Maintaining Perspective

One of the defining features of our times is the absence of reason in everyday interactions. Half of the U.S. adults can’t read a book written at the 8th-grade level, while the average American reads at the 7th to 8th grade level; comic books outsell literature, and the growth of gaming has reached such an extent that there’s talk of making it an Olympic sport in 2024. Now, I don’t begrudge a hobby; life cannot be split solely into work and deep philosophical study. However, balance is not what’s reflected in the above. The growth of childlike activities into adulthood has not come as a supplement to adulthood but at the expense of it; as these activities have increased, we’ve also seen a proportional increase in the number of individuals staying single and not creating families. There are, of course, other factors at work here, but coupled with the raw numbers, it’s more than reasonable to assume that the immaturity of adults would have a negative effect on the most single important aspect of adulthood, creating a family. In many ways, our collective inability to think critically has become an increasingly important factor in national decay.

It’s with this in mind that over the last two weeks we’ve been saturated with news that there’s a strong possibility the COVID-19 virus originated in a lab within the Chinese province of Wuhan. The lab in question was experimenting with the virus and had resident researchers falling ill with COVID-19-like symptoms during the virus’ initial stages. There’s still debate regarding which theory is correct, whether the virus originated from bats or from a lab. Unfortunately, as has become customary, people are lining up taking sides and abandoning logic before any definite conclusion can be reached. Partisans for Trump have suggested that since he was correct in this instance (ignoring the obvious that no conclusion has been reached) all of his other insinuations are therefore correct as well, basically defying all rules of logic by equating the truth of one assertion with every other. Others within the conspiratorial community have gone down the same road, stating that since the opponents of the lab hypothesis accused its supporters of engaging in conspiracy-mongering, the truth of this one assertion and their being wrong in this instance gives validity to other conspiracies. The truth, which doesn’t seem to matter to many, is that there are valid arguments to make for both sides. The circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the virus originated in a lab, since the lab in question was working with COVID-19 viruses and had workers fall ill with similar symptoms to COVID-19 very early during the pandemic. Likewise, the rationale for the bat theory is equally strong, as the virus is missing markers that would indicate the virus was human-made. Whichever scenario is eventually proven, however, the results most likely will be used for partisan gain and not constructive reformation to prevent similar occurrences from taking place in the future.

The issue at play here, the possible origins of COVID-19 and its controversial essence, has its roots partly in human nature and partly in the nature of contemporary society. All of us from an early age on up are in search of an identity, something which we can align with and show fidelity to; lacking that, interactions have no meaning; the family and the Nation appear as nothing more than mechanical means for sustenance. Such neuters the willingness which we as a species have displayed throughout history to suffer through great sacrifices for ideas or to display the worst aspects of our natures for those very same ideas. With the diversity of human thought and talents, history has never lacked for adherents to ideals. For as long as recorded history, there have been those who’ve shown a fidelity to religion, others to science and philosophy, and others even to arts such as poetry or music. Hence, there has been perpetuation of conflict within societies but also at other times during the epochs of civilizations the flowering of all of these different aspects from one pole to another and everything in between. Compromising identity compromises life, itself. Identity resides within the organism in terms of gender, intellect, and ability, among other factors.

Through simple qualitative observations, certain conclusions can be reached. The fact that throughout history the proportion of men to women has always remained almost exactly 1-to-1 leads to the conclusion that there’s something essential to the perpetuation of our species through the male/female dynamic, something beyond simply the act of reproduction. The biological products of male/female relationships display such a diversity of thoughts and dispositions that both science and logic can only give partial explanations for their occurrences. Differences are integral to survival, a community composed completely of individuals predisposed to fight, lacking in intellectual skills will in time lack the means to defend themselves from others who have the fighting technology derived from superior intellect. And a civilization lacking in warriors may have the best quality weapons but without individuals capable of using them, they will lack purpose and the civilization would be defenseless. The inner desire all of us feel for unity at times goes astray and takes on purely formal traits. We view unity as sameness, grouping individuals together based upon commonalities such as ethnic or religious origin, IQ scores, educational attainments, etc. But as the example of the warrior/intellectual dichotomy above shows along with personal observations of large family units, a unity based upon sameness is a false imposition upon society. Grouping based upon similarities is contrary to human nature as revealed throughout history. While there is a tendency to fear that which is different within each of us, the opposite tendency of attraction to that which is novel and different always displays a stronger force and staying power. A unity based upon similarities leads to stasis and eventually societal-wide spiritual death. A true unity is a unity of difference (especially opposites), each entity existing because of what it is not. THIS is how vital the difference is.

