Thank you for defending your government and your corporations from disinformation and fake news. Each day, our shared understanding of reality is being challenged. Each day, new stories and facts undercut our approved narrative. We need good citizens like you to make sure alternative information is not seriously considered by any except a lunatic fringe.
One way to control information is called ‘gaslighting,’ meaning to push people to deny their own experience and believe things for which they have no evidence. The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight, in which a man (Charles Boyer) plays a series of tricks on his new wife (Ingrid Bergman) to convince her she is crazy. Some of the tricks involve the gas-powered light system.
Boyer torments Bergman to get her into an insane asylum, so he will have the house to himself. Sometimes, your government has to do things like that, too. The USA is our house, and we need to protect our American way of life, even if it means making a few people crazy.
Gaslighting is not easy, though; people don’t readily disbelieve their senses or embrace ideas without evidence. That’s why we prepared this handy list of strategies you can use — the same ones we use — to maintain your narrative.
Insult people who don’t believe the approved story. Call them conspiracy theorists, crackpots, Covidiots, or come up with your own name. Ask them how their tinfoil hat is fitting.
2. Yell ‘Science’ at anyone who disagrees. Although science normally involves evaluating all sides of an issue, we define science as whatever evidence supports the government’s story. Claim “mountains of evidence” to support the official position, or call those who disagree ‘science deniers.’ Example: Follow the science that says hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work for COVID-19; ignore the science that says it does.
3. Use terms like ‘discredited,’ ‘disproved,’ and ‘debunked’ to describe noncompliant beliefs, without providing any evidence of where they are wrong. Example: claims that 5G wireless radiatio causes health problems are ‘debunked,’ even though there has been little or no research.
4. Don’t be afraid to change your story, and never acknowledge that you’ve changed. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were our friends in Afghanistan, then our enemies in the War on Terror, now our friends again in Syria. Truth can change; people forget. President Trump changes his message every day, and nobody seems to notice.
5. Don’t be afraid to be absurd or ridiculous. Look at what we convinced people to believe on September 11, 2001. A hijacker’s passport miraculously ‘found on the ground’ near the World Trade Center. Three steel skyscrapers crashed straight down, which no other skyscraper in history ever has done without a controlled demolition. An airplane ‘crashed’ in Pennsylvania, leaving virtually no wreckage. It doesn’t matter how absurd our story is: just keep acting like it’s completely rational and call disbelievers conspiracy theorists.
6. Repetition — The more often people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. That is why we tell the same story in 100 different ways on multiple media platforms. Remember that a story can be disproven many times, and people will still believe it if it’s said often by an authoritative voice.
Example: liberal media kept repeating Russia collusion narratives about the 2016 election, despite every single specific claim being shown baseless. After three years and several investigations, when all the charges fell through, these platforms acted like those years were no big deal. Our media still blames Russia for everything and attacks President Trump as a Russian puppet, and people still believe them.
7. Cancel the skeptics — Point to something they have said in the past, on any topic, that can be used to make them seem ridiculous, racist, or some other disqualifying trait. Or point to some other person they have associated with who is so disagreeable that mere association disqualifies the speaker. Example: when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox TV show, liberals immediately said her antiwar message was now out of bounds, because “She went on Fox!”
8. If you’re in a position of authority, sympathetically tell people you approve of their demands and understand their position, while doing nothing at all to address their grievances. They must be crazy if they can’t see you’re on their side.
9. Remember, the goal isn’t to convince people of your position. It’s to make them doubt themselves, doubt reality, and ultimately to give up and say, “Whatever.”
We can’t overstate how important this work is. Facts in specific cases may clash with our stories, but we must uphold the larger truth — that America, our government, and our corporations are good and our opponents are evil. Winston Churchill said, “Truth is so precious it must be attended with a bodyguard of lies.” You are part of truth’s bodyguard. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of America!
Nations and people talked constantly about how to resist the dragon, who they called Sam – though it had many other names – but they had a tough assignment. Sam’s heads left no doubt they would destroy the whole world if they felt threatened. Like most dragons, they hoarded resources and money, and with those assets installed and controlled leaders in other countries who would do their bidding.
Sam’s heads constantly spun webs of stories, with which to distract, confuse, and terrorize. Different heads told slightly different tales, though all agreed on the main points. These stories were its source of power.
