February 25th is the first anniversary of the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Austria. The pandemic has had a firm grip on us ever since. Everyone longs for a return to normal life and yet suspects that this will probably no longer be the same. The question “What will our society look like after the pandemic?” the Viennese journalist and author Robert Misik answered in an APA conversation with a counter-question: “When does a pandemic actually end?”
Robert Misik, born in 1966 and awarded the Austrian State Prize for Cultural Journalism in 2009, runs a political blog and is the author of numerous books (“What Left Thinking”, “Reign of Wickedness”, etc.). Now his essay “The new (ab) normality. Our crazy life in the pandemic society” is published. The presentation is on Wednesday in Bruno Kreisky’s living room. Online, of course.
In his book he deals more with the upheavals of the present than with prospects for the future. “It has become even more clear that there is no such thing as ‘we’,” he sums up in an interview. Not only is how each individual survived the past year, which was characterized by lockdowns, home work, school and company closings, is very different, the individual Covid 19 disease courses are also very different. But: “History shows that almost every epidemic has an impact on society. The rise of the centralized state, for example, would not have been possible without the plague.”
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Misik, however, does not fear that the authoritarian muscle games of the state, which are argued in terms of epidemic politics, have prepared the ground for a future greater restriction of our freedom rights. “These measures are quite specific for a pandemic, I do not think that any of them will remain. It would have been more precarious to restrict data protection more clearly.
There was another paradigm shift for this: “We learned in this crisis that the state has a much more important role. The mantra ‘The market will fix it’ no longer plays.” It will also depend on this state whether the restart will give clear impulses in the direction of a more sustainable, ecological economy, believes Misik, who believes that a longer economic crisis is “not foregone”: “Many people have approximately the same income during the lockdowns but not able to spend it. The catch-up consumption will ensure that the economy picks up again quickly. ” But that means: Back to normal. Only when this does not work so quickly and the unemployment rate remains high for longer will the state have the chance to focus on future technologies with a “mission economy” (as the London-based economist Mariana Mazzucato called her new book).
In any case, Misik sees a larger wave of bankruptcies of small and medium-sized companies rolling in, a “big raid” for government aid in progress and women and young people as the main victims of the corona crisis. However, he does not believe that the debate about an unconditional basic income will gain new momentum in the future. What else will remain of this pandemic are perhaps “certain forms of everyday hygiene”. “It has been shown that wearing face masks is not just a cultural peculiarity of Asia, but that a hundred years ago doctors there simply took a different opinion.” The effectiveness of masks against other viral diseases has been clearly shown in the past year. Dealing with physical closeness may no longer be so easy in the future. For the time being, however, the lifting of the restrictions will certainly be accompanied by a comprehensive need to catch up: party, party, party!
“Let the party start quickly.” This is how Robert Misik closes his book, in which he also refers to the social optimism of the 1920s, which not only followed the First World War, but also the Spanish flu. Can a similar jolt go through society a hundred years later, towards more togetherness and more sustainability? He says he doesn’t want to work as a forecaster. “But I don’t want to share the doom and gloom. It is good that the new normal will look different than the old one because nothing was right about it anyway. Nobody wants it back either, hopefully. Such a break in the extraordinary can lead to it that pressing the reset button unfolds energies that would otherwise not have been released. “
(Interview conducted by Wolfgang Huber-Lang / APA)
(S E R V I C E – Robert Misik: “The new (ab) normality. Our crazy life in the pandemic society”, Picus Verlag, 160 pages, 16 euros; Online presentation on Wednesday, February 17, 7 pm: Robert Misik in conversation with Elisabeth Scharang via livestream on the Kreisky Forum’s Youtube channel; )