Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 2: Same as it never was

Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about all sorts of things—politics, religion, even my own philosophies, among many other things. Today’s question is no different.

Today’s question is from Roger Green:

This is actually a question that came up in a Bible study this morning. The assumption is that people want to get back to the way they were before COVID (and George Floyd and 2020 generally).

What processes are most likely NOT to go back to what had been the norm? And related, how do you think people have changed by 2020? Kinder, greedier, more or less tolerant?

I think the answer to that is really, “depends on where you’re talking about,” because, as with fighting the pandemic itself, everything depends on where one lives. For that matter, the problems of the year that seemed the biggest also depended on where one lives.

First, the pandemic. I think there will be some lasting changes in all developed countries. Chief among them, there will be more people working from home, at least part of the time, but probably more than that. It will mean more corporations downsizing their real estate, which, in turn, could mean large vacant office buildings in major cities. Because of that, the hospitality trade in business areas will suffer dramatically, which will mean going out for lunch or after-work drinks workmates may become less common.

People will desperately want to get back to what they had, so I expect there will be problems with compliance with things like physical distancing and wearing masks. I say that in part because I’ve seen a notable drop in people using New Zealand’s Covid Tracer App. Obviously my personal observations aren’t evidence, but they at least suggests that some people in New Zealand have already become complacent—the very reason the government launched its “Make Summer Unstoppable” campaign.

While everyone want to get back to “normal”, we have no way of knowing if that will even be possible. We don’t know if people are infectious after getting the vaccine, or how long their protection lasts, so we can’t be sure it’ll ever be safe to go back to what we had before. The only way to make that more likely is for people to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks and physically distance until we have better answers about immunity for, and transmission by, vaccinated people.

A huge amount of kindness shown during the worst of the pandemic, most of it unheralded. In New Zealand, kindness was a cornerstone of the government’s response because they needed us to do our part, not just to get through lockdown, but also to help ensure that others did, too. It worked. However, I’m not convinced that kindness is a natural state for humans in normal times, so I think that most of us will probably go back to being cantankerous and unforgiving when the crisis does eventually end. I hope I’m wrong about that.

In the USA, much of the turmoil and stress was stuff caused—usually directly, sometimes indirectly—by the soon to be ex-occupant of the White House and his disastrous mishandling of the pandemic. Having a real president and vice president in office, pursuing perfectly rational policies and upholding the rule of law will go a long way toward turning down the flame under the societal pot. I certainly don’t expect any of the issues—like Black Lives Matter, for example—to be solved in the next four years, however, we at least know that none of them will get worse like they did in the previous four. That alone should allow a bit of a return to “normal” for society generally—the caveat being that patience is not infinite, and the new administration will need to take action to make things better because simply not making them worse is no progress at all, not really.

Similarly, the new US administration will need to act on climate change, which even with action will continue to disrupt societies with more (and more frequent) severe storms and wider, more destructive events like wildfires. But there can be other natural events, like the eruption of New Zealand’s Whakaari/White Island, something that happened only a year ago, in December 2019, mere weeks before Covid emerged. All of those sorts of things—weather related and non weather related events—are by definition unpredictable. We can only hope that things will be better in 2021 than they were this year, and if they are, that, too, will help restore a sense of normality.

People throughout the developed world have been changed by 2020, and some of that may be permanent or, at least, long-lived. The deep and bitter political division in the USA, for example, won’t vanish any time soon (it built up over decades, after all), but it might get better if nature doesn’t get too dramatic and political progress is made.

As a sign of hope, I offer New Zealand: Faced with many of the same challenges as the USA—the global pandemic, systemic racism, a large income divide and poverty, etc., New Zealand voters saw they had a strong, capable, competent government that was trying to unite, not divide, the country and they re-elected their government in an historic landslide. That’s what good government can result in. So, if the new administration gets the pandemic under control, if it makes progress on finally dealing with simmering unresolved social and political issues, there is hope for a return to more normal times.

All of which puts aside questions about “what ‘normal’ are people expecting to return to”. What people perceive as “normal” isn’t necessarily desirable, and it may not even be real. I’m thinking especially of the folks who are convinced that there were no racial problems until “troublemakers” started rioting. And there are still people who believe the fantasy version of 1950s America is something to aspire to. None of those viewpoints are based on reality, and if that’s what the “normal” people want, they will be hugely disappointed.

Thanks to Roger for today’s question, my rather in adequate answer notwithstanding.

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. You can also send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story


Roger Owen Green said...

I kept asking you to swap rump for Ardern and you kept saying NO

Arthur Schenck said...

Hopefully you won't have to ask again after a little more than three weeks…