One head glittered with gold and sparkled with dollar signs. That one spun narratives about money, how it was a natural thing like food or air, and people who had more of it deserved to live better and tell those with less what to do. More than that, money was alive, like a garden or a forest. If you held on to it, it naturally grew. If you didn’t have it, you suffered. So, even though it was only a made-up story, most people focused on and evaluated their lives by money, which made them miserable, because a few people controlled nearly all of it and didn’t share.
Another head was shaped like a missile and bristled with guns. It created horror stories of enemies in places far and near, of diseases and disasters that would come if they let their guard down. One head wore a white sheet and showed videos about how people who looked different were inferior and posed threats. Another appeared made of special effects and encouraged people to spend their days being entertained. One looked like a donkey for some reason, and one like an elephant. All of them had the same story about work: that it was necessary, the most important thing in life, but should be as miserable and poorly-paid as possible. These heads and others tried to show the world an intimidating collective face, but often fought each other in courts, media, and elections, or by assassination.
People living in Sam’s domain were of two minds about identifying with a dragon. The heads kept telling them that they were the greatest people in the world, and some believed those stories, even as their lives became meaner and more desperate. They clung to Sam’s narratives, and attacked anyone who challenged their chosen stories.
Propagandized as they were, the people might still have been able to fight the heads, but they were too divided. Some people supported one head, and some supported another, and constant fights broke out between them. The heads hired some people and dressed them in uniforms with guns to suppress the others, and a vast chain of prison camps sprang up in towns and villages across the land, with some residents caged and others paid to control them.
Sam seemed invincible. It was falling apart inside, but what could people do? They didn’t know the monster was held together by nothing more than stories and that those stories were increasingly disbelieved. They were too afraid, confused, and divided to fight back, and they lacked alternative narratives of their own. Then, when all seemed hopeless, there came a magic bug.
The bug’s name was Corolla, and in large doses, it could be fatal. Most people were scared of Corolla, but they were familiar with death and disease and prepared to go on living with this one. Some of the heads had different ideas, though. They thought a new bug could be a powerful weapon. They could use it to drive people into their homes while they stole larger fortunes and increased their power. Some heads thought their story of Corolla would win people to support them over other heads with different stories.
No one knew where Corolla came from. Some said from bats in caves; some from mammals in markets; some from the laboratories of the military. Some blamed distant countries; others blamed Sam. Whatever, various monster heads grabbed onto it and used it like a wrecking ball. They swung it back and forth, closing cities down, opening them up, blaming each other for the death and destruction.
Soon, most of the businesses, jobs, entertainment, and schools that made up Sam’s inner world lay in broken heaps. People who could still work, worked for less, slept in the street, ate what they could. It got harder for Sam to stomp around the world or pretend to be great when its insides were in so much pain.
At first, few noticed that their narrative shackles were crumbling along with their lives. How could people believe that wealth was based on merit and hard work, when workers deemed essential were paid minimum wage, while billionaires got free bailouts? How could people’s housing, food, and healthcare depend on jobs that didn’t exist? It made more sense that money should be a thing distributed to all, and people demanded universal income, healthcare, housing and education.
But Sam’s heads could not accept those demands; they would tear down the narrative structure that held the monster together. If people understood that scarcity is a myth, that private property, meritocracy, and race were only narratives without objective reality, Sam’s cruelty within and its wars without could not be justified. The heads turned against the people and against each other, seeking to keep their structure intact through force, creating a new narrative in which most of the people were enemies.
They kept slinging Corolla back and forth, and with each swing, things got worse. It was almost like the bug was inside Sam’s heads, making them do self-destructive things, as some germs can do to their hosts. People got hungrier, more desperate, lost their fear. They started seeing each other as brothers, sisters, and cousins instead of as rivals and threats.
They stopped accepting police violence, resisted, and some police eventually decided to serve people, not just protect property. They put down their guns and started acting as uniformed social workers, instead of as an occupying army. People won basic income, and suddenly jobs that killed souls and bodies had no takers. The owners had to make jobs better, and basic income and better jobs spread around the world. Of course, prices then rose, so people had to consume less, but they realized, after a moment’s media-inspired panic, that this, too, was a good thing. They tore up their lawns and parking lots and planted gardens to feed each other.
Corolla was still making people sick, and the people saw that guaranteed income was not enough to beat it, that we would have to have functioning communities and a government that cared. Then they realized that a caring government wouldn’t be killing people around the world. The soldiers demanded to leave their overseas bases and come home to help.
Because people were now collaborating instead of fighting each other, they had energy for caring about the animals and plants, the forests and water. Over time, the multi-headed dragon gradually shrank and transformed. Life became more pleasant; people started remembering joy and sharing their burdens and their love.
