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 trafficsector: 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 moreexamples of that malignant rebound effect which pervades all areas of civilized life; in fact every institution of Modernity, from churchto academia, from military to administration, from agricultureto 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 behaviourscurrently 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 clinicalwhen pain, sickness, and death result from medical care; it is socialwhen 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 everywoman’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 injusticedenies 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, transmittedto an age gone insane over the war on micro-organismswaged by obsessivescience, unleashedcorporationsand amoralpolitics, in which ordinary people, the sick and the healthy alike, get consumedas cannon fodder. The enemy, though, is invisible, invincibleandindestructible; 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]

Exhibition poster

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 Caley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Caley, 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 Caley’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.” [Caley]

“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. [Caley]

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.” [Caley]

A gentle reminder

or, Here be long sentences.
Having spent nearly three months in complete seclusion from the outside world, alongside a next-to-perfect disappearance of electronic communication channels for most of that period, I had a lot of time to think about, and feel into, the so-called Corona crisis. It was a time of intense joy over the increased quality of life, owed to civilization’s coming to an almost complete halt, and it was also a time of intense agony over what my growing understanding of the crisis brought to light, both in terms of outer truths and of the resurfacing of psychological traumas. In short, I shifted from ordinary grief via excited free-fall to deep fatigue followed by burning rage within a few weeks only.
As I haven’t been bombarded with the news as heavily as most of you were. I was enough at ease to ask questions and look for the answers in places that were not mediated, not agitated, not trying to pull me one way or another. When there was opportunity I also did some research, and I could draw from having witnessed first-hand the severe Influenza pandemic of 1996 during my service as a state-qualified geriatric nurse, when most of the personnel including myself got sick and seven inmates died before my eyes.
From the evidence I saw I came to a conclusion that not only positioned me on the side of the critics of the shoddy science behind the corona scare, but caused me to disobey orders.
What’s more – and this is my meta-critique to the situation – the factuality of the health threat becomes a side issue when regarded from a different angle.
I direct my hardline opposition to the Corona regime first and foremost against the fear-mongering, health-impeding, manipulative, cruel, out-of-proportion, brainwashing, dehumanizing, patronizing, authoritarian behaviour of media, governments and the people who regard themselves as their gate-keeping subjects, the Soap Police. I would sustain that opposition whether I believed in a serious health threat or denied it altogether. (I do neither.) What happens here – 8 bn people taken prisoners, many of them driven to the edge of existence if not actually killed, but kept from speaking their truth and exposed to psychological brutality – is outright WRONG and completely unacceptable to me, no matter the reason it happens for. This position is based on direct, lived experience, not on mediated information or hypothetical considerations. The outrage runs deep, for it has a valid foundation built from suffering and pain.

During those months, when anger gave me funny ideas, I wrote satirical pieces sharply attacking the regime: the incapability of allopathic medicine to understand life in any other way than mechanistically, the irrational fear of micro-organisms, the death-phobia, the permanent irradiation with disjointed factoids, the manufacturing of news, the total disregard for people’s needs, feelings and traditional understandings, or the pre-emptive surrender to the totalitarian order to shutting up anyone and everyone who showed even the slightest sign of disagreement. Where are those pieces? Am I going to substantiate my opinions and claims with official figures, scientific reports and case studies?

Well, apart from the quick note of last Monday – a few lines of concern and two links – I decided that first of all, we have spoken enough to that topic. For months all the other oh-so-important issues, from Russiagate to North Korea, from rising poverty to dying polar bears, have been drowned out completely, even in personal conversations and alternative media. I do not want to contribute to the craze by putting more fuel into the propaganda machine of either side. Let disagreements not come between us.
It’s time to re-discover our common humanity and the huge pile of pressing issues we need to look at right now.
And what about the bright sides of life – shall we explore whether they still exist?
Secondly, although I was tempted to respond to some of my friends’ postings and the judgmental accusations and authoritarian demands therein / thereunder, I decided to drop the matter altogether; I continue to take care not to comment on Corona-related issues, at least for the time being. I do have an opinion, and so does everyone else; so what? I speak up considering that others may have good reasons to come to different conclusions. This hurts only as long as one stays attached to one’s being right. Believe it or not, you have a better chance at convincing others of your views when you enter into an open exchange, allowing yourself to change in the course of it as well. Repression causes resistance. Always.
I do empathize with the utterance of concern in dedicated places. Those who feel the need for protection from Corona have a right to act accordingly and to discuss relevant topics without getting exposed to harassment, censorship or conversion attempts.
A gentle reminder to you, my dear friends, that, in my places and in my writings, I take the same liberty to express the truth I understand asyou do in yours.
pic: Bijay Chaurasia, (cc by-sa 3.0)

