A path to the post-corona future.
I expect you are busy trying to get back to normal. It is completely understandable that you want everything to be as it was before. That everything will go back to NORMAL again, damn it!
But is that even possible? And anyway, what is NORMAL?
Let us think about the world before Corona. We often only understand a place when we have left it and look back. The same applies to a certain time, or an era. Can you remember how the planes were full and overcrowded and how you stood in long lines and got annoyed. And when people on trains spoke loudly on their phones and the containers came across the oceans and brought goods, goods, and more goods. Everything was full of adverts that kept popping up on the screens. Everyone had fun, a lot of fun. Everything was getting faster, cheaper, but also more annoying. New sales records were being constantly announced by companies and new goals set.
The victory pose was the norm at management congresses.
Although not always. In January 2020, a month before the virus outbreak, Greta Thunberg arrived in Davos by train. She looked a little lost between all the gentlemen in suits and ties, who somehow looked guilty, but asserted that now, soon, they want to do everything better. Ever larger cruise ships sailed the oceans and moored in places like Venice. There on the quay was an unrecognized street artist named Banksy, selling paintings of big fat cruise ships at the Venice Pier. Some even bought pictures because they thought they were tourist pictures of beautiful Venice.
The OLD NORMAL was a hectic time. A time of fears and disquiet. Particularly on the Internet, but not only, hatred, shitstorms, and malice blossomed. In talk shows everything was dismantled, fragmented, polarised. The main goal in this culture of accusation was to have the last word.
We were addicted to more and more feedback. Also, to fears and more fears. And after endless fun, we wanted more.
But at the same time, we were completely confused. Confused and disorientated.
It was a normal that didn’t believe in its future. A normal that was in love with its own demise.
And then suddenly: silence. At the airport. At the station. Downtown. In the stadium. On the piers.
Honestly, do you really want to go back there? To the OLD NORMAL?
There is no question of wanting, you say. But where should we go? We have to carry on with our usual life. With the economy and prosperity. Everything has to start up again. Really quickly. Very urgently. Otherwise everything will collapse.
How We Construct The World
Most people believe that the world is something fixed that we can only look at and evaluate from the outside. But really, the world is in our head. Our brain is like a simulation machine in which we continuously construct realities.
Our perception of the world is shaped by expectation routines that run like a machine. We continuously create images, constructions, ideologies that we project onto the world. This makes it appear controllable. These constructs, which represent our expectations, are pure fictions. But we think they are real. We insist on them at any cost. Until we confuse them with ourselves.
Basically, it’s a kind of drug addiction. When we feel our expectations and prejudices confirmed, we experience a little burst of euphoria. A dose of the happiness hormone is released in our brains: It tells us, I knew it! This pleasant feeling has been programmed into us by evolution so that we can deal with all that is going on in the world. So we can survive better.
Many of our prejudices and demands about what the world is really like have to do with the so-called reminiscence bump
This is how cognitive psychologists describe the intensive phase in which our picture of the world is formed, typically in our youth. That is the “set point” of our expectations of the world. We then carry this view of what the world should be like throughout our life.
It is precisely these inner routines that torment us. They make us fragile. They keep us in a state of constant irritation and permanent dissatisfaction. Because something always comes and disturbs them – the world never works the way we want it to. We become more and more nervous when the world does not match our expectations. At some point we might even think the bad is good – because we feel our world view is confirmed (and get that little kick of euphoria). Or we just stare at the bad stuff and feel our fears and worries are justified. That is the negativity bias. Then we move to malice. To devalue the world, including our inner world.
Our main concern is whether we have enough meaning in the world. We do everything for meaning. That’s why we go online and crave “likes”. We bombard fellow human beings with our opinions, fears and aggressions. Or pose with our smartphones at the “best places in the world” to make sure that we are “there”.
But we are not there at all, not really. There is no there, there.
