Let us start by defining what a situation of risk is, and before we do that, by defining a risk and a gamble.
I would define a risk (also on the basis of the Greek kakoriskos, unlucky) as a sum of undesirable possibilities regarding one or more outcomes of a situation, obviously after having defined what is undesirable and what the situation is.
I would define a gamble as a dangerous bet, where the bet is to take a risk on an uncertain event which depends on fate for its outcome, and not on the subject.
And here lies the crux of the matter. If for cavemen leaving the cave was a situation of risk, given the undesirability of meeting a carnivorous animal, now the situation of risk is leaving home for fear of pollution.
I remember in my day (please refrain from making the obvious connections) there were posters in the public toilets pasted on the wall directly in front of the user advertising a product. The product was called Kiss and it was an antibacterial cream for the penis. The catch-phrase under Kiss was: “Prevention is better than fighting”, signed by Mantegazza. Whether or not it was indeed by Mantegazza, the nature of the risk was obvious since it was literally in our hands. But here we can make an observation: in some way situations of risk overlap with the concept of prevention.
Without wishing to get into matters everybody is already aware of, being part of the game (i.e. newly inflamed, changing colour and growing) the situations of risk I refer to concern origins, a grey and mysterious area which is not taken into sufficient consideration by the medical profession.
To return to the cave, the foreseen undesirable circumstance at that time would have been death by jaws; now, on the other hand, it is a slow death by poisoning. One of the problems is precisely that it is a slow death, often very slow. Rather like getting fat. We certainly don’t notice 30 grams a day, but they add up to about ten kilos a year, which are well worth paying attention to. On the basis of the criterion/non-criterion of slowness, we are all hoping to get away with it and put things off, generally to a belated and improbable Monday, or with arguments like “I-certainly-won’t-have-a-heart attack-like-Hermenegild-because-he-smoked-peace be with him-but-the-fact-remains-that-I-am-still-here.” I hope there is nobody here by the name of Hermenegild.
But everything comes to account later on. We are great receptors and we have splendid memories. The simple law for prehistoric man, like the one that governs the language of computers, was either “yes” or “no”. Given a situation of risk, it was fight or flight. In fact, it was the law of least resistance that was applied. Was I able to kill the animal or was it better to take to my heels and beat a hasty retreat? Solution 1) I fought with all my strength. Solution 2) I had no moral qualms whatsoever about getting the hell out of there as fast as I possibly could. In fact, if we are to believe the experts, it would appear that wetting oneself was originally a necessary step aimed at weighing less and running faster. At the time, though, it was rational behaviour, as it is in nature. I am saying that there were neither constipated nor hot-heads.
Nowadays, it is certainly more difficult. In this last century we have placed ourselves in a position without choice: we can’t see the enemy in the face (also because we are not good with a mirror) and we don’t know where to run. So, either we bark without biting or we hide behind the finger of the left brain. Indeed, it is exactly the left brain that ruins everything: the body is a loyal servant, as is the psyche. The left brain, and with it thought, insinuate themselves like a metastasis, lending credence more to belief than to what’s felt, with which they have lost contact. In other words, placing the doing before the being, of which the doing should in fact be the consequence.
Hence situations of risk are difficult to group together and generalise, since everybody has their own story, which they defend and cannot escape from. I mean to say that everyone has a character which, in my view, is the sum of all the rip-offs they were subjected to when growing up.
I will try to explain with arithmetic simplicity.
Apart from Sheldrake’s much discussed genetic phenomena and morphogenetic fields , when aged 0 we are all similar to each other in our needs and rights, which are few, but momentous: the right to exist, the right to be loved, the right to love. It is not my intention to bore you with the correlates of these three rights (for instance, with the vast chapter on the oral phase and child nutrition). We can hang on to the “wonderful” parents we have had, thus avoiding criticism. However, these three rights connect in various ways with three primary instincts; survival, preservation of the species and exploration. The latter has its own necessary logic. Upon being born, but even in the mother’s womb, we have to adapt to reality, which on the one hand is the natural habitat, on the other the non-functional affectional environment. In other words, we accrue debt with our functioning and with our chances of being happy and healthy (necessarily).
Allow me to give you an example. Years ago, at a conference, I spoke on the merits of our natural sexuality, with words to the effect that the ways of the Lord are infinite and therefore, whether we liked it or not, they also pass through the genitals. It was meant as a jocular call for respect, but it stirred up a hornets’ nest precisely because we all have to live with this kind of debt, which is legitimised and covered up by convenient hypocrisies that are more or less conscious.
