Nostalgia for Normal

Lots of talk/pixels about ‘getting back to normal,’ the ‘new normal,’ and returning to a time when things/life were somehow better because they were usual. Primarily related to the pandemic, it’s also an opportunity to unpack a sympathetic but highly questionable sentiment. So this interesting tweet, highlighted by Bloomberg, serves as a good remedy for that nostalgia for normal:

Happy talk about way-back-when presents recklessness on many fronts – political, racial, economic – but it is also woebegone in terms of environmental devastation and the slow thoughtlessness that has brought us to exactly here. No one* wants to go back to Jim Crow and no one should want to go back to the normal, daily burning rates of our fossil-fueled civilization. As the article demonstrates, and this is a note to hit over and over again, the [high] costs of slowing down and reversing the effects of climate change are actually a bargain. Slice it however you want – we’ve already gotten far closer to the tipping point of better and cleaner far faster than imagined. Looking away and ignoring now requires more effort. That normal is depressing – and it should be. Our calculations of the impacts of the burning have become far less abstracted, to the point of easily transposing the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster onto methane well leakage and carbon emissions just by looking at the numbers.

Unfortunately, our numbness to the staggering total of COVID deaths resembles our shruggy attitude to climate-related externalities. We get used to them, consider that state ‘normal,’ and long for the days.

But we shouldn’t, and we can’t go back, the comforting but perilous blindness of ‘normal’ notwithstanding. Instead of normal, how about a different better? As our friend says, Don’t Be Afraid.

*Admittedly, sometimes my optimism overwhelms

ISIS as Islamic Reformation?

Unpacked take on the Islamic State phenomenon as a microcosm of the Protestant religious wars that ripped apart Europe for centuries:


The problem set that we face with ISIS has several components. Among the biggest is that this is a problem internal to Islam. As a result Muslims have to resolve it for themselves. In many ways what we are watching in real time is the Islamic equivalent of the Reformation, counter-Reformation, and then the splintering within the Reformation that led to hundreds of years of struggle, conflict, and warfare in Europe. A lot of it had to do with which version of Christian theology and dogma was supposed to be correct and followed, but a lot of it used that as a motivating factor so elites and notables could control resources. Ultimately they became so intertwined, that even into the 1990s in Northern Ireland or the Balkans they could not be easily teased apart. The other big one for me is that America and its Western allies cannot really resolve this problem set. Even if we were to go in with overwhelming force and just decimate ISIS it would not resolve this dispute, which is multifaceted and internal to Islam.

Read the whole thing, for sure. It’s a response to/critique of a long read in The Atlantic on the same subject. Are these in any way analogous? Even considering it outs the struggle into a different context.

Image: Pilgrimage to St. Isidore’s well, Francisco Goya, 1819-1823, Museo del Prado. Also known as The holy office. The holy office is another name for the inquisition.

Green Movement Transforming Islam?

The Green Revolution, in Iran.

To varying degrees, thinkers and theologians identified with the democratic movement have been offering a new reading of Shiism that makes the faith more amenable to democracy and secularism. The most significant innovation—found in essays, sermons, books, and even fatwas—is the acceptance of the separation of mosque and state, the idea that religion must be limited to the private domain. Some of these thinkers refuse to afford any privileged position to the clergy’s reading and rendition of Shiism–a radical democratization of the faith. And others, like Akbar Ganji and Mostafa Malekian, have gone so far as to deny the divine origins of Koran, arguing that it is nothing but a historically specific and socially marked interpretation of a divine message by the prophet. The most daring are even opting for a historicized Muhammad, searching for the first time in Shia history for a real, not hagiographic, narrative of his life.

That would be a revolt. As the article points, out, this is largely an attack on Ayatollah Khamanei and the way he was appointed by Khomeini. An elected spiritual leader changes the game and many of its names. It would be amazing if the courageous perseverance of Iranians in the street attempting to change their government resulted in changes to Islam. Changes to the one may not be possible without changing the other, but the passion and brutality on display over the last 7 months show how, I think, everyone involved understands the stakes.