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The human was once whole in days before, but somewhere in his journey to the present, he lost himself. His mind and body have become separate identities that are unaware of each other's existence. Modern society reflects and encourages those thoughts very well, in my opinion. If a person believes his body is broken, ill, or in need of upgrading, he will seek out a medical professional specialized in the area of distress. Arriving to the specialist, the patient demands quick and efficient treatments that will cure/fix/upgrade the weakness in his body; unaware of the effects this may cause him mentally. Once cured of his weakness, the patient is in full working order and is sent back out into the world. That man's procedure for curing his weakness is the same road taken as someone who wishes to fix a toaster, for example. Would it then be safe to say that the man, subconsciously or consciously, considers his body to be more closely related to a tool rather than a part of himself? Unfortunately, I believe this man is only one person out of an entire society that shares the same dissociation of body and mind. Why do people of modern society not associate themselves with their physical being, and where is this leading us? Moreover, how did this alienation of self come about? I will try to explain the latter of the two questions first, because I believe the answer can be explained through the evolution of medical technology.
Traditionally, the main goal of medicine, as in the practice of, has been to cure diseases and prevent death, a classic human vs. nature scenario. To overcome death, which is a part of all the life cycles in the natural world, is virtually impossible. However, I am not here to argue the validity of man's fight with nature. I am trying to explain that the traditional medical community has but one enemy, and its success with that enemy has been limited. However, as time passes, the main goals of medicine start to become questionable. Daniel Callahan addresses some of modern medicines new goals in the fifth chapter of False Hopes. Describing the second great attraction of modern medicine, he writes:
Here the aim is not the historical goal of avoiding disease and averting death, but of using the knowledge
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The traditional local doctor, with his home remedies, has become outdated, and his patients feel more secure going to see the new high-tech specialist. Medicine has since then become synonymous with technology. This shift in tradition to technology is a characteristic of what Jacques Ellul calls the "Technical Phenomenon" (19). A brief definition of the "Technical Phenomenon" could be: all common points, tendencies, and principles that are shared by all techniques. In particular, I am referring to the tendency of today's society to pursue the "one best way" which is equal to the quickest and most efficient way.
In the medical profession, this becomes evident when one observes the way a doctor treats his patient. If the doctor is considered professional, he will summon a patient with the usual cry, "Next," and then proceed to diagnose and fix the problem as quickly and efficient as possible. The patient is then sent back out into the world, but I am sure this cycle sounds familiar. I think Alvin Weinberg would call this cycle a temporary "Technological Fix" (Thompson 42). This means someone uses technology, in the technical sense, to solve the current problem, but the source of that problem remains unchecked. I believe that many patients look for those "quick technological fixes" because that is what society has started to expect from the medical community. David Morris writes, "Many people take comfort in thinking about the body as a machine that requires merely an occasional trip to the repair shop: the analogy allows us to postpone troublesome questions about illness because we assume that the medical profession will know exactly what to do when an emergency arises" (14).
The false assumption of what the medical community is capable of is an excellent example of how alienation of self came about in this particular field. Society has passed down a false consciousness that would, supposedly, make people feel safer going about their environment, but this assumption has caused a severe side-effect: the dissociation of man's physical body and his conscious mind. The majority feels like they can do whatever they want to their bodies and it will not effect them as a person, because if anything were to go wrong the doctors could fix it. Americans feel they should look toward medical technology to find a miracle cure for obesity, rather than cut back on the fast food restaurants and snack machines that haunt every corner of their cities. Now, the slow realization of the alienation becomes evident in modern society. Moreover, this false assumption of medicine will continue to grow as technology progresses, but what are some of the reasons that society finds appealing about this dehumanizing attitude?
The most historical reason for separating mind from body is to make the perfect "utopian body" (Morris 136). Many look toward medical technology to create what Morris calls "a paradise of curves and muscles" (137). Steroids, diet drugs, and cosmetic surgery are the quickest routes to the "utopian body," but the side effects of those are not good for the body and society is aware of that but still uses them anyway. Morris points out a good example of the alienation of physical self when he writes about how people in a postmodern culture regard their bodies as malleable tools. He further states, "The colossal, godlike figures celebrated in Renaissance sculpture and painting, utopian bodies in the postmodern era are disengaged from any discourse about mind or spirit" (137). Around 1990, the most frequently performed surgery was liposuction, the process of vacuuming fat cells from beneath the skin, and coming in a close second were breast implants and facelifts (Morris 140). These manipulations of the body reflect what society thought beauty should be at the time. Morris comments on the difference between bodybuilders and powerlifters when he writes, "These [bodybuilder] competitions do not measure strength. Powerlifters compete to demonstrate strength, whereas bodybuilders create their muscles solely for display." Still, what is accomplished by having a person achieve in building the "utopian body"? Is the satisfaction of meeting one of society's goal worth the mental and physical damage of drugs and surgery, not to mention the large waste of time from weightlifting?
For the sake of efficiency is another reason for separating mind and body. To live at the physical constraints of the human body would be very inefficient by today's standards. Human limitations in areas such as pain tolerance and the biological sleep cycle, which were once considered completely natural, are starting to be viewed by modern society as flaws in the body. If a person is in pain, a common symptom of the overworked, then they cannot perform at their optimum whether at home or work. That is why pain relievers stock shelves at gas stations, grocery stores, and superstores such as Walmart. People choose quick and effective ways of getting rid of common colds and aches instead of trying to go ahead and let the body fight the cold. The very thought that the body can heal itself has become somewhat laughable in modern society. Unfortunately, the notion of resting until a full recovery is also a notion that modern society has trouble with. Everyone is on the go and has to be places. Therefore, if pain is affecting a person's job, then he should just pop a couple of pills and get back to work, or that is the way modern society wishes us to believe. If the mind does not register the pain the body is in, then everything must be okay. The pain will probably be doubled once the pain reliever wears off, but, when that happens, the person can just take more pills and repeat.
Pain relievers are not the only drugs people use to increase their productivity. Stimulants are being made for those who wish to stay awake for several days. Disregard the incredibly harmful side effects of not sleeping, the pros of the drug outweigh the cons in today's technical society. The ability to stay awake for days at a time will lead to incredible productivity for companies. Another drugs that reflect modern society are the sexual enhancing drugs. The body, which may have stopped working naturally, is being forced to work/perform by a chemical that is circulating throughout the blood stream. This forced labor brings about the image of the body being a slave/tool of the mind, but I am not sure how long a body can be forced to perform before it crashes.
The goals of modern society are encouraging the shift into separate identities. I believe that the goals of society, such as the pursuit of an efficient "utopian body," guide the evolution of man and how he looks at himself. Therefore, man's evolution of values and ethics is directly related to the transformation of his society around him. I know this is a quick and rough theory, but it becomes evident upon closer inspection. Jeremy Rifken writes about this shift in society. He refers to the new up and coming age as the "Age of Access," which has values many people are starting to adopt. Rifken writes, "Just as the printing press altered human consciousness over the past several hundred years, the computer will likely have a similar affect on consciousness over the next two centuries" (12). This leads to the question: Why am I writing about how man evolves with society? To properly think and predict how man's values, such as his view of his body and mind, evolve, one must understand the process of evolution. Once an understanding has been reached, I can carry on with a question I asked earlier: Where will the dissociation of man's physical body and conscious mind lead society? If my understanding of how man evolves is correct, then it shall show through the accuracy of my predictions.
The future of society is one I cannot predict, but if it is heading in the same route as today, then educated guesses become acceptable. Today society is heading towards a technological state, and we are not only heading toward it, we are embracing it, too. False consciousness about notions such as "progress" and the "neutrality of technology" are masking the actual nature of the beast known as technology. Using Ellul's theory on the "Technical Phenomenon," I can say that the alienation of body and mind will become more extreme as time progresses (325). Medical technology will conquer the ethical limits of modern society, and a new race of genetically perfect machines, known as the human body, will become another advertisement on everyone's high definition television. Unlike the health and surgery advertisements of today, it will become possible for people to go out and replace their bodies with the latest and greatest upgraded models, in the same way computers are today. Bodies that will not get tired, sick, or age and come with a five-year warranty will become the norm. Stores that sell used computers today may end up selling used human bodies tomorrow.
In addition, parents will have options when it comes to designing their sons in the same way that Best Buy creates individual computer packages for its customers. Parents will be able to choose their son's or daughter's personality with the click of a button. "How smart do you want to make your son?" Click. "How funny do you want to make your son?" Click. "Thank you, your total comes to $12,000.99, and your baby will be delivered to your door in six to eight weeks."
Of course, I am only writing about the absolute extremes society will, hopefully, never reach, but the slightest notion that we could achieve such cold dehumanizing efficiency is frightening. My predictions will probably never become a reality, but if they do, no one will really care what I am writing about in this paper. The realization of the separation of man's physical body and conscious mind is the first step in fixing what I believe is a problem. Modern society, however, will disagree with me and argue that there are no problems today that technology and progress cannot fix. The realization that technology and progress are what have caused many of today's problems may also help bring about a cure, but it is unlikely. The solution to fixing a person's false consciousness lies in changing society for the better, but what is considered to be better is beyond my judgment. Moreover, the process of transforming society for the better is lost on me. Normally, people look towards technology to find a solution to society's problems, but where do we look to find a solution to the technology problem? Maybe the problem has no cure and we're doomed to live out the consequences of our creation. Technology has saved us from a life of discomfort, and now it enslaves us in a web of efficiency and productivity. Thinkers such as Ellul and Langdon Winner would agree with me. Then again, perhaps I am wrong and there really is no problem; it is "all in my head." Whatever course taken will not be decided by man, and only time can foresee which course is taken.
Callahan, Daniel. False Hopes. New York: Simon & Schuster, inc., 1 998.
Ellul, Jaques. The Technological Society. Trans. John Wilkinson. Toronto: Random House, 1964.
Golub, Edward. The Limits of Medicine. New York: Time Books, 1994.
Horrobin, David. Medical Hubris: A Reply to Ivan Illich. Montreal: Eden Press, n.d.
Morris, David. Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age. California: University of California Press, 1998.
Rifken, Jeremy. The Age of Access. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000.
Thompson, William, Ed. Controlling Technology. New York: Prometheus Books, 1991.
Vaux, Kenneth, Ed. Powers That Make Us Human: The Foundations of Medical Ethics. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985.