A Marxist perspective on cancer


Sadly, a young man in England has been diagnosed with stage IV cancer -- and he really is an atheist in a metaphorical foxhole, and it hasn't changed his opinion of religion.

Between now and last Wednesday I’ve worried about various things, but one thought that stands out is religion. Before I go into more depth, I’ll stress that I’m an atheist. Religion, the way I see it, is a reactionary and backward tendency that has stood alongside man throughout history, yet has always blinded communities and corrupted rational thought. As society has advanced, so has our depth of knowledge and understanding of the world and, as a result, religious influence has decreased in many ways, but that’s not to say it isn’t an issue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the persisting cultural backwardness in the southern USA, and the political situation in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Iran are all different manifestations of the same illness. Religion does to society what cancer is doing to my spine.

I must gently correct him on one thing, though: we have persisting cultural backwardness in the Northern USA, too. But otherwise, speak it, brother!

He doesn't object to friends and family praying for him, and has reached out to a deity (who hasn't answered) himself, but he has his own ideology that provides a good constructive metaphor for his condition. He's a strong Marxist.

As it happens, I have little reason to believe there’s a lot going on in heaven for me. On Wednesday I was told my that my cancer, on a I – IV grading system, fell into the most aggressive, Grade IV category. No one could commit to giving me a death date, but I’m left with the impressesion that, after chemotherapy, radiotherapy and physiotherapy (to regain movement), all of which should begin next week, I’ll have months to live. This was obviously terrible news, though it perhaps takes some of the pressure off as it makes me more assured in my godlessness, and I also can’t help but feel slightly proud that it’s my spinal cells which have done this. In revolutionary terms, they definitely quality as extremists. They’d dwarf the various coups in Argentina, which overthrew and replaced different governments in the region, or the revolutionary movements in the little communist countries like Vietnam or Afghanistan. My cells certainly take after the Bolsheviks here; if the February Revolution was my initial diagnosis, the October Revolution was my conversation two days ago. The shooting of the Romanov family is yet to come, but we sure these cells will take no prisoners there either. It’s also interesting to see that, due to their rapid growth and malignancy, they follow in the internationalist line, bent on spreading the revolution worldwide. Ideologically speaking, I can’t really complain.

The idea that cancer is revolutionary is an interesting one, and valid -- these definitely are cells that are overthrowing the existing order and are tearing apart the bonds of convention.

However, I would also point out that the healthy multicellular body represents a proletarian paradise. There are no bosses (the brain may think it is, but it's really just a servant of the whole, and it too is made up cooperating cells working to generate the illusion of self), and the entirety of the body is a mass of cells in mutual harmony. All parts are necessary and appreciated, and all cells are fed according to their need.

Marx thought evolutionary theory was the product of a nation of bourgeois shopkeepers, and he was actually quite right: there has long been a focus on conflict and competition, a rather capitalistic perspective. But multicellularity is the end result of cooperation and mutual aid, in which individual cells joined collectives to stand strong against the forces of the environment. I am more in sympathy with Kropotkin than many of Darwin's heirs on this point (Darwin himself had a more complex view of the subject).

In that sense, cancer is more of a reactionary counter-revolution, in which a few cells abandon the bonds of trust to selfishly exploit their neighbors and the resources of the whole. If they succeed, the whole system will crash, leading to the deaths of trillions of cells…including the greedy and short-sighted cancerous reactionaries.

The struggle for life is also a fight for the welfare of the masses. It is the restoration of harmony and cooperation to all of the cells of the body. I wish my comrade in the Leeds General Infirmary well, and if he should fall, let us all remember that he fell in glorious struggle, as a communal entity resisting an exploitive few.

More like this

"There are no bosses (the brain may think it is, but it’s really just a servant of the whole, and it too is made up cooperating cells working to generate the illusion of self)"

Reminds me of something I've read somewhere:
"I always thought that the most important part of me is my brain, until I realized just who is telling me that."

By Marek Čtrnáct (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

Old joke (I'm and old guy):
You don't need brains to be a Boss.

When the body was first created, all the parts wanted to be Boss. The brain said, "I should be Boss because I control all of the body's responses and functions."

The feet said, "We should be Boss since we carry the brain about and get him to where he wants to go."

The hands said, "We should be the Boss because we do all the work and earn all the money."

Finally, the asshole spoke up. All the parts laughed at the idea of the asshole being the Boss. So, the asshole went on strike, blocked itself up and refused to work.

Within a short time, the eyes became crossed, the hands clenched, the feet twitched, the heart and lungs began to panic, and the brain fevered. Eventually, they all decided that the asshole should be the Boss, so the motion was passed. All the other parts did all the work while the Boss just sat and passed out the shit!

