From Gaia to Pandora is an instalment in the Politics of Care, which is now the main focus of this site.
Pandora: Dos Centavos is a sister piece previously called the Pandora hypothesis. After writing this, I mentioned to my agent that a Pandora Hypothesis would be a closing point in Shipwreck. This caused her to say that she could never find a publisher for Shipwreck. Opening the lid on Pandora led directly to Samizdat.
Shipwreck of the Singular maps a 200 year medical journey – a voyage that began confidently and fostered growing expectations as it progressed. Perhaps still fosters for those at the back of the boat who have yet to realise that we have now crashed onto a grim shore where life expectancy is falling with medicine now a leading cause of death and disability.
In its final pages, Shipwreck holds out fear in a handful of dust. The drivers of Global Climate Change that now so worries most of us, particularly younger people, are also driving a change in the Climate of Health, giving us health services instead of healthcare.
One set of changes gives us rising sea-levels, the other falling life expectancies. One poisons us with carbon dioxide, the other with medicines. But despite having more immediate evidence of falling life expectancies and drug induced medical disabilities, despite the changes in the Climate of Health happening more rapidly than changes in the Global Climate – right-on, progressive newspapers like the Guardian or New York Times seem unaware of the crisis in Care.
Health needs a Greta Thunberg.
Drawing on Gaia, Mother Earth in Greek mythology, in 1972 James Lovelock outlined a Gaia Hypothesis, which saw Earth and everything in and on it is an interlocking self-correcting system. Recent twists on the hypothesis, which must in some sense be right, see this ultimately self-correcting system potentially eliminating humans who are now the prime disturbers of Gaia.
Rather than Gaia, Shipwreck turned to Pandora – the first woman in Greek mythology.
Pandora is written off as an airhead in modern bowdlerized versions of her story – a fairy tale for children. The original account about how the Gods realized they had in Pandora created a mysterious and remarkable being was not in anything I read when I was young but who knows about youngsters today.
Like Eve, Pandora we were told was the person who ruined everything, by opening a pithos that she’d been told not to go near. Curiosity supposedly overcame her. On opening the lid, whatever has been plaguing humanity since flew out.
But like Lilith, Adam’s first love, written out of the Old Testament, Pandora’s story has a confusing element to it not usually told to the kids. Hope was left behind in the pithos – whether as a curse on men or something other is where the confusion starts.
Wuhan Plagues: Bats or Labs?
Covid brings the Pandora v Gaia Hypotheses into focus.
Last week the Harvard School of Public Health linked Climate Change with Pandemics like Covid. There have been many pronouncements like this. The message is that a warming and disintegrating world will drive animals out of jungles and north to cooler climates where they will meet other species and people, and in the process will spread alien infections we cannot defend against.
This is classic Green Healthcare thinking, Gaia thinking, as outlined in the Controlled Healthcare Opposition. The focus is on people coming into contact with bats or birds – in this case in the Wuhan wet-market – because of vaguely unnatural practices.
Another story last week was the possible emergence of Covid from a Wuhan laboratory that just happened to be working on bat coronaviruses. This story goes back to the start of the pandemic when several eminent virologists said it looked like this virus has been engineered.
Whether you believe the Lab rather than the Bat story, and even whether the Lab version is right or not, the Lab hypothesis points to a truth at the heart of the Pandora Hypothesis. Its not clearing forests or polluting the air that is causing pandemics to happen. Its technologies and techniques.
Even if the Amazon rainforest weren’t being incinerated, causing species to flee, we’d be talking about plane travel or cargo travel. The Amazon wouldn’t be cut down to graze cows, if there weren’t refrigeration and transport techniques to get the meat all over the world.
Being able to refrigerate and fly is fabulous but all techniques come with unintended consequences and as with medicines, the archetypal technique, there is a real risk the harm they do will outweigh the good – especially when Goldman Sachs suggest that saving lives (doing good) is not a good business model.
The evil that medicines do lives after them, the good is oft interred in filing cabinets when the marketing department, honourable men, begin to evangelize the newest sacrament.
Marketers can spin on the head of a needle from selling the latest gadget to the next miracle, just as they do with drugs. They blackened the benzodiazepines in order to sell SSRIs and would do the same for SSRIs if they could just find a new drug.
They are good at shoving old gadgets and drugs down the garburator. What they don’t do is turn from holding techniques in general up as the route to salvation to saying ‘Hey dude, the Magic lies in Us rather than in the Gadgets’.
Look closely at the techniques flying out of Pandora’s pithos.
This is where Pandora comes in. While some of the Greeks were planting the seeds of our technical world, others clearly knew of the Magic that lay in Pandora. Her magic was more potent than anything men had on show – partly because hers was not on show.
HealthCare is rapidly dying out. Without heroic women we would have none left. When their children or parents are Drug Wrecked, women are the ones who stand up to our increasingly impersonal health services. They are the one’s who blow the whistle on the problems they see happening, while men go limp all around them.
Pandora is not a call to abandon techniques, its a call stop idolising them. A call to make them work for us rather than have us strapped to them. If we don’t ensure techniques enhance us, they will diminish us. See The Religion of Technology.
Magic is a critical element of treatment with a medicine – and of the use of all techniques. It is clearly an Act of Magic to bring good out of the use of a poison or from a mutilation. This can only happen when two or more people facing something serious and tricky engage together and make a judgement call – Decernimus ergo Summus and Magic is from Venus.
This is not something that can be delegated to an algorithm. Magic like this does not compute for social medial algorithms – and so all talk of poisons is banned there. In the Land of Algorithms, there can only be sacraments – things that can only help and cannot harm.
Technologies are one dimensional. An algorithm cannot contain an internal contradiction, like poisoning or mutilating. Turning to Magic does not compute for insurers, or managers. Nor does doctoring and those who once were doctors and nurses working in HealthCare are increasingly technicians working in health services instead.
We need to keep techniques in their box – and not have them flying around infecting people willy-nilly.
Making decisions about real health issues comes with contradictions built in and it is in deciding with someone else, someone who Cares, what risks are worth taking, and in standing our ground together when things go wrong, that we are.
Doctors have lost the courage to stand with us when things go wrong – when the sacraments don’t deliver. Have lost the courage to trust Us. A world in which most of us are not believed or trusted can no longer work.
Not being believed diminishes me. Not being able to believe diminishes healers – it turns them into technicians. Being able to believe is not part of a technician’s job description – their role is to keep to the program.
This belief in the sacraments of technology is an illness that needs healing and the Hope has to be that Pandora who can bring this about. Who is Pandora – she is all of us, but perhaps primarily the women among us.
Hope was apparently left in the pithos. There is a difference between Hope and wishful thinking. Wishful thinkers cross the fingers and say repeatedly ‘Oh I hope, I really really do hope that things work out.
Hope is something else. It achieves something, perhaps something small, but this achievement engenders a sense that more can be done, and who knows what can happen if we achieve more than one thing.
It is also communal. Achieving something together is particularly reinforcing.
Pandora’s Eyes was inspired by and adapted from a photo of John Gibson’s sculpture, “Pandora”, 1856.