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


With
“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.

Who killed the Egyptian pyramids?

Tesla is the name of a band whose music tens of thousands of hardrock fans love to dance to since the eighties… Really? Well, it’s true, but I’m joking of course. The Californian band is just one out of many groups of people, most of them companies, which adopted the name of the famous engineer who, among other things, invented the Tesla coil, the Tesla turbine, the remote control and an AC induction motor. Nikola Tesla (1856-1843) supposedly built some kind of electrical car which could have revolutionized transportation from the early 1930s on had it been produced at industrial scale. But it hasn’t, since the concept was stolen and hidden by one or the other powerful corporation, various conspiracy theories purport.
Two years before Musk’s introduction of today’s most famous electric car brand in 2008 – guess what, it’s named after the engineer – Chris Paine directed the sensationalist flick “Who Killed the Electric Car?”This might have been a sneaky marketing trick, or there might be some truth to Nikola Tesla’s ingenuity – after all he was an engineer,a word derived from genius– which supposedly produced wireless energy transmission, zero-point modules, and in 1931 an electric car which ran without batteries. Whether it is true or not is beside the point for our discussion here. The fact is that he might as well have, and another fact is that we just don’t know.
Through the death of an inventive person we lose all of his or her knowledge that has not been expressed in text, formulae, or artifacts, as well as all of his or her potential for further inventions. Whether destroyed by powerful interests or lost through biological termination, the year 1943 effectively saw the disappearance of a number of technologies. 
Who killed the pyramids? (pic by Gregory Rogers, Pexels)
In the same way, we may assume, the death of a civilization brings about the loss of much of its practical techniques and technological knowledge. Not only may we assume it, we know it for a fact. History is indeed replete with examples thereof, some of which I will mention a few paragraphs on. Most of the times it happened unintentionally. Some of the times people chose to ‘forget’ the kind of knowledge they would rather not apply. As much as the latter concept seems foreign to the members of our culture it is a sane reaction to thoughts that may easily disrupt a community or a society. The Pirahã, a tribe of the Amazon basin, have been taught a number of concepts over the centuries, yet they keep forgetting the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion or European ways of building a boat, for instance. The Inquisition, as an example from our own culture, put millions of alleged heretics to trial, killing tens of thousands of herbwives as witches in the process. Both the spiritual understanding of druids and mystics and the intuitive and practical knowledge of healers were threatening the Christian order of the time; thus they have been extinguished where they were found. The eradication of knowledge was thorough and would have led to the complete loss of techniques, had they been of the engineered kind. To our great advantage mysticism and intuition are kinds of ingenuity which, given a chance, return again and again as they are immutably part of our humanity.
Much of our technological knowledge today, though, is of a completely different kind – the kind I would call inhumane, alienating, and destructive. Sitting at a laptop right now, on the one hand I almost break my fingers over typing the things I’m going to tell you now; on the other hand I need to work with what I have, and I am not someone who believes that the master’s house cannot be dismantled using the master’s tools. The core idea I would transmit by way of this article is that both our survival and the wish for a humans-appropriate life requires us to throw away – forget – most of the scientific knowledge, professional techniques and engineered technologies in use today. Civilization critic Jerry Mander, for example, makes the case against computers, saying,

Most people, even those who see the relationship between computers and increased destructive potential, consider the computers themselves to be harmless. Value free. Neutral. “People invent the machines,” is the common wisdom. “People program them, people push the buttons.”

And yet, it is a simple fact that if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. So, can we say that computers are to blame?

It is also a fact that if computers somehow totally disappeared, the world would be instantly safer. Even if atom bombs continued to exist, they would no longer have effective delivery systems. Pakistan could still drop an atomic bomb on India, but the presently envisioned, all-out nuclear war, which quite possibly could extinguish the human species, would be impossible.

I know that this is a difficult position to accept. Critics call it throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just because computers are integral to modern systems of nuclear annihilation, does that mean we must rid ourselves of computers? I am not sure, but I think so. This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. – Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred, (Sierra pbk ed. 1992) p.73f

Considering that computerized data processing and electronic memory storage has become so cheap and ubiquitous, is the forgetting of computer technology even possible? It sounds paradoxical somehow, yet all it takes is a collapse of the global trade network, and all thattakes might be a major currency crisis, a spike in oil prices, economic upheaval in Western countries, or widespread revolts of the Arab Spring or the Yellow-Vestskind shutting down neuralgic points of the world economy. Global industrial civilization is an intricate system the complexity of which makes it prone to collapse from any of the numerous possible impulses. It’s not like this was outside near-term probability, as anyone who has followed world news recently must acknowledge. It is also not like this had never happened before.
Think of tribal medicine, or indigenous survival skills, or shamanic ways of knowing the future, all of which have been completely forgotten once civilizations had killed those tribes off or absorbed them. The same happened to Celtic druids in the early Middle ages, and yet again to the herb-wives a.k.a. witches of the late Middle ages and the Renaissance. It happened to the astrological, construction and transportation knowledge of the architects of Stonehenge, and again, thousands of years later, to similar knowledge on Rapa Nui with its Moai. What of the forgotten knowledge of Inka airtight stone setting, or, as one of the most famous mysteries of all times, how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza? We don’t know for sure how old those are and what they were originally for. One man’s grave, that’s laughable. We are not quite sure what the Greeks built the Antiklythera machine for; astronomy? Possible, but the know-how definitely got lost for the next couple of millennia shortly thereafter. With the collapse of the Roman empire its knowledge of road construction, aqueducts, high-rises, war machines and other items got lost during the so-called ‘Dark Ages,’ to be rediscovered only one thousand years later. Many skills known from the Middle ages till the 19thcentury, ranging from the area of raftsmanship to tawery to rope making to vessel mending to hand-weaving are unknown to similar professions today. Heck, we’re about to forget how the steam engine and the Stirling motor are working. 280 years after Stradivari’s death (1737) there is still research and experimentation going on, in an attempt to reproduce the unique sound of his violins, and technologies the Apollo program was running on have been lost due to negligent handling of data.
Who killed the Antikythera mechanism? (pic wikimedia user Juanxi, cc by-sa 3.0)
Who killed the pyramids? Who killed the Antiklythera mechanism? Who killed the Apollo program, the aqueduct, grandma’s cookery, or Megalithic construction techniques? The answer in most cases is “nobodyin particular;” It was merely the death of a person or a culture. In some cases, though, like with the witches’ herbal medicine, the knowledge in question was simply too inconvenient, its ramifications too disturbing to allow its continued existence, and it was often our own culture which chose to make it forgotten. The oft-heard sayings that the march of progress couldn’t be stopped and that the genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle once it’s out – they are lame excuses for a mental laziness and, worse than that, a lack of willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. The obvious and appropriate conclusion from researching into atomic energy would have been to abandon this direction of research altogether. As members of our culture have chosen – fully in compliance with its overall notion – to continue on their path to complete annihilation of all human cultures, extinct theywill go. Given business-as-usual, and given our unwillingness to change we are doomed to fail. You can read the signs of disaster written all over our geo-biological, social, scientific, or economic systems already. Technology will eat itself, and society as well.

