Saturday, August 18, 2012

Embracing Illness: Issue 6 Intro

Illustration by John Gill
by Rich Dana

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a  profoundly sick society.”  
—Jiddu Krishnamurti


On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of  the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as “Obamacare”.  The bill has been lauded by supporters and pilloried by detractors, but the majority of Americans don’t really understand what the new health care law does.  The 974 page monument to government mediocrity is not a clear and decisive overhaul of the wretched and corrupt American “health care system”, but  rather it represents what remains when government bureaucrats leave behind any noble ideals and principals in favor of temporary political mojo. We are left to hope that the few crumbs that fall from the master’s table will ease our healthcare burden.

(Why not order your copy of Obsolete! #6 Today?  Use the paypal link on the right to help support Obsolete!)

The bill does not provide for universal healthcare. It does not provide socialized medicine, OR conversely, a true free market system.  It combines the worst of both worlds, creating a corporate socialist approach in which the same companies that have been ripping off patients for decades get even more business. It mandates universal participation in a horribly sick system.

Recently, my wife had an insurance claim rejected because her “pain” was found to be a pre-existing condition, according to the code number it was submitted under. Yes, ladies and gents, that is what it has come to. “I’m sorry, but we will not pay to treat your pain, because you have had pain before.” I shit you not. Do I hope that Obamacare will bring relief for those of us with so-called “pre-existing” conditions?  Of course.  Is it the first step to universal health care? Doubtful. There is just too much elite money at stake. Controlling the health care of workers is too big of a stick to give up.

Society is getting sicker, and It’s projecting its illness on the people.  Cancerous unchecked economic growth is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Corporate persons are now societies imaginary friends, like giant, sociopathic talking white rabbits that communicate with the government, but remain invisible to the rest of us.


Americans are getting fatter and dumber and sicker. In the few hours they spend away from their mind-numbingly tedious make-work jobs, crappy “food products” and mindless diversions are shoved in their faces— along with unrealistic ideals of health, beauty and success. They are unhappy.  They are unfulfilled. There is a pill for that! But there are side effects. Fear not citizen, there is a pill for that, too!

Oddly enough, the children raised on sugar and video games are fat and dumb and sick, too. If they talk back to their parents, they probably have “Oppositional Defiant Disorder”. Don’t worry Mom and Dad—  it’s never to early for younguns to feel the warm embrace of psychopharmacology. In fact, drug treatment for childhood “emotional disorders” is up 250% since the beginning of the 21st century.

But somehow, none of this is seen by the people at the top of the food chain as sick. The peons live hard lives, after all, and it’s better if they are high as fuck— too doped to fight back and too fat to run.

“Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.” 
— R. Buckminster Fuller


Meanwhile, some farmers are trying to sell healthy, whole milk, whole grains and organic produce, all shown to have miraculous benefits when compared to the high-fructose corn syrup infused pablum on the grocery store shelves. These farmers are fined, punished and regulated out of existence. They are crazy, and the people who want their products are crazy too. So are people who go to naturopaths, chiropractors, herbalists. Nuts and berries, crunchy woo-woo head cases- the whole lot of them.

Artists who make work that challenges the status quo are unamerican perverts, lunatics who don’t know what is best for them.  They are a risk to society, and to themselves. It’s okay, though. I’ve seen TV commercials with little cartoons of people that have black clouds over their heads. They take a pill and the cloud goes away- and the sun comes out! Some artist took a one of those pills before he drew that happy cartoon, I’m sure. And laughed all the way to the bank.

Somehow, society’s ills are overlooked, but individual physical or emotional divergence from “the norm” are increasingly seen as unacceptable. People are “handicapped”, “disabled” or even worse, tagged with demeaning labels like “handicapable” or “special needs”. These labels all imply that these people are not equal members of society.


“For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.” 
— Jean Dubuffet



In a recent issue of Fifth Estate, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back addressed this in her article “Survival of the Fittest?” Pflug-Back points out the despite the common misconception that prehistoric cultures lived a Darwinian existence in which only the strong survived, archeological evidence is increasingly showing that people with, as she calls them “exceptionalities”, appear to have lived side-by-side with others- possibly even as highly valued members of the society, as illustrated by special burial rites.  “People with physical exceptionalities weren’t shunned, on the contrary they were highly valued...their atypical appearances were linked to spiritual and magical beliefs. In addition to the possibility of filling non-physical roles such as spiritual practitioner or oral historian, people with mobility restrictions could have dedicated extra time to processing hides, preparing food and manufacturing tools and clothing. A person could focus all of their labor on these tasks could gain special expertise and possibly develop a knack for innovation.” (Read more of Kelly’s writing in this issue of Obsolete!)

Would Stephen Hawking trade his amazing intellectual prowess for a sturdy, fully functional body? Would Frida Kahlo, or Van Gogh, or Virginia Woolf, or Stevie Wonder have traded their art for freedom from their “afflictions”? As the developed world increasingly looks to standardize individual reality thorough medications, and  to create “more productive” citizens, it appears that future free-thinkers, artists and geniuses may never have the opportunity to develop their individual greatness.

Historically, creative individuals and great thinkers have often suffered from “disabilities”. Even in the current world of high-tech medicine, people suffer— despite talent, or fame,or wealth, physical or mental illness often cannot be overcome. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Countless scientific studies have explored the connections between illness- particularly mental illness- and creativity. What would the world be without the “Tortured Artist”? For better or worse, as more and more people are choosing medicated “normalcy” over what the great french painter Jean Dubuffet refered to as “Super Sanity”,  the outliers in society are becoming fewer and farther between.

It would be hypocritical for any relatively healthy individual to suggest that others should suffer so that the world can continue to have great artists. However, it is worth discussing what technical innovations, great art, music and writing may never come to pass because of the way we treat the “exceptionals”.

One of the downsides of the age of science and reason is assuming that “abnormalities” or “anomalies” are mistakes in need of correction. Maybe, as Kelly Pflug-Back suggests, these anomalies set the stage for innovation. Isn’t it possible that Aspergers might be an evolutionary trait rather than an affliction?  Perhaps, in some cases, our Neandertal fore-runners had it right in treating exeptional people as sacred. The adaptive response to illness, both physically and emotionally, is the key to evolution.

“I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” 
— Hunter S. Thompson