A few weeks ago I was contacted by an ex-colleague who was looking for a new job. Her reason? The company she is currently working for are requiring staff to come back to the office three days a week. This has been happening across the IT and broader office-based industries for some time. Now that the corona “pandemic” is officially over, the justification for working-from-home has also disappeared.
Way back at the start of the “pandemic”, there were the calls for a new normal. Those calls invariably came from the salary class. The salary class, of course, were the ones working from home while the working class were either furloughed or, if they were deemed essential, required to show up to work as normal. If ever there was a case of class discrimination, it was that.
But we don’t talk about class anymore and a big part of the reason is that the political parties who used to represent the working class sold their souls to neoliberal economics back in the 80s. It might seem hard to believe now, but once upon a time there used to be an actual two-party system in most western nations. The left wing represented the interests of the workers while the right wing represented the interests of capital and small business. The result was a public discourse that revolved around real issues related to the real differing interests of workers and capital.
One of the more useful concepts from the left side of politics back in those days was one which can help shed light on the issue now facing office workers who are being dragged back to the office kicking and screaming: shadow work.
Shadow work is the unpaid work you have to do in order to carry out paid work. A classic example is commuting. A worker is not paid to commute to their place of employment. They are only paid from the time they arrive til the time they leave. Commuting is the unpaid work you need to do in order carry out the paid work of your job. It’s shadow work.
The phrase shadow work has a nice Jungian ring to it. To use terminology I’ve become very fond of in the last year, paid work is exoteric. It is officially recognised. It appears on your pay slip and in your bank account. Shadow work is esoteric; secret. It’s the work that has been pushed into the individual and collective unconscious.
Back when there was a real left wing party that represented the interests of the workers, the question of shadow work was a real issue that was up for negotiation in pay disputes and the wider public discourse. Now that we don’t have any real left wing parties left, shadow work itself has been relegated to the shadows. That’s a big problem because shadow work has been on the rise in the last few decades.
Here in Melbourne and other Australian cities, population growth has outstripped infrastructure capacity during that time. Australian governments have inverted the old saw – build it and they will come – to something like let them come and then build it (based on the money they bring).
The result has been a steady decline in the quality of all forms of commuting (with the exception of cycling). Commuting now takes longer and is more stressful. Because commuting belongs to the domain of shadow work, a reduction in the quality of commuting increases the burden of that work. That burden is borne silently by employees.
Prior to corona, the commuting problem here in Melbourne had been getting ridiculous. The system was well beyond capacity and people would regularly show up late to work complaining that they simply couldn’t get on a train or tram. If you were lucky enough to get on, you were squeezed in like a sardine.
What happened with the corona lockdowns was that the pressure was released. That was what was behind the strange feeling of exhilaration that came from the salary class during the lockdowns. All of a sudden, the burden of shadow work had been lifted from their shoulders.
That burden is not insignificant. For most office employees, their commute here in Melbourne would be somewhere between 5-10 hours per week. If you consider that the total work time is usually 37.5 hours per week, shadow work makes up a large percentage of overall work done and that percentage had increased in the years before corona.
None of this was recognised by employers, government or the public discourse. It was pushed into the shadows just like many other real economic issues. Psychically speaking, it then becomes part of the esoteric. In Jungian terms, it is the shadow esoteric. The more shadow work, the more negative psychic energy builds up and looks for an outlet.
It’s tempting to say that all this is just politicians trying to avoid accountability. But there is another dynamic to this which has also been building for a number of decades. Modern politics increasingly operates in the psychic domain. The manipulation of psychic energy is increasingly done by governments to achieve political goals.
Cynical politicians throughout the ages have always used religion to help them govern. But at least religion is exoteric and out in the open. The manipulation of esoteric psychic energy by both corporate and government interests in recent decades is itself esoteric; hidden.
The result is a shadow government – aka the deep state. This shadow government has arguably more power than the exoteric government which it nominally serves. It has that power precisely because there is so much free-floating psychic energy looking for something, anything, to latch onto.
This has created a positive feedback loop. Politicians get elected by manipulating psychic energy. The decisions they make increasingly unleash more psychic energy which gives them more power to manipulate the public.
Positive feedback loops are inherently unstable. Eventually something breaks. At the rate we are going, we are headed for a collective psychic breakdown on a mass scale. Corona was one of the first psychic earthquakes but it almost certainly won’t be the last.
Just over two years ago, I purchased four chickens for my household. We had chickens when I was a kid and I remember being made to pluck some of them in preparation for dinner; I had an old-fashioned childhood in that respect. But I’ve never owned chickens or any other animals as an adult as I’ve moved around a lot and mostly lived in apartments and flats.
My reason for getting chickens was entirely pragmatic. With the corona lockdowns, I had increased the amount of vegetable gardening I was doing and that requires fertiliser. I reasoned that the chickens would provide manure for the vegetable garden and eggs for the kitchen table. Plus, I had a small shed sitting on the property that could easily be turned into a chicken coop. It had a concrete floor and tightly constructed corrugated iron walls, perfect for keeping out predators.
The question arose whether to have a coop-and-run set up or let the chickens free range in the backyard. For a variety of reasons, I chose the latter option. I set up a feeder and water. It was going to be a nice system.
About two weeks after I brought the new chickens home, Melbourne went back into lockdown and we would spend much of the rest of the year in lockdown. I could never have known it at the time, but these seemingly trivial and unrelated factors – the decision to buy chickens, the decision to let them free range in the garden, the fact that I was at home most of the year due to lockdown and the fact that I was spending a lot of time in the backyard – would eventually lead me down a path that I have only come to fully understand in the last few painful weeks.