Future forgetting due to societal collapse would encompass the loss of industrial extraction and production methods, mass communication, nuclear power, high speed transportation, deep sea diving, space travel, plastics production, genetic engineering, bio-weaponry, micro and nano tech, computers and other electronic devices. As these technologies require resources from around the world, and as the global transportation system requires some of these high technologies for functioning, the industrial economy is unlikely to ever reboot once it got cracked. Its digital data storages will be lost, its analogous (paper) storages – the few libraries which may survive the immediate collapse – would soon disintegrate from the onslaught of water, mold, fire, theft, and vandalism. The biggest, most valuable book magazines would become least useful while most prone to destruction because its contents have been shelved in mechanical ways, accession by accession. With their electronic catalogues out of order they are, practically spoken, monstrous piles of millions of books in no accessible order whatsoever. As professionals die, professors forget, gears break, and spare parts rot or get lost our whole culture eventually goes to hell in a festival of human suffering. Does it have to end this way? Yes, perhaps.
Who killed grandma’s recipes? (pic public domain)
Historically seen, technologies and techniques die outsome of the times; some of the times they are getting killed before they can cause damage. We did it before; we could do it again. In principle we have that choice, yet systemic obstacles built into the worldview upon which our machine culture rests make it seem unlikely that we actually will. Jerry Mander points out that we ought to have a closer look at our technical systems anyway, to re-evaluate them from a holistic perspective, and that we ought to chuck out those which are found incompatible with Earth’s sustainability and diversity. He goes on to say that

“There is no denying that all of this amounts to considerable adjustment, but it’s not as if there were much choice. Truly, such change is inevitable if sanity and sustainability are to prevail. To call this adjustment “going back” is to conceive of it in fearful, negative terms, when the changes are actually desirable and good. In fact, it is not really going back; it is merely getting back on track, as it were, after a short unhappy diversion into fantasy. It is going forward to a renewed relationship with timeless values and principles that have been kept alive for Western society by the very people we have tried to destroy.

As for whether it is “romantic” to make such a case, I can only say that the charge is putting the case backwards. What is romantic is to believe that technological evolution will ever live up to its own advertising, or that technology itself can liberate us from the problems it has created. So far, the only people who, as a group, are clear-minded on this point are the native peoples, simply because they have kept alive their roots in an older, alternative, nature-based philosophy that has proven effective for tens of thousands of years, and that has nurtured dimensions of knowledge and perception that have become opaque to us. It is the native societies, not our own, that hold the key to future survival.” – Mander, p.384

Lt. Doolittle strikes again

Those who harbour a knack for science fiction books and films might have enjoyed John Carpenter’s Dark Star, a grade-B comedy on the crew of a cosmic ice breaker removing unstable planets across the galaxy to blaze a safe trail for future colonists. One day, after twenty years of deterioration, the ship has a serious malfunction: one of the intelligent planet busters gets stuck in its brackets, threatening to blow up right at the side of the ship.

Due to the damage to the ship’s computer, the crew members cannot activate the release mechanism and attempt to abort the drop. After two prior accidental deployments, Bomb #20 refuses to disarm or abort the countdown sequence. The computer activates dampers to confine the blast to a diameter of one mile, but that is all it can do at the moment. As Pinback and Boiler try to talk the bomb out of blowing up underneath the ship, Doolittle revives Commander Powell, who advises him to teach the bomb the rudiments of phenomenology. After donning a space suit and exiting the ship to approach the bomb directly, Doolittle engages in a philosophical conversation with Bomb #20 until it decides to abort its countdown and retreat to the bomb bay for further contemplation. [Wikipedia: Dark Star]

Bomb #20 & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter’s ‘Dark Star’

Doolittle’s conversation with the bomb counts among the funniest moments in science fiction. The lieutenant attempts to convince Bomb #20 that it cannot know for sure that it has received a real detonation order, as that order has arrived by way of electrical impulses only – mediated. Without immediate knowledge of the outside world there is a significant probability the impulses have transmitted false data. Would the bomb shed its existence, once and forever, based on a – perhaps false – perception?

