Features Australia

After the party

The virus has also laid waste to the woke zeitgeist

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

A week ago an Instagram post from #ChicksOnRight made me smile: ‘I notice the press is saying how many males and females are getting the virus. It’s amazing how all the other 57 genders aren’t getting it.’

Yet only a few days later, that post has already lost impact and seems dated. Transgender and identity issues, once so prominent, have vanished from the headlines, now that we have life-threatening problems to worry about. To my infinite surprise, I have in these plague days found myself quoting V.I. Lenin: ‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’

Just like that, an era has ended in these past weeks, and not with a bang or a whimper, but in the silence of a near-global lockdown. The elites’ globalist party is over for now and the world that emerges from the Wuhan pandemic seems unlikely to be business as before. Too much damage has been done, too many truths have been unmasked, too many people have been hurt across the globe. In Australia, for example, Chinese investment can no longer be disconnected from the totalitarian Chinese Communist Party, now that China-linked firms revealed their priorities by hoovering up Australian medical supplies for export to virus-ravaged China.

Will we go back to our carefree jet-setting, cruise-taking, virus-spreading ways once this is over? Former Tory Minister Ben Gummer, who has penned a book about the Black Death, argues that the plague upheaval of 1347 was massive but temporary, that society ultimately resumed much as before and what cultural changes eventuated had already been under way. He may be right and he has history on his side.

Our society, however, had reached an unprecedented level of affluence pre-virus, in which daily life grew increasingly insulated from long-held truths and brutal realities, the welfare safety net buffering the deserving and the non-deserving alike from failure, and allowing a froth and bubble of nonsense to dominate our media. Many thought the worst issues humans faced were the fantastical imaginings of climate catastrophe, which pronouns were to be used, what gender children should choose, how many coloured people should sit on boards and so on. As the vernacular has it, things just got real; given the depth of disruption and inevitable economic haircut we will all take, our life has already been transformed. Climate catastrophists will still be with us after this is over, of course, as will social engineers of all stripes, but new forces have been unleashed too, and public attitudes cannot but be influenced. The signs had already been there that the tectonic plates of Western cultural values were shifting. Brexit, which the Brits finally achieved despite dogged and ingenious globalist roadblocks, and the Trump revolution, powering on despite the Russia collusion hoax, the impeachment attempt and multiple smaller affrays, were the most obvious manifestations; but a host of smaller changes have been bubbling up too. When zeitgeists change, they do it thoroughly, with fashion, art, culture, behaviour, and human endeavours of all kinds ringing in the new.

A few weeks ago in Bourke Street Mall I was astonished to see Myer’s windows full of butterflies and gambolling children, unmistakably Caucasian in looks (was that even allowed anymore, I wondered?), a graphic reminder of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Faraway Tree illustrations to those of a certain age, but obviously enchanting newer generations who had never been told that Noddy was a patriarchal, capitalist oppressor of the first order. Myer was displaying a pottery collaboration with the artist David Bromley, and when I checked in recently it had nearly all sold out. This was a couple of blocks away from the face-slapping ugliness of Federation Square, now a high tide mark of the old zeitgeist, when rude angles and novelty passed for edginess and innovation in architecture. Perhaps beauty (Sentimental! Representative! Colourful!) is sneaking back in to a popular culture which has been starved of it for decades.

While it is easier to see what we are leaving than where we are going, some post-virus trends are becoming clear.

– Reshoring: China’s dominance of the West’s medical supplies and various other manufacturing sectors has been exposed. Expect the USA to lead the way in decoupling from China’s dominance, especially in any industry linked to national security. Australian-made will grow in importance.

– Localism: There has long been a revulsion at the flood of cheap, rubbishy imported goods, made poorly to be used briefly and then tossed into landfill. Teenagers who grew up through a glut of fast, throwaway fashion are now championing sustainability, support for local businesses, recycling and reuse. For a variety of reasons, many will want to celebrate and support local businesses, as is already clear with the location-labelling of foods and drinks.

– Online learning and working may make genuine inroads and hold some of these gains when the virus releases its grip. Regional centres would then benefit from an influx of virtual workers, now priced out of a decent lifestyle in our major cities, and demand for child care centres would fall.

– Universities that grew rich and built empires based on foreign students will be suffering losses this year and may have to cut some of their less, ahem, vocational courses. Fewer academics parroting nonsensical social theories will be a relief to us all.

– The Retail Armageddon that was already barrelling down the virtual highway may, with the help of the pandemic, finish off a number of more marginal retailers, both independents and chains, leaving us with more online shopping and empty malls.

– Home life reprioritised. Numerous Bunnings stores have sold out of vegetable and herb seedlings, not to mention the blitz on DIY goods. My son last week bought a kitten from a breeder who said she had sold 27 kittens that weekend, a record. Jigsaws, books and puzzles are selling well too. Hobbies of all kinds will grow to fill the quiet hours.

– Less stress. Here in our beach community the streets are much quieter but those who are out and about are making eye contact, smiling and saying hello. A hard-working lawyer relative says the stress has just fallen away from her, now that she is restricted to home and can’t do anything anyway.

Staying still is relaxing, and too many choices are a burden we had all grown used to carrying. This lockdown won’t last forever but for some it is a pleasure while it happens.

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