Monday, December 14, 2020

Crime and Punishment

  Fyodor Dostoevsky (portrait by Vasily Perov, 1872)

Is the pandemic punishment? Americans have certainly faced an unparalleled perfect storm of calamities: forest fires in California,  hurricanes on the panhandle, a president who refuses to acknowledge his loss (and in so doing threatens the institution of democracy) and now a far more virulent surge that’s creating record numbers of both deaths and infections. If there were a higher being, then it would be easy to think that this supernal creature was in a punishing mode. The biblical God was angered by the worship of the Golden Calf. Maybe God, if there is one, is something that by definition is out of the realm of comprehension by humankind. For instance in his famous The Grand Inquisitor poem Dostoevsky actual imagines Christ on trial. There's always this childlike view of God as an authority figure or at least one of those harried operators in a 30s movie sitting in front of her switchboard and trying to put through calls. Alcohol is a low level search for spirituality is one of the saws of the recovery movement, but it might be said that God as a savior or answerer of prayers is a similarly primitive notion. What's clear is that there has been a terrible upheaval leaving deep scars which will be followed by an aftershock or what analysts call apres coup—hopefully not leading to another night of the living dead.

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