Conspiracy theories also have to do with this self-assurance. Conspiracy friends feel very brave and extremely important. You feel very different from everyone else – nothing like the stupid mainstream! However, this is an indication that they actually feel completely unsettled.
You can observe this particularly well in Donald Trump. But sometimes also with yourself.
In the crisis, this constantly working machine of expectations suddenly came to a grinding halt. It suddenly became pointless. Many of us took a kind of internal inventory. Those who knew how to use the crisis in this respect got to know their inner ghosts and demons a little better. They negotiated with them. And they were changing.
We are sailing away from the old world, the pre-corona world. But where will we sail to?
How Change Happens
There are two different views of the new normal that is emerging. One view assumes that something new is actually beginning. We may not yet know exactly what that is. But there is an indication that the future is going to go in a different direction.
The other mindset is represented by those who have always known everything. The crisis will not change anything. People, societies, are unable to change. Everything is going down the drain, only now it will go faster.
It is however, absolutely impossible for everything to remain as it was. People, societies, cultures, change all the time, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. That is the evolutionary principle.
Isn’t life just a series of crises? Birth, childhood, puberty, work, family and ageing. Aren’t all these crisis-like events, transitions, transformations always connected to pain and loss if they are to succeed? Do we not always experience that crisis in love, our professions or life meaning lead to new directions if we accept them?
That is, if we find answers IN US instead of constantly referring to our claims and demands of the old normal?
Sometimes distant disasters can change the course of history. The terrible Lisbon earthquake in 1755, which killed 60,000 people, led to a surge in the enlightenment in Europe, the effect of which extended far into the future. At that time Voltaire wrote his manifesto for the sense of mind, architecture, ways of thinking, mentalities changed; a new era began.
Following the Great Depression of 1928, often cited as a comparison for the COVID crisis, a new social contract arose in America. In the NEW DEAL, the balance between civil society, business and politics was redefined. This created a model of prosperity and progress that proved to be extremely successful for more than half a century. Of course, this model of the “West” also had its dark sides and relapses. But it created the future, it changed the world.
Is it really so completely out of the question that the COVID crisis will accelerate the GREEN DEAL? I think that’s very likely. The economy needs new legitimacy in the Corona era. A new narrative that connects us to customers, companies, the markets of the future.
Tomorrow’s world is made from the fragments of the past. Erich Panofsky
This crisis will change the global balance of power. It reveals where social systems have grown and where they have not. Small countries, often led by women. New Zealand with Jacinda Ardern, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Austria, and also Sweden with its cooperative special path – will not only get through the crisis better, they will be winners in terms of forming new levels of social trust. In other countries, such as the USA, Brazil, Russia, the split, the inner breakdown, is all the more visible.
The Limits of Decadence
What will change permanently in the NEW NORMAL is also our idea of fun – which isn’t fun anymore.
Remember how the virus danced on the tables when the after-ski parties in Ischgl reached their peak. The Champions League football game Atalanta-Valencia on February 19, with 44,000 frenetic fans, spread the virus across southern Europe. Now even the Munich beer festival (Oktoberfest), has been canceled! The Octoberfest! That very symbol for the fun society, for the rituals of intoxication and the joy of life!
My friend Michael Lehofer explores the new limits of fun in his new essay “The Strange Relief”: (full German text: „Die unheimliche Erleichterung”):
“Many of us secretly experience an almost shameful relief in the crisis, a release from excess, not least from a part of yourself. It is a forbidden happiness in misfortune. The part that we can rid ourselves of is decadence. Decadence is the over-refinement of our living habits and demands. In short: we have weakened ourselves through self-pampering and no longer know what we stand for and what we really need. We all try to live a good life. We therefore optimise enjoyment and then destroy it. Think of all the people who enjoy their excesses who then tell you about their supposedly great experiences. The stories that do not sound real, and have an emptiness about them as if they had only read about them. The emptiness in these stories is explained by their idea of what is beautiful precedes their experience. What we cannot experience does not fill us up. This explains the insatiability of decadence.”
