Discover more from Less Foolish
Ontological Flooding Towards a COVID Synthesis
I have been researching the COVID situation a lot these days. With the conversations surrounding the vaccines becoming increasingly intense, I am thinking about attempting to “hold the meta” once more by writing a white paper on the two current warring narratives. I will call these two narratives the COVID thesis and the COVID antithesis.
Both the thesis and antithesis have positions on the is and ought of the pandemic. The ought being response measures, such as lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine advocacy, and vaccine passports. The positioning for the COVID thesis on each of these four response measures are:
Lockdowns are needed to contain the virus, masks work and need to be mandated, vaccines are safe, people should take the vaccine to protect themselves and others, and vaccine passports will help open things up quicker and encourage those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
The COVID thesis is generally promoted by legacy media (sans Fox News), NGOs, Universities, Western governments, and memetic tribes on the political left. Basically, the Blue Church, to use Jordan Hall’s languaging. In turn, resistance to this narrative is framed by the Blue Church to be founded in the opinions of vaccine-hesitaters, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
However, what surprised me most throughout my research into this narrative resistance was how diverse those resisting individuals actually were. In even a brief sampling one finds: an anarchist, a cognitive scientist, an archdruid, a playwright, a multidisciplinary research group, as well as a continental philosopher. So while posters on the CovIdiots subreddit might want you to believe that all those who oppose the COVID thesis should be regarded as hopeless idiots, the reality is more complex.
While the position of this resistance is diverse, things seem to be cohering in a philosophical direction uniform enough to be considered an antithesis position. I will express this below with the “principle of charity”:
Lockdowns are not needed, masks do not work, the safety and efficacy of the vaccines are being oversold, vaccine passports will not only fail but further segregate society, and in the near future we can expect Giradian scapegoating of the unvaccinated. In other words, we are positioned on the precipice of a slippery slope that leads towards increasingly draconian biopolitical control measures, the grip of which is unlikely to release even once the pandemic is over.
How does one make sense of the claims in either the COVID thesis and antithesis in an information ecology rampant with misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda? I am not the type of guy who does people’s sensemaking and choicemaking for them, and to be truthful most of the particulars are way above my sensical paygrade. But when in a complex environment, with multiple narratives competing for my mind, my go-to strategy is to engage in “ontological flooding.”
I recently discovered this term and I am geeking out about it because it perfectly describes how I have been making sense of the culture war for the last three years. It is a concept coined by Jack Hunter, a para-anthropologist researching paranormal phenomena such as spirit mediumship. Here is a quote from Jack on what ontological flooding is, which I discovered on a wild blog worth checking out called Limited Hangout: Experiments in Ontological Flooding:
The example that I use to explain ontological flooding a lot of the time is with spirit mediumship, where you have all of these competing explanations, which think that they’ve sorted it all out. Like I said before, social protest theories that say that spirit mediumship is all about social protest. Then you’ve got biological, medical theories that say that spirit mediumship is just a biological aberration, as some kind of an illness or a disease. There’s the psychodynamic theories, all sorts of different theories, but at the end of the day, none of them is a completely satisfying explanation in themselves.
Actually, when you start to piece them altogether, we see that we’re dealing with something that is way more complex than any of those individual explanatory frameworks has been able to accommodate. So, ontological flooding is really saying... we need to take into account all of these various perspectives at the same time, to get the best or the nearest to reality perspective that we can get.
The idea here is not to understand these narratives from a perfectly objective “view from nowhere,” meaning, a view where you get to smuggle all your unexamined biases in only to cover them up with a veneer of performative neutrality. That would be what Jack calls “ontological bracketing.”
When I engage in ontological flooding I embrace each view as true until they feel true. When I do this the view becomes embodied and it leaves an emotional imprint on me. What happens when I ontologically flood the COVID thesis and the COVID antithesis?
Once I get over the fury felt by each side towards the other, along with the desire to dehumanize them, the common emotion that comes online is fear. And an interesting thing happens when I dive deep into the fear of either side…
The fears that come online for the COVID thesis: I fear dying from the virus and being responsible for the death of others. I also fear being called dumb for not understanding the science and shamed for being called a bad person by failing to act in ways that would protect others.
The fears that come online for the COVID antithesis: I fear losing freedoms and giving my power away to top-down control structures that can slip into totalitarianism. I also fear being societally segregated and persecuted by those scapegoating me for this mess.
When you only ontologically bracket one side you can easily dismiss them as overextending their fears. However, when you engage in ontological flooding and feel into their fear their position can become real in a surprisingly integrative way.
Now on the other side of the flooding, I do not want myself or others to suffer or die from a respiratory disease, nor do I want to throw away freedoms and entrust my well-being to a corruptible biopolitical technocracy. While the hardened versions of the two narratives disallow easy coexistence, the concerns of either side can co-exist, and it is wise for them to co-exist.
A COVID synthesis can emerge from the narrative warfare currently happening, but only if we in turn have the courage to feel deeply into our own fear, and empathically feel deeply into the fear of others.