Miscellany: On the faceless tyranny of the generic, analogy and music, light, vaccination mandates, etc.


On the deleterious consequences of the Utilitarian outlook:

One benefit of a Utilitarian approach to ethics is that it can easily be scaled to fit any circumstances. This general applicability of the theory is regarded as a feature. Of course, a slight amount of reflection will reveal that it is also a bug. To wit: the cost of such facile applicability is that it reduce actual persons to generic ones. Statistical generalizations come to take the place of real events. Historically, a recognition of individual rights (e.g. as in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights) of citizens has served to counterbalance the Utilitarian tendency of running rough-shod over real people for the sake of “the Greater Good,” which, given the superlative vagueness of the precepts surrounding the Utilitarian calculus, can always be rationalized. Such rights, of course, represent a Deontological influence on political life. Not surprisingly, such rights are under a constant threat of eradication (i.e. literally ex-radication, or “being uprooted”) because it is immensely difficult to identify a common transcendental ground that could sustain their roots given the nature of Modern and postmodern society. Gone are the days when it was possible to convincingly appeal to “Nature and Nature’s God,” as the Founders did, to establish a basis for such rights. Hence we find ourselves in a constant struggle in our efforts to think coherently about moral questions. These circumstances lead to the tendency to displace such questions onto scientists, whose discipline—established as it is on the basis of instrumental reason—leads them ill-equipped to understand the questions being posed, let alone, provide answers to them.

On the analogy of word, world, and melody (or logos, cosmos, and harmonia):

“In other words, verbal similes are like musical intervals.”

—D. Killian-O’Callaghan

It seems that the intelligibility of speech presents, in pure essence, the archetype of all perception both in process and in product. Hence, the substantial pattern of speech also represents the comprehensive essence of the world as such. I take this to be among the implications of John 1.1-3: 

“In the beginning was the Word (Logos)… All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

One essential element of speech is that it is always constituted by an outer, material form that embodies an inner meaning. Hence, words are incarnated in the material of symbols or soundwaves. But that which is incarnated in those symbols or soundwaves is not a material thing, but an immaterial one: namely, a meaning. Saint Paul observed that “the letter killeth but the spirit bringeth life.” The material world, in this sense, is a sort of text laid out before us whose immaterial import we are given to interpret according to the extent of our wisdom and insight. Great philosophers of all ages have hit upon this analogy so I do not pretend that it is original with me: Johannes Kepler, for instance, observed that “the divine call which bids man study astronomy is written in the world, not indeed in words and syllables, but in substance, in the very fact that human conceptions and senses are fitted to relationships of the heavenly bodies and their conditions.” Kepler, is of course, famous for his Pythagorean model of celestial harmonics among the planets, which interprets each orbital periodicity as an expression of a musical interval. This leads me to my next point.

In contemplating this theme, it dawned on me that an analogous relation holds between reality and speech as between speech and music (reality:speech::speech:music). Whereas the first relation established an ideal homogeneity between word and world, the second relation establishes a simultaneity between apparently discrete and sequential moments in time. The first establishes synchronic coherence while the second draws diachronic moments out of the plane of time and joins them in eternity. Here’s what I mean: a single note is not music. In fact, if you search for the music amongst the tones, you will not find it. Instead, music arises in the interval between notes. But the interval is an absence in the context of material elements since it is neither one note nor another one. And in fact, as long as one note continues to sound, a melody can only progress with great difficulty. Generally, a condition for a melody to evolve is that each note must decay and die away. At the same time, however, each note must also remain present simultaneously to us in intuition because otherwise we would not hear music at all. In that case, we would only experience discrete and unrelated tones and we would be called “tone-deaf.” In thinking on the phenomenology of music, I saw that music is a kind of archetypal speech in this sense. To follow any argument, I must allow one proposition to fall away so that I can receive the next one. But at the same time, I must carry it with me and it must persist with me as a kind of absence because otherwise I would not perceive the argument at all but only a series of disconnected propositions and you would call me “tone-deaf” to reason. Even a single word only unfolds itself through time and is hence dependent on the same “musical intuition” for its intelligibility. 