I say that we accrue an unnecessary debt.Ultimately, even in the light of modern science reality is merely a point of view of the observer, and it is indeed the very observer who brings it into existence. There are two factors which, if not real, are at least tangible: the imperfection of humans, who are as committed to the pursuit of happiness as they are pig-headed in their destruction of it, the bipolar impermanence of things (pyramids included), in the sense that that which produces life produces also death. That is, where life-giving oxygen also takes life away by producing deadly free radicals, and is in fact itself a double free radical. Radicals are the source of bodily suffering, including old age, and this is inevitable; but their quantity is related to the initial debt, and is therefore variable.
Let us go back to our situation of risk. I have suggested that situations of risk are connected with prevention in an inversely proportional relation: the risk increases as prevention decreases. We should pay particular attention to the two inevitable facts mentioned above: imperfection and free radicals. Clearly, as far as the first, imperfection, is concerned, we will do what we can to hide the truth by finding logical explanations for the effects of self-destruction; for example, by using the expression “I can’t” instead of the far more disquieting expression “I don’t want to”. As for the second of the two, free radicals, things are clearer. We can’t avoid them, but we can reduce them deliberately. This is prevention and reducing related situations of risk. The proposal is feasible, even if dealing with auto-destruction; without taking into account the causes and the nature of the situation of risk, it is sufficient to cut back on free radicals, thus enhancing the efficiency of the immune system. The issue is a matter of truth, not knowledge, which is something else. I mean that whoever has truth has power, and this is why those who have it hang on to it (truth). But often we don’t even want it, because if truth means power, it also means responsibility.
I started talking about a logical sequence, and I haven’t yet got beyond the initial debt. In my view, things proceed along these simple lines:
Functional debt > reminder of outstanding balance > request for payment > order of payment > foreclosure > eviction.
Let us look at them one at a time:
Functional debt. As already mentioned, these are the small or big compromises, in part genuine and inevitable, with reality; a temporary emotional shield (which is clearly psychosomatic) is necessary: if we are about to be hit by a lorry, our alarm systems must be activated, but only if they are deactivated once the danger has passed. If the shield remains chronically active, it becomes a part of the conflict and will ultimately enter into the make-up of our character. One’s character (as I have said before) is the sum of the letdowns we have been subjected to with regard to our innermost needs since the very first days of our existence. It follows that, after its prenatal existence, the child is born more or less without a shield, and remains so for a limited period of time.Mostly they are transactions with the objects of our love, our parents, who lay down the law, their law (not our own), causing damage in good faith, exceptions aside. The temporary shield alluded to above does not lead to the development of a permanent shield:the former do not thicken one’s skin: a tiger cub faces the natural difficulties of life as natural and without conflict, directly. The latter, on the other hand, which are not natural adaptations, create in the child an emotional barrier which is supported by a somatic armour-plating which protects the child from pain while distorting his or her biology, in that it inhibits the free flow of vital energy. This happens very early on, and is connected with the fact that we also learn what to think about situations according to the defences we carry. Preconditioned thoughts, ideologies, moral and aesthetic judgements, all of which we will defend later on. Transgression would lead to the devastating threat of punishment and rejection. What was real initially become virtual, unfortunately with the same effects, in adults.
Of course, thinking about it, the earth is a great place for neurotics who have a common way of understanding each other. We would not be in a position to recognise a functioning individual as normal, nor could the said individual share our life-patterns. I mean, such an individual would be both unpredictable and disconcerting, while we are bound by predictable laws of behaviour. In the play of our muscular armour-plating, the inhibition of our natural sexual impulses has a place of primary importance, the derivatives of which are what we call perversions, whether dreamt or performed, as a release from energetic blocks. The core is always love, but love becomes unrecognisable in a rapist or a Kalashnikov, since the energy has passed through the different levels of our somatic plating, undergoing a deformation and becoming violence. We bear the marks of our plating, with slight changes, all our lives. From this we generally produce our judgements and our Weltanschauung, or view of the world. A variation on the theme is the universal deferral to a supranatural liberator from unhappiness, which the human individual with its shield perceives as an inescapable trap. Obviously, it is of freedom after death that I speak.
