How & Why TRUMP’s Lies damage Health, both MEDICAL and Social.
malingering, ‘cheat-gains’ & ‘health-lies’ — how do doctors work? — when should doctors lie? — is medicine the only inexact science? — my word is my (sub-prime) bond — our Rust Belt Epidemic & our cash-addicts -stabilising our verbal currency — letting ‘intent’ blossom
malingering, ‘cheat-gains’ & ‘health-lies’
LIARS, in health care, are ‘MALINGERERS’ — it happens. But watch how it works — and then doesn’t. “Doctor, I’ve got this terrible (pretend) back pain, so cut me some sick leave”. The consequences, both short and long term, are stark. The malingerer may get something for nothing at first, but it’s never cost-free. Next time, the penalty is heavier — untrustworthiness imperils life. The boy who cried “WOLF”, was eaten. Not healthy.
WISHFUL THINKING is endemic, and toxic. If you’re selling a hotel with only 58 floors, what’s wrong with pretending it has 68? Who’s to know? Well, medically speaking, it costs. Lying or making-things-up is actually self-limiting, self-contradictory, self-defeating, self-punitive — it carries its own precise penalty, in-built. From a doctor’s point of view, it’s all rather too obvious. And sad. I’ve spent 60 years sifting through medical symptoms — puzzling out what diseases lie behind them, and where the best remedies might be. Adding fictional medical data into the mix, corrupts the whole process, thereby disempowering doctors, while necessarily endangering sufferers. Social diseases are no different — if you want to do more than pretend to ease society’s pain, be real, don’t lie. Politicians too, are disempowered by lies.
LIARS are an obvious HEALTH HAZARD, especially to themselves. A good half of the symptoms a Family Doctor deals with are real, the rest, not. The question is which? A doctor’s job is to find out what is really going on, find out the ‘medical truth’ if you like. If the person in front of you is pretending, is telling lies about what’s happening to them, then, from a strictly medical viewpoint, they are obviously not helping themselves. The penalty for dishonesty in this medical context doesn’t come from the doctor, nor the law (it’s not illegal, people lie all the time), no, the cost is, in an important sense, self-imposed. Others may suffer as a consequence, but liars imperil themselves first.
Try a reversal of roles — see what it looks like, if the doctor lies to you. “Doctor, I’ve got this chest pain — is it my heart?” How would you feel if your doctor pretended? If he or she told you untruths about your health? The reasons behind this medical dishonesty matter little, if you are about to drop dead from cardiac arrest. ‘Post-truth’ cuts no ice in health care, however politically fashionable it may have become.
The same is true for every other human activity you care to name. When dishonesty is practised for gain, personal or otherwise, it’s called cheating. It happens all the time, and it costs all the time. But it becomes clearest if you see the wider picture. If you want to win that Olympic Gold, why not cheat a little? The wider reason not to, is easy to overlook, it relies on emotional maturity, as does so much else in our complex society. If you cheat, you are devaluing the whole game — if you lie, you are distorting today’s social problem, whether you are a doctor, or any other involved citizen.
To point the wider issue, such ‘gains’ are really ‘Cheat-Gains’, well known in all social contexts, the ‘gains’ are obviously cheat-derived, and are neither genuine, truthful nor long-lasting. The same applies to lying which seeks to exchange a pretend reality for the one we all spend the rest of our lives in. Lies in this context need relabeling as ‘Health-Lies’ — big or small, they impair our health, both medical and social. The less truth there is, the more we are all exposed to disease, especially social.
how do doctors work?
Put yourself in a doctor’s shoes. Take an everyday symptom, such as abdominal pain. Everyone has had at least one. I’ve diagnosed thousands, and operated on a few. For 20 years, it was my job to order either an urgent operation or non-urgent reassurance. The accuracy of my diagnosis could be life-saving. So how do diagnoses work? Well you gather as much info as you can. When did the pain start? What makes it worse? Has your mother ever had anything like this? And so on. What you’re doing is scouting for clues in the best Sherlock Holmes manner, not so much to solve a murder, more to save a life.
