I have seen multiple signs saying “we’re going to get through this!” These signs convey what seems to be a common feeling and attitude: that COVID-19 is a temporary state of affairs, and that as hard as it is, we’re going to come through to the other side, and on the other side, life as normal will resume.
But what if life has been altered? I am not suggesting that life will not go on (it will), but rather that “regular life” might be permanently changed by the experience of this global pandemic and the subsequent quarantine.
What comes to mind for me is 9/11. Many readers here may have been born after 2001, and may have no memory of airport security practices prior to that year. Back then, you could show up 10 minutes before your flight and make it. There was no TSA, no frisking or broken locks on luggage.
You could take a handgun on a plane.
We have now acclimated to these procedures, and the security restrictions that came into being after 9/11 — along with the massive overhead in manpower and and equipment that those measures entail — have become a “new normal.” Things never went back to normal; normal moved.
I think that in a similar fashion, the corona virus may shift our normal in a number of ways. Perhaps it already has. We are going to get through this, but I don’t think this will ever leave. Even if it does, we won’t be the same as we were before.
A few of the more obvious changes: now that hundreds of thousands of people have started working from home, I expect that many will decide that they like working from home, and that there is no good reason to return to an office, with its commute and so forth. This is not just a shift in business culture, but perhaps in family culture too. Working from home is hard when your family wants your attention. Perhaps people will realize that the office was a kind of escape from their family and from having to set boundaries.
Many people have noticed a steep decline in petty grievance-culture complaints. Not much has been heard of from the blue-haired brigade. Whatever happened to the rampant oppression of the cis-male-white patriarchy?
Chuck Pahlaniuk had a great line in his most recent novel Adjustment Day where he said that predators understand true value. The scene was one where hundreds had died and their bodies were laying in the street, many with expensive jewelry on. Wolves and wild dogs had gone through and stripped away the protein, ignoring the gold and diamonds. I think it’s an apt metaphor for the way in which COVID-19 seems to have caused people to leave behind the stuff that really doesn’t matter.
I don’t exempt my own passions and hobbies. No one gives a shit about detailed theological quibbles when the food is running dry. I’ve become a lot more interested in gardening and farming recently, and have been questioning the value of philosophy, particularly after reading Mishima’s Sun and Steel. This questioning began before the virus, but it has become a little bit more tactile since. Ultimately, I still think that philosophy can be valuable, but academic philosophy — which I will define here as “philosophy which begins prior to experience in the real world” — is escapist bullshit, not unlike video games or fantasy pulp-fiction.
Another significant change is immigration. What decades of right-wing argumentation was unable to successfully communicate as far as the dangers of open societies and free immigration, a single virus was able to persuasively accomplish in a matter of weeks. Not only are borders shutting down, but people are “socially distancing” themselves even within those borders. Close friends and family are suddenly, manifestly distinguished from strangers, contra all moral posturing prior to the present moment, and verbiage alluding to a kind of universal “human family.”
See their morals, their “code,” it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble.Joker, The Dark Knight
Another interesting observation has been the swamping of the social services system. I am not sure how unemployment services are doing elsewhere, but in my own county, I have heard that things are pretty swamped. How long people can continue to collect without going to work (because social distancing) is anyone’s guess, but the music has to stop at some point.
Curiously, I don’t see any interest in rioting or protesting. Even the Bernie Bros and their promise to burn down Milwaukee seem to have faded into irrelevance. Actually important things have arisen. Rather, instead of crying to the government, people seem to be leaning further into a kind of libertarian attitude of self-reliance, taking matters into their own hands by gardening, raising chickens, side-hustles, and so forth.
Overall, there is no indication that the corona-virus is going away any time soon, and it looks as though America will emerge from that realization as a solidly second-world nation. The optimistic futurism and first-world problems of the 90’s, of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” of liberal academic culture and self-help pyramid cults, all of that is probably going to wash away in a new flood of real challenges and struggles, of the kind we used to speak about romantically in association with the “Greatest Generation.” That generation was one which was shaped by their trials and tribulations, and which was permanently altered by them. As with 9/11, I think the corona-virus will almost certainly have a similar effect.
With that in mind, there is much still to be grateful for, and worse outcomes we could imagine.
Perhaps among them: the absence of the virus.