International Federation of Failed Artists & Musicians (IFFAm)
Call for Membership
According to exhaustive historical research, 94.86% of all living and dead artists are failures. We, the silent majority, have suffered too long in ignominious obscurity. It's time for the rejects, has-beens and wannabes to crawl out of the footnotes of history (and your mother's basement) to wear proudly the glorious crown of failure!
FAILURE IS BEAUTIFUL. WE ARE THE WORLD!!
To start, fill out the questionnaire below. It is a quick way for you to determine whether you are truly a Failed Artist (FA) and thus qualify to join our ranks, or not.
This may well be the most significant step in your miserable life up to this point.
I _______________ the undersigned testify that I have not lived up to my dream of gaining fame and riches through my art or music or writing or dancing or what have you, that my work is either unjustly neglected or rightfully ignored because it’s crap, or because I have never even tried to publish it, or because I don’t have any work, or because no one remembers my past glories (sob, sniffle).
I further testify that this is the last time I will feel sorry for myself and henceforth I will be proud to uphold the age old tradition of failure and declare myself to one and all as a Failed Artist (FA).
As a member of IFFA I promise to support my brothers and sisters in failure wherever they may be and deeply scorn the few freaks who “make it” and the multitude of delusional success junkies. I will endeavor to ignore any temptations offered to me by Hollywood studios, Broadway producers, publishers, MOMA, and the New York Philharmonic.
Terms of Membership
Welcome to IFFA. Congratulations on finally coming to grips with who you truly are as an artist. As a member of IFFA you will have the continuous moral support of a worldwide fraternity and sisterhood of fellow losers. You will have a platform to voice your opinions and exhibit your fiascoes to a sympathetic audience. You will proudly wear the IFFA symbol of unfulfilled potential, and never again have to invent fictitious awards and non-existing book deals.
Membership however entails one important obligation, to resolutely renounce the craving for recognition and resist the temptation to make it in any shape or form.
Remember - your continued membership is contingent on continued failure. Should you at any time succumb to the lure of a one-man-show, a premiere, a part in a play or a movie, or a book deal, your membership will be suspended for 6 months and your work placed on a “wall of shame”. However, once your career attempt fails (as it surely will) your IFFA membership may be reinstated. Be aware though that after 3 such suspensions you will be declared a “failed Failed Artist” and banned forever from IFFA.
Call for Submissions
Send us your rejection letters, your crumpled drafts, your torn canvases, your half-baked symphonies, your mold encrusted photographs and movie scripts. Let us shine the light on the failed promises of your dreams. Here in the vast archives of failed artists you will gain the obscurity you deserve and bury once and for all any vain hope of ever being discovered. You will walk tall, free from the burden of having to prove yourself, proud in having found the real YOU - a Failed Artist, a proud link in the unbroken chain of flops and losers that reaches all the way back to the cave dweller who smudged the bison on the wall and never painted again.
Uploads are free and not juried.
IFFA is a worldwide movement of artists who are excluded or have excluded themselves from the marketplace of commercialized art in all its forms. The federation has chapters for various art forms that include the:
Activities & Publications
Success is just failing to fail
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The Chipmunk Party platform welcomes immigrants of any species to this land but recommends that they leave their foreign ideologies, institutions, and ways of life behind them, and become real Americans by adopting wholeheartedly the chipmunk way of live.
This afternoon (at 2:18 PM to be precise) I thought about the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree for 48 days straight. I was driving back from grocery shopping at Price Choppers, which I doubt had anything to do with it, and this weird question popped into my head, made weirder still by the fact that I don’t ordinarily associate shopping at Price Choppers with spiritual questions, least of all with the Buddha.
Here is a transcript.
Maybe the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for 48 days not to seek enlightenment but because he had nothing better to do and no reason to do it. Perhaps he was clinically depressed like me. Maybe having looked in vain for every conceivable purpose for life under the sun, he hoped to find it in the shade. Who knows, maybe he was just sick and tired of running around so he sat down until something better came along, and nothing did.
Imagine, 48 days!
