Is Fretting Over Politics Worth Shortening Your Time on Earth?

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I don’t know where my cancer came from.  To be clear, we all have cancer cells circulating within us like so many little time bombs… but a healthy person’s immune system is up to the task of diffusing them, or at least sand-bagging them.  Why did my system fail?  I didn’t drink or smoke.  I never ate junk food or sweets (well, hardly ever), and I worked out vigorously for an hour a day.  Why me?

Genetics?  Prostate cancer is particularly hard to trace in that it only affects males, of which my mother’s side of the family featured very few to study.  I was under the impression that my one uncle died of a cancer first appearing in the prostate… but my big brother says “no” to that (and big brothers are always right, you know).  So… who’s next on the suspect list?

Could it be stress?  I’m hearing more and more about that culprit, and he has no alibi in my case.  I “stressed out” horribly at times during my academic career.  I walked away from all three tenure-track appointments I once occupied, not because I was facing release or dismissal, but because I couldn’t stand the steady onslaught of back-stabbing.  (At one institution, a dean urged me to stop publishing because I was making my colleagues envious; at another, I was told—oh-so-confidentially—to cast my vote at departmental meetings in conformity with the subtle hints of our Buddha-like chairman.  At all three jobs on occasion, my schedule was deliberately arranged to keep me yoyoing to and from campus from early morning to late evening, a tactic deployed against no one else around me.)  I had all the signs of clinical depression numerous times over these years.  Could I have been incubating cancer over that span because my immune system had been worn down?  Were my ruthless “scholarly” superiors planting my future road with deadly mines?

Whatever the truth may be, I’ve certainly chosen “stress reduction” to be a prime objective in my overhauled life as a “cancer survivor”.  (I’m using too many quotes; but honestly, all of us who survive in this life are cancer survivors, whether we know it or not.)  I haven’t entirely given up social media, though one social medium has apparently given me up: several Twitter friends are no longer receiving my posts after my five-week hiatus at Tijuana’s Immunity Therapy Clinic.  (No, nothing to see there: move on.)  Nevertheless, I’m very consciously awarding a lot less attention to politics.  I know we’re supposed to be activists, to get off our fundaments and mobilize, etc., etc.  Daniel Horowitz’s interview of Shannon Joy last week (Episode 686 of Conservative Review) left me blessing young people with confidence, energy, and appropriate poise.  But I’ve personally never been able to take the field for a few downs without transforming into Cu Chulainn during one of his supernatural distortions.  I get too worked up.  The younger and more stable of you will have to play this game without me.  (Seriously, when I did indeed play high school football, my classmates remarked upon my fearsome, homicidal transformations into a fireball of hatred.  I quit the game and detest it to this day because I could never regard it as “play”.)

If what I’m about to write strikes some of you as quietism, I apologize.  It’s not my intent to endorse the attitude so common among my wife’s Appalachian relatives: “You can’t do nothing about nothing in politics.  Why vote for any of ’em?”  This is not unlike the attitude I discovered among the good people of Tijuana—and many who crossed my path were truly good people, by my estimate.  They cared about me when my own countrymen crossed to the road’s far side and hastened their step, leaving me to bleed out like the mauled traveler in the Good Samaritan parable.  I had to fight down tears when I left the nurses who had attended me.  They knew—every one of them knew well—that their nation rested firmly in the squalid hands of hooligans and shysters.  And there was nothing they could do about it, so they just got on with their own tiny bit of existence.

Down the backstreets surrounding our hotel, my wife and I would take occasional walks.  Empty storehouses and busy repair shops would alternate with ornate residences guarded by high fences and vicious dogs.  All of it cheek by jowl.  Strange.  But that’s how people live, in Mexico and in most of the world outside the U.S.  You cling to your bit of turf and try to keep it safe.  What goes on beyond the reach of Massimo’s canines is none of your business.

Defeatist?  Quietist?  Yes, indeed… but more and more, this attitude is also survivalist in the U.S. of A.  Just one very brief illustration.  Jeff Sessions, one of the most principled men in politics over the past couple of decades and perhaps the most coherent, consistent advocate of maintaining our national sovereignty over that time, recently lost his seat to an “I’m for Trump” cheerleader whose position on border security might as well be Chuck Schumer’s—or Thom Tillis’s, or Kay Granger’s: all three of them (I mean, including Tuberville) ostensibly opposed to Trump on his signature issue yet endorsed by him because they stroked his ego.  The “Trump base”—disappointingly, but not surprisingly—cannot distinguish between the positions championed by their superhero and the superhero’s charisma.  They will follow him to their own destruction (and quite possibly to his own destruction, as his impulsive reactions shred his message) rather than measure every local candidate against the Constitution.

