As a social philosopher, it gives me great joy to be able to see parallel patterns among different social phenomena. Certainly, there is an intellectual satisfaction seeing similarities between disparate social entities, but over and above the desire to solve a problem, there is the satisfaction that is derived from seeing how different social phenomena mirror one another, and, in so doing, add greater understanding to each other. Two phenomena that I have discussed quite a bit in this column are Trumpism and Covid. Trumpism is a toxic political philosophy and attitude, and Covid is a toxic disease. Both phenomena have appeared for the first time in the last decade. And although each of these phenomena represent very different categories of things in the world, they have this in common: now that they have been let out in the world, humans seem to be having a great deal of difficulty being able to corral them and keeping them somewhat contained. Sort of like the problems that ensued when Pandora opened her box. And yet if we don’t succeed at corralling these two phenomena and keeping them somewhat contained, they will both continue to pose a significant danger to humans and their way of life. So, it behooves us to try to understand the parallels between these two phenomena and the ways they mirror one another, in order to find a way of dealing with them and their toxicity. If we don’t eventually succeed in understanding them, we could be destroyed by them.
There are ways that Trumpism can be seen as a toxic disease like Covid. Once Trumpism enters a person’s mind, it acts to create potential situations that involve self-destructive pursuits. The person becomes extremely adversarial, both to others as well as to himself. Everything appears black and white, good and bad. The Trumpist person feels a need to destroy that which is good and white. He has become so numb from the sensory distortion created by modern technology that he is no longer capable of properly absorbing the organic stimulation that could act as the antidote to the abrasive stimulation that he is drawn to absorb as a form of pathological kicks. The toxic abrasive stimulation that comes from the destruction of others and oneself. Such a person has developed a mindset that has moved beyond the grey of reason. And without the grey of reason, there is no possibility of resolving internal contradictions as well as healing disagreements between people of different mindsets.
On the other side of the mirror, Covid can be seen as a metaphorical expression of human social disruption. Initially, people had to isolate from one another. And now, even though many people have the benefit of many layers of vaccinations, they still have to be careful of the size and the makeup of the social groupings in which they feel a need or desire to participate. Some friends of mine went to a big celebration a few nights ago and both of them ended up with Covid. At first it was an asymptomatic case for both of them, and then the woman in the couple literally started to lose her memory. This is an example of some of the strange things that happen with Covid. Even if some of the traditional cold-like symptoms seem to be minimizing in their manifestation, all sorts of other weird symptoms keep appearing. And many of these weird symptoms seem to be appearing months after the original appearance of the disease. These unusual symptoms can obviously totally disrupt a person’s capacity to participate in all the different social roles that are required of him. And there are so many different types of weird symptoms that are possible. We still don’t know everything regarding all these different symptom displays. But we do know that they have the effect of disrupting the flow of many different social interactions. Much like what the Trumpist person is engaged in, in order to disrupt the flow of mainstream liberal democracy. So, both Covid and Trumpism have had effects on human life far beyond the categories of social phenomena in which they are normally thought of.
Whether the Covid epidemic was started as a result of some animals in a Wuhan market spreading the virus or from being released from a laboratory (and I go with the former explanation), it was still started by some pathological human intervention in daily life. And Trumpism was started as a result of a different kind of pathological intervention in human life. Covid keeps mutating which makes it practically impossible to shut it down entirely. And Trumpism is no longer just about Trump, so that other variants of Trumpists are ready to take over should Trump, for whatever reason, recede into the background. Modern Pandoras are going to have a lot of problems corralling these modern-day pathological phenomena.
© 2023 Laurence Mesirow