My rating: 1 of 5 stars
A very strong example of "voice," but other than that I don't see what people like about this novel.
View all my reviews
Following up on my philosophical follow ups of yesterday, later last night I read Judith Butler's piece on the pandemic. She criticizes that situation because we have previously failed to create a more just health care system that would have handled this better. Because of this systemic failure,
Social and economic inequality will make sure that the virus discriminates. The virus alone does not discriminate, but we humans surely do, formed and animated as we are by the interlocking powers of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and capitalism. It seems likely that we will come to see in the next year a painful scenario in which some human creatures assert their rights to live at the expense of others, re-inscribing the spurious distinction between grievable and ungrievable lives, that is, those who should be protected against death at all costs and those whose lives are considered not worth safeguarding against illness and death.
Alex Broadbent in his pieces has been making the point that we have to do the hard thinking to determine what criteria make these choices. Nor is it consoling to point out that doctors make these choices all the time. Of course Butler is also correct that we should have a better system to begin with. I think that's also inherent in Agamben's criticisms of the response. My own thoughts a few weeks ago were, "Why aren't we doing what South Korea did which is obviously better?" Only to eventually realize we weren't prepared to do that. We've inflicted social harm (and hopefully not longterm harm on the institutions of the republic) because of that.
It is the role of philosophers to conceptualize and criticize and imagine how to do better and right. Broadbent has been insisting that there are relevant data and criteria that do not seem to be factored in to decision making. Agamben is insisting that the decisions be broadly more and not focused solely on survival (a fair point, though I feel Agamben is functioning in some sort of fantasy).
Yesterday I was reading Leo Strauss's essay on Plato's Republic. A most infelicitous writer Strauss. But in that essay he makes Plato's point that the just city is impossible. Which raises the question, what is the most just city that is possible then? Or, given our failures to create a better system to begin with and our failures to be adequately prepared (and surprisingly so since this virus is nowhere near as fatal as Ebola or SARS and as one friend said, "this is our practice run" for the really bad pandemic) what then is right, good, and just? Fair debate to be had there, but also not to lose site of the fact that being cornered by the failures into a series of bad choices.
While I was reading Strauss, Sebastian was re-watching Frozen 2 where Queen Elsa is told to do "the next right thing." Sounds like sage advice. In this moment, maybe that's all that can be settled for. But the next right thing is often not clear and rather narrows our vision of the moral.
A couple of new links to follow-up on previous posts about the pandemic and philosophy.
Last Sunday I posted Alex Broadbent's article "Thinking Rationally About Coronavirus COVID-19," which generated some vigorous discussion on my Facebook timeline. He's out with two more articles, becoming something of an indispensable voice in this crisis (he is a "philosopher of epidemiology"). The article "Why a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 could have lethal consequences" discusses why the measures taken in other parts of the world might have a higher mortality rate than the virus if they were taken in Africa.
His other new post in a broader article at Daily Nous entitled "The Role of Philosophy & Philosophers In The Coronavirus Pandemic." I particularly liked the final paragraph labeled as "Call to arms:"
The skill of philosophers, and the value in philosophy, does not lie in our knowledge of debates that we have had with each other. It lies in our ability to think fruitfully about the unfamiliar, the disturbing, the challenging, and even the abhorrent. The coronavirus pandemic is all these things. Let’s get stuck in.
One of the commentors, a Tom Cochrane, writes about how aesthetics intersects with the pandemic:
Aesthetics won’t help to combat the disease, but it will point out that there is considerable final value to be found in simply observing what is happening, for its own sake. Whatever else it is, the coronavirus is incredibly interesting. A great big rock has been dropped into the pool of human society and we are witnessing a million different effects that even the best fiction writers would have found hard to anticipate (who would have anticipated the creative response of putting different song lyrics to hand-washing instructions? and also how this is now *so* last week?)
So all I’m saying is that, like everything else, there is intense drama, and beauty, and sublimity and tragedy and comedy in this event. And it will no doubt stimulate the creative responses of human beings for years to come. And perhaps in recognizing- and embracing this, we can be less fearful or depressed.