Sometime during those interminable 48 days it must have occurred to him that he in fact he had the right answer all along, before he ever sat down under that goddamn tree; there really was no point to ANYTHING. I mean, if sitting under a tree for 48 days doing nothing doesn’t teach you the meaninglessness of life, what does?
Having had this brilliant realization, he got up.
Big mistake! Right away some spiritual groupies attached themselves to him, he became a busy sage, he started a big-ass religion, he became god. Busy, busy, busy. Oh for those blissful quiet days under that tree…
Poor Buddha -- had it all right when he sat down, got it all wrong when he got up.
People have always aspired to live long. In a brutally short and unpredictable life merely outliving others could be looked upon as an accomplishment, a blessing. Besides, old age brought with it a measure of status, even veneration. A mere idiot became a sage by dint of simply clinging to life. But desirable as it may have been longevity was clearly understood to be a fluke, an answer to a wish or a prayer. No one deluded themselves that it was within their power to affect it.
Not so now.
Living longer and longer is now a science. It is the dominant aspiration of an aging population reared since infancy to believe in its power to control destiny. Getting old and staying healthy has gone from being a rare and lucky break to an obsession. And a multi-billion dollar health and wellness business complex fans and feeds the fantasy that old age and decrepitude can be beaten.
Put simply, the delusion of control states that if you live a “healthy lifestyle”, meaning that you avoid smoking, drinking, the sun, the air, tap water, cell phones, sweets, all non-“organic” food, and in addition spend every spare minute of your life in a gym, you will not get sick, live to climb mountains at 88, and continue to date into your 90s. Young people may believe this, old people should know better, yet they don’t.
What the people who make their billions on drugs, wellness books, and plastic surgery don’t want us to know is something we shouldn’t need anyone to tell us; every year added to your life adds a factor of risk to your health, regardless of how “healthy” you are. Getting old is the real danger to your health, not what you do, and unfortunately that’s the one thing neither you nor anyone else has any control over. A 45 year old falling and cracking their hip is a rarity, at 85 a certainty. In fact being past 80 and NOT having a life-threatening, debilitating, or at least hugely limiting disease is a freak of nature worthy of a news article. With that prospect a statistical certainty, staying alive is the name of the game, at all cost, even hooked up to a life support machine. The quality of that life has become secondary.
I beg to differ.
Being healthy for me means being able to move about unaided, to have the full use of my senses and my mind, to be free of pain. These are minimum requirements, the lowest benchmark that might justify the effort demanded by living. If these requirements can be met, they make the aggravations of life worthwhile. As it is, most geriatrics today, with their arthritic pain, truckloads of medications, and replaced hips, shuffling along with their walkers, swaddled in diapers, or brainless with Alzheimers aren’t even in the ballpark. The delusion that this fate can be averted is nothing but wishful thinking and a marketing ploy for snake-oil merchants. A few rare exception to this dismal picture actually prove the rule.
And still death is always regarded as worse than living, no matter how horrific and pointless life seems to be. It is nothing but a mindless prejudice. If the minimum benchmark of a pain-free, mobile, and lucid life cannot be met, wouldn’t the alternative of dying make far more sense?
The first track on my CD "101 Sound-bite Symphonies", representing the number 1, is entitled "One Nasty God". It consists of one horrific chord. Here is a verbal elaboration on the topic.
The first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other god but me”, kind of puts the Kabosh on the other nine. All these useful edicts, like not violating the Sabbath by going out and killing your neighbor to steal his wife and then lying about it to your parents and the police, lose their moral strength when the reason for following them is not common sense, or common decency, but some arbitrary command of a megalomaniacal god.
Here are some examples. Why, you may reasonably ask, can’t I say the word “God” without being smitten down like some cockroach (second commandment: Thou shalt not utter my name in vain"), or if I happen to be a sculptor I’ll be condemned to eternal damnation with all other sinners (third commandment: thou shalt not make thyself any graven image")? You may look in vain for some kind or reasoned explanation for these odd edicts but all you'll find in the bible is the gruff paternal “’cause I said so, goddamit!” (OK, not in those exact words but close enough).
