There is Nothing New about the 'New Normal' – YET. By Alistair Speirs , Chairman MVB

Publish at 2020-07-20

After almost three months of implementing large-scale social restrictions (PSBB in Indonesia ) the term “New Normal “ is on the lips of all the national and regional government officials and the TV pundits with the term being used almost as a way to answer any uncertainty of what really to do as they try to ease Indonesia back into economic and commercial action. The idea seems to be to say that the new normal way of doing things will ensure that Indonesia’s recovery will be swift and complete.

Of course it is not normal for members of society to be isolated in large numbers and for indefinite periods of time, but if that is really needed, then we should obey global authorities recommendations and local regulations. The problem is that in Indonesia there are many who simply cannot conform to the strictures of ‘Lockdown “ or “Self isolation” and have to work every day to stay alive. So their new normal at the moment is pretty much the old normal, which itself wasn’t very good from a health and safety point of view.

The idea of ‘new normal’ argues that our life before corona virus pandemic was okay yet there are many continuing problems that cannot be treated as normal. For instance in Jakarta, it took precisely one day for the traffic to get back to ‘normal' after the easing of the PSBB regulations. There was no ‘new normal’ there, and there really has to be! Traffic management in Jakarta is far from efficient and is far behind any reasonable development schedule and is still, for me, very unfocused. If we are brutally honest, the MRT is 30 years too late and is about 1/20th the size of what it needs to be to serve the greater Jakarta population of over 24 million. A simple comparison to London which has 400 km of track serving less than our population puts Jakarta’s 20km in perspective. The point is we need to make sure the new normal is really new, relevant and very focused on future needs, not just stop-gap measures, which is what plastic screens and crosses on seats are.

Indonesia’s waste management has been the highly visible but unsolved problem for decades. Even though both the technology and the methods are readily accessible, with countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and the UK all lining up to support, there does not seem to be the will-power to actually make it happen. We need mandatory and enforced recycling to support the better waste management in every office building in town, then in every hotel and restaurant, then in every mall, and eventually in every house. No excuses.

But as we said above we have to realize that the 'new normal' imagines a world that only functions for the elite: those strategies focused on social distancing, personal protective equipment, and especially 14 days of self isolation, remain a privilige of those with the means to fortify and seclude themselves. Our ability to think expansively about fundamentally transforming society is severely constrained by simple economics. Many people can’t afford even one day off, so the ‘new normal’ excludes the experiences of Indonesian workers in general who live day-to-day and deepens socioeconomic disparities, through promoting inappropriate privilege-based one-size-fits-all strategies. Then think about the homeless and their plight. They are even worse.

When a pandemic rages on us, we are given the opportunity, no, the necessity, to re-imagine the future by tracing the lessons of history, not forgetting the mistakes of the past , but learning from them. And there are many of them starting with the Black Death , then through Mad Cow disease, Foot and Mouth Disease , Sars ,Mers and Bird Flu, and the worst of all, Spanish Flu which had people wearing masks in 1918 ! Did we not see these pictures?

The ‘new normal' needs big vision about how we should live in the future, after Covid, aiming for a life with no motorcycles, no pollution, no waste, more parks, free-flow fresh water, always fresh air, less noise, more nature, less chance of dying because we are healthier and our environment is healthier, and leads to healthier habits and behavior. That’s the new normal I hope to see in Indonesia.