On vaccination mandates:

A great challenge confronts anyone who wishes to arrive at a correct appraisal of an issue like that of vaccination mandates. is that it is necessary to recognize both the commonalities that this case shares with other historical instances and also the particular or unique elements that set this case apart. The SARS CoV-2 outbreak seems to share some similarities with other communicable diseases for which a historical precedent has been established in respect to our collective response. At the same time, some elements of the present situation set it apart. As a rule, the same can be said of any given situation. It is evidently only with great difficulty that we are capable of sustaining this subtle cognizance of both poles of the issue. It is evident when this two-fold perspective is lost because people begin to deal in abstractions and from thence, false dichotomies emerge such as categorical pro- and anti-vaccination stances, and so on. Obviously, not every vaccine can be good all of the time, and the inverse. Hence it will always be a question of assessing the particular features and vagaries of any given situation.

One of the most pernicious elements of the discourse around the COVID-19 pandemic has been the scapegoating of anyone who has not received the vaccine as the reason the vaccination is ostneblisly still necessary in the first place. Ironically, it is a more feasible hypothesis that the massive mid-pandemic vaccination campaign is actually responsible for the escape variants of SARS-CoV-2—like the Delta variant—that have emerged over the last six months and hence the persistence and tenacity of the pandemic in general. I know that a common refrain has been that “this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated” but I remain unconvinced that this stands up to careful scrutiny at this point, though it might become a prophecy that fulfills itself for reasons I will try to outline.

From the beginning, none of the vaccines was proven to be sterilizing. Some people seemed to believe that they were, but this could only have been the result of treating the term “vaccine” generically without regard to the specific features and functions of these particular vaccines, or perhaps mere superstition and opiated faith in pharmaceutical solutions to every ailment. The trials that were conducted on the current vaccines assumed a different “standard” than the one that has been the general measure of this pandemic: namely, the PCR test. “Standard” has been placed in quotes because one thing that the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is not is standardized, given that anywhere from 30 to 45 cycles have been employed amongst various testing sites with no apparent effort to commensurate or even recognize this discrepancy. In any case, rather than employ the metric that has been general to the rest of our assessment surrounding this pandemic, both Pfizer and Moderna counted only symptomatic persons as “cases” in their trials. 

Unique to, but consistent throughout this pandemic has been to classify symptomatic and asymptomatic infections alike as “cases.” Ordinarily, a distinction is made between cases, which are symptomatic infections, and infections, which may or may not be symptomatic. But again, beginning with the outset of this pandemic, all infections were indiscriminately defined as cases and hence, in the interest of achieving a consistent diachronic picture of the pandemic, it has been necessary to uphold this definition. Because of this equivocation on the word “cases,” it was somewhat difficult to understand the metrics of effectiveness that Pfizer and Moderna published. As I indicated above, many people merely assumed that effectiveness referred to “cases” in the sense in which it was defined throughout the present pandemic when in fact it referred to “cases” in the sense that it had been defined prior to 2020. In any case, given the actual structure of the trials, it was no surprise to discover that the vaccines do not prevent infections.

But the vaccines do seem to prime the body’s immune system to react against a specific spike protein. These two facts taken together invite the hypothesis that a vaccination campaign of this sort undertaken in the midst of a high rate of infections will actually transform a situation in which the genetic sequence of the virus is undergoing random mutations which propagate diffusely and tend to follow an evolutionary gradient of benignity, to one in which the mutations are “selected for” which lead to a specific vector of escape and towards malignity. In other words, the large-scale vaccination campaign may have placed a selective pressure on the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 genome to escape the sort of immunity that those vaccines conferred. The real danger is that, given this structure of selection, the ordinary evolutionary gradient of the virus will be altered such that it becomes more, rather than less deadly. Generally, a virus will become less deadly as it propagates because killing a host can be like sawing off the branch on which you are sitting. But if the vaccine provides some mitigation from the worst of the symptoms and a sufficient percentage of the population receive the vaccine, then the evolutionary gradient will be inverted. The result of this is that a virus that had a 99% survival rate amongst the unvaccinated will become much more fatal. There is an avian virus responsible for “Marek’s disease” that provides a template for this trajectory of evolution. In any case, this is not to say that “no one should be vaccinated.” Quite to the contrary, I think each person should be free to assess the risks and benefits together with his or her doctor and come to the best decision about the issue. Still, I think possibilities like this ought to serve to give us pause about the “shoot first, ask questions later” impulse that seems to be the order of the day. Naturally, I hope I am wrong about this. 

