a short time to Crime window which suggests that someone bought the gun and then kind of immediately.


Is it in a crime?

So one reason why we’re seeing kind of more violent crime is that is it more people are buying guns and using them last year.

I spoke to Patrick Sharkey, a professor at Princeton who said, he’s violent crime.

I think you have either spoken to Patrick maybe or read some of his work and I want to read you what he told me in an interview and get your reaction to it.


This again, is Professor Patrick Sharky speaking about one year ago about the rise in 2020, quote in. 20 everyday patterns of Life, broke down schools, shut down.

Young people were on their own, there was widespread sense of a crisis and a surge in gun ownership Olga to your point continue with Patrick people, stopped making their way to institutions that they know and where they spend their time.


And that type of destabilization is what creates the conditions for violence to emerge and quote.

This is going to be a theme.

I think of our episode destabilization people’s behavior.

Is aberrant right now because their lives are aberrant.


The headline of Your Great Piece is why are people acting so weird?

What we’re acting weird?

Because the world got weird.

What else do you think?

Might have contributed to the rise of a violent crime?

In addition to gun sales?

Because you know, you’re absolutely right.


I think that you have more guns.

You have more homicides.

That seems like a clear at least correlative relationship.

But you also have more car theft.

You have more carjackings.

What else is?

Happening in the sort of social stew.

That is causing all sorts of these violent aberrant.

Behaviors to rise.



I mean, so we don’t 100% know, right?

But one criminologist that I talked to Richard, Rosenfeld pointed out that in some places during the pandemic police arrested, fewer people.

And so, a lot of criminologists think that when police are kind of less visible or less present people kind of tend to commit more crimes because you kind of can So that’s one possible explanation.


Another is that teenagers actually commit a lot of crimes and teenagers have not really had anything to do for the past couple years.

They’ve been sort of unsupervised, you know, not, not really in physical school for part of the pandemic.


A lot of Afterschool activities have been canceled, you know, maybe they weren’t able to work summer jobs because of covid issues.

And unfortunately, like what you see is that a lot of teenagers with nothing to do, tend to make really Choices.

And that’s just teens, right?

I think the 20-somethings 30-somethings 40-somethings when their time is unstructured, when they are in a stressful environment and their time isn’t regularly rigorously structured.


They can tend to act out.

They can tend to act in ways that are weirder and cause more social harm.

I mean, if this were just violent crime, if it were only carjackings in homicides that were increasing, then I think that people not like you are saying this but people could say, this is just about policing Behavior.


This is just a crap about criminology but it’s not just violent crime that’s increasing.

Like Americans are going a little bit nuts in like every single way a person can go a little bit nuts and some of this we have really clear data on and so that it’s more of a Vibe thing and we’re going to talk about both the hard data and the vibe things.


So one thing we have really good data on weirdly enough is unruly passengers on airlines all the what is going on in the skies.


So anyone who?

Opens up Twitter will probably see a viral video any day, you know, that that’s shows like someone, you know, yelling at a flight attendant about having to wear a mask or even actually like physically, assaulting flight attendant sometimes so early 2021 saw the highest number of unruly passenger incidents ever, according to the FAA and most of those were mask related.


So, so yeah, people are absolutely losing their minds while they’re getting.

On planes, sitting on planes and getting off planes.

It really is Crazy.

By the way, have you, I have seen all this stuff on Twitter and on Instagram or Tick Tock, like, lots of these viral videos of, unfortunately.


It does often tend to be dudes dudes, screaming at flight attendants, about mask, etiquette.

Have you ever been on a plane where someone has acted super crazy in this way?

No, I flew recently and someone wasn’t wearing a mask in the flight attendants, just decided to like, let her do it.


I think and I wonder if Some of that is because like they don’t want to be assaulted.


Yeah, right.

It’s really like a, you know, a cost-benefit analysis for them at this point.


Keeping with the transportation theme American Driving has also gone berserk.


What are we seeing on the roads?


So you’re seeing a car car crashes going up.

So people have been driving more recklessly crashing their cars more and unfortunately, killing pedestrians at higher rates at The Pedestrian, fatality rate spikes.


One percent last year, that’s the highest rate on record.


Traffic fatalities are also rising at a record pace.

And here I do think it’s important to do the same contextualization thing that I did with violent crime.

So I just pulled up as I prepared for this episode 100 Year, history of vehicular death data in America and this tracks total deaths deaths per million people and deaths per million vehicle miles, traveled deaths, /, V PM, V Mt.


