Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Response to Chris's comment from July 16th, 2014

 Note: My original response to Chris's comment wound up being too long to post as a reply, so I'm posting it as a separate entry here, starting with Chris's question.

"On the other side of the drug spectrum, I've recently been going through some health problems and have relied on them to make it through in a relatively comfortable way, though if modern medicine hadn't been available I would currently be in severe pain and my quality of life would be so poor as I might even prefer death. So while realizing the underlying goals of the medicine machine, I'm at times grateful for it, and of course leaving this gap between idea and practice. What do you think personally about abandoning modern medicine?"

I've actually worked on a farm raising chickens--just a couple hundred, nowhere near the numbers on an industrial farm, but with more or less the same deformed breed of chicken that large-scale farmers raise. The chickens stayed in a barn their whole lives surrounded by other chickens that were far too numerous and therefore anonymous for any bird to form a normal social relationship with. They were too heavy to take more than a few stumbling steps before faltering. They spent so much time sitting down that their breasts were actually bare from touching the ground so much. This did make it easier to pluck them later, I confess. The environment was stressful and utterly devoid of stimulus except when I or someone else went in to catch some birds to slaughter. But here's the thing--even when their lives were so shitty (and you know chickens are smart enough to know that that life was shitty), they still panicked when I took them, and they still struggled when I cut their throats. Did they really cherish their alienated lives sitting in poop inside a crowded dirty barn that much? The birds didn't want to die. So, if you were a chicken in a chicken factory, would you be grateful for the protection that the antibiotics in your feed afforded you from the potential of infection that arises from being forcibly crowded together in a shed in the first place? It's the same power forcing you into confinement and forcing you to eat incessantly and that will eventually kill you in a potentially painful and most certainly horrifying way that gives you the antibiotics. If you take the antibiotics willingly, you are enabling your crowding, because if all the chickens refused to take the antibiotics, the crowding would not be possible. If you are grateful for the benefit of their medicine, it really is a Stockholm Syndrome situation--essentially, it's like someone breaks your legs but you only feel gratitude that they gave you a wheelchair in the end. I'm in no way trivializing pain, yours or anyone else's; all I'm trying to convey is that our gratitude for the relief that modern medicine brings becomes a weapon, a point of leverage to use against us. It's also a mistake to believe that only modern medicine can bring us actual relief from pain--I'm pretty sure the case can easily be made that the opposite is true if you consider the role of technology in general in causing suffering and disease throughout history. To believe that only modern medicine can save us from infectious disease or back pain is akin to believing that only television can alleviate boredom or only the internet can remedy isolation. I'm pretty sure that these supposed solutions are really part of the cause of the problems they claim to solve. The problem is that the connection is not immediately obvious--it's not a causal relationship that most humans will naturally grasp, not because most humans are stupid, but because the chains of cause and effect generated by technology have transcended what might constitute a human-scale reality. As I wrote before, in a techno-scale reality, all our adaptations, evolved over millions of years, begin to constantly work against us, not for us. We begin to consistently make the wrong choices without it being immediately obvious. As humans, it still feels good and right to eat lots of sugar, use disposable paper plates, drive instead of walk when it's hot outside, etc. Even littering has an evolutionary rationale. So it should be expected that everyone loves the relief that modern medicine can provide. The system exploits our human desire to not feel pain or be ill, because the novel way in which the system provides relief is difficult for a human mind conditioned to a different way of life to grasp. To most people, it's very simple: take the medicine and feel better. It's hard to comprehend that the existence of industrial medicine has only ever worsened environmental degradation and negatively impacted health in the long run. We steal from the future every time we leverage economics through technology to meet our needs in ways that ensure that the maximum number of intermediaries (=inefficiencies, waste) are involved in order to generate profit at as many junctures as possible. When the next time we look we notice that our past actions have left us poorer in the present, we are ever more motivated to steal from the future, extolling promising new technologies, digging up resources that can never be replaced. The poorer you get, the more desperate to steal you become. So, every time we rely on the system to meet our needs, whether they be medical or otherwise, we charge to a credit card that we can never pay off. Somewhere we will have to stop doing this, the question is whether we stop on our own terms and take our time, or just keep going full throttle until reality stops us for us.


