THE CONSOLATIONS OF SPINOZISM
Reflecting on the practice of being a Spinoza scholar and Spinozist in Trump’s Pandemic America, I argue that we can find consolation in Spinoza’s insistent norm — to understand rather than to blame, to banish free will as explanans so we can fully understand the explanandum. Just as Boethius reflected on human misunderstanding of luck, so Spinoza teaches that we need, in moments of despair, to look not to superstition, but to the recognition of the causal forces that yield our triumphs and failures, and to understand them. While we are unmoored in the chaos of Trump’s America, in the joyful expression of popular emancipatory power in the Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations and marches through American cities and suburbs, and the nightly horror of demonstrators murdered by police, I reach back to another moment of chaos with liberatory and nightmarish potential — the years just after the U.S. Civil War described in Leaves of Grass. We can find Spinozist moments in Whitman’s poem and philosophical memoir — a kind of American Spinozism. As he travels among the horrors and the new possibilities of American life, Whitman insists on seeing and feeling the world as it is — terrible, wonderful, in all its fleshy imperfection, while finding hope in these same flawed particulars. In 2020, Trump’s America, Spinoza and Spinozism are not just relevant, are not just consolations in the Boethian sense, but they are essential epistemic survival tools for a world quite obviously in motion.