And that’s what’s happening on the law-and-order side.  On the other… chaos, tear-it-all-down, helter-skelter—“anywhere out of this world” (in Baudelaire’s immortal phrase).  While the Republican, self-styled “conservative” punditry derides Biden’s dementia and indicts CNN’s mendacity, educated, middle-class white folks (some of them in my own family) draw all their information from… CNN, and also grow weary of masks, quarantines, and Armageddon without any speculative genius for tracing our national lockdown back to root causes.  They just “want it to stop”; and the Man doesn’t help them figure out where it started because he can’t admit that Anthony Fauci’s canonization was a gross lack of judgment (any more than he’ll concede that Jeff Sessions’ self-recusal was not responsible for the Mueller witch-hunt).

Average citizens won’t unravel this tangle; and even if they do, the President himself will continue to foul his lines even without a shamelessly lying mass media to sabotage the ship.  Our future isn’t going to be rosy.  It’s going to be a Mexican prickly pear.

But we’ll survive somewhere in the cracks, most of us.  The Pat Buchanans and Diana Wests who warn that the republic will be destroyed forever if Donald Trump isn’t re-elected have assigned death to us if we don’t get chemo.  I figure I could hunker down and live in Mexico 2.0 if I had to, though—and I figure I’ll probably have to.  (Hell, I’m already there: my government just bled my wife and me for over $300 to get a passport in case I have to return to ITC in Tijuana… and kept our birth certificates lest we try to travel on those again, and keeps all we paid into Medicare for forty years, and refuses to pay out a dime of it for the medical strategy that saved my life. Is this Mexico… or the Soviet Union?) If my future neighbors are people like the ones I met in Tijuana, then they’ll be much truer to me in our common misery than the elitist medical mandarins north of the border who left me to die as they hazed an ailing herd into costly, toxic treatments.

For that matter, Pat and Diana, what I consider most dangerous about the Left is its utopianism: i.e., its conviction that an inspired few can play God and make the world perfect.  When we of the Right, in turn, lament the passing of a Shining City on a Hill, aren’t we falling for the same mirage?  The corporatist state that birthed the Medi-Pharm Complex, you know, was a cancerous by-product of Mom-and-Pop Main Streets horribly mutated (at the expense of Mom and Pop) into ravenous wealth engines.  We lost our own way, and now the vultures are gathering around a corpse that has rotted from the inside out.

Mend your fence, grow your garden, and keep your head down.  Build locally if you can: stop letting pseudo-messiahs insert themselves into your hometown politics.  That’s my advice… and, for that matter, it’s Horowitz’s and Mrs. Joy’s.  Yet I need peace: I personally need a lot of it right now. There’s no live grenade I call fall on to save the rest of my squadron, so… so I’m not going to blow myself up in the garage. Why should you die before your time, asketh the Preacher?

Live what years God has given you on this earth.  Stop trying to make earth into heaven in your impatience with heaven’s hazy plan.

Why I’m Not Dead: Treating Cancer in Mexico

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When my blood was drawn for the first time at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, it returned a PSA reading of 295.  Ask an older man in your life what that means; no layman I’ve spoken to has ever heard of a score so far in the clouds, though one doctor claimed that he’d seen higher ones.  I had metastasized prostate cancer, and U.S. medical professionals (including the one who “consoled” me with his awareness of higher PSA’s) all gave me up for dead, offering no more than palliative treatments to help me go gentle into that good night.  The Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia, persistently refused to return my calls.  I have to assume, in this stone-cold absence of response, that the clinic’s physicians didn’t want their batting average of successes compromised by a guy with one foot already deeply in the grave.

After two weeks of “non-traditional” (i.e., non-invasive, largely non-pharmaceutical) therapy in Tijuana, my PSA score was 65.  After four and a half weeks, just before my departure, it was 4.3: well within the normal range for a man of my years.

Something’s wrong with this picture.  In fact, not very much is right.  I have vowed to my creator that I will make several changes during whatever additional years my new lease on life may give me.  The foremost of these will be to alert cancer sufferers that they don’t have to die: not like lab rats in a cage that failed to make the cut in an experiment—not shivering and shedding their hair after procedures to “cleanse” them have reduced them to little more than shiny white skeletons.  I was actually the healthiest person in ITC’s treatment room on any given day.  The fact that I had received no treatment whatever back in the States left my body much better prepared to fight its battle against the invader.

(Full disclosure: in the esoterica of medi-speak, I’m still classified as Stage Four because, I believe, supplements and injections continue to be part of my daily regimen.  You have to be off the program for a certain period and remaining cancer-free, I’m assuming, to be considered in remission.  But call me any stage you like—I’m in the game again, and I have the strength and the attitude I need to win.  Nobody in my native country ever gave me that gift.  No doctor among the lot would even write me a letter on medical letterhead so that I might obtain an emergency passport—none would dirty his sterilized fingers by implicitly condoning “voodoo medicine”.)

