Óscar Reyes-Matute
Philosophy, kabbalah, screenwriting...

Critique of the pandemic rationality. An approach from pragmatism and Kabbalah

A group of Venetians dressed up like old doctors at the time when in Venice there was the plague, celebrate the end of the Venice Carnival, despite the facts it has been stopped on Sunday due to Coronavirus situation around the region. The group have been walking around Venice ending the demonstration in S.Marco Square, on February 25, 2020 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Giacomo Cosua/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A group of Venetians dressed up like old doctors at the time when in Venice there was the plague, celebrate the end of the Venice Carnival, despite the facts it has been stopped on Sunday due to Coronavirus situation around the region. The group have been walking around Venice ending the demonstration in S.Marco Square, on February 25, 2020 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Giacomo Cosua/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A ghost runs through the world: the ghost of pandemic rationality. Are we able to stop its devastating effects on our psyche and our behavior? In the following lines we try to develop a pragmatist vaccine project

FROM A LOGICAL POINT OF VIEW

We’re under siege, like Tom Hanks, in the Normandy landing sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Our men are shot down one after another, but we have to keep running towards the German machine guns to take a beach where the only thing we need to die is to be alive.

This time they don’t shoot us with lead bullets or shells. Nor have they detonated a nuclear device over our city. It is not an alien invasion. It is something more immaterial, which comes from inside ourselves. It is the logical structure on which we have built our model of rationality.

Aristotle, perhaps to strengthen imperial minds like the one of his disciple Alexander the Great, codified it in the Topics and the Organon. It works by principles that at first glance seem intuitive to us: A is equal to A, and B is equal to B. You are A or you are B. It is true or it is false (principle of identity). Additionally, if it turns out that A is equal to B, and B is equal to C, then A is also equal to C (principle of transitivity, basis of all cause-effect systems).

Building on that basic operating system, we have drafted constitutions, built cathedrals and constructed spaceships.

It took more than two thousand years for scientists to understand that perhaps the universe does not work through this binary disjunctive logic, and that a beam of light thrown over a slit can behave as a particle or as a wave, potentially possessing both states, depending on the viewer’s point of view.

When we shoot a particle into CERN’s hadron collider, we have to work with the bizarre quantum logic. But when we press the electric switch upon entering our house, we expect the light to come on without any third possible state.

A disquisition onto logic in the midst of the pandemic may seems too exquisite to you. But perhaps it could be useful to analyze a Prime Minister, an epidemiologist or an influencer when they offer us arguments like “We cannot choose between life and the economy …” or “It is immoral to put the economy above life … ” as if life and economy could be differentiated in the way we theoretically differentiate A and B in an Aristotelian disjunctive logical scheme.

LOGIC, TRUTH AND GOOD

Usually it is yourself who, without reflection, accept to play with this disjunctive logic rules when you analyze and discuss political discourses. But once you accept it, you will not be able to choose a third or fourth way, nor mixed solutions, you will only be offered two ways, false dilemmas like left vs. right, white vs. black, communism vs. capitalism, economy vs. life. You will not even be able to choose another pair of elements, you will be tied to those proposed by the one who started that game of language you decided to accept.

Tic Tac Toe: a children’s game we still play when analyzing political discourses.(Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s like playing Tic Tac Toe: the first player plays in the center. After that, if the second player does not play in a corner, he is lost. Mutatis mutandis, if you agree to think or debate politics in a disjunctive logic system proposed by your opponent or interlocutor (he starts playing in the center), then you are the second player, you play in the side square, and you are lost.

There has never been a dilemma between life and the economy. It is the type of (i)logical construction that comes from sectors and schemes such as left and right, humanism vs. materialism, with which they bombard us incessantly through social networks, generating discomfort and fear.

The most dangerous thing about all this is that whoever wins in this kind of games usually attributes himself the criteria to determine what is truth and what is false, and from there he can illicitly go into the ethical field, that is, he or she can determine what is good and what is bad. And if you are Joseph Goebbels or Tedros Adhanom, the results of your disjunctive speeches repeated a thousand times, millions of times, billions of times, can have devastating effects on vast human groups.

American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931 – 2007)  (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)

One of my intellectual heroes, the pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty, pointed out that upon this dichotomic logic the most of the institutions we live in have been built. Rorty said that probably we are dealing with inner structures of the Western collective unconscious, kind of vital tools to survive as species. Perhaps we have transmitted these structures through our genes, and that is why these are so difficult to dismantle or upgrade, although these are no longer working satisfactorily in our hyperconnected and global reality.

Does it mean that we cannot survive if we do not think with dichotomies, in a binary oppositions system? Or perhaps someday we shall come to think and act in our ordinary life upon a quantum logic basis like Neo, the protagonist of The Matrix?

We have built the apparatus of our global civilization on the binary system of today’s computers: banking and finance, the international space station, the research against the virus that plagues us and the love messages we send to our families through cell phones.

