Getting Back to Normal
Fuggitaboutit. We’re not going back to what we once thought of as “normal.” People will be missing. Churches will be missing. Restaurants will be missing. Casual intimacy will be missing. The rosy predictions of a quick economic recovery, the “snap back,” are simply political wishful thinking. The administration has pinned its reelection hopes on a robust economy. That’s all going up in smoke.
There will never be a time when a light switch is thrown and our world can sound the “all clear.” If a vaccine can be found for the coronavirus, that will come close, but how long have we been looking for a vaccine for HIV? Even if one is found, it is at least eighteen months away. Scientists have already identified 9 distinct strains of coronavirus. Will the potential vaccine work on all of them? What happens if new strains emerge? While we search for cures, the changes wrought on society by this disease will be enormous and not easily reversed.
We can’t go back. The old normal no longer exists.
To my mind, our only option is to begin to envision what the new normal will look like. We will be poorer, more isolated and more savvy with information technology. What if the government sounded the “all clear” and told us all to go back to work in three weeks? This government lies to us. Would we believe them now if they told us to go back to work? Are they just sacrificing us to keep the stock market from crashing? Many businesses will fail because of the shutdown – federal loans won’t save them. Customers will come back slowly, but many will have reduced buying power. Fans will come back slowly to sporting events and entertainment venues. There will be fewer jobs for years. Religious life will change as the liabilities of meeting in large, unsecured venues become painfully obvious.
Here are some “no going back” changes that I could foresee (and I hope I’m wrong about a lot of it):
Despite the rosy projections of our corrupt government, the economy will not “snap back.” We are facing projections of up to 30% unemployment for a time which is 5% higher than was reached during the depth of The Depression (1929-1933). Many who have been laid off will not be called back because their old jobs simply are no longer there. Industries like airlines, retail and hospitality have already been wounded, some fatally. That is a lot of “demand destruction.” For many businesses that survive, telecommuting will become the norm rather than the exception as employers recognize the benefits of work at home, including reduced costs for large facilities to house hundreds of workers. The federal debt has ballooned with the rescue packages cobbled together by the congress. This will place a drag on the economy for years to come. It will also put upward pressure on interest rates.
Wall Street will grow even less trusted and less liked as people watch trillions of dollars in retirement savings evaporate. Some sort of universal subsistence payment to all citizens will be discussed, and those already in existence like Social Security will be enhanced.
It’s funny to me (or it would be were it not so sad) how Wall Street free marketers and Republican politicians can convert to socialism over night when it’s their own survival on the line. As more and more people turn to the federal government for help, the weaknesses of anti-government libertarianism will become tragically obvious. I would think that this crisis and the Trump administration’s abject failure to manage it would sink Trump’s hopes for reelection in the fall, but these are crazy times and I won’t count my chicks before they become chicken tenders. Regardless of who wins in the fall, the government that emerges will be more powerful and authoritarian as huge segments of the population become directly dependent on the federal government for their survival.
Social justice issues like racism, sexism, gay and transgender rights, gun control and environment will suffer because people defer caring about these things when they perceive their own survival is threatened.
As the wingnut extreme of the evangelical movement lures thousands of their flocks to agonizing deaths by demanding that they still meet in person for worship, these leaders will find their credibility and judgment questioned. Thinking members will peel away as they realize that “the blood of Christ” is not an antidote to COVID-19. This recklessness coupled with the close alliance with the failed Trump administration, should significantly weaken the evangelical movement.
Extremist groups and cults tend to hew even closer to their groups in times of crisis, but this will come at a huge personal cost to their members. Many religious hucksters will be revealed as the malevolent clowns they are.
This is not, however, a zero sum game. Traditional mainline brick-and-mortar churches have been struggling for years, and thousands of weakened churches had been closing even before the virus hit. Unable to meet, worship and collect offerings, many of these weakened traditional churches will simply never reopen.
Many of the churches which survive will do so by moving to virtual church by broadcasting their services in real time on services like Zoom. This will produce a further evolution in religious life: many will begin to ask why we need to maintain large, expensive buildings when community can be created online without the crushing costs of building maintenance. The Catholics are discussing allowing priests to hear confession over the phone. Presbyterians have already sanctioned virtual communion. More radical change of this kind will come.
Food and Leisure
Dine-in will take a long time to come back due to the lingering fear of contracting the disease. Bars, known for their crowds and close contact will be avoided for a long time. Many of these places which were already operating on razor thin margins will not be able to reopen. Restaurants that master carry out and delivery will survive and even flourish. Cooking at home will increase as more people discover the pleasures of cooking and entertaining at home, while avoiding the risks of going out into the public.
Leisure activities which enable people to entertain themselves will surge in popularity. This would include painting, reading, writing (especially poetry), crafts, gardening, home cooking, video games, traditional board games like chess and meditation techniques like yoga. This is not all bad – sorry it takes a pandemic to get us to do things that help us grow.
The converse is easy to chart. Travel, dine-in restaurants, live music venues, sports (except maybe golf and fishing), religious services and anything else that requires gathering in person will suffer.
In many businesses, managers are already recognizing the value of working from home. Costs can be cut if businesses do not need large, expensive offices crowded with thousands of people who could do their jobs just as well from home. Tomorrow’s worker will need to add the telecommuting toolbox to their work skills. Video conferencing may become the norm rather than the exception. Installing video conferencing for businesses and churches will become a growth industry in itself.
Industries that can do their business over broadband will flourish. This would include online merchants who deliver, restaurants that deliver, social media, computer equipment and software makers. The losers in this category will be non-online retailers, restaurants, hospitality, cruise lines, airlines and professional sports. Healthcare, being essential, will survive, but it will experience dramatic transformation similar to that in the religious sphere.
Love and Sex
“Social distancing” is the absolute antithesis of love and sex. Obviously, crowded bars and coffee shops will be off-limits as meeting places for a very long time. There will be a new question added to the awkward conversation about STD’s: “Have you been screened for coronavirus?” Online dating will become even more essential for finding new relationships. Casual hook-ups will be a no-no. Anything that virtualizes the erotic experience will benefit, such as online porn, erotic literature, virtual sex through voice phone and online video and even sex robots. Anything that provides intimacy or even a simulation of personal intimacy will be highly valued.
If there is a silver lining to all of this, it may be that we, the human race, will get a better understanding and appreciation for our interconnectedness. We are social beings, and we aren’t meant to be socially distanced.
We will see more clearly how important the people who work in ordinary jobs are, like grocery workers, nurses, EMT’s, delivery drivers. Celebrity culture has already taken a hit. The Celebs and their self-centered Instagram pages did not pull us through this. They had nothing to say beyond some stupid stay at home videos.
In a paradoxical way, self-reliance will be highly valued as we are forced to confront the questions of survival in a crisis such as this.
Psychologically we will become more fearful of each other, while yearning all the more intensely for human interaction. Trust in authority figures will take a hit as so many have lied to us and demonstrated incompetence. Our religious life will become even more personal and experiential and less corporate – bad news for organized churches. Many more people will be forced to learn how to be alone, and social isolation will undoubtedly produce more mental illness. Suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse are already on the rise. Many frontline health workers will suffer from PTSD for years to come. We will pass through a period of national grieving once the storm has subsided. A lot of work will need to be done.
There is no going back to “normal.” All we can do is to get the toolbox and begin to build a new future, one that few imagined only a few short months ago.
I’m sure I’ve missed things. What changes do you see coming? Talk to me.
Getting Back to Normal
Getting Back to Normal