We should reject the New Normal and the Old Normal

The culture of fear is a trap. We now need daring and innovation.

Norman Lewis


For those of us who have argued since the Covid-19 pandemic began that this crisis has accelerated pre-existing social and cultural trends, there is now nothing more urgent than challenging the debate about ‘the New Normal’.

The idea of a New Normal understandably worries many people. Some would prefer to go back to the Old Normal. And getting back to normal does sound like good sense. Compared to the madness of this moment, pre-pandemic normality looks very attractive. Who would not welcome a return to the pub, restaurants and cinemas as they were before, and to shaking hands and hugging?

But the truth is, the Old Normal was nothing to write home about. The Old Normal was not a picnic for the vast majority of people, in Britain and certainly in the developing world. Economic stagnation, declining living standards and productivity, the culture of fear and risk-aversion, atomisation and social-identitarian distancing – all these things were well entrenched in pre-Covid society.

The biggest danger in the criticism of the New Normal narrative is that it accepts the Old Normal as something to aspire to.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Covid-19 crisis was not an objective necessity. Covid-19 did not happen in a vacuum. The human decision-making that took place was rooted in pre-existing trends. Yes, Covid-19 was a novel and, indeed, deadly virus. But it is not in control of anything. It is a dumb, unconscious and vicious self-replicating mass of cells whose only function is to survive even if it ends up destroying the host it relies upon. The response to this virus – the closing down of the economy, the locking down of citizens, and the enforcement of social distancing – were all manmade decisions. And they were decisions that sprung from the outlook of the time – from the Old Normal.

The trouble with the New Normal vs Old Normal discussion is that it offers false alternatives, and presents them as self-evident binary truths. So apparently the question is masks or no masks; social distancing or freedom of association; working from home or working in the office; travelling on public transport or avoiding it as much as possible? That is, do we go with the New Normal or the Old Normal, with a world defined by Covid-19 or the world as it was before the virus hit? Both should be rejected.

Neither the New Normal of reorganising society around fear of Covid nor the Old Normal of risk-aversion, limits and declining productivity can help us address the challenges we face right now. What society needs more than ever is new thinking, experimentation and creative cooperation. We have seen an inkling of these things during the Covid crisis, and now we must build on that rather than seeking to go back to the fearful past or forward to a fearful future.

Consider how, during the pandemic, Artificial Intelligence has been introduced into triage in hospitals, cutting through reams of regulatory barriers. The global cooperation and collaboration in the search for a vaccine has also revealed humanity at its problem-solving best. A new appreciation for the power of science and research could be unleashed among younger generations, and that could enhance our capacity to solve tomorrow’s problems.

What’s more, for one brief moment in history companies were forced to abandon their virtue-signalling mission statements and contend with protecting their workers, their customers and their businesses. Mounting economic damage gave companies, at least fleetingly, a singular sense of clarity and urgency of purpose, forcing cautious management teams to experiment with new ways of working and operating. The mismatch between superfluous white-collar jobs and what have been exposed during the pandemic as absolutely essential jobs raises the need to rethink issues of employment, productivity and social justice. New thinking, boldness and smart investments are going to be needed to provide new jobs and growth.

We should reject the idea that we must choose between two different cultures of fear – the Old Normal or the New Normal. Indeed, these two ‘normals’ are closely related. Ask yourself why wearing masks is now becoming compulsory when we no longer face a significant threat from Covid-19. This draconian step is the latest manifestation of contemporary society’s culture of distrust, particularly of the masses – a culture that was entrenched in the Old Normal, too.

Forget these ‘normals’. During this pandemic, ordinary people acted in the interests of society and there were flashes of innovation to tackle this novel, threatening virus. Building on these acts of collective responsibility and technological daring can help to take us to a New Future.

Dr Norman Lewis is a writer and managing director of Futures Diagnosis.

Picture by: Getty.

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27th July 2020 at 11:23 pm

Kathleen Carr, Re your population, calc. I think one has to consider the two world wars.

