Medical Nemesis: Compulsory survival in a planned and engineered Hell


Ivan Illich‘s central theme of his 1970‘s writing revolved around the counter-intuitive development of modern societies based on the Western industrial model: The fact that the more effort and energy get invested in making things more efficient, the more they tend to become ineffective. Beyond a certain threshold, applying more of the same has destructive effects even, to which there is no remedy. In his book Deschooling Society”, for instance,he showed that schooling prohibits learning; in “Energy and Equity” he did the same for the traffic sector: faster transportation results in more time spent on transiting. Further publications of his, such as “H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness”, “Gender”, or“Tools for Conviviality” – give many more examples of that malignant rebound effect which pervades all areas of civilized life; in fact every institution of Modernity, from church to academia, from military to administration, from agriculture to architecture.


Nemesis, pic:Yair Haklai CC by-sa 2.5 Generic

“Medical Nemesis”he produced another landmark publication in 1976 that continues to be reprinted by the title “Limits to Medicine: The Expropriation of Health”. Though Illich felt that, ten years after his book, the situation had taken another step to the worse, the quality of his socio-historical analysis still provides us with valuable insights into the behaviours currently enacted. Let’s jump right in to look at some of his theses. [all quotes from Illich: Medical Nemesis, unless otherwise sated; emphases mine.]

The medical establishment has become a major threat to health. The disabling impact of professional control over medicine has reached the proportions of an epidemic. Iatrogenesis, the name for this new epidemic, comes from iatros, the Greek word for “physician,” and genesis, meaning “origin.”

Illich identified three types of Iatrogenesis – clinical, social, and cultural – which he summed up as follows:

Increasing and irreparable damage accompanies present industrial expansion in all sectors. In medicine this damage appears as iatrogenesis. Iatrogenesis is clinical when pain, sickness, and death result from medical care; it is social when health policies reinforce an industrial organization that generates ill-health; it is cultural and symbolic when medically sponsored behavior and delusions restrict the vital autonomy of people by undermining their competence in growing up, caring for each other, and aging, or when medical intervention cripples personal responses to pain, disability, impairment, anguish, and death.

In other words, when people’s reliance on external sources of healing becomes the rule rather than the exception, healing turns into the institution of medicine – with negative effects on health. The individual’s abilities to, within its social context, heal itself atrophies like an underused muscle. With the expansion of the medical sector, ordinary healthy expressions of life such as birth, immunization, metabolizing, sorrow, grief, rage, confusion, aging and death become defined as requiring medical improvement, prevention, or treatment.

Beyond a critical level of intensity, institutional health care—no matter if it takes the form of cure, prevention, or environmental engineering—is equivalent to systematic health denial.

The mechanistic approach of the modern health trade reduces living humans to biological machines whose ailments fall into distinct pre-defined categories of illness and repair. These are quite different categories from the state of health every living being normally enjoys. People become “cases,” examples of broken hypothetic perfection, and cases enter statistics of generic classes of items: so many born, so many infected, so many dead, figures of potential danger to public health.

By equating statistical man with biologically unique men, an insatiable demand for finite resources is created. The individual is subordinated to the greater “needs” of the whole, preventive procedures become compulsory.

With dwindling autonomy, dependence on professionals rises even further. Soon enough the liberty to seek professional help becomes the right to treatment, which in turn becomes a duty to surrender to therapy, including legal sanctions for failure or refusal to undergo prevention, improvement and repair.

Welcome to the year 2020 in which desisting from wearing face masks or keeping distance to your own family members not only become criminalized but socially battled.

Unsick people have come to depend on professional care for the sake of their future health. The result is a morbid society that demands universal medicalization and a medical establishment that certifies universal morbidity.

And that is considered “the new normal.” Ivan Illich foresaw it back then, though he was by far not the first to notice where the professionalization of medicine was heading. More often in history than not the healer was a figure on the margins of society. Despite the progressive expropriation of every woman’s medical skills our grandparents still held remnants of the ability to heal themselves and each other. During the 70’s and 80’s most of the world’s more traditional cultures then underwent the destruction of their knowledge. It came upon them by way of “developmental aid”.

Suffering, healing, and dying, which are essentially intransitive activities that culture taught each man, are now claimed by technocracy as new areas of policy-making and are treated as malfunctions from which populations ought to be institutionally relieved. The goals of metropolitan medical civilization are thus in opposition to every single cultural health program they encounter in the process of progressive colonization.

Cognitive injustice is what the failure to acknowledge other ways of knowing – and healing – is called. Another word for the destruction of those knowledge systems is epistemicide eventually genocide by imperialistic scientism. Cognitive injustice denies livelihood and lives to whole classes or peoples. One cannot overstate the difference between traditional-cultural and industrial views on health and healing:

Cultures are systems of meanings, cosmopolitan civilization a system of techniques. Culture makes pain tolerable by integrating it into a meaningful setting; cosmopolitan civilization detaches pain from any subjective or intersubjective context in order to annihilate it. Culture makes pain tolerable by interpreting its necessity; only pain perceived as curable is intolerable.


