Recently I spoke with a good friend, the sociologist and theologian Prof. Reimer Gronemeyer, about the history and present of virtues and their importance for our community life. The encounter took place in the context of an interview I conducted for the podcast “Bannbrecher & Dammbrecher” (Spell Breakers & Dam Breakers) Below follows a transcript of the conversation. If you like, you can also listen to the German-language audio file.
Based on his compassion for the weak and disadvantaged and with the clear feeling of living in a time of heightened crises, Reimer Gronemeyer is committed in many ways to maintaining the dialogue between different parts of society. In addition to numerous publications, lectures, association activities and panel discussions, he has traveled to numerous countries in Africa. He observes a vitality and hope among the people there that he misses in Europe.
The lack may be related to the Western general standard of living, which has been rising over a long period of time – a widespread consumerism and materialism, as he has noted on various occasions – that keeps the experiences of the Third Reich from sinking into our collective consciousness more deeply. Alongside the horrors of the looming collapse of the affluent society, however, he sees an opportunity for a new beginning.
The concept of virtue, even if it has a dusty image, could prove useful in this. I had the impression that he was less concerned with the concrete virtues of classical antiquity (temperance, justice, prudence and fortitude) and Christianity (faith, love, hope) as such. Rather, he hopes they might help us remember our roots. Thus, instead of using ideas of competition and self-optimization, we could move through the time of crises with a new set of virtues that fit our culture.
“The greatest danger in which we live is perhaps the ignorance of our past, that everything that is old has to go in favor of an acceleration and innovation society that only looks forward,” he says in the interview. Towards the end, he explains that, in his view, us Westerners, just like the victims of our colonization activities, have lost almost all the cultural roots to which we could connect. It was important to realize that we were sitting on the ruins of a destroyed society before we thought about virtue.
Virtues set challenges for the individual, but they are not a program for self-promotion; they are the glue that binds communities together. It is a matter of opening one’s eyes and senses to one’s fellow man. Reimer Gronemeyer cites as an example the South African virtue “Ubuntu,” which expresses the fundamental experience that we are dependent on others and derive our humanity from looking into the face of our neighbor.
In this understanding, illnesses point to a disturbance in the community and can also be healed again through the support of the community. In Western culture, on the other hand, illness is problematized and handed over to institutions for elimination.
In European culture, instead of virtues, there is now much talk of “Western values” and a “value-based order”. We value something or attach value to it. Reimer Gronemeyer calls this attitude a “moral instant coffee.” “When you no longer want to talk about the Good, then you start talking about values,” he quotes his teacher Ivan Illich. Values belong on the stock market, he believes, not in an ethics debate. The mass uncritical use of this word testifies to an ethical breakdown, which also has to do with the fact that, in line with the current understanding of science, measurable quantities are playing an increasingly important role. The fact that “Western values” are being defended with the help of cluster bombs shows that values can be used for any kind of evil.
We often hear: “Liberty or death,” but those who said it are still alive. Gronemeyer mentions the maxim “death or virtue” in the context of Socrates’ decision not to flee from his henchmen but to stand up for the validity of virtue. When asked if we will just as easily get away with shrugging our shoulders if we do not live according to our confessions, he replies that this challenge is becoming more pressing, but the choice is up to the individual. It depends on personal courage.
The question of virtue, he said, is always also the question of the future of society: are we prepared to support the weak or are we moving toward marginalizing or even “flattening” them?
The sociologist sees the choice of suitable virtues for our time as owed to the situation, less to any dogmatic considerations. For example, he regards it as virtuous to keep open the wound of the painful experiences in his life.
Reimer Gronemeyer finds another central virtue in the consideration of how he should use his remaining life time. However, he cannot give a clear answer to this, he says. “Perhaps what we are particularly lacking at the moment, according to my impression, is the willingness to think critically, to relentlessly question one’s own existence as a question of virtue; in other words, how do we want to live?” he says. He tries to live a life of hospitality and friendship. He also mentions moderation and hope as virtues of personal importance.
(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.
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
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;
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;
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.”
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,”
“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.”
“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.”
Kelly Brogan, psychiatrist, on a trip to Rajasthan, India, collected impressions that resonate with my own sense of being (here). A lot of what she describes got already lost for many a native, due to the fast-progressing urbanisation, mechanisation, automisation, utilisation and exploding consumption, but it is still somehow present in rural areas and can be felt, especially when I perform one of those quick leaps back and forth to Germany. In her article “Spirituality and Mental Illness“, Kelly writes:
“They showed us the fact that loving creation allows them to love each other, and to love all that comes in their path. When the son asked me about my job, I seized up, certain that the notion of a psychiatrist would make no sense whatsoever to him. The idea that there are professionals trained to manage and alter the human experience through pharmaceutical drugs – to someone who has faith in all that comes, in the many ways that divinity can be expressed, and in the dividends of a commitment to integrity…to this person, Prozac would not compute. This is what India showed me. It showed me what my American soul had forgotten…which is that there is something more beautiful, more sacred, more wondrous available when we live connected to our trust in something larger. Because this something larger lifts us up out of our limitations, our smallness, our distractions, and holds us in a web of the collective so that there is never something random, awful, and unlucky that can simply just happen. So that there is always meaning and ok-ness.”
