New Normal?

To interrupt a habit is to make it visible.

– Charles Eisenstein, (2020, March)

Since the spread of the COVID-19 virus, commentators across all political spectrums are observing the need to change our behaviour and our current systems. It has become clear that centralised systems now don’t work. It has also shown how we are interconnected and dependent on each other. The necessity to socially distance oneself provided an opportunity to more closely observe animal and plant life. People reported sightings of animals and bird life previously unseen and also people have watched the plants grow around their neighbourhoods and taken up gardening and growing food with renewed spirit.

During lockdown I took walks in the streets and on the beach foraging for sea beet and sea kale. I also took up almost daily swimming practice which immersed me in sea water to the point where I was dreaming of the movement of the waves.

Many people in the town united around a new organisation called HEART (Hastings Emergency and Resilience Team), a mutual aid group managing over 400 volunteers able to support their local neighbourhood collecting shopping, walking dogs, making phone calls to isolated people… the culture of commoning at work.

A note from my journal on April 9th, 2020:
Today I read a news article in the Guardian1 about how the virus was spread quite rapidly where people attended big gatherings. Gathering where people were intimate such as Mardi Gras, church events and funerals. When people are connected the virus spreads. Now I’m reading in Stir Magazine about social movements and how, in a crowd, people are comfortable with intimacy. Relevant to collectives, Jodi Dean discusses the concept of ’contagion’ in relation to a crowd. In order to move from individual cognition and decision making you need ‘contagion’, “What matters are affect and imitation; rather than making arguments, what matters is contagion”.

This is a helpful insight when considering how to foster participation and behaviour change, but might we need to move even beyond imitation in social environments to imitating other nonhuman species too?
Given the current situation with COVID-19 it seems pitifully obvious that we need to curb our habits that exploit the natural world. Whether this virus has come from the lab or from wild animals we need to acknowledge that we are all, human and nonhuman, part of a single ecosystem. Humans are continually encroaching on and destroying natural habitats and, as a result, creating the conditions for viruses to survive.

How do we make the invisible visible? It’s a problem brought sharply into focus during the pandemic. The virus is invisible to the eye but very much part of the natural ecosystem. The commons too are invisible within our current economic system. Equally, systemic problems like pollution, waste, micro-plastics and other environmental issues often remain out of sight.
The virus can breach boundaries (as can pollution). It doesn’t abide by political borders, walls and fences, is not owned by anyone, as such taking the right actions to be able to manage it is difficult. It’s no single nation’s responsibility. The pandemic has shown us that nation-states are not good at working together, instead they blame, shame and become protectionist.
During the lockdown in the UK there has been a lot of talk about ‘building back better’. However, action taken by the UK government always focuses on large scale infrastructure, deregulations which benefit large corporations and citizens encouraged to consume, as if they have nothing else to offer.

Meanwhile, communities are doing things that are really hard work – this work needs to flourish. Local and national government need to trust local people to deliver on their own ideas and projects. We must accept that uncertainty is an inevitable element of our lives.3


1. P Oltermann., Davidson, H., Laughland, O., Ratcliffe, R., Willsher, K., Walters, J., & Tondo, L. (2020, April 09). The cluster effect: How social gatherings were rocket fuel for coronavirus. Retrieved Apr 9, 2020, from

2. Interview: Jodi Dean [Interview by 936757808 732802714 J. Gordon-Farleigh]. (202, Spring). STIR The Magazine for the New Economy, (29), 21-25.

3. Yoko. Akama, Sarah. Pink, and Shanti Sumartojo, Uncertainty and Possibility: new approaches to future making in design anthropology (London / New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). 125