Me is basically, like how dangerous it is to be a car and in any, in any given minute of the year.

So, deaths per miles traveled, that peach in 1920, deaths per million people in America, that peaked in 1935 total deaths that peaked in 1970.


So it’s important to say.

I think this is this data is important because I don’t want listeners to think that you and I are like scaremongering here.

There were suggesting America’s, like, never been more deadly or dangerous than it is today.

It’s not like Cars.

Roads are safer on a per person per miles traveled basis than they were 50 or 100 years ago, but what’s important is we’ve never had a year or car accidents and pedestrian deaths.


Increased at this rate.

Is that right?

Is that consistent with your research?

So I trust you on those numbers.

I didn’t have those in front of me.

But yeah, I mean that’s like all the articles about this are sort of ringing the alarm Bell because you don’t typically tend to see.


Increases in car accidents and pedestrian deaths of this large kind of year-over-year.


We’re on this sort of like 50 year to in some of these cases. 100-year Trend down sort of the long side of this mountain and then whoop were suddenly seeing this really sharp a historical peak of antisocial or wacky Behavior Olga.


The last category of American craziness that I want to ask you about is what I’m calling all the other shit like the stories that we see in.

Newspapers and social media about people acting rudely starting crazy fights in the street.

Maybe say, punching celebrities at the Oscars in the category of all the other shit.


What stories of Americans acting badly?

Jumped out to you?


I mean, it’s so this is all kind of harder to categorize and no one really tracks, it consistently, but if you’ll notice like any school board meeting these days are, you know, especially when kids were still Back to damask consistently.


There were so many of those that just devolved into screaming and yelling between parents or parents.

Like encircling like a school board members car and like screaming at them.

It just really like wild stuff.

There are a lot of health care workers are saying that their patients are kind of becoming more violent and sort of more aggressive toward them, one Hospital, Missouri, actually planned to give their nurses Panic buttons.


Yeah, say more about that.

Yeah, I guess just because like, like misbehavior, like whatever the aggression from patients have gotten so bad that they were, I don’t know if this ever actually.

I never followed up with the hospital but they are, was like this plan to give them Panic buttons so that they could like alert other staff members.


If they were being, you know, assaulted just two more kind of domains where I’ve seen this as sort of disruptive behavior among students.

And sort of teachers kind of anecdotally reporting that kids are just like behaving worse than they were before the pandemic.


And also just since the story is come out, a lot of different kinds of people read the story and even some like kind of beat cops emailed me to say like, yeah.

I actually am seeing that people are just kind of a little bit more keyed up like in various ways like you they’ll just start kind of weird confrontations in the grocery line or That they just end up having like, seeing a lot more just general aggression from people.


So that’s all a lot harder to, I guess, like, pinned down because there’s not like a percentage increase in aggression that anyone studies.

But I do feel like there are so many anecdotal stories now and so many reports from from so many different domains that it does seem like like something is going on.


There is some sort of vibe shift toward the negative side, right?

There isn’t like Federal data.

Like people being mildly asshole, ish and Trader, Joe’s lines.

But yeah, people are being mildly more asshole.

Listen Trader, Joe’s lines.

It is actually something that I’ve noticed and I think that it’s because like the floor of anger and fear has just been lifted.


That’s why people are buying more guns.

That’s why there’s more homicide.

That’s why there’s more carjackings and car thefts.

That’s why there are more.

There’s more drinking and more drug use baby.

Talk about about that at for to close out the this section of the evidence that we’re seeing, you know, because I think a lot of this might be sort of directly caused by, you know, fears created by the pandemic or lockdowns.


We’ll talk about that in a second.

But some of it is sort of second order like people are feeling worse.

So they’re doing more drugs and they’re drinking more and the and that itself might be causing something that we’re seeing.


Are we seeing more and more drugs and alcohol use?


So so drug overdoses went up during the pandemic and so people often.


Consider those like depths of Despair, but you know, other things that go along with drug use to are things like stealing, which people use to support their drug habits and also sometimes aggression like depending on what kind of drug it is and kind of, more importantly, Americans have been drinking a lot more.


So they’ve been drinking 14% more days a month.

And alcohol deaths have have actually gone up by a quarter.