Vivian Darkbloom

27th July 2020 at 10:53 pm

This is a very floppy article which essentially says that the New Normal will bring technological benefits to the populace. No and no again. It will bring a new kind of serfdom. We will be tracked and surveilled to an inch of our live. We will be pushed into working from home or from behind screens, separated from our sisters and brothers with whom we could form normal human relationships and a sense of solidarity. We will have to accept repressive working conditions because we will be unable to organise and form mutually beneficial groups like trades unions which seek to raise wages and improve the working environment. There will be no public space that is not controlled and monitored and, ultimately, there will be no democracy in a society of bubble dwellers subject to state propaganda and manipulation.

The Covid emergency is being used as an excuse to restructure a failing system in danger of collapse. It’s a massive confidence trick. To further cut costs, companies and corporations want us to work from home, to work online. They can monitor our workflow through the number of clicks we make on our home computers. They can access our personal details, they can see who will comply and who will rebel, and act accordingly. We are being subjected to a huge psychological and medical experiment on a national scale. We are a people under occupation by a malign power.

Capitalism has been in crisis since 2008 or even earlier and Covid provides the perfect opportunity to restructure and renew itself. The new model is pure neoliberal market economics, where absolutely everything is monetised, including the human body. Working from home, isolated individuals with little power and no opportunity for solidarity or organisation, overseen by remote managers. Data as the new commodity, supercomputers from multinational tech firms harvesting information and profiles of net users to sell on or analyse. Public spaces strictly controlled and monetised; social distancing enforced as if we were in a real life website. Schools given over to EdTech and distance learning. Humans declared toxic and social interaction limited to screens or behind muzzles. All life subject to algorithmic control and turned into data. Huge pools of unemployed and most workers on ZHCs. Young people who are expected to pay full whack for university fees in order to receive little more than they would at the Open University. And so on. A return to serfdom with the few lucky elite in gated communities or verdant villages whilst working from home and under the thumb of remote and untouchable managers.

The use of digital monitoring to control and influence the public. The reduction of human individuality to pure data – the most valuable commodity of the fourth industrial revolution being enacted without the consent of the voters under the cover of a dubious pandemic. Mining personal data to be sold to the highest bidder. Takeover of education by obscure remote learning companies. Real life moved online to a mediated and controlled screen simulacrum. Control and privatisation of public space. Abolition of physical cash in favour of digital money. Tracking by mobile phone. Chinese social credit system to sort the good from the bad.

This article is damp silliness, the sort of thing one reads in the Groanian about how the Covid crisis will lead to a wonderful reset of society and everything will work out just fine. If only.

Andrew Levens

28th July 2020 at 9:59 am

So you sound like a bit of a Luddite Vivian. The Luddites were not crazy. they could see the real risks of industrialisation, but in the end economics defeated them.


27th July 2020 at 3:28 pm

The lockdown has accelerated what was happening anyway-the closing of department stores which had been Emporiums of shopping from the nineteenth century especially for middle-class women when their leisure pursuit was a sign of their husband’s wealth. Towns are no longer pleasant places to visit and online shopping is much easier. However what are all these newly unemployed people supposed to do? Usually something emerges to replace the old industry , but robots and AI mean there is a surplus of people. If the population had been allowed to naturally decline there would be about 40 million people in Britain , but our ‘rulers’ knew better and the population is now about 80 million. If we all get healthy as Boris suggests we will live even longer-surely we should be encouraged to be be hedonistic , with our descendents rewarded if we die early?

Jerry Owen

27th July 2020 at 2:24 pm

We went to our local town centre over the weekend it’s a covered over precinct. I was absolutely astonished to see at least 99% of people were wearing masks not in the shops but in the precinct.
I was practically the odd one out. It was a surreal sight and very weird. They weren’t wearing masks in March April May and June. Nothing has changed except that the virus is less of a threat now.
The nation has gone utterly mad.

Flossy Morris

27th July 2020 at 5:55 pm

I completely concur, Jerry. Our town centre, which already had about 20% of its shops boarded up, is doing impressively badly with even more businesses shut now and the muzzle wearers made things yet more depressing.