And what you find is, as with most things in life, the more you do, the better you get at it. So you learn the tell-tale signs which each disease process leaves in its wake — gall stones tell a different story from kidney stones, which again differ from how appendicitis ensues. You can’t pick this all up from a text book — human beings are too complex for that — but you can improve, with practice, and I did.
Watch how ‘pretend’ data mucks things up. Pretend you don’t smoke, that you never drink in immoderation, that you’ve never had a chest pain, that you really haven’t eaten or drunk anything in the last 4 hours, so an emergency operation is entirely safe. Lying imperils you. What comes out of your mouth should correspond to what actually went into it earlier. The doctor may be sad, but it’s you that’s at risk — you’re the one who could die. Your choice.
The human mind can make things up with consummate ease. But when it does so, instead of helping that individual cope better with life’s problems (which is what your mind is really for), it risks offering pretend symptoms which can only guarantee pretend cures, pretend ‘solutions’, with decidedly unhealthier, unpretended outcomes — not pretty. You cannot hope to solve any medical (or social) problem, if you can’t ‘get to the bottom of it’ — and you won’t even get close, if they (or you) lie.
So lying to the doctor is not the best way to benefit from health-care. Liars may seem to be getting away with it, scot free — but we actually all live in a troublesome world where ill-health and other problems can strike at any time, and can take multiple forms — telling-the-truth, medically speaking, is decidedly healthier. This is not about morals, ethics, religion or conscience, it’s not about my personal pique, evangelism or ambition — it’s about how healthy YOU want to be. It’s about what you choose. It’s just ‘health education’, that’s all. Perhaps it’s the decline of religious ‘values’ that has allowed verbal laxity on today’s unprecedented scale — but this verbal irresponsibility has done nothing to improve our health — physical, mental, economic or social. And, though too often euphemised, it inexorably edges us all towards that terminal social disease of all — war — which today would guarantee extinction for all.
when should doctors lie?
“If they ever ask you if they’ve got cancer, you must always say, ‘No’”. This was the advice my senior partner gave me when I first entered a small Family Medicine group practice, in 1967. I am more idealistic now than I was then, but even so, this ‘advice’ from a man who had many decades in the job, rankled. I muttered, as I usually did, but surreptitiously declined, as I usually do. Who were people to trust if not their family doctor? How would they ever benefit from reassurance, if it was offered carte blanche, whatever the reality of the situation? So I had a number of sleepless nights. Was I being unnecessarily puritanic, idealistic, naïve — or was he asking me to sugar the pill, was it our job to say what people wanted to hear, to offer a pretend, pain-free reality? Reassurance is the key to medical success — falsely based reassurance is its downfall. And what applies to medical practice for individual illhealth, applies in spades to social diseases, such as our Rust Belt Epidemic, touched on below.
A similar crisis arose later, when in 1991 I was working with 60 murderers in Parkhurst Prison, the UK’s then flagship maximum security prison. A serial killer I was trying to unravel, tackled me once (verbally), head on — he demanded to know whether, in submitting my recent report on him, I had recommended his security level be bettered. He was not threatening violence then, but was nevertheless quite insistent. Bear in mind that, as was my custom, I was seeing him alone in my office, unaccompanied. What should I do? Go for the easy life, and tell him “of course”? Or bite the bullet, and tell him that I hadn’t, which I hadn’t.
Truth-telling relates to your level of confidence. Pretend courage can come from pretend ‘facts’ — all rather precarious, with insecure consequences for the future. I grasped the nettle, and with some conscious degree of courage, I confronted a convicted serial killer (who certainly knew how to kill), and told him “No, I had not recommended an upgrade in your security level, this time”. I ventured that I thought he had more work to do. Phew.
