The sedimentation of more and more surrealism makes for a strange sense of the “new normal.”
Yesterday I saw someone jog by me on the path at Lake Chillisquaque dressed in US Army insignia clothes and wearing a full-on gas mask. This was not an alarming sight, as it would have been at probably any other time in my life, but rather a welcome bit of both seriousness and levity. In the current moment, it almost seemed expected.
Today we saw a sign in the gas station in Lightstreet that said “COVID-19 is a Hoax”. Yesterday in Harrisburg a group of protestors followed the lead of others in Michigan, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and elsewhere to gather in person to ask Gov. Wolf to cease the shelter-in-place order. Obviously, there are more than a fair number of idiots out there, most of whom are ardent Trump supporters, who are going to cause this all to get worse before it gets any better. This is sad and maddening, but was also entirely to be expected.
As the numbers climb and the news gets worse, it also gets more frequent – there is a rhythm of sorts to the way that news cycles are working right now and a predictability to the back and forth partisan bickering and subsequent expert commentaries and analysis. Bad news loses some of its edge when it is constant and about the same topic – there are degrees of outrage and sadness in response, but since those feelings are constant, it becomes easier (necessary?) to tune it out more. The most surprisingly horrible news stories are now the ones that we find to be most expected.
So a big part of the current mood is this numbness to things that otherwise would cause a more pronounced reaction.
The quick adaptability of the mind and body to a “new normal” is quite astonishing in its own right, but there is something in us that can’t adapt as well...or as quickly.
It isn’t clear to me whether this something is the doubts of the subconscious, the yearnings of the soul, the need for some connection to the past, or just garden variety human stubbornness.
What is clear is that this feeling is a driving force behind those who are most frustrated and outraged by the current situation. It drives some to be as cautious and quarantine-conscious as possible in hopes of a quicker return to a prior "normal". We sometimes call this "being careful." The same feeling drives others to be as bold and brash as possible in the hopes of persevering through the challenges of the pandemic, reasserting their own normalcy against its threats. We sometimes call this "being careless."
Given this particular dichotomy of responses – seeking extreme isolation and sanitation vs. gathering in group protests – it is easy to see why the pandemic grafts so neatly onto our existing political divide.
At its base, to be a conservative is to want things to stay the same or revert back. To be progressive is to seek new changes that address new circumstances. With a looming election, this virus has the potential to become a fertile discursive playground for our same old tired Republican vs Democrat rhetoric, complete with a further sedimenting of the associated problems it’s caused.
At least we have two responsible presidential candidates who would in no way exploit this softball setup, even at the cost of lives, for their own political gain.