Not long after getting my four new chickens as pullets, I was given two older chooks from a friend who was moving interstate, bringing the total to six. Things were going well. The new chickens had quickly integrated into a flock and I had worked through all the bugs in my set up. Then, one of the four pullets, who I had named Blue (cos she was a Blue Australorp), started showing signs that something was wrong.
I rang my father who, apart from having tended to our chickens when I was young, had also worked for a couple of years on a chicken farm early in his life. I explained Blue’s symptoms and asked his advice. This was the first but not the last time in this story that I was told something very important that I didn’t understand. When chickens get sick, they don’t get better, he said. But Blue didn’t look sick. She was still eating as normal and was hanging around with the others doing the usual chicken things.
Melbourne was now back in lockdown. I can’t remember whether veterinary clinics were open at that time. Even if they were, it would have been an Orwellian nightmare to visit one. So, I ruled that option out and did as my father suggested which was to feed Blue some softer foods like fruits and try feeding her food with olive oil added to help with digestion since that seemed to be where the problem lay.
About two weeks later, Blue stopped eating.
As anybody who’s owned chickens knows, it’s the passion with which they attack their food that is a big part of their charm. Every day is like the first day and every meal is like a gourmet delight. Sometimes they’ll catch a skink or other small reptile or rodent and the chicken who has found the unlucky creature but cannot swallow it straight away gets chased around the yard by all the other chickens looking to steal the bounty.
So, when a chicken stops eating, you know you have a problem. And when the chicken has already shown signs of illness such as Blue had, the matter becomes urgent. Even as an inexperienced chicken owner, I knew that much. But we were still in lockdown and a trip to the vet was still going to be a nightmare. I tried various tricks to get Blue eating again and to my delight these seemed to work. She bounced back and began eating with the other chickens again. A few days later, she stopped eating a second time.
I called my father again only to receive the advice that I knew he was going to give. The chicken is dying. I asked him about euthanising her since I assumed the death could be painful. Again, I knew what he would say before he said it. No, let it die naturally.
This word natural is a dangerous word. Do chickens die naturally in nature? The question sounds absurd. In nature, we might say, a sick and weakened chicken would be killed by a predator since predators always go for the weakest looking member of the flock.
Most of the time when we use the word natural, what we really mean is normal. Do chickens normally die from predators in nature? That question makes sense. And the answer may very well be yes. That leads to another question. Is a suburban backyard nature? The answer is either yes because all the world is nature or no and then the question of a natural death becomes irrelevant.
I was not ready to deal with these issues. A dying chicken had not been part of the plan and I did not expect it to happen so soon with a chicken that was still young. I had been thrown in the deep end, required to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make based on a situation I didn’t really understand.
Because we were yet again in lockdown, I was going to be at home all day every day for the foreseeable future. I resolved to proceed as follows: I would follow my father’s advice and let the chicken die naturally but if there was any indication that the chicken was in pain, I would end its life.
I prepared an appropriate block of wood from an old tree stump lying around in the back yard and confirmed that the axe was in the shed where I remembered it. I resolved to check on the chicken every hour or two and make sure it was not suffering.
My plan makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s rationally airtight with a perfect either/or logic to it. I didn’t realise what it really meant. It meant I was going to have to watch a chicken die.
Euthanasia is one of those issues I have never paid much attention to. We live in a society where euthanasia is becoming more and more common. It wouldn’t surprise me if before too long there will be voluntary euthanasia even for people without a valid medical reason to do so. Apparently, euthanasia enjoys a large majority of public support.
I have written before about the author Stephen Jenkinson. His book Come of Age: A Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble was a big inspiration for my Age of the Orphan series of posts and will feature in my upcoming book of the same name. Jenkinson’s message is not born out of ideology. It is born out of his lived experience as a grief counsellor where he realised the extent to which our culture is terrified of death.
The confrontation with death, like most important things in life, is not amenable to reason. To the extent that cultures construct “rules” around death, these are developed over long periods of time through trial and error. Such practices are irrational and our society encourages intellectuals to tear them to logical shreds and replace them with rationally airtight theories. We think of this as progress.
Jenkinson saw first-hand that the result is that we now have a culture where people stand naked in the face of death. Counterintuitively, the problem is usually felt more acutely not by the person dying but by the loved ones who have to watch. All our social debates around death – abortion, euthanasia, not letting granny die from a respiratory virus – betray this terror and this nakedness that our culture has in the face of death.
I had been called to face the issue of euthanasia not as an ideological argument but as a lived experience. I had a dying chicken and I had made a promise that I would relieve its suffering if necessary. Nevertheless, I did what most of us do and turned to the internet for guidance.
Among the hysterical shrieking on either side of the debate, I came across this article which seemed well-balanced. More importantly, it helped me to frame what was really going on with me and my chicken. The article asks the question whether it is better to let a “wild animal” die by starvation/dehydration. My chicken had stopped eating. If I did nothing, it was going to die by starvation/dehydration. My choice was between that or euthanasia.
The article addresses the issue not from a veterinary point of view but from a human one. It turns out that voluntary death by starvation/dehydration (VSED) is something that has been tried many times in the human realm and we have better data about that domain since we can ask the person dying how they are feeling.
