Turn those pink ribbons green

I’m going to make a confession.  I never could stand those pink ribbons.  I’ve never done a “Walk for the Cure” or bought daffodils for cancer victims or even picked a cancer-cure-themed postage stamp.

I’m glad to hear that the Komen Foundation has bowed to pressure and is restoring funding to Planned Parenthood, a worthwhile organization if there ever was one.

But in general, the idea of putting the energy and effort of well-meaning citizens behind “the search for a cure for cancer” just irritates me, because let’s face it, we know what causes cancer, and therefore we can do better than cure it, we can prevent it!  Maybe not 100%, but we can take it back to the modest rates that previous generations of human beings enjoyed.

For my grandparents’ generation, a diagnosis of cancer was frightening because it was so often a death sentence, but it was rare. Not one of my four grandparents came down with cancer, and I don’t believe their parents did either.  This isn’t due to some genetic serendipity, it’s just a fact that cancer rates in the first half of the 20th century (and every century before that) were way lower than they are now.

Cancer rates are skyrocketing now thanks to the environmental toxins that humans have introduced into our air, soil and water, and thus our agricultural crops, drinking water and the very air we breathe.  Rachel Carson saw the effects of DDT on birds, and gave the warning just before she succumbed to cancer.  

We may have removed DDT from the US market, but it’s still being used in other countries, and here it has been replaced by a whole host of alphabet-soup chemicals, each one more potent and carcinogenic than the last.

If you really want to make a difference in the war against cancer, forget about those ridiculous pink ribbons.  Use the power of your wallet and your ballot to insist that the government step up and do its job in regulating the industrial agriculture sector.

Or better yet, let’s allow the specter of industrial agriculture to fade away into the dustbin of the 20th century, and start a real “green revolution,” dedicated to the health and well-being of our planet and all her denizens.

What color is your ribbon?  Mine is green.

Resisting the Vampires

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.

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