Towards a New ‘Normal’: Thinking, Choosing, Doing, Hoping

[Laura Mai] Sunday, May 3, 2020

In an earlier CoronaJournal entry I, perhaps naively, argued that the pandemic is moving us not to an ‘after‘, but towards a new ‘normal’. New ‘normal’ – the phrase stuck with me. An unsubstantiated claim, unfinished as an argument; it left me feeling dissatisfied. This entry revisits and explores.

After Crisis: No recovery

At the beginning of his essay Times of Crisis Michael Serres explains that etymologically the word ‘crisis’ derives from the Greek krino, meaning ‘to judge’ or ‘to decide’. He writes:

‘In space, a decision becomes a forking road: we go left or right …’  (xi)

‘The term crisis has become part of the medical vocabulary … It describes the state of an organism confronting a growing infectious, nervous, blood or heart disease to the point where its existence is endangered: a nervous collapse, an asthma attack, an apoplexy or epileptic fit, a heart attack … In such a situation, appropriately called critical, the body automatically makes a decision … It is a fork in the road and also a choice’ (xi-xii)

Serres argues that, in crisis, choice does not include ‘recovery’. There is no option to restore the earlier, pre-crisis condition:

‘A loop-like return to the original course leading to the crisis’ is impossible (xii)

Overcoming crisis means that ‘we have to come up with something new’ (xiii)

Crisis, thus, is a moment of possibility; and also one of risk.

Thinking: What next?

Amid nationalist political muddles, thinking about possible lockdown ‘exit’ strategies is emerging, both for the global and the national level. And contributors to this Journal have reflected on what may lie ahead for localities across the planet, from Detroit and Canada to Delhi and beyond.

Choosing: Left or right?

Surveying the terrain for possible options, we are arriving at the fork. Time to choose.

Path 1: Restrictions on public, social, cultural, economic and political life continue unscrutinised. Nationalist agendas, driven by anti-scientific and populist backlashes, flourish. Technology penetrates the daily private lives of citizens. Inequalities are exacerbated, and planetary life-support systems continue to be stretched beyond their limits.

Path 2: Evidence-based policy- and decision-making, supported by multilateralism, leads to a concerted global effort to control transmission. Rapid large-scale behavioural change is seen to be possible. Inclusive processes for co-constructing the new normal are set up. Justice and sustainability become the principles which guide cooperation.

Doing: Agency in times of physical distancing

Having chosen, we engage. Doing in times of physical distancing relies on imaginative forms of action.

How to show empathy and solidarity, share experiences, inspire and support?

Examples: by collating creativity online (seen in the  #AloneTogether campaign), creating inventories of resources and help (seen in the Catalogue for Local Mutual Aid Communities), and by contributing to platforms that share stories of struggle.

How to organise, mobilise, resist and advocate?

Examples: through new forms of protest (seen in Tel Aviv and online), open letters (seen in this Journal and elsewhere) and virtual campaigns (seen here).

Hoping: Envisioning and believing in possibility

This week, on one of my daily walks (still allowed!), I noticed that a new poster had popped up in the neighbourhood. It uses Mark Titchner’s phrase ‘Please believe these days will pass.’ The message is clear: to sustain ourselves, we must be able to envision and believe in the possibility of a desirable new normal.

Hoping then means that along the way, there is ‘clarity that, amid the uncertainty ahead, there will be conflicts worth joining and the possibility of winning some of them’.(Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian 7 April 2020)

Hackney Road, London E2 (24 April 2020)

Laura Mai | London | May 3, 2020

twitter: @_Laura_Mai

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