On first reading the article, a couple of points stood out to me. Firstly, nurses rated VSED positively in that it was almost painless and also peaceful. Secondly, the negative first-hand accounts in the article, the ones arguing against VSED, seemed to contain more ideological arguments while the pro-VSED accounts were based on the experience of the person who was dying. Also, the negative arguments included people who had to watch a loved one go through VSED. That is a different issue and one which I’ve come to appreciate more than I ever knew I would. The experience of dying and the experience of watching the dying are very different things and should be treated separately. Jenkinson knew that.
The article gave me some clarity but no firm answers. I decided to stick to my original plan of euthanising Blue only if she was in pain.
I named Diogena after the cynic philosopher, Diogenes, because it seemed like she was at the bottom of the pecking order but really she was at the top. I realised this about a month after I brought the chickens home when she simply took the top roosting bar from the other chickens who had until then ruled the roost.
In ancient Greek, the word cynic meant to live like a dog. One of the things the cynics did was renounce all creature comforts including houses. Most cynics slept outside. Imagine my surprise when Diogena decided that she was also going to renounce the comfort of the coop and sleep outside. She really was a cynic.
She originally tried to roost on a PVC pipe that runs from one of the gutters on the house to a water tank. PVC pipes are very slippery but that didn’t seem to bother Diogena. Comfort and practicality were clearly not her thing. Nevertheless, the PVC pipe was out in the open and when it rained Diogena would get wet. Rather than let her find out the hard way, I blocked off the pathway she had taken to jump up on the pipe.
Did Diogena go back to roosting in the coop? No way. She hunted around the back yard and found a tree which had been planted very close to the fence and had developed an unusual growth habit where the branches stretched out horizontally; perfect for chickens and also with protection from the rain by the tree canopy above. Diogena had found her new roost.
I wasn’t sold on the idea. Roosting outside carries a risk of predator attack. But how could I say no? I had named Diogena after the cynics and now she was living up to the name.
Diogena roosted in that tree every day until about four weeks ago when she fell ill.
I have only in the last couple of weeks realised that the deal I made back when Blue became sick was the deal to walk the path of death with her. When my father said let it die naturally, he meant leave it alone, let nature take its course. But when I decided to observe Blue so that I could be sure she was not in pain, I was not leaving her alone.
I had taken on the role of observer. But I had also agreed to change roles if necessary and move into what we might call the role of helper. I was going to help Blue end her life early if she was in pain.
In our society, we outsource the role of helper to experts; nurses and doctors in the human domain and vets in the animal domain. That leaves us as family members and loved ones in the role of observer. I wonder whether our severance of these two roles doesn’t cause us extra distress. Often in life, we show our love through our actions. When we are forbidden from helping sick and dying loved ones, when we are relegated to observing, we lose one of the main ways to communicate our love.
I suspect this is why VSED is so traumatic for observers because the help would be so easy to give. You just have to provide food and water.
With my chickens, I had inadvertently chosen the role of observer to VSED. In hindsight, I wonder if my idea about euthanising the chicken was not born out of the distress of this role. The distress is not for the one dying but for the one watching the dying. How much of that distress gets projected onto our social debates about death? I think we saw the answer to that in the last three years.
I have now learned how VSED progresses in relation to chickens. I have seen it four times.
Firstly, the chicken stops eating. As a good chicken owner, you do your best to get them eating again. You offer them their favourite treats like bananas or meat. They eat it and seem to get their strength back. They go back to eating the regular chicken food and you feel good that you have solved the problem and life will go back to normal now.
A few days later or maybe a week or two, the chicken stops eating for a second time. All your efforts to get them to eat again fail. The food that they once so joyfully and greedily gobbled down is no longer of interest to them.
The first two days after the chicken stops eating are the hardest because there is still hope. The chicken has relatively high energy levels and will occasionally run around and look perfectly healthy. This can lead to you to believe that it’s not going to die. But there are contrary signals. The main one is that it separates itself from the other chickens and spends its time alone in a corner or under a tree.
Sometimes, when the other chickens are feeding, it will run over to where the food is and seem to eat. You get your hopes up. But the chicken is not really eating. It takes a half-hearted peck and then turns away.
It’s this up and down nature that makes the first two days so difficult for the observer–helper. It’s an alternation between hope and despair.
The speed of the decline makes things harder to take. Just three or four days earlier, you had a seemingly healthy chicken and now you have a chicken that is deteriorating in front of your eyes. I had made the deal far more difficult for myself by taking responsibility for the euthanasia option if the chicken was feeling pain. But the truth is I never saw any visible sign of pain or even discomfort. On the contrary, once the first two days are over, the chicken changes into a state that can only be described as peaceful.
The chicken has now weakened to the point where movement is slow and limited. Gone are the sudden bursts of energy which you can mistake as signs of a return to health. The chicken spends its time resting. It finds a comfortable spot where it sits for long periods with its eyes closed. Breathing is calm and dozing off is interspersed with periods of alertness that can last hours.
In an image I will never forget, one of the ISA Brown chickens my friend had given me, which was the third one to die, had placed herself in a sunny spot beneath an olive tree. It was late winter and the weather was cool and sunny. She was facing directly at the sun. Her eyes were closed but her head was not pointed downwards in the dozing off position but upwards towards the sun. It’s impossible to know what a chicken is feeling, but all external appearance suggested to me that she had gone beyond peaceful and into blissful.
Among the positive accounts of death by starvation/dehydration in the VSED article are these two:
“Instead of feeling pain, the patient experienced the sense of euphoria that accompanies a complete lack of food and water”.
“After a few days without food, chemicals known as ketones build up in the blood. These chemicals cause a mild euphoria that serves as an anaesthetic. The weakening brain also releases a surge of feel-good hormones called endorphins—the same chemical that prompts the so-called “runner’s high.”