In this first of what I suppose may be many articles, I want to accomplish a couple of ends.  Right out of the gate, I offer my sincerest thanks to those who wished me well in my struggle and urged me to be of good cheer.  Most of these are Internet friends.  I’ve never met them personally, but their concern was the more obvious and credible for being expressed in thoughtful messages rather than squeezed into one of those awkward corridor-encounters.  (“You have what?  Wow… I’m so sorry.  Well, good luck, dude.  Oh, shoot—that’s my phone.  I gotta take this call.”)  Not included in the radius of my gratitude are the comments of a pair who exhorted me to get religion—*their* religion—in my hour of need.  It seemed as though they had been waiting, like the proverbial snake in the grass, throughout our “friendship” for a mortal crisis in my life to tell me that my spiritual convictions were forged of hellfire and brimstone.  What a way to encourage a friend—or to encourage anyone—confronting a deadly disease!

The broader theme I’d like to dispose of in relatively few (far too few) words is the almost knee-jerk supposition that capitalism is responsible for our dysfunctional medical system.  Over and over from fellow American patients at ITC, and again and again from family members after my return home, I had to listen to this tired refrain.  In my more vigorous moments, I would introduce the word “corporatism” into the discussion.  Socialized medicine isn’t the cure for what ails our health care: it’s Stage Four of the degeneration.  Why do we cancer patients have so few options in the U.S., and why will Medicare and the federal income tax turn a very cold shoulder to us if we seek assistance elsewhere?  “Because of Big Pharma,” pipe the critics.  “Doctors get a cut of the take on all the hugely expensive meds they prescribe.  They also love to do surgeries and radiation treatments with whopping price tags that typically produce very temporary good results.  They trick the patient into thinking that he’s mending while they actually weaken his body, and they bleed his insurance and Medicare for all they’re worth, at the same time.”

Yes to all that… but notice that our government has tidily arranged the scam.  Most of us are not paying out of pocket for these Pyrrhic victories scored over specific, localized outbreaks of cancer.  The government’s micro-managing allows us to believe that the cost is being absorbed by a benign Uncle Sam, or by insurance megaliths whose unfathomable resources permit everybody to prosper.  The truth is that—yes, again—pharmaceutical companies prosper, and so do the doctors who play their game.  That’s not capitalism in action.  At most, it’s late-stage, failing capitalism: it’s corporatism, the collaboration of private and public sectors in securing a choke-hold over the market.  Small insurers go under; or they’re certainly not able to compete broadly with the big names, at any rate, thanks to legislation that tightly squeezes the marketplace’s limits.  And while we can all concede that drug companies need mountains of funding to continue their world-class research and development, the entire health care system should not be enthralled to this worthy objective.  If an alternative therapy shows promise but does not involve medication, then it should not be branded “voodoo” and its successes denied even so much as access to peer-reviewed medical journals.

Such arrogant neglect, by the way, is seldom a result of behind-the-scenes pay-offs, in my opinion.  I think it reflects a root-level philosophical bias in our medical establishment, and in our technological enterprises generally.  Our culture regards its progress as adversarial to nature.  Rivers must be dammed.  Energy must be ripped from the earth’s bowels.  Viruses must be slain by super-vaccines.  The notion that the body might defeat cancer on its own if only given the right fuel and submitted to the right regimen of training is the equivalent, to our clinicians, of shaking rattles and eagle feathers over the patient.

Meanwhile, the private-sector half of the corporatist arrangement prospers handsomely, because every patient is placed on the same assembly (or disassembly) line involving drugs, surgery, and massive radiation; and the public-sector half, having received its cut of the profit (in campaign donations to statist candidates, etc.), supplies the muscle in the “protection” racket by forcing citizens to pay into a system that only underwrites the drugs-surgery-radiation protocol.  The resources beneath it all, far from being unfathomable, soon reach bottom as the system’s tentacles claim more and more of the populace and wrap around more and more treatments.  Instead of the best care for the greatest number, we have whatever care is available after strained resources have been divided by a denominator climbing into the hundreds of millions.

As I once pointed out to a fellow patient at ITC, Dr. Bautista would not be running his operation if the Mexican system enjoyed the sort of choke-hold over options that the American one exercises.  The Center’s physical therapist explained the situation in her homeland in terms that, I’m afraid, were too “inside baseball” for me.  (And we talked a lot about baseball, too!)  My garbled version of her brilliant summation would be this: the Mexican government is hopelessly corrupt.  Its agents know that they can’t serve the nation’s health needs adequately.  They therefore allow maverick start-ups like ITC to operate untouched.  The results are positive, demand is high, and profits escalate.  A government that can’t do much of anything on its own is very happy to let the private sector—a true private sector, a free-enterprise marketplace—purr along just under the radar.  In the U.S., where a Uncle Mao is still securing his power over every aspect of our lives, such benign negligence doesn’t happen.  Disobedience is not tolerated.  But in Mexico, where the line between patron and peon was drawn deeply and long ago, trickles of officially unnoticed efficiency are allowed to flow.

That may just be our own last best hope, as a nation—or as the shambles of a nation: enclaves of efficiency rising from the rubble of totalitarianism.  Or, should I say, that is the first hope awaiting us after the Collapse.