Now you and I are on the run
Pursued by monsters real and imagined
Driven by fear, we stand at the edge
Of a wilderness, strange roars in the distance
Storms whirling around us.
And people are saying to each other
We can’t stay here, and we can’t go on.
We’re scared to death, and some are
Actually dying. We must get back to normal!
But a few youths, the most abused or the
Bravest ones, say they can’t go back.
They won’t go back.
‘People back there are locked in their houses,’
They remind us. ‘They’re out of work, depressed, scared.
Forests and oceans are dying.
Bombs are dropping. We refuse.
To do normal; we couldn’t if we tried.’
They set off into the jungle. Will you
Follow them? Or will you try to go back
To where workers are disposable,
Where health care is unaffordable, but bombs
Are free to those who drop them.
Is this the world you want?
Because COVID is our chance to change.
In the land of normal, all that matters is profit
and loss. Not health, beauty, truth, not
Art or justice. Black lives don’t matter, nor do
Anyone else’s. Only money matters,
And money is just a story. Why go back
to a story that is killing us?
Can we follow the brave ones; can we
Come together: races, sexes, nationalities,
Ages, orientations, religions? Can we
Let go of the stories our rulers tell
To terrify us, to keep us divided and in line?
Will you brave the wilderness
With me? Connect with Nature, love
The animals and plants, and each other.
Face down the guns of the lost-soul armies
Panicked inside their helmets. Face
Loss of income, home, freedom, safety and
Embrace the future beyond the wilderness?
We can’t go back to normal. Normal collapsed
For a reason. We need income basic to life,
Given to All. We need health care, housing, food.
We can afford all this, because scarcity is a lie
The rulers tell us to justify their own wealth.
So many questions, barriers, but we have brilliant, Creative people to guide us. The important thing,
The only thing, is to commit to the journey. The way
Forward Is frightening, but the only way. We need
To be heroes, live with love and courage because we’re
Not going back to normal. There’s nothing there for us.
“It is well that people do not understand our banking and monetary system. If they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” attributed to Henry Ford
Whether or not the fabulously wealthy Nazi sympathizer Ford used exactly those words, it is undeniable that most of us don’t understand money, and our rulers depend on our ignorance. We believe money is real, that it is a powerful force that must be obeyed. Money puts a number on the worth of all things, on our work, on animals and plants and people. It turns all of Nature and all human talents into commodities. How much money can we get for this forest? How little can we pay these guys to bulldoze it? Having or not having money is the difference between living in a penthouse and sleeping in the alleyway outside.
Is our concept of money based on any objective reality? Most philosophers and economists don’t think so. Financial educator and Investopedia co-founder Andrew Beattie writes: “Money in and of itself is nothing. It is valuable merely because everyone knows everyone else will accept it as a form of payment.” Other scholars like Jeremy Grenkowitz agree, saying money is a “social construction, collective make-believe, a story.”
The accepted story of money has fostered development, wealth and technological growth, but it isn’t working any more. The natural world is being raped to death for a few people’s profit, while millions sink into poverty. In this story, says Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of Revolutionary Love, “we assume that profits must be the foundation for all our economic interactions. We judge our institutions to be productive and efficient and rational to the extent that they maximize money and power.” If a company’s stock price is rising, it’s doing something right, no matter who it’s killing. If you’re poor, you’re doing something wrong, no matter how much you’re helping others.
That’s what the story of money tells us, but it’s just a story, one we desperately need to change. And we can. At this critical moment, COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and the economic shutdown are challenging the world to find a new story and showing us what it might be.
A Brief history of money
Money started out a brilliant story. Instead of bartering an animal skin for some cabbages or whatever, people could sell what they had for money and use it to buy whatever they needed. Andrew Beattie says this was a great advance, “increasing the speed at which business, could be done.” People in many countries started using clay or metal tokens to denote value and agreed to accept them in exchange for goods. Around 800 CE, the Chinese invented paper money. All these tokens and bills only had value because there was a social narrative that said so.
Money made the world richer by enabling trade, but over centuries, it metastasized into a way to store wealth, enabling its possessors to influence and control the world. New forms keep being developed: checking accounts, credit cards, mobile financial apps, stocks, bonds, derivatives. Now, money is everywhere, a god-like force that few can understand, but which controls our lives.