On light and the extramission theory of visual perception:

I think a fundamental source of confusion for modern people is the manner in which scientific thinking conditions us to think of light as a physical object or substance or particle, on the one hand, and to pretend that we do not exist, on the other. Reification and nihilism, the two horns of Ahriman, as it were. The metaphors of the physicists serve to inform their own conceptions in ways they probably do not understand. A traditionally philosophical view of light sees it not as a wave or a particle, or anything else, but as the condition of visibility. It is on the threshold between the latent and the manifest, the potential and the actual. Hence, as Aristotle says, light makes potential colours into actual ones. This was also Goethe’s view and behind his polemics against Newton and the Newtonian theory of optics. From this perspective, it is self-evident that the extramission theory of visual perception is correct and no verification through scientific instruments is necessary to prove this. Instead, the proof is contained in the experience of vision and intelligibility. The fact that we can make sense of external events implies that, whatever else is happening, vision is extending beyond the physical organs of vision. Otherwise I would be trying to make sense of phenomena that did not contain their own cause since they would be mere internal representations of real phenomena. 

It can be demonstrated that the interior of the eye is illuminated in favorable external conditions and that this illumination serves to stimulate various nerves in the retinae, optic nerves, and visual cortices, etc. But nothing in this picture establishes that these physical and physiological phenomena have anything to do with vision other than the fact that if they are damaged or altered, that a correlative effect in vision is ordinarily observed. But it begs the very question that is at issue to imply that this correlation proves the intromission theory because the effect may just as well be the result of having tampered with the physical organs of extramission. 

Finally, any argument against extramission tacitly affirms it because if intromission alone were correct, then each of us could only dispute his own private representations. What does it mean that this often seems to be the case? I don’t think it disproves extramission because if only intromission were true, it would be impossible to notice.

On the totalitarian creep

I have in mind some of the legislations that are threatening to precipitate out of the cloak-and-dagger mood of the present, in which society is believed to be infiltrated by invisible attackers and hence, for the sake of guaranteeing protection against these hidden enemies, we are encouraged to forfeit liberties to the state. It invites a feeling of déjà vu following the 9-11 attacks of exactly 20 years ago. My observation is based on the pattern that persists irrespective of whether these invisible attackers are imagined as “terrorists,” “anti-vaxxers,” “white supremacists,” “antifa,” or whatever. The point is that we are promised that our security is under threat but that it can be guaranteed so long as we are willing to sacrifice our freedom. Of course, no determinate endpoint is offered since perfect security is impossible. Hence (and if 9-11 was any indication) the endpoint is embedded in a horizon that continually recedes. I noted that the Patriot Act was just extended in a virtually unanimous vote earlier this year and I think the so called “January 6th commision” is tending in a direction that is uncannily similar.

On the majesty of Scholasticism:

I have always taken aesthetic delight in the adamantine conceptual elaborations of Scholasticism. I have often wondered whether the Enlightenment represented not the dawn but the decadence of reason in a way that would be impossible for us to recognize because we are so convinced of our own superiority in juxtaposition to “the dark ages.” If this is true, we would be like the cave-dwellers in Plato’s allegory who can never escape because they are in denial about their imprisonment.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

4 Comments Add yours

  1. It makes me think that some poems, like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, find meaning in their musical quality, not in their words, and some musical forms, like scat, find meaning by adhering to the same syntax that governs words and turns them into speech.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting analogy between notes and music and words and debate.
    “…possibilities like this ought to serve to give us pause about the “shoot first, ask questions later” impulse that seems to be the order of the day.” – How true! It concerns me that the response to questioning the “solutions” of the big pharmaceutical companies is to turn a deaf ear. – or as Americans frequently put it (fingers in ears) “LALALA! I can’t hear you!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. c l barton says:

    Re. your point about the paradigm of “invisible attackers” – it’s interesting to me that so much of the discourse surrounding disease in general uses language of threat, attack, battle (etc; I’m sure philosophers of medicine/science and medical anthropologists (etc) have mused on this. In any case, I wonder whether and when we will shift from this militaristic/aggressive/paranoid and defensive mode of relating to illness, as there must be other, perfectly “cromulent” ways of talking and thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

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