Saw a scruffy-looking bloke at the bus stop a few days ago who had his muzzle pulled down around his chin as he smoked like a chimney. When the bus arrived he had to put the muzzle on in order to get on a double-decker with a grand total of one passenger on the top deck on the back seat, obviously for the good of his health. The nation’s brain has indeed been flushed down the toilet (now please wipe the flush handle before you leave).

James Knight

27th July 2020 at 7:18 pm

Not as depressing as the sneering at “muzzle wearers”. Usually from people who think they are better than everyone else.

Don’t forget the “muzzle wearers” in the NHS. Didn’t they get the memo from self appointed know-it-alls that masks are pointless?

Alan Vaughn

27th July 2020 at 8:05 pm

James Knight
“Don’t forget the “muzzle wearers” in the NHS. Didn’t they get the memo from self appointed know-it-alls that masks are pointless?”
Ok Karen you’re right of course shame on those self appointed know-it-alls! I hope you captured all those normal people who love freedom and refuse to wear the mask of subservience to tyranny on video. Quick call the police and dob them all in!
Self appointed know-it-alls. How DARE they disobey your master!

Flossy Morris

27th July 2020 at 9:09 pm

James Knight,

I suppose I could have worded it better, thank you. I suppose the cynical side of me is resentful at people wearing these hideous masks, but, logically, what else can we do. I suppose “the fact that people were wearing muzzles” being depressing may have been better. I cannot and do not hold each and every man and women who wears a cloth or mask in contempt. Also, I know I am not better than everyone else; I am quite aware of how far down the pecking order of life I am.

I never did, though, mention the NHS staff, or any medical staff, wearing masks and I do not think their wearing one is pointless. I merely remain sceptical at the public’s being compelled to use them. Most public health experts agree that the general public should not routinely wear facemasks. It’s not helpful and people were urged to save resources for hospitals in need.

Have a pleasant evening

George Whale

27th July 2020 at 11:41 am

“The masses”? “Ordinary people”?

Dodgy Geezer

27th July 2020 at 10:34 am

What was this article saying?

I have read it, and do not understand what it says at all. It seems to be a mish-mash of meaningless buzz-words and even more vague exhortations. And what on earth does this comment refer to:

“….Artificial Intelligence has been introduced into triage in hospitals, cutting through reams of regulatory barriers. …”


Ad Dam

27th July 2020 at 12:57 pm

It’s basically pushing one-world communism under technocracy, but to actually say that would make sane people run for the hills, so it’s a bit awkwardly-worded.

We have many examples of how technocracy would be even worse than the old communism, but I guess they always have push the idea it’s leadership by ‘experts’.

Gareth Edward KING

27th July 2020 at 10:21 am

Hi Flossy, For sure it’s depressing: Antonio Salazar’s ‘Estado Novo’ was brought down indirectly though by rebellions in Portugal’s old colony: Mozambique. Francisco Franco’s regime wasn’t brought down, as you can appreciate, the old man had to die for a tentative return to democracy in June ’77; 19 months after his demise! The PSOE-UP minority government have taken on more than they can chew, quite honestly. They’re banging on and on about the importance of their ‘new measures’; Quim Torra in Catalonia is threatening ominously for ‘stronger’ measures which can only be avoided, so says he, if ‘we’ are overly responsible; i.e. that we stay at home, or that if we go out, ‘mask-wearing’ is mandatory. If he’s angling for another ‘confinement’ what happens exactly to the economy? These 140 billion Euros from the ECB are far from guaranteed; Spain is supposed to be undergoing structural reforms and to present a report on these onerous reforms to the Commision the first week of October. In the meantime, any of the 27 member states can present evidence or doubts (Rutte, for example) on the reforms that Spain is supposed to be implementing. Spain is to receive the lion’s share of this ECB largesse. Back in May when the so-called centrist party: Ciudadanos gave their support for the first of three more lockdowns in congress, this ‘generous’ support was after the previous fiasco when the PSOE-UP coalition had the support of Bildu, but only if the government went ahead to demolish the Partido Popular’s 2012 labour market reforms! As you can imagine, there’s a bit of a problem here; all this dosh from ‘Europe’ is dependent on the required reforms, for good or bad. Anybody would think that Pedrito Sánchez had Johnson’s 80 seat majority-you’ve got to be kidding! I just wish that they’d ‘give up the ghost’ and admit their utter incompetence so that the country can go back to NORMAL, but they won’t, so, who’s going to be picking up the pieces?