What’s so great about monotheism anyway? I'll grant you, it’s more efficient. Keeping track of all those hundreds of Hindu gods and their concubines can get a bit unwieldy. You need a database to keep them straight. But efficiency isn’t everything. As plot lines go, the one-god scenario is a pretty dreary story when compared to the Hindu Mahabarat. Imagine the Greeks having to worship just Zeus, with his temper tantrums, and no one else. Not even Aphrodite or Eros. Their whole mythology summed up on a napkin. Efficient? Perhaps. But what a bore.
Let’s be honest. The only thing that has kept the Old Testament in circulation is not the cockamamie idea of an invisible nasty sky god. The secret of the Bible's staying power is al the violent and dirty stuff, all those slayings and crucifixions, and double-crossings, and let's not forget sex and fornication. The Yahweh bits are just an endless irritating repetition of the first commandment, “Me, me, and only me! ! If you as much as think of trying some other deity, you’re dead meat, you sods!”
And you know something, all that smiting and flooding and turning people into salt pillars and burning them alive with fire and brimstones is not even the worst of it. The thing that really gives me the creeps is when God, after one of his frequent rampages, grabs the survivor's face tight and pulls it towards His, and like Marlon Brando in the Godfather rasps: “I only do this for you son... because I love you”.
Ugh! enough to turn anyone into an idol worshiper.
Life is highly overrated. We make such a fuss over it - “It’s a life and death question”. I don’t get it. You live you die. You were you aren’t. You became something else, some other compound. We don’t fuss over sugar dissolving in our tea or yesterday’s rotten vegetables composting into topsoil. Things exist and reconfigure. That’s how it goes, and not just in life. Molecules do their eternal dance, bonding, separating, generating electricity. Some have bonded in such a way as to acquire cognition in some mutated apes. After a short while they disintegrate and go back to being Hydrogen and Nitrogen. No big deal, really.
The narcissistic mirror-gazing that characterizes our species is the most ridiculously elaborate nonsense ever created by Nature. It permeates every human thought and activity. The most cynical nihilist still labors under the delusion of being special. Life is considered a miracle for some reason and, by extension, human life must be an extra-special-miracle, so special in fact that it is sacred. And from this unfounded premise flows every concept, every mythology, every god, every moral our harebrained imagination ever concocted.
Life is no miracle. It is a very common phenomenon that follows ordinary laws that have been replicated in the laboratory. It is probably as common in the universe as carbon. Whatever is special about life is what we make up about it.
Not even the will to live is that remarkable. All living things have a will to live, until such time as they recognize that their game is up. All except humans. Only humans believe that there is something inherently wrong with dying. Death must be conquered.
And so we have metaphysical interpretations of Life, an “after-life”, souls, spirits, resurrections, eternal bliss, and invocations of a sacred “Life Force”. We now also have longevity research, and Cryopreservation, and cloning, anything but the simple fact, known to any chipmunk, that life and its cessation are the commonest ripples in the vast natural fabric of the physical world.
And a physical world is really all there is, if you leave out human fiction. In the physical world whatever exists dies, be it you and I, the bacteria in your gut, or our galaxy.
No big deal.
An intelligent alien would find the bizarre stories we humans make up fascinating, amusing, or perhaps nauseating in their pretentious self-centeredness.
I dislike entertainment. I can’t stand entertainers and I know what I am talking about. I used to be one of them. I don’t mind being entertained, inadvertently by something I notice around me, something that was not intended to be entertaining, and most of what I observe around me every day is actually very entertaining. What I dislike is people setting out deliberately to amaze me, to make me laugh or cry or forget my troubles. It is part of my resistance to being manipulated, and it seems to be the very purpose of that mind-numbing Tsunami of information and artifice that engulfs us every minute of our lives. While not very long ago people sought to be entertained after their workday or work week, wishing to relax with some mindless fluff, or wishing to escape their misery with some compelling distraction, today we are being entertained not just during work, but during every other activity, from going to school, engaging in politics, or doing business.