Bantam 1976 ed.

Insufferable pain that cannot be relieved must inevitably lead to the end of any society, Illich proclaimed. Does that apply as well to an epidemic which can never be stopped? Can democracy survive the wholesale suspension of the division of power, of civil liberties and of human rights? Are the hostilities between the followers of different health paradigms harbingers of civil wars to come?

Among the many ways our civilization could have undergone collapse the one we are following right now surprises me. That an unpolitical caste like the medical doctors would play such a central role could not have been forseen… or could it?

The chief function of the physician becomes that of an umpire. He is the agent or representative of the social body, with the duty to make sure that everyone plays the game according to the rules. The rules, of course, forbid leaving the game and dying in any fashion that has not been specified by the umpire.

Dying of (or with, it seems in most cases) CoVid-19, especially doing so at home, does not constitute a permissible exit. Dying, Illich remarks, might be a consumer’s last act of resistance. But what is this CoVid-19, really, when its symptoms can be almost anything? What are those invisible entities called viruses? What is an infection and how do you know you are sick? The answers to these questions are not as obvious as streamlined media outlets would have us believe:

All disease is a socially created reality. Its meaning and the response it has evoked have a history. The study of this history will make us understand the degree to which we are prisoners of the medical ideology in which we were brought up.

In other cultures, what is sick and what is healthy can be quite different from what Western-industrial medicine assumes to be so. One must also admit that numerous elements of what constitutes the totality of the human experience – humour, relationship, belief, meaning, intuition, spirit… the list goes on and on and on – has no place in the scientific worldview at all, which means it gets overlooked deliberately. And even within the materialistic-mechanistic paradigm science can only show us the things it is looking for. Therefore its understanding of health fundamentally changed various times. Illich found, for instance, that,

As the doctor’s interest shifted from the sick to sickness, the hospital became a museum of disease.

It is important to see that nowaday’s medicine’s preoccupation with germs (and their killing) constitutes a gross exception among the healing traditions worldwide, including the tradition of our own culture until only recently. It limits the ability to approach health in a more holistic form, or from different angles, and it effectively dehumanizes us in many ways. Can you imagine a better symbol for the rendering of humans into controllable objects than the mandatory masking of the face? Considering that we are social animals, can you imagine a worse violation of human nature than the avoidance of closeness?

On the one hand, one may argue that this is the necessary price for staying alive and healthy. On the other, Illich points at research which seems to show that modern medicine neither helped to increase public health significantly – it had nothing to do with the extension of lifespans either – nor has it been more effective than other ways of healing. With relish he quotes from Oliver Wendell Holmet’s Medical Essays (Boston, 1883):

“I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind—and all the worse for the fishes,”

and he proposes his vision that,

no services are to be forcibly imposed on an individual against his will: no man, without his consent, shall be seized, imprisoned, hospitalized, treated, or otherwise molested in the name of health.

Illich’s conclusion as published in the last paragraph of Medical Nemesis reads like a prophet’s message from half a century ago, transmitted to an age gone insane over the war on micro-organisms waged by obsessive science, unleashed corporation sand amoral politics, in which ordinary people, the sick and the healthy alike, get consumed as cannon fodder. The enemy, though, is invisible, invincible and indestructible; which is good, for without it we could not be who we are. It could be that we could not be at all.

Man’s consciously lived fragility, individuality, and relatedness make the experience of pain, of sickness, and of death an integral part of his life. The ability to cope with this trio autonomously is fundamental to his health. As he becomes dependent on the management of his intimacy, he renounces his autonomy and his health must decline. The true miracle of modern medicine is diabolical. It consists in making not only individuals but whole populations survive on inhumanly low levels of personal health. Medical nemesis is the negative feedback of a social organization that set out to improve and equalize the opportunity for each man to cope in autonomy and ended by destroying it.

His idea is, of course, neither the abolishment of the institutional, professional medicine, nor the total surrender to curable sickness that some Christian sects practice, but a change of the mindset which lies at its foundation: from dependency on, and obedience to, faceless institutions towards interdependent freedom in the spirit of the Samaritan. According to Illich, professional health care would complement autonomous forms of staying in balanced condition, and the various ways of healing the human body and mind would be available in parallel.

In a 1974 Lancet essay anticipating his upcoming book Illich clarified the choices left to us:

The sickening technical and non-technical consequences of the institutionalisation of medicine coalesce to generate a new kind of suffering—anaesthetised and solitary survival in a world-wide hospital ward. […] Either the natural boundaries of human endeavour are estimated, recognised, and translated into politically determined limits, or the alternative to extinction is compulsory survival in a planned and engineered Hell. [Lancet 1974; i:918–21]


Post scriptum

Ivan Illich used to observe that, from the mid-1980’s on, the health sector has deteriorated even further than described in Medical Nemesis”. He said:

By reducing each person to ‘a life’, bioethics is helpless to prevent total management of the person, now transformed into a system. [Pathogenesis, Immunity and the Quality of Public Health. A lecture given in Hershey, PA, June 13th, 1994]


»Nobody has the right to obey.«

Poster to the exhibition
“Hannah Arendt & the 20th century
March 27th – October 18th 2020.