And I won’t be stopped. It’s fine by me if you signal disagreement in response to my postings so long as it happens in a respectful way. But some of you need to ask themselves why they are jumping at my bringing up the topic, trying to prove me wrong, when they rarely ever cared to comment before. If you think I”m principally fighting for Corona truth you are mistaken. The central theme of my blog was – and continues to be – the problem of civilization, the wholesale destruction, the distorted reality, the mental sickness, and the trauma it causes, and the illusion of separation it is based upon. Whether we are discussing healthcare or governance or economics or arts or racism or language or climate collapse, the issue at hand serves always merely as a case study of that central theme, and the next good example is just one media hype away.

My credo though – whether explicitly or implicitly stated – remains the same throughout: this culture will eat the world alive and turn it into poisonous trash. By design it can neither be sustained nor reformed; it will end, and soon, taking most everything and everyone down with it. Those who are looking for sanity don’t empower it by listening to its voice, believing its media, letting themselves get scared into panic and then soothed by false hopes, craving its offers, buying its goods, working its chores, paying its bills, divorcing themselves from others along predetermined breaking lines, or by obeying orders; to no greater extent, at least, than necessary. This means, how to face the current situation – in which ever way you define it – should become more clear as you are listening quietly for an answer within yourself rather than from external sources, approved or not.
If you feel that you can’t stand what I’m saying, if you believe that certain views are dangerous and must never get expressed publicly you have not understood a single word of what I’ve been saying all those years.
You’ve been following or friending the wrong person all along. Do yourself a favour, take a conscious decision now, like that fellow Aurovilian did who – rather than questioning me face to face – unfriended and blocked me immediately after my one-off posting. He’s a wise man, knowing too well that I’m lost to the culture of make-believe. Saves us both some breath. In a few years it won’t matter any longer anyway.

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.

Universalism as power (Yurugu series #4)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,, is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

Throughout the elaborations of this series it shows that universal values take a problematic position in the matrix of European civilization. We believe that values, such as “freedom,” “equality,” “humanism,” “rationality,” etc., are not just the values of our culture; we claim their universal validity, i.e., other peoples must naturally want them and abide by them.

This expectation plays a role in international relations, when our so-called Western “community of shared values” demands of other governments that they respect the civil rights of citizens. Very few governments squarely rebuke that notion, among them China which holds that her culture functions in different ways. Now China is a nuclear power, a state of more than one billion people which cannot be bullied into submission. Other nations for most part cannot afford open rebellion against “universal” values. They usually resort to paying lip service when they rather tend to disagree.
Think of the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”in 1948: “Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote”[Wikipedia
It’sa case study of cultural falsehood in which neither Mao’s China (aye vote) nor the Apartheid state of South Africa (abstained) nor the autocratic regime of Caríasin Honduras (no vote) dared to disagree. In each of these and all othercases the intent to disregard civil & human rights was clear from before the declaration’s coming into effect. Then why did nobody vote “nay”?

As Marimba Ani explained in her introduction to the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,

The secret Europeans discovered early in their history is that culture carries rules for thinking, and that if you could impose your culture on your victims you could limit the creativity of their vision, destroying their ability to act with will and intent and in their own interest. (Yurugu, p1)

Lip service works fine when it comes to adhering “universal ethical values,” as globalized Western civilization is not based on their proclaimed values; those in power heavily rely on them for veiling their true intents from the general population both inside and outside of their immediate sphere of influence.