“'Marguerite Derrida has just left us, a whole world is leaving,' announced the Institute of Advanced Studies in Psychoanalysis (IHEP) in a press release dated March 21, 2020." The widow of the acclaimed French philosopher has died of COVID-19.
In Italy the moral, social, and human cost of no funerals is mounting.
A criticism of Giorgio Agamben published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately behind a paywall) rightly points out that writings on the pandemic have focused on the moral crisis:
Agamben correctly observes that the question of the proportionality of the response is not a scientific one; it is moral. And the answer is not obvious. Here, at least, Agamben arrives at a serious question. This is exactly the kind of question we had hoped the humanist could help us answer.
Note, if you've missed the discussion of Agamben, I've been tracking it in my recent blog posts on the pandemic.
This author zeroes in on some appropriate criticisms, but I feel as if her essay is just the beginning of a response. I was left wanting more from the final section. Also wanting her to grapple more fully with the story out of Italy about lack of funerals, for instance.
The intellectual response is growing this week. Here at The Point, one can read plague journals from around the world, including a shortened version of that Chronicle of Higher Education article not behind a paywall.
And this evening I listened to a good podcast interview with the always interesting Anne Applebaum about authoritarian opportunism during the crisis and how the USA should learn from this to modernize its bureaucracy.
Yesterday I encountered the Philosophers on Medicine podcast, which has yet to grapple fully with this crisis, but they do address some of the concerns that it raises.
An interesting Midlands Voice in our local paper wondered if the luck of the Boomers has finally come to an end as they now face their biggest challenge as a generation.
My long planned sermon theme for this coming Sunday is "To Be More . . . Hopeful." What seemed like a serious challenge at the start of the week quickly took shape, as I will be exploring some of the things I've preached about hope before and testing them against the current crisis.
And just because this post lacked any cute Sebastian photos, here is a previously unshared one from a few days ago.
Daniel Defoe, in A Journal of the Plague Year, which I'm currently reading having intended to read this year even before the pandemic, writes this key paragraph:
Now let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man, even while they are perfectly well and insensible of its approach, and may be so for many days.
To that end, I recommend Thomas Pueyo's "The Hammer and the Dance," which does the best job of anything I've recently read about the best current steps and what comes next.
Even so, there are other voices. As with any scientific question, there are unknowns. There's this piece I read on Towleroad entitled "What's the Best Path Forward?"
Part of the value of reading Defoe, or any of the other classic works of plague literature, is that we so often live in the fierce urgency of the now, and historical perspective gives us some sense of what has always been case and the ways our time is not unique. Also that this too shall pass.
One of my main worries last week was that I saw so much focusing only on one dimension of the problem--the medical questions of the virus (or secondarily the economy) but less about all the other well-being and moral issues implicated. This week there does seem to be more of that, including more articles about mental health impacts of social isolation, the rise in domestic violence that has already occurred after only one week, and this article in The Atlantic "The Kids Aren’t All Right" about the lasting effects this trauma will have upon a generation of children. I also had an engaging conversation with a professor of gerontology on Saturday who thought that nursing homes should be providing residents a choice instead of placing them unilaterally in lockdown. Her reasons were that lack of visits from family and friends are proven to shorten life expectancy, so residents should be offered the choice of whether they want to run the risk of the virus and still be with family and friends. This is vividly brought to light in my own congregation by a member who was already in hospice and yet now doesn't have those visits, at a time when she would normally be surrounded by people loving her into death.
Defoe has this (among other things) to say about churches in the midst of the 1665 epidemic in London, "Indeed nothing was more strange than to see with what courage the people went to the publick service of God even at that time, when they were afraid to stir out of their own houses upon any other occasion." He writes about the courage of ministers staying in town and ministering to the citizens. We are, of course, doing it differently in 2020. Most of our connections these days are virtual. This week's staff meeting was inspiring as we now are getting a little more used to everything and are beginning to come up with more innovative and interesting ideas for what to do. Also this week we will be rolling out more of our programming. The staff meeting was one of the things that yesterday helped to lift my mood.