Dark Star has amused me ten years ago; it has me chuckling even today, 300+ philosophical essays after first watching the film. The problem Doolittle puts before the bomb cannot be solved by rational means. Cartesian rationality has reduced selfhood to mind, and mind located in the brain or in a micro-chip of an individual. The brain in a jar scenario Doolittle sells the bomb as nature-of-reality keeps us caught stewing in our own juice, with no means of knowing whether there is an outside world at all – unless we allow irrational knowledge in. Despite heavily building on Descartes’ emphasis on the mind as the core of what we call ‘me’(the subject), modern science admits the sensory perception of an observer for determining what is objectively true and real. Insisting on just one reality existing ‘out there’, well knowing that different observers see different realities, science has outsourced perception to supposedly unbiased machines, thus adding another layer of perception between the observer and the observed.

Despite everything that is wrong with the general notion of modern science, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that it has a good grip on reality, and let’s try and solve some exemplary questions.

What is Time?
So there we delve right into the ‘matter’ of time. What is time?

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change… [Wikipedia: Time]

Wikipedia’s definition of time as a measurable process might be just as good as any definition, weren’t it for the fact that numerous philosophers, whole cultures even, have denied its existence altogether, for good reasons I won’t get into with this article. So what are we left with?

The above definition negates itself by saying that time is indefinite, literally not defined, i.e. without an end. We might also say it pervades everything in its way, informs everything, or even is everything. So it cannot be a separate thing; rather a no-thing. Following the above formulation it could be an aspect of existence, a ‘component quantity’, as Wikipedia put it, a quality, or just a mental concept.

Apart from this not-merely linguistic observation, considering that time is not a thing we can touch, smell, taste, feel, hear, i.e. perceive physically, how do we perceive time scientifically? How to we measure time?
We don’t.

As opposed to the above definition, time is not getting usedfor sequencing events, comparing durations, or quantifying change – time’s existence is assumed on the basis of our perception of changes. A snail creeps through our visual field from left to right; we think that this takes time during which the clock has moved from displaying one-quarter past the hour to one-half past the hour; we think that the clock has measured time. But the clock doesn’t react to something timy. It has not observed an external process or thing, it just follows a mechanical or electronic program: the movement of the sun past a sundial, the falling of crystals through the neck of an hourglass, the releasing of a spring, the movement of electrons. A mechanical clock not fully wound or a digital watch whose battery is mostly empty give different figures. So clocks don’t measure time. If anything they measure ‘energy’ discharged from celestial bodies, Earth’s gravity, a spring, a battery, or decaying atoms.

Sgt Pinback & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter’s ‘Dark Star’

What is Energy?
So what is energy? Can you see it, touch it, hear it…? Again, there is no way by which we could safely state that energy is a thing in the usual sense of English vernacular. Energy is a concept encompassing a broad range of different manifestations, from gravity to heat, electricity, velocity, or light. Again, like with time, we cannot measure the essence of it; its mere presence cannot be perceived, only effects that we attribute to its discharge. That means it is hardly different from black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, all of which cannot be perceived; they exist merely within mathematical formulae that describe concepts in physics.

What is Matter?
So what is matter, then? This is the stuff of perception… we believe. We can smell and taste the sweat on our skin, yet those molecules which reach our sensory organs represent only a tiny fraction of the diverse stuff a human being consists of. We can hear the clap of a hand or the sigh of a breath; another fraction of reality. We can see the shape and colour and movement of an animal, yet more fractions. And we may touch its body. (We’ll come to this in a minute).

What happens when we see something? Rays (another imperceptible concept) of light approach a body, then get reflected by it and enter the eye of the observer. On passing the cornea they are getting refracted and inverted, then they hit the retina which reacts by sending electric signals to the brain. The brain interprets the signals into an image which the observer may use for orienting herself in 3D space. The rays, the reflector, the retina image, the signals and the brain’s image are not the same thing, and certainly they are not the thing as such.

Rays of light are invisible until they hit an object and reflect into the observer’s eye. The light particles that hit my eye are not the same which hit yours. The light changes its brightness and colour in interaction with the reflector. That thing we think we both see is invisible as long as there is no light reflecting from it. Its shape and colour come into existence only in interaction with light, and each light reflection is unique. So we don’t see the same thing: each of us is taking in a different set of altered light rays. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Eye sight has become the most important sense of civilized humans, but it provides perception only at a distance. According to the latest science visible matter is the smallest part of the stuff that makes the Universe. Less than one half percent can be seen. Not sure whether that includes other sources of radiation like micro-waves or infra-red, but the overwhelming amount of what the Universe supposedly consists of cannot be perceived or measured; it is getting deduced from formulae. A person who hears poltergeists or sees demons and ghosts, or someone having lucid dreams does have a less-distanced grasp on reality, you could say. At least they see something meaningful to their lives.

Now let’s get closer. Let’s touch that thing we’ve seen, say, a cow’s horn. What happens here? Molecules emitted from the surfaces of hand and horn, some of which can be smelled, begin to mix when we approach the animal. The closer we get the more homogenous the mix, while at the same time it gets displaced by the very mechanism that will eventually stop the moving-closer of the hand. From what science believes, the space between atoms is huge. In a way it is empty, filled only with something science calls ‘forces’ – energy which, again, cannot be seen or otherwise perceived directly. The atomic charges of human skin and cow horn keep the actual atoms within each surface at a distance. They never really touch, though the repelling forces are taken up by our nerve ends, transmitted to the brain and then interpreted as a feeling of hard resistance, of pressure. We think we touch a cow when actually we’re not. Amazing.