So, you know, drinking more like yeah, sometimes people just like stay at home and And get drunk on Bourbon and nothing happens, but sometimes they get behind the wheel, the car and they do get in some of those car crashes that I was talking about or, you know, they get on a plane and like I don’t know if you’ve noticed but planes have stopped serving alcohol.


I just noticed that on my last flight from California, that the person behind me ask for bourbon at 11 a.m.

In the morning and my thought was, you know, on the one hand it’s a little bit early for a bourbon, but on the other hand, I think it was a Friday.

So I thought you know, maybe getting a start on the on a fun weekend.

And yeah, the flight attendant said no and Was a brief slightly agitated but not particularly rude, exchange between the passenger, and the flight attendant about the fact that they were not serving ribbon at that time.



So a lot of that is because people will get really drunk before their flight, and then they, you know, alcohol affects people differently, but some people do get really aggressive when they get drunk.

So that’s, that’s kind of one of the factors here.

Alright, so to sum up alcohol, use is up drug, use is a gun.


Purchases are up homicides, carjacking, car.

Thefts are up, traffic accidents, are up unruly passengers are up assholes in lines at Trader.

Joe’s Whole Foods.


Aid Etc are up.

That’s the evidence.

That’s the, that’s the what let’s talk about the, why, why is this happening?


First of all, how many people you got in touch with a lot of different psychologist, academic experts for this piece.

How many different people did you talk to, to explain this?

This poly Trend that we’re talking about?


So this is like not one domain of research.

Like assholes are not there to like an Emeritus professor of assholes.


So I talked to a dozen experts who kind of ranged from like criminology to psychology to just like sociology to just like I don’t know people who study Vibes I guess.

I don’t know the general domain of vibe explanation.


So tell me let’s start at the top.

Your number one explanation.

Where would you like to start?

Yeah, so I think like one like the most obvious and probably most A general explanation for this is just that people are very stressed out, and they have been stressed out for a really long time.


So this data comes from Christine poor ask who’s a business professor at Georgetown.

She did these surveys.

She so she did a survey of 20,000 mostly white-collar employees in different Industries, and they said that more than a half of them felt stressed and overloaded.


This was before the pandemic, by the way, and so in a separate survey, she kind of asked them, you know, when Behave, rudely or uncivil lie, why is it and more than half of them said it was because they were kind of stressed and overwhelmed.

And then more than 40% said, it was because they had quote, no time to be nice.


So a lot of people like, I like basically they get stressed out and instead of, you know, I’m not saying this is a good thing to do.

But instead of like, like popping a Xanax, or taking a nap, or going for a run or whatever, you kind of like pass it on you.

Kind of like are stressed out and so you yell at the flight attendant or you, you know, yell at the Trader.



Cashier poor Trader.

Joe’s is like I’m criticizing out of love.

I adore my only confront jerks in the Trader Joe’s line because I’m there.

I’m there so often yes.

Yeah, exactly.


But anyway, so that’s that’s kind of one explanation.


Is that like, you know, when you think about yourself feeling like stressed or frustrated, you tend to act in a like more short, tempered way.

Other people.

I want to hold on stress for a bit because it’s you said, given Christian poor as interviews happening.


Before the pandemic started, non pandemic, life is stressful.

Everyone is always fighting their own War.

Everybody has problems all the time.

That’s the human condition, but typically, people have a safety valve for their stress.

And that safety valve is seeing family.

It’s seeing friends.


It’s going out to dinner.

It’s joining a buddy for a drink.

It’s joining a colleague for an after-work happy hour.

Like for many people.

Family and friends are the safety.

Valves that relieves us from the pressure cooker, that is life.

And one thing that has made the past few years particularly hard.


I think is that all the beautiful things in life have become more stressful.

Like let’s go on vacation up.

Well, you might if you’re flying internationally, you might have to take a covid test than 24 48 hours in order to make that trip.

Let’s go out to dinner.


Oh, by the way, some people going to that dinner might not, you know, might have covid or they if they want to Is that your house?

Like are you going to wrap a test them first, like this, injection of Health, stress into ordinarily positive, social situations that are supposed to relieve us from the anxiety.


That is life.

I think that’s a huge part of it.

When you say, oh, yeah, and I mean and I’ve noticed this too was just like trying to set up, you know, even now that Omicron is sort of like receded trying to set up drinks or you know, dinner or something with a group of friends.


It’s like everyone has a different Requirement, you know, I’m not eating inside yet.

Okay, let’s eat outside.

Oh, wait, it’s supposed to rain that day.

