People who shout and gesticulate while walking unaccompanied though city centres used to be called nutters. But we now have a less pejorative term for such behaviour: we call it Bluetooth. Sophisticated societies tend to not rush to acknowledge such a phenomenon as the ‘new normal’. But when subjected to the seismic disruption of a global pandemic, mores which have remained immutable for generations can gain obsolescence faster than last year’s smartphone. Right up until the end of January, shaking a stranger’s hand was a common courtesy in most countries and washing your own hands twenty times a day would have tagged you OCD. Now, washing them less than twenty times a day may fall short of government guidelines and having any kind of physical contact with someone you don’t actually sleep with is borderline sociopathic.
So which pandemic protocols and habits will survive the lifting of the lockdown? Some say that after three months at home many white-collar workers will be reluctant to resume their commute and that employers, having seen how much more productive a remote workforce can be, will see this as an opportunity to dramatically reduce the company’s real estate liabilities. Sceptics counter this by reminding us that the same flag was raised in the early days of the IT boom. If the remote revolution was ever going to happen, they argue, it would have happened back then, when we got our first computers and mobile phones. But there are other reasons why working in a factory or office today might be a less appealing prospect than it was twenty years ago. As well as being places where people earned a living, they used also to be environments where people – especially young people – looked for romance. Since then the rise of the dating app has certainly made the job of finding a partner easier. But the influence of Tinder and Bumble on the culture of the modern workplace has been minimal compared to that of the #MeToo movement. Let’s face it, if you know that asking out or even simply complimenting your fellow workers might result in your dismissal or even your arrest, why would you want to go anywhere near them?
One of the mixed blessings of multiculturalism is that many Australians – myself included – will have skin in more than one game during a global crisis. But as well as comparing Australia’s curve-flattening progress with that of the UK, where my mum lives, and the US, where my kids are based, in recent weeks I’ve also been keeping a weather eye on the sleepy, land-locked republic of Belarus, whose president pre-empted the intravenous-Pine-O-Cleen-and-bright-light therapy prescribed by his US counterpart by telling Belarussians back in March that the only action you need to take to beat coronavirus is to drink more vodka and take more saunas. Unlike The Donald, President Lukashenko has never subsequently claimed that he was being sarcastic when he said this. So we can assume that, in a country which has been described as Europe’s last dictatorship, and where the questioning of presidential fiats is not generally considered a great career move, many citizens have followed this advice. Imagine my surprise, then, on learning from the unimpeachably objective Johns Hopkins Cornonavirus Resource Centre website that far from seeing its population decimated by the Wuhan Flu, Belarus currently has only a few hundred more confirmed cases than pandemic exemplar South Korea, and substantially fewer than countries like Japan and Canada. And it may be worth noting that Sweden, the country which invented the sauna and produces the world’s second most popular vodka brand, also eschewed the draconian lockdown policies embraced by most Western countries and, at time of writing, has not suffered conspicuously as a consequence. So perhaps those who presumed coronavirus and contrarianism to be a dangerous combination should acknowledge a universal truth about which many of us have been in denial for most of our shamefully submissive and politically correct lives. Namely, that there aren’t many situations you can’t improve by getting drunk and naked. See you on Bondi beach.
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