Pandemic Tangle

Introduction

Tom Salomon and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University have found volume changes in the brain, most notably in the amygdala. This was found in a study of fifty healthy subjects whose brains were scanned before and after the coronavirus lockdown in Israel. Stress and anxiety from the lockdown are the suspected cause. While the finding is tentative, it reminds us that the pandemic is hard on the mind and spirit. Throw in the election, fires, civil unrest, climate change, economic insecurity, and all the rest, most of us are spiritual basket cases. I’ve written repeatedly about the strange mood I’ve been in. I haven’t gotten rid of it yet.

There is limited good news though. I have for sometime been perfecting a low grade approach to human spirituality. It just might help some of you. Once one gets beyond the anger and the shock, this way of thinking can be appreciated as positive and hopeful. Try it as a politics of hope if yours is failing. I roll out the approach in this essay, along with analyses of other pandemic related events. I use the word “tangle” to note how hopelessly intertwined are our various pandemics.

But first, I have correspondence. I need to talk with my neighbor Bob again about a Facebook friend I introduced him to in Pandemic Gamble.

Russian Interference

Dear Bob,

It has happened again. My friend is back on Facebook with a whole new schtick. Do you have time to take a look? It reads like advanced paranoia and a call to arms. It’s compacted and vaguely believable. Scares me.

Will


THINK ABOUT THIS FOR A SECOND
Printed in Facebook, 10-1-2020

“Create a VIRUS to scare people. Place them in quarantine. Count the number of dead every second of every day in every news headline. Close all businesses. 40,000,000 out of jobs. Peak unemployment. Remove entertainment: parks, gyms, bars, restaurants, sports. No dating. No touching. Mask people. Dehumanize them. Close temples and churches. Create a vaccine. Let depression and anxiety and desperation set in.

THEN… ignite hatred and civil war. Civil unrest. Empty the prisons because of the virus and fill the streets with criminals. Send in Antifa to vandalize property as if they are freedom fighters. Undermine the law. Loot. Attack law enforcement, but tell government to order a stand-down. We are all being baited by an adversarial government who wants to destroy America – And, in an election year, have Democrats blame all of it on the President.

Can’t take America in a war, destroy it from within. We are being conditioned, manipulated, and programmed by multiple agendas as never before…..time to DO OUR OWN RESEARCH and MAKE UP OUR OWN MINDS rather than eating everything being spoon-fed to us! SOCIAL MEDIA is going to kill us!

If you love America, our Constitution, and the Rule of Law, get ready to fight for them.

Copied and pasted. Do the same and share please”


Will,

That is terrifying. I wonder whether he’s in touch with militias in Michigan. I am with him on the importance of making up one’s own mind and on his putdown of social media. Still, your friend didn’t write it. No way. It’s another copy, paste, and count the “likes” deal. This stuff is all over the Internet. It has happened so often as to have its own name—“copypasta.” Did he get any “likes?”

Wow, wait a second, I’ve got something big for you. You’re not going to believe this. That piece comes straight from the Russian intelligence service. That should make you feel worse or better. They sure know how to make us dance. But, rest assured, it’s not your friend who wrote it.

Bob

Bob,

Thanks for the super research. I’m horrified but relieved. My friend is a nice, quiet, laid back type of guy. He’s not scary in person. I go back to the loneliness and powerlessness we spoke of last time. He got three likes for the post. I assume he just wants to stay in the action and feel powerful. It may be a spiritual issue.

Thanks again,

Will

God of the Future

God and Man are inextricably entangled. Man is forced to design god if there is to be God, but where but from humanity is the language to come? Of the three possible types of deity—past, living, or future—the first, a creator god, is typically stone cold, male, absolute, and dictatorial; the second, a living presence, is fashionable, deeply consoling, but inherently personal and selfish, and the third, while beyond time, is ideal and promising.

Humans have little choice but to fashion their gods in human garb. The nouns and adjectives needed for the design work are available only in language and culture. God can be no better a deity than homo sapiens is a human.

It is empowering that idealized humanity generates the images available for the deification design work. Once freed into the universe, idealized images of us—photo shots from billions of smart phones I presume—may eventually seed the image of a creator God for unknown aliens. Maybe something like that happened to us. Whose to say?

I gain hope from two powerful realities. The first is that the spirituality we feel is warm and home grown, fully human; we experience it; it is ours! Second, we homo sapiens can improve. We can get better. We can become more fully human. We can reimagine ourselves into all possible futures. We can realize our genetic and cultural potential. Such an achievement should be our goal. It would give good purpose to life.

