The Mapping of Opposites and the Theory of Iatrogenic Desire.
Induced in a patient by a physician's activity, manner, or therapy. Used especially of an infection or other complication of treatment.
[Greek itros, physician; see -iatric + -genic.]
The terms iatrogenesis and iatrogenic artifact refer to adverse effects or complications caused by or resulting from medical treatment or advice.
There is a character in Greek Mythology that is mistakenly categorized as hermaphroditic; the blind soothsayer Tiresias, son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph Chariclo. In the origin story, Tiresius is a priest of Zeus who while wandering through a forest one day comes across two snakes who are having sex. In some bizarre busybody mentality, he decides to hit them with a stick. Hera, Zeus’ wife gets very angry at Tiresias and decides to transform him into a woman. This results, in accordance with the logic of Greek Mythology (if there is such a thing,) in Tiresias living out the next seven years of her life as a priestess of Hera. Alternative origin story has her living as a prostitute during that time. Seven years pass and Tiresias is wandering through the same forest and discovers two snakes having sex and again decides to hit them with a stick. This magically transforms her back into a he, and as a “he,” he lives out the remainder of his life as a man.
Now because of this experience, Tiresias is swept up in an argument between the two main Gods, Zeus and Hera. The argument is about which of the two human genders enjoys sex more. Again, as per the logic of Greek mythology God’s have nothing better to do than sit around having inane discussions such as this; Zeus believes human women enjoy their orgasms more, Hera is convinced human males do. They decide that the best person to ask in order to resolve the dispute is Tiresias since he has lived his life as both a man and a woman. They ask him according to the myth, (and as strange as it seems this is word for word,) “on a scale of 1 to 10 who has the better orgasm?” Tiresias responds, “oh, well, a woman of course, 9 on a 10 scale, a man is more like a 1 on a 10 scale.” Hera is obviously incredible angry at this answer and decides to punish Tiresias by blinding him, Zeus cannot reverse the punishment but in sympathy decides to give Tiresias the gift of fore-sight, the ability to see the future, as compensation for falling victim to Hera’s wrath, not once mind you, but twice. I imagine Tiresias next move would be to look into the future by about ½ second, thus rendering his blindness inconsequential. But I suppose that’s more of a science-fiction/phenomenology problem.
In a related story, the famous and tragic case of David Reimer, born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1965 as Bruce Weimer, twin to Brian Reimer and was the victim of a accident during circumcision. The machine they were using (which they shouldn’t have been using) burned the majority of his penis off rendering him essentially maimed and handicapped the rest of his life. One day his mother is watching television and Dr. John Money of John Hopkins is discussing the new field of medical sex re-assignment. She haphazardly (as was the style at the time) invests her faith in science and decides to have Bruce surgically changed into a woman; breast implants and hormone treatments, and to be raised as Brenda, all without the child’s knowledge and consent. By the age of 14 Brenda is refusing to accept the sex-re-assignment and eventually, upon discovery of the full explanation for her condition, she insists on being turned back into a boy, changes her name to David and lives out the remainder of his life as a man, marrying and fathering children. However, he takes his life in 2004 with a shotgun after suffering a lifetime of depression. His twin brother Brian also takes his life, the discovery of his sister being a brother leads to any number of schizophrenic symptoms in the years before.
The first mistake made in interpreting these two stories is the attribution of gender. In my theory neither of these two stories have anything to do with gender. And by gender I mean that social construct whose stereotypes both offend and give comfort to human beings of various sexual states and tasks as they proceed through life in pursuit of pleasure and the satisfaction of desire with a partner or multiple partners and so on.
In psychoanalysis there is the critical distinction between the object of desire and the cause of desire. There is often a necessary third party during sexual exchange between even willing and loving partners, the third party being the Phantasmatic element, the fantasy that causes the desire allowing the safe objectification of the partner. There is a beautiful/horrific moment in the growth of a human being where they discover themselves as a sexual being, and for a brief moment, the human being does not know what he or she is, the experience is pre-analysis. Once the child attempts to build a vocabulary and a theory and systematic strategy behind what he or she is, the beauty is usually lost giving way to rapid descent into “play-acting” as the part of whatever sexual orientation they classify or are classified.
