On the way back from a group discussion where we – perhaps a dozen people – were pondering some theses of the philosopher Lev Isaakovich Shestov (1866-1938), my train to the Black Forest made its way through the Murg valley. Looking out of the window, mountain followed mountain, hill followed hill, tree followed tree; in between, villages and farmsteads, all very similar, but no two elements identical. And yet their arrangement produced a harmonious whole, the hills or houses lined up in chains seemed to follow a rhythm or form a pattern. I couldn’t say exactly what the regularity was. I only know that it is there. Of course it is there. It is obvious. Perhaps, after looking at the measurements recorded in topographical maps, one could even work out a mathematical formula that breaks down the clearly perceptible harmony in this landscape to a few symbols: zn+1=zn² + c or something like that. I am almost certain that this has already been undertaken.
Shestov refused such undertakings. This rational grasp of life and its manifestations was repugnant to him. The phenomena of this world appeared to him as miracles that could not be met by means of reason. He refused to press the individual, the unique, the singular into categories that could be easily calculated or manipulated. If there was a chance to escape the “gruesome horror,” the “wild insanity” of human existence, it would not lie in the rational mind with its techno/logical solutions, but in hope.
In his Kant-critical critique of pure reason, if we want to call his train of thought that, Shestov goes so far as to doubt everything that seems “natural”, “self-evident” and “logical” to our intellect, including death. For it is possible, he thinks, that the phenomena we perceive are a product of our mind. He felt driven to despair and madness by the finality of rational certainties. He felt there was no reason to help nature in its cruel business. Miracles become possible by believing in them, not by rationally tackling a problem.
So, are the laws of nature pure mental constructs? Do we recognise necessities because we wish to see them? Is the harmony I perceive in the succession of Black Forest hills imagination? Is death, which puts an end to every life, a delusion? And also the apple that never falls far from the tree?
I am not sure that these questions can be answered conclusively. If it is reported over the millennia – and we see for ourselves every day – that an object stripped of its support falls vertically to the ground, may we assume or even phrase a law that it follows? Do we understand enough to undertake that? I suppose we could say that the law exists and operates objectively, regardless of how we formulate it subjectively. Nevertheless, it seems that it is always possible to change the usual course of events through miracle, faith, wish, willpower or deed. How do freedom and regularity relate to each other? Can they be brought together?
I would like to answer here with a clear yes. There is a law underlying the patterns we observe in the structure of the universe and the processes in the relationship between the forces within it. It is neither arbitrary nor changeable and cannot be broken. It has nothing in common with laws postulated by human beings. It merely specifies the conditions of existence: for example, those of the apple tree and its fruit. When exactly the fruit leaves the tree may be the their free-will decision, but it does not provide for flying to distant shores. Fruit and tree enjoy freedom only within the framework of their physical and co-environmental conditions.
The same applies to the human domain – especially here, if one wants to believe that the human mind is superior to that of its fellow creatures. Harmony arises when our thoughts, desires, beliefs, feelings, will and action come into harmony with natural laws.
We realise our freedom within the framework of natural conditions, not against them. Freedom can therefore also be seen as freedom from nonsensical wanting to be free from the laws of nature. In music, for example, an infinite number of tone combinations are possible, but we only cross the border from cacophonous noise to harmonic music when we observe certain laws. The rules to follow when writing a symphony are relatively simple. But the freedoms one enjoys within these rules allowed Beethoven to create nine different masterpieces, and numerous other composers countless more.
And we also find this dynamic between immutable law and freedom in Natural Law. Within the framework of our physical, mental, spiritual and environmental conditions, we are completely free to shape our existence; the laws inherent in the universe merely determine the consequences. We are therefore free to consider gravity surmountable by pure will and learn something about nonsensical concepts of freedom when we fall. We are also free to harm our neighbours, but this too will have consequences, partly for ourselves in time, partly in a roundabout way across larger spaces and time spans, and mainly through our community, as history teaches us.
Nature or the Creator of the universe did not publish the Law of Nature in printed proclamations and manifestos, because that was not necessary. We and all other creatures are endowed with the ability and freedom to recognise and successfully navigate the world we live in, despite all its complexity. Our attempts to put it into words or recreate it in formulae necessarily reduce this complexity to simplistic representations. Our descriptions of Natural Law should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, as they are shaped by cultural influences on our perceptions. But the patterns they tell of, as far as we can compare perceptions across time and space, appear universal. They call for recognition and imitation in a living way – with heart and mind – so that harmony may prevail.
And what about Shestov? What about miracles? Well, there might be a kernel of truth there. In any case, between perception and reality lies no one-way street. There seem to be closer ties between them than school knowldedge would have us believe. But in the end, if I understood correctly, Shestov was not so much concerned with the efficacy of miracles as with the freedom to shape one’s existence according to points of view other than cold rationality. Some people might think that was stupid, but it was his right. Any action that does not initiate harm against others is a right, and no priest, no majority, no judge can change that.
(Title image: Franz von Stuck – “Die Sünde” [‘Sin,’ 1893])
When in Germany’s 1970s I went through my first post-birth decade, living in sin was still a hot topic. Do you know this phrase? Have you heard it before? My mother would have done it had her preferred partner joined in; his cowardice spared her the social stigma of living in a “wilde Ehe”, as Germans called it, staying together as an unmarried couple. That’s what living in sin meant back then. It was a time when bearing a fatherless child was almost as bad as living in sin and barred you from renting a place. It was a time when Europe’s inner borders were real obstacles and Italy was still an exotic country that many Germans could not afford visiting. People used to season their food with pepper and salt rather than oregano or soy sauce. By the beginning of the following decade, when neoliberalism started to corrode not only religion but also folk culture and social coherence the term went out of use quickly. Instead of pepper & salt it was Salt’n’Pepa, and instead of squeamish gender relations it was Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!