His response was as unexpected as it was gratifying. “Oh, thank goodness,” he said, “if you had recommended it, and the Board had still refused me, I’d have no chance”. The tension evaporated, and I continued working with him, to release him from his childhood demons. Confronting painful facts requires stamina — distorting reality so to gain a pretend comfort may give short term relief — but it muddies the water for anything healthier.
This question of confidence, not to say personal courage, comes up all the time, as we note later. There are many things to fear in this life, some of them real. But human beings are vastly more courageous and indeed more resilient than they are usually given credit for. Bullies have long been known to be cowards underneath — something rather similar applies to those who indulge, freely and loudly, in wishful thinking. ‘Cheat-Gains’ are always short-lived, as, in all reality, they are bound to be.
So what have I learned since 1967? What would I now say to my then senior partner? I’d advise him to take a more optimistic view of his fellow men and women. In reality, in actual medical practice, I’ve never found myself in the position he feared, which his false-hood was trying to evade. People are a great deal more sanguine than they are given credit for. I soon developed a fool-proof response, which has stood me in excellent stead ever since. “Tell, if asked”. Simple enough, and delightfully simple to implement. People who fear they have cancer make the choice for me — if they are courageous enough to know, then I owe it to them to tell them. I do not owe it to them to inform them, categorically, of facts they do not want to face, and are in no position to digest at that time. I don’t make that decision for them — I respect theirs. Personally, if I suffered any such pathology, I’d insist on knowing the worst, to give me time to adjust — and if someone else decided I was too feeble to hear the truth, I’d explode. Too patronising.
is medicine the only inexact science?
Brace yourself — the next point could raise even more eyebrows. Photons do not obey Isaac Newton’s laws. Never did, and never will. Newtonian physics is now finally obsolete, as far as photons are concerned. Get over it. Photons don’t weigh anything, they have no mass, yet the sun’s gravity pulls them out of line — why? We’ve known this since that eclipse in 1919, but it remains taboo. It makes no cognitive sense. And, get this, it never will.
The idea that our galaxy is invariably mandated to ‘obey’ any laws that we can understand, is not born out by what we see and what we ‘know’. And it hasn’t for a long time, except we keep ‘wishing’ otherwise — it’s a kind of lying to ourselves too. Relativity offers a quasi-refuge for some, but note what it does to any and all Absolutes. Everything now depends on the position, speed, gravitational field and perspective of the observer — it doesn’t matter how scientific you are, you cannot escape the Relativity of Simultaneity for one thing, nor the Relativity of all Space, let alone Time. Nor does Relativity’s writ run in the sub-atom world, and never has. The Higgs Bosun debacle gives a powerful indication that it never will, or at least it does for those courageous enough to grasp it. [A more topical proof of the mass-less nature of photons is the everyday use of lasers in DVDs and similar — they never wear out, there’s nothing in a photon to do the ‘wearing’. You really think you understand this?]
The world around us, the environment in which we eat breakfast is understandable, but only within parlously strict limits. We know that living things die, including unhappily, ourselves. We know a lot more about keeping ourselves alive than we ever did, and, for the most part, it works, perhaps better than we deserve. But ‘science’ is ‘over’, it has run out, it’s crippled, it’s lost the battle, it doesn’t deliver on Absolute anything, let alone Absolute Knowledge. Not because I say so, but because, despite its astonishing, quasi-miraculous technical feats, it no longer offers us a mathematical nirvana in which all will be known, and all manner of things will be known — they won’t. We can choose, if we wish, to do the best we can with what we’ve got, or keep hankering indolently, myopically, after a wishful thinking mathematical perfection. Greater realism on this score would improve our political health, no question.
Again, it seems to be a matter of courage, of strength of character, or of mind — how much Uncertainty can you tolerate? Because there’s a lot more of it about, than is comfortable. I prescribe seeking Certainty in a different direction, but that’s a different sort of challenge. I expand on this elsewhere , here let’s look at the Higgs Bosun, which is the latest confirmation that all is not well in our understanding of where we find ourselves.
