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Trial by Twitter

Trento, Italy


Trial by Twitter

On January 1st, 2022, my poem, “American Pandemic (The President’s Prayer),” was published in The American Journal of Poetry, Volume 12; it’s a poem, which, at first, seems to take a stand against science—more specifically vaccines, and perhaps, on the surface, something like that, at least if there’s no deeper contemplation, is happening there. For the record, as I wrote in this complementary piece, I believe in the positive power of science and the effectiveness of vaccines, which I received under the supervision of my parents as a child, along with the COVID jab on my own initiative (two shots of Pfizer).

Leaving all that aside, however, and returning to the work, I wrote this poem not to discredit science and vaccines, but to challenge the assumption that science and vaccines can solve all our problems—that somehow those men and women working in white lab coats are saints and miracle workers. I don’t believe they are, at least not in the grandiose, biblical sense. What do I mean? Before addressing this question, I would like to say that, firstly, there should be absolutely no debate about the good these individuals have done—the increased ease and convenience of life is total proof of this. Secondly, I don’t even claim to say that scientists are somehow bad individuals, because they’re not—many of them genuinely care about improving the planet, but even those with good intentions are often blinded by them and can’t see the actual damage the pursuit of their goals is making; this isn’t something peculiar to science or scientists, but rather it’s a general principle which affects everyone, from religious leaders on down to presidents.

So, what’s the purpose and intention of the poem? Essentially, I composed it as a challenge to the supposed saintliness of science. The pandemic has exposed—aside from the frailty of both authoritarian and even democratic nation states (a cliché argument these days)—not only our total obedience to science, but more aptly, our worship of it, to the point of idolatry. This is strange, because science, after all, isn’t omnipotent; it cannot, for example, read your thoughts or open your brain to find a picture of a horse inside it when you’re thinking of one, at least perhaps not yet. And so, we shouldn’t give it that kind of treatment, until it actually demonstrates these “godly” powers, which might be within the realm of possibilities, but perhaps also not.

The people wearing white coats, hence—the ones who’ve given us vaccines, cures, and medication—are often the same people who’ve given us the pandemics, diseases, and problems in the first place. Thus, referring to COVID vaccines as miracles is like saying nuclear decontamination experts are saints because they’ve developed tools to rid Chernobyl of all its radiation, or, more humorously, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Science itself develops the reactors and bombs, and then fashions the “miracles” to protect us from the very harm that arises from them.

It’s because of science, to begin with, that we have many of the illnesses, pandemics, and environmental destruction that the discipline itself is now trying to rid us of. Except for the biblical flood, which was a deliberate attempt to teach humanity a “lesson,” the unwanted consequences of scientific progress are exactly that—unwanted; indeed, I can’t think of any other time when God had to send his “miracles” to cure his people from the ills he himself created, which, as I try to count them, seem to be rare, and probably non-existent, at least in the Garden of Eden.

The unquestioned belief and faith in the “goodness” of science has become, somehow, more dogmatic than Christian fundamentalism; in this respect, perhaps, we don’t need more science, but less of it. As Gandhi wrote in Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a 1910 book in which he discusses not only India, but also modern civilization and colonialism. This work, like many others which show us the uncomfortable truth of who and what we are, was of course banned by the British—not that different from what’s happening today when people are simply silenced for speaking about things that make the government and masses uncomfortable. So, what does Gandhi say here that’s so relevant to our times? Or, the better question to ask would the following: How does he get banned? Well, by stating the following: “Railways, lawyers and doctors have impoverished the country [India] so much so that, if we do not wake up in time, we shall be ruined.” Let’s ignore lawyers for a second, and focus on doctors, who, according to Gandhi, give us the false illusion of health, because instead of listening to the messages and symptoms of our own bodies, we, instead, take medications to silence those very signs that tell us we’re destroying ourselves, all in the attempt to continue living those destructive lives.

Take, for example, individuals who routinely overeat—in the event of chronic pain, they’re less likely to embark on the difficult road of ceasing their unhealthy habit and more likely to follow the convenient way of taking substances that relieve the very symptoms/bodily signals which are telling them to stop eating in the first place, and when those miracles of science slowly begin losing their effectiveness (something they’re bound to do sooner or later) that person will blame the medication’s quality/growing ineffectiveness instead of his own lifestyle.

And so, doctors, according to Gandhi, aren’t so much curing people these days inasmuch as they’re promoting unhealthy lifestyles, and they do this by making us believe that health is no longer about your own ability to protect the body that’s yours, but rather it’s the job of science to do that—so stay out. Science has conveniently labeled those bodily signals which are telling us to change our own lifestyle and conveniently labeled them “symptoms,” in order to take away our own agency and hand it over to science so it can “cure” it.

And how about mental health? Feeling depressed? Like the stomach pain caused by overeating, don’t figure out why you have no energy or motivation. Don’t listen to your own body because you neither know it nor can change it yourself. You’re not a scientist and you’ll undergo Trial by Twitter should you dare step out of line. Indeed, your depression is probably caused by the fact that you’ve ingested too much TV or are leading a generally unproductive life, but don’t you dare make that assumption—these things are neither worth thinking about nor even relevant. Take an anti-depressants and continue your routine, because, you, as a Western individual, one with complete faith in science, can do nothing wrong to yourself, and if you do something wrong to yourself—like overeating which leads to stomach pain or watching too much TV which leads to depression—it’s not your job to fix or even worry about that; it’s the job of science to do that. Is this the altar of saintly science we blindly kneel before?

Already, articles, such as this one in Forbes are beginning to report that psychologists may have been too eager in designating some mental disorders as real disorders, when in fact, something like “ADHD is not a disorder …. Rather it is an evolutionary mismatch to the modern learning environment we have constructed.” Indeed, it’s not depression itself that’s the problem, but the modern world, with all its technology and science, that’s causing the depression to begin with—triggering things in the mind that would never have come to the surface in an otherwise “healthy” environment, not contaminated by the miracles of science. Disorders, however, and more surreptitiously symptoms, pay well, and so why not designate? Why not diagnose? Because to cure, you must diagnose, but who benefits from the cure in this case—the patient or corporations? Why do you need to “cure” something that could’ve been avoided in the first place?

Let’s return to modernity. Gandhi spoke about railroads. And so, was it not this technology which first connected the world? And, by God, how it truly did connect everyone—pandemics and diseases included, and these, of course, never had to pay for a ticket. During Gandhi’s day, railroads were all the rage—today it’s automobiles and planes, spreading all kinds of germs with greater convenience and ease, when, hundreds of years ago, these friendly viruses rarely left the community. Once again: Is this the saintliness of science that we must worship?

Perhaps it’s still not apparent to most that we’re losing our humanity. The sentiment may seem grand, but what good will it do us to trust blindly in science when that very same blindness more than satisfies the definition of dogma in any religion? Is it not apparent that we’re falling into the same trap of exclusion, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness when we judge people who choose to follow a different creed, except that now the persecution is packaged in a different form of heresy—the refusal to bow down to the altars of medicine, engineering, physics, and chemistry—things which have given us cures, bridges, light, but also atomic bombs, poisons, and Dr. Mengele, who and which, as I’ve written, have yet to demonstrate divinity, and probably never will.

It may be cliché, but there’s a price to pay for everything, and science has largely refused to acknowledge any of its own faults, which is why it’s strange, these days, for the discipline to demand that people worship its teachings like a religion—complete faith in the so-called chemical scriptures. Not that nature can’t wreak its own havoc or create its own poisons, but at least when the forest regrows after a lightning fire, or rivers return to their banks after downpours, nature doesn’t have the arrogance to designate precisely those forces which help it heal from the wounds its own power has inflicted as miracles.

It’s in this respect that I refuse to call vaccines, the people who develop and administer them, and science in general as miracles, because they’re not—even if they do contribute much good to our society. A blind belief, along with a total, unquestioned reliance on these things, much less the elevation of these studies to a holy plateau, is utterly unwarranted, and this remains the message of the poem.

And lastly, let’s assume the government does coerce individuals into doing something which is ultimately good for them, this coercion, nevertheless, can’t be called freedom, because while today that “benevolence” may align with the government’s own goals, tomorrow those goals may diverge, and when scientists begin injecting people to satisfy an entirely different, but necessary agenda (sterilizing people, for example, to control population because the planet is on the verge of collapse) will we blindly follow those measures as well—for the “good” of the planet? That too remains the message of the poem.

The authentic artist has always been and will always be an ardent critic of the blind stupidity espoused by the masses. And, furthermore, it’s the true visionaries who see, and perhaps have already seen, what lies two steps ahead—precisely those dangers which seem absolutely harmless today but will become a force to be reckoned with years down the line. Indeed, it’s the real poets who’ve always been enemies of the government; if they’re not dissidents, they’re existence is worthless. Those, who, today, prop up the governments’ initiatives are nothing more than the American variety of the Soviet Writers Union, which bestowed elite status and material benefits in exchange for cheap literature that promoted the “noble” agendas of the state. Our own apparatchik artists today—in contrast to the hack poets like Mayakovsky and hack novelists like Ostrovski who glorified the construction of a communist paradise—are styling themselves like ones who’ve just gotten out of bed, and they’re nevertheless espousing a similarly unrealistic Eden where no one is ever offended, where everyone is always safe, where everything is forever perfect, because 2+2=5, and all of this will somehow be brought by an incarnation of Lenin, except he’ll be a better communist this time.

For now, everything is okay—get vaccinated and carry a card that prevents those who don’t have it from entering movie theaters and Christmas markets. Anyways, today it’s all for our own good and what’s the harm if it also coincides with the government’s agenda? None whatsoever. When tomorrow, however, the planet’s very existence is really threatened (it will surely come to that point one day) and something drastic must be done to fix the situation, it will no longer matter to the government what people are injected with—only that the problem is solved.


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