Rip Van Winkle

When the coronavirus pandemic ends _ or at least becomes controlled _ most people seem to believe the world will return to “normal.”  But I think we will discover that very little will be the same.  Ancient customs we took for granted will be gone forever.  New outlooks and practices which would formerly have taken years to come to fruition will be in place.  We will be just like Rip Van Winkle, waking up after a two or three decade sleep into a society we hardly recognize.

A short essay can hardly enumerate even the broadest changes.  A quick survey would note that the nine-to-five job at an office is probably gone with the horse and buggy.  Travel will be vastly more complex.  Restaurants will never return as they once were.  Technologies which were only gleams in inventor’s eyes will be rampant.  And society itself _ its makeup of families and property and rules and ideals and goals _ will frighten any who cannot adopt.  Short term confusion clears with new paradigms invisibly but firmly in place.

Will it be better or a kinder and gentler world?  Probably not.  Changes are just changes, society may take routes none of us ever desired (like an acceptance of security over freedom.)  We may pine for the nostalgic golden age before the plague, but nothing will bring back that imagined sunny world.  Climate change will become increasingly vicious, forcing adaptations that would frighten our ancestors.  The struggle to determine what is truth or fact may play out in internal wars as vicious as those of the European Reformation.

There are good and bad options in all this.  Technology affords all kinds of possible wonders.  But, unlike the politicians, I am not going to say that those of us now living in American and Europe can much influence the path of history.  Environmental destruction is far advanced, industrial societies with different core ideologies challenge global supremacy,  the comforting predictions of the enlightenment that an educated free populace will be progressive and “better” are obviously wrong.  No matter whether we adhere to the idea of historic trend and imperative or to the hope that great leaders change the future, neither of us is one of those great leaders.

Rip Van Winkle eventually just decided to have a drink and watch the world go by.  No use starting over and becoming frustrated.  The new world will be for the young and the very young, and to them that environment will be the “normal” _ and they will laugh and cry at what we were and had and did with our lives and the lost fortunes of the Earth before.

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