(Copyright © 2010)

Once, when I was a kid, I was spanked smartly on bare buns with a canvas stretcher (my mother was a painter) and told “Never to say that again!” for pinning my little brother to the floor and yelling, “I’ll murder you,” for his having knocked down the impressive tower I’d built with my blocks. Mother didn’t care about the wrecked tower, only about my angry words. Somewhere in there was a message I’ve remem-bered to this day.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve been to three dermatologists for treatment of two different rashes. Each doctor scoped my chest, arms, shoulders, back, and prescribed some high-priced lotion-cream-ointment to rub on my skin. I spent several thousand dollars buying one brand after another, and none of them worked. I kept asking what caused such punishing rashes, and never got a straight answer. When the first dermatologist got results of a biopsy back, he told me I had a diagnosis of Dermatitis herpetiformis. What causes that? I asked. “A substance that collects in your skin” I was told, and he prescribed a new lotion from Texas that cost over $100 a tube. I went to another dermatologist for a second diagnosis, and he gave me a prescription for a different tube of goo, which I never filled. Years later, when I had access to the Web, I did a WebCrawl for Dermatitis herpetiformis, and the first hit on St. John’s University told me it was a symptom of celiac disease.

Last year, after not eating wheat-rye-barley for over ten years, I had a bright red rash over much of my body, and a third dermatologist told me I had eczema due to low humidity indoors in winter, and he started me on another course of topical ointments. He said I should get a humidifier. One machine didn’t have any effect, so I bought another and ran them both, one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom. I lived with the two whirring motors for several months, but the rash raged on. Until I looked eczema up on Wikipedia, and found a list of causes for such rashes, the fourth being food allergies, particularly to nuts. I’d been eating a lot of cashews, so I stopped. In two days the excruciating rash was gone; my skin faded from bright red to its usual pallor.

The message I got was that my doctors were more interested in treating symptoms than underlying causes, and in seeing multiple patients at a time, each patiently waiting in a confining little room for the good doctor’s attention, which amounted to about seven minutes when it came. Treating symptom as the disease is a fundamental category error which, in my limited experience, is common practice among dermatologists.

Which brings me to September 11, 2001, the ultimate example of treating a symptom and not the underlying disease, in that we staged two wars and caused undue havoc in the Islamic world rather than address the social distress that led to attacks in New York and Washington in the first place. Turning the sights of our cumbrous military machine on Iraq, we avenged the deaths of some three thousand civilian workers with the deaths of 4,373 of our own troops, the wounding of twenty times that many, and estimated deaths of Iraqi civilians of over a million, not to mention those displaced from their homes. Crashing planes into buildings was not the disease itself but one symptom of the disease, along with attacks on the USS Cole, American embassies, transportation hubs in London and Madrid, and other signs of distress.

The original diagnosis was delivered by Osama bin Laden in his “letter to America,” translated from Arabic into English in The Observer (now owned by The Guardian) of Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002. It is understandable that we dismissed that letter and focused wholly on the devastation and pain of 9-11. Under-standable, but not necessarily wise. We chose to react militarily, not to listen in order to learn what was happening in spheres of consciousness other than our own. Not that bin Laden’s letter provided any justification for the attacks of 9-11. But it did reveal where he was coming from at the time, and how he perceived America’s presence in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world in general. Instead of sitting down with those he claimed to represent and going over his points one at a time, we quickly counterattacked in Afghanistan, and preemptively attacked Iraq on our own authority, reducing our assertive presence in the world to bin Laden’s level of outrage. And beyond that, spreading the symptoms of social unrest through further unjust attacks, blind to our own role in stirring up international resentment and retaliation. Bin Laden handily won the shock-and-awe contest in leveling the Twin Towers and scoring against the Pentagon, but we outdid him in leveling Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries each with roughly a tenth of the current U.S. population, bringing both to their knees as client states, in Iraq’s case, hoping to get dibs on its coveted resources for ourselves.