The media, as it delights to do, oversimplifies to the point of farce. Calling the Higgs Bosun ‘the God Particle’, is worse than farcical, it’s hazardous, it’s unhealthy. This Bosun has nothing to do with God, and is decidedly not a particle. Indeed that’s the whole issue right there — we understand ‘particles’, lumps of this or that. Like postal parcels, we know they are here and not there, they are never in two places at once — otherwise they would be two parcels, or worse. But that’s not how subatomic physics works, not any more. If you think you understand Quantum Physics, you don’t. None of this means neglecting to use all the bits you do understand, and that do make sense in practice — but it does mean that Certainty is not to be found there — we all need Certainty, so if we want it, and we do, then we need to look for it elsewhere.
The Higgs Bosun was ‘found’ in 2013. It’s proved to be an orphan. By now, it should be surrounded by hosts of family members — there are none. The chances are, there won’t ever be. So the idea that there really is a ‘bottom’, a solid irrefutable secure ‘scientific’ basis for all our thoughts about where we are, where we go next, and how we can ‘prove’ things are ‘true’, has gone the way of phlogiston. Read everything you can that Carlo Rovelli writes , and you’ll be equally intrigued. But then look again at reality — curb your wishful thinking, and look to see how other living organism have coped, since they too float, successfully so far, on an unfathomable sea of chaos or entropy, a permanently fluid reality. The only law they obey, without exception, is the Iron Law of Evolution — adapt or perish. The converse also applies, or at least it does in my book — adapt and blossom.
my word is my (sub-prime) bond
Why should you believe any of this? Why bother to take a blind bit of notice — this could all be the meanderings of an inchoate mind, frustrated never to have been a world ‘authority’, nor even a university professor. Or I could be thrashing around, hankering after all that fame and fortune everyone really wants — blindly following the economist’s dogma that everyone always wants more money. Or perhaps not. It’s a question of trust. Does what I say make sense to you? Does it contradict what you’ve always been taught? Are you confident enough to evaluate it in your own terms, relating it to your own personal experience — because that’s what matters here, just as it does to what any doctor tells you about your health, or illhealth. Here illhealth relates to wishful thinking, wishing the physical world behaved itself according to such rules as we can dream up. The harsh reality is — our world is proving to be quite as wayward as David Hume told us it would be, back in 1739.
Trust matters. There’s a simple axiom that runs like this — Truth, Trust and Consent. Truth reflects the accuracy of our mental picture of the world — it is never an exact copy, it can’t ever be. But, and here’s the rub, we need to ensure that what is really out there corresponds as near as you can make it to what you think (and say) is out there, the higher the correspondence, the nearer the Truth. Never absolute, always relative, always under review, always needing updating (for which we rely on social help) — the real world changes from one picosecond to the next, the future is always about what happens next. This is where pretence meets the Iron Law of Evolution — if you get your picture of the outside world too wrong, like the Dodo did, then you are not long for it. ‘Cheat-Gains’ invite extinction.
Truth relates directly to longevity (both medical and political). This has been at the heart of the way doctors have always worked, from before Hippocrates till after Star Trek, and always will. Untruths are unhealthy. They also advance extinction, to which every species is vulnerable, including our own — so bear that in mind as well. ‘Health-Lies’ poison.
We cannot all know everything, and be everywhere at all times, or have eyes in the back of our heads. So we need Trust. Trust is relying on someone else’s Truth. It’s as simple as that. Someone tells you something — is he or she being Truthful, can you take what they say on Trust, or do you have to go all over it again, and again, and again? Trust is invaluable. Yet it cannot be bought. It can only be earned, and it carries a proportionate penalty when lost. The final leg of this triad is Consent — this came to me in Parkhurst Prison — what I needed to do was engage with the murderers so that they Consented to stop murdering again, which I did. It also applies to Truth and Trust — you need to Consent to the importance of these yourself. If you don’t, then they won’t figure in your life, nor in your health.