My belief is that “gender” fails as a theory to encompass the memes and mores of the so-called hermeneutic lifeworld and that a new theory of desire, a theory on how we as social beings arrive as desiring subjects and are installed within the coded social reality. My theory uses the structure of an Iatrogenic illness. The basic idea that the new illness which is caused by the doctor or by attempts of the doctor to treat the pre-existing illness can be understood as a structural activation of desire, if one were simply to imagine the old and new illness being the same, or more specifically, that time is irrelevant in desire. Desires are outside of time.
It is possible to imagine ourselves as fully realized, we stop for a second and sum up ourselves as an entity, existing in time, but not torn apart or betrayed by it. However, as we begin the movement through time we lose sight of ourselves. There is an implicit horizon of understanding of what constitutes identity at any particular point in one’s life. We are the sum of our choices, our actions and so-called inner world of logic, dreams, passions and corruptions. But since we are always incomplete, with a future not yet seen and memory not quite computational, there is always a void, a split in us between what we see ourselves as and what we have not done or do not remember doing. It is in this void, that we find the praxis of desire. As we go through our lives we invent new desires for ourselves, some based on biological drive or synthetic pleasures, some based on guilt and shame and self-harm. But habits and drives and desires are very different, desires being the most illusive to define, but inherently unsatisfiable. The act of invention happens with the split, the fold upon which consciousness can study itself. The seemingly impossible act of a broken machine trying to diagnose it’s own malady is an often comically invoked theme in western arts and spiritual life as we argue endlessly about free will vs. determinism in human nature. It is my theory that all desires are moral. It is also an axiom of this theory that all desire is inherently the result of an accident, a mistake of reality. However, the ability to act on or resist a desire as a moral choice is not excluded from morality because of its accidental nature, but precisely because of it. Why?
There are three intermingling axioms in philosophy which erupt into a single paradox, the axioms are from each of the three genres- “What is it? How do I know? Why do I care?” The first is Ontology – reality is always defined by an observer or the suggestion of a consciousness observing. Thus, reality cannot be said to exist in and of itself. The 2nd axiom is within Epistemology. Truth cannot be understood as relative or contextual. Truth must exist in and of itself for if there is no absolute truth, the statement “there is no absolute truth” cannot be made and thus allowing for the possibility of absolute truth. The third axiom is within the system of Morality: and that quite simply moral choices are an attempt to combine absolute truth with a “lived world” that is completely contingent.
Let us take the example of a seemingly congruous moment, at the moment you, the reader are reading these lines on the computer screen in front of you, the question of ultimate reality or the experience of the objective reality of all of the conditions of your situation, the screen, the chair, the lightening in the room , they are all taken at hand, in the Heideggerian sense. They do not separate from the flow of “being toward what comes next immersed in the ever changing life-world” unless they break-down or are called to attention as in the way I just did now. If we are to then ask the question, does the computer screen exist independently of my observation of it; since the answer to the question is invariably “No” how do we arrive at an absolutely true statement concerning the experience or reading the essay in front of you?
First there is the hermeneutic question? What do we mean when we say “the computer screen exists.” First, take for example these ten statements:
The screen exists
I believe the screen exists.
I know the screen exists.
I perceive the screen exists.
I want the screen to exist.
I need the screen to exist.
I sense the screen exists.
I care that the screen exists.
I’m afraid the screen exists.
I act as if the screen exists.
