This morning, Dave Pollard posted an essay, Bringing Down the Monster which seems just a tad defeatist for my taste. So I rallied my forces and put forth a response.

Two and a half years ago, a doctor gave me the 5-minute funereal speech. Go home, enjoy what you have left, and talk to the hospice. That moment when the stark reality of my predicament hit me in the solar plexus will always remain one of my most ghastly-vivid memories. The harsh chemo I had just undergone for recurrent and suddenly fast growing lymphoma failed. And my bone marrow was badly damaged. Prognosis? Very poor.

First I believed him and grieved. Then I got mad. And found a way to live. As I am thinking here about Dave’s words, and this civilization’s predicament, it occurs to me that my “rising from the ashes” experience may be of use here. Particularly since Dave spoke up with the C word. He says:

    The best analogy for this monster [of “the system”] is probably cancer. Cancer is an unintended consequence of the evolution from unicellular creatures to organisms. The survival advantage of organisms… comes with a price — individual cells in an organism can’t replicate without restriction … or they’d outgrow the boundaries of the organism, so nature evolved processes called cellular apoptosis (death) and senescence (cessation of replication) to keep the total number of cells of each specialized type in the creature’s body in balance. These processes are set off by chemical triggers in the body. Cancer cells don’t respond to the triggers, so they grow out of control… By analogy, our industrial systems… are an unintended consequence of our evolution of large brains, a short-run evolutionary success and, in the longer run, will kill our species…

    Doctors talk bravely about defeating cancer but it’s very unlikely they’ll succeed. Because cancers are evolutionary phenomena, trying to prevent cancers is like trying to prevent evolution. Only members of highly delusional religions believe you can fight (or deny out of existence) the reality of evolution.

    The analogy isn’t too far-fetched, is it? In both cases, the options to ‘reform’ what’s sick and dysfunctional, to ‘persuade’ it to behave better, are limited, and insufficient. We have to use a combination of strategies, and manage our expectations. In both cases, there’s a chance we can bring down the monster, at least for awhile, and a chance we cannot.”

Not too far-fetched at all! But the options to reform the cancer are not insufficient. They are non-existent. Besides, why would you want to try? Re-forming the cancer is not really a useful tack. We do know a bit about how to kill it. Our therapies aim to kill malignant growth to give the body another chance. But in order for the body (the remaining healthy part) to be able to reform itself, its immune system must be jolted into action. After all, the immune system normally goes after rogue cells as a matter of fact. We must enable it to do so again. Doctors may be fooling themselves within their current cancer-fighting paradigm, but the healthy body knows how to defeat cancer cells. It does it preventively all the time.

Perhaps my experience can be of use in fleshing out a few guidelines. What worked for me is this:

  • learning (if I had entered the terrible “hopeless” stage without having done my homework when I was still relatively well, I would not have made it)
  • community (the support of others kept me alive during the worst of times, and helped me find what I needed to survive; putting together another health team after my docs had given up on me was also crucial)
  • finding a novel way to kill the cancer cells (entered a clinical trial)
  • jolting my immune system with an alternative therapy designed to do just that (key!)
  • living differently

I did not “bring down” the cancer. My focus was to do everything I knew how, and more, to kill off a significant part of the invasion without doing irreparable damage to the healthy part of me, to jolt my body into a new vigilance, and to help it heal at another level of functioning.

Cancers are very rarely contagious, but arise spontaneously in organisms weakened in their immune function. Like cancers, civilizations have arisen over and over again after the last one had crashed, in different parts of the world. They arose, I think, because human societies were – here and there — similarly weakened. Dave writes: Because cancers are evolutionary phenomena, trying to prevent cancers is like trying to prevent evolution. Perish the thought! The healthy body can recognize and neutralize the cancer cell before it develops into runaway growth, because it too has evolved right along with the cancer cell’s evolution. The question that pursues me nowadays is this: can we come together as a body politic whose “immune system” will be able to neutralize the malignancy?

Dave wraps up: In both cases, if we limit ourselves to personal actions, try to go it alone, we’re not going to succeed nearly as well as if we work collectively and collaboratively with our communities.

Well put: neither the lone hero, nor the collective alone will make the crucial difference. Many strategies are needed, both personal and collaborative. Without the “me” in the equation, it’s a bunch of muddle-headed hypocrisy. And without the “community” in it, the attempted healing process will be too weak and too slow. But even more importantly, what will jolt the human species’ immune system to action?