During this pandemic, a lot of questions have been raised in relation to how the world will ever possibly get back to the ‘normal’ world that we have lived in for all of our lives until this moment. The consensus is still out, and there seem to be two theories posited by professors and analysts: we are going to be able to recover from this, or our society and culture will be forever changed. It is hard to imagine a culture or society different from the one in which you have grown up in and have become accustomed to. Not only is it difficult to imagine, but it is also terrifying. However, do not be dismayed. If we look at history and anthropological theory, we may be able to shake hands again one day.
It is very common for us to look at a traumatic event and think that this is the most important thing that has ever happened to the world. However, this is almost always untrue. You can always look back on the past or even recent history to blow this thought out of the water. Not only have there been great pandemics, but there have also been great wars, great famine, and great poverty. Despite all of this you are still here and you are still alive. Humanity is still here. Our culture is still present, even if it looks different right now. But, what will it look like after this great paradigm?
Eric Wolf was born in Austria during the Nazi regime to a Jewish family. He survived probably the worst event in recent history to date, and yet, he realized that the Jewish culture was not changed from this event, as seen in his many books on anthropological theory. He posited that culture is often seen as ‘ahistorical’ rather than an ever-changing thing that exists throughout human creation. This makes sense when we think about the fact that some human beings have lived from one cultural shift to another, and that nothing happens overnight. It is not as though one day all of the people in a culture wake up and decide that they are going to start a new practice. So, then, what will our society and culture look like when this pandemic ends?
It will not be right away. You will wake up one morning and you will see that a vaccine has been created, or that numbers are dropping. Then, another day, you will be able to go outside. You will be able to go to your favorite restaurant with your friends and your family. You will be able to go to your favorite coffee shop, your favorite museum, etc. Everything will be alive again. However, for a while, strangers may still wear masks. There still will be angry glances when you step over the 6 foot threshold of a stranger. But, then, this will also be temporary. Society will remember what it once was. Solidarity will return in the form of being part of a community. Culture is not ahistorical. We will remember our culture as it was, and soon, it will return. Do not despair. Our culture, however flawed you may view it, will return, because it is not a fleeting memory.