What I have seen in my chickens who have died of VSED matches these accounts.
When you walk the path of death with another creature, you really do live it with them. When the chicken is alternating between the will to live and a kind of resignation, you match them. And when the chicken becomes peaceful and equanimous, you do too. That’s why the third and fourth days are the easiest for the observer-helper. There is no question of pain and neither is recovery an option any more. You and the chicken are on the last leg of the journey.
The peace is broken on the last day. The chicken no longer has enough energy to sit properly and keep its head up. There is no more lucidity or alertness. The battle now is between consciousness and unconsciousness. The chicken’s head is down. It is no longer sitting but lying on the ground.
Once again the question of euthanasia arises. As a helper, I am plunged back into my original responsibility – should I end it now?
But there is still no sign of pain or suffering. The VSED accounts say that most human patients go into a coma at this stage and that is also what I saw in my chickens. There is no tension in the body. No pain. No struggle. The final stage of the journey is from unconsciousness to death.
The first time I noticed something wrong with Diogena was the Sunday morning. I saw that the vent area on her behind was soiled and that she had diarrhea. I didn’t think much of it as she seemed otherwise normal and appeared to be eating well.
But I wasn’t in observer mode anymore. Melbourne was no longer in lockdown. Tuesday was a public holiday and that meant a long weekend. From the Sunday morning til the Tuesday evening, I was barely at home. It wasn’t until the Wednesday morning that I knew for sure that something was wrong. Diogena had stopped eating.
Now I was worried. I had seen this pattern before. But something was different this time. The sickness and death of the other three chickens had been expected due to illness or old age (ISA Brown chickens have a short life span). But Diogena had been a picture of health the whole two and a bit years she had been with me. She was now a mature chicken in the prime of her life. Why had she suddenly become sick?
I called my father who couldn’t talk for long as he was about to go into a meeting. The symptoms I had noticed were too vague: diarrhea and loss of appetite could be any number of things. My father suggested coccidiosis as one possible cause. As there is a medication for this that can be bought off the shelf, I went to the pet store and got some. This was a big mistake. I had jumped to conclusions. But the worst part was that I now had to wait for the medication to work which prevented me from exploring other reasons why Diogena could have been sick.
In the meantime, I did what I had done with the other chickens and tried to hand feed Diogena to keep her energy up. Again, something was different. She was being very fussy about what she ate and was not eating her favourite treats but only weird things like oats and small bits of bread neither of which I would normally offer to chickens but I was trying anything by this time. Still, her condition seemed to improve and this gave me the false idea that the medication was working.
Circumstances change in life but we stick to our old scripts until reality forces our hand. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I had time to think about Diogena’s problem more. I turned to the internet to get some ideas and the notion of an impacted crop came up. The crop is the first organ in the digestive process of a chicken located on their breast. It was instantly clear even to a novice like myself that this was the real problem. I hadn’t noticed before because I didn’t know what to look for.
There are only about half a dozen or so vet clinics in Melbourne that service chickens. I called them all up but they were booked solid. One vet offered an emergency service. I made an appointment for Sunday morning.
I purchased Diogena, Blue and the other two chickens from a guy I found online. He had a very cool setup at the back of a factory just north of where I live with lots of cages and about 30 hens and roosters of different breeds. The cages he kept the chickens in were only about 2 metres by 2 metres in dimension. He told me he’d been selling chickens for many years. He clearly knew what he was doing.
He got Blue and the other two chickens into cardboard boxes easily. The fourth was Diogena. She was the smallest of the lot and, it turned out, the nimblest. I stood back smiling while he clambered around the cage. It took about 30 seconds for him to catch her but no sooner had he got her into the cardboard box than she sprang out again and the whole sequence started over. It took him six tries to get her into a box and close the lid. Panting and red-faced, he handed me the box. I tried to hide my smile. Diogena was special from the start.
As I gave him the cash for the chickens, I casually asked how long they live for. That depends, he said, on whether you’re a pet person or a food person. I had no idea how important this sentence would turn out to be. I’ve only learned it in the last few weeks.
The economics of backyard chickens only works if you kill the chicken at the end of its productive laying period and you use the chicken’s manure to fertilise a garden that produces food. If you don’t do both of these things, the cost of the chicken feed outweighs the value of the chicken in dollar terms. That’s what the chicken dealer meant when he was referring to a food person. He meant that you were keeping chickens for food/financial reasons.
If you’re a pet person, you don’t care about that since pets are not kept for financial reasons. You expect to pay for pets not for pets to pay for themselves.
The story I told myself at the start of this journey was that I was a food person. I was buying chickens for eggs and manure. That story changed almost immediately after I got the chickens home. The Melbourne lockdowns meant that I spent a much larger amount of time in the back garden and I got to know the chickens far more intimately than I expected. The thing about chickens is that they are individuals. They have as much personality as dogs and cats. Diogena had an extra-large dose of personality (I would call it spirit).
I had become a pet person, but I didn’t know it.
The vet who saw Diogena on the Sunday morning told me there was a stick in her crop and the only way to get it out was surgery. She then told me the cost of the surgery. All of a sudden, my confusion about being a pet person took on a very real dimension. For a pet person, surgery is a no brainer. For a food person, it’s a no go. Like Buridan’s Donkey, my rational mind jammed up. I was confused but I didn’t know the source of my confusion. Meanwhile, the vet was looking at me strangely. She assumed I was a pet person.