The 70s were the heyday of Ivan Illich’s popularity. His books sold like hot cakes and became staples in intellectual circles. The Catholic priest, having suspended his office after a clash with the Roman Inquisition, related stunning insights into society’s functioning – or rather, malfunctioning – with his claim that secular society was the perverted successor of the medieval church. Forgive me, by the way, for speaking of Illich so often recently. In the process of translating a book on him I am currently finding numerous anchoring points for my own worldview in his thinking. I’m not a religious man (nor a religious woman, haw haw!) but his writings hit some nerve. After three decades of confusing organized religion with faith I begin to understand the place of religious belief in a human being’s life; considering their historical and spiritual background, various Christian concepts start to make sense. While my Mom’s generation still dreaded getting perceived as sinful – which was equal to being guilty of a religious crime – Illich introduced a new, and at the same time original – meaning of sin: When helping others is happening only according to the rules rather than following an inner calling; when you help because you must, and when you don’t because you mustn’t or needn’t. David Cayley explained it like this:
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.
— David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future
You can read more about that kind of sin in my article NO MASK NO ENTRY. This blog, too, is all about sin although I won’t mention it much. Instead, I’ll expose the machine-like coldness of societies perceiving themselves as the free-est while they are unable to trust the individual with acting responsibly in times of crisis; societies where “care” has become a legal term, the business of national institutions, and the duty of citizens – in other words, the foundation of medical tyranny. Living in Sin came into existence as a reply to the question of a friend who asked me about the due response to crises like the one we are currently going through. Like with Eugen Drewermann’s Holy-Thursday interview about how to face the rise of transhumanism (we’ll come to that much later) it may seem like my response is avoiding the point, i.e. giving directions. Yet it really is a very large-scope answer to precisely that request.
The Corona Dichotomy
As easy as the similarities between the Industrialized World today and early-stages totalitarian rule are to notice, most people seem to have a hard time seeing them. Maybe that’s so because they are focused on the fear of getting sick or dying from Covid19. But that fear has been triggered deliberately and unwarrantedly. Thirteen months into this fake pandemic and almost as many months of direct observation and research into the facts and gas lighting around Corona/Covid19 leave no doubt to me that there has never been a virus-induced threat to “public health”, much less so to “mankind”. The WHO itself inadvertently confirmed that the infection fatality rate is 0.14%, the range of an ordinary flu. Not exactly the bio-weapon some suspect to having been launched on us. A natural thinning of the herd looks different as well, something in the range of fifty to one hundred times higher. While everyone anxiously watches the latest “case” figures the so-called measures are driving fattened unsuspecting sheep to the collateral slaughterhouse, by orders of magnitude greater than the virus supposedly does. I spare you the long list of ways how the Corona régime – not the virus – is hurting, crippling and killing people, the healthy and the sick alike, to the hundreds of millions.
Far from belittling the trouble of those who count among the really severe cases of Covid19, I dare say that we totally lost perspective. Others didn’t. There is evidence in excess that Dr.osten, inventor of the Corona PCR test, and the German government knew from the start – and if they knew, everybody knew – that they were causing immense damage on the basis of an ordinary flu-like infection, that the test cannot indicate infection, that the actual testing practice gathers mostly false-positive “cases”, that the cumulative display of decontextualized numbers creates the false impression of urgency, and that there is no such thing as asymptomatic corona infection. What we are seeing here is monstrous medical malpractice, panic-mongering, corruption, currency scam, disaster profiteering, science sell-out, power-grabbing, surveillance, and social engineering.
Yes, I have decided for myself which side of the Corona dichotomy I regard as more truthful; because not only have the official facts been doctored, and not only is their interpretation warped; the larger picture has been masked out completely. Like the majority of good citizens, you may disagree with me on the first two points. That’s fine. The third one feels most important anyway. To me it’s not so much about which figures or information sources each of us believes. Even if I were wrong, and even if we were in the midst of another bubonic plague the responsibility for the health of each person, from my perspective, belongs with each person itself. I am not – nobody is – God-Almighty in whose hands rest the lives and deaths of neighbours, nations, or all humankind. For this is what the neoliberally-twisted idea of “solidarity” – which Illich called sin – and the totalitarian approach to medicine amount to. Enter the age-old program of control with its epic battle of man vs nature. It’s playing out right here, right now, denying the existence of anything but the virus. We already know that this approach is never going to work in the intended way but will result in utter devastation. There is more to life than mere survival, and all of that other stuff needs our attention if survival has to make sense. Once we remember this very simple truth the question of what we should do to survive turns into, How do I, how do we, want to live?
The costs of systematic objectification
Members of our insane culture love to think that they, as subjects, members of the supposed master race, were somewhat in control of their lives. Little are they aware that they have become a mere resource to the machine we call society, just as much objects as trees or furniture or toilet paper or germs. It’s not us who control a virus, this is the so-called health care system controlling us, keeping us locked in permanent survival mode. We pay dearly for the safety we seek. Derrick Jensen writes in The Culture of Make Believe,
As we enjoy the comforts and elegancies our way of life affords, and as we stand amidst the embers of a smoldering and dying planet, we should ask ourselves, too, what this systematic objectification costs—not only them, but us.
What about masks getting pressed into birthing mothers’ faces? Children growing up without the experience of smiling faces, hugs and kisses? Old people being prevented from seeing their family before they die? The criminalization of dance, singing, birthday parties and walks in the sun? People getting reduced to labels such as “risk-group member”, “potential spreader”, “corona denier” and all the rest of the perverse dehumanizing newspeak terms? It’s the kind of health “care” which works in the same logic as defending freedom and democracy with machines of mass destruction. It’s the one-track mind in war mode, blinkered gaze fixed on the enemy. Tunnel vision. Too many people completely ignore the immense suffering the government-sponsored mass psychosis and the pseudo-measures result in. The ghastly vision of “Compulsory survival in a planned and engineered Hell” has become our somewhat surreal reality. When you follow that program you abolish your humanity, and when you attempt to make me follow as well you abolish mine. I find the situation truly barbaric and unbearable, and I’d rather be dead than having to exist under a perpetuation of this current régime. I mean it. Over. my. dead. body.