Perhaps it helps to rid ourselves of the idea that matter is made of atoms alone. Perhaps the ‘forces’ are part of matter as well. Even so, we still have the problem of not being able to directly perceive or measure it. We can’t get to the thing-as-such. So far, it’s all myths and stories, and they work only within a certain range. It’s like with the Sun revolving around the observer – a good-enough story for a farmer, not for space exploration.

The thing as such, what is it?

Bombed out in space with a spaced-out bomb!

As all rational information comes pre-selected and mediated by our senses and interpreted by our brains only, direct contact and immediate knowledge seem impossible to achieve under the rationalist-materialist paradigm. The realm of numbers and hard facts are but an illusion. Which is not to say we cannot learn something here, or that there weren’t other ways of knowing. Wild people have told white people how to learn about the beneficial effects of herbs: by asking the plants. It is not known to us how the Dogon acquired their knowledge about the stars but we may assume they have their way, and it’s not by making it up. Just two examples of how perception might be quite different from how we think it works and/or how the substance of existence might be quite different from what we think it is.

The story of the six blind and the elephant describes perfectly how the thing-as-such cannot be grasped fully by perceiving (or measuring) it. One organ of perception alone captures one slice of that thing, and each further organ and each further technical measurement capture further aspects of reality, but neither the essence (if there is such a thing) nor the totality of it (if there is a separate existence to it) can be grasped by sensory perception alone. And perhaps even matter is not everything there is to existence. Hardly news to anybody not buying into the culture of utilitarianism, rationalism, materialism or scientism.

It’s quite interesting what those notions have taught us. Yet we better not fall into the trap that those were the only ways by which perception can be interpreted into cosmological knowledge; nor do they provide the full truth about existence. The linearity and directedness of the dominant world view is limited by definition: things must have a beginning and an end, and we move from the first to the second. The civilized worldview breaks down with the infinitesimally small and the immeasurably huge because mathematics use to break down when Zero or Infinity enter the equation. What was before the Big Bang? It’s a pointless question. There was no time before time has emerged through the imagined singularity.

By its non-understanding of circularity, diversity, unity, emptiness, or quality, the materialist world of the separate and discrete me-the-mind creates threats to its own existence. Based on the Cartesian worldview Doolittle has taught it, Bomb #20 believes that, as there is nothing outside of it that can safely be called real, it has to orient by what it knows about itself. Being a bomb and therefore being destined to explode it utters, “Let there be light,” before blowing itself up – a perfect mirror of the myth of the technological Golden Age and the reality of a world in collapse.

What is intelligence?

Regarding the topic of abstraction which was of central importance in the last Yurugu essay I would like to point out today some of its greater ramifications. To be precise, this is about intelligence and the difference between humans and animals.
Discussing the latter – what it supposedly is that makes the human species so special among the world’s species – you will always hear someone say that, “(a) Humans got a bigger brain, (b) which makes them more intelligent, (c) and this is the reason why humans are more successful survivors than any other living being.”
None of these three assertions is true.
The human brain has a volume of 1050-1500 ccm and weighs ~1.3 kg, the sperm whale’s has a volume of up to 8000 ccm and weighs up to 9.5 kg.
The assertion that humans have the best relative brain size is also false; our brain-to-body mass ratio is 1:40; mice or songbirds have a much better ratio. Insects seem best equipped, with brain mass measuring up to one seventh of the total body mass.
Among humans, the Neanderthals had a 25-30% bigger brain than modern sapiens, so brain size doesn’t necessarily help with survival.
Whether humans possess the highest intelligence depends on how you define intelligence, and how you measure it. I would hold that we – ie. civilized man – are not performing well in this category either: From a look at the Wikipediawe learn that there are “many ways” how intelligence has been defined, namely “logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving,” most of which belong into the realm of abstract thinking. We’ll come to that in a minute.
Emotional knowledge, also called emotional intelligence or EQ – “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)” – belongs to a totally different category.
Working with domestic animals, but also through observation of wildlife in India, I perceive animals as being extremely aware of each other’s moods. And while civilized codes of conduct usually expect of us that we suppress the showing, expressing, or reacting to emotions, animals often perfectly mirror, or respond to what the human beings nearby are up to. This is not to be confused with techniques like “Non-violent communication” or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (how telling!), by which a person’s needs, or their conscious or subconscious thoughts and emotions may become accessible, and – by civilized mindsets – misused for personal gain.
Like with the loss of much of our potential for sensual perception – we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel way less than our tribal sisters/brothers and ancestors – the loss of EQ results in a reduced ability to react intelligently to challenges.
Regarding the ability to think (abstractly), I came to the following understanding.
  1. If the theory of evolution (or some similar process) holds true, the human capacity to think (abstractly) must be present in other living beings, and certainly among our mammalian ancestry as well. In fact, if you look out for it, you will find it most obviously among corvidae, canidae, felidae, elephantidae, cetaceae and many more.
  2. That animals (or plants) are able to think (abstractly), or to develop consciousness of self, cannot be disproven in general.
  3. So-called “primitive” tribal human cultures often do not apply time measuring, maths, arts, or rational logic, nor do they develop complex societies and languages. Most of the times you will find a lack of most abstract concepts with them, concepts that civilized people completely base their behaviour upon. This does not mean tribal humans were incapable of abstract thinking: Abducted tribal babies raised in civilized societies developed just like any of our children. Thanks to Thomas Wynn (The Evolution of Spatial Competence, 1989) we know that at least a million years ago, our ancestors had an intelligence equalling that of the adult human today.
  4. So (abstract) thinking is a faculty available to a large number of species, it seems, certainly vertebrate species, and the use of abstraction is culturally determined, which means it is a choice made by each creature or culture. Tribal cultures must have deliberately refused to apply most kinds of abstract thinking for two to three million years of the genus homo, and continue to do so – on purpose, according to anthropological records from all over the world.
  5. The use of abstract thinking on the scale that civilizations apply may not be found in non-human species and tribal human cultures because it is counterproductive to the survival of the species / culture… The omnicidal (implicitly suicidal) behaviour of civilized cultures – especially our own, I would say with a side glance to the convergence of existential crises we are witnessing today – is proving this point best. On “falling back into savagery,” as the figure of speech has it, civilized man defaults on his true modus operandi; it is himself who is a real savage, not the tribal humans he continues to dismiss as unintelligent brutes and who declare him a sick person, a madman, because he is destroying himself along with everyone else.
pic: Saksham Choudhary, / pexels
IQ tests check a person’s ability to juggle with symbols, ie. to think abstractly. Despite what the phrase suggests, they do not actually measure intelligence. And neither do book reading, chess playing,  academic careers, or working with computers indicate higher levels of intelligence. 
Intelligence, as Jiddu Krishnamurti, in a public discussion held in Ojai, CA, on April 14, 1977, said, “is the capacity to see the truth that thought is limited. It can only come into being when thought has its right place. When there is no ‘me’, attention is intelligence.” And it is this attention that improves a being’s ability to survive. According to Krishnamurti, it requires an integration of reason and love. Cultures based on love and empathy for other living beings, including “inanimate objects” such as the world as a whole, often times perfectly merge with what civilized people call “environment”. Egocentrism and perceived separation, on the other hand, reduce our perceptions, narrow their processing according to personal interest, twist our understanding through the application of dysfunctional illusory concepts, and thus diminish intelligence.
I don’t know whether you, my dear reader, possess the willingness to consider the nature of intelligence from such a point of view. We may not come to a common understanding of what that thing is, or whether it has any existence outside philosophical pondering at all; so the question which makes up the title of my essay may not have an answer to it. But perhaps we might agree on what intelligence is not. Considering where it has led us it cannot be the kind of abstract thinking which is tearing the world into separate, standardized, measurable, lifeless bits and pieces, reduces them to words and symbols, and assumes that these represent the truth accurately enough to derive predictability of the world’s phenomena.
I also don’t know why or how our ancestors began their path towards civilization – the social manifestation of abstract thinking – but I sure know that it helped us to learn a whole lot about self-deception, violence, disconnection, and virtual reality. If our culture were a book, it’s title might run something like, “Civilization, or, How to Wreck Your Habitat As Fast As Possible.” Mistakes, though, are among the most powerful teachers we have. The things which don’t work can give us valuable hints at what might. Let’s take those ten thousand years of misery as a warning. To end our experiment in abstract, platonic living in favour of the return to an empathic relationship with the world would be the most intelligent decision this culture has ever taken.