Trust is a vital human and social commodity. When it goes, as it did with the sub-prime mortgage epidemic, then we all suffer, as we still do. Austerity punishes victims, not perpetrators — a better more real remedy is needed. To see how important Trust is to commerce, which is where we all get our daily bread — check out the phrase “my word is my bond”. This has been the mainstay of commerce since the Middle Ages or before. Written agreements are a poor substitute for trustworthy contracts. Words on a page can be twisted, they are fickle — but Consent, meaningful Consent, can rectify any anomaly, provided there is the intent to do so. You cannot put a price or a value on “my word is my bond” — but the economic tsunami it inflicts, when corrupted, is soon felt by all.
Trust illuminates economics at a rather deeper level than customary. Take the sub-prime mortgage disaster as a starting point. Bankers deceived society by intentionally overvaluing houses, thereby ‘creating’ synthetic wealth (which they pocketed), by extending loans beyond real. They valued cash above Truth — a lie which costs us all. A $100,000 house was ‘said to be’ worth $120,000, a ‘post-truth’ gain from thin air of $20,000. This gain had no basis in reality, could never be retrieved by selling an overvalued house — it existed only in the bankers’ ledgers, or their pockets, having been sold on, undercover, to unsuspecting or equally unscrupulous and untruthful loan brokers.
So where does this fiction end? This ‘Cheat-Gain’ is for real. The bankers who lied benefited enormously in cash terms, while polluting the rest of the world. There was no overall gain. The sub-prime mortgage epidemic was a ‘Health-Lie’ to beat all ‘Health-Lies’ — massive and still toxic.
our Rust Belt Epidemic & our cash-addicts
Which leads straight to the worst social disease we’ve had for a while — our Rust Belt Epidemic. Let’s continue the healthcare analogy, and put it in the examination room, and give it a thorough medical overhaul, run a few lab tests, perhaps an X-ray or two, and see what we come up with. As with all clinical medicine, it is essential to obtain as accurate medical data as possible — the mother-in-law may have strident ideas as to what’s wrong, but unless you start with clear objective data, you’ll be saddled with a lousy diagnosis, and end up treating the wrong disease, which could be both costly and fatal.
Rust Belt Disease is ugly. Neither Congress nor Parliament have diagnosed it correctly, let alone done anything to mitigate it. It’s nearest medical equivalent is gangrene. At least we know what causes gangrene — it’s a failure in circulation — oxygen and other nutrients are not getting through, so parts of the limb, die. There’s no point in doing a heart-transplant, however well you could afford it, because it doesn’t touch the key causative factor — circulation.
In health care terms, when part of the circulation goes down, then it’s not an insufficiency of blood that’s the problem — it’s just that the blood that there is, is not getting through to the parts that the whole organism needs to keep alive. The same applies here. There’s oodles of cash floating around, and we all know where it is, and also where it isn’t.
So why don’t those politicians who control cash-flows, and guarantee our currency, follow all those innumerable religious precepts they profess, which advise them to distribute it, universally? 100 years ago a US Supreme Court judge opined that he liked paying taxes, saying he was buying civilisation — so what’s gone wrong? Do today’s politicians not like civilisation? Do they think they can get it for free? Where does social health, i.e. civilisation, come from, if not from the citizens inside it? What’s wrong with each particle in the body politic contributing to the health of the whole, just as it does in a healthy human?
Well my diagnosis is addiction. Cash-addiction. Cash has become so much more important to the rich than anything else, even civilisation. Addiction is common enough among alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics and so on. It’s the most likely diagnosis for our Rust Belt Disease. An addict will do anything to keep up the supply, the ‘fix’ — because to contemplate going ‘cold-turkey’ is just too painful. I’ve treated many addicts, including violence-addicts, and the root cause is always the same, as is the remedy. The addiction hides a pain that the addict is too terrified to address. However, if you can build up enough Truth, Trust and Consent to persuade the sufferer to re-calibrate, then the addiction evaporates, even violence.