Bin Laden’s justified his letter to America within a self-righteous framework of Islamic belief, guaranteeing that Jews and Christians would dismiss it. As would any secular state. He used threats of violent jihad against infidels in insisting on the rightness of his cause. Clearly, he is no diplomat, and beyond reach of any diplomat. Which is not only sad but pathetic in that many of the points he makes deserve consideration throughout the multicultural world of today. His are fighting words, and in that sense, he got what he asked for.

But apart from his framework of belief, many of his words rang true if there can be any such such thing as international justice. He sided with the Palestinians as “pure Arabs and original Semites” in having their country yanked out from under them. “The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged. You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.” He also sided with Somalis, Chechens, Kashmiris, and Lebanese. He smarted at foreign governments opposing establishment of Shariah (traditional Islamic law), admitting “a taste of humiliation” and fear. And he saw America backing the suppression of these Islamic peoples, and supporting Israel across the board. As I have said in this blog, fear often opens onto anger, hostility, and aggression. Which is exactly the situation bin Laden felt he was in. A caged tiger, he stretched his claws through the bars, mauling whatever flesh he could reach.

He decried America’s lusting after Arab oil, and its military and industrial presence in his homeland “to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures.” He saw sanctions against Iraq as killing 1.5 million Iraqi children.

Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?!!

Eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth, 9-11 was bin Laden’s way of avenging America’s wrongs against the people he identifies with by attacking American civilians as the ones “who chose their government by way of their own free will.”

The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us.

His solution was, first, to call all Americans to Islam. Through conversion, they would come “to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and trading with interest.” He advised us to stop supporting Israel, to get out of Arab lands, not to interfere in Middle Eastern politics, and so on. The alternative he gave was war with what he called “the Islamic Nation” that “from the very core of its soul, despises your haughtiness and arrogance.”

All-in-all, not a very friendly or gracious letter, but certainly one that aptly characterized (from a certain perspective) the disease raging beneath the surface. And one offering proof that military action will never cure the the ills of the Middle East, which, after eight years, are now metastasizing—along with the free flow of weapons, ideas, and people—through every global artery.

I started this blog convinced that communication breakdowns between people reflected failures of human consciousness, and that the remedy is to be found within our minds, not on the shelf of any pharmacy or library, or within the pages of any military manual. Reading Osama bin Laden’s words in translation, I remain convinced his consciousness is skewed by his beliefs, and he and his heirs will be on the rampage until they attain peace in their thoughts. Till then, we can look forward to one jihad after another on every continent. For our part, as long as we have the lustful economic system that capitalism truly is, and the militant will to go to war against every people that sees us differently than we see ourselves, till that time arrives, we will aggravate others into opposing our will to supremacy and reluctance to take others’ views into account as being equally valid with our own.

It is a natural human trait to blame others for our troubles. That, I realize now, is our parents’ and education’s failure to deal seriously with what ails us instead of boosting the claim that we are a higher sort of being in comparison to others with ways and beliefs that differ from our own. What ails us is our own doing, resulting from not inquiring inwardly before asserting ourselves, backed by an arsenal of weaponry that not only gives us false courage but to boot makes us right. The planet is knee-deep in weapons these days, which makes every act of self-assertion likely to be dangerous. What we need is not more arms but better schools teaching the ways and pitfalls of consciousness. As it is, we are born to rightness, no matter what we believe. To a man and woman we are unique, but that does not make each one of us right. We are prisoners of our personal outlooks and perspectives.

It is a parent’s and educator’s job to reveal the wiles of consciousness in fooling us into making the basic category error of confounding our ways with universal truth. We claim all kinds of freedoms to assert ourselves this way or that, but what of the freedom to access truth through doubt and self-questioning? Through looking at what actually causes our symptoms instead of taking them for the whole show? What school or parent teaches that skill? No, we are all bin Ladens at heart—or in my world, all latent dermatologists—sure to be right from the get-go, looking for ways to assert our will rather than edge closer to truth.

