Misplaced Hygienes

by Antonio Dias

So many of our self-inflicted disasters and catastrophes are the result of misplaced hygiene. A series of instances, and whole segments of our habitual hygienic responses, are wrong. Our inability, unwillingness more like, to see this and adjust is perhaps the final layer of catastrophe, the route to the true Enormity of what we are bringing about.

These misplaced hygienes range from squeamishness concerning various kinds of foods, from insects to organ meats, and our insistence on boneless fillets-of-fish, for example; right on through to our segregation of what is left after we eat into what has grown to be a whole panoply of instances where throughputs are considered wastes and removed from any possibility of actually returning to the cycles to which they belong.

These relate to our insistence that our own deaths are somehow a travesty to be resisted at all costs. This leads to a hyper-vigilance regarding some aspects of restoring health while we completely ignore the dynamic tensions that underlay any possibilities of health, including an acceptance of death’s place in life. Our insistence that we shall not die, or that we must be saved, or attain eternal life in some well-defined – and therefore predetermined and controlled/controllable – after-life has led to our acceptance of so much violence and the assurance that our efforts will lead inexorably to mega-death and extinction.

We treat the flow of life that exists inside and all around us as though it were an alien invader. We see “germs” everywhere and fight a war against them as if we could possibly live without this totally integrated complexity in which we are bathed. Or, that we have the power to be able to bend this life-force to meet our wills and select who will live and who will die – basing our decisions on an ad hoc process of deciding which microbes are “bad” and which are “profitable” for someone to destroy. Instead, we hasten the evolution of super-microbes that are ever more virulent and destructive as we “cleanse” the earth of the fabric of mutually dependent microbial life.

These misplaced hygienes extend to the ways in which we attempt to safeguard our mental health as well. The fundamental misunderstanding here may be our acceptance of the insane idea that we should conform to the expectations of an insane culture and a dysfunctional society. As with the other misplaced hygienes, here we are accepting extreme and caustically destructive violence and internalizing it and normalizing it. As with all the previous examples, there is an ill-considered and partial analysis that is taken as some sort of truth and that truth is then considered absolute. This gives a mandate to whatever-means-necessary-thinking which always leads to tearing down life to supplant it with Ends-that justify-their-Draconian-Means.

Behind them all is also an instability that leads to fear and then panic-based responses. These lead to obvious failures, but instead of this leading to reconsidering basic approaches these panics are taken as signs of the need for redoubled efforts. “We must try harder!” An acclimatization to panic and fear-induced short-cuts undermines the very principals that underlay any useful hygiene. Hippocrates’ oath is soon forgotten and in every case “doing no harm” is lost in the mad rush to “Do Something!”

What would well-placed hygienic measures look like?

Fundamentally they would be seen for what any attempt at hygiene is, a series of habits that are developed and promoted to increase well-being. It is an act of reshaping attitudes before it is an act of changing behaviors. Emphasis need remain on all aspects of this fundamental understanding.

They are habits. As habits they have a life-cycle and they will go bad if left unchallenged and are only followed mindlessly. Any habit will end up being dysfunctional unless these aspects remain within our awareness.

They are promoted and developed. How and why and for whose benefit? These questions must also remain within our awareness as we continually adjust and consider the stage of life for any hygienic habit.

They are intended to instill well-being. This is a constantly moving target, not a plateau of static results to be arrived at and then allowed to fossilize. Well-being cannot be removed from its dynamic tension with all of the forces that might be seen as impinging upon its existence. As creatures and organisms within complexities that will always extend beyond our abilities to understand them, we have glimpses of the ways in which our well-being is tied to our challenges, and even to our disasters, and all the possible causes of our distress. There are dynamics and feedbacks that take place within and between us that are beyond our awareness or our ability to disentangle. We call these paradoxes. How we approach paradox has a great effect on how we maintain our hygiene, our capacities for well-being. It is in this way that our current habits that inure us to violence, and insist that our dysfunctional attempts at control will someday work, hold us trapped in these misplaced hygienes we surround ourselves with.

As with any successful hygiene, any new hygiene has a fundamental respect for all that is involved. Out of this grows an attitude of discipline as we moderate our wishes to prevent foreseeable errors. Surgeons do not rush into surgery without taking the time to scrub-up properly out of a realization that rushing through this seemingly “preliminary” and therefore potentially disposable step would lead to disastrous infection that would most likely undo any good gained by skipping it. Such disciplines are easily calcified into rituals that replace the awareness they were intended to maintain with mindless repetition. After a while the details stop mattering and the fossilized remains have only an external similarity to the vital acts they’ve displaced.

This has led us to be absorbed by all of the misplaced hygienes holding us in their thrall.

Collapse has causes and symptoms and consequences. It is also inextricably linked with the ways in which useful hygienic approaches become calcified. Without this step, we have gradual evolutionary change. With it comes overreach and catastrophic correction.

A large part of this process of correction – at least when seen from within the perspective of parties who would like to be around after the fact! – is the way in which they/we are able to recognize the futility and growing irrelevancy of the old habits of thought and action and reaction, and how deeply we are able to forge new ones that contact vital and necessary truths.

What is required for any such new way to gain traction is then related to how these new truths are not “taken to be self-evident” and enshrined forever after and left to rot of their own absolutism, but that they remain as living truths that are continually measured and adapted to keep pace with the foment of ongoing existence.

Perhaps the most fundamental hygiene for us to develop is the negative capability to stay within the questions and continually rediscover that life is in its living and that this is always more important than the assorted “must-haves” that continually pop into our minds as we luxuriate in our illusions of stability and ease.

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