Those who have money use it to gain control of governments. Then, they use the State’s power to further enrich themselves. They benefit from society’s infrastructure (like transportation, water, energy supplies, the Internet,) and write tax laws that make the rest of us pay for them. Meanwhile, people without money can be denied food, clothing, and shelter. They can be forced to work dangerous, demeaning, exhausting jobs for long hours at low pay. For lack of money, millions of people in America can’t afford water, a resource Nature provides absolutely free. Money enables resource extraction companies and ranchers to corrupt governments, displace indigenous people and destroy environments.
The current story of money is enforced through increasingly violent policing. In this story, it makes sense that 16 million housing units lie vacant, while over 500,000 people lack shelter on any given night. Those people don’t have any money, so no right to a bed. While millions are hungry and food banks run out of food, farmers are dumping or burying millions of eggs, truckloads of milk and tons of produce they cannot sell. These paradoxes are in no way moral or economically efficient, but they can seem rational within our narrative of money.
Valuing money over people is part of this story. Workers are used up and thrown out. Customers are markets to be taken advantage of. The natural world is turned into products, and what cannot be sold can be burned. Our story of money justifies these and many other forms of madness, including mass unemployment and mass incarceration. In this story, we can’t afford to treat each other well. Caring is for losers.
A new story of money
But what if we changed the narrative? What if we returned money to what it was meant to be? Instead of being something ones accumulates and hoards, money would only be something you exchange with other people to get necessities you can’t make yourself. Governments could distribute as basic income an amount of money calculated as adequate to enable all normal transactions. They might create another pot of money for projects, infrastructure development and repair, and for emergencies.
In this story, people who work get more, but nobody is in a ‘work-or-starve’ situation. People can save or invest, but interest rates would be zero or be negative, to encourage them to spend. So, in this narrative, money is just a tool. Nobody can use it to control their government; nobody would be a billionaire. Hoarding money would be as silly as hoarding hammers. Such stories and better ones are being developed in books like Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics.
Such radical change might have seemed impossible five years ago, but the COVID shutdown and the rebellion against police violence have changed everything. We can see glimmers of the new story in the midst of the shutdown. As government has paid high levels of unemployment compensation benefits to millions of laid off workers, those who receive them are living well without work, while those who don’t are suffering. So why not give such compensation to all, and make it permanent?
‘That won’t work,’ I can hear capitalists saying. ‘Who would do the nasty, soul-killing work that needs doing? Nobody would work long days butcheringhogs or run themselves ragged in an Amazon fulfillment center if they didn’t have to. Who would break their backs picking strawberries if they had a basic income without doing it?’
Maybe they wouldn’t. I know I wouldn’t. But should a job exist if people have to be forced to do it? Maybe employers would have to make jobs better, make them more humane, stop treating workers like machines. Maybe they would have to shorten the work day, slow down the pace, pay higher wages, hire more people, provide healthier, safer, more tolerable conditions. Of course, labor costs and prices would then rise, so people would have to consume less. But wouldn’t this be a good thing? We consume far more than our ancestors did, usually far more than is good for us. As Rabbi Lerner says, we need a New Bottom Line, maximizing health and well-being, caring and compassion, not profit.
I have also heard believers in the Puritan work ethic say that a new story of money would be the Devil’s playground. In the work ethic, first developed by 16th Century theologian John Calvin, wealth is a sign of God’s grace. Lack of wealth means you’re a bad person and will probably burn in Hell. Giving people something for nothing is the surest way to corrupt them, make them lazy, and lead them into sin. In this story of money, nothing should be free for working-class people.
I have seen that giving people too much can spoil them, so they never learn to provide for themselves. But a new story of money would include requirements to work. People want to do useful work, and much work actually needs doing. Employers and government would simply provide opportunities for people to do good things, as they did in the Great Depression with the Works Project Administration and the Conservation Corps. The proposed Green New Deal includes such programs.
Economists warn of the dangers of inflation: when money loses its value and you need a bucket full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. This has happened many times, for many reasons, including governments’ creating too much money. Politicians might phrase the same concern as “How will we pay for it?” Two answers to this legitimate ask:
1. Tax the rich. Go back to USA’s glory days in the 1950s when the top income tax was 90%, and add a wealth tax on the billionaire class. This will take away money’s power to corrupt governments and will pay for needed programs.
2. This is an old story question. Who is paying for what? We never hear experts warning of inflation or asking how we’ll pay the $30 billion or so the Federal Reserve has been giving the banks every month for 12 years as Quantitative Easing. They don’t warn about the inflationary impact or ask how we’ll pay for the annual $750+ billion military budget. Why should basic income, rent support and food cause massive inflation? Prices aren’t rising much now, during a time of decent unemployment compensation.
