Thursday, August 6, 2020

Push Back on the "New Normal"

This will not end until we make it end.


Like many of you, I was a good sport when this health scare started. I even wrote and recorded a dopey song in support of the effort.


Snow was on the ground then and, like Coleridge’s Winter, we wore on our smiling faces a dream of Spring.


But, as many have noted, “Flatten the curve” quickly became “Communism.”


The analogy is imperfect, since what we are experiencing is not strictly political, or even cultural, but the point is clear.


The first time I encountered the phrase “New Normal” in this context, I bristled. Perhaps you did, too. It was early days then, and we were being asked to take precautions to keep ourselves healthy in order to prevent hospitals from being overrun.


It was a simple request, straightforward in its logic. A comfortable generation like ours, relative strangers to true suffering and digitally deprived of much of the human contact of ages past, eagerly embraced the opportunity to help.


But then someone, in print or in person, let slip that the supposedly short-term strangeness we were enduring would be the “New Normal.”


Whoever that person was for me, or for you, I doubt they were part of some Fauci-worshipping cabal, accidentally revealing The Master Plan.


Even so, they were not wrong. Perhaps they understood the human need for conformity, or were adapting Newtonian laws – objects in lockdown tend to stay in lockdown – but here we are.


Recall, also, that in those days we were benighted as to the nature of the disease and feared the mortality rate could be as high as 3 or 4 percent. Since then, we have found the death rate to be a witheringly small fraction of that number, while making progress in understanding and treatment.


And yet, some of the brightest among us are bike-riding in masks and advocating keeping schools closed indefinitely, even as the near-zero risk to children and people outdoors are among the many valuable things we have learned.


These are not logical acts, and it took some effort to get us here. It will take more effort to get us out. This is why I say we must push back now.


Push, I say – not strike or hit. Besides that we have seen quite enough anger and violence lately, we are dealing with something that does not respond to force.


Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has demanded control – first of one’s self, and then of others. This appetite is insatiable. And it is this primal desire that prompts one to don a flimsy surgical mask in the sunshine, and then insist others do so as well.


We all contain this hardwiring, though it is more pronounced in some than others. Moreover, we all aspire to some higher good and we yearn for the warm, hearth-like glow that comes from being part of the group.


Perhaps you have seen, as I have, decent people, who have heretofore expressed little to no religious fervor, suddenly posting their solemn commitments to mask-wearing all over social media. You may also have encountered the more aggressive, profanity-laced admonitions that you wear one, too.


This is our controlling and collectivist impulse in its most observable form. I would only add that the occasional spasms of rage you may also have seen, where those questioned or chided for not wearing masks have blown a gasket, are related. The same nerve is being touched – the need for control.


But it is the former group – the mask-wearers and enforcers (masks being a proxy for the entire shutdown mindset, you understand) – that has the power and momentum. Indeed, as the logic of their case weakens, their reach seems to expand, providing further proof that they are impervious to anger and epistemology.


How, then, does this end? Can you imagine a day when your neighborhood birder, out with her binoculars, mask, and social distance tape measure, eschews the latter two and admits all is well?


If a vaccine were developed, have you any doubt that in today’s climate, proof of inoculation will be required for travel, work, or even the most basic of daily activities?


Certainly not, so what to do?


The answer is a firm but loving No. Some force must act upon this motion to stop it. In our permissive age, we keep No stored way up high, like Galliano at the back of the bar (because really, how often does someone order a Harvey Wallbanger?), but the time has come.


The No can take many forms – withholding dollars, votes, and support from businesses and politicians that perpetuate this cycle – or simply refusing to accept the conversational premises of a friend or family member who insists we all must get used to the “New Normal.”


The No should be as kind as possible – push, do not hit – and it should be accompanied by a better option. Remember that those opposed, while they are behaving differently from you, are no worse. They long to be included and on the side of goodness. Literally or figuratively, invite them to sit by your hearth instead.


There is an opportunity cost to all this, and peace will be disturbed.


I do not want to write columns or engage in public debate. I simply want to be a good neighbor, walk my dog, and show God’s love to people I find objectionable. Those are the things I believe I was put on this planet to do.


To paraphrase Lenin, however, while I may not be interested in the “New Normal,” the “New Normal” is interested in me.


When people I like and respect, young and in glowing health, say they have stopped attending church in order to minimize their contact with other people, something must be said.


I believe this current situation – on a cultural, political, and human level – is, as abolitionist James Russell Lowell said of his own generation, that “Once to every man and nation” moment to decide.


If we do not push back now, this will indeed be our “New Normal.” Generations yet unborn will never know a day when they can simply go about in freedom, unmasked, unchipped, without proof of inoculation against some illness that was moderated years before.


As we have seen, fear, anger, and lust for power are within us. But, as the only good man who ever lived said, so too is the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us choose well.


Theo Caldwell just wanted to be left alone. Contact him at