I imagine giving out the following assignment to school children and adult learners everywhere: develop an image of us. Use your far fetching imagination to craft images of our species when its potential is fully realized? Collect these creations in libraries. Display them in museums. Study them in school. No competition allowed. No winners selected. Let a billion images float and flow!

Wait? How would the assignment be different if you had been asked to conjure God? Well, whichever you want to do. Choose. Idealized humanity equals a future God of creation. That’s the way cultural evolution could go! In facing our limbo of terrifying pandemics, I’m hoping that re-envisioning man and God helps people feel better, is encouraging, and imparts purpose?

Jump Over This

Some readers like to know the background assumptions behind a thesis like the one I’ve just advanced. If that is you, read on. Otherwise, jump to the next section!

When it comes to spirituality and the politics of hope, I am happy for people who have found a system of belief that gives satisfaction, happiness, meaning, purpose, and hope to life. That’s wonderful. I celebrate them and I celebrate with them. I would never say that other people’s beliefs are wrong and mine right. I am only sharing the assumptions I make in developing my approach to spirituality. This is background information; no offense intended. I assume:

  • The universe wasn’t created.
  • No purpose exists for or in the universe.
  • There are no supernatural beings and regions
  • Everything extant evolved.
  • Evolution continues.
  • I (and we, a species) exist.
  • I (we) are conscious, self-reflective, imaginative, and thoughtful beings.
  • The human brain is extraordinary, singular, and nonpareil.
  • We humans do all the knowing, thinking, concluding, deciding, and talking that gets done. We, the species homo sapiens, are at home in nature on Planet Earth, with other forms of life. Nature provides company; we are not alone.

Lemming Politics

Back in March when the pandemic was getting out of control, and President Trump decided to limit economic activity and call for stay at home orders, I wondered how his fan base would react. At that time, I was expecting the appointment of a General George Marshall like figure to lead a disciplined worldwide and national attack on the virus under the American President. We would do as Americans had done under President Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, mobilize the nation to win the war against COVID 19. I expected calls for sacrifice, neighborhood vigilance, and victory gardens.

If the decision had gone that way, I think President Trump’s supporters would have seen the sense of it and followed suit. They would have bought in on masks, social distancing, and the other public health protocols. As we know, it didn’t go that way. No national plan was forthcoming, lead responsibility was sloughed off to the states, and the president reversed himself quickly on the wisdom of economic lockdown and on science. He became resister in chief to public health guidance and his “base,” lemming like, followed suit.

When news broke that the President and First Lady were infected, and that the White House had become an unsafe work place and super spreader, I expected the President would finally reverse course, Boris Johnson style, and return to advocating public health guidelines. His followers would have had a second chance to be good citizens. Instead, President Trump, unchastened, doubles down. No critical thinking occurred. No independent thinking sprung forth. No shift in attitude happened

If the president had acted responsibly, his fans could have employed their energies riding trucks through neighborhoods, bullhorns blaring, “Be a Patriot! Be a good neighbor! Protect your grandparents! Wear a mask!” Instead, a brazen unbridled freedom from governmental constraint is heard, accompanied by thinly veiled threats of violence. A simmering civil war on social distancing and masks is underway. So unnecessary, so irresponsible, so sad.

Plato rejected democracy because of its tendency to produce unthinking mobs and dictators. When fandom wins out over critical thinking, citizens metamorphose into lemmings. Lemmings are visible everywhere these days.

Reaping the Whirlwind

What a week! After the Rose Garden introduction of Amy Coney Barrett as nominee to the Supreme Court—at a suspected super-spreader event on Saturday—President Trump debates Joe Biden on Tuesday, rallies with Hope Hicks in Minnesota on Wednesday, learns of Hope Hicks’ infection and attends a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday, announces on Friday his and his wife’s infection, is transported to Walter Reed Hospital that same day, is treated with multiple drugs, arranges a joyride around the hospital to wave to fans on Sunday, escapes back to the White House on Monday where he mounts a staircase and salutes a non-existent crowd in the style of Benito Mussolini, declares himself well, downplays the lethality of the virus, and recommends against taking the virus too seriously. He doesn’t look well.

This whirlwind of drama has educed in me several disparate and wild thoughts. Before I regain my equanimity, they are:

Adult protection statues are on the books to intervene in the illness of delusional patients who are putting their own and other people’s lives at risk. Shouldn’t Don, Jr., Ivanka and the Trump family intervene in their Dad’s behalf? If not, could a guardian-at litem be appointed to supervise a protective services order?

