Monday, March 16, 2020

The Final Solution: Negative Capability?

Posthumous Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton
When you hear a lot of negative and frightening reports, you begin to be attracted to bloviators, even when you know better. After all you instinctually prefer a soothsayer, even a false prophet who’s going tell you everything is alright, even when it’s apparent they’re spreading the kind of false cheer that’s aimed at puffing themselves up at your expense. On the other hand no one likes jeremiahs and doomsayers. The negative side of negative thinking is that it produces stress, but how can one possibly deal with reality unless one has access to the facts, however dispiriting they may be? Of course, anything can be spun one way or the other. Social distancing is a case in point; obviously it’s a necessity in the case of a pandemic. On the other hand, at its furthest extreme, it can lead to a kind of xenophobia in which people and countries stop helping each other. You want to take precautions, but is preventing Europeans from flying to the United States going to do any good when it’s already too late to have more than a symbolic effect? When hysteria builds, there tends to be grandstanding both by optimists and pessimists. It’s not that the truth is necessarily somewhere in between. Rather no one has the answers. Is Keats' notion of “negative capability” applicable?

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