Of course, there will be parties again in the New Normal. We will fly to Mallorca again, soccer games will take place, cruise ships will sail. But what will these cruise ships look like? Are we really going to go back to sitting in crowded low-cost airlines for 25€ a pop? Will football continue to move towards insanely expensive glamour stars and stadium riots?
All of this had already reached its limits in the Old Normal. The cruise industry is currently preparing for a completely different future, just like the aerospace industry (and slowly the auto industry, football and many other industries). Many boom markets, as smart managers have known for a long time, will be smaller in the future, more volatile and slower. And yes, greener, more sustainable, more careful.
The Economist, the world’s most important business magazine, calls this the 90 percent economy. The thesis is that the global economy will never reach its pre-corona overheated position. At least ten percent will be missing. However, without this crucial ten percent turbo capitalism does not happen. That means the slowing down of globalisation.
Without a doubt, this crisis has brought much suffering, excruciating insecurities, economic hardship. You can’t talk it down, and it’s not over yet. But at the same time, it gives us the chance to look at things differently. It makes things about the future clearer, more transparent. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make something out of it?
What could be different in the NEW NORMAL, for example, would be the feeling of gratitude. We can be thankful to those who kept civilisation running. To those made sure that it wasn’t an apocalypse, but (as my son Tristan called it) a NO-calypse. The world went “down”, but surprisingly some things worked even better than before.
We should be grateful that we are experiencing a crisis that differs significantly from the terrible disasters that our ancestors experienced. When our grandparents crawled out of the rubble of World War II 75 years ago, it was barely conceivable that a peaceful, prosperous time would come.
He who is grateful does not put his ego, his expectations, opinions and demands in the middle point of life. He sees what there is. And what can become of it with what he does.
In the NEW NORMAL we will no longer be persuaded that there is only one economic model for the future, that standard growth model of the economy. For example, we would take Iceland’s new wealth index as a benchmark, which also measures the qualitative dimensions of prosperity – environment, health, connectedness, quality of life, self-awareness.
We could be more relaxed. We could choose not to chase and react on every media-inflated hysteria, every galloping fear.
We could be friendlier. To those we are connected to. But also with those we will get to know.
We could be more responsible. For ourselves, for our own thinking, our feelings.
“Learning to think means that we learn some control over the HOW and WHAT of our thinking. It means being conscious enough to decide where to focus our attention. And to understand how we generate meaning from experience.” David Foster Wallace
The interesting thing about the NEW NORMAL is that it can no longer be understood with the criteria of the past.
We should bear this in mind when we cautiously feel our way back to NORMAL. The future begins when we start to feel awe. And when we stop preventing the future by not believing in it.
The Re-gnose Way
Finally, let’s go back to sitting on the future chair. It is the end of October 2020. You are sitting in a cafe in Venice, on St. Mark’s Square.
Soon there will be acqua alta again, the autumn flood.
How high will it be this year?
What has changed – possibly forever? Do people walk across the square? Do you wear all masks?
Do you hear the typical clacking of the trolley case on the pavement?
Do you see the waiter? A cool Italian guy, mid 50s. Does he wear a mask? Yes, a mask in the Italian colours.
Are there pigeons? Where did all the pigeons go? What has this place already seen? Pomp and commerce, riots, reforms, revolutions. And always epidemics. Plagues have, each century. changed Venice, and through these crises, the incomparable beauty of this city has emerged.
From here, everything reaches deep into the past and far into the future.
Are there the trails of planes in the sky?
Is there already a huge cruise ship out there on the quay, with 3500 passengers and soot marks on the chimney?
Feel how the world is re-forming. We can trust that it is always reforming.
Look back at yourself as you were in lockdown time. Then look ahead to a world that strikes a different note, plays a different melody. Can you visualise yourself there?
Re-gnosis means that we understand that we ourselves are part of the future. We are the change we hope for from the world.
When you yourself become new, so too does the world.
You will see then that the future has long since been here. This is how change works.