Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
Working From Home (WFH)…just one of the things that the “New Normal” will bring according to a few voices from the populations of various workforces who have contributed to economies during lockdowns. People seem to have enjoyed the utopia of ‘flexible’ working hours with a freedom to work when they want, attending virtual meetings and collaborating in on-line virtual offices.
In the absence of any interruptions and office gossip some have shared videos of their innovative home offices, posted humorous ditties about their children, or pets or exercise regimes and all under the ‘understanding’ that these are well-deserved distractions allowed under the ‘new normal’. But for some who have burned-out WFH may be a burden rather than a blessing.
For many WFH is a ‘new behaviour’ required as a result of ubiquitous government-imposed lockdowns or slowdowns and other initiatives in the face of COVID-19’s effects on mankind. Our adversary, as at mid-May 2020, had killed 0.004% or thereabouts of the Worlds’ population, infected 0.06% of mankind while 0.7% had been tested. In light of this statistical sample why is a ‘new normal’ being promulgated and who are its advocates?
The global reaction to this virus, as opposed to other pandemics in the World’s history, is unprecedented despite much more virulent viruses and diseases having plagued our past and which currently exist. Daily statistics on HIV and TB etc are not available, nor have they ever been seen as necessary. So, what makes COVID so special that it has apparently been singled out against all other killer diseases. This demonic killer-virus has centre-stage and, for the moment, other newsworthy catastrophes that threaten mankind have all taken a backseat; ‘global warming’ has been put on the back burner, ‘sea-level rise’ is temporarily suspended, oil shortages are no longer shortages, and ideological differences have been put aside.
Governments expound their limited strategies and short-term tactics for dealing with COVID under the guise of some yet to be revealed but well-disguised master plan and some political leaders are heralded as modern-day heroes or heroines. Others are openly criticised as being less competent or laggards depending on the scientific advice that they have chosen to believe in, or trust, or copy, while those who have dared to go-it-alone are deemed mavericks against our new, but misunderstood, viral foe. The daily statistical scorecard shows that some leaders are better, or is it just luckier than others. Or perhaps some countries have a fitter and more resilient population, or have ‘better’ healthcare…who really knows. Combatting a disease is not an Olympic Sport and gold medals are not awarded to the ‘winners’ but the cancelled Tokyo 2020 may well be remembered as the pandemic Olympics.
Travel restrictions have been imposed and, whilst a country’s nationals may have freedom of movement foreigners are controlled. But COVID has no regard for nationality, ethnicity, religion, colour or language or national borders. However, but under the COVID pandemic, mankind has quickly reverted to its territorial, and nationalistic, basic instincts. Will this nationalism and possibly even xenophobic reaction become part of the ‘new normal’? If it does will the peace that has prevailed for the past 75 years and the memory of the many millions who died for such peace be forgotten by our ever-increasing population who are threatened by a global economic meltdown – and all in less than 6 months.
It will become a fact that COVID affected our sociopolitical and economic environment and some change will, inevitably, happen. “The only thing that is constant is change” goes the saying but in a similar vein ‘A change can be as good as a rest’, and the reaction to COVID has, at least, produced some variety. Variety can make people feel more energetic and livelier for a time but its novelty can quickly wear off and we should remind ourselves of Benford’s law of controversy, “Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available”.
The ‘old normal’ and the apparent need for a ‘new normal’ in these changing times may be looked at in many ways and as information is slowly acquired and released and novelty wears off. One view could be:
|“Old Normal”||“New Normal”|
|1. Reducing fear amongst the masses to educate and improve understanding||1. Cultivating fear because it controls and induces subservience|
|2. Freedom of choice, movement, going out and finding out.||2. Moving when you are allowed to move and getting what you’re given|
|3. Freedom of Information and access to news and counter arguments and expressions of opinion.||3. Reliance on Government declarations with suppression of contrary views or opinions.|
|4. Work was separated from home and social life; man’s gregarious nature was encouraged and loneliness discouraged.||4. No demarcation between work and home, isolationism, social distancing, hypochondria and even paranoia will ensue.|
|5. Leaders chose peace and freedom, and led rather than controlled; popularity was a privilege.||5. Politicians demand power and respect rather than earn it; popularity becomes an entitlement.|
Crises happen and, while COVID is one of them, such crises are overcome though mankind’s perseverance, resolve and underlying optimism. However, crises are also a well-known way of galvanizing people or nations and can be cultivated through paltering and propaganda. Alternatively, crises can be created by mistake when decisions are made based upon ignorance and ineptness and lack of foresight. At this time the only thing we hear about from the media and political leaders is “COVID” and its effects on the global economy; everything else appears to have been suppressed. Is an attempt being made to fool everybody under a smokescreen of ignorance and instill a belief in the need for a ‘new normal’ or is a huge mistake being covered up?
This search for a “New Normal” is a novelty in the making as innovators hypothesise and theorise about our new needs, new required behaviors and new habits on the apparent basis of three to four months’ of research, analysis and experience. All we can really say is that COVID has brought ‘novelty’ as we look to an uncertain future and ignorance as to both the virus and any governmental plans regarding our freedoms and the economy. The New Normal could well be a movement to revert back to the “Old Normal”. In some western countries people can be seen to be ignoring government rules and venturing out into the streets, socialising, hugging and abandoning their medical masks as they sit cheek by jowl in public transport on their way to work …is this ‘anarchy’ in light of the New Normal being imposed or merely a sign that the Old Normal will prevail. “Normal” is a continuum which evolves steadily as mankind grows and deals with life, and change, and death.
COVID is a novelty at present but, with time, will it be seen as a mere punctuation point in our history. “Normal” be it ‘new’, ‘old’ or merely ‘transitional’ will be indulged but ‘normality’ will eventually prevail and will be determined by the masses. The fads that governments and oligarchs would try and impose, as with many despotic societies of the historical past, will eventually fail. However, and bearing in mind Orwell’s prediction of a Big Brother watching our everything and controlling everybody, we should all be mindful that the powers who desire control over the masses for whatever reason be it benign, benevolent or dictatorial will capitalise on any crisis or catastrophe no matter where or how it originated. The aftermath of COVID should not embrace man’s inhumanity to man and the ease at which the masses were suppressed but symbolise that people want to live and that life is for living rather than enduring.
Malcolm Peart is an UK Chartered Engineer & Chartered Geologist with over thirty-five years’ international experience in multicultural environments on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro, hydro, airports, tunnels, roads and bridges. Skills include project management, contract administration & procurement, and design & construction management skills as Client, Consultant, and Contractor.