Shifting standards of normalcy

In the course of a few weeks, everything has changed so drastically. I remember saying about 3 weeks ago, “Sure, COVID-19 will come to Michigan, but they won’t close school.” Then, after Schlissel closed school, I assured myself the administration couldn’t shut down commencement – the school had too much money at stake. Even after being dealt that blow, I told myself bars would stay open indefinitely. “College kids are dumb,” I remember telling my roommate. “If Ricks can keep making money, it’ll stay open.” Restaurants and bars shut down three days later.

What we consider “normal” is shifting rapidly, and I’m beginning to think about this in the context of my Capstone project. The best writing, in my opinion, challenges a widely accepted norm, destabilizing the seemingly sturdy foundations of an idea or phenomenon. I’m currently reading Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, and this is something she does well. Tolentino writes about things many others have already tackled – feminism, weddings, racism, reality TV – but probes why we hold the basic truths that we do and then pokes holes into those truths. For instance, in an essay about the idea of the difficult woman, Tolentino digs into the modern feminist approach of defending celebrity women who are publicly critiqued, suggesting that perhaps we are beginning to conflate the criticism of a woman with her worth. She doesn’t just embrace modern feminism and run with it; first, she finds the limitations of certain widely accepted assumptions.

I want to do this with my project, too. In discussing the ideas of anthropocentrism and the environment, I’d like to shake people’s faith, ever so slightly, in their belief that human lives have inherent worth. I don’t want to do this in a destructive or aggressive way, but in a thoughtful way that makes my readers rethink their relationship with the environment. Tolentino is a good model – she’s radical without being degrading or judgmental.

I think the COVID-19 outbreak has actually shed some light on the extreme extent to which our presumptions of normalcy can change. Actually, the conflict I’m addressing about the value of a human life might have more to do with COVID-19 than I originally thought. We’re now seeing a desperate scramble to protect basic human life – the actual life itself, not the material things we used to think were really important (like clothes, shopping, and other luxuries). Perhaps this focus on human life is anthropocentric, but it’s also humble in some ways. Lots to think about.

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