Health and Civilization

Image[Human] activities can create disease or increase the risk of illness just as surely as medical science reduces the risk. Most threats to human health are not universal, and many are not ancient. Most threats to health do not occur randomly, nor are they dictated solely by natural forces: more are correlated with patterns of human activity.

-Mark Nathan Cohen, Health and the Rise of Civilization

 One strong argument made by those who are hesitant to critique civilization is that of healthcare. While not everyone who critiques civilization is interested in such a single-issue, for whatever reason (the dissatisfaction of modern life may be self-evident to some, or someone’s primary interest may have more to do with the destruction of power systems than personal survival), it has been helpful for some to mesh out these more specific questions.

The destruction of civilization ultimately includes the destruction of modern medicine, as the processes and resources that provide the foundation of such practices are industrial. In the face of cancer, heart disease, parasites, autoimmune disease, etc., the elimination of modern medicine seems unthinkable upon first impression. In response, I ask, “From where do these ailments originate?”

If Mark Nathan Cohen’s words on the nature of disease are true, we understand that diseases that effect humans are determined, in large part, by the activities of the human species. Simply put, if washing one’s hands is a widespread cultural practice, there is a proportional effect of disease prevention; likewise, if one eats in restaurants often, their chances of catching a spreading virus increases.

Having a sewage system that flushes waste help prevent disease, as does the typical band society characteristic of nomadic location cycling. The former method is of course weakened by the tendency of leakages and system failures that contaminate water supplies. And where do these wastes go? If they stagnate at dumping sites then what is occurring is a centralization of waste, polluting an isolated area that may or may not be permanently maintained, but would definitely require maintenance.

As we trace common human ailments to their sources (not simply what germs or organisms they consist of, but what enables them to have a significant impact on our species), we find so many diseases are products of the domestication of plants and animals, the consumption of processed agricultural products, the density of human populations (most extremely, cities), and sometimes most terrifyingly, industrial and military processes. Nuclear waste, industrial byproducts, air pollution, agriculture, and a population in the sedentary billions are clear points of enabling disease. In so far as this is true, the infrastructure that made modern medicine possible is also the infrastructure that made modern medicine necessary. Out of the things that people consider “band-aid” solutions, this would be one of the greatest.

Modern medicine is also based on the assumption that the progression of scientific research can and will always and forever outpace and respond effectively to the ever-growing complexity of bacteria evolution. If the validity of civilization can only be disproven by its collapse, by its inability to keep up with the uncontrollable elements of the earth and society, then it is truly an experiment of pathological proportions. As a runaway train heads toward a cliff, so does modern society (with the hope of constructing an engine that will project it to the stars before it reaches the ledge – and then what?).  A survival response would be a disdain for industrial society, as its nature precludes health while making a conducive, healthy environment increasingly impossible. Band societies that barely exist on the fringes of civilization are the final elders of sane human activity, and if no other critique of modern society compels us, the destruction of our bodies and psyches, along with those of all our loved ones remains inescapable in the wake of this mode of living.

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