The Self As A Battlefield


About to finish Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes.

Not gonna lie, there’s a lot of it I don’t buy. But so what? Unlike many, I don’t have an issue with blatant contrarianism. I wouldn’t say that Natural Causes is necessarily an example of that, but in the contrarian spirit, it challenges us to be critical of things we take for granted. A few have pointed out that contrarianism shouldn’t be a substitute for disciplined skepticism. I agree. I don’t confuse the two. But contrarianism allows us to have fun, like it’s skepticism’s undisciplined younger brother, and unfortunately many take it seriously. But again some of Natural Causes is Ehrenreich’s cranky or idealistic perspectives, and some of it is evidence-based skepticism. Take and leave what you wish.

That being said, there were parts that I thought were brilliant: namely the ritualistic nature of the  patient/physician relationship and the idea of body as a “battlefield”.

I have made reference to the self as an ever-changing entity that conscienceness superimposes itself onto. The idea being that the notion of permanent self is an illusion; everything, to include our mind and bodies, is more like a stream moving forward in time. Science and biology have, more or less, confirmed that. But we have this conception of ourselves, and our bodies, as one machine with all these parts working together to create a functional being. But that’s not altogether correct. In fact, according to Ehrenreich, there are certain elements in our bodies that will work AGAINST us if given the opportunity. The body isn’t so much of a totalitarian regime where cells diligently do what they’re told. It’s more of a confederation of parts that occasionally act under their own free agency.

And the dark part is: some of these free agents, namely macrophages…we have no control over.

In our health-conscious society, we want to believe that our health is entirely under our control. Cancer, diabetes, infections, etc are all entirely preventable. It’s just a matter of exerting your will….And fighting yourself.

It’s a fight you will lose. No one has ever won it. Because death always wins in the end. No matter how much kale you eat, no matter how many marathons you run, no matter how many carbs you missed out on….there’s no telling how, or when, the cold hand of death will come reaching out.

We can live this life with the acceptance that it will one day end.  We can take part in the pleasures that make life worth living. Or we can deny ourselves those pleasures in the vain hope that we can prevent the inevitable: the decline and demise of our physical body into nothing, where conscienceness ceases to be.

So check out Natural Causes!

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