Finally, capitalist historians point to the failure of communism. Without the profit motive and without the threat of starvation, people didn’t work hard enough, and in the absence of markets, planners couldn’t coordinate who did what and how. The government wound up having to use force to motivate work, and things got pretty ugly. But the new story is not communism. There will still be markets. Individual effort, creativity and achievement will still be rewarded. It’s just the goals of that effort will change, to focus on a more caring, beautiful, sustainable world.
Rewriting money now
Although corporations will fight hard to keep the old story, we could still win. We could demand forgiveness of debts, massive reductions of rents and mortgages, basic income for all, food for those who need it, universal health care, disarming the police, and a lot more. All those demands are reasonable and doable. Debt forgiveness was a human tradition for thousands of years, sometimes called ‘Jubilee.’ It’s in the Bible, a periodic release of debts and of slaves, commanded by God as a way to keep societies together.
Many in government and finance, however, don’t want Jubilee or a new story. They want to stop generous unemployment benefits as economies “open up,” forcing people back to work. The super-rich can’t accept the story of money as a medium of exchange created by government and distributed to the people. They want money to stop flowing out and return to them, its rightful owners.
This is the struggle, the revolutionary moment we’re in now. The related issues of pandemic, mass unemployment and police violence affect everyone. The last thing any of us should want is to get back to “normal.” Normal is killing our people and our planet. We need a new story which sees success as what Rabbi Lerner calls a “Caring Society” that serves people, and all life on Earth, not as endless growth and production of more stuff. We don’t want a normal that needs militarized police and soldiers to enforce it.
We can do this. Black Lives Matter is giving strong leadership. People are in the streets. There will be a million details to work out, which will take lifetimes of effort, and better minds than mine, but what is the alternative? If we are going to survive, we need to put money back in its place, as our tool, not our ruler.
My lovely 70-year-old cousin Margit has severe rheumatoid arthritis. She’s in constant pain and lives in a nursing home. Her husband is in a different nursing home, so they never see each other.
Recently, Margit developed kidney failure. The doctors want to put her on dialysis. They say without it, she’ll die. I love Margit, but I hope she refuses. She has done enough and has earned her rest. But as the COVID-19 shutdowns show, America and its medical system thinks survival of individuals is the most important thing, ahead of reducing suffering or of social well-being, at least as long as those individual lives create profit for someone.
Should it be normal practice to keep people alive at any cost, no matter how much they are suffering? In the American medical system, the answer is, ‘Yes. Damn the costs; don’t mind the suffering, as long as patients have good insurance.’ When I was a hospital nurse in the 80’s, we had a patient named Laverne. She was 85 and had had multiple strokes. Her arms and legs were completely contracted (permanently bent.) She couldn’t move; she couldn’t talk. None of us wanted to take care of her; she snarled at us when we tried to help and tried to bite hands that got too close to her mouth.
Laverne was in the hospital because in the nursing home, she had developed huge, infected bedsores on her hips and back. Doctors gave her the latest antibiotics. She was on a high-tech air bed that minimized pressure on her skin. She had IVs and a feeding tube; she had dressing care for hours each shift. It wasn’t quite intensive care level treatment, but it was close. No one ever came to visit her.
After four weeks of this, a nursing supervisor came one night and said, “I have terrible news about Laverne.” We asked what could possibly be worse than what was already happening to her. The supervisor, who I’m not sure had ever actually laid eyes on Laverne, said, “We’ve lost her.”
He went on to tell us that they had found Serratia, a nasty bacteria, in her wounds, and that there was no treatment. (As if the bacteria hadn’t been there all along.) Within 24 hours, her special bed was removed, her dressing care was cut back to once a day, and her IVs were stopped. The intern wrote a Do Not Resuscitate order.
One of the nurses had skimmed Laverne’s chart, specifically the payer information in the front, which nurses rarely look at. You know what she found? Laverne’s insurance had run out. That’s why they stopped treatment. They finally let her die; after they had extracted every dollar they could get from her long-suffering body.
30 years later, I’m still angry and hurt about this story. Why are some tortured with medically-induced suffering, even while others are denied care they need, because they lack insurance? If you remember the debates in 2009 – 2010 about Obamacare, or follow the arguments over Medicare for All, you have heard that fear of health care “rationing” has been a major attack point against any publicly run health plan. If government ran health care, the story goes, they would soon start limiting the care we can receive. We would have “death panels” keeping old or crippled folks off ventilators and out of intensive care.
