It Never Goes Back the Way it Was Before

I hear people say things like “when things go back to normal” or “after the pandemic” or just “afterwards”.

That might have worked for something that lasted a few weeks. Or for a hurricane or fire that destroys your home, then you have to rebuild. We can’t do that yet — this is the classic slow-motion train wreck. And anyone who’s rebuilt, had tragedy strike, knows that nothing is ever the same again.

Because we cannot go backward. Trust me on this — I’m a historian. I know backward. We only go forward.

The articles talking about the way in which the pandemic is changing business, or is changing the way we do things, are closer to the mark than the ones talking about going back to the way things were before. Will we have a time when we shake hands again, and hug our grandchildren? Very likely. Will we ever shake hands the same way again, not thinking anything of it? No.

Even when we’re not actively afraid anymore, we will be more aware. More aware of how quickly things can change, how people can treat each other differently, suddenly. How protestors can take to the streets even when they might get infected. How people can lose their jobs, lots and lots of jobs. How government support can happen, and how it can disappear. How the economy is based on the spending of extra cash. How people can be treated like disposable commodities. How those without money are exposed to danger. How science cannot stand against unreasoned anger.

We already watch old movies, or at least I do, and think, “they’re not wearing masks”. It will still jar us later. We’ll tell our grandchildren, we learned to smile differently then. With our eyes. We waved more with our hands. We learned to speak more clearly.

The international embarrassment will take years to fade. Luckily, Americans have dealt with this before. A number of our military operations have been embarrassing, for example. But the usual admiration for our brashness and our money won’t hold up as well this time. American brashness is killing people, a lot of people. Our money has failed to provide even a minimum number of virus testing kits for us, much less the world.

So let’s not make assumptions about the After Times yet. Let’s focus on now a bit more. What are we gaining now, and what are we losing? How can we help others? How can we support people in trouble? Shouldn’t people with a lot be providing for those with less?

This summer the best web browser ever, Cliqz, closed down. The German designers made it as a model for open source browsers that protect privacy and operate quickly. They intended European countries to adopt it with public support. But the pandemic, they said, had left no room to even talk about a browser for the people. Everyone is focusing on Covid.

Well if that’s the case, if that’s what we’re doing, perhaps we could do a better job of it. Fight the fires, but also do some introspection. And some planning. And some spending. Heal some rifts. And start getting it right. Because there really is no going back.

4 thoughts to “It Never Goes Back the Way it Was Before”

  1. I often wish you had a larger audience for your thoughts. I don’t think I’ve been a total slacker in terms of trying to help fellow human beings (even though they’re not my favorite species), but your post reminds me that I need to keep looking around for more ways to make myself useful. I and the ones I love are doing okay–sometimes a lot better than okay. But we are not the only people who count.

  2. I agree that ‘there really is no going back’, but of course we can learn from the past. You, as a historian will know this more than most. That’s what I’m hoping for, more than going back.

    1. Funny thing about the past is that we can’t really learn from it until it’s the past. 😉

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