He meant to say that the processes of institutionalization and professionalization have reached a new stage in which the tool and its user can no longer be separated. People have become integral parts of systems. The next step, though, the machine-man-merger commonly know as transhumanism, already begins to establish itself as the successor. As progressive dehumanization visibly picks up speed, clearly, the time has arrived when resistance to oppression, medical or otherwise, can no longer remain limited to soap-box oratory. The cognitive dissonance that many of the intellectuals fell prey to – visiting a Hannah Arendt exposition in Berlin that has been advertised with her famous words, “Nobody has a right to obedience,” while following orders to wear masks in that Museum’s halls, not questioning the demand that “the Corona measures must never be questioned” (veterinarian Lothar Wieler, head of the German centre for disease control, the Robert Koch Institut) is a clear sign of historical lessons not learnt. Totalitarian rule will not return with a mustache and Caesar’s salute, but return it must to a society that succumbs to fear. Those who are aware of the folly need to stand up to end the umpires’ game right now. The alternative to the war on germs – healthy food, fresh air, clean water, loving community, positive attitude, autonomous posture, virtuous meaningful worldview – can be had for no price at all.

Instead, while – and because – a majority of people in industrialized areas surrender to the Corona regime, those critical of the anti-pandemic measures consciously live through that planned hell of a globalized hospital ward Illich was talking about. An increasing number seek refuge in voluntary death as permanent exposure to ordinary-folks-turned-soap-police makes life miserable to the point where the naked-faced cannot visit doctors, shops, temples, therapy, friends, family, work places, and administrative bodies any longer and life becomes a never-ending meaningless waiting game for relief. Most critics simply ask that their alternative, more autonomous ways of healing be respected – which is the one thing that the medical juggernaut can never allow.


“NO MASK NO ENTRY” – Ivan Illich and the exercise of freedom

The early Christians made … community by sharing the simple communion meal through which they remembered their Lord, and by a mouth-to-mouth kiss through which they shared their spirits in a conspiratio or breathing together,

states Canadian radio broadcaster David Cayley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Pr., 2005]


So this is what it means to conspire. Rather than theorizing on others doing it, we are called to do it ourselves. Which brings me to a message published in our local gazette, the News & Notes 839. It says,

Mask dilemma

The Covid Task force in its weekly communication with the community in the News & Notes, on Auronet and through many Bulletins has done a heroic job! The Pandemic in India is  certainly  not  yet  under  control  and  we  are asked  to  take caution;  It  is  required  by  law  to  keep  social  distance, wear masks while going out and in public places and do not hold or go to large gatherings. As Auroville and Aurovilians, we have to follow the law.

Lately there are more voices of dissent, people who absolutely refuse to wear a mask in Auroville’s public places: going to the Financial Service, PDTC or Pour Tous, (despite clear signs that say: ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY ‘. Unpleasant, jarring, impatient and hot arguments were heard in PDTC at the entrance attacking the amazing people, who keep this service going since March, in a spirit of selfless service, wearing their own hot masks all morning!! and providing us with all our food needs, meanwhile keeping a beautiful atmosphere.  Over the carrot-and onion displays someone went ballistic: shrieking to another customer who dared to inquire why she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was shocking painful and hurtful to everyone present. If some Aurovilians feel so strongly not keeping these simple rules, they of course have the freedom to stop shopping or use Auroville services and do their errands and business elsewhere. It  would  great  if  these  simple  rules  could  be  accepted  and followed by everyone -whatever people’s private opinions are- without the necessity to enforce them.

Stay Healthy!  ~ L.

I have a lot of questions about this piece of writing. What exactly is heroic about sitting in a self-appointed group passing down rules from the Central Government to The City The Earth Needs?  Why are those who work for a wage called selfless, and inhowfar does their self-torturing behaviour make a good example for everyone? It is certainly not ok to accuse or even shout at them, but where is all the rage coming from, did you ever wonder? From the threat of enforcement of ‘voluntary’ obedience, perhaps? Where can they go when all public doors are marked with Get-lost signs? Can they visit alternative offices when there aren’t any? Are they supposed to starve to death in their homes? What has become of the Aurovilian pride in all the non-allopathic methods and ways of healing we once practiced? Once there were Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yogic, Shamanic and all kinds of ways, now there is only one, the control-obsessed Western-orthodox approach, or rather a perverted politicised version of it that defies all scientific and common-sense understanding.