Roger Stone, the original Republican dirty trickster and the instigator who first persuaded Donald Trump to run for president, speaks well of infamy. When fame eludes, try infamy! That’s exactly what Trump has done, and he’s succeeded big time. He’s attained the highest levels of world notoriety through nonsensical and nefarious actions. No previous con man has succeeded so spectacularly as to convince the marks to award him the presidency of a major nation in a democratic election. For fame, he is now up there with the likes of Pontius Pilate, Nero, Girolamo Savonarola, and Ivan the Terrible! He’s immortal. Given the scope of the accomplishment, he should be able to chill out if he loses the election and just turn over the keys to the White House. He is unforgettable. That should be enough.

I wish certain humanist greats were alive to witness the goings on in our national theatre of the absurd. Aeschylus, for one, to witness the “hubris” he so succinctly named and depicted. How about Shakespeare? Wouldn’t he love this scene? He’d roar! He could gather enough material in a fortnight to write several comedies and tragedies. King Lear lives. Then, “karma!” Who invented that sweet concept? Is Donald Trump’s karma about to be revealed to him? Is ours to us? Stay tuned! Then, there are the great writers on plague years. Giovanni Boccaccio, Daniel Defoe, and Albert Camus. Barbara Tuchman’s engrossing book “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” also comes to mind. Couldn’t we make good use in these troubling times of distant mirrors provided by towering humanists?

American History

It’s bad enough that President Trump self nominates his bust for chiseling into Mount Rushmore. I find this premature, as well as insulting to indigenous people. Still, what he said on September 17 at the White House Conference on American History is worse, straight out vitriol, propaganda:

  • “. . . left wing mobs have torn down statues of our founders, desecrated our memorials, and carried out a campaign of violence and anarchy.”
  • “. . . radicals burning American flags want to burn down the principles enshrined in our founding documents.”
  • “ In order to radically transform America, they must first cause Americans to lose confidence in who we are, where we came from, and what we believe.”
  • “The left wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left wing indoctrination in our schools.”
  • “The Left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies.”
  • “There’s no better example than the New York Times … 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”

The President who knows no history insists on a whites only history that justifies and minimizes slavery.

Elsewhere, three broadly, related stories from the living stream of real history happened by accident to show up on the pages of the Portland Press Herald on a single day, October 12th.

The first recalls a raid on this date in 1676 soon after King Philip’s War had ended. The story is that Wabanaki Indians, still at war in the north after the killing of Metacomet (King Philip) in Rhode Island, raid the English garrison at Black Point in today’s Scarborough, Maine. The settlers are driven from the garrison but soon return. Sagamore Mogg Heigon, later immortalized in a John Greenleaf Whittier poem, is the leader of the Indian attack. Heigon gets killed a year later when the Wabanaki attack the garrison again and fail. The Wabanaki succeed in getting a treaty with the English that gives them a few benefits and temporary peace.

Robert E. Cray, Jr. writes that “King Philip’s War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. Fifty-two English towns were attacked, a dozen were destroyed, and more than 2,500 colonists died–perhaps 30% of the English population of New England. At least twice as many Native Americans were killed. Some historians estimate that the combined effects of war, disease, and starvation killed half the Native population of the region.”

A second story in the Press Herald on October 12 reports that “Maine is one of fourteen states and the District of Columbia that now observe Native American or Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of, or in addition to, Columbus Day.” Notice, respectfully, that it’s still unsettled whether “native” of “indigenous” is the more appropriate word. It’s also unsettled as to whether Americans can simultaneously celebrate Columbus and Indigenous Peoples Day. The fully awake mind will wander to Washington and utter: “well why not? District of Indigenous Peoples! It has a beautiful ring.”

The third story explains that: “Members of Native communities disproportionately get COVID-19.” Contributing factors are cited: low wage jobs in hospitality, health care, and food service; close quarter multi-generational living arrangements; lack of food and clean water; poor health care; chronic disease, and obesity.

These three stories collectively remind us that the formative constituencies and actors in American history are very much alive and still contesting their relationships with one another. The consequences of the old battles are evident in hospitals, morgues, reservations and neighborhoods today. Identities of those called settlers, indigenous, native, Indian, European, white, and American are still in play. American history is in process and is yet to be determined!

The President is shameful when he lectures the nation on American history. It’s good that he’s gained a late interest in the subject, but as usual, he manages to get the facts wrong and conjure nonexistent conspiracies!

Supreme Court

In regard to the Supreme Court and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, I proceed strictly by stereotypes, personal preferences, and intuition. I do this most of the time anyway—evidence be damned—but with SCOTUS almost exclusively. My recurring nightmare question is: how are these impartial, nonpolitical judges able to find legal justification for their preferred answers every single time? They call it law and cite Learned Hand. I call it rationalization and cite Sigmund Freud.

