Pyser Testing

The Kitsch Covid Aesthetic

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about why the empirical and moral arguments against lockdown have failed to cut through. She believes, following Professor David McGrogan, that this is because most people experience lockdowns as they would other aesthetic experiences – as a source of collective pleasure that they’re loth to interrupt. Here is an extract:

If the Covid experience is indeed an aesthetic experience, the impotence of our counter arguments, our practical concerns and our personal pains is certainly explained very well. Those we wish to convince to change their minds are not using their minds; those we wish to share our concerns do not have concerns; those we wish to feel our distress cannot see us or our distress: they are caught up in a kind of satisfaction – occasioned by the concerted responses of governments and populations to an invisible global attack – that is comprised of a heady sense of profound community, of fellow feeling on a universal scale. We cannot touch this experience with our facts and our projects and our pains. At the very most, we can only threaten to puncture its ecstasy; insofar as we do that, we are batted away as an inconvenient distraction.

An immoral distraction too – which is why the batting away can get so ugly. An aesthetic experience, Kant advised, is not in itself a moral experience. Appeals to moral content and respect for the moral law detract from the disinterest necessary for the aesthetic mode. A fourth neighbour, with concerns about the morality of sipping wine under a midsummer’s sky while nearby children suffer from neglect has made a category error too. But not because morality is irrelevant to aesthetic experience, but because particular moral content is irrelevant to it. In fact, an aesthetic experience, because it is premised upon the setting aside of conceptual analysis, worldly projects and personal preferences, is excellent preparation for the moral and a good sign of a moral disposition; it only excludes particular moral issues. This explains the most curious feature of the Covid consensus: its combination of intense righteousness and ethical indifference; its simultaneous heady capture of the moral high ground and calm disregard for moral fallout all around.

Worth reading in full.

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