“Oh, the humanity,” cried Herbert Morrison, as he watched in horror as the giant airship, the Hindenburg, burst into flames at its mooring. The year was 1937, and Morrison’s words still echo down the decades. As the disaster unfolded in front of him, Morrison exclaimed, “…it’s falling, it’s crashing! Watch it, watch it, folks! Get out of the way, get out of the way! … Oh, the humanity… This is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
Eighty-three years later, uttering those words of anguish and disbelief wouldn’t be out of place in an eyewitness account of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. They’d be particularly apt when standing in front of a Talibangelist megachurch packed with worshippers while the sane world is in lockdown. Or commenting on the armed proto-fascists protesting lockdown in states that Donald Trump wants to win next November. Or the crowds of self-absorbed and immature people in Florida and California breaking social-distancing rules to demand state governments open beaches so they can party.
In the aftermath of the Hindenburg, travel by airship virtually ceased and the industry died. Air travel never returned to a pre-Hindenburg “normal.”
But as COVID-19 spreads and continues to wreak havoc on communities, businesses, and economies, many of our leaders and indeed citizens believe that it will simply pass, after which we will return to a pre-coronavirus “normal.” Things, they tell us, will go back to the way they were and we will continue on as we did before the pandemic. Things will be “normal” again.
Not only will that not happen, it should not. Normal is what got us into the mess. Normal caused the problems and if we go backward, we will only repeat them in the very near future.
Normal was the ineffective, profit-driven, just-in-time production and delivery system that failed (and continues to fail) to provide adequate safety equipment when it was most needed.
Normal was the lies, misinformation, disinformation, and corruption of governments that refused to take the pandemic seriously until it was too late, then tried to blame everyone else for the problems (yes, I’m talking about Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jason Kenney among others).
Normal was the divisive, acidic, and toxic conservative media that enabled the corrupt governments by dismissing the problem, mocking and lying about it and those who were trying to warn us (yes, I’m talking about Fox “news,” Postmedia, and others). Normal was the workers struggling to survive during cutbacks and layoffs, while the billionaire company owners and CEOs fight against a liveable wage, basic benefits, and humane workplace conditions (not all billionaires are vile, but there are more of them like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson than Bill Gates). Normal was having billionaires pay lower taxes than working-class people.
Normal was people believing con artists, charlatans, Talibangelists, and conspiracy wingnuts instead of doctors, researchers, and scientists. Normal was an adulterous world leader with the vocabulary of a slow grade-four student lying, insulting, and attacking others, even those in his own administration. Normal was texting while driving. Normal was university students unable to find another nation on a world map or know who won their own Civil War (or even when it was fought).
Normal was neo-nazis proudly parading in the open, with support from elected officials. Normal was cruise line companies registering offshore to avoid paying Canadian or American taxes, or having to obey our labour laws, then demanding a bailout from our taxpayers when their business collapsed. Normal was Alberta laying over more than 25,000 teachers and educators to save $128 million while giving for-profit oil-and-gas corporations billions in taxpayer money.
Normal was our own town council refusing to offer financial help to local small businesses while happy to waste more than $7 million in taxpayers’ money on a personal vendetta because a group of elites failed to con a past council into giving a $35 million handout to the YMCA. Normal was our own town council happy to sell our public electricity utility to a private, for-profit corporation without any public consultation (and more than 40 closed-door meetings about it!). The result: no breaks from the utility for consumers and workers during the pandemic because profit is more important than humans.
Normal was police violence against people of colour on both sides of the border. Normal was teargassing peaceful protestors so a man who has never read the Bible could do a crassly opportunistic photo op holding one outside a church he never attended. Normal was inequality, homelessness, racism, religious intolerance, xenophobia, populism, pollution, climate-crisis denial, pseudoscience, homeopathy, and a host of things that range from the despicable to the outright stupid.
No, we don’t want to go back to normal. We need to make things better.