Which smokes do smokers smoke?

On my walks along the streets that border the complex where I live, I pick up trash. The ethic among the condominium owners is to do what they can to keep up the common areas.

My contribution is to pick up trash. I’m out walking anyway. If someone else want to pick up trash, they’re welcome to. There’s enough to go around.

I pick up a lot of cigarette butts. My sense is that smokers are smoking Marlboros in preference to other brands.

On the other hand, perhaps Marlboro smokers are wont to toss their butts out the windows of their vehicles, but smokers of other brands don’t.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Warning: Cigarettes are hazardous to your health.

What people are missing in physical distancing

What we’re missing is a higher level of existence. We’re missing the dynamism of group activities. We’re not getting the experience of bees in the hive. Bees can’t survive alone or in pairs. We also need group experiences, and this is what is missing.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt introduces the idea that although humans are autonomous individuals who engage in one-on-one relationships, we are also “groupish” like the bees in their hives. The individual becomes simply part of the whole. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Haidt bases this hypothesis on Emile Durkheim’s sociology. Durkheim’s description of higher-level sentiments is “collective effervescence,” which describes the passion and ecstasy that group rituals can generate. Members of marching bands experience this. Their “muscular bonding” – everyone is physically synchronized – turns on what Haidt calls the “hive switch.” Members of popular bands and orchestras experience a sort of “electricity” which “quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation” like muscular bonding. The hive switch turns on something that is akin to the “sacred” when compared to the day-to-day, ordinary, mundane individualism – a sort of “profane.”

People attend sports events and experience collective effervescence because their hive switch turns on. All attendees are riveted to the action on the field (more or less) and this turns on the hive switch. Especially when all are cheering – sometimes the same chant together – sometimes booing. In the early winter, people will attend outdoor football games with weather gear and blankets rather than watch the game on television. The hive switch again.

Live theater and concerts turn on the hive switch.

But all this is missing. Stadiums, theaters, and comedy clubs are shut down in many places. In many places, bars are shut down.

My sense is that over this Labor Day weekend, Americans have congregated over barbecues and softball games. And doing these without physical distancing * and masks. It remains to be seen if there will be a spike in covid-19 cases in the next couple of weeks. People just want to turn on the hive switch, and fear of contagion doesn’t stop them. The effervescence and ecstasy of group activities are irresistible.

Beyond this, I want to suggest a possibility that the racial justice demonstrations in a number of American cities persist because these are hive experiences. Demonstrators, to their credit, from pictures that I’ve seen,  are mostly wearing masks. More power to them. We need social justice, and they need group experiences like the rest of us.


Based on: Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012) pp. 260-262.
Also see: Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Hivemind: the New Science of Tribalism in Our Divided World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2019).

* I call staying six feet apart and wearing masks “physical distancing.” Health restrictions don’t limit us in social interaction, even in person. Whatever you call this, it need not be social isolation. When you don’t have family or friends to call, that’s social isolation. When you work from home and have no contact with coworkers, that’s social isolation.

Families have social contact. Couples who live together have social contact. Roommates have social contact. People in these groups may get tired of each other, may get on each other’s nerves, but they are not socially isolated.

When students start living in dormitories, they’re not socially isolated, and they can still maintain distance and wear masks outside their rooms – outside their health bubbles. (I’m not addressing what they are likely to do.)

I do recognize, though, that many people don’t have access to meet safely out of doors unless they have a car and unless they are willing to put up with hassles of driving and parking. I didn’t even mention inclement weather. During the summer’s inclement weather here in central Arizona, Phoenix in particular, you can meet outdoors at dawn before the sun becomes oppressive and the air temperature reaches the low 90s. That amounts to no more than an hour after sunrise. And in a grassy area in the shade – before nearby pavements heat up.

However, in temperate climates – where most Americans live – inclement weather abounds and begins after Labor Day, and social isolation is more likely.

I’m not forgetting telephone calls, WhatsApp, Skype, or Zoom. There’s no risk of contracting a virus over these modalities. There’s no social distancing here. Just the ultimate physical distancing.

Kindness is more important than ever

Washington Post’s science writer Sarah Kaplan reports (March 31, 2020):

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research has shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

Spread Goodness and Kindness

In a USA Today op-ed on Sunday (March 16, 2020), 16 doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts explained how staying home is the most critical action people can take to blunt the spread of the virus….

“If you’re going to spread anything, spread help, compassion and humor,” the group wrote. “Above all, do not panic. Remember: Like all outbreaks, this too will eventually end.”

“National health-care experts rally behind ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ initiative,” The Washington Post, March 16, 2020, 8:26 a.m.


Dogs – Barkers and Neighbors

The ‘barkers’ never get the idea that I’m a friendly neighbor.

Mostly, my neighbors’ dogs have gotten used to my presence. In one case, for instance, I lived in an apartment where I shared a landing with a neighbor. I had to pass her door every time that I entered and left my apartment.

I wasn’t surprised that her dog barked as I climbed the stairway up to the landing when she first moved in.

Soon enough, though, this dog recognized my footfalls, not to mention my smell. It would still run to the door to check out what was going on, but it didn’t bark.

If this dog had had any doubt whether I was friend or foe, I greeted my neighbor with a friendly “Hi” and a friendly face.

Contrast this with a ‘barker’. The driveway of the family home abutted our neighbor’s driveway. Nearby, starting at the end of the driveway, my new neighbor had three dogs. (That’s a story by itself.)

I hadn’t yet learned the lesson of this post – that some dogs never stop greeting a neighbor with barking.

I had some friendly conversations with my new neighbor, visible to the dogs. In order to stop the barking, I naively asked my neighbor if she minded whether I bring over some dog biscuit crumbs to share with the dogs through their chain link fence. She told me that it was fine.

The dogs got used to the idea that I might have some biscuits. Two of them were well trained. They eagerly sat down. Sometimes, I gave them nothing, though; sometimes some biscuit crumbs. Regardless they didn’t bark.

The ‘barker’ never stopped barking – whether I fed him or not. He was actually so high-strung that try as he would, he couldn’t really sit. He’d lower his rear end, and then up it would pop.

Where I live now, I pass a neighbor’s doorway on my way to a laundry room. His/her ‘barker’ still won’t stop barking at me. At times, this dog even barks when hearing the building’s front door open.

It looks like I have a ‘barker’ as a non-neighbor.