Despite the many questionable points in the above opinion piece, I’ll focus on the topic of obedience alone. Mirra Alfassa, the founder and “Mother” of Auroville, also called the place The City At The Service Of Truth, and she made clear in many of her statements that laws, rules, traditions, morals, or religions alongside money, police, courts, politics, governments etc. should not rule its ways. A life divine, but no religions, as she famously said.

source: Pixabay

As can be seen from the following quotes, to no surprise, the New Testament as a spiritual document anticipates some of the things that the Mother, along with many other wisdom teachers, said about proper relation of the truth-seeker to rules.
Let me quote from Cayley’s book [in italics]; not in order to establish yet another authority or to argue theological points, but to give a perspective on what the insistence on obedience might mean.

What the Samaritan does is to step fearlessly outside what his culture has sanctified in order to create a new relationship and, potentially, a new community. He does not seek God within a sacred circle but finds him lying by the road in a ditch. His possibilities cannot be predicted or circumscribed. He lives, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not under the law, but under grace.” [Cayley]

“We are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code.” [Paul, Letter to the Romans, 7:6]

In other words, the spirit defines our relationship, not our man-made arbitrary rules. One of Illich’s central tenets was that even the duty to help and the obligation to solidarity eliminate empathy and spirit from the good work. Before everything else, there ought to be compassion, not judgment. The person that comes to your doorstep is a person in need. Right action does not draw its direction from the norm or from fear of breaking rules.


“If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:22-23]

While modern political and social theory has it that societies are shaped and held together by their rules, the bond of community is understanding. It doesn’t mean that laws, traditions or rituals are absent in community, but that they do not have precedence over compassion. Through the message passed on by numerous voices such as the Buddha, Jesus, or the Mother, we have been made aware of our freedom to act compassionately, and that the strict application – not the breach – of rules is a sin:


Sin, in this new context, no longer means just a violation of the law, but something more — a coldness or indifference to what has been revealed and made possible. [Cayley]

Don’t take ‘sin’ for the religious crime codified by the Roman Church, but for the betrayal of the relationship established by the loving trust of the Samaritan into the commonly despised stranger.

“Sin,” Illich says, “is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an ‘ought’ because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God […] It is not in any sense offensive of a law. It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”

To value the law over the person, that is sin. Freedom, though, is not about permanent rebellion against rules in general, but about unrestrained acting in the spirit of the good: compassion, truthfulness, community.

Sin, on this account, is not simply an evil, or a moral fault. It is a failing against the Spirit, possible only for those who have heard and ignored what they have heard, and visible only in the light of that freedom that Paul says is identical with “the forgiveness of sin.” [Cayley]

Ivan Illich and the end of transportation as we know it

The computer solves the problems we didn’t have without it, they say – not to mention a growing number of problems it created, like the surveillance state, cyber addiction, and the possibility of fully-automated warfare, to which there is no solution other than abandoning the use of electronic processing.
Similarly, high-speed transportation saves us time on trips we wouldn’t have taken before the advent of the respective transportation technology, says Austrian social philosopher Ivan Illich in his book Energy & Equity (1974).

This became especially apparent around 1900 when the mileage of passengers had increased by a factor of one hundred within just fifty years after the introduction of railroads. People picked up business at greater and greater distances, to the disadvantage of the places they lived. Beyond a certain average amount of energy per capita put into transportation, means of moving shift from metabolic energy driven to mineral fuels driven locomotion. Next thing we know is, we abandon our innate freedom of moving on our own feet, to any place and in any direction that is not legally of physically barred, in exchange for pre-fabricated routes, to approved destinations and at a price.

From the moment its machines could put more than a certain horsepower behind any one passenger, this industry has reduced equality among men, restricted their mobility to a system of industrially defined routes and created time scarcity of unprecedented severity. As the speed of their vehicles crosses the threshold, citizens become transportation consumers. – Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, p29

As with other factors of society – wealth, power, privilege – the results of industrialization of traffic are not shared equally among its participants:

Extremes of privilege are created at the cost of universal enslavement. An elite packs unlimited distance into a lifetime of pampered travel, while the majority spend a bigger slice of their existence on unwanted trips. The few mount their magic carpets to travel between distant points that their ephemeral presence renders both scarce and seductive, while the many are compelled to trip further and faster and to spend more time preparing for and recovering from their trips. (p29)

Ivan Illich, by Wikimedia user Adrift Animal (cc 4.0 intl)

People in industrialized countries spend four to seven times more time “on the road” than their fellow men in more traditional cultures. They travel up to one hundred times longer distances per day, using up to one third of their income for commuting to the job that pays their trips to the job. The product of the transportation industry, Illich says, is the habitual passenger, a person uprooted from her place of origin. She is rushed in a closed cabin behind the windows of which untouchable landscapes pass by. Her time is scarce, her feeling of autonomy low, and life without means of transportation provided by remote powers such as governments, automobile industry and railroad services, has become unthinkable to her. Without external help she feels immobilized.

