Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, December 22, 2021

This IS the new normal

Sunday December 12, 2021


Things were just starting to get back to normal. Restaurants and drive-ins were open again. Sports events could have fans in the stands. People trapped in Canada for the last 18 months were booking flights to exotic locations. 

            And then the Omigod variant appeared. (Sorry, the OmiCRON variant). Some old rules were re-instated. Some new rules were imposed. 

            Suddenly, a return to  “normal” -- whatever that is – looked a lot farther away. 

            I suggest that we’re kidding ourselves if we expect that the world is ever going to go back to whatever we once considered normal.

            On a personal note, I know that, since my wife’s death last year, going back to any former “normal” is impossible. 

            And even if you haven’t suffered a comparable loss, there is no going back for you either. 

            We are living in the new normal. Right now. Today. Until the whole world has been double, or triple, or quadruple vaccinated, until there are no longer any hosts that the coronavirus can use for making copies of itself, COVID-19 will keep on producing new variants. 

            And the countries of the world will keep devising new procedures for keeping it under control. Or at least, trying to.


Incubators for new variants

            We’re currently at the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet: Omicron. There are only  nine letters left. Does anyone seriously believe that the virus will quit mutating just because it gets to Omega? 

            The fact is, a virus cannot replicate itself, by itself. A virus is a parasite. It has to take over cells in the body of a host who has not been protected against it. It then turns the host’s cells into factories to produce multiple copies of itself, and to breathe those copies into other potential victims.

            Currently, more than half the world’s population is still available as incubators for new virus variants. 

            In India, 35% have been vaccinated. In North Africa and the Middle East, under 20%. In Uganda and Ghana, less than 3%.

            Those figures say that this coronavirus will not be contained and conquered for a very long time. 

            Besides, we can’t go back to a fondly-imagined previous normal for one very simple reason – there never was one. The history of homo sapiens is about new normals replacing existing normals.

            Hunter-gatherer societies gave way to agriculture. 

            Peasant farmer societies gave way to machine power. Luddites smashed industrial machinery, hoping to revert to a more familiar normal. 

            The machine age morphed into the electrical age, which in turn slid seamlessly into the wireless age, 

            Which of those “normals” would you choose to return to? Would your parents choose the same “normal”? Your children?


Clinging to essentials

            My generation thinks of the 1950s and ‘60s as the norm. My daughter’s generation thinks the same for the ‘80s and ‘90s. My grandchildren assume that Adam and Eve had iPhones.

            Every generation, every individual, has their own conception of what “normal” should  be. They cling desperately to what they consider essential elements of normalcy. They wonder when things would return to normal. 

            They never will.

            The so-called arrow of time moves only in one direction -- forward. Never sideways, never backward. And what we consider to be “normal”  moves with it. 


A future of unknowns

            We won’t go back to “normal”. The only question is, what kind of normal will we move into next. 

            The only sure thing is that it will be based on the normal that we’re experiencing right now. Which means that the only certainty for the future is uncertainty. More groping our way through previously unknown factors. 

            Donald Rumsfeld might have been talking about the new normal when he said, “There are things we know that we know. There are things that we know we don't know. But there are also things we don't know we don't know.” 


            Each step forward in our knowledge of life’s unknowns has changed our understanding of what’s normal. 

            Not long ago, the AIDS/HIV virus was killing thousands around the world. Especially the mothers of Africa. 

            When I was young,, school children routinely lined up for chest X-rays every year to test for tuberculosis. 

            Until we got a vaccine,  polio, commonly called infantile paralysis, was a pandemic. Before that, the Spanish flu. Before that, the bubonic plague…

            Each new treatment, each new vaccine, each new technological advance, opened a new state of living that was not the same as what went before. 

            So don’t expect any new normal to look like any old normal. It won’t. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

               To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca



Your turn


The mail fell into two groups this week: those who wrote about last week’s column on the power of water for good or bad, and those who wrote about my explanation for missing two weeks. 


Steve Roney took the latter option: “In the current climate of censorship, it is risky to be a columnist. It is risky to express opinions publicly.