I decided to go ahead with the surgery but in my confusion forgot to ask all the questions I should have asked. How likely was success? Would Diogena recover fully? How long would that take? In hindsight, I would argue the vet should have seen my confusion and told me these things anyway. But the vet clinic was busy and there were other people waiting.
The vet called me the next day after the surgery and said that Diogena had not swallowed a stick. The hard lump on her breast was actually scar tissue. The vet asked me how Diogena got the scar tissue and I had no idea. It’s possible she had fallen off something and injured herself. It would be in fitting with Diogena’s character. That might have been the cause of the problem, but we will never know for sure.
The vet told me there had been more food in Diogena’s crop than she had ever seen before and the crop had stretched significantly. This was the first of several hints she gave me about Diogena’s real condition but I didn’t understand at the time. I was navigating in a world of half-truths, false assumptions and incomplete information and confusion was the order of the day.
The confusion wasn’t helped by another surprise I received when I went to pick Diogena up after the surgery. There was a week’s worth of medication to administer. Chickens don’t know what medication is and they won’t eat it voluntarily. You literally have to jam it down their throat. The vet showed me the correct technique to open the beak and administer the medication and then sent me on my way.
Diogena, the wild chicken, the chicken who would not even sleep in a coop, was now a house chicken and I had become her nurse. These were not roles that either of us asked for and I’m not sure that I understood much better than Diogena what was happening. One thing we both agreed on: it sucked.
At the end of the week, we went back to the vet for a checkup. The crop was not right. The vet prescribed two extra types of medication for another week. More work for the nurse. More aggravation for the patient.
Diogena was still only eating a very select few things. She refused anything larger than an oat and I was mainly feeding her on seeds, crushed up chick feed, mince meat and banana. This seemed like a worrying sign but I carried out the chores of giving her the medication twice daily in a soldierly fashion. I still had the rest of my life to worry about.
The second check-up was two weeks after the surgery. The crop had not improved. The vet prescribed another week of medication and casually slipped into the conversation that if the problem persisted we would be looking at three months of medication. The penny dropped. I finally realised what she had been hinting at.
The vet must have known immediately after the surgery that Diogena’s crop had become too stretched to recover. Why didn’t she tell me the truth? Why did she only drop hints and ultimately force me to raise the issue? It’s tempting to say that she and the vet clinic benefited financially from doing so, but I don’t believe that was the main issue.
Most people love their pets. But this love is not properly recognised in our society. Sometimes we assume that people are trying to fill a void that is missing elsewhere in their life. Maybe that is true in some cases. But love is love. And the flipside of love is grief. What you love, you will one day lose.
A vet is trained in biology, physiology and anatomy. They are not trained in theology or its bastard child, psychiatry. They are not trained to inform people how to walk the path of death and to lay that out as an option that should be considered.
The decision I faced and that many other pet owners must face every day touches on the core issues that our culture does not know how to deal with: death, love, grief and conscience. The vet has no necessary authority on these. So, they stick to what they know. They offer two paths: medication or euthanasia. Increasingly, our medical system offers these same two paths. The third path is rarely discussed. If I had not accidentally walked the path of death with three chickens prior to Diogena, I may not have even known that path existed. Our culture systematically avoids it.
Dostoevsky noted with his Grand Inquisitor that most people want somebody to outsource their conscience to. Stephen Jenkinson noted that most people want somebody to outsource their grief to. These issues both come together in the medical and veterinary industries. If ever there was a place for theology, psychology or philosophy, it is here. But there are no priests, philosophers or psychiatrists to be found in a vet clinic.
What is behind our desperate desire to trust the experts is that we want to outsource our conscience and our grief. We got rid of the one institution that at least attempted to deal with these matters (the church) and replaced it with consumer capitalism. Our experts churn out solutions to things that are not even problems. A lot of money gets made. And people are left to flounder in confusion and despair.
For the first three of my chickens who died, I had voluntarily taken on the role of observer-helper. I had set the terms of those roles. With Diogena, terms were imposed on me and through me on her. Diogena’s life was in my hands. I was not choosing her mode of death but between life and death. The life that I had to choose on her behalf was to have medication forced down her throat twice a day. How could I do that to Diogena, the wild chicken, the chicken who did not even want to sleep in a coop?
In truth, I was no longer in the role of helper, but enforcer. The vet had assigned me the role of enforcer, literally forcing medication down Diogena’s throat. Much of modern medicine has this dynamic built-in, but it is never discussed openly. As a patient, your job is to submit. It’s a role we have all gotten used to without knowing.
Now that I have had time to process all this, I can present it as if it makes sense. But it wasn’t making any sense to me at the time. I didn’t know I was a pet person. I didn’t know I had been a helper. I didn’t know I had become an enforcer.
I spent the whole week trying to work through these issues rationally and got nowhere. Ultimately, I had to go by gut feeling. I decided to stop the medication. I would let Diogena back into the yard and give her a chance to adapt back to her old life.
I was not prepared for how fast the whole thing fell apart. It was clear immediately when I let Diogena back into the yard that she was not as strong as she looked in the coop. Now that she was back in her normal environment, I could also see that she was acting strangely. She didn’t interact with the other chickens. I told myself this was to be expected. She had been three weeks by herself in what amounted to solitary confinement. She had reason to be disoriented.
But the part that destroyed my plans entirely was that she stopped eating. My plan had failed. But, more importantly, I knew what this meant. This was something I could be absolutely sure about because I had seen this pattern three times before. Diogena was walking the path of death. My new decision, which I did not understand, was whether to switch back to being an enforcer. I could yank her off the path. She would go back to the coop and back to her medication.