Now each of these ten statements has a subtle and seemingly distinct meaning that separates it from the others. However, it is possible due to hermeneutic circles to make one of these statements while in fact “intending” to say another even if in fact your motive is to align the meaning of your words with the actual content of your thoughts, which, let’s face it, it may not be. It may also be entertained that one simply cannot discern if one of these 10 statements is made, it does not in fact refer to three or four or even none of the other statements as the intended thoughts. I may wish to say “I believe the screen exists” but I may really intend to say “The screen exists” or “I want the screen to exist,” depending on my particular frame of mind. Due to the capricious nature of language, not ten but seemingly an infinite number of statements can be made concerning the existence of this computer screen, if we begin to treat the computer screen as an entity, an essence, a collection of attributes or a mass of atoms in which case size perspective dictates at what point the atoms of the screen stop and brush up against the atoms of the table, which as we purport to know, they never do.
Outside the hermeneutic question is the moral one. Who cares if the computer screen exists? A simple thought experiment: let us imagine that an asteroid destroys all conscious life on this planet in the next ten minutes, the sad truth being we were the first instance of life in the universe and we were destroyed before we had a chance to mutate and colonize another planets and thus the entire universe is now completely lifeless and will remain so. If such a thing were to happen, does it really matter if the computer screen survived the blast? Does it even matter that the universe exists if there is nothing in it that is aware of it? Is the ability to matter, simply the ability to exist? As another thought experiment, simply ask yourself “Can you name something that exists that no one including yourself has ever heard of before or ever will hear of?” The answer is no, since by naming such an object, you violate the conditions of the object in the question. Awareness is always awareness of something.
The Mapping of Opposites.
The moral choice is simple, how to act upon our desires in truth when no absolute reality of our desires is accessible?
What opens the argument is the difference between negating and negation. When I state that the “screen you are currently reading does not exist” what I am attempting to do is use one definition of negativity as the opposite of positivity. However, to say that non-existence is the opposite of existence is problematic. Let us simply equate them in mathematical terms. If I state the number “1” I could then imagine the opposite number of 1 is 0, however, a perfectly rational argument can and is made that 0 is not the opposite of 1, -1 is the opposite of 1. Now rationally they cannot both be opposites, however, we have no reason to choose one or the other since both systems work perfectly. It is the equivalent of saying “The right hand is the opposite of the left hand” vs “The lack of a left hand is the opposite of a left hand, or the opposite of a left hand is no left hand at all.” If we understand an opposite to be that whose attributes opposes every attribute of its opposite object than whether we treat “existence” as an attribute determines which system we apply. The obvious dilemma: what happens when existence itself is the object in question?
The paradox resolves itself because in either system in which 0 is the correct answer or -1 is the correct answer, 1 is taken for granted as an answer and is functional in both worlds. My inability to prove the existence of something means simply my act of negating it operating in one system, while the positivity of its existence is in the other where its negation violates mine. The 0 mathematical system and the -1 mathematical system are functional, viable operations and so they cannot be dismissed but they cannot be mapped onto each other either, they are both true and mutually exclusive. This attempt to map negativity and negation upon each is what we consider, the attempt of the doctor to cure the paradox.
When we attempt to cure ourselves of a desire, do we not more frequently intensify this desire, just as we peak curiosity in something by hiding that something from sight? It is as if the cause and object of desire is like the 0 and the -1 system. What is the opposite of the gender of man: woman, or non-man? Is Brenda the opposite of Bruce, or is David the opposite of Bruce? Such examples of problems can be called forth ad infinitum.
When we as the desiring subject wish to quell our desires we face two courses of action, we either satisfy the desire, or we reject the very existence of the desire, we abstain. The intention of both strategic courses is to make the desire go away, but like using -1 to negate 1, if done in system where 0 is the actual negation, the 1 remains. Our plight as desiring subjects is to already always be acting within whatever system our strategy cannot afford to be. We are always on the losing team, and even if we win, we can’t win. The reason however, that desire is always a moral choice, is that we always choose -1 vs 0, and even though these choices are simply mirror images, the act remains. This is not the illusion of choice but the illusion within choice itself.