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The Unreliable Guide to…Normal

By Nat Shepherd on July 31, 2020 in Other


Not normal. Photo: Polly Thene

There’s been a lot of talk about getting back to normal, but what is ‘normal’? So far, 2020 has been like an episode of Black Mirror, directed by David Lynch, but was 2019 really normal?
The dictionary defines normal as a ‘usual, typical, or expected state or condition’. 2019 was a year when the government cut funding to the Rural Fire Service in one of the driest years on record and then sat back and watched/took a trip to Hawaii while huge swathes of the country burnt to the ground. I don’t know about you, but that’s not my kind of normal. 2019 was also the year our government approved raids on journalists who dared to say things that highlighted political corruption. That’s not my kind of normal either. Worse still, parliament began debating the legality of any kind of protest against government malpractice. Last time I checked ‘normal’, that was our democratic right.
If 2019 was ‘normal’, I guess 2020 is following the pattern. But what do we want to be the next ‘normal’? The Unreliable Guide has some suggestions…

The new normal
The term ‘new normal’ is everywhere right now. In business-speak, the ‘new normal’ refers to a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, which would be fine if anything was standard. 2020 has been defined by shifting sands. Social distancing is the new normal – unless you’re crammed on the bus on your way to work. Stay at home became stay two metres apart, became 1.5 metres, became a metre. The message changes every five minutes, there is no fixed standard, which could explain why most people are acting like it’s C-over. We are C-over it.

Political vision vs short-term greed
This lack of a clear message from the government seems to be driven by the fight between prioritising physical health or economic health. Renowned economic historian Niall Ferguson suggests the world economy will take at least six years to recover and that tourism – one of our key economic drivers – cannot recover until there is a cure or vaccine. We may never go back to the ‘normal’ of 2019, but do we want to? Maybe we need to decide, as a nation, on the value of life. The cost of always putting the economy first has not been to our advantage. Our world is dying, and it’s all our fault. The mantra of ‘more production, more consumption, more development’ is resulting in less biodiversity, less climate stability, and less physical and mental health. Perhaps the new normal we need to aim for is one that finds a new way to quantify growth; quality over quantity.

Shape a new future
With that in mind, what could the future look like? Imagine less time-consuming commuting as more and more work is done from home. Imagine children partly home-schooled, finding deeper and stronger bonds with their family. Imagine cities becoming less toxic with the reduction of work travel. Imagine reclaiming city spaces for people, not cars. Imagine a well-funded public health system able to cope with the next pandemic. Imagine. These are not pipe dreams, they are possibilities. We just have to believe in them, and vote for the kind of leaders who have the vision to make it happen.

Finally, The Unreliable Guide suggests we don’t let this golden opportunity slip through our fingers. It feels like destiny has tossed us a lifesaving ring, so let’s use it to paddle back to the shore of reason, accountability and wisdom. If we let go now, we will certainly drown in our own filth. Let’s make a new world, not a new normal.