In May, as the United States marked the grim milestone of at least 1 million deaths from Covid-19, Eric Boynton, Beloit’s provost and dean, sat down with National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin to talk about empathy and community grief in the face of such a seismic event. Boynton is a philosopher who has written extensively about mass death and how we memorialize it.
Boynton likened 1 million deaths to an earthquake so massive that it not only destroys lives and structures but also wrecks the seismograph used to measure the scale of what’s happened.
“There’s no container,” he said. “There’s no parameters that allow you to think about that number of deaths in a concrete, discernible way.”
Martin asked Boynton how he thought individuals suffering a personal loss can also absorb the broader losses in the United States and in the world, which numbered 15 million at the time. “I have experienced that in relationships with my own friends, for whom the grief is so deep and abiding that it’s difficult to take stock,” he said. “It might even be difficult to have a conversation we’re having right now given the kind of imposition that this pandemic has had on their lives. And I think this is part of the space we find ourselves in right now, that something has been sprung into the air and it hasn’t yet landed. And we haven’t yet understood what’s happened.”
Boynton joined Beloit in 2019, coming from Allegheny College. His Ph.D. from Rice University is in the philosophy of religion. The complete interview is at NPR.org.