Without getting into psychoneuroimmunology, which is scientific fact, we need only mention that desire drives human existence and promotes hormonal activity (let us remind ourselves that the word “hormone” comes from the Greek “ormao”, which means “stimulation”). Repression of natural desires causes a damaging tension which causes hormones to dilate and turns them into unendurable and deformed enemies. These are facts, not opinions, and our biology deals in facts, not conjecture. Ignoring the facts is tantamount to embracing self-destruction. Contradiction thus plays a vital role in our life, which is built on transactions with the outside world from birth onwards; and such transactions can be more or less conscious, more or less costly. Therefore, it is not founded on an acceptance of the necessary ambiguity of human existence, but on the suffering inherent in the ambivalence. For the sake of clarity on the use of terms, ambiguity means discordant bipolarity with more than one interpretation; ambivalence, on the other hand, is characterised by the simultaneity of opposite behaviours. Along the lines of “You can look but you can’t touch”.
The first question that comes to mind is why man, having understood all this, does not just get rid of this emotional and somatic armour and start functioning correctly, once he has reached adulthood and is free to choose, instead of lovingly defending his unhappiness and disease. It is a fair question and has two answers. The first is that the limitations we impose on ourselves at the outset in order to escape suffering were the lesser evil when faced with an unbearable pain. At a later stage, this engenders a tenacious and precautionary istinct to change and to avoid the risk of a relapse into pain. In other words, it is a question of survival (virtual prevention). As adults, we are able to think through, say, a sentimental let-down, but we are no longer able to consciously remember the enormity of it if we have erected barriers against it. The second answer is tied to the first. The higher brain we are equipped with dialogues with the lower brain, otherwise known as the reptile brain (I prefer to call it the crocodile brain). The former is happy to make changes, is pliable, and often all that is required is the consent of the right hemisphere of the brain, the emotional part, in order to work out plans that are rational and functional for a reasonable life. In truth, the higher brain makes promises it cannot keep, because it has to include the crocodile brain in the equation. A typical example is the reluctance to place one’s trust: driven by great love, Joanne decides to give herself up to Joe in the customary way, but finds she can’t do it, and ends up intelligently destroying her relationship. She takes preventive and automatic action to avert a grave danger which caused her untold suffering once already, when she was a child. What happens is this. The higher brain goes bounding along to the crocodile to state its case. The latter listens with a raised eyebrow, sceptically, then sends it packing with nothing but disappointment for its pains. The reptile was not persuaded to override its primary defensive needs. It follows the language of the DNA, is stubborn, has no intention of changing, because in the DNA it is written that the trusting run a deadly risk, as the crocodile well remembers. We find ourselves struggling with this model of contradiction on a daily basis, in a more or less masked way, but with results that are mostly familiar.
When looking at situations of risk, we should take this into account. Even only at the level of knowing, by observing how repetitive our inner experiences in the affectional sphere are, and therefore predicting the outcome.
Reminder of outstanding balance
I mentioned earlier that we are great receptors with a splendid memory. Early on in our lives we start registering frequent frustrations and discomfort which we are quick to explain away with convenient arguments. We offer competent explanations, but in the end we simply ignore them. Material difficulties, for instance, are a great source of reassuring interpretations. It’s like putting the reminder in the drawer, often without even opening the envelope. Naturally, the debt, duly hidden away for our own good, remains. And after a time, we fatefully receive a
Request for payment.This is the Pandora’s Box of functional disorders. Their distribution is by no means casual. They are suitable for functional interpretations because the symptom reveals the nature of the conflict. Yet our doctor is quick with his reassuring labels, ranging from “the virus that’s going round” (what else should it be doing?) to the “chronic fatigue syndrome” (modern invention), the “I have it too, nothing to worry about” (and so what?), or the “You have a nervous system”. Heaven forbid that I shouldn’t. Things get complicated when the said doctor, pressed for a scapegoat, finds “nothing” after conducting a series of tests which feed the medical industry. So the patient says: “If there were something wrong, there would be some remedy for me to swallow”. So, after a few days, in a fit of irritation, he sets himself up a source of more or less substantial panaceas for the medical profession. Of which I myself am part. But if I tell a patient to look beyond the smokescreen, he may suspect something (maybe he read an intelligent magazine), but a lot of experience is usually required to stop him from unconsciously pretending to not understand you so as to not have to pay his dues to underlying truth. So the abovementioned doctor will only ever take care of effects, never the causes, using a creditable label and eliminating symptoms as his abilities allow and with the appropriate poisons, which, in the best cases, will restrict their damage to the truth and afford the patient some momentary gratification. If the doctor is a highly