As lockdown orders and mask mandates begin to fade, springtime in New York City more closely resembles something approaching normalcy. Young people are out and about, traveling in small groups, enjoying the fine weather, and interacting with each other.
I am hopeful that this resumption of normal socializing among the youth portends a more peaceful riot season as summer draws near.
Last year at this time, everyone was under quarantine. Though never imposed as strictly as it was in China or even France, the lockdown in New York was nevertheless complied with reasonable rigor by a population that trusted its leaders and voluntarily submitted to the principle of staying indoors as much as possible in order to "flatten the curve" of infection.
But as with any massive social experiment, that one had unforeseen consequences. April and May are normally the time when young people engage in the rituals of mating or courtship. Girls and young women shed their bulky winter clothes and wear looser, more revealing garments. They cultivate male attention and enjoy it. Young men, too, behave boisterously, flirt, and enjoy showing off for their female counterparts.
This interplay is timeless and essential to the propagation of the species and the harmonious operation of society. When repressed, the suppressed sexual energy builds destructively until it finds savage release.
That's what happened last year. Young women were denied the opportunity to present themselves in public and young men were denied the chance to see them. This engagement is not just amusement: it is central to the healthy functioning of young people. It sounds bizarre, but young women need to be able to represent themselves attractively to the world, and young men need to respond to them, on a biochemical level.
When a woman shows off and a man responds favorably by admiring her, even just with his eyes, each party receives a hit of dopamine that affirms that they are alive as creatures within a social web. They walk away from each other energized and recommitted to the human dance of partnership and, ultimately, procreation.
Last year aborted the process and plunged it into abeyance. People were encouraged to stop thinking of themselves as socio-physical beings and instead to view each other as vectors of contagion. Spring was not met with new clothes, haircuts, and pedicures, but with the insistence that everyone had to remain at home, consuming television, dumpy and unsexed.
The lockdown short-circuited the normal expectation of a rise from hibernation. The itch for dopamine from recognition of mutual attraction went unscratched. This set the trigger for mass unpleasantness.
The hysteria and rage that ensued following the death of George Floyd was entirely incommensurate with the scale of the event. Young people went totally crazy, screaming and frothing in the streets, committing violence, burning buildings, throwing bottles at cops. All of this was an expression of suppressed energy. It was sex gone bad.
It is my hope that the resumption of normal preening behavior—even at a reduced level from years past—will satisfy the needs of young people to stimulate their neural pleasure centers. Ideally, they will blow off sufficient steam seeing and being seen by one another this spring that they will not feel compelled to riot the next time some lurid spectacle shows up on social media.