The habitual passenger must adopt a new set of beliefs and expectations if he is to feel secure in the strange world where both liaisons and loneliness are products of conveyance. To ‘gather’ for him means to be brought together by vehicles […] He takes freedom of movement to be the same as one’s claim on propulsion […] As a result, what he wants is not more liberty as a citizen but better service as a client. He does not insist on his freedom to move and to speak to people but on his claim to be shipped and to be informed by the media. He wants a better product rather than freedom from servitude to it. (p37f)

Could it get any worse? Yes it can. From Illich’s view, the whole setup is foolishly self-defeating because not only does this set of living arrangements affect the individual, eating away on her freedom, leisure, connectedness, and wealth, it also widens the gap between privileged and burdened members of society continuously, thus putting tremendous stress on the integrity of society as a whole.

Beyond a certain threshold, further energy input makes a society’s compounded time expenditure on transportation rise significantly. In other words, speed increases for those who can pay for it while everyone else spends more time inbetween places.
In Germany, for instance, more than 16% of mostly rural railroad lines have been closed since the inception of the first inter-city express connections (ICE) in 1991, the rate of train delays rose, and people spend more time waiting for connecting trains due to a thinned out railway schedule.
Within cities, inequity leads to visibly slower traffic on average. Illich compared Bombay in the early seventies (where the very few cars already began to impair the flow of pedestrians and bicycles) with Western megacities like Paris, London, or New York. He found that the rate of locomotion in India was superior to that in fully industrialized countries.

Beyond a critical speed [around 25 mph], no one can save time without forcing another to lose it. The man who claims a seat in a faster vehicle insists that his time is worth more than that of the passenger in a slower one. Beyond a certain velocity, passengers become consumers of other people’s time, and accelerating vehicles becomes the means for effecting a net transfer of life-time. The degree of transfer is measured in quanta of speed. This time-grab despoils those who are left behind, and since they are the majority, it raises ethical issues of a more general nature than kidney dialysis or organ transplants. (p42)

So growing energy comes at the expense of equity – a mechanism that should ring alarm bells with anyone concerned about people’s participation in decision-making. If ecologists are right to assert that non-metabolic power creates pollution, it is also true that it corrupts the citizens, processes and institutions of society. 
Looking back at fourty-five years of ‘progress’ since Illich’s essay the brilliance of his analysis has not faded in the face of ‘new’ – more-of-the-same – developments. If anything, the manifestations of high-speed transportation have become more pointed in the places I have visited in my lifetime, be it in the United States, the European Union, Japan, or in India. Speaking up at the time of the Oil Crisis of the early-seventies when OPEC’s policies wreaked havoc on the transportation-intense – or should I say, transportation-addicted – economies of the West Illich took traffic as an example for pinpointing how the dominant culture phrases its problems in all the wrong terms. There is no “energy crisis”, he said, just a crisis of ever-increasing demand, and that’s as true today as it was back then. Instead of replacing fossil fuels (as the promise went, and still goes), so-called alternative energy sources help with covering the still-increasing demand for more, topping up the stagnating fossil fuels. The price both humans and the community of life must pay for our trips– habitat destruction, pollution, breakdown of social cohesion, human alienation from landbase, waste of lifetime on commuting etc pp – has accumulated to the point where civilization stands at the brink of collapse while a sixth mass extinction begins to denude the Earth of species diversity. Therefore it is only logical of Extinction Rebellion to seriously consider cuts on transportation. 
From understanding how addicted most of us seem to speedy transportation we can just as easily understand why both the current establishment and most of the citizenry alike resist the idea that aviation, private automobiles, container and cruise ships get restricted for the sake of life on Earth. Given the choice between death and unemployment, they opt for their sources of income.
The cure that Illich saw lies in the limitation of energy use. Speaking of traffic he meant lowering the maximum speed of vehicles to around 15 mph, which implicitly translates into less distance covered per day, closer-knit communities rather than urban sprawls, fewer roads with less space and materials used etc.

High speed is the critical factor which makes transportation socially destructive. A true choice among political systems and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle. (p23f)

Post scriptum
Ivan Illich (1926-2002) was a philosopher and catholic theologian.

I have first come across Illich’s work ten years ago when I happened to see a funny yet disquieting clip quoting from his book Deschooling Society. While he did not question civilization as such his revolutionary ponderings certainly deposited explosives close to its foundations. Unsurprisingly enough his name has almost vanished from public awareness. His findings, though, stood the test of time, so far, and his written legacy found its way into libraries all over the world. Many of his manuscripts and notes have been collected in the Illich Archive in Wiesbaden, co-founded and co-maintained by professors Reimerand Marianne Gronemeyer who base their work on Illich’s philosopy. In upholding the origial spirit, they apply those teachings to our times.