Flossy Morris

27th July 2020 at 7:11 pm

I replied to your comment, Gareth, but it seems to have been cancelled. Not sure why. I suppose we’re all getting used to that.

Andrew Levens

27th July 2020 at 10:19 am

I’m amazed there are still people who think covid19 is not a serious disease. I’ll leave them to inhabit their own peculiar planet.
As to the new ‘normal’. There was indeed a lot wrong with the old normal. Vested interests and pockets of reactionary power. Now is the time to change some of these. Overpaid people in the public sector and large companies who are employed by other overpaid people and spend a lot and effort protecting each other. Underpaid people in caring roles who need to be paid a fair wage for actually doing something useful. I think public, ie voter, sentiment has moved on this issue.

Gareth Edward KING

27th July 2020 at 8:57 am

The use of the term ‘deadly virus’ isn’t a help either. It cannot be regarded as such if most ‘positive’ cases do not even result in symptoms let alone death! ‘Fear’ in Spain is palpable; the tourist sector as a result is being destroyed and a two-week quarantine being imposed in the UK for those returning from Spain is a shot in the head! On this side, holiday-makers should not be wearing death masks on the beach! Where is the logic? One is more likely to pick up a Coronovirid in the sea itself; that one which is banal and causes gastro-enteritis! But are people refusing to dive? Probably not, but technically the risks are greater. At the weekend some kind of push-back is occuring in Madrid, however small: Natalia Priego Cancelo doctor of Community Medicine gave a press conference alongside a German virological team to put across the ‘truth’ about this stoked-up panic. Later that evening in Madrid’s central park: El Retiro, there were about 35 of us leafletting those out in the intense heat (another slant on Coward’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’!) putting across the other side and telling people to take their masks off! At the very least, it can be done, one can behave ‘normally’ without muzzle, without social distancing, one can kiss and hug!

Warren Alexander

27th July 2020 at 8:43 am

Clearly, the editors of Spiked have a well developed sense of humour. This article is hilarious.

Flossy Morris

27th July 2020 at 7:19 am

I found myself reading this article wondering what kind of “normal” Dr Lewis genuinely thinks might arise from this mess. The only one I can see is going to be terrible, at least in the short to medium term.

I’m not too sure the “old normal” can be blamed entirely for the shutdown as Sweden and more countries than actually get mentioned by the media did not shut down the economy as severely as in this country.

“Ask yourself why wearing masks is now becoming compulsory when we no longer face a significant threat from Covid-19.” Some of us have been doing little else. The enervating thing is that those of us who do question it and hate the very notion of wearing the muzzle are still, so it seems, in the minority. This leaves me, and others I know, totally despairing and disillusioned and convinced there is nothing we can do. We can’t go back to the office, we can’t shop without a muzzle, we can’t drink at the bar when we’re at the pub and all this in the interests of society apparently. So many people are okay with this, even wanting the restrictions to be brought back.

It seems depressingly clear to me that, if there is to be a change, those in society who have earned themselves the ignominious moniker “elites” are the ones who will determine what that will be. This “new normal” could be used (and possibly is right now) to bolster the attitudes that were developing in “old normal” western society. Dr Lewis mentions that companies abandoned their mission statements during the pandemic, well they’re gearing up again as the “mission statement” from the Black Staff Group (an “affinity” group at a relative’s place of work) demonstrates:

Mission Statement

The BSG strives to support Black staff by creating a safe space to listen and be heard. We foster inclusion through: Community building· Allyship and education· Creating development opportunities· Celebrating Black culture and history· Amplifying Black voices· Encouraging intersectionality.

It hasn’t taken long for the culture wars to get back on track and, again, can we stop it? Evidence suggests we can have a go but then be shunned by others or sacked. Maybe we should not call it the “new normal”; maybe instead the New State – it all seems as fascistic as Salazar’s Estado Novo.

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