Never before, have so many crises, including climate change, converged into a minefield of threats to life itself. The underlying tendencies however are not new, but represent just the logical continuation of a life-rejecting and dualistic worldview born in the West and now dominant globally. With the concept of biopolitics, this article briefly outlines the current discourse on life and its expressions in Western medicine, food habits and technology use while demonstrating that the scientific foundations of this discourse have already collapsed within the scientific community.

Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics refers to the rational administration of life itself and human populations in an effort to control and rule over bodies and ecosystems. A speaking historical example[1] for the concrete influence of biopolitics is the bended posture of poor, compared to rich (or aristocratic) populations, reflecting differences in the perception of the own body, particularly towards hierarchies, as well as hard manual labour. With knowledge being power, those who hold power are able to use knowledge in a way that increases their freedom. This knowledge can of course also be used to control the population to a certain extent with “bread and games” as the old romans would have it.

Today’s equivalent would probably consist in fast food, video games, permanent smart phone use and the record consumption of medicaments for all small and bigger ills. The combination of all these activities have a determining effect on the bodies and minds of the masses, since they shape hormonal regulation (and thus, emotions), thinking and consequently behaviour. By contrast, those who have knowledge about health dangers, lifestyle choices, technologies etc. are more likely to have a higher socio-economic status, enabling them to buy healthier products and cultivate the mind, opening up new opportunities in life.

Fukushima or the loss of responsibility for statistically almost impossible disasters to fuel our ever-increasing and digitally accelerated addiction to electricity – has rationality failed us?

The dualist worldview, a central component of the enlightenment

These techniques used in today’s biopolitics, outlined more broadly below, do however not come from a void. They are the consequence of a centuries old discourse on life that has emerged in the West and is now dominant globally. The cartesian worldview[2], consisting in the belief in free will, the centrality of the brain and linear progress, as well as the opposition nature-culture, has had ambiguous consequences. On the one side, it has liberated Westerners from their religious chains, leading to new scientific discoveries and economic progress in the long-term. On the other side, it has reduced what it means to be human to cognitive intelligence, excluding social and emotional intelligence and the interdependencies among them. This discourse can be summarized as being dualistic. It opposed the observer from the observed, the human from nature, truth from untruth, order from chaos, intelligence from stupidity, problem from solution etc. This dualism is problematic (to use its own language), because it ignores its tight interdependencies and mutual conditioning. For instance, the framing/understanding of a problem will result in cutting down the number of potential solutions to that problem. When shifting to another frame/understanding, the appropriate solution range will change. Another example are black and white, which are usually portrayed as opposites, but in reality are both light.

The ideology of progress in medicine and technology development

Now one may ask how a simple philosopher’s ideas, “I think therefore I am” by René Descartes, can have such an impact on our lives today? The ideas of the enlightenment in a broader sense have progressively started to gain pace in various scientific disciplines, including engineering and economics. The homo oeconomicus has emerged as the central figure for economic progress, driving profit-seeking and the exclusion of society and nature from economic activity.

Also in medicine, the interdependencies of organs have long time been neglected, making place for very deep, but partial knowledge. Surgery and Western medicine have made significant progress, but with each progress came unintended consequences, just as the side effects of medicaments. Aristoteles, ancestor of modern medicine, may have anticipated that enormous progress in partial knowledge of the body will create new problems instead of the “ultimate” liberation from pain and age when he said that “the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Science without moral: doctors conducted Nazi experiments in the name of scientific progress

Despite that, modern peak medicine promises to stretch our lives by transplants, implants, large-scale medication and others – often at the expense of life quality and the financial sustainability of health systems. Instead of pursuing a healthy lifestyle, many people today opt for surgery or pills, supported by the health system advocating this approach instead of encouraging prevention, good food, healthy relationships and a healthy mindset. The focus of Western medicine is to eliminate disease, thereby ignoring that disease is not the opposite of health, but part of health. Disease reflects the state of the patient. Cutting a cancer away through surgery does not resolve the root causes of the cancer which may lay in alimentation, among others.

Another example of the partiality of Western medicine is that it has long time considered what is now called the microbiome of the gut to be a black box. These bacteria were thought to be somehow inert and not affected by our nutrition and environmental factors. Today, the microbiome is thought to be central for the functioning of our immune system and our central nervous system. Since it affects our affective and cognitive functions, some have called it the second brain. The gut’s health is fundamental for our hormonal balance – an imbalance can severely deteriorate mental health, resulting in depression – a phenomena that is likely to be linked to our industrial food consumption, lack of contact with nature and individualist society. Today’s industrial societies’ hormonal states are regulated by overmedication, industrialised and highly processed foods, genetically modified foods, extremely high meat and dairy consumption and the belief in a life without pain.

The same logic holds true for technology development which has been isolated from social and natural systems. Increasingly, the changes in societies have been portrayed as being driven by technological innovation[3] solely. Inventions are thought to be brought to life kind of miraculously by geniuses, who base them on scientific discoveries accessing “truth” by rigorous scientific investigation and mathematics. This approach ignores the social conditions under which innovations are made possible (including education, social norms and scientific paradigms), as well as the way technology is adopted and, where applicable, adapted by society.