As to Barrett, she’s an accomplishment person, a disciplined judge, and a loving mother of seven, so of course she will be an acceptable addition to the Court; she already is an experienced Appeals Court judge. And she’s a woman, the more the better in top leadership positions as far as I’m concerned. I wish they had a trade in rather than a succession system. I’d happily trade her in for Thomas, Alito, or Kavanaugh.

So my only problem, other than the blazing hypocrisy of the Republican Party, is that she is likely to vote the other way on every important matter I care about: the Affordable Care Act, choice, LGBTQ rights, guns, elections, President Trump, and so much more. Her replacing of Judge Ginsburg isn’t near as egregious and obscene as replacing Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. But, it’s still a bummer. Given the circumstances, the ethical course would be for Judge Barrett to refuse the appointment as hundreds of her faculty colleagues at Notre Dame had urged. But she did not. Shame!

I’m secular. From an originalist perspective, the founders intended to form a secular nation in which people of all religions were welcome and free to practice their faith. Religion is fine, but I resent the appointment of so many Christians to the court. The problem with Christianity for me is its irrational universalism. Like Islam, it targets all mankind for recruitment drives. They think nothing of imposing their God and morality on everyone else.

I would like to see a struggling working class person of modest means appointed to the Court, a non-lawyer devoid of corporate connections. I’d really like to see the appointment of a person from the indigenous peoples. It will be a great day when a true “originalist” is appointed.

D. Brock Hornby, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maine, wrote a column, Insight: Religious Rivalry in Maine History, for the October 18th issue of the Maine Sunday Telegram. It recounts the efforts of John Bapst, a Jesuit Catholic Priest, to stop the Ellsworth School Board from requiring Catholic children to read the King James version of the Bible in public schools. Bapst wanted the Catholic kids to read the Catholic approved Douay-Rheims translation instead, or none at all. The school board refused, thus setting off a whirlwind of actions, legal and otherwise, including most terribly the tar and feathering of poor John Bapst in 1854. What a horrible way to be run out of town. His legacy endures though. A Catholic High School was established in his name in Bangor in 1928. This was obviously a hard-earned and well-deserved honor.

Beyond the insights Judge Hornby’s writing provided, I found myself enthralled with a wildly divergent surmise. In John Bapst’s time, Protestants were contesting Catholics in the streets and statehouses. At some point in the twentieth Century, the powers that be in the Evangelical and Catholic communities decided to work together as Republicans to win elections by pushing a common social agenda, consisting of all the familiar no-nos. In this way, Republicans joined “values” and Wall Street voters into an effective voting block. Religion was thrown out the window and put in service of a national social agenda. This worked brilliantly. One problem threatened the partnership though. While the Evangelicals had equal or greater political power, the Catholics had much the finer Law Schools and better trained judges. When Republican Presidents come to power, they tend to appoint Catholic trained judges. Judge Barrett is the latest example. John Bapst would probably be surprised as well as pleased.

I wrote a secularist critique of Antonin Scalia in this blog in January, 2016. While I hope it doesn’t apply to Barrett’s judgeship as well, the reader might like to read it. How can one call oneself an originalist when the founders ruled out women and slaves from participation in government. I’d feel better if Barrett recommended herself to us as a reconstruction or fourteenth amendment lawyer, like Judge Ginsburg. Barrett can’t be expected to be Ginsburg, but I wish her the best. Good luck to us all!

Pandemic Merry-Go-Round

It’s merry-go-round wrap-up time. There is a natural endpoint to this blogpost: November 3, 2020, Election Day.

It has been obvious for decades that the demographic tide is running against Republicans. White citizens will eventually become a minority. Instead of welcoming diversity, the party has thus far refused the invitation. When Donald Trump became president, he squeezed the Republican Party through the wringer of race so tightly as to transform the grand old party of Lincoln into a shrunken rag, a rag that surreptitiously flies the confederate flag. The apparent aim is to maintain white supremacy and male dominance. Reimagine the Trump flag on militia and MAGA rally trucks as a confederate flag and the civil war battle lines reappear.

The Republican Party can’t win if eligible citizens vote. The game, therefore, is to restrict the vote and steal the election using all means possible. The electoral college system helps. The Supreme Court helped too. They castrated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). The former Jim Crow states are no longer required to get federal pre-clearance on changes to election law. The states soon got back to racial gerrymandering, requiring identity cards, insisting on tests, requiring witnesses, losing lists, mailing to wrong addresses, hiding voting places, limiting hours, hiding drop boxes, superintending polling places with armed militia, and making voters stand for hours in long lines. The big ideas in Republican Party confabs are restrict, disqualify, intimidate, scare, and discourage. As this good work goes on, President Trump declares the election rigged. He knows well. His party is doing the rigging!

