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Three “Isms” that Have Outlasted Their Usefulness

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Looking out at the landscape of 2020, it’s clear that there will be a new normal. 

Will we all wear masks all of the time? Will our children hear stories about dinner-and-a-movie first dates and think we’re telling quaint stories from a time long gone? Will there be no time for stories in the post-apocalyptic scorched-earth future our governments’ inaction will surely cause?

It’s hard to say – the dreamer that lives inside everyone (even if it’s just a little, baby dreamer) likely wants to believe in the power of positivity and the benefits of small acts of kindness. The realist that lives inside everyone wants to prepare for the worst, learn to garden, and make friends with a stone mason.

Countless articles have been written about the pandemic’s magnifying effect: What some of us were able to overlook before one tiny virus shut down the world can no longer be overlooked.

Whether that’s the fragility of our economy, the true state of the climate crisis, the wealth gap present in most developed countries, or the apathy of our elected leaders…

In our new future, with all of the unknowns we’re facing, we will likely need to undergo some fundamental changes. 

Some will certainly be tangible. But until we know what they are, we may as well focus on the changes that will be spiritual.

There are three – certainly more than that but, for now, three – cultural “isms” that won’t serve us moving forward. 

Consumerism

When the country shut down, many people found themselves bemoaning the loss of their favorite activities…

Shopping, dining out, getting coffee from your favorite barista who knows your name and order, partying away a meaningless Friday night at the bar…

And two major things happened:

1. A lot of people realized that their “hobbies” were going places and buying things.

2. A lot of people doubled down and bought even more online to fill their new-found void.

We know we live in a consumerist society – we can be ethical consumers, minimalist consumers, or chaotic consumers. 

Capitalism depends on all of us needing things. If we don’t need things, what are we all working ⅓ of our lives away for? 

If you’ve heard people say that capitalism leads to the destruction of the planet, that’s part of what they mean. Consumerism as an identity leads people to make decisions that keep the demand for products at an unsustainable level.

That’s not to say if we all stopped buying things, manufacturers would stop making them. They’d just get more clever with their advertising.

What it means is that moving forward, we know consumerism is no substitute for fulfilling activities, and that the breakneck pace at which we buy, use, and throw things away is completely unnecessary and ultimately damning for the climate crisis.

Individualism

Rugged individualism is at the very heart of the American dream, spirit, and ideology. 

You do what you want, neighbor, and I’ll do what I want. That’s the freedom every citizen is promised, and in theory, that makes sense.

Instead of everyone compromising their wants and beliefs to reach a consensus decision, like we might have done in a tribal setting, no one compromises anything and we all, more or less, are supposed to get what we want – separately. 

The pandemic blew that wide open. 

We all need each other, and that we imagined we could exist in this life with nothing but our loved ones and our own elbow grease is hubris.

We needed grocery store workers to sanitize and stock our local stores even as cases climbed and people died. We needed healthcare workers – not only doctors, but nurses, IT, custodial staff, etc. – to face every day with bravery and spirit. We needed delivery drivers and bikers to keep the immunocompromised safe inside.

And that’s just a sprinkling – we saw how unfair the division of labor became. Those of us without “essential” jobs stayed safe working from home, while those with lower wages and worse healthcare made our lives possible.

In the world that’s dawning, we must recognize individualism for the myth that it is. None of us can survive without all of us. 

Otherism

The echo chamber phenomenon accelerated by social media (and restrictive real estate practices, modern segregation, and prohibitively expensive higher education) has kept us imagining that the world is made up of two parts: us, and the others.

And our characterization of “the others” is largely reinforced by who we live, work, and play with. 

But no one, and no culture, is a monolith. No group of people likes this exclusively, and disallows that

Just as you are individual and unique, so are the members of every “other” group we had liked to imagine were different from us.

In the new future emerging from the ashes of the pandemic, we will need others to become part of us, and us to become part of others. 

And we’ll have to see that attitude reflected in the way that we vote – beyond our own interests. For the good of the collective. For laws that may never affect us, only “others”. 

Otherism, just like consumerism and individualism, will have no place in the society laid bare by a worldwide virus. 
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