Regarding psychiatry, she quotes Charles Eisenstein who said, “The reason that conventional psychiatry – whether pharmaceutical or psychoanalytic – is powerless to substantially help the vast majority of patients is that it does not, and cannot, recognize the wrongness of the world we live in,” and I really couldn’t agree more. Though, in some way, there is no wrong or right, there is just existence as such, on a certain level we are beings that need a framework to live within. Some frames work better than others, and some are utterly destructive because they are dysfunctional from the start:
“It has never been more clear to me that the Guild of Psychiatry is one of the greatest threats to a soul’s journey, perhaps simply because there is no acknowledgement of the soul. This is why I believe that avoiding and coming off of psychiatric medications is the greatest form of initiation to self that exists in the West today.”
An article worth reading, an author worth following.
Have you seen the “This Happens Only In INDIA” album? Damn, this not only makes me laugh out loud, it makes me emotional with feeling so intensely at home in India. Those photographs are the counterpiece to my returning to Germany and obersving how much people take care to avoid any potentially dangerous or embarrassing situation, how they go to great lenghts explaining to others what the rules are and how things are supposed to be, and how they police others into surrendering e.g. to traffic rules or neighbourly behaviour. What a miserable neighbourhood that is.
In India, so much is being done without using the mind, without referring to regulations, without anxiousness about future reverberations. Yes, there are rules. Masses and masses of rules, and laws and regulations. But where there is no prosecutor, there is no judge – a saying from a tiny 80-Million-folks country called Germany that is most widely applied in an India of 1.3 billion, and guess what – they still don’t have anarchy there. And yes, things are breaking down. Falling out of order all the time. Not working out in the first place, thanks to human error. But who cares; for sooner or later it would have happened anyway due to the demanding climate and the countless disintegrating animals the Tamils call ‘poochi’ which show us all too clearly that there is little benefit in looking far ahead. Indians can advise every Western punk what it truly means to live a no-future attitude.
When I see all those efforts made regarding standardization of tools, improving food hygiene, or forcing people into wearing helmets on their motorbikes, it really makes me sad how energy is wasted on creating a false safety that has no basis in this clime and culture. But I guess it only follows that first step of India having swallowed the consumerist lure. Please, please, India. Get tired of it faster than me.
“If that happened to me, man, I’d just go… WILD!” Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Me, I heard it all too often, and I felt like that myself all too often. Someone got murdered. Someone got raped. Someone got tortured. Someone got fired, or judged, or debased under the most unjust circumstances. Rage and anger or a feeling of unsettlement, powerlessness, or depression are the most natural reactions to have unto hearing or even suffering yourself such violation of human dignity. It drives us crazy, cries for revenge. No wonder we find those who commit such violations themselves been treated this way. Their suffering is the key to your suffering, so understanding your own grief in turn can be the key to your understanding their motives; they are taking revenge for their needs not being met; they are acting out the lessons they have learned.
Our first reaction to hearing about victims who were forgiving the perpetrators often is incredulity. “How can they? I don’t believe this.” Like Marshall Rosenberg speaking of the Rwandan woman who lost her whole family in the genocide, but shows no hate, no rejection, no call for revenge. She is not in denial. She is not suppressing the grief. On the contrary, her acceptance of grief, her commitment to vulnerability, her insight into the inevitability of physical suffering, is the one thing that healed her psychological wounds and drove her to work in a positive direction, for peace; to break the chain of unmet needs. Rosenberg might have got her wrong, or he is exaggerating in order to promote his best-selling Non-violent communication books. But I don’t think so.
Having overcome huge amounts of life-long grudge and hatred myself within a few months, I found clear evidence to his accuracy of observation. The film “Scared Sacred“ shows several more of them. Survivors of Bhopal, Hiroshima, 9/11, Intifada, the Khmer Rouge tyranny, the Jewish holocaust, and the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan opened their hearts to film director Velcrow Ripper and showed how they developed their capacity to transcend hate, stopped thinking of themselves as victims, and turned the lessons learned from grief into positive actions.
From Rumi to Rosenberg, from Buddha to Eisenstein, from Jesus to Krishnamurti, from Ruppert to Adyashanti, from Native Americans to Indian fakirs, from the Shamans of South America to Kübler-Ross, people have shown that, while physical suffering may not be avoided, psychological suffering can be ended. It is merely stories we tell about the world and ourselves. While some say it takes courage to choose a bold one, I believe this is just another story about reasons for not moving on.
Suffering is learning, like making mistakes is learning. If we allow ourselves to examine the grief a certain behaviour brings, or the problems a certain technique creates, we find out about what doesn’t work, so we can turn to something that actually does. The trick is to let go of ideas that feel comfortable, yet don’t work. You don’t stick with a bridge-building technique that ended in a crash, do you? So you may not want to stick with hateful feelings forever, as well. And, as a society, we better not stick with the everyone-for-themselves paradigm, as it has proven to create tremendous amounts of suffering due to its intrinsic inability for meeting needs, both on individual and collective level.
So you see, all that philosophical stuff I am talking about all the time is deeply rooted in everyday life. It is connected to our individual experiences. I am far from preaching morals or virtues; all this is about discovering correlations, connections, ties, between our sense of being and the world at large. By using words, I am limited to offering concepts: the concept of interdependency; the concept of oneness. Don’t just accept them; try to find truth in yourself. If you feel like your psychological suffering means eternal disablement – go ahead; examine that to its farthest reach. Yet, apart from such concepts, there is an age-old insight, shared by all humanity, into a reality beyond suffering. If you can feel it, too, learn about people who touched it. They can help you to proceed.