By Jake Zawlacki
March 24, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- I love watching zombie movies. They’re gruesome and grotesque and impossible. For all their entertainment value, I could never take them seriously. I knew that people didn’t act like that. They didn’t lose their minds when a slow-moving threat came into the world. They didn’t raid everything and kill people out of fear. I knew those things, until I went into a supermarket yesterday.
The current global situation is a unique one, but it’s not one that has to scare everyone to scurry like rats in their holes. It can also allow us to unite and do our part to help mitigate this phenomenon, to not act selfishly, and to leave food and supplies in the aisles for everyone else.
I don’t understand the hoarding mindset because I see it from a social perspective. If I were to buy a year’s supply of hand sanitizer, or Cheerios, or frozen pizza (or God forbid toilet paper), then it means other people won’t be able to get those very things. If only a handful of people hoarded all the hand sanitizer, then nobody else would have it, and they’d be more likely to contract the virus. (Or they could just wash their hands like civilized humans.)
Why do people act like this? It’s a false sense of control. If I buy things for me, then I can at least control what happens to me in my little world. Uh huh. If we are to have any illusion at all that we can control the world around us, it can only come from a deep sense of arrogance. The elucidating reality of a pandemic makes everything just so obviously out of our control. We are only as strong as the group we are a part of.
Can you imagine if we had the same reaction to other things that killed us? We’d have death proof vehicles, we wouldn’t eat anything that is known to cause cancer in humans, and we wouldn’t be sandwiching fried chicken between donuts. But car accidents, cancer, and heart disease are all a part of the plan. We get to choose if we expose ourselves to those risks. They’re all a matter of choice, right?
Maybe. But we don’t really care as long as it feels like we have control over them. The difference with COVID-19 is that no one feels in control. That’s why people buy huge amounts of things that other people need. That’s why there are lines outside of grocery stores hours before they open. And that’s why people wear masks that have little to no effect in reducing the risk of you contracting COVID-19 (N95 masks filter particles larger than .3 microns in size. Coronavirus is between .1 and .2 microns in size. It’s like an ant crawling through a fishing net.)
The most frustrating part of this global event is how obviously short sighted so many of us are. We throw all sense of rationality and logic out the window as long as we feel like we are doing something. But the reality is we can’t. We can’t control COVID-19 in the same way we can’t control catching a cold. We can limit our exposure by keeping a safe distance from others, from not going into crowded places, and by washing our hands like a clean and healthy person, but we can’t control it outright. We can’t muscle it down and tell it to stop bothering us. We just have to accept the reality that it exists, and we have to accept that being irrational about it will only make things worse for others. There are other people out there, you know.
In what scenario does purchasing a lifetime’s amount of toilet paper pan out as a solid investment? What about non-perishables? Did you think the stores were going to close? That every food retailer in the world would close its doors because...they felt like it?
No. If anything, they would be the absolute LAST places to close their doors. If we think about it for more than a second, we’d realize just how preposterous it is to hoard food for ourselves. It’ll be on the shelves (barring an apocalyptic scenario of B-movie quality). It’s hard to believe, but there are other people out in the world, or country, or town, who probably need that whatever-the-hell you’re buying more than you do. So, leave it there. You’ve got all those canned ravioli and meat and vegetables and five-pound bag of rice and left over Halloween candy and that birthday cake in the freezer and the bag of oatmeal and those pinto beans. You’re covered. No need to get stressed out and panic while waiting outside of Costco for an hour. Waiting outside of Costco is actually the worst possible thing you could be doing. Stay at home, kick your feet up, and enjoy time with your family.
It doesn’t need to be gruesome and we don’t need to be reduced to the law of tooth and nail. We can do our part: stay inside, wash our hands all the time, don’t panic, watch some tv, and stay inside. Stay inside. Did I mention you should stay inside? Just stay inside for me and your family and everyone else in the world. And for the love of everything good in the world, don’t hoard supplies. We’re all in this together, like it or not.