These are terrible questions to have to deal with and none of it was helped by the fact that I could not rationally process what was going on. The fact is, there is no right answer and you can’t be objective because you have a responsibility to bear. I had given Diogena a home. I had taken her to the vet. I had forced the medication down her throat.
There was one simple fact I had failed to understand and have only understood in the aftermath of all this. Whatever my choices and my decisions were, Diogena had already made her decision. She was the one who had stopped eating. She did that immediately after being returned to her natural (there’s that word again) environment; the place where she could make decisions.
She chose to walk the path of death in exactly the same way that Blue and the other two chickens had before her. With the other chickens, I had accepted their decision and been content to play the role of helper. The difference this time was that I had refused to accept Diogena’s decision or even to recognise that she had made it. I was still stuck in enforcer mode.
Among all this confusion was the ultimate realisation. I had come to love Diogena. Yes, I had come to love a chicken. I don’t know how that happened. It just did. I was a pet person after all. I loved Diogena and I did not want her to die.
This is the great wisdom of Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. Responsibility is the flipside of love. We become responsible when we love. It’s not a scientific, cause-and-effect kind of responsibility. Neither is it a legal or even a moral one. The case won’t be tried in a court of law. It will be tried in your own heart and the verdict will be: guilty. That’s what sin means. It’s a weight of responsibility you feel in your heart. And that’s why all you can do is weep and ask for forgiveness.
Diogena died on the sixth night after she stopped eating. She went through the same cycle as the three chickens before her. The first two days were up and down as her energy waxed and waned. On the third day, she entered the peaceful state that precedes death. The weather in Melbourne had been miserable. But it now cleared and we had three straight days of late autumn sunshine with little wind and mild temperatures. It could make me believe in divine intervention.
On the morning of the third day, Diogena slowly and unsteadily placed herself down on the grass under a tree. The sun, which is low in the sky at this time of year, shone down on her face as she alternated between dozing and long stretches of lucidity where she was able to take in her surroundings. On the fourth and fifth days, she was too weak to walk, so I carried her to the same spot in the morning where she could enjoy the sun. That was my job as her helper.
Then something happened that I’m not ashamed to say brought tears to my eyes. The other chickens, who had been avoiding Diogena since her re-entry into the garden, came and sat down beside her. They sat for several hours together in the sun and Diogena spent the last hours of her life in their company.
On the fifth evening, I could see that Diogena was entering the final phase where consciousness slips away for good. Just like the other chickens, she died during the night. Just like the others, there was no sign of struggle or pain on her face or in her body the next morning. The weather had turned bad again and I buried her in a secluded spot in the yard just a couple of hours before the rain set in.
One of the big questions ever since it became clear that the corona vaccines were not going to provide the miracle that was promised has been how we would handle the fallout of what is undoubtedly the biggest peacetime public policy failure in modern history.
Here in Melbourne, Australia, we had what ended up being the longest lockdown of any city in the world. As a result, we have accrued, if not the largest government debt of any city in the world, at least the largest of any state in Australia. The bill for this debt is now coming due.
Late last year there was a state election where the opposition party suggested cuts to planned spending to address the budget problem. Our Devouring-Mother-in-Chief, Dan Andrews, scoffed at such suggestions and said there was no need for spending cuts. We could have it all, he said. He was duly re-elected.
Just six months later, the state budget is due to be delivered this week and will feature huge spending cuts including one major infrastructure project. It turns out we couldn’t have it all. The Premier must have known that prior to the election last year. Even by the gutter standards of modern politics, that’s some premium political cynicism.
Now that the bill for the lockdowns is due to be paid, it’s no surprise that politicians are trying to weasel out of responsibility. But even I was taken aback by the recent statement from the Victorian Health Minister. In relation to corona, she said: “We did what we were advised to do.” (The interested reader can see the statement at the 1 minute 25 second mark of this video).
Anybody can see that this is an almost exact reproduction of the Nuremberg Defence. But there’s an important difference here and one that says much about what is really going on with our current political shambles.
In the Westminster system of government which Australia inherited from Britain, the Minister IS responsible. That is the whole point of having ministers. The buck stops with the minister. It used to be a common occurrence that ministers would resign from their positions when things went wrong, even in situations where there could be no proof of a wrong decision on their part. The point of this practice was to uphold the ideal of the system: the minister is responsible and doesn’t get to blame anybody else.
The Victorian Health Minister wasn’t technically pulling a Nuremberg Defence because that defence states that a subordinate can escape responsibility by following orders from a superior. This was an already established principle in military law prior to WW2. It makes sense in a military setting where disobeying orders has severe ramifications for military personnel including potential court martial.
What made the Nuremberg Trials unique was that some non-military leaders of Germany were included in proceedings. That is, political and economic leaders were charged alongside military commanders. There was much debate before the trial about whether this was appropriate but that’s what ended up happening.
The reason that the non-military leaders of Germany could invoke the Nuremberg Defence was because of the Führerprinzip enacted by the Nazis which specified that every person was required to obey the orders of Hitler even where those orders contradicted one’s immediate superior, the constitution, the law, or anything else. That’s why the Nuremberg Defence has ended up becoming a far more general principle and for the first time brought the issue of following orders outside of a military context.
In a post last year, I explained in detail Hannah Arendt’s great insight that what the Führerprinzip unleashed was a new form of organisation called Totalitarianism. It allowed even military lines of command to be bypassed. Organisation now became predicated on ideology. The same pattern played out in Stalin’s Russia. Our historical misunderstanding of the situation is caused by the surface appearance of tyrannical political structure which both Hitler and Stalin portrayed and was further reinforced by the fact that the defendants at Nuremberg all tried to blame either Hitler or other senior Nazi leaders for their actions.