Moral Of The Story: You don't need a brain to be a Boss----any asshole will do.

By justawriter (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

From an atheistic evolutionary perspective, there’s nothing wrong with cancer. Cancer is something that happens naturally. It just is.

Same with death. Death is no better than life, because in an atheistic and evolutionary perspective, there is no better, no good, no bad.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

sn, one thing you never do is deviate from being the least intelligent person posting on these blogs.
Also the least moral and least honest.

A virtual trifecta of worthless.

So explain: why would you believe that simply understanding evolution would mean a person doesn't care about the health of another?

And if health care is so important to folks like you, why do you fight so hard to deny it to so many?

Özellikle kronik olan cilt hastalıklarının başında Sedef geliyor olmasından dolayı, size hastalık ailenizden veya sizden çocuklarınıza geçebilir. Aslında Sedef tam olarak bir hastalık değil, derinin zayıf olmasından kaynaklanmaktadır. Bu nedenle bu sorunu aşmak için öncelikli olarak besinleri iyi bir şekilde almalısınız. Her türlü vitamine ihtiyaç duyan cildiniz için, hastalıklarla mücadele etmek için, kesinlikle bir çok vitamine ihtiyaç duymaktadır. Bununla birlikte Sedef hastalığı için çeşitli ürünlerin bulunuyor olmasından dolayı, bugün ürün tercihlerinizi iyi bir şekilde yaparak ve tabi ki doktorunuz ile görüşerek, sedef tedavisii için neler yapabileceğinizi öğrenebilirsiniz. Ülkemizde de hastalık için en etkin tedavi yöntemleri arasında bulunan krem türünü alabileceğiniz www.sedefkrem.com sitesine girmeniz ile birlikte, sedef kremalabilir ve bu sayede en doğru şekilde Sedef hastalığı için neler yapabileceğinizi ve satın almış olduğunuz ürün ile sorunlarınızı nasıl aşabileceğinizi öğrenmeniz mümkün olacaktır.

Sedef Tedavisi İçin En İyi Krem
Hastalıktan kurtulmak ve en iyi şekilde tedavi olmak için kullanabileceğiniz krem sayesinde, bugün sizlerde Sedef tedavisi için en iyi kremi kullanarak, kısa sürede cildinizde ki renklerden kurtulmuş olacaksınız. Böylelikle kısa sürede sorunlarınızı aşmak ve tabi ki derinizin ihtiyacı olan besinleri almak artık mümkün olabilecek ve sizlerde Sedef sorunlarınızı bu şekilde aşmış olacaksınız. Genel olarak doktorlarında önermiş olduğu Sedef hastalığı kremi olmasından dolayı, tamamı ile bitkisel olan bu ürün ile artık düzenli bir kullanım sonrasında, sizler için hastalık mazi olacaktır.
sedef hastalığı Kronik Olarak Engellemek
Kendi cildinizde Sedef hastalığından kurtulmuş olsanız’da, bu hastalığın kronik olmasından dolayı, çocuklarınıza da geçebileceği unutmamalısınız. Tabi ki doğru bir şekilde ürünü kullanmanız ve çocuklarınızda da uygulamanız ile birlikte, artık Sedef tedavisi için iyi bir tercih yapmış olacak ve bu tercihleriniz sayesinde, bedeninizi en iyi şekilde sağlıklı bir hale getirmiş olacaksınız. Bugün Türkiye’nin en iyi Sedef hastalığı kremini kullanmanız ve doğal bir ürün olmasından dolayı, cildinizde hiç bir sorun yaşamadan, sorunlarınızdan etkin bir şekilde kurtulmanız mümkün olabilecektir.

By sedefkrem (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

Ah, I see why you're not an atheist SN - its because you're to stupid. Its such a simple point too - removing daddy God and fairy tail afterlife makes those few years of life MORE remarkable and precious to the individual, not less.

By Warren McIntosh (not verified) on 16 Oct 2015 #permalink

The graphic of the fist looks kind of like a polyp, and the sentence

"The struggle for life is also a fight for the welfare of the masses."

I presume includes an unintentional pun referring to a common noun used to speak of cancer.

By Stephen Calhoun (not verified) on 16 Oct 2015 #permalink

That's an unfortunate choice of graphic, as the IWW isn't Marxist.

Great article PZ, thank you.

We are all in foxholes, from the day of our birth. Some of us just acknowledge it.

By Steve Roth (not verified) on 25 Oct 2015 #permalink