“…to predict and control human behavior” (Yurugu series #6)

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]

With this series of articles on decolonizing the mind from European thought patterns we repeatedly bump into terms like “objectivity.” “rationality,” or “universalism,” all of which have close links with how Western civilization defines science. The question how science participated in yoking non-European peoples and helped with bringing about social disparity, spiritual impoverishment, and biological annihilation, can hardly be avoided. Yet the answer cannot stop with science being the innocent enabler of its own abuse. Science has no existence of its own. It comes into existence through the work of scientists alone. Scientists, though, are human beings who are inseparably embedded in the world by any number of factors – biologically, socially, mentally, economically, etc. So how can we talk of universal validity of research results and unbiased objectivity based on rational thinking, when (European) science so clearly is a product of, and entangled in, (European) culture?
Psychoanalyst and eco-socialist Joel Kovel, for instance, explains how the concept of abstraction influenced the development of European culture and thusly the course of history.

One overriding quality determines what is good and bad within the analyzed world: purity. And within the entire spectrum of reality, one aspect of knowledge fulfills this quality: abstraction. An abstract idea is a purified idea, freed from annoyingly concrete and sensuous particulars. Words themselves are abstractions. The non-sensuous senses, sight and hearing, are the mediators of abstract activity. Smell, taste and touch are concrete, syncretic, incapable of making the fine distinctions necessary to sort out what is abstract from what is sensuous. Abstraction means distance from immediate experience, the substitution of a relatively remote symbol for a given sensuous reality. Sight and hearing are thus those senses which best fulfill the possibility of a remote relationship to the world. Western civilization began its expansion with the discovery of perspective, and the perfection of remote, visually organized abstracted activities – whether in navigation or in the development of firearms that could kill from a distance. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p133, quoted after Marimba Ani)

Joel Kovel; by Thomas Good / NLN [CC BY-SA 4.0]
All this goes to show that philosophy, science, and technology are exactly not ethically neutral, but come with far-reaching implications.