Underminers in German

The other day, John Michael Greer wrote,

“If your lifestyle supports a system, and depends on that system, any efforts you may think you’re making to force significant change on that system will be wasted breath.”

This is how the Machine keeps each and every one of us in addiction to civilization.
But wait, there’s more! There are the Tools of Disconnectionand the Veil of Ignorance which bind us mentally, physically, and psychologically to the set of living arrangements which is eating the world alive. With the exception of very few people, none of us is lifting one finger – because we literally can’t.
Keith Farnish, in his seminal book Underminers – a practical guide for radical change“,delivers a well-written, both comprehensible and comprehensive analysis of the situation, and then goes beyond it, by explaining step by step what each and every one of us can do, with their specific gifts, in their specific environment.
Yet this book is not just about destroying that which is destroying us; it offers an outlook on the kind of society we could have if we wanted to. To some extent, it has always been there, as the operating system of 99% of all human groups that have ever existed, and it can be practiced right away. As a matter of fact, it’s theantidote to the madness most of our contemporaries are suffering from.
Underminers” is now available in German language, updated and equipped with Central European examples. Get your free download of Radikaler Wandel: Anleitung zur praktischen Untergrabung der Maschine, quote from it, build your own work on it, and pass it on to all your German-speaking friends.

Also visit the Downloads section (link on the right side of the blog) for further free publications.


When you shout “betrayer!”, what does it imply?
When you hear the word “god”, what does it invoke?
When you read about “money”, what does it mean to you?
When you use the word “freedom”, what does it feel like?

You may have a clear image, or you may have a fuzzy understanding of that something, but almost certainly you will be prone to some kind of deception. For to be able to stand living in civilization, it takes mental adjustment to the many ways in which the system violates common sense and normal human behaviour. Civilization has taken our language and turned it into a weapon – against us. By redefining the meaning of words – and there are several methods and strategies available to her – she can invoke the deeper meaning, the concept of, a phrase within us while referring to a much shallower or even conflicting notion of it. Newspeakand Doublethink, far from being fictional ideas out of an oft-cited, rarely fully understood novel, are part of today’s state of affairs; they come as easy to us as breathing the pungent urban stench of civilization while thinking nothing of it… and it’s just as poisonnous.

The power of language and its intimate relationship not only with all the rest of cultural phenomena, but with reality itself, has been well documented. Just two among many relevant works may already suffice to make that point: Daniel Everett’s report Don’tsleep, there are snakes and Stuart Chase’s book “The tyranny of words”.

Inspired by Keith Farnish’s work Underminers: a practical guide for radical change”, the German translation of which will be available from June on, I’ll undertake an effort of compiling an encyclopedia of terms from all fields of knowledge and all aspects of life that attempts to point out the deception in our current use of words, and rectify them to again mean what they originally stood for.
This book will be an alternative to mainstream reference books only insofar as it provides a different view. It’s actually the latter that spread “alternative facts”, as has been aptly admitted by one of the perpetrators themselves. Revealing quotes like this, from both sides of understanding, as well as tons of cross-references for the intuitive untangling of a seemingly unsolvable problem, and my own definition of things, peppered with humour (black and white) will make up the main body of the encyclopedia. Expect something like Robert Wilson’s Everything is under controlto come your way by the end of next year.

The project will start with the German language but I’m already looking for people who would work on the English version. Can you help?

Underminers: Subverting the Machine

In the last Empire Express I already recommended this book for reading. Today I would like to re-emphasize its meaning as a useful tool in an age of industrialized omnicide. Those regularly following my blog posts might be aware of the concept of “distributed denial of servitude“, which is the idea that every person who is aware of the problem of civilization can do something to reduce its destructive impacts on humans and non-humans alike, by withdrawing their time, mind, and energy from the machine in order to direct them at alternate ways of being.
Keith Farnish’s book ‘Underminers: a practical guide for radical change’ describes ways and methods how to succeed with this.
The book consists of three main parts:
The first part uncovers the “tools of disconnection”, the many ways by which Mother Culture lures, fools, coaxes, pushes, and forces her children into submission. She makes sure that spite is not turned against her, that all fighting remains infighting among citizens, and that those attempting to leave the herd are getting crushed. Knowledge about her ways is not supposed to rise to awareness because as soon as the illusion of her benevolence falls away people start to turn their backs on her. So becoming aware is already an act of undermining the machine.
With the knowledge of the tools of disconnection in mind the second part describes where and how “the culture of maximum harm” can be undermined actively. The goal is to uncover the illusory nature, pointlessness, and destructiveness of the dominant set of living arrangements to individuals or the general public. There are various options like creating ridiculous situations in which the system’s ability to serve its declared goals fails so obviously that people begin to awaken and start to question established thought patterns and institutions. This awakening from illusions is an absolute prerequisite for their being able to reconnect to the real world.
As this activism of a million pin pricks aims at disrupting the machine to the point of its breaking down one could call that — in the widest sense — sabotage. Yet in a legal sense, and certainly in moral terms, there is nothing wrong with most of what underminers are doing. The author stresses, though, that the underminer has to take full responsibility for his/her actions and therefore needs to plan carefully to avoid physical harm to living beings.
At one point the system comes crashing down. Whether it is the outcome of undermining, or whether it is the result in of the system’s inbuilt weaknesses, or whether it dies from exhaustion of resources is only relevant in terms of what will be left of the world for life to go on. Crashing down it will, and rather sooner than later. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down, not knowing what to do. People need a safety net to fall back into. In part three, Keith explains how to extract yourself from the machine’s grip so you may live not only more appropriately as a human being, but you also establish a parallel society that today practices the skills needed in the future. John Michael Greer once published a book whose title perfectly carries the sentiment: “Collapse now, avoid the rush.”
Community building will be a major undertaking here and, as a side effect of undermining, it becomes easier, through realizing how we got disconnected from each other in the first place.
So, altogether, the book is full of great ideas of where to start — right now — with your post-civilized life, and how to help bringing the machine to a halt. Underminers is available from your local or online bookshop, you may read it for free on a webpage, or you can download a free pdf from the same page.

