Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hygiecracy and the Unconscious

What has been discussed since the ancients, and continues to be batted around by some philosophers, is the notion that human beings are motivated primarily by pleasure and pain. However, the idea that people seek out pleasure, and avoid pain, reflects at best a superficial knowledge of correlations. A deeper investigation of what appears to be the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain reveals this attraction and repulsion to be related, rather, to a complex interplay between, among other things, an unconscious physiological knowledge of health. That is, it is seeking health and avoiding disease that is the truth subtending the appearance of the avoidance of pain, and the pursuit of pleasure - and the pursuit of happiness as well.

The Old Stoics were among the schools of thought who rejected the idea that pleasure and pain reflect anything deeper than appearance. Believing that people were always negotiating the conflict between determinism and freedom, the Stoics held that the good was attained by living in harmony with nature. Rather than being determined by pleasure and pain, it was by following a type of desire that brought one to this harmony that was conceived of as the good. This idea of harmony, or balance, is never far off when one discusses not only the good, but justice and health as well. Indeed, it is no coincidence that justice is represented by a balance, by scales. And the concept of homeostasis, which is central to not only human health but to biological health in general, reflects this balance as well.

Closely related to the concept of homeostasis is the notion of the conatus. Defined as an immanent striving, the conatus is something of a physiological growing. Attending this physiological growing, it is contended, is an unconscious physiological knowledge that some things are good for it, and some things are bad for it. Since time immemorial this knowledge has found expression in language and myth - most importantly, perhaps in the myth of Asclepius, the god of health.

Related to the Stoics' idea of determinism, and its conflict with freedom, is the Fates. In Greek myth, the Fates were three sisters. The daughters of the personification of necessity - Ananke - the three sisters each performed a particular role. One spun the thread of life, one measured it, and one cut it. These three, who were one, were more powerful than all of the gods combined. No god could alter their designs. And then into this context we have the unconscious physiological knowledge arising in the figure of Asclepius. The son of the god Apollo, he learned the art of medicine and became a famous healer. So powerful was he as a healer that he was able to raise the dead, subverting the designs and power of Fate. Asclepius was the only one capable of doing this. For his transgression - of healing - he was killed by Zeus, and then turned into a god himself.  

It does not seem coincidental, but related to this same unconscious physiological knowledge, that Jesus of Nazareth was also a healer. Also the son of god, he raised the dead as well. And for his message of healing he, too, was killed and raised up as a god. As such, both Asclepius and Jesus represent not only healing, but health as a type of true justice beyond the recognized powers of law - a justice articulated as health. There is much more to be said about this, particularly insofar as it relates to the legal maxim salus populi suprema lex esto. For now, though, it should suffice to remark that there is no gap between the conditions required for actual health and the conditions needed for actual justice. Yet as it makes its way into consciousness, this unconscious physiological knowledge becomes mediated by various degrees of conditioning and ideology, not to mention traumas, among other things, and becomes distorted. Accordingly, not only do notions of health become sundered from notions of justice, but this drive that would seek health and avoid disease becomes distracted by pleasures and pains, among other things, and seeks to capture and avoid these instead - the entire economy, indeed, is based on this. Neglecting health, disease proliferates - as does injustice. That it is oftentimes difficult to distinguish one from the other only attests to their underlying unity.

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