Consider a business consulting meeting without some pre-planned well-timed jokes, visual razzmatazz, and some very entertaining group activities. It just couldn’t happen. You want to find out what happens in the world, and you get actors (what else are “anchors”?) presenting you with little featurettes with dramatic musical background. You drive to work with Vivaldi. You surf the net instead of working at the office and pick up the latest moronic YouTube joke or celebrity gossip. Literature is reduced to a Tweet.
The “arts and entertainment” industry is no longer limited to films and TV and musical acts and the odd Broadway show we might take in while on a rare visit to New York. Today the industry is run by conglomerates that also control news, information, and politics, and who apply the same manipulative production principles to all forms of information exchange. The purpose of information is no longer to enlighten but to distract. By concentrating all forms of human communication in just a handful of corporate entertainment centers we have now succeeded in filling every waking minute with distracting content that has a single purpose - to make us NOT think, to make us buy, spend, and toe the line.
Notice the term “Arts and Entertainment”. It is a telling emblem of what is happening to our culture. By lumping art, that timeless and sacred expression of our innermost vision, with the mindless diversions intended to make us forget reality, by merging them into a single field, the purveyors of culture have in fact capitulated to the gods of commercial success. No matter how sophisticated a painter, choreographer, or novelist is, or is made out to be, the pipeline to his or her audience goes through those same boardrooms that hold absolute control of the culture “market”.
You can’t be successful without a Vaudeville act. An artist today faces a simple choice - to have an audience and be an entertainer, or to speak whatever unadorned truth or nonsense they manage to dredge up from deep within themselves and express it in total obscure isolation. There is no middle ground between these two choices, no compromise that doesn’t end up going through an entertainment boardroom.
If you think that avant garde art, the grunge stuff of starving artists in unheated garrets is immune, just step into the Armory Show, that annual extravaganza in New York City that brings together the most “provocative, off beat, and cutting edge…etc. etc.” merchants of art from around the world, and see if you don’t walk away from it with a dizzy headache and the kind of ringing in your ears that you would normally get from an auto trade show.
Today, more than ever in human history, what is sorely lacking is silence, empty space, information vacuum. But since most urban dwellers are unlikely to have the possibility of retreating to a mountain top or a monastery, and since “spiritual practices” like yoga and Tai Chi have been turned into “power practices”, quick and noisy, with the result of adding rather than reducing the stress and noise level, what can artists do to increase silence and empty space for society?
Staying silent may be the most urgently needed act for any artist. Creating in isolation, not seeking an audience may be second best. Eventually the tide must turn (as it always does). An art of silence may emerge, soundless music, blank slate art, motionless dance - the art of nothing.
How much music does an average American consume in an average day? Is there such a thing as musical overload, an auditory equivalent to overeating? What are the physiological and psychological symptoms of Musical Overdose (MO)? Are we in the midst of an epidemic that no one seems to have noticed? Is it a conspiracy (why not)? Should the Surgeon General prescribe a musical RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) that must appear on all CD labels? Besides, how do we measure musical intake anyway? Maybe we need some kind of listening calorie scale that factors in the musical style, the loudness in decibels, and the number of hours our eardrums and auditory cortex are inundated with deliberate or inadvertent musical assault. I say inadvertent because even if you are that rare unplugged specimen with no earbuds in your ears, you are still subject to secondhand inhalation.
I am in a coffee shop right now trying to write this piece on my laptop. James Taylor is singing on the house speakers and two ringtones (Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Lady Gaga’s Just Dance) have chirped next to me in succession in the last two minutes. I can’t write or think with music in the background. The part of my brain designed to listen to music takes over and shuts down all other processing centers. So I escape to a nearby park, praying that my battery will last. I sit down on a bench but even before reaching for my laptop I hear this gargled distorted whine with an annoying steady beat. What the heck, in the park? I look around, and sure enough on the next bench over sits a guy listening to his iPod, on earphones! What I hear is just the exhaust fumes, the few high frequencies that manage to escape his earphones. He is sitting twelve feet away. I can’t imagine the assault on his nervous system that’s going on inside those ears.