Is there no other way?
I personally believe that accepting vulnerability as a fact of life and embracing it serves us better. I’m not demanding of anyone, though, that they stop trying to protect themselves or their loved ones. I’m all for people organizing common responses, and the institutions may help those who would participate, but I find any threatening, forcing or punishing people into obeying the “measures”, all the lockstepping and social pressuring and witchhunting unacceptable. Even under the control paradigm, no well-meaning government or physician would have caused the kind of panic the régime and its quisling doctors are whipping up. The amount of lies and violence are staggering once you start noticing them. Who would act this way? Are the leading figures not showing signs of psychopathy? Didn’t they already for a long time? Have they been credible, honest, selfless, empathic, caring most of the time, or rather the opposite? What are their competences anyway? Why does anybody still listen to them?
Perhaps you noted the difference between my warning of dehumanization and the pandemicists’ warning of health threats: it’s voluntary vs violent, free vs dictated. It’s a line you can always draw, to discern which side of the Great Divide things around you belong to. You can apply it to the responses on the numerous crises converging at our time and age, all of which are an expression of the one original crisis: our misjudgment of who we are and why we are here – the misjudgment which created civilization.
Being trained in allopathic treatments and having seen some of the other treatments and health paradigms available I know of alternatives to the crass behaviour acted out all over the place. Pandemicists don’t want to hear about it, and that makes it all the more obvious how wrong this whole killer-virus narrative is, health wise, biologically, economically, socially, spiritually, morally, statistically. I have trouble responding to people who take it seriously. They make me feel like I’ve been born to the wrong planet, a place where they sell nonsense as reason. Recalling early childhood memories, it always felt like that: strange. Fifty years on, it’s loony bin on steroids. Having skipped alien-psychology classes I’m at a loss what to do about the evil spell most people in industrialized countries fell under. Sometimes it drives me nuts. When I come to my senses again I tell myself that it’s ok. Like with their health, I am neither responsible for people’s being truthfully-informed nor for their intellectual sanity. I do my share – voluntarily – in the place and to the degree I am able to, and that’s that. Their knowledge and beliefs are their concern; they are fully entitled to having them. Pointless to engage in a debate over sources and numbers: mediated knowledge does not equal truth, statistical figures do no justice to living beings, science cannot establish wise action.
Once again: The sticking point to me is the imposition of supposed solutions, not their effectiveness in the firsts place.
So there we are in the midst of a thicket of crises only one of which is getting broad attention currently. After 2000 words I offered, you may still feel I haven’t answered your one burning question: What should you do? What am I proposing or expecting everyone to do? Having told what I am against, what am I for? The answer is implicit in those 2000 words. I bet it’s even there in your mind, brushed off as unpractical, impossible, utopian. Three examples of people popped up who received a similar response from their audience. I’ll give all three of them, to hammer my point in.
Social philosopher Marianne Gronemeyer once related a story about her colleague and teacher Ivan Illich (did I mention him already?). A carpenter once questioned him by remarking, “What I find most astonishing is that you purport your thinking to be doing”, as if he was wondering what one has to do with the other. Illich, not amused, sourly responded: “I should say so!”, for It was all practical! When he spoke of the example of the Samaritan, of the Sermon on the Mount, or of putting a ceiling to the use of technology, it was not merely a philosophical consideration, it was meant for practical application.
Another example of ignored wisdom comes from Jiddu Krishnamurti. On one of his talks given in Ojai, California, in the 60s he was asked how it was possible to do what he said. His answer was an energetic, “Do it! Do it! For a second do it!” This seemed to baffle the asker. After five seconds of silence came another question: “How?” Krishnamurti smiled. “You know, I said the other day, The word ‘how’ is the most mysterious word, because somebody wants somebody else to tell you how to do it. (The real revolution #1, 17’30” ff). Krishnamurti was not inclined to take the role of a teacher or leader. For him, his talks were not about telling others what to do, but for his audience to discover the truth that is already in them and to act accordingly: “You yourself are the teacher, the pupil, the master, the guru, the leader – you are everything! And to understand is to transform what-is.” (The real revolution #1, 27’13” ff).
Example 3: This Holy Thursday, April 1st, 2021, Eugen Drewermann, psychotherapist, theologian, and one of the most famous contemporary critics of the Catholic Church, gave a two-hour-long interview to Robert Cibis, film maker, on some of the core issues around the so-called pandemic (ep. 40 in the Narrative series). The word Corona rarely came up, though. The talk was all about being oneself in the face of enormous pressures from the groups we belong to. Near the end, one viewer asked Drewermann about the most effective way of resistance. What some in the audience wanted, was “rather practical” advice. In his reply, he more or less continued with his analysis as before, as if to make the point that this was it; this was the thing people needed to hear. What they perceive as purely philosophical, merely theoretical, is in fact the core understanding that needs to be taken seriously. Because if you do so, you will develop the necessary steps all by yourself, without needing anyone to tell you what you should or should not be doing: “What is important here, from my perspective”, said Drewermann, “is that you follow your own perceptions and stay the humane course.” (2:09:00 ff) He then relates a request put before the novelist and philosopher Hermann Hesse whose young and rebellious critics felt he hadn’t made his message clear enough. Hesse replied something along the following lines: “Do exactly as they say, follow orders, don’t complain and everybody will be very happy with you. But when you start to see your neighbour as someone just as human as yourself you’ll stop following orders. Suddenly, everyone is against you. But you were yourself. And once that happens, the most important step is done. Everything else will result from there.”