When this principle is adhered to and these differences are allowed to develop in a symmetric, organic fashion, society progresses in a functional dynamic manner. What happens when this natural symmetry is thrown out of whack? It is when differences become asymmetrical and lead to social fracturing. A basic premise of any organic social structure is to be an accurate reflection of society being composed of the different groups and ideas which compose that society. The United States Congress is an ideal example of a social body reflective of asymmetry; almost all of its members represent the financial elite of society and the occupation of lawyer. The product of such a social body is predictable; it represents the status and viewpoints of a very thin slice of the population. With public policy being applied with a cookie cutter and the needs and wants of a greater part of society not being met, social fracturing ensues. Another institution that fails the symmetry test, though less obviously, is the media. At first glance, the division of the media into ideological spheres of influence would seem to be conducive to an organic structure. But upon a deeper look, what’s discovered is that the ideological aspect is only secondary. Of utmost importance to media outlets is to increase viewership, and with the number of outlets available, any kind of failure to produce shocking, salacious content would be met with reduced engagement and a loss of market share. Hence, we have the conundrum, in almost all aspects of our daily lives nationwide, decisions are being made within a social structure trying to square the circle.

Let’s return to the issue of COVID-19 and how the fractures it’s revealing are the product of this asymmetry. Central to the debate surrounding COVID-19 has been the old faith versus science problem. Some took the words of President Trump and others on the Right to heart and don’t believe the virus is any worse than the seasonal flu. They view mask mandates as a violation of liberty and part of a design aiming to slowly chip away at freedom until a status of servitude becomes formal. They see any information coming out which contravenes their views as being disingenuous and part of an evil conspiracy. On the other end of the spectrum are those who take science as dogmatic absolute truth and are not willing to question scientific consensus. They desire to subordinate all social ends and values to what they consider science. The extremes on both sides are exemplified by those who refuse to wear masks, threatening and bullying teenagers who happen to work in a service industry job for doing nothing more than enforcing store policies by telling people to put their masks on. There are others who from fear and paranoia are willing to walk in the street to avoid passing someone on the sidewalk, regardless of whether the other individual is masked or not. What’s become more than apparent is that both sides of the debate have fetishized their own particular beliefs without considering the viewpoints of the other. The extremes have dominated the discourse and, as a result, the United States has the highest death toll in the world and has done less than any other industrialized nation to mitigate the effects of the lockdown. Just maybe, if we had social institutions more organic in nature, whether it be in politics or the media, the last year would have been less socially traumatic.

Instead we’ve come to the point we’re at now, with the latest in the COVID-19 drama being debate centering around its source. Of course, given the state of our institutions, that debate has not been centered around constructive findings but a he said, she said, back and forth. Of paramount importance for those involved is proving the other side wrong and therefore moving the pieces on the chessboard in a more favorable direction, all the while being oblivious to the dangers of deifying either science or faith at the expense of the other. What the partisan of science needs to ask him/herself is what society would look like if all essence were broken down upon a scientific basis; if love, companionship, hate, and anger were nothing more than the results of chemical reactions, would life have any meaning whatsoever? For the partisan of faith, the question needs to be asked what meaning God would have if science were always subordinate to religion and human-made cures for illnesses and environmental destruction were subordinated to the efficacy of prayer. In such a case, faith would become useless as people see the destruction all around without hope of remediation. Obviously, these two examples rest on the extremes but they bring up a larger question in which the answer should be obvious. What is the role of both science and religion within society and the State?

The partisans on both sides of the COVID-19 debate give us the answer now that the evolution of the virus has in a sense flipped the script. There are still those who, despite the vaccines and guidance from the CDC that in most cases masks are no longer needed, insist on wearing them at all times when in public. On the other hand, we have those who were most adamantly against the wearing of masks now referencing the science in an attempt to go maskless. Oftentimes, the differences within society are also differences within us. Not only does the debate need to be had concerning society (especially its social philosophy), but also as individuals, we need to find the right balance between faith and science in our own personal lives. A life without passion or logic is a life without its constitutive foundations. Often as individuals, we struggle against the two poles just as society struggles between them, with one manifesting while the other staying dormant, the battle continuing as long as we continue to breathe, with spirit always attempting to unite the two into a functional synthesis. Neither science nor religion can flourish without the other. Faith and logic become synonymous through their mutual dependence on each other, just as do the existence of love, anger, passion, and contentment. The ties that bind may at first glance appear to be the cause of division, but in the end, they are what make us.

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