Well, as any hospital nurse could tell you, medical care sometimes needs limiting. Technological medicine has the power to keep almost everyone alive indefinitely. Barely alive, but with a heartbeat and some brain waves, while medical bills mount into the millions and families grieve endlessly, watching their loved ones sink.
Is that what we want from healthcare? I know that is not what most nurses and doctors went to school to do. Besides enriching the medical system, what is the point? Should we all live forever? Should we all be like Terri Schiavo, whose husband had to get a court order to allow her to die?
The infuriating thing about the right-wing charges of “rationing” is that the current system rations care every hour of every day. They ration in the cruelest and least effective way, by ability to pay. Everything from checkups to medicines to surgery and access to ventilators is rationed in the current system. But when government thinks of limiting heart surgery for people over 80, say, or encourages people to write living wills, we hear screaming about “euthanasia” and “killing grandma.”
When it comes to medical care, the screaming comes from the Left as well as from the Right. When I raised some arguments for limiting care on a listserv for public health people who are also social justice activists, my views were sharply attacked. Some said I was discriminating against the old and the disabled by wanting to deny them care. They asked, ‘why shouldn’t a 70-year-old quadriplegic receive coronary artery bypass surgery if he needs it? Who’s to say that his life has less value than that of a 32-year-old able-bodied person? Why can’t everybody have everything? You’re putting money ahead of human lives.’
I thought, people who say that should try being quadriplegic for a while. Or being the spouse or close family member of an aging, severely disabled person. They might learn that living on is not always the best solution. Not that you would necessarily want to die – although you might – but you might not want invasive, expensive, painful treatment to keep you going.
I am not that disabled or that old, but I’m getting there. I have friends in the multiple sclerosis community who are there already. I wouldn’t allow a technological, invasive procedure of questionable worth — and many, like the 50 – 90% of COVID patients who have died after being put on ventilators, fall into that category— to “save my life.” That doesn’t mean I want to die — I love living. But when you need extensive medical care and continuous personal support to keep going, or when you can’t do anything for yourself, you have to consider whether treatment is worth it.
It shouldn’t be automatic that you’ll bear any burden and pay any price to extend life. Some Christian conservatives think you should, though they won’t help you pay your bills or share your suffering. I often wonder if those advocates really believe their own religion. None of us will live forever. Why not let us go to Heaven instead of torturing us to prolong our lives? How do they reconcile their approach with a system that denies care on the basis of inability to pay?
We absolutely need a national health plan like Medicare for All to stop the cruel and counterproductive rationing of care by poverty. (Not these lame hybrid plans like Obamacare — a real single-payer plan.) But if we don’t find some other way of limiting medicine’s boundless appetite for treatment, we’ll cruelly extend suffering and bankrupt ourselves in the process.
If we don’t want mandatory rationing, we have to start being rational about what’s worth doing and what is not. Of course, people can disagree on costs, benefits, and risks. But the current default position of “treat until the money runs out or the brain quits” is not the way.
How to live well when everything seems to be falling apart? When no one knows what tomorrow may bring, how do we know what is right, what is healthy, and what might be effective? We can’t know, but we can learn principles from previous crises and teachers. From reading and talking with survivors, it seems we may need to make three commitments to keep focused and be good people in times of crisis.
When so many are suffering, when danger lurks all around, does it sound selfish to rest, to relax, to eat healthy food, go for a walk, have sex? It’s not. It’s recognizing that we are part of a community. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t do a good job of helping others. If our health breaks down or we become depressed, others will have to care for us instead of our caring for them.
Caring for self doesn’t mean ignoring injustice, hoarding food, or leaving people alone in their misery. It doesn’t mean giving up the fight to protect our world. It means finding a balance, realizing our bodies are the most precious things we have, and they need our attention. The Buddha said, “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
Let’s say the Buddha is right, and self-care is worthwhile in this time of pandemic, socially-engineered Depression, and authoritarian governments’ taking over much of the world. How could we take such care in such a time?
The first challenge is to create a pattern for our lives. That sounds really hard; we all see the world becoming more chaotic every day. Instead of a regular job, you might have to gig. Instead of sending kids to school, you might have to teach them at home. It’s easy to scatter our energy in such a time, but bodies need rhythm and repetition to function. So, can you live a schedule that includes breakfast, exercise, outdoor time, social contact, productive work, and rest? Can you eat in a healthy way instead of drowning your anxiety in sugar or alcohol?
