Model of an influenza virus
One of the greatest revelations that has come out of my research for my book The Natural Enterprise is something that should have been obvious, and should be obvious to all of us: Our education systems prepare us for dependence on employment by large corporations and government organizations. Why? Because this is the most ‘manageable’ way to run the system, and conveniently keeps us in our place. If the system were to equip us to be independent entrepreneurs, there would be a number of unpleasant consequences for the established wealth and power hierarchy:
Why would the government be complicit in this? Because their campaign funds come substantially from these large corporations. Because corporate donations to universities (although these generally come with a steep ‘price’), and to other parts of the education system, allow governments to run education more cheaply.
I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy here. Education, like any other complex system, evolves and adapts. I don’t think anyone systematically ‘programmed’ education to be this way (there are many alternative education systems out there, but the ones that endure tend to exhibit many of the same characteristics as the ‘mainstream’ system) — despite the fact that some early education leaders were quite open about designing and using the system to suppress the population as a whole, and to meet the needs of the corporate sector.
Like any large centralized system, education has become unwieldy, inflexible, and ineffective. It will take any help it can get. It will even accommodate lots of progressive teachers, locking them inside the academic system where they can cause minimal disruption, shrugging off their criticisms of the system that feeds them as ‘academic’ (i.e. impractical, unrealistic) harangues, and conveniently blaming them for the failure of the system to do more than produce ‘consumers’ who (to quote Jerry Michalski) are “nothing more than gullets whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” Our entire economic system has evolved around certain accepted rules (maximize profit for shareholders at any cost, buy and sell favour, reduce competition and diversity, avoid risk, standardize everything, ignore ‘externalities’ like pollution and social costs, grow or die) and the education system, as a component of the economic system, inevitably follows those rules.
So we have people coming out of high school and university who must rely on finding menial corporate jobs or exploiting connections in high places to get plum jobs they don’t deserve, since they cannot provide for themselves. They do not know how to ‘make a living’. Entrepreneurship is painted as a high-risk, high-sweat, lonely alternative, whose end state is, at best, the development and sale of hard-fought innovations to corporate buyers and early retirement to something less exhausting, and, at worst, a life of never-ending stress and strife for subsistence survival. And since we don’t teach entrepreneurship, the students have no way of knowing whether this grim portrait is accurate or not. Hence — an endemic state of learned helplessness. Tow the line, kow-tow to the boss, do what you’re told and maybe, if you’re good and lucky, or well-connected, you may work your way ‘up’ to a middle management position and inflict learned helplessness on the next generation in your chosen ‘profession’. The perfect hierarchical system.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think the purpose of education should be to learn a trade and nothing more. It should teach all the critical life skills (most of which cannot effectively be learned in a classroom, but that’s another issue) — of which ‘making a living’ is just one. One that it fails spectacularly to do, by any measure except the inculcation of learned helplessness and the resignation to a life of dependence.
That dependence and helplessness is then further entrenched by the creation of artificial scarcities — shortage of houses near (ironically) good schools, shortage of quality health care (unless provided by your large corporate employer’s ‘largesse’), a shortage of (perceived) security. These shortages in turn produce the two-income trap, and addiction to consumption and to the debt that enables it. The cycle is complete.
This got me thinking about our health-care systems. Public and private, they, too, now have produced a cycle of learned helplessness. The first step in this process was probably the fault of (who else) the lawyers: Until about a century ago, in most affluent nations you had the right to self-administer health care. If you preferred heroin or leeches as a treatment over what the doctors of the day were prescribing, and if you could afford them, it was your right to treat your body with whatever medicines you thought appropriate. Then the lawyers and doctors decided we were too stupid to make such decisions, and the concept of ‘prescription’ medicine was born, the paternalistic system that says you have to convince (or bribe) a doctor to let you take the medicines you want. Since then the number of restricted substances has ballooned. At the same time, in a grim irony, the number of chemicals we are forced to ingest, as a result of the pollution of our air and water by large corporations, and the deliberate poisoning of our food with toxic antibiotic (“against life”) chemicals and hormonal stimulants, has also ballooned. All in the name of maximizing profit for shareholders at any cost (“we’re not doing anything illegal“).
Something clearly had to be done to protect the corporations and doctors from lawsuits for poisoning the citizens. What they came up with was a stroke of genius which entrenched learned helplessness irrevocably: They told us that illness isn’t the result of environmental poisoning — it’s all caused by tiny invisible microbes that ‘medical science’ hasn’t got around to finding ways to kill yet. The elimination of some horrific diseases — notably smallpox and polio — led credence to this claim. All that was needed was for the new pharmaceutical industry to get trillions of dollars of taxpayer money — some of which they would generously kick back to the university and hospital systems — and the right to charge whatever it cost to find each killer drug, and (if we could afford it) we would live healthy forever. So we needn’t worry about our own health anymore, or that mercury in the water or that lead in the air or those hormones in our hamburgers — the panaceas will all be forthcoming soon with good ol’ Western know-how.
A colleague of mine, Greg Turko, pointed me to an article yesterday in this month’s (March) Harper’s Magazine called “Out of Control — AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science” by Celia Farber, which made me realize how much I’ve fallen victim to this beguiling myth myself. Farber has been arguing for a dozen years, and has been much ridiculed, but mostly ignored, for doing so, that not only is there no compelling evidence that AIDS is ’caused’ by the HIV virus, but that it is not caused by any virus or microbe whatsoever.
I have heard these claims before, but they seemed preposterous to me, the stuff of conspiracy theory. But then I read an article by a virologist Peter Duesberg, who says the reason we (the medical profession included) were so willing to believe that AIDS was caused by a virus is that:
No conspiracy. We just wanted to believe. Just some nasty virus spread by some lunatic in Africa fucking monkeys. Just give Big Pharma a few billion and they’ll find something that will kill it. The appealing thing about Learned Helplessness is we’re not responsible for fixing the problem.
Duesberg’s arguments (which Farber also makes in the Harper’s article) are very compelling. Just as Steven Levitt dissected the phony correlations between gun control, or stiffer prison sentences, and reduced crime in US cities, Duesberg dissects the equally flimsy correlations between the occurrence of a certain type of retrovirus (christened HIV) and the onset of a suite of cascading, often-fatal diseases (only some of which are immune deficiency diseases) that have come to be called AIDS. What is most distressing is:
If you’re not persuaded by Duesberg’s arguments, or Farber’s, here’s another down-to-earth report by a Canadian feminist group. It’s not saying what the cause of AIDS is, it just asks a lot of penetrating and unanswered questions that cast serious doubt that HIV is the culprit.
You can see this learned helplessness — “it’s not my/our/anybody’s responsibility, it’s just a disease that strikes victims and must be killed” — in our response to all health crises, both chronic (cancer, autism) and epidemic (SARS, Mad Cow, poultry flu). There must be a drug that will kill the virus (and, when it rapidly mutates, another drug that will kill that virus) or that will kill the ‘defective’ gene that is the ’cause’ of the disease. Until then we are helpless to do anything but throw money at it, and shun or kill any group/species that seems to ‘carry’ it. We conveniently ignore the powerful correlations between the prevalence of AIDS and poverty, poor sanitation, toxic environments, and the use of dangerous drugs, because if we acknowledged them we would have to accept a responsibility to deal with these complex and intractable problems.
Suppose we got past this, and accepted that what triggers many diseases (which collectively kill a rapidly-growing percentage of humans) is a combination of the lifestyles we live (which are largely unhealthy), and the environmental toxins we consume when we eat, drink and breathe (which are also largely unhealthy)? Our entire economy depends on the very activities that produce these triggers. How would we offset the incalculable health costs of industry, resource extraction, transportation, and mechanized, chemical-based agriculture, against the economic costs of shutting down all these toxic activities and replacing them with healthy, natural, non-polluting, chemical-free, zero-waste activities?
Isn’t it just easier to go on believing, against all evidence, that science will come up with a microbe or a genetic marker to blame for all our health woes, and then a drug to kill it?
Just as it’s easier to believe our economy is the only workable one, and that, as a consequence, we have no choice but to graduate from an education system that teaches us nothing of use, and then beg for work from large corporations or big government organizations, doing, miserably, exactly as we’re told for most of our waking hours for most of our pathetic lives, living for weekends of unhealthy consumption, until some damned microbe (that research willsoon have a cure for) puts us out of our misery.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
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