This morning in class we were talking about the third essay in Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, in which one of the dominant metaphors is that of sickness and health.
Nietzsche argues that an “ascetic priest”, who tends the masses through religion, science, politics or any kind of dogmatism, acts as physician to the sufferer, but “he first has to wound; when he then stills the pain of the wound he at the same time infects the wound–for that is what he knows to do best of all, this sorcerer and animal-tamer, in whose presence everything healthy necessarily grows sick, and everything sick tame” (Kaufman, 1989, 126).
In other words, those who try to manipulate the masses (or the herd, in Nietzsche’s terminology), do so by wounding, and then claiming to have the cure–but the cure perpetuates the wound.
As with so much of Nietzsche, this seems remarkably prescient to me. Take cancer, for example. I have received many requests from people who are “walking for the cure” or “running for the cure.” I never support these efforts, because I don’t believe we should be looking to cure to cancer through technological research. The cure for most cancers lies upstream, as Sandra Steingraber pointed out more than a decade ago in her book Living Downstream. In other words, we should be looking for ways to prevent cancer, not to cure it.
Preventing cancer doesn’t require a sorcerer or a physician. It requires resisting the agro-industrial complex, which has saturated our food supply with synthetic chemicals.
The makers of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and GMO seeds, all of which make us sick, are in cahoots with the medical industrial complex that now seeks our help in funding “the cure.” Not to mention the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies, which have also been making out like bandits on the sickness of the masses.
Nietzsche wasn’t necessarily talking about literal sickness, but his model can be applied to our contemporary situation, in which social leaders, be they in advertising or the food industry, first lead us into sickness, and then claim (through pharmaceuticals and technology) to have the cure–but the cure is only a further sickness (radiation or chemotherapy, anyone?) that continues to make us dependent on the master, the physician/scientist, for life itself.
There is a way out of this. Call it biodynamic farming, or permaculture, or localized organic farming, or what have you…the idea is to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of industrial agriculture, and go back to a simpler time, not very long ago, when the journey from farm to table did not involve chemical additives, feedlots or genetic modification.
Standing up for the cure may seem like a noble endeavor, but I’d like to propose something even better: standing up for health. If we look further upstream and get at the root problems of the sickness, we won’t need to be looking for a cure.
Sad news for the pharmaceutical industry, but too bad! Those vampires have fed on our blood long enough.