21 May 2020

The New Normal

The “new normal”

It´s terms like the “new normal” that make second languages difficult to learn. They originate from events and circumstances that may not apply in other languages: the irony, innuendo, metaphor, and so on all play a part in the creation of language terms. The idea behind this term is that the way we did things or behaved have now changed to something new. Maybe even in a new way that would have been inconceivable in the past.

The new normal does not mean that this normal is better or worse than the past, but that it is actually happening now. And it is happening not without an element of chagrin or concern although things might very well turn out to be better.

Indeed the Wikipedia entry for “New Normal” in a business context starts by referring to the 2007-2008 financial crises and the aftermath of the 2008-2012 global recession. Someone more recently mentioned the CVOID-19 pandemic. But it does not have to be a major event to qualify for the change.

This idea or concept of the term “new normal” is not new although I am not going to make any claims as to its origin. The concept has been in use for many years in the fashion industry and we can go back to that “little black dress*” by Coco Chanel in 1926. This dress broke all taboos for women’s fashion, according to WHITE Communications GmbH., by making a taboo colour, i.e. black, fashionable for young women. The little black dress doctrine restored black to fashion and has been so ever since. A few years earlier we had Ford’s mentality of “any colour you want” for your car as long as it is black.

Thus it is very common in fashion circles to read or hear of people talking about yellow being the new black, or blue the new black. A quick look at a search engine will show the scope colours play in fashion over the seasons. Fashion is not the scope of my essay, but of course to point out the use of this term across disciplines and how our term can also be used positively in a given context for a given discipline. If a fashion designer can introduce a colour to a style and achieves the acclaim of “x the new black” we could say that the designer has “made it!”

So what are the necessary and sufficient conditions of something to achieve the claim of being “the new normal”?

One of the most important necessary and sufficient conditions is that the new normal must actually be in existence. By definition if something is normal, never mind the new normal, it must exist otherwise it would not be anything. If yellow is the new black then there must be women buying dresses that are yellow and fashion designers creating couture in yellow colour.

More challenging is when does something become normal and how old must the ‘new normal’ be to retain the title: new normal? If today we talk about the COVID-19 as the new normal we are talking about two normals in effect: the new normal regarding how we deal with a rolling pandemic and the new normal post pandemic. Even if at the time of writing the post pandemic periods looks a long way away and, therefore, we can hardly meet the first necessary condition of existence.

In GHS Index: Global Health Security Index October 2019** the United States of America and the United Kingdom were listed first and second respectively in the overall score index of preparedness for a pandemic. Today during an actual pandemic the US is the worst performing country so far and the UK is the worst performing country in Europe. We can safely assume that the viruses do not discriminate against nationality but only on susceptible conditions of the individual.

My argument is that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the new normal. We’ve been having pandemics over the ages with various degrees of turmoil to society. Indeed the flu season is one serious pandemic episode that happens every year. But we’ve become complacent to the annual flu epidemics: we have vaccines, the flu mostly affects the elderly and most of us recover. The fact that the US and UK have the worst death figures for the COVID-19 pandemic** in May 2020 suggests that the fail factor is the management of pandemics and thus there is nothing new about COVID-19.

A mitigating argument is that COVID-19 is a new disease one that we have never experienced before, but this corona virus is a member of a family of viruses which were already around in the 21st century. And the business of viruses is to invade people to reproduce and by circumstances infect people and many die as a consequence. No surprises there hence the GHS Index. The mitigation applies to the extent that this variant of the virus is very aggressive and quick acting but not to mitigate the international spread of the virus.

There seems to be no new events on how the rolling COVID-19 pandemic is progressing. What is different is that the previous new normals, the once that put the health care systems on alert for pandemics all those years ago have failed miserably. We also know that both the US and UK had recently abandoned their level of preparedness for pandemics. Hence, the COVID-19 is not a new normal but a massive failure of all the preparations we had done and the knowledge of virus we have accumulated. And all this without even knowing how the virus found itself in the public domain in the first place.

How the post COVID-19 pandemic “normal” will be is a different matter. Will a post pandemic normal be business as usual; maybe we have to wear a mask, something we should have been doing for years, and accept a high levels of unemployment and  some people might die from COVID-19. Do we in the main continue to dismantle healthcare systems, stop providing universal free healthcare, channel corporate money through tax havens and continue doing business with unscrupulous regimes in the post pandemic normal? As I argued the term new normal is not a moral judgement, hence the post pandemic might be a worse version of the normal pre pandemic. Or will the next new normal be something for the better as a change.

Will the new post pandemic normal be a black car, take it or leave it. Or will the post pandemic new normal be a little black dress simple in style and with a kick up the backside to dogma and taboo?

*(Black Dress) Coco Chanel

WHITE Communications GmbH.

**Pandemic at Wikipedia
**GHS Index: Global Health Security Index October 2019 (PDF file)

Best and take care

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Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 24th May: The New Normal

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