Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Narrowing Focus

Map of Israel | Large Solid-Faced Canvas Wall Art Print | Great Big Canvas

- Roughly speaking, for twelve weeks 10,000 more people than usual each week have died in the U.S. If it happens that this is followed by 10,000 less than usual people dying each week for twelve weeks, would that mean that as a result of the epidemic 120,000 people died three months earlier than they otherwise would have?
- Roughly speaking. Do you think we're going to have anywhere near twelve weeks of less than usual number of deaths?
- We've already had a couple. It would support a different interpretation of the epidemic, as life shortening rather than life ending.
- A three month shortening of life over a three month period for one out of 2,500 people.
- One possibility among innumerable others. We'll see in the coming weeks.
- On a related subject: if the polls are correct and nearly all Americans believe the government is corrupt and politicians are liars, it can't be because we are a nation of skeptics. The same Americans who distrust the government believe without evidence ridiculous conspiracy theories.
- So?
- We think the government is lying to us because we're a nation of liars and the people in government are no exception. The question I have is, Why do we believe what the government tells us about the epidemic? Is it simply too complicated?
- The epidemic is something we want to believe in for its own sake, out of hatred for social life and for the relief of giving up on the possibility of imagining something better.*
- But this could happen only because our leaders - I don't mean the government, I mean those we have recourse to for advice, thinkers and creative people in general - have failed us.
- How failed us?
- By their lack of subtlety. As attempting to understand an epidemic requires being able to handle different kinds of information,** so does doing the job of social critic. You mentioned last time the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Noam Chomsky's seeing what is happening there as nothing but colonization of a weak country by a strong country: a tendentious narrowing of focus. Injustice, repression, violence are not part of his analysis. Another prominent social critic*** demonstrates the same fault in the same context. He talks about a 'Jewish occupation of a country that from the 7th century until 1948 was Muslim.' According to Wikipedia, 'Palestine was intermittently controlled by several independent kingdoms and numerous great powers, including Ancient Egypt, Persia, Alexander the Great and his successors, the Roman Empire, several Muslim dynasties, and the Crusaders. In modern times, the area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, then the United Kingdom.' From the first to the 4th century Jews were in the majority, from the 4th to 11th century Christians were, from the end of the 12th to the middle of the 20th Muslims were, today Jews again are in a majority with Muslims not far behind.
- What do you think is behind this 'tendentious narrowing of focus?' Can it be our leaders suffer from the same hatred of social life and freedom as Americans in general?
- Do you imagine the experience of talking with them would be freeing? Remember what Henri More said: A thing can be divided up into pieces, and does not respond to the world; human beings have a character that is undivided, and are open to the world in all their different aspects as thinkers, creators, friends, lovers.****

Further Reading: