Are we there yet?
#18 - the new normal is finally here and you won't believe what I found
I know… I also missed you a lot.
A month has passed.
It seems that I took an unplanned unannounced month-long leave from this newsletter.
I was waiting.
Waiting for something to happen.
Or waiting for things stopping to happen. I’m not sure.
I was waiting.
I left 2020 expecting to arrive into a new year. I got into the tunnel, and after a month… are we there yet?
I started to write the following words at the beginning of the year. As I stare at them now, I wonder if they still resonate. I decide to suspend judgment and just let them get to you. You will tell me if they still make sense.
Are we there yet?
Yes, we are. So the calendar says. 2021 is here and 2020 just ended.
Are you happy now? Relieved?
Comprehensibly, we tagged 2020 as a terrible year. That created a conceptual link that got us confused with causality.
Now is terrible
Now is 2020
therefore, 2020 is terrible
2020 ends → terrible ends
therefore 2021 will be awesome
See what happened here?
Our brain tricked us into thinking that with the end of 2020, all terrible things would end, and the new dawn would bring us joy and hope…. and some harmonious normality.
Not sure what’s happening in your bubble, but here what’s up in mine:
Cases are surging again, and so new lockdowns are here.
New daily cases are 10x higher than in the 1st wave — but our minds are not 10x more concerned. We normalized it.
Vaccination started (yuppie!) but is expected to last at least 12 months (many more “Are we there yet?” coming).
US Capitol invasion during Congress session to confirm Joe Biden’s election victory as President of the U.S.
Trump, then POTUS, was permanently banned from major social networks.
US Congress approved a second Trump impeachment.
Brexit finally happened — did you notice? After 47 years, UK is the first country to leave the EU, reverting what was once a singularity — the first empire where countries wanted to be included instead of fighting back.
Italy and the Netherlands face political instability as their governments disintegrate.
WallStreet (a country in itself)
So if you’re waiting for a “new-normal” keep waiting. We’re not there yet.
The New Normal
I would argue that there’s no new normal coming.
The use of new-normal implies we had an old-normal.
What was that old-normal? What’s normal anyway?
Somehow “normal” reverts us to some idea of stability, predictability:
“conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern : characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine” - from Merriam Webster
This predictability is comfortable because we hate surprises.
The old normal
Let’s look at some defining aspects of the old-normal:
rising income inequality
persistent lack of equal opportunities for non-white-males
rise of far-right political movements questioning liberal ideals and basic Human Rights and reverting to nationalist ideas.
rising questions about our personal data, privacy, and the never-ending power of big-tech.
rising levels of Co2 in the atmosphere and global warming
more people die from suicide than from violence (source)
Is that the normal we long for? that we want to go back to?
Is that even normal?
30 years ago, we were convinced that we had found the normal — the famous thesis of political scientist Francis Fukuyama “The end of history and the last man” argued that after the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, we could all agree that liberal democracies with market-driven economies where the end-state. Maybe we all misinterpreted his thesis. We wanted to believe that we have reached the stable, predictable state that would make societies and individuals thrive. We just wanted a good night's sleep. We wanted to be reassured that tomorrow would be as good as today and that our children would live in a bright stable future.
But just 10 years after that, in 2001, our fluffy, comfortable western-world was being disrupted by 9/11 and all the events that followed. It was a harsh wake-up call for those still looking for normality.
Did things became normal in the last 20 years?
I would argue that no.
That doesn’t mean I’m being negative or pessimistic. I really think things are getting better, just not in a normal-as-stable way.
There’s no normal. If ever there was normal, don’t expect us to go back to that idealistic state. There’s no reason to believe in stability and predictability.
I guess is the result of living in a complex system. Complex systems may follow a direction, but that doesn’t mean we can predict the path. We live and will continue to live at the edge of chaos.
Are we there yet?
Maybe it is time to accept that it is better to enjoy the ride.
While I was digesting these ideas I assembled a playlist. Navigating the endless catalog I followed emotions and instincts, not thinking too much, not checking if the lyrics would resonate. Sometimes I followed a particular sound, others I was drawn by the song title.
It’s not mellow, definitely not easy-listening, but somehow it captures a mix of hope and confusion.
I used to listen to podcasts on my way to work. Then last year everything changed. I broke my routine, and I broke up with the podcast-app.
But now I have a dog. And when I can divert him from going to the nearby park to play with his friends, we take a good 30 min walk. That got me back to podcasts.
Here are some I’ve listened to lately:
Wind of Change — a documentary following a conspiracy theory involving the Scorpions' Wind of Change song. Great storytelling.
Brené Brown in “Unlocking Us”
with David Eagleman on the Brain — fascinating conversation on David’s impressive work to understand the brain.
with Priya Parker on the art of gathering — from family to friends and organizations our social fabric is built around gatherings, and the quality of them can shape the way we live and build together.
about Queens Gambit and FFTs — Brené talks about “F* first times” — all the things we’re called to do for the first time during this pandemic.
David Perell talks with Kevin Kelly — it was great to catch up with KK thinking. When I first read Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control back in 1993/94, it greatly influenced me. It sparked my intellectual curiosity about artificial intelligence, artificial life, and complex systems. The intersection of biology, technology, and society was amazing. They also talk about the Long Now Foudation that is set to foster long term thinking — long as in 10 000 years!
Azeem Azhar with Rebecca Henderson on Reimagining Capitalism — interesting to understand Rebecca’s framework on the triangle between Business, Government, and Civil Society and how an unbalanced triangle leads to the current problems we’re facing.
And now for something completely different: in this episode of “This American Life”, discover who else got impacted by the pandemic. You’ll be surprised how the change of household routines due to lockdowns are driving dogs crazy!
Thanks for reading
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