At Dadda's Preschool today was about the planet Neptune, which included painting our papier mache planet. We also spent a good hour outside with Sebastian riding his bike and walking the church's labyrinth (which I recommend if you can get over there some day on your own). While walking and biking the labyrinth, Sebastian kept asking, "Is this the right path?"
I kept answering, "It is. But it tricks you."
I also seemed to have a lot more work to do today. I didn't come near to completing my to do for church or here at home.
Yesterday's paper in Omaha reported that our citizens are doing a good job of following the guidelines. Fingers crossed.
I confess last night and this morning were rough for me. I believe I can safely say I'm depressed. This situation is so contrary to all my normal ways of operating and many of my normal coping mechanisms for difficult situations don't seem well-suited to this one. I do think it would be easier if I could be at a cabin by the lake with my husband and son and we had nothing to do. I vacation where you are completely disengaged is something many of us long for, but this situation is not that, obviously. I'm envious of those who can be home with family reading and getting bored.
Last night I started reading W. S. Merwin's Garden Time, one of his last volumes of poetry, with reflections on aging and growing limitations. There is a darkness to it that seemed fitting. This poem stood out the most to me:
Living with the News
Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight.
I haven't seen much yet written by America's leading philosophers (where you Martha Nussbaum?) but there's quite a lot happening in Europe. In Sweden philosophers have helped design the ethical protocols for triaging care. While a great debate has been stirred in Italy about the response to the virus taken there. The European Journal of Pscyhoanalysis invited some leading thinker to respond to what Michel Foucault had previously written about the rise of the disciplinary state in the midst of plague. You can read there contributions here. Giorgio Agamben has, in particular, generated much controversy and response with what he has written about it. Here is his latest. And an Arendtian response to these European thinkers that I wish were longer can be found here. A different perspective from a quarantined Italian philosopher is shared here. Slavoj Zizek seems to have taken very different positions, here in an early writing and here in a more recent one. His most controversial claim is that he thinks the crisis will result in a return to communism.
I think our worship live stream yesterday went reasonably well. As of this morning we've had 370 views. Yesterday we also had Zoom Sunday School and will be rolling out some other digital services this week.
Sebastian and I continue our study of the planets. Yesterday we papier mached two balloons for the model solar system we are building. Sebastian didn't want to touch the paste and was ready for a break after two. I think when these (Neptune and Saturn) dry, we'll paint them so he can see finished product.
He really enjoys his new book The Girl Who Named Pluto and has requested that we read it every night. So this morning for our school time we watched a video about the New Horizons mission to the dwarf planet. That occurred in 2015 when he was a newborn. At the time the mission thrilled me--the idea that we as a species had the ability to design a spaceship that would travel that far and send back pictures, the reality that Pluto was so beautiful and sat there unobserved until that moment, the ideas that we as a species are capable of great things and that the universe is filled with beauty. At the time I talked often to newborn Sebastian about the mission and showed him the photos NASA released. His high chair became the "rocket chair" and as we traveled from the kitchen to the dining room we'd pass the various (newly named by humans) features of the planet such as the Sputnik Planum and the Norgay Montes. Watching the video together this morning brought back all those lovely memories and helped my mood.
I recommend this article that I read yesterday entitled "Against Productivity in a Pandemic."
The philosopher Sir Roger Scruton died earlier this year. I hadn't yet read a good eulogy for him, but this one in the NYTimes, that I had previously missed does a fine job of explaining what kind of conservative he was. An excerpt:
Moreover, he recognized that the most important things people build, even more important than the cathedrals and great works of art and music he so loved, are not primarily the result of planning. They develop organically over time, with trial and error, as the work of many hands (an example is the common law of England). Recognizing this, conservatives should, he argued, seek to protect these things against those who would tear them down out of a misguided zeal for what they saw as the demands of liberty, equality, social justice or even the free market.
The conservative can cheer moderate reforms (organic things do grow and therefore change), but the conservative’s fundamental goal is to conserve. That spirit, by the way, made Roger an ardent, but old-fashioned and therefore moderate, conservationist — a kind of Green Tory who believed responsible stewardship of the natural order crucial. He thought that good stewardship begins with regard for the local landscape and architecture.