In the old Prussian infantry regiment No 6, the Potsdam giants served the King of Prussia. Named after the minimum length of six Prussian feet and extended by their particularly red miter, they formed an imposing formation. Those who never got to see the Long Fellows at that time were 20 cm shorter and could assume an average height of 1.67 m. In contrast, the Long Guys measured about 1.88 m. The normal size is determined by the environment in which the people are. Normality lies in the eye of the beholder.
Personal experiences and cultural, technical, economic, political, legal, or ecological patterns make the difference.
- The cultural normality
Shared values or lifestyles are the basis for group cohesion. For some people, fixed dates are insignificant (polychronic). Others value a binding time allocation (monochronic). Additional differences arise from language – high-context, when little is usually said because most are considered known; low-context when every detail is typically communicated. Other dimensions of normality are the actions in and interactions with the environment; whether the focus is on the group or the individual; the handling of space; the power structures; the mental models; the belief systems that are difficult to change.
The cultural circumstances determine the normal.
- The technical normality
In today’s VUCA world of developed countries, it is hard to imagine that everyday technical life on earth is very different. Take, for example, the Khoisan, the hunter-gatherers who have been hunting with bows and arrows and communicating with clicking sounds for 10,000 to 25,0000 years in southern Africa. At the same time, more and more people in industrialized countries are using electronic ‘prostheses’ that help them think and understand and execute spoken commands. Apps provide smart home applications, language translation, assisted driving, and navigation systems. Everyday technical life is mainly permeated by I.T., which ensures operations, accelerates product life cycles, and enables product innovations.
The available technical possibilities determine the normal.
- The economic normality
In early history, the economy consisted of bartering – exchanging hunted prey for crops for tools for clothing for kitchen tools for jewelry. Barter was replaced after the 7th-century B.C. by coins, since the 7th-century A.D. by bills, and since the 15th-century by cashless payment systems. In parallel, ever larger quantities were offered by craftsmen, then manufacturers, and eventually companies. With industrialization, the maximally differentiated division of labor passed its zenith. In the course of digitalization, mass-produced individual orders (Serial customization) become possible.
The prevailing economic system determines the normal.
- The political normality
Classifying a country as a democracy assumes comparable political conditions – e.g., in Germany, Sweden, and Spain. Already in the primitive Greek democracy, not all people were equal (more here). Let’s look at other countries, such as North Korea, Belarus, China, or even the USA and Brazil. The different living conditions become apparent – competition supervision, political stability, tax laws, trade barriers, security requirements, and subsidies.
The current political system determines the normal.
- The legal normality
Legal understanding is closely linked to political normality, i.e., determined by national borders. Legislation, the treatment of minorities, consumer, antitrust, labor and employment protection laws, tax guidelines, competition regulations, and other legal influences, regulations, international and national standards, local ordinances, and mechanisms for monitoring and ensuring compliance vary from location to location. The law is different everywhere – except that people must comply with it.
The physical presence of people and equipment determine the normal
- The ecological normality
The natural environment depends on longitude, latitude, and altitude. In addition, the natural conditions are threatened by industrial damages. Whether or not it is man-made, even the last doubters must acknowledge that the climate data indicates a dramatic climate change. Weather extremes and a changing temperature threaten local livelihoods.
The overpowering nature determines the normal.
The Gaussian bell curve is the best-known expression for statistical normality. For example, properties such as age, intelligence, or population income are evaluated here. Life expectancy depends on the type of calculation, i.e., the average life expectancy of women at birth is 84; the most common age at death, however, is 90. The regular intelligence quotient is between 85 and 115. A typical income is between €15,000 and €100,000; the gross average income is in Germany €3,975 (women €3,578/men €4,146).
Statistical normality is determined by comprehensible figures – depending on the calculation method.
Bottom line: Long story short: There is no general normal. It is always a selected determination that can be decreed differently at any time. This explains the many alternative facts that cannot be avoided for the above reasons. Debates are inevitable. And dogmatic opinion-makers can take any point of view they want. Since we cannot prevent this, we need new ways of dealing with this relativity. We can start by no longer arguing about vague facts, figures, and dates. As soon as we ask several experts, we get a variety of consistent explanations. However, it is not a matter of agreeing on what is normal but instead finding a joint solution. A problem doesn’t go away by arguing about the relative normal, but only if the problem gets solved.
Distance is a term that feels more like the distance between Earth and Sagittarius A (26,5000 light years) than the distance between Beijing and Duisburg. Via communication networks we are connected to every point on earth in almost real time. Since 1970, the number of passengers on global flights has increased more than tenfold to over 4 million per year. Today, people commute an hour to work on short-haul flights or by ICE or local transport. In other words, we are far-reaching connected across borders that once felt as inaccessible as the moon today. In such a world, political borders seem anachronistic. Viruses spread around the globe in a short period of time across frontiers. Neither vigorous slogans nor border closures prevent the common fate. And when one wave is over, another one comes. Because after is before.
