We will all remember where we were when we first heard about The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020. I was at home in Busan. Maybe, I should have been out.
After all, today was a face-mask distribution day in Busan. Because of the severe shortages, the face masks are under a rationing system. You can only get a set amount at a time. They’re only available from certain places and you need an ID card. They’re being distributed according to need and according to birth-date. Because the year I was born in ends in an 8, today I was eligible to get some complimentary face-masks. But I didn’t. I stayed at home. The reason is pretty simple: I don’t need new face-masks. As the alert asked, I made “concessions.” It was an easy choice.
Wife and I are both in good health and able to practice social distancing. The school she works at is closed and the school I attend is online. There’s no professional need for new masks. And because we’re pretty strict about following the instructions, we don’t leave home all that often. As a result, our masks are very lightly used. In other words, the masks that are available are more useful on other people’s faces. Those with underlying conditions, people who have to have contact with other people, pregnant women, and children.
I wish people adopted this same attitude on toilet paper. Not here. Here, it’s fine. There’s an ample supply of toilet paper. I’m yet to see empty shelves or panic buying of any kind. And if I were to see these things, I very much doubt it would be about toilet paper.
But I saw the online bulletins. It’s looking like a madhouse in America and Australia.
Wife and I spent a great deal of today laughing at these videos. “How many asses does he have?” she asked about one man with a cart full of toilet paper. I imagined myself back at Ralph’s. On all fours in the empty toilet-paper aisle, scrubbing the mess with handfuls of blood-soaked paper tissues. Behind me, a whisper: “You just gonna throw those out?”
The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 is, of course, hilarious but there is a more serious side. It’s not just the bizarre individualism that makes people think that they need to attend to their own personal needs in such a frantic fashion, not just the sudden fixation of apocalyptic prepper culture on their own asses — up which so many have disappeared so long ago, and it’s not just the very serious problem of hoarding supplies, of which this is just a small and ridiculous example. After all, unlike with medical supplies, a toilet paper shortage won’t kill anyone. It will mainly lead to some violent hilarity in the aisles of your local grocery store and, hopefully, some pleasant and likely overdue innovations involving water — innovations that may eventually lead to a population with much cleaner asses than they, today, even believe possible. A toilet paper shortage might end up being a really good thing. We may look back on it as the very moment our asses all became sparkle fresh. We may point to toilet paper in the museum. We might try to tell our bewildered descendants about what we used to do with that toilet paper stuff. We may light the mugwort around the old garbage fire and try to tell these members of the Quarantine Baby Boom, a cohort that became known as Quaranteens during their adolescence when a series of op-eds appeared, all disapproving of their selfish choices in the shade-ration line and immaturity when hunting Outlander mutants in the plastic mines– what it was really like when we were their age. Of course, they won’t believe it. How could they? We may never be able to properly explain The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 to that spoiled generation.
But what really concerns me about The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 is not attempting to explain it to some spoiled Quaranteen over a meal of roasted rat in Forbidden Zone 7. What really concerns me is that this idiotic behavior will eventually be used to question the legitimacy of what was some pretty damn good advice and to attack and undercut the people who gave it in good faith. In a couple of weeks, when someone notices the ridiculous stacks of toilet paper they have accumulated, they will experience some buyer’s remorse. If their general level of maturity to date is any indication, this will not cause them to take a step back and think about their behavior, impulses, and life in general. No, they’ll just want to blame someone. I bet they blame The Dreaded Experts. And The Experts in General.
“Why should I believe these experts?” they’ll ask. “These are the same people who told me to buy toilet paper! And now I can’t leave the house without toilet paper stuck to my heel. My child was crushed and suffocated under a two-ply cave in. And my neighbor burned down half the block when his stash was set alight by a stray cigarette butt!”
The toilet paper advice was some pretty good advice. But it’s like no one heard the ‘don’t panic,’ part. No one heard the part about just stocking some stuff slowly, not getting carried away, and that the whole thing isn’t about avoiding the apocalypse but just about being able to greatly reduce your trips into populated areas. Like, no one was ever going to have to sit at home covered in their own shit. No one was going to ask that of anyone. It was always understood that, if you ran out of toilet paper, you’d probably go out to get some. You just want to be able to avoid going out as much as you can. So you don’t contribute to the spread of the virus. That’s all. That’s it. Don’t contribute to the problem. Some foresight helps. That’s the whole story.
But this resulting panic? It’s like people heard the advice about hand-washing, lost their damn fool minds, and rushed out to buy all the sinks at Home Depot. If it was suggested that people might want to get that haircut out of the way –if it was getting close to haircut day anyway– would a bunch of people all run out, shave their heads and buy every clipper in the store? The answer is, yep, sure looks like it. It’s absurd but, in retrospect, it was probably pretty predictable. A lot people, as it turns out, are total fucking morons.
I really should have known this. After all, I just finished taking an American Political Science class. Discussing politics with a group of American strangers really drives home a lot of interesting points. One learns, for example, that there’s a pretty large segment of the population whose vision of an ideal society consists of them living securely in a gated community, safe behind locked doors and barred windows, stroking their gun, and guarding the jar of pennies they’ve saved in taxes. To them, that’s not a bad scenario. It’s not a nightmare. It’s the goal. It’s the American Dream. It’s just too bad they didn’t decide to wipe their ass with that dream instead. Because no one needs that dream but some poor innocent probably just wanted to pick up some toilet paper today.
And now what?
I feel sorry for that person. They didn’t ask for this.
That scenario is tragic. The dangerous part is how too many people seem unable to tell the difference between their own panic and the actual situation. When the situation does not conform to the exact parameters of their panic, they feel lied to. I’ve already seen facts that should scare the hell out of people being used to say that this virus is all no big deal. I’ve seen absurd contentions that this is some hoax, all a regular part of an American election cycle — as if South Koreans, Italians or Iranians gave enough of a shit about Biden or Trump to do this to their respective countries. And I’ve seen various other attempts to minimize this problem. You know, the various games of ‘but isn’t this other problem worse’ and ‘what if we treated this like that.’ In short, I’ve seen an awful lot of bullshit. And when people feel bullshitted, they stop trusting and they stop listening. To get through this crisis, and yes, it is a crisis, everyone needs to trust and to listen and, sometimes, to just shut up and obey. It ain’t pretty. Hell, it’s probably Unamerican. But it’s about all that works.
We have to navigate a zone between PANIC and NOTHING IS HAPPENING. This is the very rare case when being a centrist in America is a good thing. Set your needle somewhere in the middle of that scale. Set it in the area where something important and dangerous is happening but it’s not the end of the world. You should prepare but you should not panic. Not everyone is going to die but it’s not a hoax either. Yes, you will have to make some important, costly and disruptive changes to your life. Some of these changes are going to be made for you. A lot of it is going to be out of your hands. It is what it is. It’s kinda shitty. Good thing you have all that toilet paper! Too bad it won’t wipe up this sort of shit.
But, no lie, it’s mainly just really boring and isolating. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. It sucks in some pretty surprising ways. But it’s not the end of the world either. Mainly, social distance is a struggle with boredom and isolation. So, for fuck’s sake, let’s try to have some dignity. It was bad enough when people starting leaving the house in their pajamas. Now it’s toilet-paper hoarding? Where does this madness and mania for comfort end?
Just take a breath and get a grip. You probably have enough toilet paper.
But have you checked your toothpaste?