How the World changes
We need the individual who has the courage to speak out what he believes, and what he thinks is right. The dissenters are definitely much more important than those marching along, the exceptions more important than the rules, because that is where the potential for renewal is. And without the courage to be an individual, every group degenerates. It becomes inhumane. (43:01 ff)
The courage to be an individual is the condition of entry into a humane form of living together. Those who dare not do this not only betray themselves, they betray everyone by proving them right: “You are correct, after all, because you all do the same thing.” That is exactly why all of them are wrong: because they do not live their own lives […] If you do not dare that, the world will never change. (43:21 ff)
To address the question, “If a society seeks to mitigate what it sees as a crisis, how can/should it be done? What if any kinds of ‘threat’ to health deserve a broad social response?”, my reply is: It cannot be answered. I can tell you my opinion but my opinion is not society’s opinion, and the US society’s opinion is not the Ugandan, Indian or German society’s opinion, so my opinion is pointless in the frame-set of this question. Furthermore, “what if” indicates an hypothetical question about a risk (which itself is not a real danger, just a statistical chance). So, again, taking the above question at face value, there is nothing I could advice as a solution to the actual situation you might see yourself in.
The problem resides in the assumptions underlying the question: that society’s evaluation of its situation as critical is correct; that there is a universal, optimal form of society; that society should act as one; that society can act like one person; that risks need responses; that there is one right way to respond; that this one right way can be found; that something (morals, laws, rules…) requires everyone to walk the one right way.
The way out of the predicament is through getting rid of the assumptions to get a fresh look at the situation. Consequently I’m not asking you to consider, What if the government, the pundits, the mass media, the majority are wrong? It’s irrelevant whether their assessment is right or wrong. What Illich, Krishnamurti, Drewermann, Hesse and I would like for you to understand is the following: No one can take the weight of personal inner and outer inquiry from you. No one can take the responsibility to act from your own best understanding from you. You may choose to collaborate with others, ask for advice or listen to proposals but you may not hide behind external rules, forces, traditions, morals, orders, standards, etc. Those do not legitimate the neglect to make up your own mind. There is no such thing as Utopia, no one right way to be, to act, to react, no universal solutions. There is no guaranteed success. One size does not fit all. If only everyone acted in unison and followed the prescribed method would lead straight to disaster – as we can see. So forget the experts. Each situation is unique, just like each human, each river, each atom is unique. It requires you to create your individual relationship to it so you can develop your personal response. What you should do and how you ought to do it can therefore never be automatically derived from the facts, never be standardized, never be imposed, never be ordered, never be totally unified.
Those who sell us control-based universal solutions are themselves creating the problem. Control does not compute, period. So don’t act for the effect of it, don’t ask for success, don’t get attached to a specific outcome. Drewermann:
The question is not whether we achieve something, whether we succeed. When we think like that, we stay forever dependent […] We don’t have to take responsibility for how the whole world is, but we have the goddamn responsibility for ourselves, and we should do what we see as the right thing. We can spread the word, we can advertise it; whether it is heard, whether the peace movement makes progress, whether politics changes, the economy changes, culture changes … I can try. And I do. But it doesn’t matter whether it’s worthwhile. It may fail. It may be punishable by death. You have to learn to live with that when you do the right thing, or you don’t understand anything about Christianity and you don’t know who you are, certainly not what you are capable of. That is how the world changes. (2:13:12 ff)
Ivan Illich‘s central theme of his 1970‘s writing revolved around the counter-intuitive development of modern societies based on the Western industrial model: The fact that the more effort and energy get invested in making things more efficient, the more they tend to become ineffective. Beyond a certain threshold, applying more of the same has destructive effects even, to which there is no remedy. In his book “Deschooling Society”, for instance,he showed that schooling prohibits learning; in “Energy and Equity” he did the same for the traffic sector: faster transportation results in more time spent on transiting. Further publications of his, such as “H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness”, “Gender”, or“Tools for Conviviality” – give many more examples of that malignant rebound effect which pervades all areas of civilized life; in fact every institution of Modernity, from church to academia, from military to administration, from agriculture to architecture.
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 behaviours currently enacted. Let’s jump right in to look at some of his theses. [all quotes from Illich: Medical Nemesis, unless otherwise sated; emphases mine.]
The medical establishment has become a major threat to health. The disabling impact of professional control over medicine has reached the proportions of an epidemic. Iatrogenesis, the name for this new epidemic, comes from iatros, the Greek word for “physician,” and genesis, meaning “origin.”
Illich identified three types of Iatrogenesis – clinical, social, and cultural – which he summed up as follows:
Increasing and irreparable damage accompanies present industrial expansion in all sectors. In medicine this damage appears as iatrogenesis. Iatrogenesis is clinical when pain, sickness, and death result from medical care; it is social when health policies reinforce an industrial organization that generates ill-health; it is cultural and symbolic when medically sponsored behavior and delusions restrict the vital autonomy of people by undermining their competence in growing up, caring for each other, and aging, or when medical intervention cripples personal responses to pain, disability, impairment, anguish, and death.
In other words, when people’s reliance on external sources of healing becomes the rule rather than the exception, healing turns into the institution of medicine – with negative effects on health. The individual’s abilities to, within its social context, heal itself atrophies like an underused muscle. With the expansion of the medical sector, ordinary healthy expressions of life such as birth, immunization, metabolizing, sorrow, grief, rage, confusion, aging and death become defined as requiring medical improvement, prevention, or treatment.
Beyond a critical level of intensity, institutional health care—no matter if it takes the form of cure, prevention, or environmental engineering—is equivalent to systematic health denial.
The mechanistic approach of the modern health trade reduces living humans to biological machines whose ailments fall into distinct pre-defined categories of illness and repair. These are quite different categories from the state of health every living being normally enjoys. People become “cases,” examples of broken hypothetic perfection, and cases enter statistics of generic classes of items: so many born, so many infected, so many dead, figures of potential danger to public health.
By equating statistical man with biologically unique men, an insatiable demand for finite resources is created. The individual is subordinated to the greater “needs” of the whole, preventive procedures become compulsory.