A look at possible risks should blow the horn of dystopia and make us feel insecure, but rather remind us that in the future we will have to deal with such effects differently, as we can no longer afford further shutdowns.
- Natural risks
Global risks are rarely expected in nature and are considered to be locally manageable – in principle. The current virus crisis shows us that these critical situations do not respect borders or are limited to certain cultures. The present responses from experts and politicians are focused on short-term goals. Decisions are not based on possible collateral damage, nor do they consider their long-term effects – above all not the human lives that will be harmed additionally due to the measures.
And what happens if next one of the mega volcanoes erupts and the global climate topples in a very short time? Or if a tsunami floods one of the world’s economic centers and the economy collapses in the aftermath? And anyone, who believes that we can protect ourselves against all eventualities should first of all be aware of the required efforts.
- Political risks
One of the effects of natural disasters will be political dangers. The societal systems will become unstable due to the dissatisfaction of the population. When panic already breaks out due to toilet paper the question arises, what we do, when things get really serious, when there is nothing left to eat and drink because the logistics channels that have been put in place no longer work and local suppliers can no longer compete with other countries. In an economy of scarcity, the black market emerges first and foremost, in which only the wealthy can afford the prices. In an effort to maintain control, the state will also use the current technical possibilities that we already know from China. And the political forces that want the revolution will feel strengthened by the shift to a surveillance state, which will lead to more and more terrorist attacks from left and right. However, the same applies as always: Be aware what you wish for. Over the past ten years, politicians and the electorate have prepared the ground for what is coming.
- Technological risks
A very sharp sword of Damocles is our information and communication infrastructure. No one has yet found the one switch to stop the worldwide web. However, there is an increasing number of malwares that attack all levels of IT. In addition, natural disasters could have corresponding effects – e.g. a solar storm or meteorite impact. The consequences of a collapse are unimaginable. Emergency generators do not help in these cases. There is nothing today that does not depend on the Internet: Waterworks, energy grids, hospitals, mobility, logistics of any kind, production of goods and food, communications, or the public authorities. A collapse of the Internet will take us back to Middle Ages. Without this nervous system, all cars, trains, pumps, elevators and so on will come to a standstill within a very short period of time. There is no way to communicate anymore – except for the runners, who walk from one place to another.
- Economic risks
In contrast to the above risks, the economic are easier to cope with – except for those who benefit from a flourishing economy – bankers, economic officials, investors. In the regions that have nothing to gain from the current economy not much will change the precarious existence in Africa, South America and large parts of Asia. Their supply is even more secure than in the world’s agglomerations, which can no longer be supplied. In the remaining regions, the price increases will lead to a change in consumer behavior. Currency fluctuations can be compensated by national or regional consumption. The cutbacks will regulate driving behavior and energy consumption. There are many examples from the past for dealing with shopping lines and empty shelves. Work, working hours, management styles and anybody else who wants to get rid of the bureaucratic ballast today will become naturally agile. In the end, the economy is part of the problem rather than its systemic solution – austerity measures in all areas of life, outsourcing to places with the cheapest labor and, in the absence of short-term profits, the de-economization of entire regions.
Bottom line: A virus is currently rampant, which threatens the elderly in particular. In the interest of their lives, the economy is being stopped by politicians. Everyone is looking at the stock indices and is now looking forward to rising share prices again, as if this were of benefit for employees and the self-employed. Nobody reports the damages, even to human lives, that are created by the shutdowns. The functioning part of the health care system is not the result of foresighted policy, but only possible through personal commitment and some difficult decisions of many, truly systemically important service providers in the hospitals and in everyday supply. The aftershock prepared by this control madness is unimaginable. And what has not yet been addressed at all is the question of what comes next. What do we learn from the current crisis management?
- Solving a single problem without considering unwanted side effects threatens all. A holistic assessment of the situation is mandatory.
- Federalist societies have reacted clumsily. Closing the borders of Germany or Europe oversees the fact that certain crises cannot be stopped by this. Not to mention European cohesion, which I hope will not be destroyed with this nationalism.
- Politicians refer to experts in order to decide. Shouldn’t a task force of experts temporarily be given overall control?
- The population obviously needs a strong hand to rule with prohibitions and closures, otherwise the individuals will continue unteachable as before. It remains to be seen how these extended powers will be brought back to normality.
- In any case, a crisis leads to bad consequences and needs an evaluation and prioritization of all damages. The media and politicians should put their business model back for the moment and not creating even more insecurity in the population.
Not every country can afford the luxury of closing the shop. And we won’t be able to afford it again any time soon either. Hence: after is before.