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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
The Negative Consequences of the Coronavirus Pandemic Austerity Program
An Essay Stimulated by the House/Hardtmuth Dialogue
But suffice it to say that I have been shaken up enough to have decided to make some significant changes in my own post-pandemic lifestyle.
In my previous investigations of the pros and cons regarding vaccination against the coronavirus, I acknowledged various ethical concerns about the mainstream medical “big pharma” control and implementation of their vaccination program designed to reduce the deadly effects of the pandemic . Nevertheless, I concluded that although I agreed that there were possible detrimental effects of vaccination, in general the positives outweighed the negatives in favor of getting vaccinated. But I also acknowledged the benefits and the importance of maintaining a more expansive “holistic” healthy lifestyle as opposed to expecting vaccination to be the sole protection from getting infected. And I acknowledged the deadly destructive consequences of environmental pollutants and unsanitary living conditions in regard to being susceptible to getting infected. However, one thing that I did not pay much attention to in my previous writings was the negative consequences of what can be referred as the “coronavirus pandemic austerity program,” inclusive of society lockdowns, isolation, loss of employment, curtailment of social activities, social distancing, and mask wearing. These factors came up in the continuous online discussions I had with my son , but I did not share his perspective that the above negative consequences were likely more deadly and destructive than the consequences of getting infected with the coronavirus to begin with.
The House/Hardtmuth Dialogue
I first became acquainted with humanistic psychologist Richard House through my published Trump related articles in the London based humanistic psychology journal, Self & Society, that he was the editor of . This led to me giving a talk in London a few years ago based upon my humanistic psychology Trump essays. I continued to publish in Richard's journal after my London talk, but the coronavirus soon made its debut and I was shocked when I learned about Richard's actions and writings to express his strong opposition to getting vaccinated . This led to my reading various anti-vaccination perspective books that Richard recommended, which led to a number of my previous essays on this whole topic , , . Consequently there were tensions between Richard and myself related to the differences in our perspectives about vaccination against the coronavirus, but I continued to publish in Self & Society . And through my continued publications in his journal, Richard and I still had some occasional interactions, which led to my reading the initial excerpt that he sent to me from his extensive dialogue with German medical practitioner and researcher Thomas Hardtmuth . When I initially read the House/Hardtmuth dialogue excerpt that Richard had sent me, I knew that what I read had a strong impact upon me, and I decided to order Richard's book that had his full dialogue with Hardtmuth as its focus . I expected that reading the book would result in my gaining more appreciation of the negative consequences of what I have referred to above as the “coronavirus pandemic austerity program,” but the impact upon me from reading this book went way beyond what I expected.
To begin with, let me backtrack a few months to my review of an article about the negative consequences on people with mental disorders, where these consequences stemmed from the austerities that were designed to try to minimize the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic . The austerity consequences of society lockdowns, isolation, curtailment of social activities, and social distancing resulted in significantly more negative physical and emotional consequences in people with mental disorders inclusive of depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, developmental disorders, and schizophrenia, compared to people who did not initially have these disorders. This certainly struck a chord in me, and made me more understanding of the kind of arguments that I heard from my son and others about the negative consequences of the above pandemic austerities.
A Personal Perspective
From a more personal perspective, I have without a doubt experienced a significant loss in the quality of my own life related to the above pandemic austerities, as I have curtailed (mostly voluntarily) many activities that I had engaged in for many years, which I had taken for granted. These activities included periodic visits with my son who lives 3,000 miles away, putting on bimonthly piano programs at a nursing home, playing the piano in various musical ensembles, playing tennis every week and occasionally pickleball, taking ballroom dancing lessons and going to ballroom dances with my wife, and going to a weekly aerobics exercise class with my wife. I also had initially stopped working out at the gym for a year, but I realized that I was getting physically weaker and consequently I decided to resume my going to the gym twice a week, accepting the awkwardness of being virtually the only one in the gym who wears a mask. I also continued my weekly meetings with my mathematics research colleague and ex-Ph.D. advisor, now at his house, with both of us wearing masks. Fortunately my work at Capella University as a psychology Ph.D. mentor/committee chair was not affected since my work activities in this capacity are completely online. But the cumulative effects of all my mostly self-chosen curtailment of social/recreational/physical activities were ripe for my conscious awareness, and this is what I experienced from reading the House/Hardtmuth dialogue book.