Within the logic of European humanism one can talk about “morality” that is not reflected in behavior. One is considered to be highly moral if the language that one uses is couched in the syntax of abstraction and of universality; that is, of disinterest. This makes no sense in other cultures where morality is concerned with behavior only and is meaningless unless it is indicative of a behavioral norm. Which is the more “human” – the way of life that dictates respectful behavior or the one that attempts to encourage an “abstract affection for humanity at large,” which has no relationship to behavior and to which the individual cannot relate? (Yurugu, p543)

Well, the answer seems obvious to me. In the same way, I have no doubt about freedom, equality, and brotherhood, as defined by our culture, being just carrots on a stick, meant to give hope in the light of an everlasting enslavement, inequality, and competition which are intrinsic “qualities” of Western civilization from its very beginning.
I know that words like “freedom” do have a deeper meaning, or else they would not have inspired widespread revolutions; yet the values can never come to true actualization under the paradigm of the forked tongue. As the French of the late 18th century acted from the same basic assumptions as the parasitic elite they overthrew it is no wonder their revolution so quickly turned into immense bloodshed, devouring its own children.
Fanon says in his famous testament which we also find quoted within Yurugu:

Frantz Fanon*

Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration […] That same Europe where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what suffering humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. (Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth, 1963, p252)

Europe talks… and kills. And while Fanon, like Marima Ani, speaksto people of African origin, the same logic goes for us Europeans (I assume here that most, or all, of my readers are of Caucasian origin, or, like many people of colour today, live by the same basic “universal” values). Our liberation must start with noticing the harmful European asili, the core of the dominant culture, then continue by its wholesale rejection and its replacement by an asili of sanity.

We cannot mobilize for effective resistance to our physical destruction unless we are ideologically liberated. What impedes that liberation is cultural imperialism. European “universalism” and its attendant spurious “humanism” are very dangerous and effective forms of European cultural imperialism.

Universalism, when translated scientifically, becomes objectification. The illusion of objectivity promotes the myth of universalistic commitment, that is, it is a stance that disavows political or group interest. It thereby services group interest more subtly by calling it something other than what it is. We can conclude that this universalism semantically represents European value, is not a universally valid goal and, as an “imperative” serves the interest of European cultural imperialism. (Yurugu, p551)

Real revolution, which Jiddu Krishnamurti so famously coined as a term, is not concerned with people taking to the streets, in the first place; it is a revolution of the mind – not in order to fill it with new contents, but to make different use of human consciousness. Translated into everyday behaviour, we would livein closely interrelated community, rather than talk about community in terms of a collection of individuals (as in, European Community, United Nations, Facebook community etc.), with similar implications for other words like “prosperity,” democracy,” “brotherhood,” “peace,” “love,” and so forth, which, today, are merely hollow shells, shallow concepts being invokedwithout consequence.

[next article in the series]

* Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), photograph taken by Pacha J. Willka, Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

In Churchill’s words

“No man is free if he fears death. But the minute you proffer the fear, at that momentyou are free.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

When people speak of Gandhi and Martin Luther King with great reverence, as role models for successful non-violent resistance, what is often being overlooked is the fact that not only did those resistance leaders apply counter-intuitive methods and not only did they speak with great charisma. What made those protests successful back then was the protesters’ complete determination to their goals, a determination so complete they would go to great length and would take all kinds of personal discomforts and disadvantages on themselves, willing even to go to death for their conviction. The symbols of freedom they created and held up have not just been mere declarations of preference, taste, ideas, or moral indignation. It was the protesters’ perseverance in complete determination to their goals that gave power to those symbols, and only through determination was it that they were able to touch the hearts and minds of their fellow men, and inspired them to support their plea.

