A Healthy Body

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'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'

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Part 1
Cell and Body
PART & WHOLE

First of all we must understand that we are a collective. We must remember that together we make up a body. A body has an order to it; ways in which its parts must interact. If its parts do not interact properly then it goes wrong.

We live in an age of individualism. Each cell of the body has been, and is being, reprogrammed. Each cell is being given a new script. It says "the important thing is not that you are part of a body - that you, along with all these other cells make up a bigger part. The important thing is that you are an individual cell. You are unique! You are unlike all other cells."

The cells that best express their individuality are promoted, and thought of as better. Over time each cell begins to lose sight of the fact that it is within a body. All it can see is its own borders.

Some cells become rampant. Obsessed with their own image they multiply rapidly, producing copy after copy of themselves. They do not see the affect that this is having on the body. So in love are they with their own image that they forget they are part of a body at all. Occasionally another cell will remember, and will try to make others remember; but they are dismissed as 'old fashioned' and told to 'move with the times.'

It isn't long before the body becomes ill, and dies. In its last moments each cell remembers what it had long ago forgotten: that no matter how hard they try and think of themselves as individuals separate from all others, they are, in the last, a part of something bigger. And that in order to preserve themselves, they must always keep one eye on that bigger thing.

We see this interdependence in the fragile balance of eco-systems. How the extinction of one species will have a knock-on effect on everything around it. We catch a potent whiff upon hearing that "if the bees become extinct then we will too.'

So this is where we start. This is what every cell must remember. Like it or not, it is part of something greater.

Each of us, then, is a citizen as well as an individual. The citizen is the side of us that remembers the body, and always keeps it in mind. We walk a line between the two.


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Part 2
Rules of the body
ORDER OF PARTS

So what are the rules of our body? What does it need in order to stay balanced and healthy?

The rules of our collective body are much the same as the rules of our physical body. Both systems work in roughly the same way.

A physical body is made up of lots of parts that are all different.  Each has its role to play in the working of the body. When every part fulfills its function effectively then the body is balanced and healthy.

The body becomes unhealthy when it becomes imbalanced. This can happen in a number of ways. Two examples:

1. Outside influences lead to bad habits. A badly designed chair encourages a poor posture. Certain muscles become weak and other muscles are required to take over their job. One muscle is underused whilst another is overused; and importantly, used in ways in which it wasn't designed for. This leads to stresses and strains and further imbalances.

2. Outside influences cause a cell to forget its original programming. Like a derailed train, it slips free of its natural borders and runs riot, causing havoc. It multiplies excessively. It does not know when to stop. The body becomes critically imbalanced; it 'gets cancer.'

Each of these imbalances has its counterpart in our collective body:

1. We underuse and devalue people with certain skills, whilst placing undue emphasis on those with other skills.

2. In a general sense we can see cancer as unchecked expansiveness; growth without limits. Sound familiar?

The most important thing for us to recognise is that a healthy body needs a set of rules and meanings that is shared by all of its parts. Each must, in the last, always work for the good of the whole.

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Part 3
The Role of Culture
MAINTAINING ORDER

We can call these rules and meanings 'culture.' Culture is the invisible mesh that keeps the whole thing in place. It tells each what to do, and why. It places importance on some things over others. It says 'go this way, not that way.' It is the sense that guides each and every part of the body.

Every part is programmed with its own set of rules and meanings - its own instinctive culture. However, these can sometimes be overruled by those imposed by the brain. We can describe instinctive programming as intuitive - a knowing without learning - with the impositions of the brain being rational; based, in other words, on external experience.

When a body forgets its instinctive culture it is at risk of becoming unbalanced.

We can reprogramme our physical bodies in many ways. For example, if someone with two fully functioning legs were to decide to sit in a wheelchair and avoid standing he would begin reprogramming, by sending the following message to his legs: "you two aren't needed anymore." His legs would begin to feel left out, unwanted, useless. They would lose all respect for themselves. Their muscles would weaken, their vitality drain away. If he stayed in the chair long enough he may lose the use of his legs completely.

Culture is, then, of great importance to the functioning of the body. It is the way in which we programme ourselves.

How, then, do we currently use culture? Which ways does it tell us to go? What does it tell us to do? What does it place importance on? And is what it tells us good for our collective body?

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Part 4
Body in Chaos
DISORDER

In recent times we have placed such emphasis on the individual - on cell over body, part over whole - that we have lost sight of the connection between culture and the body. Instead of serving to preserve a harmony of parts, it mostly focusses on the needs and desires of the individual cell.

We know from both objective and subjective experience (from experimental research along with our own day-to-day observations) that the images that surround us (both moving and still) can affect us deeply. We take in influences consciously and unconsciously. When we see a film we may be so taken with a certain character that we seek to model ourselves upon them. But our thoughts and actions may also be influenced in ways that we are unaware of. This is why advertisers pay so much for relatively miniscule timeslots; they know all-too-well the power of subconscious influence. And if a 5 second advert can alter our thought patterns, imagine what a 2 hour film can do.

Yet we exist in a society that largely refuses to acknowledge the connection between culture and programming. Such is the breakdown between cell and body  - part and whole - that we can view the merit of our cultural objects independently of the affect they may have upon us as a whole. This is akin to body urging its cells into anarchy - "reproduce like mad! Kill each other! Its all great entertainment!" - whilst believing that it will remain healthy and balanced.

So whilst a film may glorify dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving, we focus on its merits as a film. Yes, its characters may be horrific; and the way of life it promotes unhealthy - but it is a good film. We talk about how good its actors were; how convincing its effects; how well written it is; how well shot; and so on.  Taste takes precedence over nutrition. In seeing films this way, we see them through the eyes of the individual and we forget our duty as citizens; we forget the body.

We must never lose sight of the vital role that culture plays in the well-being of the body. We must always look to see what messages it is sending out; which directions it is telling us to go; what it is telling us to do; who it lifts up; who it runs down. And we must always ask: is this good for us?

In enjoying the selfish pursuits of the individual, we have fooled ourselves into thinking that our actions have no consequences. We have untethered culture from its traditional restraints and have let it drift off; its ascendency a tribute to individuality.

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Three things we must remember:

1. We are part of a something larger, a collective body.
2. A body must have order.
3. Order is maintained through shared meaning i.e. culture.

And so the first and last thing we must ask of any cultural object is:

Is this good for my community, my society - my body?

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Related posts:-
Everything is Connected
A Higher Power 
You or The Work
The Real Thing
The Tyranny of Novelty
Life Amongst the Rubble
Post-modernist Soup
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Guiding Fiction
Twisted out of Shape
Let It Flow
 

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