Author Archives: JoB

The Dogma of Survival

“We think that in this the human being extends, more or less consciously, the spontaneous effort, common to life, of fighting against that which forms the obstacle to her maintenance and development taken as norms.” Canguilhem, On the Normal and the Pathological, PUF 1966, p. 102 (in my own translation, original below)

Canguilhem marks an important split in philosophy in attacking the ‘objective’ notions of health and disease that come with the dominance the empirical/mathematical method of the exact sciences. As a teacher of Foucault he made a first but decisive step against a last push of the exact sciences to explain away the most human of experiences: that of feeling not quite right. Decisive but not final because to this day the positivistic look, on the back of our neoliberal society and value system, dominates to the point of mocking those who speak from disability studies, cultural studies and feminism. It is not, though, this debate which I’m here interested in. I take it for granted that the truth here as elsewhere mostly lies somewhere in the middle. The truth I want to try to speak here is against that which, I believe, is still a common dogma in both traditions: that of survival as an inevitable and enduring norm inherent in life.

Longevity is, I submit, a global pandemic threatening all life, and specifically human life, as it misunderstands and devalues life to something that is to be had instead of lived. The outcome of the normality of survival is pathological: more life, but less worth living. The quote has all of that so let’s turn to it.

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From doings to sayings (& back again)

‘Without blinking an eye’, is a saying referring to how normal it is to blink your eyes. It is something we all do. It’s a doing with which we say something even if it’s something we’d rather have left unsaid.

As the saying goes, not doing it is remarkable. It either shows concealment or an absence of something we thought was being concealed. The saying is proverbially related to truth and trickery, to concealment and unconcealment. If people would never blink an eye this would amount to a perpetual staring match, the type of thing horror shows are made of.

Doings do this. They escape us. They defy willful control. They signal our emotions. They talk where sometimes we’ve been made to feel a need to remain silent. This is what we’re made to think: that emotions are “them” and controlling them is “us”. These doings are so made into sayings, such that we can control them rather than performing them.

In this way your body gets split from your soul and the I is split from its environment. It’s only the brain that connects them. If the connection is bad, it’s because your brain is bad. Because that’s what the brain is supposed to do: effectively disconnect me from you. This, in a nutshell, is growing up: the nut is your brain and the shell is your skull. And so we’ll bite our lips and count to 10 and hope we meanwhile don’t blink our eyes. A sorry state if ever there was. Is there an escape?

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Ceci n’est pas un success story

As a young boy the only thing I dreamed of was of becoming a philosopher. I became an engineer instead. It proved to be a shorter path to financial independence. I never shook my first dream though. We’re 30 years on and here I am, starting my PhD in philosophy. This is what happened. You judge whether it is a story of success or one of failure. I don’t know. Just comparing start and end it’s definitely a story of success. The lived experience is not as clear cut though. It rather feels like a mess.

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Too red or not too red

We try to capture difference. It provides us a sense of certainty in a world of uncertainty. But, as the world is one of uncertainty, our attempts at classifying always wind up killing something of value. So here I am, at a loss because caught up in a need to capture what is different about people with Tourette.

This will probably all sound terribly self-absorbed. The truth is, I think, that one can only appreciate difference if one is open to what is shared. It seems that the one thing to keep in mind is that we are all human and thus, in a sense, the same. Difference and sameness are anything but opposed. In trying to understand those who are different we are asking who we truly are. My struggle therefore (at least also) is to understand myself, faced with a difference which seems so categorical it cannot be bridged.

So this is an attempt to see the red in me in order to be able to see what people see as too red in others or in themselves. Here goes: attempt one in a series that can never end.

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Autism and Psychosis

Talking to a friend who suffered a psychotic breakdown made me curious. I know how it feels to suffer an autistic meltdown and I therefore know it feels nothing like it looks like. If only because it may well look like nothing is the matter. So how then would a psychotic breakdown feel like? Is that feeling as inaccessible to me as the grandiose schizophrenia stories make it out to be? I can’t be curious without feeling like the little kid Aristotle has talked about in his book alpha: I just need to open the box to see how it works. Here I go.

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The Charitable Gene, NeuroDiversity and Climate Change

We went viral from the outset. There seemed to be no end to our reproduction. Ever new forms of us emerged. We were having a blast. The world was soon filled with a thin layer of organisms based on us. They started to bump into each other. Suddenly this became a gene-eat-gene world. You’d call it natural selection. We experienced it as stress. It hit us: our perfection was going to be the end of us. This was not going to last. Wanting to have it all would wind up being the death of us. But: wasn’t it already too late? And: shouldn’t we just enjoy it while it lasted? We couldn’t reach consensus. Our reproductive strength was also our weakness so some of us decided to turn that weakness back into productive strength: we would diversify (as we’re condemned to do anyway by the principles of our vitality).

This is the story of these charitable genes’ last ditch effort to save the world even if a lack of self-satisfaction might require some self-sacrifice.

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Breaking the ranks

“He was pacing up and down the house. When downstairs he was pacing back and forth. The blinds were down. He was in doubt whether to open them or leave them closed. If he would open them it would mean it was business as usual. If he let them down something had changed irreversibly. The blinds took on a meaning he couldn’t shake. He was alone. It suddenly was the only thing that mattered. The only signal he could give to a world he knew probably did not care.”, General Sharma liked to tell stories and his staff liked them even if they were mostly clueless as to what they were supposed to mean. ‘Why don’t you write them down?’, an officer asked. To which his response was just a sigh. When he was ready to elaborate Lieutenant Dryker appeared. Late as usual, she seemed annoyed at all this procrastinating and clearly wanted to get on with it.

Sharma was their general in name only. He had long since devolved his operational duty to Dryker. Their relationship had always been intimate. He just happened to be a general and she just happened to be ill-fitted for being seen as one. Theirs was an odd marriage, one of mutual opportunity though. This day was different. Sharma punctual as usual was more fidgety than ever. Dryker as late as ever avoided to look at him waiting motionless but tense for him to formally open the meeting. She did not even bother to sit down next to him. He looked lost for an awkward moment that lasted long enough to create a wave of murmur in the troops. An unusual crack in their appearances so became audible. Was it because of what had happened yesterday?

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