A new god of technology

Nevertheless, technology has been elevated to what could be called an equivalent to a god, promising emancipation from bodies, nature and ultimately death. Today’s discourse on artificial intelligence, transhumanism and space exploration reflect the idea of data being equal to reality and life. It would be just enough to describe reality to seize it (here we have Descartes again). By understanding all data, we are enabled to model life. Thereby, we could become cyborgs and live forever. This ideological discourse isolates an aspect of life, cognitive intelligence, to dominate and commercialise it. The pervert logic of Elon Musk (who’s behind Tesla, Space X and Neuralink) goes like this: we have to become machines to beat benign machines. We have to give up everything that makes us human to survive machines created by (evil) humans. Of course, he wants to sell us these human-machine interfaces and regulate our hormones, social lives and thoughts to have ultimate control over them and commercialise them.

A cyborg human, cut off its body, is sitting in an electric car inside Falcon Heavy flying straight to Singularistan, watching the display of the Tesla: “don’t panic.”

The display forgot to mention that its home planet has just been destroyed by a gigantic
tsunami, several nuclear meltdowns, epidemies caused by genetically manipulated bacteria, nuclear bomb infernos of World War III and the failure of robots, supposed to save the planet, due to a power cut.

This is pure biopolitics of the 21st century and could be called digital totalitarianism since it will not only touch all aspects of life, but even shape what life will mean within this new reduced version of life. Elon Musk’s billionaire colleague Jeff Bezos follows a similarly pervert logic. He says that we have to escape earth by space exploration because we have destroyed the planet, without mentioning that he is the boss of the world’s largest marketplace which has massively driven this destruction. Just like in medicine, the technologies are praised as solutions to problems previous technologies (medicines’ side effects) have created.

The end of dualism – a new Western paradigm in science and politics?

Copernicus proved that the earth is not the centre of the universe, Einstein showed that everything is relative, Quantum theory rejected the notion of a purely material universe and now, we discover that neither our brains, nor our bodies are the autonomous and controlling entities they were said to be since the age of enlightenment and Descartes. More so, recent developments in Western science suggest that we face the end of a dualistic world view. This paradigm shift will be exemplified by the developments in medicine, politics and climate science. Even though this shift is on its way, it will require large scale mobilization to put the new paradigms knowledge at disposal of the broader public, since industries and politics exert power through the techniques of biopolitics developed under the cartesian paradigm.

Western medicines’ partial understanding of the human body and mind is today challenged by the discovery of multiple interdependencies. The bacterial ecosystem (microbiome) present in the foods we eat and our guts interacts with our brain. It is thereby tremendously important to both our physical and mental health. However today, Western medicine is still dividing its disciplines along organs and functions (i.e. dermatology, urology or psychiatry). The importance of the gut’s nervous system and the interdependencies of organs and interaction with our environment has already been known for thousands of years in medicines that the Western one today calls “alternative”. Ayurveda in particular has knowledge about these issues for 4000 years. Increasingly, modern Western medicine opens up to this ancient knowledge, adopting practices such as acupuncture in hospitals and incorporating dietary considerations much more than before in its approach (However, the pharma industry also heavily lobbies against alternative medicine, including homeopathy).

You are what you eat

Hospital food in the West has a notoriously bad reputation and was rather inhibiting healing than promoting it. Therefore today, many hospitals are recognizing the health benefits of a nutritious, varied and fresh diet. What’s more, mental health is now being rediscovered by abandoning the idea of a somehow mechanical “dysfunction” of neuronal connection that would just need to be “fixed” by medication. Here again, nutrition is being rediscovered, alongside psychotherapy and the inclusion of the social environment in the healing process.

Second, I would like to highlight climate and environmental science as an impressive example of a paradigm shift in natural sciences. The many reports of the last years on climate change and biodiversity loss are the result of a long process of interdisciplinary work aiming at understanding interdependencies in our natural environment and the role the human plays in it. The “Anthropocene” is a speaking example of the integration of the human back into nature, this time unfortunately because he is destroying it and thus its own species. The term paradigm shift could also be used here, because previously marine ecologists, forest ecologists, climatologists and others have not worked together too closely to understand the global climate and ecosystem.

Lastly, also in politics, we can speak of a fundamental paradigm shift away from neoliberalism. While the homo oeconomicus seems to be killed by (seemingly irrational[4]) people as Trump and Johnson, these two figures are yet trying to desperately conserve the predominance of (oligarchic) economic decision-making, the status quo, at the expense of society and the environment. Hierarchies, patriarchies, corporate power and the GDP-fetishism breathe their last breaths in a last attempt to save an utterly rotten system that has shown deep-rooted dysfunctionalities. The global economic system has profound imbalances, is regularly in crisis mode and markets are not working as they are supposed to be in neoclassic economics. The strange alliance between neoliberals and the far-right when it comes to economics is precisely the desperate defense of an outdated system at the benefit of a small elite that doesn’t want to go. Time has come for another paradigm. The global climate movement, occupy wallstreet, the commons movement, organic agriculture, local currencies, the sharing economy and many more show that bottom-up democracy, citizen-led businesses and a health- and people-centred economic output work in reality. The time has come for decentralized and networked structures driven by collective intelligence, purpose, well-being, harmony with nature and empathy.

[1] Although the excessive use of smartphones already start to change anatomy with apparent class differences.

[2] Named after French philosopher René Descartes

[3] This approach is called techno-determinism

[4] In a sense they are rational, because they defend the status quo at all costs.