It would cost the rich very little, Relatively speaking — but they, and their political satraps are not thinking straight — why should cash-addicts differ from any other addiction? The obvious answer to gangrene is improve the circulation — the equivalent for our Rust Belt Disease is helicopter money — shower the money which is currently abundant, where it’s needed most, not where it sits idly hoarded. It’s actually vastly easier to give every citizen an income, than to increase oxygen supply to a gangrenous toe. And the social benefits are huge. Benefits that can come to the rich in no other way. Stability, peace, even delight ensue. A point made painfully obvious to all, by the insistence on ‘austerity’ which promptly and quasi-deliberately secures precisely the opposite.
stabilising our verbal currency
In politics, if you want to get ahead, lie. Sniff out a local gripe, exaggerate it, and speak what you know to be untrue. The parallel with sub-prime mortgages is tight. In the one case, you have financiers inventing values they know to be false, and in the other, ’truths’ they know to be lies. In both cases, reality is perverted and bent for personal reasons, which do bear going into. As with malingerers, unreal beats real — but for how long?
So what is reality? Or as one politician put it, it all depends on what ‘is’ is. Ah, the human race, the one species which knows it’s got a powerful mind, and an adept imagination to foresee future problems, so as to deflect future threats — so what does this species do? It invents, creates and propagates many fabulous means of communicating, which it then suffocates and circumvents, by circulating what it well knows is excrement.
You want to know what all living organisms must, at every single moment in their lives, do? They must struggle against chaos, entropy. There are no exceptions. If you want to stay alive, you have to work at it. In my book, you have to spend ergs to decrease entropy, a process for which I coined the measure ‘orgs’ to indicate what living processes contribute to the perennial battle against entropy, chaos. This is what all life forms have to do, else they die, which they all can of course, at any picosecond. If you’re a bacteria, you need a source of energy to continue to be. If you’re a mammal, you need enough oxygen to keep you going for the next 4 minutes, or so. And if you’re a human being, you’re endowed with enormous mental equipment for which you need social support.
Who says? Well the authority I have for the statements in the preceding paragraph is medical. I know what kills people. I know what keeps people alive, or at least enough of the vital factors without which life cannot continue. But then so do you. You know that walking across Death Valley won’t last long. You know that without water, you dry up, dying of thirst is as certain as starving to death — staying alive is not as easy as it looks.
So where do the threats to our life come from? Well the obvious ones are food and drink and shelter. We can survive without these, for short periods, depending on our physical health — but none of us can, for long. Broaden the topic from these bare essentials, which by the way never disappear — and we come to more sophisticated illhealth. Here we have the down side of social — we are, by evolution, a social species — being bipedal means we cannot run away from predators or towards prey as fast as quadrupeds — it’s a fact. So unless we cooperate, we’re extinct. Unhealthy.
A single human has no chance against a grizzly bear, or a woolly mammoth — too small, too slow, too few teeth, too little muscle. So how have we managed to get this far? By cooperating. By Trusting what the other person says is the problem, and working out, with them, how to put it right. Is that too big a leap? Is that too complex to grasp? Because if it is, then we are jettisoning our one evolutionary advantage, throwing away our one prime asset — a sub-prime strategy in spades.
Sceptics should take a look at an uncommon disease — syringomyelia. Now this too is a communication disorder, in this case nerve communications from skin to brain. This disease is easily diagnosed by observing the burnt fingers. Whereas a normal hand is withdrawn from the fire fast enough to avoid too much damage, in the case of syringomyelia, this nerve channel is blocked, the pain doesn’t get through, so the sufferer doesn’t know they’re burning until they smell the smoke — the pain channel doesn’t work, so cannot limit the damage, which, perforce, continues.
