The truth is – to a great extent, we simply don’t know where we are. All we have is a fake return to normal. One that has stolen away every book of maps that can offer precise coordinates. Like turpentine, SARS-CoV-2 epidemics everywhere meticulously strip away any cognitive mapping of the terrain. Everything the mapmakers trace is redrawn by a virus that undresses itself slowly. We are more disoriented today than we were yesterday. There is little good news.

We wake up hoping to whistle a new tune; looking for some kind of landmark, or clear coordinates, but we simply can’t find the notes to complete the scale. We seek closure and completion. We need to draw a border along the edges of each page. Now we only speculate. The next strain may be even stronger. It is frustrating –  this lack of a basic orientation.

There is no return to normal. There is no trail of crumbs that can take us back to the home we once knew. Next can only be built out of the debris of our past lives. In the paranoia of the pandemic, we clutch like children to any fable that could help us find a direction out of the grim particulars of the present. First ‘the summer heat will make it better,’ then ‘in the fall, there will be a vaccine,’ and then ‘we will achieve herd immunity.’ Nothing was ever further from the truth; except perhaps clear lies dammed in a ditch. Now the virus looks like it is here to stay. We must cope with this virus concretely. It is not a spectral reality. The world in its current form is disappearing.

What does the next normal hold? The virus has provided a range of legal and ethical challenges that demand disciplined and illimitable thinking. It has cast us into a situation of ground-zero empiricism, in which the uncertainties over the nature of the virus and its economic and legal impacts suggest that nothing is off the table as we struggle to comprehend the contagion and its consequences.

Many issues have surfaced, but precarity, vulnerability, risk, and uncertainty are central. The precariousness of the labour market, the vulnerability of individuals during lockdown and the fragility of banks and businesses are pivots in action. The pandemic has heightened existing precariousness, which could be the product of markets, past tragedies, and of inequalities. The pandemic thus heightens the innate but often hidden instabilities of modern economic and social life.

Law creates calculability in the face of disruption. What is emerging gradually is that an effective response to the pandemic depends on legal imagination. Legal imagination requires that we actively think about existing legal concepts and doctrines to unmask their purpose to understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects them and to determine how the law and legal thinking can and should evolve in relation to the pandemic. It affects how we think about new legal assemblages. SARS-CoV-2 epidemics everywhere are forcing nations to question what the law is and what it is seeking to protect.

The virus is like the ‘dim mak’ kung fu ‘touch of death’ that Uma Thurman delivers to her adversary in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ causing his heart to stop after he walks a few steps. The lapse in time between the blows and dying mirror the condition of economic globalization today. We are stumbling forward. Waiting only to fall. A fake food security comes from living on food from storage. Food planted and harvested monsoons ago. Granaries are emptying and with borders closed, the crofters were not permitted to travel to plant or to pick during lockdowns. To increase this insecurity, farmers in France and Spain watch fruits and vegetables ripen and left to rot.

We are in a precarious position. The road to recovery is green in more than one way. Russia halted exports of buckwheat. Kazakhstan restricted shipments of wheat flour, sugar, vegetables, and sunflower oil. Protectionist measures and trade barriers only manufacture extreme volatility. Everything from salad greens and tomatoes, to garlic and peas could be next. SARS-CoV-2 is a universal crisis. States cannot preserve bubbles as the virus rages elsewhere. We need coordinated centralized universal health interventions and to build endurance for a long-term threat. If we don’t, single market economies will evaporate.  Regrettably, the logic of isolated bubbles continues. But if bubble logic predominates, then we have a formula for a perfect storm and must forget about the economy we have now.

The scientists build a logic of bubbles but a political decision will have to be made. This does not mean that we need to import eerie hybrid forms of governance existing in North Korea and Cuba, or the fusion between despotic communism and brutal capitalism experienced in China and Vietnam. But bubbles cannot guarantee that no one starves. Globalization requires tightly synchronized procedures and mutual support to coordinate resources to confront what looms ahead. But the world looks fuzzy through a capitalist prism. Perhaps what is ahead is multiple lockdowns or living in a permanent state of emergency. The question is – What will that societal reorganization resemble?