The Basic Argument
I still believe that in general the positives outweigh the negatives for getting vaccinated, and thus I disagree with House and Hardtmuth in their perspective about this, but the main takeaway I got from the book was not about vaccination per se. The book's perspective that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic austerity program were more deadly and destructive than the consequences of the coronovirus to begin with was similar to the perspective of that of my son, but House and Hardtmuth described their views in a very academic, rigorous, and stimulating way. The House/Hardtmuth basic arguments to support their perspective were widespread and ranged from the biomedical negative effects on the immune system from social withdrawal and loneliness to the dehumanizing effects of not seeing people's faces due to wearing masks, inclusive of invoking terrain theory as opposed to germ theory to explain the actions of viruses on the immune system, the unethical practice of economics becoming the driving force behind medical treatment, and the pervasive negative consequences of living in what Hardtmuth described as “a culture of fear” , . Putting it all together, the cumulative biophysical, psychological, and social consequences of the above social restriction factors stemming from the coronavirus pandemic austerity program were portrayed very effectively, through a host of convincing and alarming well chosen scientific research studies to support the authors' conclusions. And this all resonated with me deeply and stimulated my conscious awareness of my own related personal experience, as I have described above.
I must admit that I started to wonder: could the perspective of House and Hardtmuth and my son that the pandemic austerity consequences could actually be worse than the consequences of the virus to begin with actually be correct? I won't try to seriously evaluate these relative negative consequences and come to any kind of firm conclusion about this, as I am not equipped to do so. But suffice it to say that I have been shaken up enough to have decided to make some significant changes in my own post-pandemic lifestyle. Initially I had thought that when Biden got elected as the United States president in 2020 that my largely self-chosen pandemic austerity program would be just temporary as the pandemic would eventually come to an end. But I now have my doubts that the pandemic will ever actually end, and I have experienced the cumulative negative consequences of my self-imposed austerity program in my own life. I must therefore give thanks to House and Hardtmuth for helping me decide to take some calculated risks and make some life affirming choices.
Some Relevant Passages from the House/Hardttmuth Dialogue
What follows are some relevant passages from the House/Hardtmuth dialogue that I have found to be particularly impactful in regard to my above realizations .
“There is far more to strengthening the immune system than giving biotechnological stimulation with a vaccine. The significance of vaccines in the control of infectious disease epidemics is vastly overrated because in the industrialized world, the influence of psychological factors on human health is deliberately excluded. There are no profits to be made with salutogenesis. . . . The term “salutogenesis” refers to the origins of health, focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogeneis).” (Hardtmuth, p. 53)
“Using the sophisticated psychological techniques of ongoing media propaganda, a climate of fear and confusion was created whose long-term effects are the very opposite of the health it was supposedly intended to support. Chronic fear and powerlessness, helplessness and social isolation are anti-ego forces, and therefore the most effective killers of immunity that we know of. This global pandemic of fear, with all its martial measures, will be shown to have caused far more suffering and death than the virus itself; and in any case, contemporary knowledge shows that the paradigm of a single virus causing a specific illness is increasingly questionable.” (Hardtmuth, p. 56)
“In recent decades the economic logic of profit maximization has increasingly become the leading motive of medical research. The spread of fear of disease and death inevitably becomes a lucrative marketing concept, as can easily be observed today.” (Hardtmuth, pp. 59-60)
“We now know that well over 90 per cent of all infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera, and many more, have declined simply due to improvements in living conditions, long before the first vaccines and antibiotics were introduced (see Cernic, 2018). At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, most people in the cities lived in miserable conditions; small, dark, damp flats with mold and bad air, no adequate heating, with poverty, scarcity, stress, cold, miserable hygiene and the daily fear of survival; these were the main reasons for the epidemics, not the bacteria.” (Hardtmuth, p. 63)
