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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... Modus Ponens Therapy

Sonia Delaunay, “Gouache” 1938

Modus Ponens is wonderful therapy, washing over the sticky surfaces of bad arguments with good old grease-cutting common sense, imbuing Venn diagrams with the cool logic of unbroken inference, shedding light on mystery like an oasis of reason in the middle of a Sahara of lies.

Okay, all I heard today was someone admitting to the blind proliferation of a virus regardless of one's class, race, or political persuasion…but it felt good. Glaciers don’t care what your opinion is about the climate, and neither do virus-units care if you think they came from an undercooked bat or an evil communist laboratory. Or if they're phantoms of collective hysteria. They will march onward with or without your precious approval.

Hearing illogical mush is always annoying, but witnessing divisive distortions day after day from folks who took a constitutional oath to serve the people is...painful. Under current conditions, beyond heartbreaking. One of my favorite aunts went into that high voice/rapid speech monologue of someone desperate to believe the daily government lies, talking over and interrupting normal dialogue. It is devastating to hear this, in any language.

Modus Ponens just says that if you've got one thing and it always means you've got this other thing, then whenever you have the first thing of course you have the second one, too.

It's not hard. We do it from day one, inferring warmth and food and love from the moment we are born. Every time I get X, I get Y, so gimme some more X...then I'll get some Y...yeah.

Disrupting this chain means we get neglected, abused, shamed, tortured. This logic is so vital to our sanity and to our survival that if we cannot depend on the world to provide repeatable sequences we will die. Or sit in baby excrement somewhere in an orphanage crib and adapt to the maltreatment such that we will never be wholly human again. Or we kaleidoscope into a myriad of Sybil-identities to repress the unspeakable torture.

We use this logic to absorb reality and its universal constants throughout our schooling. It gets embedded in our personalities and languages, our cultures and hand gestures, our expressions of sorrow and humor. If we are born straddling borders, we learn to code-switch. Are you Spanish, are you racist, are you Evangelical, are you male and in control of me, are you dangerous, do you love me? Are you gay, het, devious, are you using me? We learn, we accrue information, we survive. Or not.

When trauma disrupts life, we go fight-flight-frozen in an instant, cortisol flooding our senses until we can bound out of the headlights and act in self-preservation. This is okay, this happens, we get over it, we survive. Avoid that patch of the savannah from now on. But when we are blocked from saving ourselves, when trauma becomes chronic, we shrivel inside the confines, the racial or gender or class or religious oppression crippling our motions and thoughts. We learn to operate within its borders, showered by a continual torrent of stress-fueled cruelty, bending low in the force fields of the masters who control our lives. Surviving means tolerating, since we cannot escape.

So when someone says if A means B and you've got A then you've got, wait...Q? Where did that come from? We freeze. We blink.

When governments are the ones doing this, it's abuse on a grand scale. Let them eat cake. Off to the gulags. Send them to Auschwitz. Purge the remnants of capitalism.

Before Dostoevsky was sent to Siberia, he was put into line in front of a firing squad. They let him go at the last minute. How he did not go completely mad after this I do not know. I hung on to his survival account for dear life, years ago, and find myself thinking about it again these days.

Because trauma survivors need to know their surroundings, they cannot afford the luxury of fake facts. That voice. That smell. That sound. That place. Without the capacity to infer danger we're flying blind, in a Rashomon-fog of senseless interpretations. We can't make wise choices. Hell, we can't even vote.

The people I know who hang on to magical and fallacious thinking have not experienced the poverty, prejudice, and pain that the majority of the planet endures. Their humanity stops at the edges of the neighborhood church.

In plague-times, Modus Ponens says:

Premise 1: If you are exposed, then you are quarantined.

Premise 2: You are exposed.

Conclusion: Therefore, you are quarantined.

Countries that recognize the logic see a curve, their numbers peaking and diminishing for deaths and infections. At least for this first round.

Countries that spew political denial see rising lines. President Lukashenko of Belarus suggests more vodka and saunas. Bolsanaro in Brazil videotapes his saunters through crowded outdoor bazaars. Putin is calling Covid-19 victims pneumonia patients to keep the numbers down. The absence of federal and military coordination of US resources has now elevated numbers to over five times those of China. America First.

Even the EU is fighting, trotting out old nordic conceptions of those southern European cultures. Senseless and repugnant, as Portugal's prime minister says. In a chilling display of noncooperation, EU's top scientist had to resign.

To be effective, the logic of the quarantine argument depends on having tests, lots of them. And personal protection, lots of it. And medical personnel to treat you. Lots of them. And they need to be healthy. So they outlive you.

Thus logicians will say Modus Ponens is necessary, but not sufficient. Without it, we can't communicate with each other at all. But if all we have is the logic and we can't get to the stuff outside, we're stuck in a giant sci-fi matrix with Keanu. Beyond are the tests we need, the protective devices, the medical professionals. How do we get them?

Right now it's the governments who control the coronavirus reasoning that impacts the bio-world where we all live. So when the officials are lying, they yank our lives into unknown trajectories. In this case, into fatal ones.

The US government is offering 100,000 to 240,000 as a prediction of coronavirus deaths. This horrifying numerical range recalls the heartless Soviet statistic that between 10 and 20 million people perished during Stalin's rule. Give or take.

Liars will lose this pandemic because the virus is unrelentingly logical. Where there's a suitable host, it's in. Like a promise from the book of Genesis, it will multiply its descendants beyond number. Unstopped, it'll continue to suffocate. Everyone.

But we're not in this to beat the liars at their game, the cheating bastards. We're in it to survive, and for that we need the right tools.

We need a light to shine on the actual danger, the one affecting all of humanity. Not just the toxic partisan blazes, not just the fuming tribal torches.

The same light that drove our developing brains into organs that operate on logical patterns. So we could recognize and understand each other.

The same light that grows our trees and nurtures our cells and roots, our wings and our songs.

The same light that makes it through our planet's exosphere and radiates down into a thousand colors along a spectrum specifically visible to our eyes. Eyes that shine throughout our kingdom, that inform our neural centers what is happening out there, representing each bit of information as part of a repeating archetype, a leafy fractal sequence, a logical inference. Like Modus Ponens.

So if the liars win, it's at our expense.

They won't survive, either.

9 APRIL 2020

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