The situation today is of similar urgency, yet we don’t see that kind of determination and perseverance much these days. Have we given up the struggle for social and environmental justice because we’re tired? Is it because we don’t believe in our cause any longer? Are we, as a society, as mankind, too fragmented, too deeply lost in identity politics, in selfish strive for personal happiness? Is it that we believe, instead, in a materialistic world view which has all but killed life’s spirit within us? It might be one of those, or, more likely, all of them together. The Gandhis and Luther-Kings of today run by the name of Vandana Shiva, or Arik Ascherman, or Ahed Tamimi, people who did not surrender to injustice, did not get scared into silence by threat of violence, will continue to speak up for what they know is right, and continuously take action in favour of their proclaimed goals. It’s not that their number was small – it isn’t. What is missing, though, is the support on the streets, with the determination to withstand anything it takes to end the evil system which is devouring the world.

As a protest, Standing Rock has been standing out because there was an urgency to it, and an international solidarity rarely seen these days. Standing Rock has also been a complete disaster, not because they’ve been overrun, but because there has been no public outcry, no follow-up activities, no spreading of civil disobedience across the US and other industrialized countries.

In the same way, Occupy and its sympathizers have failed to continually block and boycott the powers they were up against. It’s like the late sixties all over again, like the stone-throwing student protester Joschka Fischer who, thirty years later, as Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister, in breach of international law, sent soldiers to Serbia, into the country’s first war after WW II. This transition from fringe opposition to conformity just happens so much faster now. All of us, we’re back to work; all of us, we’re populating shops and malls and sales, as if our indignation and our lust for something new had been just a passing phase and as if our continued functioning as cogwheels in the Machine didn’t contribute to the very injustices we’ve been pointing out. As if it weren’t our lives that are at stake now. Or aren’t they? Is this just me making up worst-case scenarios or is our planet actually getting dismantled right at this moment? And if this is so, would we let ourselves get shepherded to the butcher’s block, or would we rather stand up and shout at the top of our lungs, “I shall not surrender! We will never surrender!”, just like the people of Palestine do in their seventy-year struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid policy?

I’m not saying that, “if everyone had joined the protests the problem would have been solved”, for the fact remains that this kind of logic doesn’t work, neither hypothetically nor actually. Still, there lingers the question why, at a time when our survival as individuals, as a community, and as a species stands under immediate threat, our eyes and ears stay closed, our minds stay numb, our mouths stay shut, our hands stay deeply stuffed within our pockets.

Is it because we’ve sold our bodies to the man for a little bit of dough, we’ve sold our minds to the establishment for a little bit of hope, and we’ve sold our spirit to the likes of Adam Smith and Richard Dawkins, for the promise that selfishness will continue to make the world go round?

If you plan on not letting yourself get silently led into the dark, bloody night of the slaughterhouse, your time for making a statement is exactly now, and you better make it a matter of life and death – because that’s what it actually is.

The age of benightedness

When Neal Gabler, in his essay published on December 13, 2017 on, foresaw a second civil war in the US, he used the phrase in a rather metaphorical way. Myself, I was, and I am still, more confident that either the US or its controversial president may not survive this presidential term. But predictions are idle, and so are political analyses. I won’t discuss them here. The reason why I am picking up a topic from politics of the day is the huge public outrage about Donald Trump’s visit to Russia and the alleged meddling of Vladimir Putin in Trump’s election.
Once again, I am not interested in who makes a better case, and if you intend to discuss any of the details with me I’m going to delete your comment as it is wasting my time. As a matter of fact, it is wasting everybody’s time – which is already the core of the matter.
James Gillray: The pinnacle of liberty
Like probably tens of thousands of other people I spent most of yesterday’s day following the news and the screeching, cursing and shouting on Facebook. Since a few months ago I’ve unfollowed most of my “friends” channels and all but two groups; still, the noise was deafening. So much fucking and frigging and bloodying and fooling and idiotizing going on… hell, where is this rage coming from? Unlike many others, I hadn’t invested in one side or the other; it was just immensely amusing to see people losing their minds over something that, had it occurred in “my country”, I would have found it laughable. Actually, “my” government and people took it quite cool when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s wiretapping Frau Merkel’s phone: not much of a public tantrum, no media outcry, no Snowden hearing, no consequences for the perpetrators, no “traitor” shouting at Angie for shrugging it off; just a quick return to realpolitik.
What happened yesterday, July 17 2018, as opposed to back then in Germany’s chancery, is best explained by quoting Derrick Jensen:

Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Obviously, the public in the US does not perceive Russia as a legitimate violator, while the public in Germany does so with regard to the US.
The hierarchy is obvious to anybody who would look, and it is thoroughly internalized by those who wouldn’t. Empire, as needs re-emphasizing over and over again, is not just tanks and prisons and government buildings and barbed wire and tributes paid; empire is first and foremost a state of mind. By imagining empire it becomes a force; those who are able to unthink empire are able to take coercion-free decisions. They may get imprisoned or tortured or killed, but one cannot force them into compliance. Therefore Empire’s very existence depends on schools and academia, mass media and think tanks, to hammer-in the one idea which civilization permits: You are a distinct and separate human being who is selfishly competing against other separate beings for survival, and your society is the hierarchical structure that curbs the fight within civil limits.
Believing any of the excretions of these or other civilized institutions is a crime against your own freedom. And this is what transpired from yesterday’s disproportionate reactions to the happy news that we’ve been gifted with another day on which we haven’t been nuked over the petty squibbles of a bunch of governing psychopaths.
So who are the psychopaths, just Trump and Putin? No.
Rulers are psychopaths, politicians are psychopaths, CEO’s are psychopaths, military folks are psychopaths, secret agents are psychopaths, leading mainstream journalists are psychopaths, and anybody who wants to take their place is one as well. Indeed, many among us ordinary folks are, too, and even me, I cannot vouch for my own sanity.
Yesterday, people have collectively abdicated their freedom in a footstomping kneewobbling headbanging handwringing religious frenzy of mass surrender to Empire’s hierarchy, and even some who could know better wasted their breath on rationalizing the significance of the Helsinki meeting. May they be forgiven, may I be forgiven for having been amused, may the psychopaths be forgiven as well, for we knew not what we’ve been doing. As far as the rising consciousness on this planet is concerned we missed our moment of glory by some inch or another. What Gabler wrote about the Trump camp some months ago is true for his vociferous opponents as well, as it is applicable to ANY side in ANY mental division:

Through a process of simplification, [the demagogues] purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite — benightedness.

When we define humanity’s nature and place in the Universe as one of Interbeing, what is our natural response to the kind of crises we’ve seen during the Trump administration, or, in fact, since the moment when civilization made time begin? A shootout???

Repeat until liberated

Seeing the necessity to stop the runaway train to extinction, how can we accomplish the shift from materialistic to holistic worldview? The question is relevant because not only are people physically entangled in the traplines of civilized life, it makes them also think that ‘beauty’ and ‘sacred’ and ‘joy’ were merely empty words which cannot afford them a living. But this is just a matter of perception. The task, from my understanding, is to provide opportunity for seeing things differently, by getting in touch with that more beautiful life. This goes beyond convincing others that “I am right”. First of all, it is also about proving to ourselves that we can actually stop the destruction within our own sphere of influence. Secondly, I think, the most convincing point in a debate is an argument which relates to an actual experience, so this experience has to be facilitated if it doesn’t already exist.
Thirdly, with only a minimum of contemplation and inquiry, it becomes unquestionably clear that at the basis of our many problems lies money; at the basis of money lies civilization; and at the basis of civilization lies the mindset of separation, of division and control and manipulation and selfishness. By liberating ourselves from the grip of that mindset, and by cutting ties with its manifestations in society, we can literally end the nightmare, one person at a time. This is by no means theoretical gibberish. It has been done millions of times over the millennia, it’s being done by people right now.