With dwindling autonomy, dependence on professionals rises even further. Soon enough the liberty to seek professional help becomes the right to treatment, which in turn becomes a duty to surrender to therapy, including legal sanctions for failure or refusal to undergo prevention, improvement and repair.
Welcome to the year 2020 in which desisting from wearing face masks or keeping distance to your own family members not only become criminalized but socially battled.
Unsick people have come to depend on professional care for the sake of their future health. The result is a morbid society that demands universal medicalization and a medical establishment that certifies universal morbidity.
And that is considered “the new normal.” Ivan Illich foresaw it back then, though he was by far not the first to notice where the professionalization of medicine was heading. More often in history than not the healer was a figure on the margins of society. Despite the progressive expropriation of every woman’s medical skills our grandparents still held remnants of the ability to heal themselves and each other. During the 70’s and 80’s most of the world’s more traditional cultures then underwent the destruction of their knowledge. It came upon them by way of “developmental aid”.
Suffering, healing, and dying, which are essentially intransitive activities that culture taught each man, are now claimed by technocracy as new areas of policy-making and are treated as malfunctions from which populations ought to be institutionally relieved. The goals of metropolitan medical civilization are thus in opposition to every single cultural health program they encounter in the process of progressive colonization.
Cognitive injustice is what the failure to acknowledge other ways of knowing – and healing – is called. Another word for the destruction of those knowledge systems is epistemicide – eventually genocide by imperialistic scientism. Cognitive injustice denies livelihood and lives to whole classes or peoples. One cannot overstate the difference between traditional-cultural and industrial views on health and healing:
Cultures are systems of meanings, cosmopolitan civilization a system of techniques. Culture makes pain tolerable by integrating it into a meaningful setting; cosmopolitan civilization detaches pain from any subjective or intersubjective context in order to annihilate it. Culture makes pain tolerable by interpreting its necessity; only pain perceived as curable is intolerable.
Bantam 1976 ed.
Insufferable pain that cannot be relieved must inevitably lead to the end of any society, Illich proclaimed. Does that apply as well to an epidemic which can never be stopped? Can democracy survive the wholesale suspension of the division of power, of civil liberties and of human rights? Are the hostilities between the followers of different health paradigms harbingers of civil wars to come?
Among the many ways our civilization could have undergone collapse the one we are following right now surprises me. That an unpolitical caste like the medical doctors would play such a central role could not have been forseen… or could it?
The chief function of the physician becomes that of an umpire. He is the agent or representative of the social body, with the duty to make sure that everyone plays the game according to the rules. The rules, of course, forbid leaving the game and dying in any fashion that has not been specified by the umpire.
Dying of (or with, it seems in most cases) CoVid-19, especially doing so at home, does not constitute a permissible exit. Dying, Illich remarks, might be a consumer’s last act of resistance. But what is this CoVid-19, really, when its symptoms can be almost anything? What are those invisible entities called viruses? What is an infection and how do you know you are sick? The answers to these questions are not as obvious as streamlined media outlets would have us believe:
All disease is a socially created reality. Its meaning and the response it has evoked have a history. The study of this history will make us understand the degree to which we are prisoners of the medical ideology in which we were brought up.
In other cultures, what is sick and what is healthy can be quite different from what Western-industrial medicine assumes to be so. One must also admit that numerous elements of what constitutes the totality of the human experience – humour, relationship, belief, meaning, intuition, spirit… the list goes on and on and on – has no place in the scientific worldview at all, which means it gets overlooked deliberately. And even within the materialistic-mechanistic paradigm science can only show us the things it is looking for. Therefore its understanding of health fundamentally changed various times. Illich found, for instance, that,
As the doctor’s interest shifted from the sick to sickness, the hospital became a museum of disease.
It is important to see that nowaday’s medicine’s preoccupation with germs (and their killing) constitutes a gross exception among the healing traditions worldwide, including the tradition of our own culture until only recently. It limits the ability to approach health in a more holistic form, or from different angles, and it effectively dehumanizes us in many ways. Can you imagine a better symbol for the rendering of humans into controllable objects than the mandatory masking of the face? Considering that we are social animals, can you imagine a worse violation of human nature than the avoidance of closeness?
On the one hand, one may argue that this is the necessary price for staying alive and healthy. On the other, Illich points at research which seems to show that modern medicine neither helped to increase public health significantly – it had nothing to do with the extension of lifespans either – nor has it been more effective than other ways of healing. With relish he quotes from Oliver Wendell Holmet’s Medical Essays (Boston, 1883):
“I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind—and all the worse for the fishes,”
and he proposes his vision that,
no services are to be forcibly imposed on an individual against his will: no man, without his consent, shall be seized, imprisoned, hospitalized, treated, or otherwise molested in the name of health.
Illich’s conclusion as published in the last paragraph of Medical Nemesis reads like a prophet’s message from half a century ago, transmitted to an age gone insane over the war on micro-organisms waged by obsessive science, unleashed corporation sand amoral politics, in which ordinary people, the sick and the healthy alike, get consumed as cannon fodder. The enemy, though, is invisible, invincible and indestructible; which is good, for without it we could not be who we are. It could be that we could not be at all.
Man’s consciously lived fragility, individuality, and relatedness make the experience of pain, of sickness, and of death an integral part of his life. The ability to cope with this trio autonomously is fundamental to his health. As he becomes dependent on the management of his intimacy, he renounces his autonomy and his health must decline. The true miracle of modern medicine is diabolical. It consists in making not only individuals but whole populations survive on inhumanly low levels of personal health. Medical nemesis is the negative feedback of a social organization that set out to improve and equalize the opportunity for each man to cope in autonomy and ended by destroying it.