Personal consciousness may sometimes be out to waylay us, but as I have said in recent posts, it can also be a master teacher if we will but listen in the quiet of our own minds to what it is trying to tell us. Survival depends on accurately assessing the situation we are in, and the next, and the one after that. The difficulty comes in not paying attention because we are distracted by other priorities, many laid on us by aggressive others who are truly furthering agendas of their own. And in not listening to ourselves because no one ever taught us how or put value on actually doing that.

Education has come to be whatever course of experience other people subject us to, not something we do for ourselves. In this blog I am trying to turn that way of learning on its head. Self-taught, I say, is best taught. And self-teaching takes intent listening to the still voice of consciousness, the most personal, accessible, and reliable road to truth—if ever the most difficult.

Maybe Inner Truth Looks Like This 

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

Medical care seems centered more on appointments than patients these days. Without an appointment you are without care, it’s as simple as that. You have ten minutes to state your symptoms. Hello, my name is Thursday at 8:15. Administrative concerns are driving patients right out of the system. Who cares about patients? The wellbeing of the system is all. That’s how it feels.

I have had three or four bouts with a dermatologist this past winter. Each time I’ve walked out of his office with names of new salves, lotions, ointments, emollients to buy and rub on my body—all to no effect. I bought two humidifiers to raise the water content of the air in my apartment, which made lots of noise 24 hours a day, but didn’t ease my eczema.

I asked what caused my rash. The dermatologist said he wasn’t sure. I asked what eczema was, and he said blood vessels under the skin get inflamed, making the skin red, hot, and itchy. Why do they get inflamed? He couldn’t say.

What he did know was how to prescribe expensive chemicals to rub on my body in an effort to treat the symptoms if not the cause of my trouble. It all sounded like peddling snake oil to me. One prescription for VANOS(TM) 0.1% cream cost over $400 (medical insurance cutting my cost to $92). This was to temporarily reduce the symptoms without curing the underlying cause. But the precautions that came with the prescription read (in tiny, tiny type) partly:

General: Systemic absorption of topical cortico-steroids can produce reversible hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression with the potential for glucocorticosteroid insufficiency after withdrawal of treatment. Manifestations of Cushing’s syndrome, hyperglycemia, and glucosuria can also be produced in some patients by systemic absorption of topical corticosteroids while on treatment.

Patients applying a topical steroid to a large surface area or to areas under occlusion should be evaluated periodically for evidence of HPA-axis suppression. This may be done by using cosyntropin (ACTH1-24) stimulation testing. Patients should not be treated with VANOS(TM) Cream for more than 2 weeks at a time and only small areas should be treated at any time due to the increased risk of HPA axis suppression.

With a history of skin problems (I have celiac disease which showed up as a persistent rash that lasted for years), I told both the pharmacist and dermatologist I felt I would be an idiot to spread that stuff on my body. The pharmacist said it was the accepted treatment for eczema, and had been for 20 years. He wouldn’t take it back.

In the end, with help from Wikipedia, I cured my eczema by myself. When first diagnosed, I’d looked eczema up and found that entry shed no light on my problem. But after seven months I tried again, and found the whole section had been rewritten and greatly expanded. Reading through it, I found a passing mention that nuts could cause a skin rash diagnosed as eczema. Allergic to peanut butter, I had taken to cashew butter, but at $10 a jar, I looked for something cheaper. A pound of unsalted, organic cashews cost $3 less, so I went for those. During the winter, a pound lasted me a week and a half. In seven months, I accounted for a heap of cashews. So the instant I read that article in Wikipedia, I gave them up. In three days my rash was gone.