If we reinterpret the Nuremberg Defence using Arendt’s insight, what it really amounted to was a blind fealty not to a leader but to an ideology. It was the Nazi ideology which united both the military, political and economic leaders of the nation. The nation state was supposed to represent the general will. In the Enlightenment ideal, the will would be tempered by reason and logic. But reason and logic went out the window in WW1 and were replaced by ideology and propaganda.
These developments were related to creation of Total War where modern military force is predicated on the functioning of an industrial economy. It was Napoleon who can be credited with laying the foundations for Total War. Before Napoleon, soldiers were expected to source their own food from the local area where they were stationed. But Napoleon introduced the concept of supply lines which tied military operations back to the national economy.
As an aside, this is why sanctions against Russia have formed part of the war in Ukraine. If war is an extension of politics by other means, so too is economics and finance nowadays.
Totalitarianism, then, was a decentralised system of government held together by a shared commitment to ideology. That was Arendt’s great insight. And this brings us to the Victorian Health Minister’s statement which I’m going to call the Nuremberg Defence Mark 2:
“We did what we were advised to do.” In other words: “we followed the ideology”.
To reiterate, this is the opposite to how the Westminster system of government is supposed to work. Say it with me: the Minister IS responsible. The minister takes advice. But, ultimately, they make the decision. There is no higher authority than the minister.
Part of the problem here is the falling standard of government that has been going on for decades. Ministers used to resign when things went wrong because that was in the spirit of a system where the minister must be responsible even if they are technically not. At some point, ministers realised they could blame “the advice” they received and use that as an excuse not to resign. Fast forward to today and blatant corruption now goes unchecked and ministers regularly avoid responsibility on the flimsiest pretexts.
But corona was something different. When the minister talks of “the advice” she might as well be referring to “the science”. Where did that science and that advice come from? There is no clear answer to that. We might say it was the WHO but I recall the WHO recommending against lockdowns in late 2020 and the Victorian government then proceeded with several more lockdowns. We also know as a matter of political fact that decisions around curfew here in Melbourne came direct from the Premier’s office not “the advice”.
In a sense, corona facilitated our own version of the Führerprinzip. A handful of tinpot dictators got to pretend that they were all-powerful and all-knowing. It’s worth remembering that the Westminster system of government allowed Britain to avoid becoming a military dictatorship at the time when much of Europe, not just Germany, was falling into that mode of government. If we appreciated our history better, we would not take such things for granted and ministers of government would not get away with being able to blame “the advice”.
But there is something more than just general corruption going on here. “The advice” is ideology and, despite what many conspiracy theorists believe, the ideology has become decentralised. What the Premier of Victoria and his Health Minister were really following was “the ideology”. That ideology may be enforced by powerful actors in the network, but the mechanism of distribution of the ideology is now global and decentralised.
If Totalitarianism is a decentralised form of government held together by allegiance to an ideology, then corona fits the bill perfectly. The reason the average person can’t accept this is because they are told corona was based on “science” or “advice”. And because so many scientists now earn their living from government and corporate money, they are unwilling to set the record straight. Plus, setting the record straight would require an independent news media but news media are also now reliant on government and corporate funding.
All this raises the question: is this just a temporary state of corruption or are we sleepwalking into totalitarianism? The current system is held together by one thing: money. Compliance is bought and sold. That is a fundamental difference from Nazi Germany. The Führerprinzip was not an invention of the Nazis (the Nazis created very little). It was a belief in the power of the superior individual. This was a common theme in the German-speaking lands in the late 19th and early 20th century. Spengler’s concept of Caesarism and the Nazi’s bastardisation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch concept were just two examples of this idea.
Corona gave all kinds of tin pot dictators their chance to pretend they were Caesars. Can that continue outside of the realm of a purported emergency? This will depend on whether Arendt was right. Can totalitarianism work without the equivalent of a Führerprinzip? I think the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. In place of physical coercion, we have substituted money as the stick which keeps people in line.
Money has always been able to invisibly subvert democratic political institutions. It is arguably the greatest weakness of democracy and has been used against modern democracies almost from their inception. But the system only works as long as the financial system holds together and our system appears on the verge of breakdown. If it does breakdown and get replaced by a functional CBDC system, then we are in deep trouble as that would enable the invisible coercion to continue indefinitely. I don’t believe a functional CBDC-based financial system is possible but it won’t stop the powers-that-be from trying.
The Westminster system of government and its offshoots defeated both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism. Whether it can defeat the new attempt at globalist totalitarianism is the number one question before us right now.
Book update: as I mentioned in my last post, I’m in the process of writing my next book The Age of the Orphan: An Archetypal Analysis of Modern Western Civilisation. My dream of knocking it into shape in two weeks did turn out to be rather optimistic. I think it’s going to be more like two months until the book is ready.
For this week’s post, though, I want to touch on a current issue that fits into the Orphan archetypal analysis.
We are now in the post-corona world according to the people who get to decide such things. But it should be pretty clear to everybody that the underlying archetypal machinations that brought us corona have not stopped. One such issue that has stepped in to fill the void is the trans “debate”. It’s a sign of how fast things are moving that the trans issue was barely even on the radar at the time that I wrote The Devouring Mother just two years ago. From memory, I didn’t even mention it in the book.
