After the Pandemic ends
A number of people have asked me the question which many of us have been mulling over, namely, 'How will life be different once the present crisis ends?'
The acceptance that it will be different has been encapsulated in a phrase, 'the new normal'.
That, of course, ignores another question, 'Will this 'new normal' be permanent or merely short-lived?' Paolo Giordano, in his extended essay 'How Contagion Works' has written, 'Once the emergency is over, any temporary awareness [revelations we have had about our society during lockdown] will disappear.'
Of course, Giordano may well prove to be correct but likewise he could be way off the mark. If we take the two previous serious pandemics to hit us historically, The Black Death of 1348/9 and The Spanish Flu of 1918/19 either conclusion could be right. The Black Death saw major changes in society afterwards, whilst The Spanish Flu only marginal ones, as it was lost in the more widely perceived tragedy of The First World War.
If you push me off the fence, my instinct is to say that this time the effects are more likely to follow the pattern of The Black Death than The Spanish 'Flu. My reasons are that there is no event like World War One which will push the present crisis to the sidelines (I don't think Brexit counts in this context). Whilst the changes that came to society after The Black Death were reactions to issues already bubbling away beneath the surface, such as increasing criticism of The Church, resentment at the inequalities in society, and in particular at the restrictive employment practices of The Feudal System. The Black Death accelerated change in all these areas. Criticism of The Church was both intellectual and practical, through John Wyclif, the Oxford Scholar, and The Lollard Movement. In terms of demands to changes in The Feudal System and for greater equality in society, the dramatic fall in population led to the ending of serfdom and to political action in the form of The Peasants Revolt of 1381. Although the latter was a failure in the short term it was a success in the longer. England had been changed forever with its post pandemic responses.
Today there are two major challenges facing our society that I believe will force themselves to the top of our national agenda post pandemic.
1. The Challenge of Global Warming and Environmental Change. Paolo Giordano writes, 'The contagion [Covid 19] is just a symptom. The infection is in our ecosystem.' Later he writes, '....a chance [provided by lockdown] to find the time to understand that we're not only part of the human species: we are members of the most invasive species of a fragile, magnificent ecosystem'. This message and calls for action are now reaching far beyond the campaigns of people like Greta Thurnberg and into the global business community.
2. The Challenges to our traditional forms of Democracy. Writing of the impact of The Great Famine of 1315/17 and of The Black Death 1348/9 Professor Lynn Nelson has written, 'These were natural disasters, but they were made all the worse by the inability of the directing elements of society, the princes and clergy, to offer any leadership during the crises'. The UN Secretary General has already said that the world has lacked the leadership during this pandemic that it might have expected from one of the larger nations. Obviously the USA is the country that would have provided in the past such leadership, but has in this crisis spectacularly failed to do so; and in the process done untold damage to the notion of American Democracy itself. The EU, likewise, has failed in this respect, even in terms of its own multi-national membership.
Here in Britain criticism of the failings of the Government machine, politicians, Civil Servants, and SPADs has been mounting. The nation fell out of love with its politicians with the expenses scandal and has remained out of love ever since. There have been serious failings in our democratic system that have needed addressing for some while, and maybe post pandemic the cry for reform will grow so as it can no longer be ignored.
In earlier blogs I have touched on specific things that may change post pandemic, such as the end of the all embracing Office System of Victorian England as WFH gathers momentum, and the increasing awareness that too many in our society are falling through government safety nets, as financial support is seen as proving inadequate.
Paolo Giordano has written, 'In the contagion we become, again, a community'. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can hold on to this sense of community, locally and nationally, and so democratically challenge 'the directing elements in society' to move our country and ourselves towards, what Winston Churchill called, 'the sunlit uplands'.