A Life Beyond
Beyond Industrial Medicine (for example)
By Charles Eisenstein
Let’s say I’m addicted to prescription pain-killers. You are my concerned friend. “Charles,” you say, “you’ve really got to get off this medication. It’s ruining your health, and someday you’re likely to OD.”
“But I can’t stop taking it. I’m in pain all the time. If I don’t take it I can’t function at all. I have terrible back pain, and my doctor says there is nothing I can do about it.”
If you accept the premises of my response, you’ll have little to say. If we both accept that there is no other way to reduce the pain, and that the cause of the pain is incurable, then I’m right, I have to keep taking the painkiller.
Now let’s talk about glyphosate, the much-maligned herbicide that Monsanto markets as Roundup. Critics make compelling points about its effects on human and ecological health. Defenders rebut those points, at least to the satisfaction of regulators. The debate has raged now for decades. One point that Roundup’s defenders make is this: “Look, Roundup is the most effective broad-spectrum herbicide we have. If we stop using it, crop yields would fall. We would have to use other, less effective herbicides that might be even more toxic to human beings and the environment. Roundup is the safest, most economical option available.”
Here again, if we accept these premises, we are nine-tenths of the way to conceding the argument. By limiting the debate to Roundup itself, its relative harms and benefits, we implicitly accept as a given the entire system of agriculture of which Roundup is a part. If we take for granted an industrial system of monocrop agriculture, then Roundup’s defenders may be correct. We need Roundup, or something like it, to run the current system. If we don’t change it, then banning Roundup will just result in a switch to other herbicides: new chemicals or genetic technologies that will have their own dangerous side-effects.
Most critics of glyphosate are not motivated by the desire to replace it with another herbicide. Rather, glyphosate is a focal point for a critique of the entire system of industrial agriculture. If we had a system of small-scale, organic, regenerative, ecological, diversified, local agriculture, glyphosate would not be much of an issue, because it would hardly be necessary. As I amply document in my Climate book, this form of agriculture can outperform industrial agriculture in terms of yield per unit of land (although it requires more labor—more gardeners, more small farmers).
So do we need to keep glyphosate or not? If we take the current system of agriculture for granted, then maybe yes. The conversation we need to be having is about the system itself. If we ignore that, then the glyphosate debate is a distraction. One might still oppose it on technical grounds, but the most powerful critique is not of the chemical itself, but of the system that requires it. The good folks at Monsanto probably take the system for granted, and cannot understand how their diligent efforts to make it work a little better are so misunderstood by environmentalists who cast them as villains.
The same pattern applies to what is called “mental health.” Thirteen years ago I wrote an essay, Mutiny of the Soul, which described various mental conditions like depression and anxiety as forms of rebellion against an insane world. By calling those conditions illnesses and treating them with psychiatric medications, we suppress the rebellion and adjust the individual to fit society as it is.
If we accept society-as-it-is as right and good, then of course a maladjusted individual is a sick individual. If we also take as normal (or fail to see) conditions that make people unhappy, such as social isolation, unresolved trauma, the standard American diet, nature deficit, physical inactivity, or racial, economic, or other forms of oppression, then again we have little alternative but to adjust the individual. And if we exclude from consideration non-pharmacological forms of “adjustment,”1 then we are left with drugs like SSRIs. Therefore, those who condemned the article and its sequel were perfectly correct within their frame of reference. “These drugs, while perhaps overused, are powerful and necessary interventions that have rescued many people from depression and allowed them to live normal lives.” Leaving aside studies in which these drugs fail to outperform placebo, if we hold all other variables constant, one could reasonably argue that they are a beneficial technology, just as glyphosate is in the context of industrial agriculture.2
In a similar vein, those who accept the basic goodness, rightness, or inalterability of the current system will see its critics as psychologically infirm. Quite a few people have, with the kindest of intentions and often quite gently, questioned me about whether my skepticism of vaccines and mainstream medical system merely plays out unresolved childhood wounds around authority. Am I rebelling against real injustice, or is medical authority a proxy for my father (who wouldn’t let me stay up past my bedtime to watch “All in the Family,” the old tyrant). I might be suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder. To those who accept medical authority as basically good and right, it seems reasonable that my suspicion of it must come from some kind of psychopathology.
The examples of glyphosate and SSRIs illustrate how perfectly decent people can participate in harm simply through their acceptance of the systems and realities that immerse them. Malice is a poor explanation.3 This is one of the insights that launched my writing career. I spent fifteen years holding a single question in my mind: What is the origin of the wrongness? I found the aforementioned systems and realities to be products of ideologies so deeply woven into the fabric of civilization as to be nearly inseparable from it. Did some evil genius concoct the concept of the discrete, separate self marooned in an arbitrary universe of force, mass, atoms, and void? No, that mythology evolved organically, reaching its culmination in our time. It is in fact over-ripe, yet the fruit—the systems we inhabit and that inhabit us—has yet to fall from the tree. When it does it will split open and the seed of a new kind of civilization will grow.