His idea is, of course, neither the abolishment of the institutional, professional medicine, nor the total surrender to curable sickness that some Christian sects practice, but a change of the mindset which lies at its foundation: from dependency on, and obedience to, faceless institutions towards interdependent freedom in the spirit of the Samaritan. According to Illich, professional health care would complement autonomous forms of staying in balanced condition, and the various ways of healing the human body and mind would be available in parallel.
In a 1974 Lancet essay anticipating his upcoming book Illich clarified the choices left to us:
The sickening technical and non-technical consequences of the institutionalisation of medicine coalesce to generate a new kind of suffering—anaesthetised and solitary survival in a world-wide hospital ward. […] Either the natural boundaries of human endeavour are estimated, recognised, and translated into politically determined limits, or the alternative to extinction is compulsory survival in a planned and engineered Hell. [Lancet 1974; i:918–21]
Ivan Illich used to observe that, from the mid-1980’s on, the health sector has deteriorated even further than described in “Medical Nemesis”. He said:
By reducing each person to ‘a life’, bioethics is helpless to prevent total management of the person, now transformed into a system. [Pathogenesis, Immunity and the Quality of Public Health. A lecture given in Hershey, PA, June 13th, 1994]
»Nobody has the right to obey.«
Poster to the exhibition “Hannah Arendt & the 20th century“ March 27th – October 18th 2020.
He meant to say that the processes of institutionalization and professionalization have reached a new stage in which the tool and its user can no longer be separated. People have become integral parts of systems. The next step, though, the machine-man-merger commonly know as transhumanism, already begins to establish itself as the successor. As progressive dehumanization visibly picks up speed, clearly, the time has arrived when resistance to oppression, medical or otherwise, can no longer remain limited to soap-box oratory. The cognitive dissonance that many of the intellectuals fell prey to – visiting a Hannah Arendt exposition in Berlin that has been advertised with her famous words, “Nobody has a right to obedience,” while following orders to wear masks in that Museum’s halls, not questioning the demand that “the Corona measures must never be questioned” (veterinarian Lothar Wieler, head of the German centre for disease control, the Robert Koch Institut) is a clear sign of historical lessons not learnt. Totalitarian rule will not return with a mustache and Caesar’s salute, but return it must to a society that succumbs to fear. Those who are aware of the folly need to stand up to end the umpires’ game right now. The alternative to the war on germs – healthy food, fresh air, clean water, loving community, positive attitude, autonomous posture, virtuous meaningful worldview – can be had for no price at all.
Instead, while – and because – a majority of people in industrialized areas surrender to the Corona regime, those critical of the anti-pandemic measures consciously live through that planned hell of a globalized hospital ward Illich was talking about. An increasing number seek refuge in voluntary death as permanent exposure to ordinary-folks-turned-soap-police makes life miserable to the point where the naked-faced cannot visit doctors, shops, temples, therapy, friends, family, work places, and administrative bodies any longer and life becomes a never-ending meaningless waiting game for relief. Most critics simply ask that their alternative, more autonomous ways of healing be respected – which is the one thing that the medical juggernaut can never allow.
„Almost half a billion animals have been killed in Australia’s raging wildfires with fears entire species may have been wiped out. Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost since September with the figure likely to continue to soar. Devastating fires have ripped through the states of Victoria and New South Wales in the past couple of days alone,“
Zoe Drewitt wrote on Jan 2nd 2020 in an articleon Metro online.
They are estimting the vertebrates only, I guess. The staggering numbers don’t mean much, though, in the face of each and every death being a tragedy of its own. Imagine your pet and multiply the heartache half a billion times, coming from the Australia wildfires alone.
Add to this, among others 300 million cattle, 440 million goats, 540 million sheep, 1500 million pigs, and 45000 million chickens slaughtered every year for human consumption, which does neither include the wholesale destruction of wildlife in the name of progress, nor the victims of global warming all over the globe.
The body count you never hear about might be in the -trillions- per year.
Again, each and every one a tragedy both for the victims and for those left behind.
As we the civilized begin to understand that plants, forests, rivers and soils, as well, are conscious sentient intelligent beings we become hard-pressed to rethink our attitude towards our own place in the Universe and towards non-human life on Earth.
I’m not saying that death as such or feeding on another being were in themselves somehow inacceptable. My point here is the industrial scale on which it’s happening, the exploitative manner, the huge collateral suffering and killing (such as these wildfires, or the slashing of the Amazon forests), and, worst of all, our complete indifference towards it all.
If this is the price of civilization – and indeed it is – then it needs to be taken down and abolished forever.
As the event slowly but unstoppably unfolded – his life shifting from one state to another – these words from a song about a drug addict began to invade my thoughts; at first just a line or two. The further time proceeded the more the verse completed and the more often – and more urgently – it pushed itself to the foreground. In my life, like you probably did as well, I have heard devastatingsongs about losing someone, and I have read wisebooksabout facing ultimate loss. None of those was present in my mind. It had to be this one; please don’t ask me why.
And can you hear me now Or are there just too many doors Between then and now For me to ever reach on through And pull you back somehow But that can’t happen anymore Still in the night I think I hear you calling
But let’s start at the start. It was Christmas, 2018, early morning. Hasini, the oldest daughter of our matriarch Zicke, gave birth to the first kid in the third generation of our goat herd. Before anyone could rush to her support the kid lay there on the ground of the pen, by the side of his bewildered mother. She obviously wasn’t her usual self though, not the self-confident member of a herd who has always been the first to point out to us that one of her mates was in need of something. She wouldn’t look at the kid, she wouldn’t lick it clean like most mammalian mothers use to do immediately after birth, and she certainly wouldn’t suckle the boy. We needed to hold her fast; she would withhold her milk anyway. Soon enough we had to supplement with cow milk. And thus began the little fellow’s early discovery of the world beyond the pen’s limits, the land of milk and cuddling and safety from getting puffed by other goats which his mom would not protect him from. Humans became his foster parents who named him Karuppaa, based on the Tamil word for ‘black’. Apart from his reddish black hair his signature features were his slightly prolonged upper jaw and a distinct way of bleating that sounded something like “mmma!” Yes, it ended on an audible exclamation mark which indicated that he was addressing us with a request, and it would sound rather like “mmaa?” when he was inquiring our whereabouts. A typical dialogue ran like this:
Karuppaa (searching): “Mmaa?” Me: “Karuppaa, ingge vaa!”(Tamil: come here). Karuppaa(closing in): “Mmaa?” Me (teasing): “Wo isch dr Bua?” (Swabian: Where is my boy?) Karuppaa: “Mmma!” Me: “Ah, do isch dr Bua!” (Swabian: There’s my boy!) Karuppaa(demanding): “Mmma!” So I offered him food and stroked him.
