Pandemic Journal (# 31): What Will Be the New Normal?

The COVID-19 Pandemic has been so long and so thoroughly disruptive to what used to be our “normal” lives, we wonder what life will be like after the pandemic is over. Will it be a return to what we thought was “normal.”? I think not. We will start to engage in a new way of life with details to be negotiated among all people and institutions.

This was the point recently made by Fareed Zakaria.[1]

Zakaria’s Vision for the New World

The world that is being ushered in as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic is new and scary. The health crisis has accelerated a number of forces that were already gathering steam. Most fundamentally, it is now blindingly clear that human development as it is happening now is creating ever-greater risks. The backlash from nature is all around us, from wildfires to hurricanes to pandemics, of which covid-19 may simply be the first in a series. The pandemic has intensified other trends, too. For demographic and other reasons, countries will likely see more sluggish economic growth. Inequality will get worse, as the big get bigger in every sphere. Machine learning is moving so fast that, for the first time in history, human beings might lose control over their own creations. Nations are becoming more parochial, their domestic politics more isolationist. The United States and China are headed toward a bitter and prolonged confrontation.” (Emphases added.)

“It is a dangerous moment. But it is also in times like these that we can shape and alter such trends. To complete the story of our future, we must add in human agency. People can choose which direction they want to push themselves, their societies and their world. In fact, we have more leeway now. In most eras, history proceeds along a set path and change is difficult. But the novel coronavirus has upended society. People are disoriented. Things are already changing and, in that atmosphere, further change becomes easier than ever. . . .” (Emphases added.)

“We could continue with business as usual and risk cascading crises from climate change and new pandemics. Or we could get serious about a more sustainable strategy for growth. We could turn inward and embrace nationalism and self-interest, or we could view these challenges — which cross all borders — as a spur to global cooperation and action. We have many futures in front of us. . . .” (Emphases added.)

The current pandemic presents . . . choices. We could settle into a world of slow growth, increasing natural dangers and rising inequality — and continue with business as usual. Or we could choose to act forcefully, using the vast capacity of government to make massive new investments to equip people with the skills and security they need in an age of bewildering change. We could build a 21st-century infrastructure, putting to work many of those most threatened by new technologies. We could curb carbon emissions simply by placing a price on them that reflects their true cost. And we could recognize that, along with dynamism and growth, we need resilience and security — or else the next crisis could be the last. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

The . . . tension between integration and isolation can be seen throughout the world. The pandemic is leading countries to look inward. But enlightened leaders will recognize that the only real solution to problems such as pandemics — and climate change and cyberwar — is to look outward, toward better cooperation. The solution to a badly funded and weak World Health Organization is not to withdraw from it in the hope that it withers away, but rather to fund it better and give it more autonomy so that it could stand up to China — or the United States — if a health emergency requires it. No single country can organize the entire world anymore. None wants to. That leaves only the possibilities of chaos, cold war, or cooperation.” (Emphasis added.)

“It is true, as the critics charge, that real international collaboration requires some element of collective decision-making. While it sounds sinister to some ears, it is, in fact, what countries do all the time. It is the mechanism by which we regulate everything from international telephone calls to air travel to trade and intellectual property to the emission of chlorofluorocarbons. There is no global “one world government,” and there never will be — it is just a phrase designed to scare people into imagining a secret army descending on them in black helicopters. What actually exists, and what we need more of, is global governance, agreements among sovereign nations to work together to solve common problems. It shouldn’t be so hard. Cooperation is one of the most fundamental traits in human beings, one that many biologists believe is at the root of our survival over the millennia. If we are to survive well into the future, cooperation will surely help us more than conflict.” (Emphases added.)

The imperative for cooperation is nowhere more evident than in the relationship between the world’s two greatest powers, the United States and China. We are entering a bipolar world — characterized by a reality in which two countries are simply head-and-shoulders above the rest in hard power. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

“The pandemic has made so many — nations and individuals — turn inward and become selfish. But an even larger crisis had the opposite effect on the greatest statesmen of the age. Twenty years after D-Day, CBS News invited the former supreme commander of the Allied operations, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to revisit the beaches of Normandy with Walter Cronkite and reflect. Eisenhower had seen the worst of humanity — the German Wehrmacht’s brutal fight to the finish — and yet, he had come out of that experience determined to try cooperation. As they sat overlooking the rows of graves in Normandy, Eisenhower said to Cronkite, “These people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before. So every time I come back to these beaches, or any day when I think about that day 20 years ago now, I say once more, we must find some way to work to peace, and really to gain an eternal peace for this world.” (Emphasis added.)

“So, too, in our times, this ugly pandemic has created the possibility for optimism, change and reform. It has opened a path to a new world. It’s ours to take that opportunity or to squander it. Nothing is written [beforehand about what we should do].” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions

I concur in the need for more international cooperation on a multitude of issues.

In addition, the pandemic has shown the many deficiencies in the U.S. Everyone needs basic health insurance that is not tied to a specific employer which means if an individual is fired or laid off due to an economic downturn or another pandemic, the individual loses health insurance. We need a huge revision of the federal income tax laws to eliminate loopholes and other provisions that benefit only the super wealthy. We need to do something about income and wealth inequality. We need to have one federal election system that guarantees and enforces the right to vote for every U.S. citizen who is over 18 years of age, stops gerrymandering, and eliminates the electoral college and the equal representation of states regardless of population in the U.S. Senate. We need to eliminate racism and sexism in our institutions and society. Those are starters for a new normal.

An invitation is extended to readers of this blog to express their desires for a “new normal” after we get through this pandemic.

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[1] Zakaria, The pandemic upended the present. But it’s given us the chance to remake the future, Wash. Post (Oct. 6, 2020). This article is adapted from Zakaria’s new book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World (W.W. Norton & Co. 2020).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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