Okay, Covid vaccines. We could argue about their relative harms and benefits, but again by thus narrowing the conversation we take for granted the system in which they naturally fit. Full disclosure: my personal opinion is that, even holding other variables constant, the risks and harms far outweigh the benefits. Last time I said that in an essay I got a lot of flak for not “documenting that claim,” even though I said it was an opinion and not a claim. I’m not going to claim it now either, nor try to document it, (1) because many of the sources I would use are unacceptable to most of the people who disagree with me, and I would have to unfold a complex discussion of systemic bias in the information environment; (2) because my opinion draws heavily from practitioners in my circles who are seeing damage first-hand, and I can’t cite them using publicly available documents; (3) most importantly, because right now I want to broaden the conversation to the system of industrial medicine, which bears close resemblance in many dimensions to the system of industrial agriculture. Also, since I’m not making false “claims,” the scrupulously logical social media censors won’t be able to take this essay down. Ha! Pwned!4
If we accept as a given the current state of public health along with reigning paradigms of modern medicine, then the case for vaccination is at least arguable, just as is the case for glyphosate in the context of industrial agriculture.5 We could debate about relative harms, study designs, suppression of information by corporate interests, unlabeled ingredients, underreporting to VAERS, and so on, but in engaging that particular debate, both sides implicitly agree not to talk about what lies outside its boundaries.
What lies outside the debate about vaccine safety? Effective natural and alternative treatments for Covid. Superiority of natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity. The “terrain” of infection: why some people experience serious illness and death, and others do not. The positive role viruses, even pathogenic ones, play in health and evolution. The decline of virulence over time. The sociological implications of handing body sovereignty over to government authorities.
Basically, vaccines are a way to keep society-as-we-know it functioning as usual. The idea is, “Everybody get the jab and we can go back to normal.” It is much like psychiatric medications. Taking for granted a society that makes vast numbers of people miserable, maybe we need those drugs to keep them happy, or at least functioning. They can get back to normal—the life defined by society’s norms. Yet that life is what may have made them miserable to begin with. Similarly, what we have known as normal includes the conditions that result in needing (arguably, anyway) the jab in the first place.
Normal has been a society where autoimmunity, addiction, diabetes, obesity,6 and other chronic conditions are at epidemic levels. This epidemic is actually quite new. In the 1950s, the prevalence of diabetes in the United States was a tenth what it is today. Obesity was a third. Autoimmune diseases were medical rarities. As most Covid deaths are in people with diabetes and other chronic conditions, the whole context of vaccine policy includes conditions that are historically aberrant.
Normal has been the disempowerment of people to maintain their own health themselves and in community, making them dependent instead on experts to do things to them. The “patient” is passive, patiently enduring what the expert doctor does to her.
Normal has been a ubiquitous death phobia that worships at the altar of safety and would sacrifice anything for the promise of security, even at the cost of civil liberties, personal freedom, and community self-determination.
Normal has been the marginalization of holistic and natural healing modalities that offer effective treatments for Covid and most other conditions. Oops, that sentence will get this flagged as misinformation. Where’s the data, Charles? Well that is part of the problem. Society has not devoted the vast resources into researching and developing herbal, nutritional, vibrational, and other unorthodox therapies that it has into pharmaceutical ones. They don’t fit the funding system and they don’t fit the paradigm. So, evidence at the level of multiple large-scale double-blinded placebo-controlled trials is scarce. Moreover, since many alternative therapies depend on unique relationships between therapist and patient, individualized treatments, or active work by the person being healed, they are inherently unsuitable for standardized trials. Standardized trials that produce the aforementioned “data” require the control of variables. They are part of what I’ve been calling industrial medicine—”industrial” is all about standardization, control, quantification, and scale.
That is not to say that alternative and holistic treatments for Covid or any other disease lack evidence. Far from it. But, to access their full power one must venture into realms beyond industrial paradigms and proofs.
I’d like to imagine, then, a different normal. It departs from industry’s dream to remake the earth, life, and the human being in its image. It is the normality of the age of ecology, the age of relationship, the age of community, the age of reunion.
In that future, it is normal to see health as a matter of good relationships within the body and outside it. Society redeploys the hundreds of billions it spends on sick care toward understanding and restoring these relationships. Every conceivable holistic, herbal, homeopathic, nutritional, energetic, etc. therapy is pursued, tried, tested, improved, and if effective, made available.
In that future, it also becomes normal to take responsibility for our own health and to receive support in doing that (because personal willpower is not enough, we are social beings and need support). The support is economic, legal, and infrastructural.
