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Paul Staley: The Seen and the Unseen

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We’re walking in a world of the seen and the unseen, of paradox and contradiction. Paul Staley has this Perspective.

These past months have felt like an exploration of the relationship between the invisible and the visible, a navigation from the unseen to the seen.

There have been paradoxes in the midst of this. Millions of us disappeared from view as we sheltered in place, but then, as pedestrians and shoppers, we have never been more aware of each other’s presence. We managed to disappear and yet become acutely visible at the same time. And those of us who have had the time to walk around our neighborhoods rather than just drive through them have come to appreciate how much familiarity can obscure the world around us. We have realized that things can become invisible not because we can’t see them but precisely because we see them too often.

We also know that things that don’t exist are, by definition, invisible. But the absence of something still leaves a mark. We have no universal health care in this country and we can see the evidence of that every day in the statistical record of caseloads and deaths. At the same time many of our fellow citizens believe that they have seen things that aren’t there. These are the conspiracy theorists who create a web of connections and then try to convince others that they have detected something others cannot see.

We have been sorted out between those who can work invisibly from the safety of home and those whose jobs compel them to go out into the world, visible and vulnerable. Furthermore, in a segregated society the lives of people whose circumstances are different than your own have always been hard to see. Now those on the privileged side of that divide have receded even further from view.


In the end though, nothing new has been revealed. All these deaths — the ones with names and faces as well as those that are only numbers to us — have exposed things that were always there. Above all else, we have learned that things can be invisible simply because we refuse to look at them.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.

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