            “I, like you, am troubled by the likelihood of permanent injury from football or boxing. Although the raw toe-to-toe aggression of the sports make them hypnotically compelling to watch, it is in the end like watching gladiatorial combat. 

            “On the other hand … poor young men are going to get into fights. That is not going to stop. It is a taste of power for the powerless. It might in the end be best to channel and tame this impulse, and this need, rather than leave it on the streets, amidst knives and broken glass.”


Marilyn Josefsson: “I value your thoughts and your honesty.  Obviously, we don't all think the same way, but we must try to understand another's point of view.  Some topics are more controversial, therefore take more thought, thus making the challenge whether or not to comment even greater.”


Dick Best: “Reading your words -- whether I agree, disagree, or approach them neutrally (which is often difficult to do) -- often (perhaps not always) helps me to ponder my own thinking: what do I think, and why do I think it?  Further, how do I express it so others may understand what I am trying to say?

            “In January and February, 2022, my pastor is taking a 2-month renewal leave.  I will be, at age 80, preaching three of the Sundays he will be gone.  Those are questions I had better be asking myself.”


Lois Hollstedt wrote about both subjects; this bit is about water’s power: “Taming nature, both human and the natural world, is like taming ourselves. Sometimes we are good at looking at all of the possibilities to move forward and make the ‘right’ choices and sometimes, collectively or individually, we fail. We do that by seeking knowledge and ‘learning new tricks’.”


Isabel Gibson also tackled both subjects: “I have no memory of feeling offended by your article, but after you were knocked off stride, as it were, you found your footing in what I think is a good place for all writers.

            “As for this week's column, the flooding in BC has been a reminder of the importance of designing resilient systems, and of not messing too much with the natural flow of things.”


John Shaffer shared his own experiences of too much water: “In my childhood, five inches fell in a short time and our creek spilled out of its banks and destroyed all of the bridges.  

            “In the 1960s, Fairbanks, Alaska, was flooded and I took a truck load of equipment there and, with some teenagers, we carried out a massive amount of gravel from a church basement in five-gallon buckets.  My back was impacted!

            “In the 1970s I was living in Nome, Alaska, and a strong wind at high tide destroyed millions of dollars of booze in the bars located close to the beach!

            “More recently, high water threatened the town (Stanwood, WA) from time to time.  Dikes held and the town was spared.

            “You are right, too much water destroys and too little water kills.”


Ted Spencer: “I’d love to go on about that mystery and magic of water: its boundlessly odd chemical and physical properties, unique among common substances, that make it the essence of life. Ice floats! No other solid form of a substance is less dense than its own liquid form. The world as we know it would not exist if water ice didn’t float on water. As they used to say: ‘coincidence? I think not!’”

            But Ted really wanted to comment on violence, in general. He referred to some of my examples, and added, “I have something between indifference to, and abhorrence of, all of them; Our son in law is an actor, and landed a role in an American cop show, as a leader of a SWAT/assault team. It’s a horrid thing: I watched a minute of it, or less, and the tales from others in the circle who did watch it confirmed that it is a horrid thing. What manner of twisted society would pay to see something at which every human instinct should be screaming ‘flee’? But, we’re told, the ancients gathered in their thousands to watch men and beasts slay each other, so it’s not new. No other animal would do that. We are never half so inventive as we are when making engines of war and destruction. It’s hard to believe in the essential goodness of humanity in light of that. But I try…”


Bob Rollwagen: “As the song says in South Pacific- ‘We have to be taught how to hate.’ It is my opinion that the acceptance of bullying at any level is a major problem. It can be disguised in many ways. Law makers have allowed most bullies to go unnoticed by only dealing with issues affecting life and property. Lawyers use bullying tactics to defend their opinions. Judges allow bullying tactics to pass under the guise of being facts. Power, wealth, and privilege survive behind a bullying screen that makes it impossible to balance our social structures needed to eliminate systemic racial or sexual bullying that ignores the impact of poverty.”






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

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               You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

               I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

               Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

               I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

               Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



               The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.






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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: normal, Omicron, mutations



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