Friday, March 20, 2020

The New Normal

Politico has a very thorough run down of life as we'll soon come to know it from a variety of people. Here are my favourite bits. It's all pretty hopeful:

We know now that touching things, being with other people and breathing the air in an enclosed space can be risky. How quickly that awareness recedes will be different for different people, but it can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year. . . . Maybe the de-militarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess. . . . Societal shocks can break different ways, making things better or worse. But given our current levels of tension, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse. . . . It may—one might hope—return Americans to a new seriousness, or at least move them back toward the idea that government is a matter for serious people. . . . When this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services. I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked. . . . The hype around online education will be abandoned, as a generation of young people forced into seclusion will reshape the culture around a contrarian appreciation for communal life.

Perhaps we can use our time with our devices to rethink the kinds of community we can create through them. . . . This is a different life on the screen from disappearing into a video game or polishing one’s avatar. This is breaking open a medium with human generosity and empathy. This is looking within and asking: “What can I authentically offer?" . . . Once companies sort out their remote work dance steps, it will be harder—and more expensive—to deny employees those options. In other words, it turns out, an awful lot of meetings (and doctors’ appointments and classes) really could have been an email. And now they will be. . . . Proven technologies now exist that offer mobile, at-home voting while still generating paper ballots. This system is not an idea; it is a reality that has been used in more than 1,000 elections for nearly a decade by our overseas military and disabled voters. This should be the new normal.

For years, telemedicine has lingered on the sidelines as a cost-controlling, high convenience system. Out of necessity, remote office visits could skyrocket in popularity as traditional-care settings are overwhelmed by the pandemic. There would also be containment-related benefits to this shift; staying home for a video call keeps you out of the transit system, out of the waiting room and, most importantly, away from patients who need critical care. . . . This crisis should unleash widespread political support for Universal Family Care—a single public federal fund that we all contribute to, that we all benefit from, that helps us take care of our families while we work, from childcare and elder care to support for people with disabilities and paid family leave. . . . The coronavirus has laid bare the failures of our costly, inefficient, market-based system for developing, researching and manufacturing medicines and vaccines. . . . Private pharmaceutical firms simply will not prioritize a vaccine or other countermeasure for a future public health emergency until its profitability is assured, and that is far too late to prevent mass disruption. . . . Americans are being reacquainted with scientific concepts like germ theory and exponential growth. Unlike with tobacco use or climate change, science doubters will be able to see the impacts of the coronavirus immediately. At least for the next 35 years, I think we can expect that public respect for expertise in public health and epidemics to be at least partially restored.

This is a great time for congresspeople to return to their districts and start the process of virtual legislating—permanently. . . . This event is global evidence that a functioning government is crucial for a healthy society. . . . The civic fabric of some communities has fostered the responsibility and altruism of millions of ordinary citizens who have stayed home, lost income, kept their kids inside, self-quarantined, refrained from hoarding, supported each other, and even pooled medical supplies and other resources to bolster health workers. The coronavirus is this century’s most urgent challenge to humanity. Harnessing a new sense of solidarity, citizens of states and cities will rise to face the enormous challenges ahead such as climate change and transforming our era of historic inequality into one of economic inclusion. . . . It’s clear that in a crisis, the rules don’t apply—which makes you wonder why they are rules in the first place. This is an unprecedented opportunity to not just hit the pause button and temporarily ease the pain, but to permanently change the rules so that untold millions of people aren’t so vulnerable to begin with. . . . Most of all, we need to remember that public trust is crucial to governance—and that trust depends on telling the truth. . . . The mismatch of long-disregarded populations finally getting the message that their needs are not only chronically unattended, but also chronically dismissed as politically required, will likely have drastic, pitchfork consequences.

In the best-case scenario, the trauma of the pandemic will force society to accept restraints on mass consumer culture as a reasonable price to pay to defend ourselves against future contagions and climate disasters alike. . . . Universal basic income and mandatory paid sick leave will move from the margins to the center of policy debates. . . . The coronavirus pandemic will create move pressure on corporations to weigh the efficiency and costs/benefits of a globalized supply chain system against the robustness of a domestic-based supply chain. Switching to a more robust domestic supply chain would reduce dependence on an increasingly fractured global supply system. . . . Discussions of inequality in America often focus on the growing gap between the bottom 99 percent and the top 1 percent. But the other gap that has grown is between the top fifth and all the rest—and that gap will be exacerbated by this crisis.

Probably, given past behavior, when this pandemic is over, human beings will respond with the same sense of relief and a search for community, relief from stress and pleasure. . . . With restaurants mostly closed and as isolation increases, many people will learn or relearn how to cook over the next weeks. Maybe they will fall back in love with cooking. . . . Urban parks—in which most major cities have made significant investments over the past decade—are big enough to accommodate both crowds and social distancing. It helps that it is spring in the northern hemisphere. Society might come out of the pandemic valuing these big spaces even more, not only as the backdrop to major events and active uses, but as an opportunity to be together visually. . . . Maybe, as in Camus’ time, it will take the dual specters of autocracy and disease to get us to listen to our common sense, our imaginations, our eccentricities—and not our programming. A more expansive and braver approach to everyday existence is now crucial so that we don’t fall in line with Trump-like tyrannies, cant and orthodoxy, and environmentally and physiologically devastating behaviors (including our favorites: driving cars, eating meat, burning electricity). This current plague time might see a recharged commitment to a closer-to-the-bone worldview that recognizes we have a short time on earth.

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