In the difficult conditions of the year 2020, the meme “the world will never be the same” has got a new tune. It is now commonsensical to agree that the pandemic and related trends of digitalization, sovereignization, etatization, particularization, etc. have changed our lives forever. The expectation of a fundamentally new future enters our everyday thinking, and its noncritical acceptance leads to the idea that there is no alternative to the loss of the former world is taken as an axiom. The demand to adapt to such a new future is also the demand normalizing practices of rights and freedoms restrictions, of digital control, of distance education, of a new version of the public health model, and much more. Such visions of a world that “will never be the same” gain social power and thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
These beliefs imply that the changes are inevitable and spread the vision in which the future develops independently of our efforts. Such an imagined future has no past. It comes as if by itself, as the result of a tragic coincidence (or, as conspiracy theorists claim, by some group’s mysterious will, which incomprehensibly turns out to be the only decisive factor). Such a way of thinking has no place for long-term strategies, and hence the meaning of those efforts whose results cannot be evident in the short term are valued as lost in wane. If the future does not depend on us, and if the long-term goal-setting is meaningless, there is no joy in our actions and creativity. One has only to adapt to such a future by guessing the direction of a change in the chaos of the real.
Also, ordinary thinking resists the notion that the familiar and predictable world is irrevocably lost. This resistance motivates one to wait until the abnormal situation ends, which implies that one should postpone one’s plans until the symbolic moment of “when 2020 will finally be over”. And this indicates that the hope for the world can still return to the situation “as it was before”. Populism also plays in support of this hope: it promotes a hope that the irreversible changes may actually be reversible, and the world might become familiar, understandable, and predictable again — if one’s choice is made within the frameworks of this promoted false alternative.
Certainly, “the world will never be the same”. That’s the way the world is. Ever since mankind was cast out of Eden, the world has always been changing. And in recent centuries it was changing at an accelerating pace. But if we simplify the variety of these changes, then such simplified generic change offers the same dilemmas reflecting human’s urge to expand the horizons of his/her existence. Survival and fulfillment, the manipulative pursuit of illusion and critical thinking, security, and freedom, repetition, and novelty — they all collide in this urge. On one hand, our interaction with the changing world may be determined by notions that it is being changed by powerful abstract forces that act either irrationally or according to their hidden agendas. In this case, it makes no sense to reconstruct time chains linking the future to our efforts in the past or the present. But, on the other hand, key historical changes were based on human attempts to rationalize the world, to see its multidirectional tendencies, and to understand that an effort is meaningful. It is this second type of engagement with a changing world that has led to the progress in those societies that have once chosen to promote critical thinking, science, education, and the creation of transparent procedures for reconciling divergent social and individual interests.
Today, as the world has once again ceased to be the same, it nevertheless retains a choice for us. — At the very least, the choice between these two ways of engaging with the changing world.
Illustration by José Parra “Surreal Twin” (1975; source).