My practical advice is a one-and-a-half steps program which I and others like me have gone through. I wasn’t conscious about it back then, but the urge to get out of the machine made me do what was necessary. It has been nicely explained by Keith Farnish in chapters 9 & 10 of his book “Underminers” which is freely available from the web. The advice runs something like this:

1. Reduce time on wage slavery by reducing the need for money,

a) by cutting the acquisition of goods and services we do not really need, eg arranging our housing and job such that we can reduce petrol or even sell the car, and 
b) by reducing the spending on things we might do or create ourselves, eg gathering a group of friends and neighbours who are looking after children rather than paying for day care; growing food instead of buying it; observing plants and animals instead of watching TV or cinema.

This has already the effect of bringing us closer to understanding the foundation of our existence, and of building an alternate social structure we may fall back upon when the machine collapses. It’s the first step to reconnecting to the holistic worldview, it reduces our consumption (with all that this implies, eg. exploitation, pollution, sickness), it gives us more power over our lives, and it’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop: The money we save can be translated into time we reduce on wage slavery. 

The following half step is using the time we saved on wage slavery, to better connect with people around us for further common projects, to help others who are in need, to ask the bigger questions in life (eg. what is important to me, and who is me anyway?) and to research how to do more things ourselves, like how to avoid or deal with health issues, how to repair the sink, how to accomplish tasks without using high tech, how to build simple structures, how to resolve conflict… None of this is rocket science. By applying the newly-gathered knowledge, we reduce the need for money even further.

Repeat until liberated.

To those who feel like jumping at me, replying, “All good and well, BUT…!” — just continue with your life as before. What you want is change happening without your having to change your life. We need to accept that good things don’t come ready-made, by pressing a button and ordering from a menu. Though a different feel to life will arise immediately, the process takes some time till we’re out of the worst, and there will be challenges. Only if we possess the urge to make a leap will we gain confidence in our abilities; only then will it become a self-perpetuating, empowering process instead of a drag.

Most fellow travellers say that their lives have simplified amazingly; they mention a deep sense of liberation as a result; it is often coming along with a feeling of sacredness within all of creation, a joy of being alive. One begins to feel at home in a caring world rather than being driven by having to compete for the last crumbs. We can then say, “I feel fine, I am satisfied, I don’t need anything.” Hence we will become free to act without expecting anything in return. We can spend time on urgent or beautiful or helpful things although there might be no money in it. And we won’t waste it any longer, on falling prey to battle cries, advertisement, xenophobia, blind belief in authorities, dreams of consumption, and delusions of grandeur.

Live Bait Armenia

According to Arka News Agency, the reaction of the Russian government to the so-called revolution in Armenia was:

“We hope that the situation will develop exclusively in the legal and constitutional field, and all political forces will show responsibility and readiness for a constructive dialogue. We are convinced that the prompt return of life in the country to normal and the restoration of public accord meet the fundamental interests of the fraternal Armenia.”

Other governments reacted in similar ways. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. State Department expressed hope that the successor of the resigned prime minister will be chosen in a transparent and constitutional manner. And haven’t we heard it all too often when there was a disaster unfolding, “Peace is the citizen’s first obligation”?
Let me spell it out clearly: The governments of the world do not care who is running another country, in the first place. No matter who takes over the show (sic!), they can get bribed, coopted, cajoled, coerced, or forced into singing with the choir. Very few consistently reject to play along, and the mainstream press calls them ‘dictators’ while you will find their countries’ names on the list of ‘rogue’ states.
What governments, first and foremost, care about is that each regime has their people under control. They cannot have folks discover that they fared better without life-sucking dimbulbs above their heads, who are wrecking society and habitat at the same time.

All governments are occupying forces. They are tyrannies, all of them, and this includes the so-called democracies. For how can you be free while you are following orders, rules, laws, and constitutions? The earlier this is understood, the better.
Thinking that people need governance is a clear sign of having been brainwashed into an addiction from civilization. None of the wild cultures around the world would tolerate the rule of some over all the others; that’s what wild’ means; that’s what ’free’means; that’s what ’egalitarian’means; that’s what ‘fraternal’means.
We don’t need another system: Anarchism worked well for humans for next to three million years.