“Cast off our watches (and phones), like my wife has, and it takes very little time to “tune in” to how far along its diurnal path the Earth has rotated, and what point in our wakefulness cycle we are currently at. I can’t see such principles being readily accepted in the world of commerce where time is money and money is the meaning of life, but that’s just one more reason why the commercial world is completely incompatible with human beings. We only have a finite time to spend on this world, with the people we love, doing the things that are truly important. Who the fuck gave anyone the right to steal that time away from us?” — Underminers, p345

The limits to reason

How did humans get to the idea that they could domesticate plants and animals for food prdoduction? How did they do it, and what were the implications? What has changed over the millennia and how did this affect people, plants, animals and the land?
Many among us may think they know the story, but what we actually heard was the narration of the agricultural perpetrators. The picture they paint gives rationales and justifications for modern industrial agriculture, based on utilitarian materialistic notions of bottom lines and benefits. What is missing from their picture is the suffering caused by rapist practises that sprang from rapist minds. While this may sound like a harsh judgment, consider that the rapist is separating himself from his victim, and he objectifies it so he can use it for his own benefit. The victim’s “bottom line” does play no role in his calculations. In his mind, there is no soul, no heartache, no dignity, no connectedness, no oneness, no sacredness.
In various publications Daniel Quinn pointed out that this rapist totalitarian agriculture is but one way of growing food. Other ways are not about production in the first place; they help embed humans into the web of life. Experience from organic gardening and farming does support this notion, but the case may also be made historically and etymologically.
The morpheme agri- is derived from a Latin word and means “field”. -culture, again from the Latin, means “to till, to inhabit, to protect, to nurture, to worship, to honour.” The relationship expressed in the word Agriculture is therefore a close, nurturing, loving one, originally.
What we commonly understand, today by the word agriculture, because its practices have become so ubiquitous, is a subduing of the Earth, forcing our will upon soil, plants, and animals so they deliver what we demand of them. Totalitarian agriculture is the starting point and main driver of the physical destruction of the biosphere as well as the emotional and spiritual destruction of human beings.

TENDING OUR LAND. A new story. By M. G. Jackson & Nyla Coelho
By NASA Langley Research Center, public domain

Focussing on the history of Indian farming and agriculture practices since the dawn of civilization, Jackson and Coelho give a new account of the succession of ideas and notions around tending the land. This is at the same time a history of modern science and its failures to grasp what almost every culture on Earth understood: that humans are an integral part of the world, not separate from it, and that the way we relate to it has consequences on a material level; that in fact relationships are the actual substance of reality.

“17th century specialists assumed that they were impartial observers of the objects and events they study. Such findings are thus objective, free from personal bias, and thus reveal the true nature of the phenomena studied. This assumption is based on the concept of a duality of body and mind formulated by Rene Descartes.”(p73f)
But the duality between free mind and causally-determined matter makes no sense, says Whitehead (quoted after Tending our land):
“Western peoples exhibit … two attitudes [that] are really inconsistent … A scientific realism, based upon mechanism, is conjoined with an unwavering belief in the world of man and higher animals as being composed of self-determining organisms. The radical inconsistency at the base of modern thought accounts for much that is half-hearted and wavering in our civilization.” [A. N. Whitehead, Science and the modern world, 1925, p76]
Jackson and Coelho express that there is no clear separation between the observer and the observed, so,
“In view of this assumption about the process of observation — who observes, what is observed and how — it would only be prudent to doubt the entire edifice of 17th century science. It seems likely that the specialists, in fact, see what they expect to see based on their assumptions about the nature of the world. Since they are unaware of the assumptions they hold they think they are seeing ‘the’ world as it ‘really’ is.” (p73)
In other words, the world of clearly separate entities, entities which consist of lifeless inert mass, entities which can be used and manipulated as humans please, is basically a delusion. The case can be made for things the size of galaxies, as well as for atoms, and everything inbetween.
“Size, volume, shape, density, position and velocity are not attributes of the atoms themselves, but refer to the relationships among them […] abstracted from this reference frame, an atom cannot be described; it cannot even be said to exist.” (p69)
“Another way of describing the unreality of physical entities is to say that in the world we construct from our experiences there are no spatial boundaries. If there are no boundaries there cannot be any independently-existing entities”, (p70f)
because it requires a defined area or volume for them to exist.
And really, particle physicists have been unable to discover such entities. The same goes for the macroscopic level. Can soil exist or be seen without the organisms living in it, of it, and creating it? Can a human being exist without the myriads of microspecies living on our skin, off our hair, in our bowels? Can a planet exist in and of itself, without its gravity field and the gravity fields of its neighbouring celestial bodies? With everything so tightly interlinked as to be inseparable the scientific description of relational dynamics becomes utterly ridiculous.
by MLWatts, public domain