But we don’t know if in 20 years all computers will be quantum ones, and if instead of A or B, instead of using bits, rather using qubits, they will process data through systems where we have A or B, A and B, AA + BB, and many other possible combinatorial bases beyond binaries systems. Kabbalists have always pointed out that the universe was created and works through a decimal system of information and energy, through ten sefirot. They are ten and not eleven, they are ten and not nine, says the Sefer Yetzirá or Book of Creation, the first text where this decimal energetic-computer system was proposed. It is as coherent and possible as the fact that our current world is organized – still – on the binary system of our pre-quantum computers.

Perhaps we are not yet ready to operate upon a quantum basis mind in our daily life, as our parents were not ready to pay the electricity bill using a bank transfer from a cell phone.

A horse carriage driver in London takes Charles Dickens to a literary gathering. One century and half later, an Uber driver takes J.K. Rowling to a similar party. The difference – and the line of continuity – is that the Uber driver grew up in a world where the Internet was already normal, even becoming to be considered a human right in some countries.

And you may wonder what force drives those changes, that evolution, that seemingly ascending line of continuity. We can believe in Darwin, prima facie, and his theory of the natural evolution of species. We can use the medieval concept of conatus, namely, that all things in the universe want to persevere in their being, stone always wants to be stone, and Matu always wants to be Matu. Quoting William James, Rorty noted that fulfillment and diversity seem to be the engine power and the objective towards which Humanity moves.

The above -including Darwin- would suppose that there is a certain objective in the Creation, that there is a plan or a teleology of Creation, as Kabbalists have always said. At the level of the meaning of our life, perhaps understanding and accomplishing this plan is the reason why we came to this world. What would move the whole things, the universe (or the universes), would be something similar to the will, the conatus, and that the Kabbalists have located into the sefira Keter, although they refrain from offering more descriptions about, because it is an energy or information system unknowable to us humans of the year 5780.

 

(Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

TAKE THREE DOSES PER DAY

Dichotomous systems can create discomfort and anguish, people can feel trapped and fall into deep states of depression. My recommendation is that you take three doses of pragmatism per day. It could work against this pandemic, and hypothetical future ones.

Pragmatist therapy consists of relativizing and deconstructing the false dilemmas that trigger us from social networks, the media, the church, the family, the friends, the chats and the organizations with which we dialogue daily.

One kind of pragmatist arguments and therapy would be to analyze the problem -in first instance- by asking ourselves questions different from those who involve dilemmas or dicothomies that have to deal with good and evil, left and right, life vs. economy, this is, to start with questions and answers of the type:

Q.- Are we going to stop contagion through quarantines?
A.- Probably not, with the exception of New Zealand, which is a remote island in the Pacific. Quarantine is a medieval mechanism, designed for separate towns and cities, that hardly works in a world as interconnected and overpopulated as ours.

Q.- Is the coronavirus going to end us, is it the end of the world?
A.- No, the coronavirus is essentially an avian flu, it is not as lethal as Ebola, e.g., and we have enough technology to produce a vaccine this year, including the Israeli one. Additionally, of those infected who develop the disease, approximately 1% to 4.5% die, usually within high-risk groups. This percentage varies, is highest in America, followed by Europe, is lowest in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and tends to disappear in the small islands of Oceania and the Caribbean.

In this regard, live statistics can be analyzed at WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. This is more helpful to your rational operating system and mental health than tuning in to conspiracy theory channels or debating dichotomies like life vs. economics.

The apocalyptic mentality here is harmful, and usually the one who propagates it sells itself as a new media messiah. Jews created the image of the messiah. And too many cases of false messiahs are known in Jewish history, so think like a chastened Jew.

Q.- Are we going to stop the spread of the virus by stopping economic production?
A.- Nope.

Q.- So, why did we do it? Was there some malicious intention behind this?
A.- Ask China, where the virus comes from, and WHO, who recommended the responses that are being implemented in most countries in the world. And if you ask me why we entered into that game – whatever the game is, I am not going to add any more conspiracy theories – I will reply that in order to take these decisions we used disjunctive logical devices, and that from the beginning those kinds of political decisions were a dead end road. The slightest mistake opens a big hole in the hull of the ship. And very few politicians or supposed scientists would have the courage to stand before an audience to recognize that they were wrong from the beginning, that the route must be corrected and the ship should be repaired on the high seas, to use a Konrad Lorenzen image.

Q.- If we are not able to stop the spread, what do we do?
R.- It is not the end of the world, but since each life counts and is valuable in itself (here we do allow ourselves an ethical criterion), we must protect in extremis the high-risk groups, such as the elderly, people with diabetes, heart disease or lung disorders, nurses, medical doctors, persons who work in hospitals, ambulances… Protect ourselves, and think responsibly onto others. There is a Hebrew word for that: Arvut. Untill anybody can have access to a massive vaccine, we shall have to learn from the Japanese, who have always used face masks to avoid spreading any flu, who do not hug, who leave their shoes outside the house, and obsessively wash and clean themselves, their utensils and food. By the way, they never closed their economy.