I know you’ve heard this before, but with work and family responsibilities, healthy living is hard even in normal times. How much harder is it when every voice you hear is screaming ‘Run! Hide! Eat sweets!’? Or when you’re out of work and worried about losing your home?
Healthy living in perilous times is a book-length topic, for sure. Actually, I have written a book about it, and gave some good ideas in this article. Others have written well about it here and here and other places on the Web. But one point that hasn’t been mentioned enough is ‘Turn those scary voices off!’ Our perception of the world depends where we focus. Most people find constant focus on threats and horrors exhausting and depressing. Corporate or social media fear-mongering sap your energy and bring despair. We don’t have to ignore them, but we do need to spend at least half our time more positively, which usually means being with actual people, animals, or plants, meditating, or doing something we love and enjoy. Music helps too.
If you can turn off the terror chatter, you might find time for exercise, eating, and working. You can do things for money and still find them enjoyable, or if there is no money, find the pleasure or joy in free things. Of course, there are limits. For someone who is going hungry or sleeping on a sidewalk, self-care is much harder. I’ve never had to do that, so I can’t promise anything, but studies show that time and energy spent on being healthy also makes people more confident and happier, even if they still face major life challenges.
OTOH, self-care means very little if you are not making the world a better place. When you die, no one will ask how many pushups you could do. Who can you help, even one person, one animal or plant? What cause can you support, what mess can you clean up? It’s tricky to figure out where to help and how, because the needs are overwhelming, the situation keeps changing, and available information is so unreliable. Like, is it better to donate to a food bank or to a strong political candidate who might help more people? Should you volunteer on a crisis line or give time to needy neighborhood children? Or whatever, the needs are endless, but our time and energy are limited. Whatever you decide, helping others will make you feel better about yourself.
Almost nothing feels as good as helping others. Baptist Bishop Greg Valentine told me about buying a $200 pair of shoes, then hearing God’s voice telling him to give the shoes to a homeless man he saw, who had no shoes. After struggling with himself for a few minutes — “I really liked those shoes” — Bishop Valentine gave them up. “The man seemed really happy to have these shoes,” he told me, “but you know what? I felt even happier. The feeling I got from that was so powerful. Since then, I have been a lot less focused on material things. It’s not about possessions. God really doesn’t care about those. It’s about how we treat other people.”
Still, that knowledge doesn’t tell you how to divide up your limited resources, or how much to keep for yourself. Right now, need is everywhere. Most Americans have received $1200 “stimulus” checks, or soon will. My income has not changed, so I’m stimulated to give away most of it, and hopefully it will be effective. I don’t know how to decide except that giving to someone you know is usually better than giving to an organization where you know no one. Or at least, do some good research before giving.
Sometimes survival is the only victory we can hope to achieve — sometimes even that is a long-shot — but often people do far more. Things may seem hopeless now, but they’ve been hopeless before, and change still came. The great revolutionary Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) said, “Decades go by and nothing seems to happen. Then a week comes when decades happen.” Those weeks come because a lot of people put in a lot of effort making them happen, even when all seemed lost.
Successful revolutionaries like Lenin or Mao-Tse Tung also had to think way, way outside their boxes. Lenin said he was following Karl Marx, but the Russian revolution, in the midst of World War 1, was very different from anything Marx had predicted or recommended. Mao didn’t follow in Lenin’s footsteps; he based his revolution on the peasants, not the workers. What they had in common was a single-minded focus on overthrowing the corrupt, destructive system they lived in.
A revolution today couldn’t be anything like Lenin’s or Mao’s. It probably wouldn’t be “Left” at all; it would have to be a movement that appeals to people of all kinds. It might not have to be a revolution with lots of killing, but it would have to decouple money from power. It would require everyone to change, including you and me. I don’t know how to do this, but I can’t accept just letting the machine run over us like it’s doing now.
Times of great change are the best teachers. You or I might have been happier living in less challenging times, but really, how many of those have there been? For billions of people in the world, the crisis is not new and will not go away when the shutdowns are lifted or COVID is cured. The pandemic is just making existing challenges more intense. But we are here; the time is now, and the old ways can’t go on. Can we change ourselves and make the new ones better? We are called, as author/philosopher Charles Eisenstein, says, to make the most of our gifts and share them while we’re here. Perhaps we’ll be among the lucky ones who experience this crisis as a time of growth.