You get the picture.
I enter a grocery store and am forced to listen to an ancient Frank Sinatra hit as I check the ripeness of an avocado (Take me to the Moon). I enter the lobby of the office tower on my way to my dental appointment to the strains of some generic Vivaldi (classy) then sit in the waiting room and forced to listen to some vintage Muzak (not so classy), my alarm clock doesn’t buzz, it plays music. The NPR news I listen to on my way to work punctuates the latest disasters from around the world with cheerful little music jingles, as if to underline the fact that we are inside some giant movie plot with a happy ending just around the corner.
What’s happening worldwide is not mere increased listening. It’s gorging, the stuff serious food addicts or junkies go to rehab for. The more we consume the less impact the music has. The more all-pervasive the musical experience becomes the blander it seems, and to keep getting that “hit” we crave, the music must get louder.
Measurements taken on dance floors have registered decibel levels equivalent to standing next to a full-throttled jet engine without protective headgear. Participants in Rock concerts actually “listen” with their entire body, not just their ears. The high volume speakers are intended to deliver physical vibrations to the whole body, like repeated punches to the stomach. Even your neighborhood movie theater, using Dolby high-octane surround sound delivers audio levels that would have sent your parents’ generation scurrying for cover.
The loudness per se would be less critical if we were subjected to it sparingly. Our ancestors enjoyed music in small doses, after work perhaps in the pub, during a celebration, or the occasional concert. Music appeared as a relief from everyday sounds, the sound of horse drawn carriages or barking dogs. It needed no boost to draw attention to itself. Today the everyday backdrop is all music, all the time, and everywhere. There are no more music-free spaces on earth except perhaps in the middle of the Pacific ocean. In this homogenous musical soup the only way to stand out is to be louder and more abrasive.
The ubiquity of music is only one of a host of other reasons why the decibels of music continue to rise to dangerous levels. Equally responsible is the general level of noise around us that desensitizes our hearing and makes us turn up the volume. In fact it is a classic feedback loop. The louder the music you listen to the more your brain lowers the sensitivity of the ear to protect itself, causing you to hear less and in turn raise the volume even more. This process has accelerated over the last few years with the near-universal usage of in-ear earphones for both portable music devices and cell phones. Numerous studies have linked rising hearing impairment in young adults to these devices.
Consider the fact that most people keep the earphones plugged in their ears while engaging in other activities like conversation, shopping, or riding the subway. Many of these activities take place in extremely noisy environments that compete with what you are listening to on your earphones. So you raise the volume even more. Listening to multiple loud sound sources that compete with each other is unpleasant in any circumstance, but having the ability to artificially intensify one of these signals without lowering the others is not only unnatural it is downright hazardous. Add the fact that in-ear earphones, the kind preferred by most users, act in the most egregious manner as far as our ear is concerned, in fact mimicking the act of someone shouting directly into your ear, something quite rare under natural circumstances, and doing so hour after hour, day in and day out, and you have a recipe for mass deafness.
Is there a ceiling, a cut-off point, a moment where some external force (perforated eardrums, bleeding, state regulation) intervene to impose a limit, perhaps restoring some islands of silence, or at least a greater scarcity of music, and more tolerable levels of listening?
To answer this question it might be enlightening to compare sound to speed. Leaving aside the speed of light that no one seriously contemplates approaching, speed of travel, by car or by air, does not really have natural limits that cannot be overcome by engineering. Theoretically you could build a consumer car traveling at 300 miles an hour (yes, without lifting off), or an airplane rocketing its passengers at Mach 3. The reason you won’t see anything approaching these speeds is not that they can’t be achieved but that external limitations make them either impractical or unlawful. What would be the point of manufacturing a passenger car that goes at airplane speeds when the road it would be traveling on has a speed limit of 65 miles per hour imposed by the state legislature? And the reason, at least the official reason, for this imposed limit is safety.