Democracy is our social nerve system. The way it works is that each part of the body politic communicates with the rest, so that if one part is suffering, the whole system knows about it, and can respond. But like syringomyelia, it needs data, reliable data. If you pretend the financial crash is caused by immigration, then you’re lying — and lies, like malingering, prolong disease, or in our case, disorder (or war).
It depends what you want. Of course, the orthodox scientist tells you that choice is illusory, that the world really works like a giant clock, with rules as rigid, inflexible and unavoidable as the Iron Law of Evolution — well, believe that as long as you can. Meanwhile, pay more attention to how Trust stabilises both verbal and monetary currency. Both coins and words become devalued, if you play fast and loose with Truth. If you meander through life pretending falsehoods, not only does this put your health-care in jeopardy, it destabilises society. The extent to which it does so, coincides entirely with the degree to which your falsehood deviates from real — reality doesn’t change, neither does the penalty attendant on our failure to adapt — it’s that Iron Law of Evolution in operation again, willy-nilly.
As soon as you open your mouth, or put data on screen, then you are floating out a version of Truth, your version. This can never be 100%, especially not since ‘science’ has crumbled, a fact which makes it no easier for you. Indeed, now that science lets us down in the Absolute Truth department, it behoves everyone of us to ensure we keep our data, especially the ones we are privy to, as scrupulously accurate as we can. Never forget that while you are alive, you need to respond to what’s real, not what’s pretend — pretence merely encourages extinction — lies imperil life. But, as before, don’t take my word for it — why should you? No, this either matters to you, or it doesn’t — it either makes sense, or not. Your Consent is indispensible for progress. You are fully entitled to withhold that Consent, whenever you wish — just evaluate the risks.
letting ‘intent’ blossom
Take a brief breather, a pause from life’s cares, and contemplate the Cambrian Explosion — it’s an important part of your personal history, your ancestors, your predecessors, which needs to be far more widely known than it currently is. For 3,000,000,000 years, life on this small planet consisted of single cells, going about their business, scurrying towards sources of energy, solar or chemical, to make both ends meet. Very much as we find ourselves doing today, though on a rather smaller scale. None of these unicellular organisms grew very big — they were all microscopic, invisible to the naked eye. So they couldn’t solve the problem of diversification — every part of the whole had to do everything — scavenging food/energy, excreting what didn’t belong, and trying to propagate the next generation. A simple life, though busy.
Then, whammo, out of the blue, two cells got together, and shared the chores. What a break through. What an unbelievable development. How could two separate living individuals get on well enough to live not only together, but merged, closer than hip and thigh. It’s not something we are all terribly good at today, indeed you might say we’ve mostly lost the knack that blessed our unicellular forebears, half a billion years ago.
But let’s keep it personal. The other day, rummaging through an overcrowded kitchen drawer, I cut my finger on a carving knife inadvertently left there. What happened next? Well, I staunched the trivial flow with a small adhesive, and carried on. My mouse pad hiccoughed over the adhesive fabric. But wait, the really astonishing thing is that within a couple of days, the cut had disappeared, it had gone, it was, as we say, ’cured’. How?
How indeed. I shall never know — and neither will you, nor anyone else. At one point, there’s a hole in my skin, my blood is seeping out where it shouldn’t, and it’s painful to use my keyboards. Shortly thereafter, the two sides of the cut have merged, they’ve come together, there is no longer a break in the surface. It’s as if the damage had never been done. How does this work? What is going on?
Well, there are an infinite number of issues here that we can never resolve — but there’s one striking feature which illuminates everything else — living skin heals, dead skin does not. It does something no non-living thing ever can. It’s to do with entropy — disorganisation — all inanimate systems, including of course computers, trend towards random, towards chaos, always have, always will. However, and this is the miraculous part — self-repair — whoever heard of such a thing, unique to the biosphere–and how. And the best part is, you don’t have to subscribe to the Supernatural to believe it, though of course you can if you want, but you don’t have to. You just have to look at your own leathery covering, watch what happens when you cut it, and marvel at what happens next.