“As well as being a “science of living connections”. . . a “post-revolutionary” holistic medical science will also be one which has uniqueness and individuality as a core organizing ontology, as opposed to the normalizing monocultural bludgeon of Industrial-Complex biomedicine.” (House, p. 72)
“'The physicist Hans Peter Durr once summed up our central epistemological dilemma thus: “We have completely disassembled the world and now we have the problem that we can no longer put it back together.'. . . . We have created a dead, mechanistic universe and no longer understand the living, with life itself having become the central enigma of all science.” (Hardtmuth, pp. 75-76)
“I've recently been reading your [Hardtmuth's] enthralling 2020 article 'The corona syndrome: why fear is more dangerous than the virus'. . . . In that article, you refer to the 'chaos [that] is caused when fear, ignorance, panic, and unscrupulous business interests coalesce and run out of control'. . . . You also quote G. Huther thus: 'Fear. . . interferes with the regulatory system at the center in the brain stem that integrates and guides bodily reactions and therefore the self-healing capacity of the organism.' And you quote a 2007 empirical study by Cohen and others. . . showing the impact on the immune system of being unemployed. These empirical findings are entirely consistent with the aggregative data estimating that the global mortality rate rose by hundreds of thousands in the 2010s due to neoliberal Western governments' economic austerity policies.. . . . And with direct relevance to the imposed Covid-19 regulations to which the global population has been subject, McGrath et al's exhaustive literature review identified five specific ways in which austerity policies negatively impacted mental health: humiliation and shame; fear and mistrust; instability and insecurity; isolation and loneliness; and being trapped and powerless. From this, it appears that psychologically speaking, it would have been difficult to design Covid-19 regulations that were more damaging than those that governments across the globe chose to impose in lockstep.” (House, pp. 78-79)
“And so the corollary of all this: 'Societies. . . in which people are not anxious but courageous, creative, cooperative. . . do not provide a fertile soil for epidemics' [this quote is from the above 2020 Hardtmuth article]. . . . Whereas on your [Hardtmuth's] analysis, these so-called protective measures had precisely the opposite effect to that which government and their scientific advisors were claiming; i.e., the amount of fear (even terror) that was generated (which I have to say was enormous, and quite unprecedented in the UK in my lifetime) was itself a major cause of increasing people's susceptibility to contacting Covid, and thus in many cases dying as a result. In other words, people were at least as much killed by fear as they were by Covid-19 per se—and quite possibly far more so.” (House, pp. 79-80)
“We now know how directly interdependent our immune functions are with our psychosocial condition. When people are exposed to frightening impressions of horror and violence in front of the television, the drop in immune parameters can be measured directly; and the opposite occurs with positive or cheerful content. A study in The Lancet has indeed shown an enormous increase in mortality rates (HIV, suicides, infant mortality, etc.) in Greece in the context of EU [European Union] austerity measures. . . . Millions of ruined livelihoods, mass unemployment and poverty, a massive increase in mental illness, violence, fear, exclusion, and much more. All this Corona collateral damage will result in a collective depression of immunity, with corresponding consequences. . . . the global corona measures and their social consequences will claim many times more lives than the virus itself. (Hardtmuth, p. 82)
“Governmental and institutional responses to Covid-19 did indeed deliberately stoke primitive emotions (fear, hate, etc.), with rational thinking being disastrously sidelined in the process. . . . leaving many people in a state akin to hypnosis, unable to distinguish between propaganda and the real story and risks of Covid-19.” (House, pp. 91-92)
“The aforementioned preconditions [lack of social bond, pervasive lack of meaning, free-floating anxiety in society, free-floating frustration and aggression] are sufficient for Mass Formation to take hold, then, once a suitable event triggers it. The catalyst in the Corona crisis was the manner in which Covid-19 was reported by government and a compliant mainstream media, with reporting deliberately utilizing psychological techniques designed to change people's beliefs and behavior without them being aware of it. . . . The most terrified citizens then looked to media and government for comforting reassurance, demonizing anyone questioning the official narrative. These schisms then generated a “group-think” emotional environment, where terror based on exploiting people's death anxiety replaced rational thought.” (House, p. 92)