  1. Thanks for the reply/post. This is the hard answer I guess. Which leads to the next hard problem of how do we find reality first before it finds us? This critique is great for exposing fundamental problems, even though the answers are in contradiction to our everyday actions, but a constructive critique usually has a good alternative. (Maybe it's not meant to be constructive?) Bringing it back on a personal level I don't see that alternative. Rewilding makes a lot of sense to me, but I haven't taken that step (I'd like to but don't) and I'm not sure the majority of the world would either. Maybe that's over simplifying, but there are so many obstacles in stopping civilization on our own terms, all the governments and corporations, land ownership, nuclear power and weapons containment, letting billions die without medical support, are we too far out of a human-scale reality for us to make the connections needed and overcome? I'm not really expecting answers but it's good to hear other perspectives. Thanks again for writing.

    1. I'm not sure I view the distinction between a constructive or positive critique and a destructive or negative on as accurate or helpful. Rather, it seems overly simplistic and distracting. I think as long as a critique is accurate and consistent, it is inherently valuable. Whether it turns out the critique is largely negative or positive really depends on the nature of the subject of critique. The sheer negativity of the critique that anarcho-primitivists and Daoist philosophy level against technology, if you consider it to be accurate, merely reflects on the instrinsic nature of the subject. My opinion would be that a constructive critique of technology would probably be reformist at best, and that such a critique would only get to its somewhat optimistic conclusions on technology through inaccurate analysis.

    2. As far as all the obstacles to rewilding you've mentioned, I agree that they are very real, but whereas issues like persistent nuclear/plastic pollution and degradation of the environment cannot be helped by anything we actively do without making matters worse, I think letting those billions dependent on the ruination of the biosphere for life die is obviously necessary for the stability of life on this planet. In other words, why sustain the population and despoil every last inch of this planet so we can hit 9 billion, only to have the biosphere completely collapse and individual freedom utterly impossible and have a massive die off anyway, when we can choose to pay off these debts we've incurred through using technology now and not have an extra unnecessary 2 billion be born in the next few decades just to live in squalor and/or die horribly in war, disease, famine, or any number of civilized ways? I believe non-domesticated peoples had such a strong connection to all life that they were always aligned with the 'will', so to speak, of nature, even to the point of not developing a strong sense of ego or individualism. You could say that biophilia/biognosis necessarily preempts the notion of an isolated consciousness required for individualism. It's not surprising that civilized peoples essentially root for themselves when pitted against the consequences manifesting in the natural world of their way of life, since their empathy with nature is essentially nil and antagonism toward nature has only ever grown.

    3. Perhaps the most crucial act of rewilding, however, will be to take nature's will as our own, as our stone age predecessors did. People will always try to defend whatever it is that protects and nourishes them. This is the neat trick of domestication: a wolf would normally be wary of a hunter and protective of territory and pack, because the former is a threat and the latter are sources of protection and support. What the domesticator must do is to switch these roles around so that the dog views the pack as the threat and the hunter as the hand that feeds. I think it's fairly obvious that domesticated people will defend civilization and tolerate its abuses because civilization is the hand that feeds and they know of no alternative. Now that it's become clear that civilization can't really provide without ultimately undermining the natural world, our original source of life, it has come down to a question of whether or not domesticated humans can perceive their crisis, whether you want to call it Stockholm Syndrome, a zombie-like viral pandemic, or whatever. It looks like it's going to come down to a choice between life and Life, the former being the perpetuation of civilization at the expense of the entire biosphere, the latter being the existence of life on this planet, period. Right now, most people would rather doom the planet than give up their smartphones, just as the hound would rather doom its own kind to be hunted to extinction than lose its nightly bowl of scraps. Can you really justify the perpetuation, the salvation, of such a race, and if so, to what end? Just to have it all inevitably fail in the near future anyway from resource depletion and pollution?

  2. Thanks for all your replies. My last comment is where my train of thought usually goes, in regards to these questions, so it's helpful to hear your opinions. Just saw you posted some more, look forward to reading them.