There’s something unique about life which solves problems. In the Cambrian Explosion, living processes resolved the astronomical differences between single cells, last week my skin cells joined forces and closed the gap — life organises, that’s why we’re called organisms. Why not link the two? Evolution over the aeons, or, in the case of my cut skin, over a few hours. Make you think?
I like describing this in terms of life battling chaos or entropy — the disorganising forces in our inanimate galaxy. Something life does. I’d like to label it ‘anti-entropy’, or ‘antropy’ for short. You try it. Use your creativity and imagination to describe what happens to your skin when you cut yourself — write a poem, or a song, or a sculpture — anything your ‘antropy’ allows. You can do this, not because I say so, nor because it’s in the Constitution, but because like everything else that’s alive, you have the inherent ability to combat entropy, disorganisation, and for a while at least, delay death and/or extinction. So stop squabbling, and make the most of it.
Looking at the biosphere, it’s clear that the more our living cells get together, and cooperate, then the more we can achieve as an organism. Leaf-cutting ants eat as much as any cow, though they are at least a million times smaller, individually. We too consist of trillions of individual cells, each agreeing to cope with one or other aspect of the battle against entropy. Each has a degree of autonomy — white blood cells, for example, swim upstream when they decide they need to. Am I really suggesting that leucocytes have ‘choice’, and ‘intent’? Well, a life-time coping with healthcare problems says ‘yes’. Again the converse proves the point — every now and again, especially in heavy smokers or drinkers, a group of our cells throws off their central constraints, they become anarchic, they live for themselves, we call it cancer.
What is fascinating about life’s ability to combat entropy, is that is does so with a purpose, a ‘meaning’, a direction, it creates patterns which are not there (by definition) in chaos, in entropy. The Iron Law of Evolution doesn’t even start to cover it. It’s these patterns which bring delight, and the most potent source is, unsurprisingly, other human beings. We see how they tackle patternlessness, and we are thrilled. We can show them, they us. It’s fun. Where’s the need to lie about it? The Truth is quite awesome enough.
Energy, calories and oxygen are circulated throughout our bloodstream to keep all parts of ourselves alive — where this fails, we get gangrene. Circulation of ‘social nutrients’ is just as vital for our vast complicated society, where billions of different living human organisms are trying to emulate the Cambrian Explosion. Our communal actions have been even more successful than those of leaf-cutting ants — indeed, so much so that civilisation just got vastly cheaper, so why have we stopped buying?
So successful have we been as a living cooperative social ‘organism’ that we now live in a post-scarcity world, with inexhaustible (virtually free) solar energy to power, feed, clothe and entertain all — just the wrong time you might think, to build tariffs and cut public funding. For the first time in the history of the biosphere, there is something you can properly call a free lunch. Let’s have a slogan — free lunches make wars cheaper.
Lie-aholics fail to make the connection between a potentially glorious reality, where creativity, imagination and antropy can blossom — something has put them off, has misprogrammed them so convincing them that the good life is not for them, causing them to pretend, to divert. Anything will do, as in any addiction. But the remedy is equally obvious and simple — engage, persuade, and then convince these sufferers that realism beats pretence every time, indeed, it obeys the Iron Law of Evolution, which for a troublesome species, is always worth bearing in mind. The difficulty, as with malingerers, is that you get nowhere at all without their Consent which itself requires oodles of Trust — not easy, but eminently doable, offering hope for all.
Flowers exercise their antropy to blossom — why should they have all the fun, all the beauty? Whose permission do we need to do the same? The win-win is that by being reliable, by propagating Trust, and indeed Truth, we can weave the only Certainty we humans can ever know. We crave it, we need it, we seek it in ‘science’ and religion — yet there it is, all the time in other people — Trust them, and the strength of their ‘intent’, their antropy, offers what we can find no where else — peace of mind. Let’s do it.