The War for Normal

The War for Normal

Back in the 1990s, a marine biologist named Daniel Pauly noticed something about humans. They didn't remember how many fish there used to be in the ocean. To put it more accurately, they never knew. They didn't know how much had been lost, so they didn't feel any sense of alarm.

This problem extended to just about everything in the 20th century. Every generation developed their own new normal.

Every normal was worse than the last.

He called it shifting baseline syndrome. Sometimes it goes by a fancier name, generational amnesia. Psychologists and climate scientists have confirmed it in populations around the world. They've also observed it in our own public institutions. They don't try as hard as they used to. They accept and promote the status quo, and it's been declining.

Now we're in freefall.

We're living it.

Now there's a sinister element at play. The rich want us to forget that moment in history, just a few years ago, when we didn't get sick all the time. They want us to forget that life expectancy was trending upward. They want us to forget that a house used to cost four times our salary.

They want us to accept that it always cost eight.

How Orwellian of them.

There's a war for normal right now. It's a class war. It's a public health war. It's an environmental war. It's an information war. It's a propaganda war. We're fighting over what counts as normal. We're fighting over the very nature of our public institutions and our public spaces. We're fighting over who belongs in them. We're fighting over whether we have a right to a livable planet.

Those in power say we don't.

That's war.

When someone tells you that you don't have a right to your own health or even the land beneath your feet, that's an act of institutional violence. They're saying it's okay to kill you, out of negligence. They won't kill you with bullets or bombs. They're going to kill you with diseases and pollution. They're going to take away your insurance and let your house burn down.

That's how they fight.

Those in power are pushing their version of normal on the rest of us. They want a normal that makes them even more rich. They want to get rich the same way they have for the last 50 years, by stealing from us. They don't just steal our stuff. They steal our future. They steal our children's future.

They make it feel normal.

Ten years ago, 2C of global warming was unthinkable.

Now our leaders are telling us it won't be that bad. Our children are born into a world on fire. They'll grow up thinking it's normal.

We can't let that happen.

That's what the rich want. That's what the elite want. That's what those in power want. They want generational amnesia. They want us to forget everything and accept this current version of normal as the new baseline. They're trying so hard to make us accept all of this as okay.

It's easier for them.

And cheaper.

They want us to tolerate and even celebrate getting infected with a virus that we know causes brain and organ damage. They want us to tolerate unsafe schools, where we could have clean air but refuse because we accept the lie that it would be too expensive or too difficult.

They want us to accept that the marginalized and vulnerable don't belong in society and that they don't have any rights.

They want us to forget them.

They want us to forget that viruses are airborne by getting the CDC director and other public health institutions to lie over and over, telling us to wash our hands like it's 2020 again.

They want us to forget that we used to care about each other, at least a little bit. We used to not want to get each other sick, even before the pandemic. Now administrators are calling on parents to send their children to school, even when they're sick, ensuring they spread their illness as far as possible, even when we know children are major drivers of spread to their extended families. They want us to forget everything we ever learned.

That's the normal they want for us.

It's bleak.

It's a normal where everyone we know puts their own happiness first, above everyone else's, even their own friends and family. It's a normal where we risk our lives and our health to enrich and fawn over celebrities who care absolutely nothing about their own fans.

It's a normal where you're not allowed to put HEPA purifiers in public because it might make someone uncomfortable.

It's a normal where you and your children are constantly blamed for falling behind because you're tired and you don't feel well. It's a normal where nobody ever acknowledges hardship or struggle or pain. It's a normal where talking about anything real makes you negative. It's a normal where you work until you're useless, then you're retired like a replica.

It's a normal where you'd better not trip and fall on the pavement. Otherwise you'll end up in the ER with third-degree burns.

It's a normal where you go to the hospital with one problem and come home with six and a half, because your healthcare providers got tired of tracking and controlling diseases. It was easier to convince everyone you know that it's fine to get sick in the hospital.

You'll be forced to accept that it's always been like this, even though a part of you knows better. It wasn't always like this.


There used to be more fish in the ocean. There used to be more ice in the world. It wasn't normal for someone to go to the hospital with contact burns from the sidewalk. It wasn't normal for children and 25-year-olds to have heart attacks and strokes. It wasn't normal for them to die.

It wasn't normal for your leaders to ignore every single problem they were elected to solve and then demand your vote.

We're watching our baselines shift in real time. We're watching the rich and powerful condition everyone to believe the earth has always been a raging dumpster fire. It wasn't.

It used to be beautiful.

It still can be.

The greatest thing you or any of us can do now is to simply get one other person to wake up and realize this isn't normal. We can have better. We can have safer schools. We can have better leaders.

We don't have to sacrifice our health for a music festival.

We can have a livable planet.

We just have to try.

All of us.

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