“All this seems to me to lead directly to the issue of holism in medicine—and the necessity of considering the body, the mind and the emotions—indeed, the soul and the spiritual dimension—in any thorough and genuinely scientific assessment of people's well-being and dis(-)ease. (House, p. 109)
“Our immune systems are shaped by very individual experiences, and also by how much activity (i.e., alertness and interest, we put into these experiences and how engaged we are in processing them. The presence of our conscious awareness in life experiences equally stimulates our immune activity. (Hardtmuth, p. 113)
“The most important thing that the Corona crisis teaches us for immediate practice is that we need a complete decoupling of medical thinking from economic logic! Medical research must also be able to work completely independently of economic interests, otherwise this will led to a creeping degradation of medicine. The question of whether a person falls ill with an infection depends primarily on individual factors: constitution, disposition, self-regulation, psychosocial environment. Exposure, i.e., pure viral contact, plays only a subordinate role in the development and course of a disease; we are confronted with thousands of so-called pathogens every day; whether we become ill has very little to do with it. Today's medicine, however, is making a gigantic worldwide effort exclusively in relation to exposure—i.e., masks, distance, hygiene rules, lockdowns, vaccinations, antivirals, etc. The decisive influence of individual factors is not even addressed in the public debate, let alone implemented in daily practice. Why is this so? Because our health systems are increasingly under the influence of economic strategies, and only those medical measures are favored that keep this world's largest market—the health industry—running. No profits can be made with prevention, information, health education, stress reduction and the creation of humane, socially balanced lifestyles, but these would be the far more sustainable, salutogenetic measures in the long term. If the many trillions of euros that the crisis has cost so far had gone into ecological and social, i.e., people-oriented projects, it would have been a blessing for the whole earth.” (Hardtmuth, p. 119)
I believe that House and Hardtmuth have given a formidable argument to promote the importance of a more holistic perspective in regard to the coronoavirus pandemic. Their argument certainly has had great impact on me personally, and has stimulated me to make some significant changes in how I have been responding to the coronavirus pandemic austerity program in my own life. However, at the same time, I still believe that the positives outweigh the negatives for getting vaccinated, and I also believe that the austerity measures of wearing masks, social distancing, and being outdoors as much as possible when engaging socially with others, have beneficial consequences in itself in terms of avoiding coronavirus infection. So how am I going to balance these contrary perspectives?
I don't know exactly yet, but I do plan on taking some calculated risks that I have not been willing to take for the past nearly 2 and half years, such as putting on piano programs at a nursing home again and playing occasional pickleball. But I also plan on wearing a mask when doing so, especially playing the piano at a nursing home, in spite of the physical discomfort and/or social awkwardness of wearing masks in both of these environments, in particular in my pickleball environment. Furthermore, I will wait to take these calculated risks until I am able to get the next coronaivrus booster shot, which hopefully will be more effective against the new coronavirus variants. Much of what I decide to do is of course dependent on how much of a surge there is in coronavirus cases with the cold weather approaching, and how much the effectiveness of the next booster shot withers over time. But I know that some kind of significant shift of awareness has occurred in me from reading the House/Hardtmuth dialogue, as I now understand that all the curtailment of my life enhancing activities that I have voluntarily chosen to undertake are putting my immune system in danger.
Then again, I have not tested positive for the coronavirus the past 2 and a half years, which is a signal to me that my precautions appear to have been beneficial in regard to my not getting infected. But it has been enough, as my state of mind has been that my self-imposed limitations have been temporary, and I now realize that the temporary could very well sneak itself into becoming something that shapes the rest of my life. And if this were to happen, then yes I understand that I would become “smaller” and living in “fear” and that my immune system could very well become more compromised and consequently that I could be more susceptible to getting infected with a whole range of diseases, inclusive of the coronavirus, much more readily than I would otherwise. Thus I will be seeking some kind of balance here—living my life with what I believe are reasonable safety measures while taking what I believe are reasonable calculated risks.