“In this moment,” writes journalist Anne Helen Petersen on
“the primary tension in America is how, and when, life is going to ‘return to normal.’ But that ‘normal’ was an economy that … was built on a form of consumption that felt compulsory, …a ‘normal’ in which the vast majority of people still felt economically precarious, burned out, …and most still struggled to cobble together enough savings to protect them from medical or financial catastrophe. A ‘normal’ in which the various manifestations of the gig economy — and the lack of healthcare, labor protections, or the general safety net that accompanies them — have been, well, normalized. So what if we don’t actually want to go back to that?” she asks.
Instead, Peterson argues that “Part of the reticence to reopen the economy is rooted in the very real fear of widespread infection. And part … is a manifestation of a desire to reject that old way of living entirely. There are different ways of being with each other as a society, different ways of caring and knowing and growing. As cheesy as all of that sounds, it’s certainly better than being told to do your part to save the country by going to Disney World or trying to distract ourselves from our exhaustion and fear by buying skincare products.”
As I have been saying since the outbreak of COVID-19, we are at the start of a new era. And that new era begins with rehab from addiction to consumerism and adoption of more pro-social, humane values.
The sooner we adopt them and usher in the new era, the sooner we will overcome the virus. Social distancing reflects our inner distance from each other, our alienation. But if we, as Peterson put it, reject the old way of life and start caring, we will not infect each other with viruses. Just as social distancing does not apply to families, it will not apply to anyone once there is no emotional distance between us.
Indeed, the old “normal” was anything but normal. It made many of us depressed, obsessed, obese, addicted, and lonely. If we only stop for a minute and reflect on our lives and what we want from them, I’m sure we can build together a new normal of connection, care, and solidarity, a world where everyone wants to live.