In my blog I have discussed such topics a number of times already. There is no need to repeat all that; so please allow me to refer you to previous articles carrying the label Science & Scientism.
Today we’ll focus on an African-centered perspective on this most important tool of European civilization. Marimba Ani, in her seminal book, Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,obviously cannot avoid this topic. Reviewing European political and philosophical history, she traces some of the relevant values back to Plato, but she also points out that their roots originate much deeper in time than just 2500 years. From her understanding – which I wholeheartedly support – there is a fundamental difference between European and other worldviews:

The African metaphysic, the Native American and Oceanic “majority cultures” (it is safe to generalize here), all presuppose a fundamental unity of reality based on the organic interrelatedness of being; all refuse to objectify nature, and insist on the essential spirituality of a true cosmos. What became known as the “scientific” view was really the European view that assumed a reality precluding psychical or spiritual influences on physical, material being. This view also resulted in the elimination of a true “metaphysical” concept and of an authentic cosmology. (Yurugu, p82)

In other words, worldview translates into behaviour. Societies within the European paradigm fundamentally differ from every other culture, be it Chinese or Indian civilizations before European expansion, be it any of the so-called primitive cultures, most of which have been wiped off the face of the Earth by explorers, conquerors, missionaries, educators, and development aid workers. This historical process developed, naturally, understandably, a situation in which an objective ethnology or anthropology – even if we assume that they were basically possible – has become completely out of reach:

This study was not approached objectively. It is not possible to be objective towards Europe. Certainly the victims of its cultural, political, and economic imperialism are not objective, if they are sane. And Europeans cannot be “objective” about their own cultural history. The question then becomes: What could objectivity possibly mean in terms of human mental attitudes? (Yurugu, p23)

She answers that question comprehensively. Quoting anthropologist Ralph Beals, she points out that,

Ultimately it was hoped to establish a computer-based model that would permit the rapid prediction of various types of outcomes of social change and conflict situations and the assessment of the effectiveness of different action programs in resolving or averting conflicts. (Ralph Beals: The Politics of Social Research, 1969, p197)

concluding herself that,

This, indeed, is what the “advancement of science” means. Its significance is neither noble nor transcendent. Rather it is quite pragmatic, “profane,” and provincial – designed for the sake of prediction and control of revolutionary movements. (Yurugu, p545)

[next article in the series]

Consciousness and conscience atrophied (Yurugu series #3)

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]

With technology, we have developed massive power that can be used for better or for worse. However, our consciousness, and our conscience – what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called “conscientisation” – has not kept pace with invention.

This has left us utterly exposed to the blandishments of marketing. Exposed to what might be thought of as “Microsoft security vulnerabilities” within the human psyche.

– (Alastair McIntosh: Extinction Rebellion – a ‘joyous call’, in: The Ecologist, 18.12.2018)

Marimba Ani, from World Afropedia (cc by-nc-sa 3.0)

Shaped by the utterings of my teacher back in 7th grade religious education, something like McIntosh’s view has been my conviction until only recently. I’m not quite clear on when the change of perspective happened. I only know when it came to the forefront, with a bang: when I read the above article. Suddenly I thought, this is a damn myth, harping on the idea that, basically, our techno-scientific culture was a natural development, and that the artifacts created and the concepts adopted had no inherent value, and so could be used for better or worse. When we perceive a lack of consciousness and conscience, i.e., spirit and morality, that lack is more or less a result of our focus having been busy with inventing – so they think.

Nothing could be farther from truth.

To be sure, our focus is locked onto the rational perspective; both culturally and individually we are heavily distracted, in a multitude of ways, by a technically mediated reality. But this is by no means a casual effect, or a condition easily remedied by putting more emphasis on “consciousness and conscience;” regardless of what those words mean. Rather, it is the consequence of a decision made long ago: the decision to see the world from a distinct, discrete and separate human point of view. Marimba Ani writes,

Abstract categories of thought, conceptual absolutes, the syntax of universalism become the means by which they are able to achieve the illusion of transcendence. But the culture forecloses on the consequences of faith and love, while inhibiting their precondition; i.e., spirituality. The universe loses its richness as it is transformed into lifeless matter; the supernatural is reduced to the “natural,” which means to them, the merely biological or physical. Consequently time can only be lineal; space, three-dimensional; and material causality, the ultimate reality. In European religious thought the human and the divine are hopelessly split; there is no sacred ground on which they meet. In such a setting, the exaggerated material priorities of the culture are simply a result of the praxis of its participants, of the limiting realities offered by the culture. The resultant materialism further despiritualizes the culture. So the circle is joined; and European culture gives the appearance of being a self-perpetuating system. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p556f)

Western science and technology, like all of Western civilization, including its philosophy and religion, are incompatible with what Alastair McIntosh summed up under “consciousness and conscience.” If we define our world in rational, material, and utilitarian terms, what is the neglected consciousness part supposed to consist of? The irrational? The immaterial? The useless?
I would very much think so. Rational, material, use-oriented spirituality, friendship, emotion etc are contradictions in terms; I also don’t see how they could improve on the unfortunate situation of having overemphasized the mechanistic worldview – especially its scientific and technological manifestations – for five centuries, now amending them with even more rationalized parts of a reality that is fundamentally immaterial. To Marimba Ani, our worldview precludes all of that; she denies that we could achieve a true morality based on European tradition:

A rationalistic ethic, accompanied by an isolating concept of self is, in the context of majority cultural [ie. non-European] philosophies, diametrically opposed to that which is moral, as “morality” – the proper attitude and behavior towards others – is based on love or identification, which necessitates a “joining with other.” This “union” is a spiritual rather than a rationalistic phenomenon and cannot be achieved by an act of “reason” (conceived as abstracted from “emotion”). It is a repudiation of the idea of “objectification.” (Yurugu, p390)

Consequently, what I receive when I point out the dilemma as described above is stonewalling and utter rejection. The “religious,” as the rational minds of our days choose to call every notion immaterial, to them, is a non-negotiable no-go area, and so they continue their search for rational solutions to and technological salvation from the self-inflicted wound of disconnectedness, which we treat with haemostatic agents while continuing to stab ourselves. Our technological gadgets are like the blood money Judas has received for turning his back on the Divine. It didn’t end well for him, and it certainly won’t for us.

