The Danger of False Normalcy

The world faces the danger of false normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

False normalcy is the delusion that everything will return to normal fast after catastrophic change or massive disruption. People succumb to false normalcy because it is simple and comfortable.

An example of false normalcy is the belief that everybody will start going to the movies or shopping at the mall again when they make a coronavirus vaccine available. The reality, however, is that some people will return to the mall and the movie theater and others will not.

Yes, some shopping malls and movie theaters will survive coronavirus. Conversely, COVID-19 will kill some malls and movie theaters. Remember, many malls and movie theaters were dying long before coronavirus.

For instance, Statista estimates the number of movie theaters in America fell from 7,744 in 1995 to 6,100 in 2005 to 5,798 in 2020. Similarly, Coresight projects that 25% of America’s 1,000 malls will close by 2025.

My prediction is that healthy malls and movie theaters will recover from the pandemic. However, unhealthy malls and movie theaters will die faster or never reopen.

The dangers of False Normalcy

False normalcy is attractive because it is simple. Instead of adapting to a new reality, you can return to the old ways. False reality is dangerous because it prevents people from adapting to new realities.

An obvious appeal of false normalcy is its ease. Lazy people do not face the hard work of understanding the new reality or changing their ways. Another appeal is lack of fear. In the fake narrative of false normalcy, there is nothing new or scary.

Additionally, believers in false normalcy can ignore complex new realities. For instance, the effect of aggressive quarantine regulations on travel. Or the new reality that many will be afraid to return to theme parks or fly airplanes because of coronavirus.

Tellingly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that the number of airline passengers fell from 4.5 billion in 2019 to 1.8 billion in 2020. Moreover, the ICAO estimates domestic air travel fell by 50% and international air travel shrank by 74%.

False normalcy is powerful because it offers our minds a familiar narrative that is easy to comprehend and respond to. No creativity or innovation is necessary. Only pat solutions that could no longer apply.

A combination of intellectual laziness and denial drives false normalcy. The intellectually lazy embrace false normalcy because it allows them to reject new concepts.

Those seeking reasons to deny ugly new realities revert to false normalcy because it strengthens their false narrative. For instance, climate change deniers who think we can go on burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels because grandfather did it.

Arrogance plays a role too. When false normalcy takes hold, nobody has to admit I was wrong about that new thing. Instead, people think they have all the answers and know the right way of doing everything.

Frightening Realities and False Normalcy

One frightening new reality is that the coronavirus will be around and killing people for a longtime.

Another is that some COVID-19 responses will survive the pandemic’s end. Many people will continue wearing masks and social distancing.

A disruption many people will try to repeal is widespread work from home. Many employers will discover they have no choice but to allow a large percentage or a majority of their professionals to work from home. However, many of those organizations will lose valuable employees who refuse to return to the office.

Yes, many people will keep shopping at brick and mortar stores. However, others will not. Moreover, some people will make the occasional mall trip but abandon their weekly Costco and supermarket runs. That change alone could disrupt retail beyond recognition.

The Politics of False Normalcy

False normalcy is attractive to politicians before it offers simple solutions that require no sacrifice.

A classic example of false normalcy was the belief by many American conservatives and libertarians that lock downs, masks, and social distancing were unnecessary to contain COVID-19. Instead, these people thought pretending to be normal could return the world to normalcy.

When normalcy did not return, many politicians including President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) had no agendas or answers. Ultimately, Trump’s successor Joe Biden (D-Delaware) could find himself stuck in a similar conundrum.

Biden won election on the claim that sacrifice now will bring a fast return to normalcy. What happens if normalcy fails to return after all the sacrifice?

False Normalcy and History

False normalcy is nothing new. History is full of efforts to deny ugly new realities and pretend that that the old days are returning.

The most notable example of false normalcy was in the era after World War I. The conflict destroyed Europe’s political order, yet many people thought they could return to the world of 1900.

Americans retreated into isolationism, the British into Victorian nostalgia and imperialism, while the French sank into decadence. Leaders claimed they created peace and restored normalcy. In 1920, Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio) won the U.S. presidential election a platform of “return to normalcy.”

Americans retreated into isolationism, the British into Victorian nostalgia and imperialism, while the French sank into decadence. Leaders claimed they created peace and restored normalcy. In 1920, Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio) won the U.S. presidential election a platform of “return to normalcy.”

Return to Normalcy

They felt reverberations from the war around the world. For instance, the British Raj faced mass demonstrations against imperial rule in India for the first time. Similarly, European interventionism ended in China, creating a vacuum filled by Imperial Japan.

Closer to Europe, a cadre of sociopathic terrorists, the Bolsheviks were in control of the Russian Empire. Additionally, violence and terrorism were now acceptable political behaviors.

The Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir I. Lenin, was the first of a new breed of political leaders who viewed violence as a legitimate political tool. Several other violent revolutionaries including Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolph Hitler would soon follow in Lenin’s footsteps.

Another development was the militarization of politics. Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler all viewed politics as a war to win by any means possible. Notably, Mussolini and Hitler were veterans of the World War I trenches. Similarly, leaders such as Lenin and Hitler saw political parties as conquering armies whose mission was to subvert and destroy democratic institutions.

False normalcy empowered the Nazis and Communists because many people saw the new parties as just another political group like the socialists. The delusion was that the Nazis or Communists would turn into good democrats once they took power.

It shocked many Germans when Hitler became a dictator and turned Germany into a militaristic totalitarian state. Unfortunately, Hitler was only carrying out the political program he had been promoting for years. Shock overcame people because they bought into the delusion that Hitler was just another politician.

Similarly, many people thought they could turn the Soviet Union into a normal country by normalizing relations. When the Communists stayed Communist after the opening of the new embassies, the noramlizers had no answers or strategy.

A related delusion was selective false normalcy. Many leftists saw the Soviets as normal progress but feared the fascist threat. Similarly, many conservatives feared the menace from Moscow but viewed Hitler as just another leader.

They ignored the frightening reality that both Hitler and Stalin were deadly threats to civilization. Instead, efforts to normalize relations continued even as evidence of Soviet and Nazi barbarism piled up.

Normalcy in the 21st Century

We see similar delusions in our day. Particularly in the United States, where politicians believe politics can return to their pre-2016 norm after the chaotic Trump years. Notably, the chattering classes, the news media, and many politicians are pretending the 6 January Capitol Riot and the George Floyd Riots in summer 2020 did not occur.

Instead of dealing with the widespread frustration and disillusionment with the political system. Leaders pretend everything is alright when the system is clearly heading to collapse.

I think America is living in a dangerous age of false normalcy. Our leaders are too busy pretending nothing is wrong and nothing has changed to deal with the nation’s problems.

Such group think led Europe to disaster in the 1930s. I have to wonder if the catastrophe of false normalcy will repeat itself in 20th Century America.