OPINION: What is the new normal?

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Apr 23 2020 07:43 PM

(Part 1 on health) 

Fist bump is the new shake hands. Some do the elbow bump or it has evolved to a feet bump, all because everyone is now afraid of shaking hands and transmitting the deadly Covid19 virus and contributing to the pandemic. People now stay at home and cooking has become more popular, even leading some to regret not having learned how earlier on. Overnight, the idea of fine dining and fast-food tweaked into cozy home meals and dinner with family.

Oil prices are at an all-time low now; reports say that oil producers even have to ask refiners to store excess crude. That may sound like a loss but if you look around you, you’d be inclined to say that the pandemic has resulted to finer, clearer skies and fresher air, which explains the drop in the price of crude oil. The essentials in life have become prominent again leading many to realize what is truly important is the most basic: food and health. Shelter is next and clothing is last of all the basic needs. This should not be taken to mean though that the pandemic is a welcome and a happy development. But there are results that have to be acknowledged as good.

Clothing is last on the list of basic need; it is the first to be compromised. The brand, even style or fashion, seems to no longer matter. In the first place, there’s no need to impress. Meetings now are done virtually, sometimes with video, depending on the application one is using and even then, you’ll notice that the one on the other side, at times, is not wearing what she or he usually wears in the office. What one wears at home has become fashionable. Even when you do your groceries or buy your medicines, supplements and other necessities in the drugstore, you will notice that people are in their everyday home wear with their matching slip-ons. Perhaps the closest to fashion or some distinction that is worn by a person now is the kind of face mask she or he wears and if she or he has a matching ID that is actually a Virus Blocker. Why? These have replaced limited edition shirts or shoes as these are literally limited; you may have the money to buy them, but you will find it difficult to find any.

There is no longer any need to put on your alarm to wake you up. You don’t have to wake up that early in the first place. No need to take a bath right away and dress up. Of course, you find the need to take a bath everyday, even twice a day, otherwise you’ll feel like you’re having a steam bath the whole day. Perhaps this explains why there are those who say that the virus is not effective in the tropics or in countries where warm temperature is the usual. Not because of the warm temperature but more because one has to take a bath regularly, even frequently. That then effectively washes the whole body and keeps one clean and free from infection. Of course, this is more an assumption, even amusing. Sadly, not all people take a bath regularly regardless of temperature, which will always be a mystery to me.

All these are what some have started to call the “new normal”. For weeks now, the whole world has been on standstill, and the way we live our lives has changed in a snap; hence, the assumption of a new normal. But is this “the” new normal or something more? Many now use or mention the new normal to refer to the palpable changes immediately brought by the pandemic. But there’s more to it. In fact, the new normal started years back and is catching up to us here in the Philippines and in other middle- and low-income countries rather a bit late. The pandemic just hastened it and made it obvious as to be here and now.

To make sense of the new normal, one has to look back and reflect on how things have changed in the past decade at least. A full appreciation of it of course requires knowing and reflecting more before that, and I’d dare say at least the 80s. Then you’d be able to see how things transitioned in the 90s and in the turn of the 21st century, bringing us to what we know as now.

Health has been the cause of what we know as “the change” we immediately had to live with, but it was just heightened by the pandemic. People are more concerned and aware of health now more than ever, even before the pandemic. The easiest reference I think is smoking, which was common and in fact a measure of having to belong in the 60s and up to the latter part of the 80s. All that changed in the 90s and now, smoking is no longer common.

Of course, you can argue that people simply didn’t know then how bad smoking was to health. But of course it’s not only about smoking, it’s the whole range of health considerations that led to the popularization of different diets, starting with South Beach diet. Now we have a full range that includes Blood Type diet, inverted pyramid diet, raw food diet, and now the most popular I think is intermittent fasting taking over from keto, which of course remains popular. The point in all these diets is that before, people wanted to lose weight mainly to look “sexier” but now it has become essential for overall health. More and more people are becoming particular with what they eat, specifying that it has to be not only healthy but also has to be organic.

In fact, more and more people are now into sports. Athletes now include businessmen, doctors, lawyers, even actors and other professionals. They are into marathons, duathlon and or triathlon. Gyms weren’t ubiquitous as they are now; one had to literally make time for it before as chances were the location was far from where you were. Now you have so many choices where to work out and many are just a stone’s throw away from where you’re staying. Supplements are no longer limited to a multivitamin or Vitamin C. Of course these vitamins remain the main supplement taken by practically everybody, but more and more take other supplements for different reasons and purposes, even those with labels saying “no therapeutic claims”.

The point is that people became conscious with health way before this pandemic. The now more famous hand sanitizer and alcohol, even wipes, had always been common items in many people's bags. Masks of course were not as common but there are those who have been wearing them regularly. And so the life we consider now as “new” had been there for quite some time minus the scare of contracting the corona virus. Freshly cooked food has always been more preferred by many and people have become more conscious with regularly taking fast-food and/or processed food. Other than just staying home, the new normal had always been there, we just didn’t notice it as we do now.

There are other components of life that we have to reflect on to complete the picture of the new normal. It impacts directly on everyone’s work and/or livelihood and to politics and governance. It is the latter that is most problematic. To quote Habermas, my favorite political theorist, it is a “paradoxical union of contradictory principles”. I'll deal with this more in my next piece. 

(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.