Okay, so we have to like, pick a new place.


Well, this place doesn’t have and then like, I don’t know.

I feel like all of those little things like kind of build up and build up and like, I already have to like Drive in.


I live in the suburbs.

So like drive like find parking, you know, etcetera.

And then it’s like, well now we can’t even do this dinner that I drove in, you know, and I feel it myself.

Like I’m like, is this even worth it at this point?

I feel like there’s so many little Oh, boxes to check for every little thing you want to do.


And and so Keith Humphreys who I talk to psychiatrist at Stanford said that basically, these are like high stress low reward situations, where you feel like you’re jumping through a ton of Hoops to just do like this bare-minimum thing that you want to do, but it ends up being like less rewarding because of all of the, you know, the restrictions that the pandemic has placed on us, right?


And maybe therefore is worse at relieving the stress.

Then it used to be right there.

The safety valve is in broken, like, one way that I’m thinking about it listening to you, is like, you know, if you imagine all the layers of stress that exist in typical person’s life, like family can be a certain layer of stress, you know, family issues.


There’s work issues.

There’s a personal health issues that have, you know, nothing to do with the pandemic but then there’s sort of like this other layer that’s been introduced.

And you could think of it as like pandemic Logistics like jumping through the hoops, and going through like the Hopscotch of of being a responsible.


Or pandemic citizen, right?

And not, everyone is necessarily going through the exact same rigmarole.

Some people are basically done with this thing and some people are very covid cautious.

But I think that layer of Health Logistics might for a lot of people be like the straw that breaks the camel’s back like, right.


I mean in this metaphor, like the camel is kind of behavior, but like that is the layer.

That becomes the little extra thing that pushes people over the top.

You have also written about how rudeness has become it.

Own epidemic that rudeness like a virus can be contagious.


So that in a weird way if we are near rudeness, or if we perceive rudeness, it might sort of trickle into infect, our own behavior, talk a little bit about that.


So I think a lot of times people think like, well, why are you being?


You know, if you yell at the DMV person, it’s like, well, you know, they might say like, why are you being rude to me?

Like, I’m just, you know, I’m like the front.

Face of the DMV.

I didn’t actually make these rules about how you have to bring your birth certificate or whatever.

And so, I think that kind of implies like that.


We as people like, we always were rational about how about our rudeness.

But I think what a lot of This research shows is that we’re not that that you end up being rude to random people like, like someone will be mean to you and then you will be mean to a third party who has nothing to do with it just because that’s like your next opportunity.


Unity for social interaction.

So this is more research by Christine.

Poor F, which is just that like people who kind of even witness rudeness end up being less likely to help other people that you kind of absorb meanness and incivility and you pass it on to others so much like coronavirus, unfortunately, right?


And this is this is an explanation of how sort of small initial changes in stress and small.

Social changes in rudeness could amplify.

Like, I don’t want to beat the, you know, epidemic metaphor into the ground.

But like, that’s how epidemics identify, you have.


An initial introduction of an extremely contagious, virus through population.

And because it has a high R-value, it reproduces very quickly, right?

If rudeness is also contagious.

If bad behavior is also contagious, then small like violence, maybe could be contagious.


Then small initial changes to the equilibrium can cash out is huge change.

Is to the to the ultimate situation.

I want to I want to imagine what someone more conservative than I or maybe then you might say here.


I think one thing they would say sort of putting on my conservative hat is that American rudeness and wackiness is rising.

Because the government has tried to place, these Draconian rules on us, and those rules are turning us against each other.


So, masks, On airplanes, when I Derek see someone being a jerk about masks on an airplane.

My response is that guy’s being a jerk but too many people masks really are dehumanizing.

They are tokens of creeping government.


Tyranny, which means that what we see is like, sort of the, the enemies of these viral videos screaming at flight attendants who have no power over, Delta is masking policy.

They see like, 21st century Patrick Henry’s, they see like, Freedom Fighters, like these, People are fighting against government.



Like, I wonder whether you heard any of this either from experts that you talked to or maybe more likely in the reaction to your piece that the reason Americans are behaving.

So crazily right now is because a bunch of unfair Draconian.


Quasi tyrannical, rules have been foisted upon an innocent American population.

So I have a lot of different Responses to the so first.

I want to, I want to, I want to preface this by saying that I have worn a mask every time I’ve been asked to and I still like I don’t live in DC but when I go into DC I’ve never sure I always put on a mask just in case because some places still like you to do that.


