Editorial: Will we go back to something like the old normal in 2022? Should we want to?
The pandemic has brought us endless idioms, old and new, from “social distancing” to “covidiot.” Yet few have served us as well as “the old days,” a bit of nostalgia for life before the masks and border closures and denialist mobs who regard hospitals as symbols of state oppression.
The expression is a mainstay of apocalyptic science fiction, the origins of which are pleasantly successful. It dates back to a 1966 episode of the original. Star trek, in which the crew of the Enterprise encounters a planet full of children whose parents have been destroyed by a deadly pathogen; for them, the “before time” is a period in which adults inhabited their world. Today, we use it for comic effect, as in: “Do you remember the old days? When could we sit inside a restaurant and have brunch? “
But even a phrase used jokingly can reveal something about our hopes and fears, and if we’re still turning to words of nostalgia in 2022, it’s surely a sign of our shared anxiety for what lies ahead. Will we go back to something like the old normal? Should we want to?
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In the movies, the survivors of the global catastrophe emerge blinking in the light of day to build a new society, leaving behind the problems of the old one. But look around Canada in 2022 and it’s pretty clear that’s not on the cards; the great challenges it faced before the pandemic have not disappeared. Reconciliation with indigenous peoples remains an unfulfilled aspiration. Our largest trading partner, the United States, seems indifferent to its commitments under the “new” NAFTA. Our second largest country, China, is also our greatest international antagonist.
More importantly, the country remains divided by the challenge of tackling climate change, committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 2005 levels in a decade, even as pipeline construction continues. transport oil and gas to the tides.
None of these problems escapes our ability to find creative solutions. And Canada appears to be in a unique position to thrive in a post-pandemic world – its resources, educated population, and stable government point to a future as a rich country whose prosperity stems from economic freedom, plurality, and the rule of law.
But as the pandemic recedes, new flaws and barriers appear. The polarization of our politics has accelerated, dividing our electorate by region, values, and identity, to the point where one major party appears hopelessly fractured and another rules with just 32.6 percent of the popular vote, the minimum for a winner in Canadian history. .
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It is no coincidence that political extremism has migrated from the swamps of the web to the mainstream, giving life to a party that belittles immigrants and denies science. Technology has incited these forces, spreading the lies that are the currency of extremists, while undermining the principle of privacy on which freedom rests.
All of this has occurred amid a growing awareness of the atrocities that lie at the core of our founding myths as a country. If truth and reconciliation are part of a continuum, we are only beginning to grapple with the first piece, the truth, symbolized by nameless graves of indigenous children who died while attending residential schools.
However, the truth, painful as it may be, is an answer in itself. This might be the best lesson of the last two years: when our scientists publicly shared their findings; when our public health agencies released data showing the extent of the hazard; When our politicians dropped the veneer of their words and acted on the evidence, the vast majority of us followed our signals, hiding, staying home, getting vaccinated. By doing so, we avoid the worst that COVID-19 could bring.
Herein lies the solution to the conspiracy theories that infect our politics; to the devastation inflicted on First Nations; to the fantasy that we can fight climate change while building a fossil fuel economy. Let’s renew our shared commitment to what we know to be true, to what can be proven.
The sooner we get going, the better. We can start with the following hard and necessary truth: “the old times” will not return.
A selection of stories from our Year Ahead issue:
This editorial appears in print in the January 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.