A crowded beach speaks eloquently of the human condition: the perpetual need for company. People not only congregate there to enjoy sun and sea. They desire to mingle with others and be part of a larger fellowship.
This is why many are whining about the coronavirus lockdowns. To be forced to stay at home is not essentially different from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange withering away in London’s Belmarsh Prison. One is deprived, not only of freedom of movement, but of human companionship.
Social distancing? Heaven forbid that it will ever be “the new normal”. Staying apart from others goes against the very nature of man as a social creature — indeed against what makes him all so human.
Sunday on the Beach, ca. 1896-1898
Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American, 1858–1924)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
The Beach, 1877
Eugène Boudin (French, 1824–1898)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The herd mentality
For many, going to the beach when it is packed with people is more fun. Humans are naturally curious. They love to watch their fellow humans. At the beach, one can engage in this innocuous little pleasure whilst remaining anonymous in the crowd.
But why be all at the beach at the same time? One wonders if this is part of the phenomenon known as herd mentality. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term as “the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong.”
The tendency is particularly pronounced amongst teenagers, many of whom are having to deal with peer pressure. The fear of being different drives them to listen to the same kind of music, watch the same movies and even wear the same style of clothes.
Adults are not any different. The herd mentality rules in the world of shipping and commerce — and, yes, on social media as well.
The importance of solitude
Dwelling among Mountains and Clouds, 1685
Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619–1689)
The artist’s poem is inscribed at the upper right:
Where I dwell white clouds often crowd;
But only deer travel my recently opened mountain path.
How wonderful to bring wine up to the pavilion;
Letting go a pure song in the shadows of the setting sun.
Image and text courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
People generally hate to be alone. Unless one is a monk or a fisherman, long periods of solitude and isolation can be unbearable. They can lead to gloominess and despair.
Still, there is much to be said for spending some time with one’s self. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal.
Dwelling as a hermit on a mountain is not for everyone, of course. But withdrawing once in a while from society should be good for preserving one’s sanity and as rewarding as lounging on a crowded beach.