So I am personally not anti-mask.

However some of the experts that I talked to pointed out that even though Nasser important for limiting, the spread of covid it is like when you only see someone’s eyes when you don’t see their full face, it is Harder to kind of see them as a full person and it’s a little bit easier to kind of treat them as an avatar for whatever policy you don’t like.


I mean, and this is just, I mean, we know this from from Twitter or, you know, any other kind of social media platform where it’s so much easier to even like, look at a picture of like your, you know, Aunt or whatever and say like you’re dumb.

Like that’s that’s totally wrong and and type that out.


You would never say that to her face, you know, it’s much harder to be to be rude to people when When you’re like, seeing their full humanity, and full emotional expression.

So I do think that like masking it has sort of made us all into like, little robots, who can kind of ignore each other’s Humanity a little bit better.


That said, like I also heard from a lot, a lot, a lot of liberals after this article came out saying that the reason why people feel so comfortable being rude is because of President Trump or former President Trump, I should say.

So, That, you know, he kind of set the bar for like this is how we treat each other, you know, he was obviously really combative really rude to entire groups of people.


And so we kind of got this impression that, that’s totally fine.

And that’s, that’s a fair way to treat other other people, but I am a little bit skeptical of that.

Just because Trump hasn’t been president for two years and I kind of, I don’t know.


I’m just not sure that like Like his impact would Echo out for years after he was actually not an office.

But I mean, I think it’s possible.

I think I agree with that and I just offered like the strong version of the case that masks and social distancing policies are primarily responsible for this wave of craziness that we’re seeing, which is an argument that I don’t believe in but an argument that is similar to that.


But I think I do believe in sort of decaf.

Version of that argument is that we are social beings and isolation changes us like by definition, more isolation, should change the behavior of social beings.


Like I wonder what you found there.

Just sort of the this simple straightforward case that the pandemic and the response is the pandemic.

Love them or hate them pushed people away from each other and That after years of being socially distanced from friends and family, and neighbors and others.


Something is changed in us, that causes us to see the people around us, is something a little bit less than normal human.


So, so this, this explanation comes from Robert Sampson.

Who’s a Harvard sociologist and so, yeah, so, I think one thing that’s irrefutable is that during the pandemic people, socialized less churches were closed schools.


We’re closed.

Work was closed.

You didn’t go out as much.

That was everyone agrees.

So, you know, in some ways though, that isolation, you know, some people may be enjoyed working from home.

But isolation does tend to change people.

Like we’re not really meant to be alone quite this much.


And so, Robert Sampson really has this theory that people are more likely to break the rules of society when they kind of become disconnected from society.

So when you are kind of Dove off on your own, you know, socially distancing and like getting doordash and watching Netflix and not seeing anyone.


You kind of start to prioritize your own personal interests over those of other people.

And so we might be seeing the reverberations of that in some of this behavior in that like 42 years.

All of us have been kind of hold up on our own thinking about ourselves thinking about our families.


And so when we go out in public, like our first thought is, how is this going to affect me?

Like, what’s in it for me?

And so, Seeing that play out with people kind of approaching every interaction with that sort of self oriented mindset.

I has really well put.


So in summary the three big picture explanations for the rise of American zaniness to me our number one, pandemic stress, the pandemic.

Just necessarily an obviously introduce this layer of Health, stress and health Logistics.


It didn’t exist in 2019.

Number two.

We are social beings and and social distancing has changed us.

And number three.

I think it was like the multiplier effect like pandemic stress, led to more drinking and drug, use and more drinking and drug, use has led to more American weirdness.


Pandemic stress led to more rude behavior and being around more, rude, Behavior, normalized, rude, behavior.

And it increased overall.


Behavior are their explanations that you initially looked into.

That didn’t hold water like theories.


For why you thought Americans?

This might be increasing that turned out not to be supported by the expert that experts that you spoke to.


So one thing I was wondering about is whether this was just mental illness.

So I had read these reports that people some people who got covid, actually, develop psychosis for the first time.


And and this is true that that mental health treatment has just been a lot harder to access during the pandemic.

Like a lot of psychiatric hospital beds were basically just repurposed for covid.

So and if you do, Ooh, read some of the kind of individual instances of kind of bad behavior.


It does seem like the person had something going on like delusions or something going on with their mental health.

That was like, wow that person.

