What we all want right now is a return to normal. That makes total sense, but I think it’s partly a mistake. Of course, I want to be able to see my students again. I don’t want to have people avoid getting within six feet of me. I want grocery stores with food in them. I want to see Violeta to get my hair cut. I want to shoot the shit with my colleagues in person. I very much want to go to the gym. I want local stores to open back up and survive. I want people to keep their jobs. I want people not to be sick or be afraid of getting sick. I want people not to die.
A crisis like this, though, can be an inflection point and we shouldn’t come out of it without staying focused on what was wrong with normal and what we shouldn’t return to.
We have a healthcare system that is inadequate to our society’s quotidian needs—let alone those that arise in a pandemic—and that is inaccessible to too many of us.
We’ve become inured to the fact that people live on our streets, in our canyons, under bridges, becoming visibly shocked by this only when we can score a partisan point, but all the while ignoring that these are people with as much dignity as we have, but whom we allow to live in ways we would find too horrible for our pets.
We have an economy that serves the most well off, who are quite happy to accept—that is, demand— the help of government but are unwilling to do anything for society absent their direct benefit. As the phrase has it, they socialize risk and privatize profit. We’ve come to accept that we live for the economy, rather than believing the economy exists to serve all human flourishing.
We’ve internalized the lesson that we are all and always in competition. We’ve created an all-encompassing Hobbesian—or, is it just capitalistic—mindset whereby what matters most is that I have more than enough toilet paper or food or money or space or cars or whatever even if it means that others basic needs go unmet.
We’ve all but killed off any sense of a community, of an us. We complain about social distancing not because we lose the kind of social contact that we need to thrive, but because we can’t do the things we really like to do.
We take no responsibility in either the sense of blame or that of obligation, but instead look to blame and vilify others—Others—and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. After all, no one’s luck is my fault and I pulled myself up by the bootstraps that I myself fashioned out of nothing.
We admire and celebrate the shallowest of celebrities and confuse fame with depth and integrity and wisdom. We treat wealth as if it were virtue.
We confuse our own worth and that of others with what they have.
We engage in politics that is little more than ressentiment. We’re happy enough if we see the right people hurt, even if there is no benefit to us.
Of course, we aren’t all or always like this. I know that, at least sometimes, I am. I hope when this is all over and things return to normal that we can leave those parts of normal behind.