Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “new normal” circulates ad nauseum throughout news outlets and social networks. This new normal is largely defined by a naturalization of precarity for some, the dramatic elevation of profit for others, and a demand for increased computation and automation to secure territory, population, and resources. Endless curves and data visualizations show us these “truths”.
It is hard to gaze upon these curves and not be reminded of a history of actuarial practices involving populations. It is also surprising how tenacious the ideology of the normal is, and how reluctant we are to cease using it. The idea of the normal curve was an invention of 19th century human sciences underpinning contemporary understandings of economies, populations and “race”. Our adherence to the language of the normal is, therefore, also about nature. But what form of nature is this? My intent is to briefly historically situate this “new” nature by tracing a history of the merged engagements between economics, artificial intelligence, and population management in ecology between the 1950’s- 1970’s. I will examine the concepts of resilience, adaptation and evolution within these fields to trace a genealogy of our contemporary “new normal” that assumes ubiquitous computing and speculative financial practices are the routes to environmental and population security and risk management at a planetary scale. I will then turn to speculative design and media practice to ask what alternative forms of life might be available to us.