It sounds like they have a severe mental illness, but when I looked kind of closer at this, so, so first of all, there’s like, not that many people still with severe mental illnesses.


It’s like like, less than five percent of the population has schizophrenia or bipolar and past research.

Shows that they only commit about 3 to 5% of violent acts.

And also that the people who are mentally ill and do commit violence, tend to have other things going on like substance abuse, or like they had a recent trauma, like they got evicted or something like that.


So like, and I talked to like, be like psychiatrist of all psychiatrist Tom Insel, who’s the former director of the NIMH who was like, you know, I think these are just assholes and, you know, It’s important not to conflate people with mental illnesses with people who, like, just can’t handle themselves in public properly.



So, if what we’re seeing is basically an epidemic in Americans being assholes.

I wonder how much of this you think is, is just Downstream of the pandemic, which is sort of an optimistic interpretation, like covid deaths have been declining.

Now, for two months, covid hospitalizations are at an all pandemic low.


I am wearing masks at say Way, but otherwise more or less living a normal life.

I’m going out to restaurants.

I’m seeing friends and Rapid testing when I think I’ve been exposed to someone who just recently tested positive for covid.


But otherwise basically living a normal life.

How pollyannish is it for me to say, we had a viral epidemic, it created a bad behavior epidemic, but now the viral epidemic is that a lull right now, so maybe the bad behavior epidemic is going to come down to.



I mean, I really Hope that that happens I will say that like there’s some prognostications that there’s going to be another wave soon of a new variant.

So I don’t like I don’t feel totally comfortable saying, like the pandemic is over completely.


I would say that it’s it is in like what you said like in a lull right now, so I don’t know.

I don’t know if we’re going to have another lockdown or not.

I or whatever soft shut down, whatever you want to call it.

I don’t know if we’re all going to go back to not you know, eating out.

In restaurants and things like that.


The other thing that I wanted to mention is that it’s some of the stuff takes like a while to unravel.

Like so one of the criminologist that I talked to actually mentioned, how murders tend to be retaliatory.

So let’s say, like, like Jack kills Fred later, like Fred’s, like brother will kill Jack’s cousin, right?


And so, like all of that stuff.

Takes like a while to play out.

So like even if you have this spike in murders, it kind of reverberates for a while with these like retaliations and people kind of like getting you know revenge or whatever.


So, I don’t know, it’s social norms are weird.

Like they take a while to solidify and then they take a while to like melt or like, you know, dissipator or however, you want to think about it.

So, so I do hope I am optimistic, but I am also a little bit worried.


Yeah, I think it’s exactly the right place to land.

I remember to take this back to violent crime just because I remember my conversation with Patrick Sharkey so well, and I thought this was such an interesting point.

He said, Derek, if you ever lived in New York City and I said, yeah, I lived in New York City actually for about seven years.


And he said, do you remember how safe you felt at 2 or 3 a.m.

At night and really crowded parts of New York City.

I said, yeah, absolutely.

Like when you’re walking around at 2:00, 3:00 a.m. 3:00 a.m.

At night like Like, it’s theoretically like a dangerous.

Our to be out.


It’s very dark.

It’s, you know, who knows, like how drunk people are when they’re driving.

You’re surrounded by people.

So you feel safe.

He said yes.

So what happened was New York was dangerous, and then it became safer and then where people felt like they could go out and then people felt like they could be around people when they were out late.


And so you had this beautiful Cascade of socially positive behaviors that led to you feeling safe at 3 a.m.

In the middle of the East Village, but the same Cascade Can flow negatively if more people feel like they’re not safe.

Then if your people are out at 2 a.m.


If your people out at 2 a.m., It’s easier to commit a crime.

If it’s easier to commit a crime, even if your people will go out at 2 a.m.

And suddenly the Cascade is come all the way back down the other side.

And I think you’re right to point out that, even if the pandemic is knocking on something wooden near me nearing.


Its final chapter.

We just could be looking at a new equilibrium of American weirdness.

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s possible and I, yeah, and I do think that like, not just, you know, crime but all sorts of social norms, get set that way.


Like, the reason why a lot of people are rude to flight attendants is because they’ve seen a bunch of videos where people are being rude to flight attendants.

And so it’s become like, this new Norm that you can be rude to flight attendants.

And, you know, it’s just really hard to change that.


It was, you know, but but I am hopeful like the the So things will go back to normal as am I always on the Atlantic.

Thank you so much.

Plain English with Derek Thompson.

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