During the 2016 US Presidential campaign the above ‘This is fine’ meme gained significant popularity as it perfectly captured how many people were feeling about the overall situation. It was not created for that however, and is actually part of a 2013 comic by KC Green, which you political buffs out there will recognize as a date not long into then President Obama’s 2nd term. There’s no question that 2020 is shaping up to be a disaster, and people are understandably asking how long until we get back to normal. But when exactly is this “normal” that everyone is talking about? It certainly wasn’t 2019, nor 2016. If you think back to the George W. Bush years following 9/11 and the resulting ‘war on terror’ there was a lot of hoping for a “return to normal” then too. The response to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign certainly made it clear that for a lot of people, Bill Clinton’s presidency was far from ideal. That takes us back to ’93. Was it normal before then? Under Bush Sr? How about Regan?
The truth is it’s been a disaster for a long time, we simply forget how much we hated yesterday because of the overwhelming pain of today. So we trick ourselves into reaching for something slightly less terrible, rather than something better. “Normal” sucked. “Normal” was broken. “Normal” was dysfunctional and oppressive.
If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have needed 4 waves of feminism. If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have to explain to anyone why black lives matter. If “normal” was so great there would be no debate about who deserves health care, or an education. There would be no argument about what kind of basic lifestyle can or can’t be afforded with a full time minimum wage paycheck. There wouldn’t be countless examples of laws being enforced differently based on someone’s income or race. Teachers, the people we put in charge of educating future generations, wouldn’t be having to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets. Artists and musicians, people who make our world beautiful and enjoyable, wouldn’t be seen as disposable. The oceans wouldn’t be full of garbage. We wouldn’t be talking about how amazingly clear the skies and air are in cities that have imposed shelter in place rules, keeping people out of their cars. We wouldn’t be counting how many people died from the latest pandemic that jumped to humans in the unsanitary conditions from selling wild animal parts in wet markets.
And that’s the moment we are in right now.
It’s not hyperbole to say that everything is going to change. There’s the world we knew before the virus, and the world we make after it. No one will ever think of handshakes or face masks the same again. That’s a given. But what about everything else? I don’t want the world to go back to normal. I don’t want something just not quite as bad. I want us to take the opportunity that we have been presented with and strive for something better.
You can call me an idealist, but that would be a hard sell given how much time I spend talking about how everything sucks. But I’m trying to make tomorrow better, and I believe that’s possible. And I’m not the only one. Here is a very short and very incomplete list of a few people I consider friends. People I know who won’t settle for “not quite as bad” and are actively working for something better. Take a few moments and see what they are up to, and feel free to add more names, projects and links in the comments.
(this post can be found at arethingsbacktonormalagain.com)