“It is not possible to describe the simultaneous interactions of three or more bodies in one equation; say for example, the sun, planet, and the planet’s moon, or the entire solar configuration, or a human body or a landscape” (p73)

Though we can point at “things” and though we canroughly or with relative precision predict those things’ near-term development, truly exact forecasts are simply impossible. But,
“If we assume that what we observe are relationships and not objects, the appropriate research protocol is to describe these relationships. It is a process of synthesis rather than of analysis.” (p72)
So if we described the world in terms of relationships like some Eastern, and almost all indigenous, cultures used to rather than in terms of forces and masses, the outcome might be quite different. It certainly makes a difference regarding our behaviour, and our relationship to the living planet. And that in turn might mean all the difference in view of the future course of the global crisis we are currently undergoing. If what happens, eg. to the climate, is the outcome of humanity’s impoverished, disrespecting and abusive relationship towards basically everything — and how could we deny that the uglification, the exploitation, the pollution etc of the planet are just that — then re-establishing a loving relationship with the universe might result in a ‘miraculous’ healing.
“Everything in the universe we [Indians] are told is not only living, but is also sacred. What does it mean to say that life is sacred? Sacredness is a feeling, not a concept. How, or from where, does it arise? We can only say: from a sense of mystery. It will not do to say that the ancients lacked our present particular knowledge and so fell back on superstitious belief. Rather we must admit, as they did, that there is a limit to human reason. Admitting this humbles us and gives rise to a sense of awe in the face of the universal mystery of manifestation; awe and reverence are the very essence of the sacred.” (p61f)
A miracle is not something we can hope for. Similarly, sacredness is not something we can work for. Both would arise from a change in our deepest understanding, therefore today’s science would be unable to explain it. From a rational point of view, reducing emissions or cleaning up pollution would have done the job (though we know already that it’s too late for this to have any significant effect), but what would have actually happened is the mending of broken ties through re-establishing the sacred dimension of things.
Our actions are the result of inner — mental, emotional, spiritual — states and processes. Whether physical actions are effective elements in a cause-and-effect mechanism, or if they are merely symptoms of inner processes is one of the great differences in worldview between East and West, and it might be the difference between a living and a dead planet.

See also:

Towards an ethics of permanenceNyla Coelho & Dr. M.G. Jackson, Ecologise, 20170510.
An essay made from excerpts from the book Tending Our Land: A New Story, Earthcare books, Kolkata, 2016

Zhampa travels the German way

Yesterday I finished the raw translation of “The trouble with wisdom“, a novel by Thomas Henry Pope. Its German title has not yet been determined; that will be discussed later. The thing is definitely worth reading, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked up the task.

I also received a couple of proofing copies of my previous two works (Greer, Star’s Reach & Quinn, The Story Of B) the publication of which has not yet happened due to legal issues. I warmly recommend reading them as well 

Today I was in another meeting with BOSS (not the company) which went unexpectedly well, though they couldn’t resist trying to intimidate my companion, which basically means that they didn’t believe us. That’s fine; take the next step and get your fingers burnt. At least I didn’t have to read them from my original 1948 Edition of the “Universal declaration of human rights” that was sitting in my bag –just in case.

The faith of his contemporaries

“From 1459 onward the pope repeatedly appealed to the Christian powers to join in a common crusade and he raised the monies to subsidize such a concerted movement [against the Ottoman empire]. Dracula alone responded to his call.” 

(taken from: Dracula, prince of many faces; his life and his times; by R. Florescu & R. McNally)

Notes on love in a Tamil family

Accidentally came across this great read of a while ago (written by Margaret Trawick) that helped me make sense of some of my own observations. It deepened the understanding that every culture exists of its own right, functions differently, has its own concepts, its own morality, and cannot be judged according to foreign standards, no matter how enchanted or upset one might feel about individual notions and events.