068: What Normal?

In This Episode: Everyone says they want to “go back” to “normal” rather than have the constant uncertainty of the pandemic. But what “normal” do we want to “go back” to? It’s time to think about a new normal — what do we want to go to as this craziness ramps down?

068: What Normal?

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Show Notes


Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.

Whatever “normal” is, this sure isn’t it. The world is crazy right now, but there are bright sides to it all. Like what? We’re not in the middle of a World War, as we were in the most deadly pandemic of the modern era. Oh, and we’re not in the most deadly pandemic of the modern era!

So many are wishing they could go back to “normal.” The problem is, what was “normal” a few months ago wasn’t actually normal: it was what we had gotten used to, even though there were a lot of bad things about that status quo.

No, we don’t actually want to go back to “normal” — really. What we actually want is to feel normal. Uncertainty is uncomfortable for most people.

Besides, there is no going back. Has humanity ever been successful at going back to an earlier “normal”? I’d argue: no. If for no other reason than six months ago, we didn’t know about a novel coronavirus or the Covid-19 disease it creates, suffocating people you know and maybe love. No one alive today can remember a time when a pandemic raced around the world and threatened everyone with death — until now. And we can’t go back to a time where we didn’t know that.

So what do we need to do to feel “normal”?

We stop looking backward. We need to look forward and design what we want our normal to look like, and then move toward that with intense deliberation.

You might say that sounds like an awful lot of work. Yeah: it absolutely is. It doesn’t take a village to create a reality, it takes an entire society. Yet as hard as that is, it’s still a lot easier than trying to go back to a “normal” that is impossible to get to.

So how do we design what we want our new normal to look like? First, we think about it. Ah, there’s that word again: think. Why does it always come down to that? “Thinking is hard!” a Barbie Doll might say. Because the lack of thinking is what got us spun out of control in the first place, well before Covid-19 got here. Not thinking didn’t work out very well for us, so hey: let’s try thinking for a change!

In the following I’m talking specifically about the United States, but the bottom lines apply everywhere, perhaps with some changes in terms.

So first, let’s look at politics. (Don’t worry: This is True has always been non-partisan and that’s not going to change here!) When you think about it, you have to come to the conclusion that neither the body called the Democrats, nor the body called the Republicans, is evil. I’ll say that again: neither party is evil! Both of those bodies love their country and want to make a “more perfect union.”

Politicians love to point at the other side as wrong, stupid, and (lately) even evil — and that has spilled into the public consciousness too. But it’s wrong. A brand X party member might not like the way the brand Y party wants to accomplish their goals, and may not even agree with the goal, but they’re not evil, so stop adding to the rancor, which doesn’t move us forward: it just mires us in fighting among ourselves — which is often what the politicians want in the first place. The Russians didn’t interfere with the 2016 elections because they loved Donald Trump and hated Hillary Clinton: they simply wanted to push us into chaos and infighting, and they did that very well. So what you need to ask yourself is, do you really want to play into Vladimir Putin’s hands? I sure don’t.

Sure, it’s possible that individuals are evil, if you believe in that concept. But if that’s true, it’s true of both sides, so get off your damned high horse and work toward building a more perfect union, rather than tearing it down. Because if you think this pandemic is bad, you sure as hell won’t like anarchy.

So I’d argue that one goal of creating a new and better normal is demanding more civility in politics. So how do we do that? First, you control the one person you have control over: yourself. It means not being uncivil in the political realm yourself. Once you’ve got that down, then you demand it of your elected representatives, and vote against them if they aren’t civil, even if it means voting for that “other” party’s candidate who is.

We all agree that there are a lot of terrible politicians out there, but too often voters overlook the problems of “their” representatives because, well, they’re their representatives! That’s enabling bad politics, bad policies, and fighting among ourselves just as Russia wants.

Do we want term limits? Do we want to get the “politics” out of politics, which means we demand actual democracy rather than shenanigans like gerrymandering, as outlined in episode 64? Then we need to get both sides together to make that happen. We need both sides to buy in and work to push Russia out of our public life.

And hey, if you didn’t listen to episode 64, you need to! It shows a great example of exactly what I’m talking about: both parties coming together to — guess what?! — ensure actual democracy! It absolutely can be done, as Colorado proved. I’ll link to it on the Show Page.

Then we can go on to the next thing, like, say, healthcare. In 2018, the United States spent $3.6 trillion on healthcare, which amounts to $11,172 per person, a mind-boggling amount when you consider how many have little or no healthcare at all. $3.6 trillion amounts to nearly 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product — the monetary measure of the market value of all the goods and services produced over the year. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to be more than 18 percent of the GDP in 2020!

2018 healthcare 300x216 - 068: What Normal?
Where that money came from in 2018.

But what are we getting for that $3.6 trillion? Most of us would agree: not $11,000+ worth of great medical care! There are objective measures of healthcare. For instance, in 2017 the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, which sounds pretty low. But if we compare that number to the rate in other countries, it doesn’t look all that good anymore: that rate ties with Serbia, and is significantly higher than Bosnia, Latvia, Hungary, Cuba, Poland, Liechtenstein, and most of western Europe.

Our 5.8 infant deaths per thousand is more than double that of Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, and Japan. On top of the list, with just 1.8 deaths per thousand live births is: Monaco.

Let’s look at other health measures. The U.S. spends more on health care on a GDP basis — nearly twice as much as the average country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — yet has the lowest life expectancy of the OECD countries. The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden, and twice the obesity rate of the OECD average. Americans saw their physicians less than in most countries, in part because of a shortage of physicians in the U.S. And the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.

We’re not getting our money’s worth. So maybe we want to design something better here, rather than strive to get back to the “normal” of that system.

There are so many things to look at when we start to design our new normal. Our style of capitalism has not worked well: what should we change? With most of industry and commerce shut down right now, we’re seeing clearer skies and cleaner water. The things we were doing to the environment wasn’t sustainable, so what should we change? There are a lot of things to think about and work toward, so yeah: we need to work toward improvements, because now is the best time to start doing that. We’re going to come out of this just fine, but the world will be restructured in important ways, and those ways should be planned, not just something that happens to us by default, or as dictated by Russia or China.

The main point here is that we can’t go back, so let’s go forward and build something better. That’s what people with Uncommon Sense do. It’s going to take cooperation, not fighting among ourselves. That’s a future that I’d like to be normal.

The Show Page for this episode is thisistrue.com/podcast68, which has links to the statistics I cited, a place to comment, and a way to help support this podcast rather than have it interrupted by ads.

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

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3 Comments on “068: What Normal?

  1. “Our style of capitalism has not worked well.”

    Well, it has for the Top .01%. The rest of us struggling to get by even in “normal” times? Not so much. We definitely need a new normal. Thanks for bringing up some things to think about.

    • So what system has worked better? What are you proposing replace what we have in America today? As I look around the United States it is still the destination for the world’s migrants. If SE. Asia, Africa, S America, and on and on were working so well we would not be seeing mass migration from these locations.

      This country has moved forward after very hard times. Great Depression, WW II, etc. The desire to improve, the desire to innovate, to succeed, are all part of American exceptionalism. Exceptionalism needs to become the default again and not a dirty word. When this country succeeds it lifts billions around the world. If you don’t believe that we can cut off all foreign aid tomorrow and watch what happens.

    • Wow, Doug, you sure read a lot into my agreement of Randy’s observation! Neither he nor I suggested we “cut off all foreign aid,” etc. But it’s patently obvious that capitalism, which has raped the planet and the workers we are suddenly recognizing as “essential,” needs little bits of fine-tuning. As “they” say, “Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.” That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to improve on it.


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