What does this sad little story have to do with consciousness? It highlights the difference between my consciousness of living with a painful rash night and day for over half a year, the pharmacist’s consciousness of making a living from the suffering of people like myself, and the doctor’s consciousness of being a go-between with the pharmaceutical industry on one hand and the suffering public on the other, a public whose symptoms he is happy to treat, as long as they meet him on his terms in his office and don’t pester him between appointments. Me, I felt like a rat running an electrified maze to see how long I could stand the shocks.  

It is my nature to try to understand why things are as they are. To me, eczema, God, the universe, and human consciousness are all the same: mysteries to be investigated and—as far as possible—understood. I don’t know very much about any one thing, but I do have an inquiring mind. And once I get on a case, I stick with it until it makes sense to me. Everything that runs through my mind for whatever reason is an opportunity for greater understanding. Even the quirks of my own body and mind. Especially the quirks of my own body and mind. I am the single aspect of the universe I have the best opportunity to observe, and through observation over a long enough period of time, to understand.

I had a somewhat similar experience with an earlier rash that claimed my body 20 years ago. I went through the same routine, going to various doctors, finding a dermatologist in Bangor, rubbing an assortment of lotions and ointments on my skin—all to no avail. My rash had a will of its own. After years of ineffective treatment, the dermatologist removed a chunk of skin for a biopsy, and the diagnosis came back: Dermatitis herpetiformis. What causes that? An irritant that collects in the skin. And that was it. Now I had a fancy name for my ailment. To learn that secret Latin name cost me three thousand dollars, the price of joining the fraternal order of jackasses. But as an initiate I got no privileges beyond the right to flaunt those two words.

Which paid off ten years later when I got access to the Internet in 1997, the Web was being developed, and search engines offered the perfect interface between jackasses like me and those in the know. Working part-time for the National Park Service, I had a computer on my desk. When that computer got connected to the Web, I typed the magic words into NetCrawler—which hooked me up to a site at St. John’s University that said in effect, Dermatitis herpetiformis is caused by celiac disease, and celiac disease is an immune response to the gluten content of wheat.

I’ve been gluten-free for 12 years now. Ingesting gluten caused the villi in my intestine to lie flat so they couldn’t absorb calcium (among other minerals and nutrients), which caused all kinds of havoc in my bones, teeth, and nervous system. The human brain runs on calcium ions crossing membranes in every neuron, making action potentials possible, letting the brain get on with its work. Until I was sixty-five—the year I retired—my brain never worked as I wanted it to. I had inklings what it could do, but it just laid down and died when my expectations were too high.

Is it any wonder why I put my working brain out in full public view on the Web in this blog? I have used the Web twice to find answers to serious problems. There are answers to be found if you hit on the right source. It took me a lifetime to find that out, so now I’m trying to shorten the wait in regard to questions about consciousness that introspection can explore. Not that I have answers, but I do have a drive to pursue questions, and I’ve still got some days of hot pursuit in me yet.

As I see it, the world is not so much a monument to humanity’s great accomplishments as it is a great big question mark. And our job is not to flaunt how great we are but to get down to the hard work of answering important questions—especially those nobody has thought to ask till now because they weren’t in a position to ask. Such as diagnosing and treating the world’s ills, which are becoming more evident every day.

If our numbers and appetites are a problem not only for ourselves but for Earth itself, we’ve got to do something about them. I don’t see us making any headway until we ask the right questions in the right way in the right place. I am here to suggest that all problems that evade conscious scrutiny will remain problems until we engage them deliberately in full-frontal conscious investigations and deliberations.

If the narrow scope of human consciousness is the problem, then the solution depends on expanding the reach of consciousness until it embraces our human activities and impacts as a whole. One thing I am sure of, collectively we and our ways are the source of the problem. Until we can consciously deal with our unwitting complicity, we are shielding ourselves from questions that need to be asked.

Consciousness begins with a good challenge—a good question. After that, it will serve us well as long as we stay focused. Our cultural witch doctors can’t do our work for us. Let us examine ourselves firsthand so we can find our own cure!

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