The same goes for sound levels. While music engineers and film producers may continue to raise the sound level until at 180 decibels your entire body will be shaking and your eardrums will pop out of your ears, there is no doubt that the ensuing mass deafness will be recognized by society as a health hazard and a ceiling will be imposed.
But you don’t need to go that far. Unfortunately, even at the average 100 db levels experienced right now in most earphones, an entire generation of humans in industrialized nations is going deaf, from both excessive impact on the body’s hearing mechanisms and overexposure to music.
I am eagerly awaiting the legislation that will designate a “music free” environment, first in public places and then gradually everywhere. I can’t wait for people to huddle around some illegitimate boom-box outside an office building, surreptitiously listening to some very soft music, looking furtively around like smokers.
And that Surgeon Genral’s white label on the front of CDs “This product may be dangerous to your health” is long overdue.
The following essay was written at the time when my wife was undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, and I was being partially scalped to remove a piece of Melanoma (it made me look a bit like Gorbachev).
Being alive entails killing. It’s an unsettling thought that we try very hard not to dwell on, so we invent euphemisms to cover it up, make it more palatable. We speak of harvesting and fishing and sanitizing, but what all these terms really mean is the act of terminating another life to preserve our own. There is a scene in the comedy Notting Hill in which a rabid vegetarian accuses Hugh Grant of having “murdered” a carrot he just ate. It’s funny, but true. Nature, from a tiger pouncing on a gazelle to the weed in your garden choking the life out of your Swiss Chard, is one giant killing machine.
But there is one form of killing we rarely if ever find in Nature, suicide. True that while protecting itself or otherwise intending to kill someone else an organism may inadvertently or even deliberately lose its life, but you could hardly call that a suicide. A heroic act of sacrifice, intended to ensure the continued survival of its kind, is more like it. But a wanton termination of one’s own life runs contrary to Nature’s prime directive – “Try to survive, whatever it takes”.
The case of bacteria and viruses who invade a body to infect it with a deadly disease is no exception. It may look like suicide, after all the virus kills the very body that it feeds on. But seen not from the perspective of the individual virus but from its species or strain, your demise (along with your viruses) is in fact a blessing. As you hack and sneeze and bleed to death millions of new viruses spread to other hosts. Bad for us, good for the viruses.
Many people look at cancer as just another disease, like typhoid or Malaria. Something causes a cell to start mutating. It spreads and multiplies, just like a virus, and in the process destroys healthy cells and eventually kills you. But there is a fundamental difference between cancer and infectious diseases. The cell in question is not an outside “invader” using your body as “prey” for its own advantage. The cancerous cell is you. When it succeeds in its scheme to kill you, it will die as well. From the point of view of the cancer this is not a noble sacrifice, neither is it a smart strategy. This is suicide, plain and simple. There is no residual benefit whatsoever to the cell, and its actions contradict the very essence of self-preservation.
Why would a cell want to kill itself? What is it trying to achieve? And what could possibly be Nature’s purpose in such a suicidal process that seems to run contrary to its own evolutionary principles?
Or does it? Could there be some evolutionary “message in a bottle” here that Nature is sending? Is it possible that the cell’s suicide, far from signaling the breakdown of Nature’s laws, is in fact a useful process, perhaps even essential?
I am a firm believer in Nature being utilitarian. Things occur for a reason, and the reason usually has to do with survival. Basically, when it comes to living organisms, things happen to either ensure their survival or hasten their extinction, as the case may be. There is no middle way in Nature. An organism is either fit to stay, fit to fit in as it were, or else it is deemed a failure, a dead-end, and it must go. Countless species have come and gone based strictly on this elegant principle. Does the suicidal nature of cancer point in the latter direction, or does it have some other, less depressing (for us) purpose?
Whenever I am stuck for an interpretation of a natural phenomenon, I fall back on a device that at least helps me understand the question, if not provide an answer. I create a story around it, with the forces at play its characters. This anthropomorphic interpretation is of course fanciful. Natural objects and forces don’t possess the kind of consciousness that we associate with ourselves. But it helps at least clear the fog, and sometimes, if I am lucky, may point in the direction of a possible interpretation.