President Trump’s behavior at his rallies in these last days of the campaign is remarkable. He has, we know, been campaigning since Inauguration Day, 2017; he never really stopped after 2016. At some point he lost interest in doing the job of President, and shifted attention to perpetual campaigning. He apparently hates the work but loves the power. He’s comes alive and has great fun at these rallies, never happier than when he’s pumping up the crowd. The problem is that no agenda or plans for a new term are presented. His staff complains of his failure to stay on message. It’s mostly bravado, grievance, and woe-is-me complaints: why is it COVID, COVID, COVID all the time? I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need your vote. I may not come back if I lose. Biden is a socialist and a criminal. While Trump is safely ensconced above the crowd—having recovered from the disease—the crowds are huge, closely packed, and mask optional affairs. They fit the very prototype of the super-spreader event universally warned against by scientists.

In the meantime, the pandemic is taking off big time, in Europe as well as here. Cases are skyrocketing freakishly close to the places Trump is holding his rallies. Whereas a 40,000 a day infection rate seemed probable for the nation a month ago, 70,000 a day is typical now. The daily tally hit its highest mark on October 30th at 99,155. Big spikes are underway in the upper Mid-West and Rocky Mountains. Cases are growing in thirty-nine states. Combine the effects of a third wave, “pandemic fatigue,” colder weather, inside gatherings, flu season, and the holidays, and you’ve brewed a recipe for mass infection and death. Europe anticipates a new round of lockdowns. We do not! Things are going to get much worse.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and epidemiologists in general may be the only ones treating the pandemic as a global phenomenon. Others tend to treat it as a national, regional, local, and even accidental happening. They confuse pandemic for epidemic. For a proper orientation, take a look at October 30. Worldometer reports that the highest ever level of daily infections, 573,614, occurred on the planet today! That’s right, today! That projects to over 4 million new cases a week! The total for the year stands at 46,180,307. All of these numbers are undercounts.

I laugh at the prognostications I’ve made in these blogposts. They have been way off even though I only sought to divine the immediate future. It’s easy, looking backwards, to assume an event had clear antecedents that, once identified, fall into a neat cause and effect chain. But that rarely works. Most cause-effect statements about human behavior are suspect, probably wrong.

The New York Times, in its October 30th edition, asked its merry band of columnists “What Have We Lost?” over the four year term of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. The question confesses the conclusion that said term has been a disaster in their editorial judgement! Even liberals should be able to see the clear bias, hubris, and pseudo-event quality of the “question!” Yet their presumption is widely shared, so I’m happy to share the one or two word answers chosen by each of the fifteen opinion writers: Persuasion (Nicholas Kristof); Innocence (Frank Bruni); Imagination (Michelle Goldberg); Pax Americana (Paul Krugman); Faith (David Brooks); Generosity (Jennifer Senior); Naïveté (Charles Blow); Our Word (Roger Cohen); Conservatism (Bret Stephens): A Female President (Gail Collins): Our Illusions (Jamelle Bouie): Allies (Thomas Friedman): Pride (Maureen Dowd); A Reckoning (Ross Douthat); and, Apathy (Farhad Manjoo). In their telling, we’ve lost a lot!

Looking forward—say to November 3, 2020—the most important vote, everyone agrees, in our lifetime and perhaps in the nation’s history, the chain of events is unpredictable. The future is wide open. Human agency counts and millions of people are involved. That’s exciting and heartening. Cause and effect may be a comforting idea, but if it exists, the train is well hidden. Nothing is inexorable.

Having said that, still unchastened, I’ll venture one prediction: Joe Biden wins in a landslide. After that, who knows? All bets are off. It’s a long way to New Years Day, never mind the Inauguration!

Will Callender, Jr. ©

November 1, 2020

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

4 thoughts on “Pandemic Tangle

Add yours

  1. Will, the problem with the length of your posts is that I loose track of what you are saying. I just had to go back to paragraph 16 to reread your hopefulness. Two powerful realities. I like number two best. We can improve! It can be our purpose. It can be the purpose of life. Thanks for keeping me thinking. Jim.

  2. Jim,

    Me too! I loose track of what I’m saying. Thanks for picking up on point number two! You’re the one who taught me of its importance. Thanks for that. I hope young people take hope from the infinite possibilities we have for reimagining ourselves. It’s a special species into which we’re born. It would be a shame to see it go away unnecessarily. That’s also the point about the thousands of other species our behavior is bringing to the point of extinction. We need to change our act, and soon!

    Will

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