Miscellany: on information and knowledge, COVID-19 profiteering, and other subjects

On being an elder versus being old:

The analogy came to me of the way in which it is possible to distinguish between the pitch of a tone and its volume. These two features of the tone cannot be divided, or taken apart, however, without also taking apart the tone itself. It is not necessary to disassemble a house to discover that it is made of bricks. Similarly, every person has an age and, the older a person is, the more likely he or she is to have accumulated a certain wisdom and dignity to go with it. These two predicates of a person can, again, be distinguished but not divided.  Of course, nothing in the process of growing old entails that one should grow in wisdom; having experience does not entail that one should learn from it. Aristotle says: “A young man is not equipped to be a student of politics; for he has no experience in the actions which life demands of him, and these actions form the basis and subject matter of the discussion” (Ethics 1095a2). But, conversely, just because someone is old does not mean that he is necessarily so equipped.

“Older” seems to be a comparative term that is a function of age; “elder” seems to be a title that is a function of wisdom and experience. It would be a pity to allow the definitions of the two terms to collapse into one another because it would deprive our language of a shade of nuance. The loss of a word is the loss of a meaning and hence it is a little bit akin to having slain an angel.

On the scapegoat mechanism:

The murder of a scapegoat serves the social utility of a community by establishing cohesion around a common enemy. The sins of the people are laid upon the victim, who is then ritualistically sacrificed with the effect that people can pretend their problems have been put to rest with him. Naturally, it is predicated on a lie and hence, like all lies, it is compelled to propagate itself indefinitely through a process of cyclical renewal.

On information, data, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and memory:

The image that I am left with when I contemplate them is a sort of continuum—analogous to the colour spectrum—between “objectivity” and “subjectivity.” The further towards the latter end that one of these terms is placed, the less it can be conceived as a fact or datum and the more it must be thought of as a capacity or attainment. Inversely, the more something tends toward the “blue” end of the spectrum, the more it becomes potential for knowledge but not yet actual knowledge. Actual knowledge arises in the interplay between the two poles: namely, the capacity of a subject must work upon the raw potential—the prima materia—of the world to transform it in some way through illumination. 

Many people conceive of memory as a storehouse of information but this seems unlikely. It seems self-evident that memory and information go hand in hand, at least in the ordinary sense of episodic or semantic memory (i.e. in contrast to procedural memory, for instance). But by the same token, they cannot be identical because the recollection of an event or of meaningful content implies an understanding of the same, which is beyond mere information. The capacity of memory is a function of the soul’s ability to reflect on its prior activity and experience as present content. And all content of the soul is present content. Hence the phenomenon of memory is the strand where the waves of time lap on the shore of eternal presence.

Knowing something is more than just possessing propositional content related to the object of that knowledge. Instead, to know something requires understanding it. Hence, there are clearly degrees or dimensions of knowledge that correlate not so much with quantity of information and date but with quality and depth of insight and understanding. To possess information may present the appearance of knowledge but true knowledge is only attained through having understood the meaning of that information. A clock can tell time but does it know the time? Does this email understand what is written in it? Does the computer? Given this relationship between information, understanding, and knowledge, perhaps it will be clear how writing—and by extension, the printing press, word processors, the internet, and smartphones—risk substituting the semblance of knowledge for the real thing. If we lack wisdom, we may think that we already know something because we can retrieve information that pertains to it almost instantaneously. This would be the worst possible scenario because not only would we lack knowledge about things, but we would also lack the knowledge of our own lack of knowledge. Hence we are liable to be complacent and disinclined to seek something which we already believe ourselves to possess. Does this remind you of the people in the very pits of Plato’s cave?

It seems that the technology of writing has transposed speech from time to space. In a certain way, it has turned speech to stone and hence the typewriter can be likened to the Gorgon, or Medusa. What is the Perseus in us that can overcome this impulse to slay the spirit of speech and leave only a cemetery of dead letters? It has something to do with our ability to resurrect the author’s intentions in us.