Q.- What can we do with the economy and life?
A.- There has never been a dilemma between life and the economy. It is the type of (i)logical construction that comes from sectors and schemes such as left and right, humanism vs. materialism, with which they bombard us incessantly through social networks, generating discomfort and fear.

Q.- Will there be a new normality?
R.- Surely. Normal again, although not necessarily a new one. Once the vaccine is available, and the treatments are more effective, cheap and affordable, we will surely try to return to our favorite bar, our mall, our summer holidays, our streets, our work, our school, the soccer stadium of our favorite team, in my case the Santiago Bernabeu of Real Madrid. We shouldn’t feel guilty or devilish about it. The economy, governments and our own constitution as beings that consume many resources and products, are going to push us to do so. Paraphrasing existentialists, being human at this moment still means “being for consumption”, that is, the amount you consume the amount you are.
Perhaps 1% of the population has become suddenly aware that we are ineluctably connected, within a concept similar to that of Gaia, that we must change our violent and selfish way of behaving to each other, that we must curb consumerism, that we are responsible for each other, but a generation with those values ​​and that operating system will not emerge in six months, it will take more than 20 years.

Oscar Reyes-Matute (Matu) with Michael Laitman at the Latino Kabbalah Congress, Buenos Aires, September 2009. Photo credit: Oscar Reyes – Matute personal archive.

It is not a bad idea to sign up to that world vision. By the way, this is the world vision that I have learned with Michael Laitman, but the pandemic turn does not mean that we will see it during our life.

The pragmatist deconstruction would be to abandon the false dilemma between life vs. economy, and understanding that we cannot live without the economy, call it food, clothing, home, communications. Rather, we could ask ourselves: how can I produce what is necessary to live without putting my health and that of others at risk? Because it seems that closing stores and isolating neighborhoods or entire cities does not stop the spread, the virus is very jumpy, contagious, and since they did not stop it at first in China, it is too late. So how can I keep my store open in Jerusalem while minimizing the risk of contagion? That’s the bottom line, the million dollar question. It is a question for governments, but also for citizens.

THE ILOGIC LOGIC OF PANDEMIC

From the beginning, the pandemic has been thought on a basis of fear, using a true vs. false binary criterion, instead of what is the best, the less bad and the worst (in degrees) to try to choose the less bad, in the worst case scenario.

It has also been a competition to see who has the ultimate truth (something that gives prestige and can generate excellent economic incomes), instead of who can build social hope, something that sounds utopian and childish.

Additionally, together with the scientific and political authorities now we have to deal with journalists, influencers, conspiracy theory channels, and the terrified citizens themselves through their WhatsApp chats. More binary logic, false dilemmas, fear and complexes of moral superiority from anyone who believes he (or she) possesses the criterion of truth and falsehood and the ability to decree where good and evil are located.

We are under siege, like Tom Hanks, on that Normandy beach. They shoot us with memes, with screams and whispers, from all sides. Our weakest flank is our own logical apparatus, inherited from a well-intentioned philosopher of the 4th century BCE. If we do not update it for a Fifth Generation war, one of the 21st century, probably there are more who will die from the collateral effects of the quarantine than those who will die due to the disease.

An Arab king crossing the desert encountered the plague. The king asked him very concerned: “Plague, where are you going?” To which the plague replied: “I am going to Baghdad to kill 500 people.” Days later they met again and the king, very upset, rebuked him saying: “You lying plague, you told me that you were going to Baghdad to kill 500 people and you killed 5,000”, to which the plague replied: “I effectively killed 500 people. The rest died of fear ”

UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 30: Engraving, possibly 19th century, showing a group of men with torches in a churchyard, preparing to empty the contents of a covered cart into the Great Pit in Aldgate. The bubonic plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis, an infection carried by fleas living as parasites on rats. The plague hit London in late 1664, having ravaged Holland the previous year, and killed around 100,000 people in and around the city. The dead were collected at night and thrown into common burial graves. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague occurred in Britain and Europe in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
About the Author
Óscar Reyes-Matute (Matu), lives in Caracas. He's a philosopher graduated at Andrés Bello Catholic University, with a Master in Political Science at USB. He has been Fulbright Visiting Scholar at NYU on American Studies, and professor of political philosophy at UCAB and UCV. He has published academic papers in universities of Venezuela and Europe, and articles in several newspapers. Since 2008, he is dedicated to study Kabbalah at the Bnei Baruch Institute in Petaj Tikva, while works as writer of cinema and television screenplays. He's liryc tenor. Be aware, after a glass of wine, he suddenly can start to sing "Nessun Dorma!"
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