Wishing you love, strength, courage and wisdom, David.
All day we hear about avoiding exposure to COVID 19. Stay inside, wash hands, wear a mask, stay away from other people. Those practices might help prevent exposure, but is there another way to prevent infection? Can we also strengthen our immune systems to fight off COVID if it comes to us? Actually, we can do a lot.
Food – The right foods boost your germ-fighting capacity. According to Healthline.com, citrus fruits, red bell peppers, spinach and broccoli are full of immunity-building vitamins. Garlic, turmeric, and ginger have disease-fighting chemicals that are used all over the world. Nuts and seeds (e.g. almonds and sunflower seeds) pack the most life force into the smallest quantity of food. Tropical fruits such as papaya and kiwi also seem to fight off infections.
Medical News Today has similar list, which includes blueberries and dark chocolate at the top. All these foods are high in nutrients such as vitamins A, B, C, and E, and compounds such as antioxidants and flavonoids that help bodies work better.
There are also foods to avoid. Refined flours and sweet sugary things gum up body’s disease-fighting cells. Cured and burned meats, and a number of chemical additives can sap germ-fighting strength.
Eating well in times of shortages or closures requires some planning. There are great ideas in this article by my associate, dietitian Amy Campbell. Of course, if we have no money because of job loss, or if food is not available, we will need other practices which are beyond the scope of this article. But farmers’ markets, discount stores, community supported agriculture and food banks can make food more affordable. Sharing with neighbors can help everybody eat.
Supplements can help, especially if we can’t get a variety of healthy foods, which will be a problem during the shutdowns and the depression. Harvard Medical School’s newsletter recommends zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and various vitamins.
Substance use – The Centers for Disease Control says, “Smoking harms the immune system and disrupts its balance.” It might be hard to quit smoking at such a stressful time, but it’s one thing you can do to prevent COVID. Smoking also makes people more vulnerable to the lung damage by which COVID kills.
Alcohol might be OK in small amounts, but overdoing it leaves one vulnerable to infection. It might also make you stupid, so you don’t take anti-COVID precautions you would usually take. The same might be true of other drugs such as cannabis. Use them in moderation, but not in ways that expose you to unnecessary risks.
Sleep time is when the immune system gets to work. When you’re awake, the body and mind are too busy to give attention to fighting disease or healing damage. We need to sleep; it’s medicine. Hopefully, you have a comfortable, quiet place to sleep, but whether you do or not, the ideas in this article from my diabetes column might help.
Like the rest of us, the immune system needs motivation to work well. Why, exactly, should your immune system fight? Do you have goals, connections with others, sources of pleasure and of support, people to protect, or another reason to keep going? On some chemical level, in my holistic opinion, the immune system knows how much we want to live. If you can’t identify such a reason – which could be as minimal as taking care of a plant or enjoying an occasional sunset – see if you can think of a couple of good ways to make life more enjoyable.
Hugsand other physical contact promote health, including immune system health. You can find good articles like this one on the curative power of hugs all over the Internet.
Moderate exercise also helps immune cells function. I’m not sure how people are supposed to exercise when the playgrounds and gyms are closed, but there are a lot of things you can do inside – exercise programs online, household objects you can use as weights. And we can still get out and walk, run, or bike if the police haven’t stopped that where you live. Having a dog to run is a good justification for being outside.
This may sound ridiculous in the current moment, but try to reduce stress. Actually, if you’re not working, you’ve already relieved a major source of stress, but fears about the future and loss of one’s sense of safety are major stressors. Exercise and prayer are two great stress reducers. Social support is, too, so try to connect by phone or online if you can’t do it in person. Of course, physically meeting people is still better if you can. Animals are also great stress relievers, and you can see other approaches here. Humor and laughter have immune and stress-reduction benefits shown in many studies. So, try to find some reasons to laugh. Even in hard times, people do funny things.
Keep warm – Although some scientists call it an old wives’ tale, Grandma’s advice to put on another layer and have a hot cup of tea works for me. Now some studies have confirmed that coldness contributes to respiratory infection by suppressing the immune system. Hard for homeless people to keep warm, but if you can, do. Helping others keep warm by donating blankets or clothes is a great way to share.
image courtesy Web MD
Even with the strongest immunity, it still makes sense to avoid infection. Hand washing, avoiding sneezes and coughs (and covering your ow) and keeping hands away from your face still make sense. But by eating right, getting sleep and exercise, touch, and laughter, we can greatly reduce our risk of COVID and other infections.