(August 4) COVID-19 may be the most deadly plague of the past few decades, but the most widespread and growing pestilence may be that of public rudeness.

Everywhere one goes these days, it seems that once-basic standards of behavior now belong on the endangered species list. There’s the Generation Z dude with a cockeyed baseball cap on the airplane who never stops talking and never lowers his voice. At one point, he tells the girl next to him about having been injured by tripping over his shoelace in a bathroom. “I’ve never told anyone this before,” he says, “so you’re the only one in the world who knows.” Well, the only one, that is, other than every passenger within seven rows of him.

There are the hotel patrons who party loudly and run up and down the halls nonstop until at least 3 a.m., heedless of other guests trying to sleep. There are the groups of four, five, or six people — you see this frequently in places from city sidewalks to mountain trails — who stand in narrow walkways, completely abreast of the whole path, just chatting nonchalantly as others approach while making absolutely no move to allow the others to pass.

Children ride bicycles through resorts yelling profanities at each other before cursing out the adults who ask them to stop. In airports, androgynous 15-year-olds in baseball caps and short shorts sit at crowded terminal gates, completely entwined with each other. They both appear to be asleep, except that one keeps moving his hand further up the other’s thigh, completely heedless of decorum.

And, of course, there’s an epidemic of people harassing public officials or other famous people as they sit in restaurants with their families. No time, place, or occasion is off-limits to boorishness. At issue aren’t merely the manners of some wealthy elites; what’s lost, through rampant violations, is all sense of common courtesy.

The rough beast long ago finished his slouching journey to Bethlehem, and his progeny, in turn, are all around us.


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