[next article in the series]

Dr Marimba Ani talking about the Afrikan Worldview and Conceptualization:

Solving climate change too early could be the worst mistake ever

Just now I read an article on “global dimming” (also known as “aerosol masking effect”) in which the author(s) make a case for a courageous policy towards cleaning the atmosphere despite the warnings that this could trigger a sudden spike in global average temperatures. It gives an overview of the different takes on this topic, and how contradictory data and an apparent paradox – the fact that the pollution of the atmosphere both warms the Earth and cools it by deflecting some of the incoming sunlight – keep us from acting decisively. What’s more, it divides us into different factions – sects of Climatology.
NASA illustration by Robert Simmon. Astronaut photograph ISS013-E-8948 

The article also shows how deceptive scientific data can be. Whose data are we believing? Whose interpretation? How can we even know that climate derangement is real when the basics are not clear?

When confronted with the question whether to follow Catholicism (mainstream Scientism), or Protestantism (Denialism), or Satanism (Doomerism), the answer is as simple as obvious: none of them; they are religious confessions, each and every one of them. This is not to diminish the value of sincere research; yet to rely on somebody else’s claims of observation is indistinguishable from believing in Bible stories. We can take other people’s findings as working hypothesis, but knowledge comes from personal observation and experience, and wisdom and understanding come from yet another place.
And yes, what we are left with, then, is for most part anecdotal; our own stories of what is going on. In my life, I have seen weather patterns both in Germany and in India changing from fairly reliable to erratically malicious, with frost now occurring whenever it likes, with temperature swings of often 15-20°C up and down within days, with Monsoons failing completely and being replaced by long droughts and intermittent rain bombs, or long periods of drizzle where there used to be pointed hot seasons. Perhaps, what I am noticing are just normal fluctuations in climatic or meteorological patterns; or it is anthropogenic climate change; or maybe I am seeing something that only exists in my mind.
That said, why am I still with the Extinction Rebellion movement? Why am I still writing for mitigation of climatic consequences from our culture’s life-threatening behaviour?
The answer is: 1) because the general story of climate change matches the observations I have made in my life, 2) because the precautionary principle advises us to not take an existential risk like extinction.

…which leads me to another troubling point — that climate change is just a symptom of an immeasurably larger issue: the consumption of the world by global industrial civilization. What if we managed to stop the heating of the planet, or the greenhouse gas story was a hoax altogether, fabricated by powerful interests to sell “green” technology, surveillance state, and space exploration? Will we be saved? Will we be happy? Or could there be something worse than hothouse Earth?

NASA map Sept 2008 by Robert Simmon, based on CERES data
As Charles Eisenstein put it, climate change is a story we tell to ourselves. Actually, it’s a story within a larger story, and it is that larger story which has me going on: the story of the ecocide, which is embedded in the story of the locust culture, which in turn is embedded in the story of separation.
The longer we keep believing in the separation of “civilized man” from his environment the longer will we keep this omnicidal culture going, and the longer will the ecocide, endless wars, power abuse, and social injustice continue, global warming ravaging the planet or not. It seems little time is left for solving global warming; yet solving it too early – before we have adjusted our minds to a different set of basic assumptions about the nature of our existence – could turn out to be the worst mistake our culture has ever made. It could lead straightly into the total annihilation of all life on Earth by turning it into resources, or by nuclear warfare.
Like with yesterday’s article on the endemic imperialism of our culture, what we need to see is that solving any of the problems it created will not do without correcting its underlying thoughts and assumptions. So, regardless of all the criticism Guy McPherson has received for his dire warnings, there is one declaration of his which remains true no matter where we stand, because it points to the heart of the matter:

“Let’s give freely of our time, wisdom, and material possessions. Let’s throw ourselves into humanity and the living planet. Let’s act with compassion and courage. Let’s endow ourselves with dignity. Even if all the data, models, assessments, and forecasts about abrupt climate change are incorrect, even if Earth can support infinite growth on a finite planet with no adverse consequences, I remain unconvinced there is a better way to live.” (Extinction Dialogs, p. 222),

From my understanding, such a mindset, such a behaviour must drive the change we are looking for.

Ontology in diversity, or, What you see is what you get

The other day, and not for the first time, I heard the statement that science concerns itself with what “everyone can see, feel, touch and get the same results” from, and that this is why science was THE system having reality better than any other culture’s approach, because it was able to communicate truth in an unbiased way. But that is a misconception, and it refers to science, to justify the claim that science is quasi-synonymous with reality – and that’s a bias in and by itself.
Giuseppe ArcimboldoAll ontologies i.e. systems of knowledge, are cultural. Science, like all the other stories about what is true and real and knowable, is subject to interpretation, it is, on top of that, shaped by physical abilities and constraints of the observer (Six Blind And The Elephant…), and this affects especially every deduction produced from it by logic, math, theory, symbolic or language representation. This is why, and how, humans developed all those different ontologies and mythologies (incl. science) in the first place, and none of them has it any better per se; it is the cultural context that provides it with truthfulness and usefulness. If you want to fly to the moon science does a great job. If you want to live in harmony with all of creation try something like animism or Buddhism.

Where science claims exclusive access to, and representation of truth it becomes a totalitarian ideology, the religious doctrine of scientism which is holding that thought and symbolic/written representation of a scientist’s observations are more real than reality as such.

We need to be open to the fact that most of the things we thought were true, including scientific research results, have contributed to the unfortunate situation the living planet is currently trapped in, and that we need to rethink them and be open to other pathways.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
So I am not railing against science here, I simply deny its claim for exclusive universal truth. All one has to do to falsify that claim is to immerse oneself a while in a non-materialistic culture, to understand where those people are coming from, or to practice Meditation, Contemplation, and Inquiry as proposed by Zen or mystic traditions like Sufism. I can assure you that the insights you get from there are the exact opposite of “making things up”.

Non-scientism: Rejecting Knowledge-as-Power

When, after the inauguration in January 2017 in D.C., Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternate facts”, the resulting public outcry rightfully banned it into the realm of deception and falsehood. Facts are facts, as far as objective truths go. We may doubt the accuracy of the numbers of attendants in one, or both, of the rallies implied in White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comparison, but uncertain numbers are not facts. As facts describe the materialist, reductionist, objective, scientific view on the universe, they have to be – and they are – discrete and accurate. Alternate facts don’t exist, period.
Alternate truths do, though. Facts are one aspect or layer of reality alongside others. When we include emotions, feelings, morality, intuition, belief, creativity, spirit, soul, body awareness, or other means of perception and ways of knowing, we can begin to make qualitative rather than quantitative statements about reality. Truth in the realm of phenomena and appearances is inescapably subjective in nature. So when you hear me uttering criticism in relation to science, its focus is usually on

  1. the claim that you can keep the observer completely separate from the observed, meaning to say that the scientist can perform a research without having an impact on the result;
  2. the claim that only scientific research results can describe reality accurately and that there can be no truth beside the things science can describe, meaning to say that science has a monopoly on reality, and that facts equal reality;
  3. the notion that we may trust scientific research results and simply believe them because, in principle, we could check their validity, even if we can’t.

I can call myself lucky if anybody read all this without condemning me as someone wearing a tin foil hat, but that would be a waste of hate. I am not rejecting science and its results as a whole. I question the quasi-religious way – scientism – in which its premises, methods, and knowledge are taken at face value. I have not measured the Earth’s circumference and I don’t know anybody who has; when I use 40,000km as a number for modeling an image of the world I live in, I am well aware that there have been – and there still are – other worldviews, and that it’s just a model. The number as such is absolutely meaningless without a framework of references in my individual subjective life. Still, many take facts as a device for establishing universal truths which helps them in their effort to dominate and control nature, the wild, the enemy, the unknown, or by whichever name the other goes.

Professor emeritus of African Studies at the University of New York, anthropologist Marimba Ani, in her seminal work “Yurugu: An Afrikan-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior” (1994) identifies the claim for objectivity and universality as vehicles by which slavery, colonialism, cultural imperialism and globalization have been justified as rational, necessary behaviour. In other words, scientism’s claim to objectivity and universality of scientific knowledge is an expression of the West’s urge for domination.

The rejection of scientism therefore poses a threat to the Eurocentric world view. It thus undermines Western dominance. We find a similar notion in the work of professor emeritus of pedagogy at FH Wiesbaden, Marianne Gronemeyer who writes in, “Die Macht der Bedürfnisse” (approx., The power of needs, 1988), that trusting unknowingness more than knowing-it-all constitutes a threat to the premises of science.

Not committing oneself to the monopoly of science has yet another dimension: science, by its core principles, cannot allow the undiscovered, unexplored, and uncharted to exist. They pose a threat which is inherent to anything that has not been fathomed by “reason”: otherness, eeriness – a nuisance that is overgrowing everything. The exorbitant and insatiable obsession with safety, security, and certainty results from the attempt at limiting life to its purely positive aseptic aspects. It drives us to shine a light upon the very last corner of the world in order to turn it into means for satisfying the desire for safety and comprehension. This is how the not-yet-known which rises to awareness inevitably becomes a problem that cries for a solution.”

Albrecht Dürer, 1491/92

It seems, though, as if scientism is beginning to lose its power over people’s minds. Gronemeyer quotes Peter Sloterdijk (“Critique of Cynical Reason”, 1983), saying,

“Nobody believes anymore that today’s learning will prevent tomorrow’s problems. It’s almost certain that it causes them,”

and that

“You can’t be friends with knowledge any longer. Knowing what we know today we don’t consider embracing knowledge; instead, we ask ourselves how to face it without being petrified.”

Gronemeyer continues,

“Not-knowingness (in the sense of Non-scientism) opposes – or rather, evades – the compulsion to penetrate and enlighten,”

a) either by willfully ignoring the unknown, and remaining indifferent to it,
b) or by facing the unknown with awe and respect for its nature,
c) or by exploring the nature of one’s unknowingness, thus increasingly becoming skeptic of the things one takes for granted.

One of those things being the urge to collect endless amounts of factoids in the hope that those might deliver the foundation for protective measures against a future which scares us.

“Having to take a decision that is not based on certain knowledge is bad enough; taking decisions under the illusion of certainty, though, is a catastrophe.” –Amory B. Lovins (Soft Energy Paths”, 1977)

This has implications for the way we may deal with the converging existential threats humanity is facing today. Gronemeyer concludes:

Not-knowingness (i.e. Non-scientism) is not about gaining certainty in decision-making, it is relentlessly busying itself with uncovering the illusion of certainty […] Unknowingness is therefore calling for deliberation and cautiousness. Cautiousness, in turn, is much more connected to our ability to forbear than to our ability to effect. The current state of the world does not require our every last effort, it requires us to desist.”

All nonsense

They say that if there is no money there is no motivation.
They say that if there is no competition there is no progress.
They say that if there is no fertilizer there is no fruit.
They say that if there is no hope there is no action.
Science has proven it?
I have proven, by living differently, that those assertions are wrong, and I dare everyone to repeat the experiment that has been successfully performed immeasurable many times over, by yourself.
Do not believe me, but do also not believe some corporate-paid strangers who claim experthood on how to live when all they have to offer is highly specialized knowledge in one narrow field of science.