On the connection between COVID-19 policies and corporate profit margins:

It is self-evident that specific corporate players stand to gain massive profits by manipulating public policy around COVID-19 in specific ways. Most people get their news through social media and that is the only mode of communication that most people have under lockdown. Hence companies like Google, YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook, Twitter, etc. have financial interest in manufacturing consent around the lockdown by promoting sensationalized news around it and, most importantly, suppressing dissenting opinions. Amazon, of course, will also seek to strategically prolong the lockdowns and fear around the virus because the only recourse for consumers has been online retail. That Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post allows him, again, to promote one side of the issue while burying the other. 

Moreover, aside from the run-of-the-mill mendacity that characterizes so many of their operations like suppressing generic treatments for the sake of developing novel alternatives which often underperform the originals while bearing massive relative prices hikes, pharmaceutical companies stand to benefit from the aggressive pandemic policies because the latter detach people from their traditional lifelines of health like social interaction, exercise routines, entertainment, and so on. The less-healthy people are, the more those same people will depend on pharmaceutical intervention to deliver them from any affliction that might overcome them. Moreover, people become increasingly conditioned to see pharmaceutical interventions as the only option to address disease. We have been worried that the virus is evolving to be stronger but it might also be that we are devolving to be less-resistant to it. Indeed, from the outset it has been known that obesity was one of the primary comorbidities in all COVID deaths and obesity rates have soared in an already obese country since 2020. This is most insidious among young people, who have been forced to bear the brunt of so many perverse, pernicious, and pigeon-livered policies around school-closures and enforced social distancing without themselves having any say in the matter. Compare this study: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7037a3.htm. A summary of the findings is below:

Among a cohort of 432,302 persons aged 2–19 years, the rate of body mass index (BMI) increase approximately doubled during the pandemic compared to a prepandemic period. Persons with prepandemic overweight or obesity and younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases.

Hence the sins of the older generations—the corruption and cowardice—are being delivered on the younger ones and there is no excuse for this.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Charles says:

    On the scapegoat mechanism. Good articulation. I just connected white supremacy and slavery and prejudice. The book The Reckoning Mary L. Trump is powerful about the atrocities and crimes in U.S. history. She writes “failing to demand a reckoning for atrocities, even retrospectively, creates a situation in which we insure such atrocities or crimes or transgressions will happen again. Failing to call them out is to condone them.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. [P]harmaceutical companies stand to benefit from the aggressive pandemic policies

    Indeed, they already have and stand to gain a great deal more when the Covid vaccines become a seasonal affair along with flu shots. The only difference will be that “customers” (kindly note: we’re not called “patients” anymore) will bear the cost either directly or through their insurance companies or government healthcare plans.

    [P]eople become increasingly conditioned to see pharmaceutical interventions as the only option to address disease.

    Increasingly? The real horror is that “people,” i.e. “the common man,” had no say in this state of affairs whatsoever. The “standard of care” for diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer to pretty much everything in between has been set by pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical company scientists perform the cost-intensive, biotechnical medical research; pharmacuetical companies produce the (synthetic) pharmaceuticals; pharmaceutical companies conduct the clinical trials; and pharmaceutical company representatives visit hospitals and doctors” offices on a regular basis to offer samples of their wares to try out on their unsuspecting patients. It’s the most “efficient” way to go about it, after all.

    That’s why it’s so hard to find a good doctor these days. The practice of medication replaced the practice of medicine long ago. (George Carlin even provided a spot for the medicine to medication transition in his skit, Euphemisms.) If we’re lucky, us “customers” can choose from a variety of biotechnical solutions offered in the disease care system to whatever it may be that ails us. But only that. If we want an alternative or, perhaps, to combine “standard” and natural therapies, we really are on our own.

    There’s an interesting story, shared by Dr. Deepak Chopra, about the day it suddenly dawned to him to ask: “Why am I writing a prescription for this?”

    Insidious, it is. It’s very hard to know how to feel about this considering that treatments for terminal diseases both historically and presently cutting short the lives of millions, if not billions, of people are designed only to extend a person’s life-time as long as possible (which has the benefit to pharmaceutical companies of squeezing every last drop of profit even from a person’s death) while research into curing potentially curable, aberrant diseases goes unfunded and, for the most part, undone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Max Leyf says:

      “Amen,” is all I can say, as much as I wish it were not so.


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