Go back and imagine for a minute that first mutated cancerous cell, before it had started to spread through your body. Imagine a possible mythical reason for its behavior.
The cell becomes aware of itself. It looks at itself and starts believing that it is unique, quite different from all the other cells around it, and what’s more important, quite separate from the larger system within which it lives, which is your body. Having gained self-awareness and believing itself to be autonomous from the tyranny of your body, it feels superior to the other “ordinary” and mindless cells around it, eventually denying even the fact that it has no existence outside you. And then it starts to spread. It wants to subdue its neighbors, perhaps not to harm them, just to convert them to become a copy of its superior self. And as it succeeds, its ambition, and one would assume its self-confidence and pride, grows along with its conquests. One by one the other cells of the body fall in line with the new order. Pretty soon the entire universe of the cell would be its domain. It looks like a winning strategy.
But like other delusions of grandeur, it is nothing but folly, shortsighted, ignorant folly. As the cell’s power grows, its universe collapses all around it. And at the height of its expansion and power, its world comes to an end and it dies along with the body that it killed. It’s a suicide murder, and it is tragic like all avoidable tragedies.
As I contemplate my little fable I become mindful of a new interpretation of cancer that sets it apart from all other diseases. The story is a chillingly accurate metaphor for human folly. Substitute Hitler or Napoleon for “cell” and you get the sad history of human Hubris. Substitute the cell killing its own ecosystem and you have an apt metaphor for us destroying the very planet upon which our life depends. Does Nature have a poetic sense or am I endowing unrelated phenomena with a meaning they don’t have? Either way, cancer as an up close and personal warning for our species to beware of Hubris may have some positive purpose (though that may be poor consolation for the individual dying of cancer).
The futile hunt over the past half century for a “cure” for cancer, something along the lines of a Polio vaccine, has yielded very little, not even a basic understanding of the nature of cancer, let alone a cure. If anything, the situation has steadily worsened in spite of the billions of dollar poured into cancer research. Today cancer incidents have become as prevalent as TB used to be in the 19th century. It therefore makes sense that people would be talking about an “epidemic of cancer”, something as terrifying and commonplace as the bubonic plague was.
And yet cancer is no epidemic. It is not a foreign pathogen attacking us. It is “us” attacking ourselves. As such it has no precedent. When a species develops mutations that place its own survival in jeopardy it is Nature’s way of questioning its viability.
A physical cure for cancer may someday be found, though I strongly doubt it. However, while we wait we would do well to stop viewing cancer merely as a sickness and start seeing it as the symptom it is, and heed the vital message it delivers to all of us, afflicted or not. Nature is NOT benevolent. It is impartial. Its only criterion is viability within your system, whether you are a cell or a human. If you ignore the greater context in which you live you die.
Cancer on the largest scale may be the planet’s house cleaning.
I was going to write an essay embroidering on a subject that has become almost a cliché, namely that Earth is not the Planet of Man, that a visitor from another star system would probably describe earth as the planet of microbes, or maybe the planet of insects, with some passing reference to some bi-pedal primates that in the very recent past emerged a capacity for verbal and written communication and self-observation, but that are otherwise of as little interest as the three-toed sloth.
But I decided that there is a better way to illustrate the insignificance of Homo Sapiens on the evolutionary scale by simply, as they say on the radio, "doing the numbers".
Life span (time on earth) - Ratio of Homo Sapiens to the Dinosaurs:
The ratio is: 1:3,200
In other words, you could fit 3,200 complete human cycles, from barely out of Africa to astronauts in space, and do this 3,200 times, to match the time span that dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Put differently, the fact that after merely 1/3,000th of the longevity of dinosaurs we already think about the possibility of our extinction is an indication of just how tenuous our hold on life here on earth actually is.
And if that were not enough, consider that the Dinosaurs themselves were only a moderately successful experiment in evolutionary terms. Compared to an amoeba they literally came and went in the blink of an eye.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)