Karuppaa was all over the place. He roamed the farm like a dog; like a dog he used to sniff out the places where we lived or worked; such a delight. When we collected and cleaned the harvest from our farm Karuppaa would inspect the items with great interest; then he would nibble on some of them, preferably those which we had cleaned and bundled already. When he roamed the fields himself he went for the grasses and herbs. He rarely touched the crops.
Ten months passed, time that usually indicates that a young one survived the most vulnerable time in a goat’s life, so I wasn’t prepared for an existential crisis setting in. From previous losses we knew that younger kids may die from that condition which brings about progressing weakness and belly aches. We believed that Karuppaa was strong enough to make it through anyway. We were worried, though. Experience taught us that veterinaries wouldn’t visit for a goat, and when they eventually do they don’t ask much for details as long as they may sell their overprized drugs. As we still didn’t know what the matter was we tried various home remedies some of which Karuppaa liked while he was protesting others. Nevertheless his health deteriorated further. When he could hardly stand up anymore we called a vet who, to our surprise, immediately agreed to pass by – though it would take him another day.
He was all over the place
I spent that night, like the night before, mostly in the goat pen, to help Karuppaa getting up, for stretching his legs, peeing, eating and drinking, and to prevent the others from pushing him over. His friends Leela, Karuppi (a bluish-black doe) and Jackie huddled with him, keeping him warm. Tintin, Shakti, Hasini and Niko joined in now and then. Midnight passed, Divali began, the Indian festival of lights. I thought he’d die before the doc could see him. “Happy Divali, Karuppaa!”, I said anyway, wishing him well while counting down the hours till his last hope for a cure was supposed to arrive. Being late by yet another three hours the vet administered four injections (one to each leg), two bitter tablets, and some tasty neon-coloured energy drink, all of which seemed to stabilize the kid somehow and caused him to relieve himself of a whole lot of crap that had caused him visible discomfort. I dare say I had high hopes for a recovery. For closer observation I took him to my home where he rested, tucked between a yoga mat and some warming shirts. Karuppaa craved that energy drink which I continued to offer him hourly, as prescribed by the good doctor. He sucked noisily on the syringe’s nozzle. Then, around seven, when the night had fully broken, things got worse quickly. The cramps returned as viciously as never before.
in the land of milk & cuddling
I put another mat, sitting myself by his side, talking to him, holding his belly and keeping it warm. That seemed to relax him a bit. Attempts at getting some sleep were interrupted by moaning. When Divali ended the both of us were awake and we would stay so, perhaps each of us sensing that we were spending our last hours together. When around three o’clock his limbs went cold I knew he was on the slippery slope now from which there would be no return. Intermittent rain set in, hammering on the tin roof of my home, drowning out his signs of life. Would I notice when his breath stopped? Is it as comforting to pass away to the sound of rain as it is when going to sleep? When the rain subsided the call of the muezzin from a neighboring village came through. I listened for his heartbeat. It was now inaudible, only his flat breath was noticeable, and the belly pain weakly responded to by cramps. Tears swelled from his eyes. His last minutes were ticking away.
“Karuppaa,” I cooed one last time, “wo isch dr Bua?” He replied in his usual way, crowing faintly Mmma” in response to my call. I would have loved to see him recover and mature, but this was now beyond possible. He needed to move on, and I had to let him go. Resisting the urge to hoot the usual ‘ingge vaa‘,I said, with a breaking heart, the words instead which I never spoke to him before: “Angge po,” go there, to the ancestors and the friends who are no longer with us. “Send them my greetings and tell them I still love them and think of them.” I opened the door and curtains of my room, letting him take in the beautiful scene of the dawn rising upon our farm. Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles the rain had created everywhere. Silently he passed away with open eyes, around the time when I usually came to see him in the goats’ pen. It was Monday, October, 28th 2019, 5.55am. “Karuppaa…” I cried.
Karuppaa has taught me how to love, so I may have been too attached to his survival to not call the doctor. I fell for the hope that doing the doable might save his life. After all, if I hadn’t done it I would have killed him by omission, right? But what if the treatment only extended his suffering, or worse: did the actual killing? After all, allopathic doctors know everything about the signs of sickness, yet nothing about healing. They misunderstand the essence of life in the same way that most everyone in our culture misunderstands the nature of death.
What is life? What is death? I don’t know. The immensity of death brings with it doubts and questions amass. All I know is that life and death are not what I thought they were, not the concepts I carried in my mind, about discrete states of existence, about being switched on or off, about individual consciousness encapsulated in separate bodies. What makes a goat a goat? What is a human being? Who is that Me that claims to own thoughts, emotions, body, and things? What is time? We tell ourselves stories that attempt to answer these questions; this is the stuff of mythology.
Every culture has its own mythology. Ours is called science – the set of myths that tell tales about separate material objects which get pushed about by meaningless forces within an unconcerned universe. I have lived this story for four decades straight, and it has killed all the life that has been in me when my mother gave birth. I was emotionally dead, save for a burning anger that increasingly shifted its modus operandifrom occasional outbursts to permanent battle with depression, and I felt nothing apart from the pain of being in this Dawkins dog-eat-dog world of materialist meaninglessness.
what is life?
