Part 4—Concerning the size of the problem: Here on our sprawling campus, Professor Cooper’s most recent post has had our youthful analysts thinking of Dr. Rieux.
We’ve cuffed them aside and told them to stop. They can’t seem to shake their visions of Rieux, who was “caught off his guard” by the sheer size of an existential problem.
Dr. Rieux is the main character in Camus’ famous novel, The Plague. Through her latest effort, Professor Cooper has the analysts thinking of the memorable passage where it suddenly occurs to Dr. Rieux that a series of fatal illnesses in Oran may be part of a much larger occurrence.
Could it be that those deaths were part of a plague? Just like that, on page 34, the horrible thought occurs to Rieux, who isn’t equipped to believe it:
CAMUS (page 34): The word “plague” had just been uttered for the first time. At this stage of the narrative, with Dr. Bernard Rieux standing at his window, the narrator may, perhaps, be allowed to justify the doctor's uncertainty and surprise, since, with very slight differences, his reaction was the same as that of the great majority of our townsfolk. Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.To read the whole book, click here.
In fact, like our fellow citizens, Rieux was caught off his guard, and we should understand his hesitations in the light of this fact; and similarly understand how he was torn between conflicting fears and confidence. When a war breaks out, people say: "It's too stupid; it can't last long." But though a war may well be "too stupid," that doesn't prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.
In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven't taken their precautions.
Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views? They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.
Indeed, even after Dr. Rieux had admitted in his friend's company that a handful of persons, scattered about the town, had without warning died of plague, the danger still remained fantastically unreal...
Professor Cooper’s latest offering had the analysts thinking of Dr. Rieux—of his sudden realization that the human condition can, in a given circumstance, be immeasurably worse than we might be equipped or inclined to believe.
Why were the youngsters recalling Rieux? Skillfully, we put them at ease, assuring them that they could share, if only this once.
In response, they pointed again to the professor’s latest ridiculous judgment. Yesterday, it was rushed into print at the new, pestilential Salon:
COOPER (7/22/15): I do not believe that Sandra Bland hanged herself just a few hours before her sister was set to come and pay the $500 bail it would have taken to get her out of jail. I do not believe Sandra Bland hanged herself two days before taking her dream job at her alma mater. I do not believe Sandra Bland hanged herself.The professor’s chain of deductions continued from there. But as we showed you yesterday, her next few sentences only made matters worse.
No one with good sense believes that. And I challenge the sense of anyone who is willing to contort themselves into intellectual knots to make such a ridiculous story seem remotely plausible.
In what way did the professor’s analysis call Rieux to mind? We begged the triggered young scholars to tell us. Eventually, here’s what they said:
The analysts noted that Cooper’s deduction makes “no freaking sense whatsoever.” Did Sandra Bland take her own life? They had no way of knowing, they said.
But Professor Cooper was telling the world that this “ridiculous story” wasn’t even “remotely plausible.” Indeed, people would have to “contort themselves into intellectual knots” to think it was even remotely possible that Bland could have done that.
Obviously, that makes no sense, the analysts said. As they did, a few of their number began shaking and bawling again.
Tragically, unfortunately, some people do commit suicide, the analysts incontrovertibly said. It’s also true, they correctly said, that some people do so in jail.
It’s bizarre to say that Sandra Bland couldn’t have been one such person, they said—and now, they couldn’t restrain themselves. They called our attention to the rest of the professor’s puzzling chain of deductions:
COOPER (continuing directly): This is what media reports about Sandra’s prior traffic tickets and minor previous arrest for smoking marijuana are supposed to make us do. This is what reports about her struggles with depression and PTSD are supposed to make us do. Depression and PTSD should not be conflated with being suicidal, and smoking marijuana is legal in a range of states and municipalities now. Moreover, PTSD diagnoses are rising at alarming levels in Black communities, because of continued exposure to poverty and violence.At this point, we almost started to wail and moan in the face of the manifest nonsense. Skillfully, we made ourselves think of how great we felt when we were six or seven years old and believed in Peter Pan.
“Depression and PTSD should not be conflated with being suicidal?” Our liberal professors now write that way, the analysts mournfully wailed.
What did Professor Cooper mean by that fuzzy remark? Presumably, she meant something like this: Most people who suffer from depression don’t end up taking their lives.
As far as we know, that’s true. Presumably, a large majority of such people don’t end up taking their lives.
Obviously, no one should think that every such person will end up taking her life! But some people do take their own lives—and we will guess that depression would be a key warning sign.
Was Sandra Bland battling depression? We can’t tell you that. We also can’t tell you if she committed suicide.
We can tell you this. When we see our professors reason like this, we’re learning a very large fact about our gonzo society.
It suddenly dawned on Dr. Rieux—the city of Oran might be facing a profound type of crisis. The youngsters said they got the same glimmer when they read Cooper’s work.
Professor Cooper isn’t a ditto-head calling in to Rush. She isn’t some sort of angry lost soul commenting at some web site.
She isn’t that guy at the end of the bar. She isn’t eleven years old.
Professor Cooper is a professor at a major university. Her work tends to stand out among our “public intellectual” liberal professors, but at this point not by that much.
People! The day before, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford was playing this same general game!
When its professors reason this way, a society is facing a serious crisis. In Oran, citizens weren’t equipped or inclined to see the depth of the problem they were facing.
So too here, the analysts cried. We felt they were making a powerful point about our astonishing culture.
Still coming: Trayvon Martin, Prince Jones