renowned specialist, the apparent benefit will last a bit longer. But the scope for interpretation is enormous: the genetic origin of disease has opened up the field unimaginably both in terms of the lack of responsibility of the patient and in terms of new labels, at the same time forgetting all about what damages the genes, for instance free radicals. The same applies to autoimmunity what with the inflation of viruses and the obsolescence of those poor out-of-fashion bacteria. As for wayward sexuality, it is probably an infectious disease requiring treatment rather than the result of unresolved conflict. Basically, the triumph of neuroscience is not far off: everybody ripped off, undermined and happy to boot under the effects of a global anaesthesia. God forbid that any of this should have anything to do with me! “Racist, me? He’s the one who’s black”. And yet, in the long run, the request for payment finds its way into the drawer too. And anyway, if I am unhappy “it is also the fault of the government”, thieves that they are. But, sure as clockwork – unless I die first on the Bologna-Rimini motorway – here comes the
Order of payment
Well, this is it. This is the actual disease, complete with CT scan, NMR, hemochrome, antibodies, diagnosis, prognosis, therapy and whatever else anybody can think of. Remember that at the root of all this there is the functional debt from childhood. And now, at last, we have something which is solid, visible, controllable, guaranteed. At last we can enjoy the secondary benefit of disease. We can do things we have never done before with a patient’s impunity. At last, we won’t have to get up in the morning to go to the school of responsibility. At last, we can have for free, without asking. And the same stone will also take care of the bird of redress, of the credit that nobody ever paid by means of the debt we are now paying. Especially with a nice debilitating disease which will afford us a nice long, very long, infirmity. No worries, the disease is a part of us and in hospital we become like children again, cared for by white-robed parents who will have to look after us since they are paid to do so. And, like before, they too usually care little for the patient, because they have enough problems and complaints of their own to worry about. With few exceptions, you acquire importance for those who use the word love like parsley, for the bigots, those with guilt complexes, or who exorcise their own fears; you become important also because of a desire for money or glory. And so on. How can I possibly give someone that which I myself don’t have?
Always winning out by confusing consequences with causes, we can cure symptoms and become increasingly unhappy while we wait for the next disease, or, if we still have time, we face
or the big disease, of which cancer, a systemic problem to start with (as we know), and the tumour, the subsequent manifestation is the best arbiter but, not the only one. It is the emblematic pointer to the part of us that functions most sluggishly. It is the localised self-accusation, the rebellious son, the accountant settling our accounts. The definition coined by the medical profession – not by the patients – is often “incurable disease”, which captures perfectly the doctor’s confidence in his own abilities, and the written note says CA, adenoca, neoplasia, heteroplasia and many other such wonderful Latinate expressions, all of which are whitewash nevertheless. It is here that the patient-child becomes the victim of the ultimate scam at the hands of his adoptive parents, who promise recovery on the threshold of death while he is being torn to pieces by carcinogenic therapies and obscene amputations in an orgy of zeal and pietism. This is often accompanied by the other swiz, which is the lie about the diagnosis which prevents him from blowing his savings at the casino or on fast women in the East. At this point, the business of disease surpasses even the weapons’ industry, and that is only part of the story.
It is in nobody’s interest to recover, not even the patient’s, as demonstrated by the increase in the incidence of tumours, where clinical recovery means “we have removed everything” and there are five years left to live. Once the final rites of operation, chemotherapy and radiation are over, the patient is sent home without any indication about how to reduce the chances of relapse, but instead with a date for a check-up to see if there is going to be a backlash; at which point the whole rigmarole starts again. At this point there is no escaping
from life, that is. All of this for an initial debt we failed to attend to. Ironically, we can see from this that it is possible to die for a point of view. This is the gambling civilisation: we build up and legitimise unhappiness and disease with emotional plagues, only to die ourselves while killing our neighbour with just wars and impeccable logic, and where the assassin receives a gold medal in wartime and the electric chair in peacetime for exactly the same crimes, while we believe all along that our shadow-zone has been thus dealt with.
But in fact it conceals a trembling and tearful child.
These, surprisingly, are the situations of risk and this is the gambling civilisation.
Everything else is derivative, consequential. I, who have spoken bitterly, know it well, and if it all seems destructive or scarcely believable, you are perfectly within reason to feel disappointed. Sometimes I simply say what I think and feel.
But I urge you to look for answers and to try, at least once, to assess your share of happiness without telling yourself too many lies. You will find there is a woodpecker inside you pecking away where it hurts. Gather it up in your hands, delicately, it knows many things; for example that the war is over and we are still wearing our uniform as we engage in dangerous commemorations.
Dott. Glauco Smadelli