It is thanks to the animals on our farm – amongthem beingKaruppaa – that I learned to notice the space in-between, the realm of relationship, of meaning, purpose, spirit, joy, love, sacredness and other immaterial yet essential ingredients of existence. I began to explore that space, a space of multi-layered reality in which “me”, “my life” and “death” are basically stories, concepts, mental constructs. Except for on the level of thoughts and emotions they have no discrete existence. The reason for our not understanding the “unjustifiable violation” (Tolkien) of our freedom and integrity by death, our not getting the essence of what life and death are, lies in the dysfunctional concepts by which we use to define them. The ceasing of metabolic activities and the disintegration of the body, i.e. the things that separate the living from the dead, catches our eye; a whole lot of continuing phenomena don’t. While we overrate the significance of the individual object, life – the space between objects – is seemlessly carrying on.
The world is not populated by lonely, autonomous, sovereign beings. It is made of a constantly oscillating web of dynamic interaction in which beings mutually transform each other. It’s the relationship that counts, not the substance. – Andreas Weber: Lebendigkeit. Eine erotische Ökologie. Koesel, 2014, 3. Aufl., p. 36; translation mine
Other cultures have less trouble integrating death into their lives. This is perhaps due to the fact that, for them, things are not lifeless masses in the first place. For many of them mountains and trees are people too. When we listen to cosmic radiation for signs of civilizations, or when we have robots dig up Mars in search of extraterrestrials our failure to find any is perhaps related to our culture’s inability to see the conscious aliveness in plants and animals, in landscapes and ecosystems, or in the Earth as a whole.
I’m not sure about it yet but I think it highly possible that the difference between that which is alive and that which is not is merely conceptual. Let me give an example. What is a symphony? Is it the sheet music? The sound waves? Our perception of those sound waves? The process of making music or, in its place, the playing of a record? All of these? None of them? Is the music ‘dead’ after the last note has faded? Does it resurge when it plays in our mind, as a memory? In the same way, who is “Karuppaa”? Did he have an existence completely apart from mine? Or did I define him as much as he defined me when we co-created, shaped and inhabited the space in-between? What does it mean for his existence when I think of him today?
I find it likely that life, just like music, consists of stories that we fabricate to make sense of the phenomena we perceive. They don’t have to be anything else but digestible explanations on how the world works, so that we can function within it. There are places where those stories break down, usually in the extremes of infinity and nothingness – which is especially true for mathematics, one of the core sciences – but as long as we don’t go there we’re safe from the Unknown. Problem is, our mythology has reached its limits; as the world around us now rapidly disintegrates we begin to understand that our rationalistic worldview ignores too much of reality for us to live sustainably.
The conventional models of human response are based on the civilized world and, yes, there are common strands in all cultures but, for instance, when a death occurs in a tribal culture that has, like all animals, accepted death as part of life then denial is not part of the equation. Neither is bargaining – for how can you bargain with the inevitable? When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited her model for bereavement, it was always going to a be a model for how the civilized human deals with death; it took no account of the way all humans deal with death, for not only are we all slightly different in our approach to everything – not just bereavement – we, as de facto civilized humans, are freaks. Homo sapiens civilis never evolved. Civilized humans have been created in the image of the machine: we don’t behave as normal human beings any more.– Keith Farnish: Underminers. A practical guide for radical change, 2012, p.92
I swear I hear you calling
When it comes to encounters with the “end of life” I don’t deny, rage, bargain, or despair any longer. Death is a natural and therefore acceptable part of my existence. And yet the pain from seeing someone suffering or losing him or her is tremendous. Is the immensity of the phenomenon we call “death” really only of cultural nature? Maybe not alone, but certainly to a degree. Life as such is normally not perceived as immense or intense; it is ordinary to us because we became used to it by having lived uninterruptedly for years. (It speaks volumes that people who came back from a coma, had a near-death experience, or “died” to their old way of perceiving the world see things in a different light.) Death, though, breaks this normalcy; to our great horror we have no power over it. Our usual mode by which we analyze, label, rationalize, manipulate, control and wage war on “problematic” situations fails us. Our linear (rather than cyclical, or eternally present) conception of time – flowing unidirectionally from a definite beginning to a definite ending – cripples us further; linear time perhaps produces the misconception of the life-death dichotomy in the first place, and with it our impotence to handle it in a meaningful way.
Impotence creates despair, which leads to denial, which leads to acceptance, the most dangerous state of all. In the civilized world the Kübler-Ross model of bereavement is powerfully analogous to how we deal with all sorts of stressful events. The way to break out of it is not to grieve for what may be lost, but to leave this linear pathway and create something that has numerous outcomes. – (Underminers, p.479)
I would agree to that last sentence only after one slight change: “the way to break out of it is not to grieve indefinitelyfor what may be lost” but to re-enter the circle of life, transform grief back into love, and use this energy for fostering life. For strong grief comes from great love, and love is the most powerful driver of all when it comes to living one’s life.
Love is the agony of living. And the modern addiction to painlessness makes love impossible, makes it flatten so much that life merely trickles away. –Reimer Gronemeyer: Die Weisheit der Alten, p.68; translation mine.
The shift from the linear to the circular paradigm, from the fear-based to the love-based worldview is not easy for me. Decades of civilized socialization – otherwise known as domestication – created all kinds of traps and obstacles to get stuck in. So please forgive me for asking more questions than offering solutions. I’m also not keen on publishing obituaries though there were ample opportunities to write them. There is the danger of getting attached not only to the past, but to this one written version of the past especially. There is also the danger of building Tadj Mahals for the dead while the living, neglected, dwell in shacks. I love all the animals on the farm, and I accompanied the dying of a few of them, similar to how a hospice worker would. But Karuppaa was a special friend, someone who would not let me escape without deep inquiry into suffering, his and mine. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, you know.
Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles