Tag Archives: science

Interview about The Culture of the Current + Last Chance to Sign Up!

28 Jul

CHJust a few more days to sign up for my four session online workshop, The Culture of the Current: A Workshop for Facing the World We Live in Now.

Registration is open until 7/30 at 11:59PM!  Below is a quick interview I did with consciousness scholar and pop philosophy writer Jeremy Johnson the new philosophy and consciousness journal, Metapsychosis.

Read the interview, sign up for the course, and spend your next few Sundays envisioning a better world with me!

Jeremy: I’m very drawn to what you’re implying in the description for your workshop. It speaks to our deepest anxieties and hopes right now, doesn’t it? Corrupt powers are consolidating into global behemoths of themselves just as new, revolutionary, political forces and conversations are taking hold. Amazing technology surrounds us, but we’re filled with that creeping anxiety, the dread of living at the edge of a cliff—in our case, the Anthropocene, climate change, etc. The glass is half-full and half-empty, collapsing into a singularity. A new world seems entirely plausible and yet it often feels like we’re about to implode before we get there.

It’s hard to keep this all in your head at once. Especially in your mentioning that some of the very structures of our reality, things we take for granted in modern society, like representative governments and even “religious impulses” are “relics” crumbling in the face of an entirely new way of doing things. So, I might start out by asking you the most preliminary of questions. It’s the big question we’re exploring here at Metapsychosis. How do we even begin to think about all this? What does that kind of thought even look like?

Conner: A kind of downward spiral can happen when you approach the state of the world: The disastrous US election! Mass shootings! Police Brutality! Taken alone, they’re bad enough, but they can build and build until you feel utterly overwhelmed and helpless. So as for how to begin, there are two ways: One is kicking and screaming, which is the tendency (and the one that many people and institutions in power feed on), the other is with some clarity. So that’s how we begin, or how not to begin. We don’t begin with fear, and we understand that whatever is happening is necessary for and even, perhaps, asked of us in this moment. That’s the foundation. If you can’t dispel the fear entirely (and who can?), you notice it, and let your thoughts run parallel to it rather than letting it intrude so much.

Then, one by one, you examine the phenomena. Not just with data — although of course data can be useful — but with an eye for patterns. These might be patterns in the phenomena themselves; for instance, that activist movements such as identity politics movements and Occupy both have profoundly important messages of resistance. It’s clear through them what is being resisted. But alternative positive politics are not articulated in them (that doesn’t make either of these movements lesser movements, by the way; it’s just an observation of what they are). Or there may be patterns in yourself; the expression and limits of your feeling and empathy during crisis events, for example. Why should I feel deeply moved when certain events happen, but not others? Where is that framework coming from? The individual is everyone’s starting place, so it’s ridiculous to look at world events without inquiring into the self, and vice versa.

meandlynn

Lynn and Me.

Which thinkers have contributed to your thought? You’ve got a few listed on your event page, like the biologist Lynn Margulis, and the anthropologist Bruno Latour. I’m interested to know how they helped to develop your ideas.

Lynn was my mentor and like a second mother to me, and I owe some of what I’ve already said to her. She studied two things, really: bacteria and earth systems. And she studied how they intersect. In other words, her view was both microscopic and planetary. Lean forward, stand back. As above, so below. So her perspective and approach was as helpful to me as the content of her work (which was also mind-blowing).

The anthropologist Bruno Latour and some of his colleagues have brought me a long way to understanding how important experience is. Since anthropologists have to take experience seriously, they are, in some ways, the foundation of all other sciences, because all science springs from human sense and experience. Of course, it’s not just my own experience that I need to take seriously, but the reported experiences of others. You can’t just dismiss someone else’s sufferings, desires, beliefs, etc as stupid or “un-evolved.” Anthropology had a tough time with that in the beginning, but has caught up with itself in many ways. But it’s even more than that. Anthropology insists we question our own beliefs and experiences and prejudices, not just of political concepts or whatever, but of reality itself. You have to (here’s a fun academic buzzword, but I think it’s really useful) decolonize your mind; Latour’s particular emphasis is in decolonizing our minds from the phony objectivity claims of scientism. You have to undo yourself to come close to anyone else. What would that mean in encountering not just the indigenous person, as anthropologists are typically thought of doing, but the religious fundamentalist? The Trump supporter? What might you learn if you engaged with them seriously? Anthropology is the science of compassion and real engagement.

I’m glad you picked out these two thinkers to ask me about, since, if I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on in the world, Lynn’s macro/micro perspective — and more importantly the tension between the two — as well as real listening and inner decolonizing, are key.

How does spirituality, or mysticism underpin all of this for you?

Spirituality underpins everything I do. The culture of materialism and consumerism is a specific kind of spirituality, after all, and it’s played a huge part (though it’s not wholly to blame) in getting us where we are now. To keep moving and changing, we’ll have to readdress our spiritualities, even if it’s the spirituality of not having a spirituality.

Does art, or imagination, play a role in this new way of thinking?

Yes, especially fiction and poetry. Poetry is obvious to me: Poetry is a refusal of the world, particularly the names of the world and everything in it, as it is. Poetry demands things be said on new terms, on the terms of the poet first, and then the reader. A poet does not have to accept that a table is a table, they exercise understanding of that object as a relation to their own individuality, and write accordingly. Poets have been saying this for a long time, though not enough people have listened.

Fiction is important, though I wasn’t always so sure why. Once Daniel Pinchbeck asked me what role I thought novels had in the upcoming world (this was before 2012, of course), because he couldn’t see any. He thought — back then, at least — that they were a distraction. I love fiction, but it took years and years for the answer to arise. Now I see clearly that it cultivates compassion and vision. When I read, I have to co-create the world using the symbols in front of me, and in fiction, those symbols are of a non-existent world.

Co-creating the world with the symbols laid out in front of us: What could be a better description of what is needed right now? We need to see what’s before us, learn to read it, internalize it, and then create it by combining it with our individuality. Fiction that pushes on the boundaries of the real is what is most instructive, since what is “real” and “possible” is basically owned by people in power. So we need to start our training in the impossible. As soon as, um, possible.

Was Rudolf Steiner saying something about the Culture of the Current in his own way?

Rudolf Steiner, as your readers probably know, was a late 19th—early 20th Century philosopher, scientist, mystic, etc. He created biodynamic farming, Waldorf schools, and more, directly out of his spiritual-scientific worldview. He wasn’t a prophet, but he had plenty of warnings for us about our time, which was his future. His idea was that the world was going to be slowly permeated by the influences of something called Ahriman. Steiner thought of Ahriman as a literal being, and I think that’s a good way to consider him. But to describe in totally secular terms: Ahriman names the vast realm of materialistic impulses. The dependence on technology, the dampening of feelings, the belief that love is just chemicals in the brain, the idea that we’re biological robots. I mean, he pretty much nailed it long before these ideas were popularized. Not a bad warning. The thing he also said about the age of Ahriman is something I take to heart and that is present in my course: there’s no way to stop Ahriman from coming. There’s no way to stop these impulses from growing and growing. They will do so on their own, with or without our consent. What matters instead is how we meet these impulses. How do we move with them, and eventually redeem them?

Thank you, Conner.  

New In-Depth 4-Session Online Course! The Culture of the Current – A Workshop for Facing the World We Live in Now

29 Jun

book!

One of my great ambitions is to create new models of education that work in and are relevant to the world we live in. To be honest, I was always a little afraid to construct my own long-term course. But after years of work, I’ve finally gathered the vision and confidence to do it. The Culture of the Current is my in-depth, intimate, interactive, and network-creating online workshop on creating a politics and theory of the present day. The description below will lay it all out for you (and I’ve included some photos of thinkers whose work I’ll be drawing on). It’s limited to only 20 participants and it’s going to be great. So read the description below and sign up here. Onward!

Do you get the feeling that something is off with our present moment?

Do you wonder if we’ve taken a horrible turn somewhere along the way to Now?

Are you mystified by the present moment and have no idea how, exactly, we’re going to move forward?

Maybe you’re tuned in to the “this changes everything” advances and stumbles of recent history. Some of these changes seem beneficial and hopeful: alternate forms of currency, 3-D printers, advances in medicine, accessibility to information and creative tools, and more. Others seem terrifying: climate change, growing political unrest, disparity in wealth, ethnic/racial/orientation inequalities.

While people of all eras have felt that theirs was a special one, that their challenges were

LM

Lynn Margulis, biologist

leading to disaster or utopia, something is unique about our moment:

No one seems to have formulated a theory or politics to deal with the changes and challenges we’re facing.

It’s clear that the old structures — our representative government, culture of consumption, scientific theories, religious impulses, etc. — aren’t up to the task. They’re relics, trying — and failing — to keep up with the pace of The Current we live in.

This intimate, in-depth, and interactive four-session online workshop is an answer to those problems.

Instead of waiting for a theorist, economist, or politician to lead the way, you’ll join Conner Habib and your peers in co-creating a theory of the present moment, and developing alternative frameworks for politics and philosophies of everyday life. This is an intimate course, limited to 20 participants.

Together we’ll investigate the most pressing questions of our time:

  • How are the social phenomenon and movements of our day — identity politics, the changing face of governments, internet connectivity and dissonance, environmentalism, and more — connected?
  • What would a theoretical framework that binds all these changes and challenges look like?
  • What does it mean to be human in an era when we have new relationships to space, time, identity, sexuality, and more?
  • How can we best deal with the challenges facing us?
BL

Bruno Latour, anthropologist

The course will start with introductions and Conner Habib’s broad but incomplete theory, “The Culture of The Current,” which will draw from multiple perspectives: scientific ones, philosophical ones, anthropological, occult, and sociological ones. Conner will talk about such wide-ranging topics as the relationship between citizens and their governments, sexual identity, privacy, mass shootings, selfies, and more.

Then participants will work with each other to develop their own theories, which we’ll eventually assemble together. 

In this course you will:

  • Demystify the noise and rush of events of the present day, and find a confident understanding of our moment
  • Push the boundaries of your thought and what’s possible for action and activism, as well as everyday life
  • Leave with developed ideas on the current moment and a new politics
  • Have exclusive access to 3 lectures by Conner Habib during the course and 60 days after the course completes
  • Get 15 hours of ineraction with Conner Habib and peers with similar concerns
  • Create a supportive network of peers to engage with in our tumultuous time
  • Immerse yourself in the writing and work of cutting edge thinkers who are working on progressive initiatives
  • Find pathways forward in our changing world
  • Get an exclusive essay, article, book, and film list of related writers and artists, curated by Conner

Your theories can come from wherever you want, so completely different viewpoints, areas

FBB

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, philosopher

of expertise, and interests are more than welcome. When the world is in such a dramatic flux that it no longer seems real to us, then nothing is off limits, not even the unreal. No one will be “right” or “wrong” so there’s no pressure to create a totally complete or perfect theory. This is a class of cooperation, not competition.

Each group will present their thoughts, and then we’ll move on to creating viable paths forward: How do we now envision new politics? Philosophy? Art? Economy? Science? Anatomies? Religion? Interaction with the natural world? Creativities? Views of identity?

Most importantly, we’ll have a better sense of the answer to this question:

What will it take to enact a hopeful new current of politics and everyday life to flow in?

PRACTICAL STUFF:

DR

Doug Rushkoff, media theorist

The course meets four Sundays in a row, for three hours per session. There’s an intermission in each session.

There are readings which will be sent to you via email by Conner Habib. You’ll be expected to read a bit before the course starts, and then along the way.

This course will be fun, warm, and create a sense of community. It’s for participants who are serious about forming communities and developing real frameworks that address our present day. Participants are expected to: 

  • complete all required readings
  • attend every every session
  • communicate with partners
  • complete all collaborative projects on time

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and emergencies. That said, you’ll be generally expected to commit to all of the above for the duration of the workshop.

When you sign up, you’ll get a confirmation email. About 10 days before the course starts,

RS

Rudolf Steiner, occultist

you’ll receive another email with the first reading and instructions on how to sign in. It just takes a few clicks, and it’s simple.

SCHOLARSHIPS

It’s so important to me to have dedicated and enthusiastic participants in this course, and I don’t want the fee keeping those people out. To that end, I’ve made two scholarships spots available, one for a full waiver and one for a half waiver. Since this course has taken me quite a bit of time and effort to put together, please only apply for a scholarship if you’re actually in absolute financial need and couldn’t take the course without it. To apply, send me an email and I’ll send you the scholarship application form.

SIGN UP HERE

Podcastmania!

10 Jun

If you want to hang out with me inside your ears (just let that be weird, it’s okay), you’re in luck!

I’ve been on a bunch of podcasts in the past few months and they are some of the best podcasts I’ve ever done. I’m not just saying that. People seem to be excited to talk with me about a variety of issues now, instead of just asking the basic porn questions, which at this point have become boring to me (and probably you, if you’ve been following along for awhile). So please listen and feel free to comment, and tell your fav podcast host to have me on. I love conversation.

Here’s a quick rundown:

First up, Rune Soup with the mighty Gordon White! I met Gordon through a series of synchronicities (that’s what people who aren’t crazy call “coincidences”) and suddenly, there we were, talking about fantasy novels (On A Pale Horse, for example), the problems of materialism in the occult, punk rock, and more.

You can click here to download, or just listen below.

***

Sex

 

On futurist podcast The Singularity Bros, I got to talk stuff few people give me a chance to talk about, but that I love considering. Particularly: the end of work and why we don’t need jobs anymore. I also talked about the future of sex, dissed virtual reality and the occulus rift, and said Buddhist monks could probably fly. It’s good stuff.

Click here to download/listen!

 

***

WTMatt Baume is the funny, thoughtful, and warm-hearted host of The Sewers of Paris podcast. I had no idea what to expect, and the episode wanders from topic to topic in a great, organic way. He’s an amazing interviewer. We start with The Superfriends and it all unravels from there. The book of spell I stole from my middle school library, the guys I wanted to fuck in high school. And at some point, I say I have superpowers. Click here to listen.

***

MiriamFinally, I got on Miriam Seddiq‘s podcast, Not Guilty No Way. Miriam is a criminal defense attorney and force to be reckoned with. We met via a scuffle on twitter. There were insults and jabs, and then we were both like, “But, um, why are we doing this, you seem awesome?” Not atypical for Arabs, by the way. There’s the fast and furious expression of anger followed by embrace and trust. We know how to do peace pretty well. Miriam is one of the only podcasters that said she researched me by watching my porn. Bravo to her. She’s brilliant, and I had a great time. It’s very, very conversational. Without the back story, you’d think we’d been friends for a long time.

You can click here to download or listen below.

Sex Before Life (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4)

9 Apr

This is the final entry in a series of short essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part3 was about the the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

RNALife Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4

Sex Before Life

We end this series with a story from before the beginning.

Once upon a time,

biology tells us,

Before bacteria…

Before the superliving hypersex of symbiosis…

Before life…

the Earth was teeming with bonds of sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous substances.

These bonds, or ribonucleic acid (RNA), huddled into themselves, and stretched their ways throughout the surface of the planet.

For these molecules, language was form. When they encounter each other, they strained to understand each other through strange acts of translation. They wrapped themselves up into each other, and this act of language, this braiding of being, created new forms.

A mysterious correspondence: an exchange of material, packed with meaning. This was the exuberant world full of RNA, and this was the birth of sex.

This story provides us with a new and sideways answer to the old question of chicken and egg. Did two chickens having sex make the fertilized egg from which another chicken sprung?

Or did the first chicken spring from a pre-existing egg?

When we look into the origins of sex, we discover an unexpected truth.

Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

A. Sex.

chknegg

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

Carnal Incarnations (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 3)

28 Mar

This is the third in a short series of essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part 2 was about the orgy of early life and how it reveals a counterpulse to identity. Part 3 is about the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

daliLife Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 3

Carnal Incarnations

Life was born, and it superlived.

Early organisms brushed up against each other, and when they did, they consumed each other. But not always. Encounter after encounter between them gave rise to a new form of union: symbiosis.

Here’s an example. Imagine a tiny, ancient oxygen-respiring bacterium. Small, but hungry, it was  was a fierce predator. Now imagine a larger, blobbier organism – a thermoplasm, contracting and expanding itself through its shapeless life. The two come together again and again, usually leading to the thermoplasm being invaded and eaten from the inside out by its smaller relative. But not every invasion killed the thermoplasm, and soon – how? We don’t know – the invader organism was taken up by the invaded, incorporated into its being. Permanently.

The thermoplasm could now resist the death-bringing properties of oxygen, and the bacterium found rest from the hunt.

Symbiosis is the ultimate procreative sex act. Two beings merge and form a third. Not a separate being, but a reincarnation of both selves.

Symbiosis is the origin of all multicellular organisms, and likely one of the main motivators of the rise of new species.

Symbiosis is sex, super-sexing.

This creative act is the foundation of human life. Let me explain.

Many protoctists (usually mislabeled “protozoans” – there is no “zoo” in them, since they aren’t animals) like the thermoplasm, reproduce through cell division, also called mitosis, in which an organism copies its own DNA and then pulls itself in two. A startling feature of mitosis is that, even though it’s called cell “division,” it doesn’t actually divide the number or chromosomes, structures in the cell that bear many of the cell’s genes.

In the procreative variety of sex that humans have, sperm and egg cells merge to create a new being. Sperm cells and egg cells have only half the chromosomes compared to the other cells in human beings. When sperm and egg meet, each carries a complimentary half of those chromosomes. This is how sperm and egg meet and form a new being. Rather than dividing (mitosis) humans are created by compliment (meiosis).

Our cells have forms that are meant to meet. They await each other. In other words, human beings are formed through a sort of predestined symbiosis.

Look at your hands, now. They are composed of cells upon cells, grouped together in the whorls and arches of your skin, the bones beneath, the connecting tendons. Your hands are a gathering of cells. And those cells are the ancient agreements of bacteria.

Sex is us. It’s what makes our cells, it’s what made us capable of making new forms of sex and new beings.

And it’s more than just us.

From its inception, sex has been a meeting of forces far beyond bodies and desires.

2In1

Next up: Sex Before Life.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

The Orgy Against Identity (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2)

18 Mar

This is the second in a short series of essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part 1 was about the first stirrings of sex, with the Sun as a sexual partner. Part 2 is about the constant orgy of life.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

HB

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2

The Orgy Against Identity

Life threads through the world, not just living, but superliving, creating more life and more possibilities for what life can be. Every individual has within itself the potential to change, utterly, all potentials.

First, bacteria and the Sun embraced over vast distances, and created sex. After sex was created, different forms of sex were possible.

Bacterial sex can take the form of gene-swapping on a “lateral” level. In other words, genes flow freely from bacterium to bacterium, breaking from an initial host and finding their way into another.

If this happened in humans, “…a man with red hair and freckles might wake up, after a swim with a brunette and her dog, with brown hair and floppy ears.”

Because of their freely exchanged genes, bacteria are engaged in the largest and most continuous orgy of all time.

Or maybe it’s microscopic self-love. It depends on how you define bacterial species:

“(Since) all strains of bacteria can potentially share all bacterial genes, then  strictly speaking, there are no true species in the bacterial world. All bacteria are one  organism,one entity capable of genetic engineering on a planetary or global scale.”

Look closely at the world, and you will see that life defies scale: Are the tiniest organisms really just the largest organism alive, spreading across the planet and into its pores, a giant body with infinite organs? Life superlives.

In another form of bacterial sex, conjugation, a “donor” bacterium transfers genetic material into a “recipient.” The ordinary terms are biological sex — “male” and “female” — are useless in the underlying current of life: hen the donor transfers its genetic material to the recipient, it loses its donor characteristics, and the recipient receives them. Bacteria fuck their identities into each other.

Look closely, again, at the world. You will see the slippage of identity.

pool

Next up: Sex and hypersex.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

 

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1 (or, Sex in the Gaze of the Sun)

8 Mar

This is the first in a short series of essays about the origins (origins, because there are more than one) of sex. The essays are inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis, and by a little quote by one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres

“Life superlives.” 

For Part 1, I’m going way back, to some early starfucking.

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1

SunSex in the Gaze of the Sun

For all the problems that accompany sex in our lives — shame and fear, jealous lovers, unplanned pregnancies, STIs — one might be surprised that, according to the scientific narrative, sex began as a healing act which diverted crisis.

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, the Sun’s violent and ultraviolet rays cascaded over an ozone-less Earth, greeting the only lifeforms with harsh light. These were the bacteria; prokaryotes, so named for their lack of nuclei (pro = before, karyon = nut or core).

These beings arose only to dissolve in the radiated presence of light.  They already had a way to repair themselves, or life would have never survived its bright beginning. Their DNA — the double-stranded molecule that many of us know about but that scientists still have trouble understanding — had begun to replicate itself through a series of gestures from various enzymes. If one part of a DNA strand was damaged, it was amputated by an enzyme that could cut the DNA bonds apart (a nuclease), and then another enzyme arrived to create wholeness and heal the void.

In the gaze of the Sun, the tiny prokaryotic innards were often too damaged to recombinate on their own. So these beings reached, in the mordial soup, for the ejected DNA of their dead kin, the floating pieces of bodies amongst them. They used their own enzymes in conjunction with the dead to repair themselves.

This was the beginning of sex for living organisms.

It was a co-mingling of partners. The Sun was there first. It aroused the prokaryotes, initiated sex, and then the presence of the dead infused the living with a new possibility for life.

Experiments today that replicate ultraviolet early-Earth intensities prompt similar responses in bacteria.

Life’s first sexual partner was a star.

That also means that by evolutionary implication, our first sexual partner was a star. The ancestors of all our ancestors undulated across the Earth, under a pulsing sexual sphere.

As children, we stare at the Sun, and it blots out our perception. As adults, we know better. When we look at the Sun, we turn away, flushed. It remains a flirtatious, sexual glance cast upon an unbearably beautiful face.

Next: The orgy that exposes identity.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of  Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

They’re Not Here To Help: How Anti-Sex Work Activists Use the Tactics of Homophobes, Racists, and Islamophobes

24 Jun

bwMy latest essay, “If You’re Against Sex Work, You’re A Bigot” is up at The Stranger as part of their queer issue.  It’s the first (and hopefully only) fuck-you piece I’ve ever written.  The essay compares the tactics of anti-sex work activists (I refer to them more accurately as “anti-sex bigots” in the essay)  with the tactics of racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and misogynists.  It’s a pretty one-to-one comparison, and that they are in fact basically bigots was a sentiment that concretized over the writing of the essay.

I don’t generally like writing from a place of anger, but the overwhelming weight of discrimination and stigma, not to mention misguided legislation and confused conversations, that sex workers face every day inspires a lot of, well, rage in me.  I wanted to give sex workers and allies a toolbox to dismantle the anti-sex activists’ work.  Too often, we find ourselves enmeshed in debate with them, defending ourselves against phony facts, fabricated statistics, shallow ideologies, and more.  Really what we should see is they have nothing to their arguments but hatred.  So rather than respond, the essay urges readers to dismiss, protest, shun, and shutdown.  They don’t deserve debate anymore than the KKK, skinheads, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole essay by clicking here.

*

I should start an essay like this by telling you about how great sex workers are, how important sex workers’ rights are. I should “create sympathy in the reader” for anyone who takes their clothes off and performs sexuality. I should show you porn stars saving cats stuck in trees, sex workers volunteering at soup kitchens, strippers just trying to make it work for their families.

I should tell you about how it feels to deal with anti-sex-work stigma every day.

But this essay isn’t about us.

It’s about the demand to prove we’re worth sympathy. It’s about how if that sympathy shows up, it’s wrapped up in deliberate misunderstandings. It’s about the people who make the demand. It’s about how “Show us your humanity!” is more belittling and damaging than “Show us your tits!”

It’s about the people we should no longer respond to with anything other than protest or dismissal.

In other words, it’s about bigotry. It’s about bigots.

*

I’ll refer to anti-sex-work and anti-porn campaigners here for clarity and honesty as “anti-sex bigots.” When that word gets tiring, I’ll call them “anti-sex activists.”

Why? Because sex is what makes sex work so special for them. Sex makes this line of work a singular profession, mystically distinguished from other jobs. But their analyses and understandings of sex lack depth. There is no substance to their arguments. Their tactics are strung together not with understanding or data, but with hate. Their bigotry is visceral, and their goals are clear:

1. Distort and destroy consent.

2. Create a framework of good vs. evil.

3. Cherry-pick voices.

4. Play the victim while holding the power.

5. Create apocalyptic urgency.

This list might sound like an exaggeration to outsiders. To sex workers, it’s exhaustingly and overwhelmingly familiar.

*

Wait a second, wait a second, I can hear the fumbling voices of protest. Stop talking about bigotry. I mean, after all, we’re not talking about race, right? We’re not talking about something people can’t change. That’s what makes speech against those groups hate speech. Sex workers, well, they…

What? Were you finally going to say we choose our careers?

*

Does this rant from an anti-sex activist sound familiar?

“The insistence that there’s nothing unusual in ‘work’ that involves male strangers penetrating your body and ejaculating inside of you goes right along with the ‘sex positivity’ popular with young Leftists. Women are likely to sustain injury (vaginal tearing) during heterosexual intercourse if we are not genuinely aroused (rather than performing for an audience); we are more likely to contract infections and diseases than our male partners; we are more likely to be harmed by male sexual partners (who are almost always larger and stronger than we are); and we are 100% more likely than our male partners to face unwanted pregnancy.” —Anti-sex bigot (5)

Compare that to this, from a video called “Medical Dangers of Anal Sex” posted by Christofer L, an antigay Christian You-Tuber:

“Let’s look at some simple biological truths… The rectum… [is designed] strictly for the removal of waste, moving it outward away from the body. This is why the blood vessels in the rectum break when a phallic object goes against the natural flow of movement by its muscles. Believe it or not, this causes rectal/anal damage. Many sexual experts and medical personnel discourage anal sex because of the danger… Safe sex? Mechanical damage to the rectum will happen regardless of the safe-sex measures.”

Same gesture, same hate, same simplifications.

*

What’s more dehumanizing: showing your butt cheeks to an audience or having someone tell you that you don’t blackoutexist?

We need a varied, active, and dynamic picture of sex workers, not a muffled, stunted one. I started porn after going to grad school for writing and biology and being a college English instructor. I know plenty of porn performers with other jobs: meteorology, fashion design, dairy farming, law, freelance writing, directing, nursing, nonprofit organizing. Those are just off the top of my head. Yes, there are porn performers who—like many writers, actors, etc.—have no other job and are struggling. And there are other sex workers working out of various causes of necessity. The point isn’t that doing sex work out of need doesn’t exist. Nor is the point that we have to absolutely love sex work to do it. Not everyone loves their job, and sex workers should not be singled out and forced to simply because of the “sex” in their work. The point is, your picture of who sex workers are must be multifaceted. It’s a picture that’s ineluctably complex, yet anti-sex activists want us to hear one voice and will symbolically kill the rest of us to achieve the effect.

*

“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like,” reads the title of one anti-porn rant.

Whose world is ending?

What world are they talking about?

Like almost everyone who wants to save the world, anti-sex bigots have to fabricate a fake world that’s being destroyed first. KKK members fabricate the idea of a pure white race that’s being destroyed, fundamentalist Christians fabricate pure heterosexuality corrupted by gays, US warmongers fabricate pure democracy threatened by Muslims, and so on.

The end is near! Anti-sex activists create a world in danger from sex work, though our world without sex work never existed. To make sure the end is always near, they shift the goalposts. It’s not the porn, goes one argument, it’s the distribution!

The 1965 anticommunist, antigay, anti-porn video Perversion for Profit states:

“Pornography and sex deviation have always been with mankind. This is true. But now consider another fact… High-speed presses, rapid transportation, mass distribution all have combined to put the vilest obscenities in the reach of every man, woman, and child in the country.”

In 2015, an anti-sex activist proclaimed with the certainty she was saying something new when she said that “porn 15 years ago is basically Playboy andPenthouse, which as sexist as it was… those are the good old days. Today pornography has shifted rapidly, and it’s shifted because of the internet… [the internet has made porn] affordable, accessible, and anonymous…” (9)

We must act urgently! To save our neuropathways from online porn! To save young men’s desires! To save women! To save anyone we want to control!

All—yes, all—of the adverse conditions sex workers face are created or exacerbated by anti-sex bigots who directly harm sex workers or indirectly harm them by silencing them, spreading misinformation, blocking paths to sexual health education, and cultivating stigma.

“We’re here to save you!” sounds promising, until the statement is completed honestly: “We’re here to save you… from the damaging conditions we’ve created and continue to perpetuate.”

*
read the whole essay

When Proof Is Heaven: Why Near-Death Experiencers and Their Critics Keep Getting Science Wrong

3 Feb
EA

Eben Alexander

Two years ago, I published an essay on the problems with both near-death experiences (NDE) and the criticisms of it.  I used the book Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (who recently penned a new book with all the same pitfalls, The Map of Heaven) as emblematic of these problems.  The problems with NDE and its critics are themselves emblematic – of problems with science and proof in general.  As I move into writing more and more about science and culture, I thought I’d republish the essay (in slightly modified/update form) here as a good touchstone for some of my thoughts.  For another exploration of this topic, see my conversation with Skeptiko host and science skeptic, Alex Tsakiris, posted late last year.

***

Is Proof Heaven?

The story is one you’ve heard before: a man slips into a coma and nearly dies.  While his body fails, he somehow experiences lights, colors, and landscapes, all while disconnected from his body.  Messages are imparted, deep feelings are felt, and then the man is sucked back into the material world.  His whole perspective has changed, and he’s ready to talk about it. 

The difference in the bestselling book, Proof of Heaven, is that the author and experiencer, Eben Alexander, is a neurosurgeon.  Alexander’s near-death experience (NDE) was triggered by a rare form of E. Coli infection/meningitis — but the real weight of the book rests on his education and experiences as a doctor, which are meant to give him a more informed perspective on the whole ordeal, which featured women floating on butterfly wings, clouds, psychic intervention, and more.  His credentials are meant to serve as a bridge between these fantastic features and their facticity. After all, Alexander and his supporters ask, who could be better qualified to talk about an NDE than a practicing neurosurgeon?  To this end, Alexander counters many of the standard arguments against the reality of NDE content, using his understanding of the brain to skewer them one by one.

Neither his credentials nor his account prove Heaven, however.  Instead, the book and its subsequent critical fall-out point to deep cultural concerns, less about Heaven and more about proof.

A cursory look at online and print reviews of the book reveal what you might expect: depending on whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, Alexander’s credentials mean that he does know better than most about brain states and can trust his experiences, or that he should know better and distrust them.  I share some of his critics’ concerns, if not their vitriolic and dismissive feelings.

The ad hominem attacks constitute the lowest form of critique regarding Alexander.  That doesn’t mean they’re not worth a look, and anyone interested in Alexander’s case specifically, rather than NDEs in general should take them into account.  As the recent revelation by The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven co-author Alex Malarkey shows, some people just flat-out lie about having an NDE to make money.  But even if Alexander is a hoaxster (he’s probably not), the NDE experience is so widespread that unless you’re interested in a death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach to the phenomenon, it’s not going to take you very far.

As for more scientific concerns, Alexander includes an appendix in the book which addresses common scientific questions when it comes to NDEs.  But questions remain.  Unanswered questions for me, which I have not yet seen raised by others, include ones about possible psychotropic substances in the E. Coli bacteria themselves, as well as the possible involvement of Acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme whose activity is studied in schizophrenic patients, and whose function is amplified by other types of meningitis.  Another question — and it’s a big one — comes from more than one of Alexander’s critics (though most vocally from famed atheist Sam Harris), who wonder if Alexander’s cerebral cortex was actually shut down.  Alexander asserts again and again that it was; his critics say it wasn’t.

If it was shut down, then Alexander believes he has the right to claim the D of NDE, because according to mainstream medical models, human beings must have brain function to live.  This won’t ever work for skeptics, because they’ve created an un-winnable and nearly tautological argument that goes like this: a shut-down cerebral cortex equals death.  How do we know Alexander’s cerebral cortex wasn’t shut down?  Because he didn’t die.  Finality serves as the marker of death for many skeptics, so there was no “after” in Alexander’s afterlife: he merely entered into a weird sort of hypnogagia.

Such questions of science and definition, however tedious answering them may seem, are demanded by Alexander’s title, which claims “proof.”  His entire account of his NDE is aimed at communicating to others that the afterlife is real, that it is composed of beings who love and care about us.  It’s a vividly written account to match the lucidity of Alexander’s NDE state, and through it, he reasons that since when he nearly died he saw a beautiful woman on a floating butterfly wing who said he could do no wrong in life, that everyone will encounter a similar experience when they die.  In other words, he tries to create a general scientific principle out of his observation.

We’re bound to bang our heads against the wall if we follow the path that Alexander or his critics have laid out for us.  The lines are drawn and no one is going to switch sides, not only because Alexander hasn’t proved anything, but because the whole enterprise of foregrounding “proof” is misguided.  Not only when exploring NDEs, but also in use of certain kinds of medicine, parapsychological phenomenon, and more.  When it comes to non-materialistic and/or individualized phenomena, seeking proof above all else blinds us to the extraordinary and profound nature of subjectivity.

There may be overlapping (though not universal) themes — in NDEs, for example, “walk toward the light” and “everything is love” —  in all non-materialistic phenomena, but they always intersect with and are informed by the unique matrix of the individual’s personality and social circumstances.  One person may see a ghost, whereas another person in the same room may see nothing.  Acupuncture may heal one person’s back pain and leave another’s unhealed.  For the latter example, skeptics might be happy to cart out placebo, but they don’t have any real understanding of how placebo works, and it, too, affects different individuals differently. 

Not only are the experiences individualized, but many of them exist within mind states (i.e., the content and contours of our thinking and feeling world, as opposed to physical brain states).  Alexander can tell us all about the clouds and colors of the afterlife, but he can’t make us see them, because they intersected with his mind alone.

In other words, for certain experiences, reproducibility (and by extension, falsifiability), a bedrock of materialistic science, seems to go out the window.

The subjective, the individual, the irreproducible, are anathema to the skeptic’s (though not all scientists’) version of science.  Subjectivity and anecdotes generally cloud our judgement of the truth, skeptics say.  In his rebuke of the book, Amitai Shenhav advocates the values of distance and objectivity.  We must, he explains, remove ourselves from our experiences to really understand them, which would be impossible for Alexander, who experienced an intense euphoria during his NDE.  Setting aside the good feelings that researchers like Shenhav feel when they believe they’ve sufficiently distanced themselves from feeling, there’s another weird paradox here.

In the materialistic demand to somehow untangle ourselves from the world completely in order to understand it, we’re asked to borrow a popular theological narrative.  

First, researchers are meant to believe there’s a way to create an experiment and not intervene or interact with it, and that they’re meant to do everything they can to preserve this principle. 

Second, they should believe that thoughts, feelings, and impressions have nothing to do with the reality they’ve set up inside the experiment and that there are laws (controls, etc.) that they’ve also created that actually prohibit them from interfering with whatever takes place inside the experiment world.  This is remarkably similar to the deist or TV-addicted version of God — an old man on a distant cloud with a billion billion TVs.  He set the show in motion so he could watch, pretending things happen independent of him.

For those who demand total objectivity, proof is Heaven, or God.  It’s a distant principle which should be always appealed to, never questioned, and of which nothing is greater.

Of course, it’s impossible to be objective.  First, there’s a long and rich history of  the very concept of objectivity and its evolution.  This is constantly ignored by skeptics like Harris in favor of pretending objectivity has a fixed definition without history or context.  Second, in the course of its conceptual development, we were warned against the dangers of our current form of objectivity (one that was supposed to be divorced from experience).

goethe

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 1749-1832

Philosophers and scientists like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as Leonardo da Vinci, Rudolf Steiner, David Bohm, and many others reminded us: because all our scientific knowledge comes from thinking and feeling, there’s no way to truly filter it out.  Objectivity is a subjectively chosen gesture in someone’s thinking.  More to the point, we shouldn’t seek (at least not always) to filter it out.  Rather, if we seek to include it in our scientific understanding, we amplify the dialogue the “outer” sense world has with our “inner” thought world.  We learn more deeply about the world this way, we don’t swap out one TV-watching God with another.

We don’t and shouldn’t fall for the lazy new age trap of explaining such pitfalls of science in much-babbled about but rarely understood terms of quantum entanglement, changing photons, waves vs particles, and so forth.  Using specialized and complex physics to explain away critiques we don’t like or to wistfully fill in the gaps in our understanding is a fool’s game. What we need instead is to consider the inclusion of the subjective thought world in our scientific perspective; it’s a task taken up by some prominent and respected scientists, but not the majority. For now, the inner world, mind states, and subjective experience are generally dismissed as valueless (or worse) in experiments.  Increasingly, they’re dismissed even as objects of study; we have cognitive science and neuroscience, but not thought science or imagination science.

We see just how mapless mind state territories are when Alexander struggles with descriptions of his NDE, constantly expressing how difficult it is to convey them.  While some critics are cynical about this aspect of the book, I’m sympathetic.  Alexander is trying to explain, using sense-bound detail, things he experienced without the aid of his senses.  When someone says he/she “saw” something while unconscious, with what eyes?  And heard with what ears?  These experiences are not conjured up by sense organs and so elude the entire enterprise of empiricism, which is based on sensory input.  And it isn’t just empiricism but most of our descriptive language that’s based on sense metaphors.  So trying to describe non-sensual experiences with that language must be extremely frustrating.  This is also why Alexander resorts to the truth of what he experienced.  Truth is an inner quality, not determined by empirical fact (facticity, even according to materialists, often changes under scientific scrutiny), and so employing words like truth feels, well, more truthful. 

A science more like Goethe’s or Bohm’s (and less like Alexander’s or Harris’s), i.e., a science that asks us to think about our thinking while we observe, would help create better language for moments like this.  There’s always a tension between individual  experience (subjectivity) and being able to convey things in shared language (via objectivity and proof), but we need to balance the scales better.  If we include subjectivity in our scientific processes, we do just that.  Then the kind of approach popular skepticism supports becomes an option or an aspect of our scientific approach, not the only approach that thou shalt not have any other approaches before.  That way, we can (rightfully) criticize Alexander on his deceptive claim to proof with questions like the ones I and Harris pose above, but we can also marvel at the account.

We can ask: Why did Alexander encounter these particular images?  What do they mean to us as well as to him?  What is this feeling of truth he keeps referring to?  How is it different than what is “real”?  What makes his experiences distinct from other NDEs in content?  What does it mean that human beings encounter these strange mind states when they have NDEs?

Questions like these allow us to meet Alexander as well as ourselves as human beings, and as deeply mysterious.  They allow us to encounter NDEs and other non-materialistic phenomena as having meaningful content, because they relate to subjective concerns without dismissing subjectivity.  Even if Alexander’s experience were caused by brain trauma (and I’m not convinced one way or the other), these questions would still be important because it wouldn’t be the material/external “proof” alone that mattered, because we would recognize content and form of experience as equal in value to proof. There are contours to our inner world, but if we dismiss their value, we will never understand them.      

Alexander invites dismissal by claiming “proof” the way that he does.  If I’ve been a little hard on Alexander, I understand, also, that he’s not entirely to blame in his need to display his proof.  We live in a culture awash with proof, constantly telling us that to understand truth, we must ignore or exile the existence of free will, thought, and human-ness.  But for all the good feelings of Alexander’s NDE, for all the wisdom and love it imparted, he still seeks to abandon the truth of his inner experience for the dramatic outline of proof, and so makes them oppositional.  They don’t have to be opposed, merely balanced.  It’s not that we can’t approach mind states with science, it’s just that our current version of science has not yet made itself worthy of the task.

Treatment As Metaphor: What Happened When Susan Sontag, My Mom, and I Were Diagnosed with Cancer

22 Jan
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My mom and I on my 22nd birthday. She died a little over two years later.

My essay“When You’re Sick You’ll Wait for the Answer but None Will Come,” was the cover article of a recent issue of The Stranger.

In 2007, a doctor told me I had lymphoma.  Looming over this diagnosis was my mother’s slow death of bone cancer in 2001.  My literary hero, Susan Sontag wrote about cancer and our attitudes about it so convincingly; but I found that when I was confronted with fear for my health and life, her thoughts on illness weren’t complete.  What about our attitudes about treatment?  I’ve been mulling over this essay for year, and am happy to have written (exorcised?) it and to have it finally out.

Read the entire thing here, read some excerpts below, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments.  Thank you.

***

I was on a hospital gurney in a hallway, and I’d been there, confused, for hours. I was wheeled out there after a CT scan on my abdomen.

Am I okay, I’d asked the CT technician. She looked down at the floor.

“You’re going to die,” she said.

And then, animated, “Just kidding! The doctor will see you in the hall.”

She patted me on the shoulder. That’s the kind of person she was.

I was there after being assaulted by my boyfriend; it was the first and only time he’d hit me, and I promised myself I’d never see him again. I didn’t have a job, I’d just finished grad school, and now my rib was broken and I had internal bleeding and bruised intestines that would scar up. I wasn’t sure what was next for me. The CT scan was for my liver and spleen to make sure they hadn’t split open.

My spleen was fine; my liver was fine.

“Your spleen is fine; your liver is fine,” the doctor said. I was in the kind of pain that’s not just dull or sharp but also frightening.

“The suspicion is that you have lymphoma.”

I’d talked to this doctor hours ago, when I checked in for my injuries. We talked about police reports, and he checked my breathing.

What? I asked.

“Your lymph nodes are irregularly large; you’ll have to get another CT scan. The suspicion is lymphoma,” he said again. Suspicion. Was that a diagnosis?

A smiling nurse appeared next to us. “At least you caught it early!” she said. “Think about it! The assault saved your life!”

***

Death comes, and when it does, it sounds like a creaking door. I know this because when my mom was finished with cancer, a noise uttered its way past her teeth. Like something being crushed slowly, but there was no burst or relief at the end. She died on a bed in our house. She’d spent a lot of time before that moment disappearing. No more fat or muscle on her, no more talking; she was like a piece of paper with bones in it. Each breath was a disjointed heave and hiss, and then it stopped.

I was 24; she was 56.

None of this will tell you enough about her, nothing could, but I’ll try:

My mom would tug at my sister’s hair or pinch me when we misbehaved, because she was a big sister to us. Her mother died giving birth to what would have been my mom’s first younger sibling. My mom corralled and held us against harm. She wouldn’t let us watch violent movies. She wrote a short story about a woman who slit her wrists in a library and everyone walked by quietly, trying not to notice. She read a lot. She gave classes for women at Barnes & Noble. She told me that as a little girl, she had a dream about looking out her open bedroom window as nickels rained in from the sky until the entire room was full. Sometimes she’d make me or my sister or anyone laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. She had a John James Audubon bird book that she’d pull off the shelf and page through with me: the colors and the brushstrokes and the scenes of struggle and beauty.

They’d told us she had cancer, bone cancer. First it was breast cancer, and then it was bone cancer. Ten years ago, they amputated her fleshy left breast. She said that on surgery day, she put a sticky note on her breast that read “Good-bye.” Treatment came to a temporary halt in a curved line of black stitches across her ribs. That should be enough, but no! A breast wasn’t enough for them. Not the cells, not the doctors. Ten years later, there was a tumor on her sternum, and then her leg. Then she was in pain. Constant pain. From diagnosis to death, it was a little more than two years.

***

Treatment” is a word made up of different words.

“Treat” is from the French traiter, derived from the Latin tractare. To handle, deal with, conduct oneself toward, tug, drag about.

“Ment” is a magical suffix that turns actions into things. To add “ment” to the end of a word is to draw it into the world.

That means treatment may be “the state of conducting oneself toward something.” That’s as gentle as a quiet, correct step.

It also means that treatment may be “the state of being dragged about, the state of being pulled violently.”

When we’re sick, or when we think we’re sick, we seek treatment. Since we all get sick sooner or later, treatment is a part of being human. It’s not separate from our lives, it’s not a feature of certain people’s experiences, it’s not optional.

EPSON scanner image

Susan Sontag

Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag, in her book Illness as Metaphor, wrote of this obligation to be sick in our lives. And she also wrote that to decorate our illness with metaphors and melodramas was to make matters worse. “Illness is not a metaphor,” she wrote. “The most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking.”

She was diagnosed with cancer on three different occasions. First, breast cancer in 1975. She responded to it with Illness as Metaphor, a radical mastectomy, and chemotherapy, which she opted for over a “modified radical” mastectomy, which was a less invasive treatment. She viewed cancer as a growth, so radical treatment was necessary to getting to its root (radicalis from the Latin radix or “root”). An extremity of uprooting. When a friend came to her with a cancer diagnosis and fears about the pains of treatment, she told him that when he was in such terrible pain that he may have to stop, that’s when he should take another treatment. Then another. She was expressing sympathy by encouraging defiance. I wonder why she didn’t notice that her approach to treatment echoed perfectly her approach to living, and so was alive with metaphor.

Radical in her heart, radical just above it.

***

Looking up treatment was a treatment itself. Perhaps I could calm down if there were cures.

Night sweats, itchy skin, fever, abdominal pain, cough, fatigue, weight loss, rashes, back pain. None of these are disease-specific. I found myself suddenly scratching my legs more and waking up in the middle of the night. I found myself exhausted. Was it lymphoma or just “normal” or had I been hexed?

“You should calm down,” one friend said.

“You should rest before you drive across the country,” said another.

I didn’t go back to the doctor. I wanted to escape everything, and I had to make sure I would never interact with my boyfriend again.

I put my things in my car and drove across the country alone, from Amherst to San Francisco, wondering if my back pain was from sitting or impending death. In one of those states in the middle, the ones that are so beautiful that they blend together and make you forget their names, I stopped my car and watched pronghorn antelope grazing. I’d never seen antelope before. The only sound was the wind, which rushed up fast like the grass was exhaling. Then I remembered: lymphoma. I wondered if the states were being granted to me, one by one, showing up to say good-bye or calm me down. I’d felt my lymph nodes in my neck every day. I still catch myself feeling them. I wonder how my hands got up to my throat, searching for something.

There was a feeling of spinning.

***

A question that is bound up in illness for us: Who’s to blame? If the person who chooses to pray as treatment dies of cancer, is it their fault? If so, isn’t the same true for someone who chooses chemotherapy for cancer and dies of cancer?

People will be quick to tell you that some attitudes toward health are “dangerous.” This is true. They’re all dangerous.

…But what if we eat raw food? What if we drink enough water, if we take vitamins, if we sleep well, if we exercise, if we meditate, if we go on “retreats,” if we take psychedelic plants, if we get massages, if we become vegetarians, if we eat more organ meats, if we force ourselves to laugh, if we take morning walks?

We try to avoid illness and treatment, and in avoiding it create a constant state of illness and treatment.