I asked my wife Stella, an extremely effective healer, what she thinks healthcare could become. She said, “We recognize mind and body as a continuum. We don’t see illness as a random misfortune. We know that resonant attention and the holding of space for emergent wholeness can heal, and that anyone can do this. We can return medicine to the people.” I see Stella help people heal from real medical conditions nearly every day. Sometimes they are conditions doctors say are incurable. The power of these techniques (and so many others in the alternative world) is real, and they can be taught, and a new normal could be built on them.
Yes, we can return medicine to the people. The power to heal ourselves and each other has, like so much of modern life, been professionalized, turned into yet another set of goods and services. We can reclaim that power. The future of medicine is not high-tech. Technology has its place (for example in emergency medicine), but it has usurped the place of other powers: the hand, the herb, the mind, the water, the soil, the sound, and the light. Can we imagine a healthcare system that fulfilled the promise of the medical alternatives that have touched millions of lives in the shadow of the conventional system? These alternatives should stop being alternative. Come on people, these actually work. They have gained momentum over the last half-century despite ridicule, marginalization, lack of funding, and persecution from mainstream institutions. They work. Let’s take them seriously. We know how to be healthy. We remake society around that knowledge.
No authority during Covid has said, “People are sick, they need more time outdoors. People are sick, they need more touch. People are sick, they need healthy gut flora. People are sick, they need pure water. People are sick, they need less electromagnetic pollution. People are sick, they need less chemicals in food. People are sick, let’s put diabetes warnings on soda pop. People are sick, let’s encourage them to meditate and pray more. People are sick, let’s get them in the garden. People are sick, let’s make our cities walkable. People are sick, let’s clean the air. People are sick, let’s provide free mold remediation on all dwellings. People are sick, let’s promote education about local herbs. People are sick, let’s make the best supplements and practices of the biohackers and health gurus available to all. People are sick, let’s heal our agricultural soils.” None of these are as hard as keeping every human being six feet apart from every other. So let’s do these things. Let’s remake society in their image with as much zeal as we remade society in the year of Covid.
Am I saying not to talk about vaccines and focus only the bigger picture? No. Vaccines, their dangers, their shortcomings, and the measures needed to coerce the unwilling are the visible tip of an iceberg, showing us starkly the system they represent. They are a window into a future of technological dependency where we put into our bodies whatever the authorities tell us to, and wonder why the promise of health, freedom, and a return to “normal” is always on the horizon but never here.
Another future beckons. It won’t be handed to us by the same authorities and systems that rule today; we have to claim it. We claim it through the choices it offers. Which future does your next step lead toward? Toward more normalization of the world under control? Or toward the new normal I’ve described? The road has forked. It is time to choose.
1 Examples of non-pharmacological treatments for depression include psychedelic therapy, tai chi, Kundalini yoga, cold water immersion, red light therapy, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, and many more. Wait, did I just give medical advice? Bad! I’m not suggesting any of these actually work. Nope. I’m just exercising my fingers. None of the above should be construed as medical advice. Please see your qualified medical practitioner before trying any of these. You are not qualified to do your own research. In fact, since life is increasingly medicalized, please don’t do anything at all, even go outdoors, without permission of medical authority.
2 To be clear, I think that even in the narrow terms of risks and benefits, both glyphosate and SSRIs are better left unused. That is due to their side effects, which industry tends to cover up. In the case of SSRIs, these include all kinds of physical problems plus, quite possibly, murder and suicide. My point here is that there is an argument to be made for them that is at least worth having if we hold the system as unchangeable.
3 Certainly, ruthless, malicious, and psychopathic individuals are over-represented among the global power elite. They thrive in our current system, rise to the top, and find ways to stay there. But their power depends on the deep stories I am describing here. They did not create those stories, but they feed them and feed off them.
4 People keep telling me I made a typo here. “Pwned” is actually a term from video game culture. I know that because I’m an avid gamer. Just kidding. I had and have teenage sons, which is why I’m so stylish and hip. That was a joke too. Also, I was joking that this will balk the censors. Some people thought I was serious.
5 The case for mandatory vaccines is far weaker as the narrative of an “epidemic of the unvaccinated” crumbles and evidence mounts that the vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission but only lessen symptoms.
6 When I mention obesity I often get accused of “fat shaming.” So let me say, obesity is not to be blamed on people’s weak willpower or dumb choices. It is a function of childhood trauma, social programming, toxic environments, a social infrastructure in which physical activity is separated off into the category of “exercise,” unmet needs that get displaced onto food, a food environment devoid of genuine nutrition, and many other factors. Sometimes overeating isn’t involved. When it is, fat shaming is actually counterproductive as a way to get someone, especially oneself, to lose weight. That’s because overeating (especially of sugar) can be a way to compensate for lack of unconditional love and acceptance. It is when we love ourselves and each other exactly as we are, that that stage can be completed and change can happen. I made a small online course called Dietary Transformation to explore and practically integrate these and related ideas.