From a political point of view, the transgender issue is structurally identical to corona. It is being pushed from the top-down via government agencies, government funding of private agencies, NGOs, globalist institutions and the MSM. Through a combination of shaming, character assassination and censorship, there is the attempt to create the appearance of consensus where those who disagree must be “extremists”. In this respect, it is identical to corona, vaccines, climate change, renewables, the Voice (here in Australia), eating bugs or any of the other wonderful ideas cooked up by our “elites”.
I should point out that I’m not denying that some individuals have difficulties with gender and sexual identity. In fact, one of my best friends from high school now identifies as a woman and has had surgery to mark the change. But that happened well before the trans issue became an apparently urgent matter of public discourse.
Clearly some people have issues with gender and sexuality. Equally clearly, some people catch colds and flus and some of those (mostly the elderly) will die as a result. We can accept these facts while still admitting that the way in which corona and transgenderism have become socio-psychological lightning rods is deeply weird. It was possible to construct a seemingly logical argument to account for corona but even the most hardened “conspiracy theorist” is struggling for a logical account of the transgender debate. Nevertheless, the issue makes perfect sense within the Devouring Mother archetype.
When my friend underwent surgery to mark his change of gender, he was a fully-grown adult in his 20s. As an adult, he was free to make his own decision and his parents would not have been involved at all (most likely they would tried to talk him out of it). It’s worth noting that the related issue of eunuchs throughout history almost always involved consenting adults. In many cases, men would even self-castrate in order to qualify for jobs in the royal court because the lucrative benefits involved in such a position were only available if you were a eunuch. It’s a testimony to how much humans desire power that people have taken a knife to their own genitalia to achieve that outcome.
What we are seeing now with the transgender issue is a focus on pre-pubescent children whose parents are actively involved in the matter (we are also seeing the State take on the role as quasi-parent to override the wishes of the real parents where necessary, but this also fits within the Devouring Mother archetype with State as “parent”).
Forcing gender roles onto pre-pubescent children is, by definition, unnecessary since puberty is the time when we all must deal with the complex issues around gender and sexuality not as an abstract ideological argument but as a lived experience. The biological transformation of puberty forces these matters on us whether we like it or not. And therein lies one of the key points that is behind the trans issue. Puberty is fate. Death is fate. Just like we freaked out about death during corona we are now freaking out about puberty. In both cases, it’s the denial of biological fate.
Here is a diagram I used in my Age of the Orphan series to elucidate how the Orphan archetype fits into the human lifecycle:
The Orphan archetype sits between the Innocent and the Adult. As the name suggests, the Innocent represents the time we associate with childhood in all its innocence. The Orphan represents the time of puberty and the transition to adulthood. In traditional societies, the onset of puberty was the trigger for the social transition into adulthood via ceremonies and initiation. For example, the Native American vision quest and the Australian aboriginal walkabout happened around the onset of puberty.
In modern western society, we have decoupled adulthood from puberty to a large extent. We have no formal initiation ceremonies or markers. Little is required to be done to earn the status of adulthood. Rather, it is attained by default through proxy markers such as the voting age, the drinking age, the driving age and the age of consent. Thus, we have gradually erased the Orphan transition into adulthood. We have removed any exoteric rituals and left each individual to go it alone. We tell ourselves that this is “freedom” but it’s a bit like the freedom to drive a car without having learned to do so first. To change metaphors, we throw you in the deep end and let you sink or swim.
What happens in practice is that most people will look for something to keep them “afloat”. They become dependent and this is where the Devouring Mother comes in. Becoming dependent on the Devouring Mother prevents the Orphan from completing the transition into adulthood. Note that dependence is the natural state of the Innocent. Childhood is the age where we all really are dependent on our parents and there is nothing problematic in that dependence.
Thus, another way to frame the Devouring Mother dynamic is that the mother wishes to keep the child in perpetual Innocence by preventing the Orphan transformation. She can then claim that she needs to “protect” the child since that is the natural relationship between the parent and the Innocent. Thus, the language used around the transgender issue is identical to corona. It’s all about keeping people “safe”.
With corona and the transgender issue, these archetypal dynamics are now manifesting in the physical world. What were mandatory vaccines except “mummy” (the Nanny State) getting us to “take our medicine” like good little boys and girl. Similarly, we now see surgical and pharmaceutical intervention of pre-pubescent children with the goal of “delaying” puberty. In reality, it is the denial of puberty and is therefore about keeping the children in a biological state of “innocence”.
We can represent this by reference to another concept from my Age of the Orphan series which was levels of being:
Level of Being
Orphan Transformation to Adulthood
Work, marriage, citizenship, church
In most societies, the biological transformation of puberty is accompanied by the social transformations of work, marriage, citizenship and church (or whatever cultural specific exoteric institutions map to these). The combination of the biological and social change results in a psychological process called Individuation and, at the highest level, the formation of the Jungian Self. Both of these latter transformations can form a life’s work but it is at puberty where they are begun in earnest.
What we have seen over the last centuries in the West is the progressive removal of the Orphan transition to adulthood at the “higher” levels. In the post war years, the breakdown moved into the Social dimension. Thus, we saw a massive increase in divorce rates, falls in church attendance, an increasingly fake democracy and the rise of bullshit jobs.
Both corona and the transgender issue represent the ultimate manifestation of that process as it now arrives in the Physical plane with surgical and medical interventions that prevent the biological transformation into adulthood.
Of course, this is not the way our ideology represents these matters. Our ideology says that this is “freedom”. Everybody shall have the freedom to choose a gender, a job, a life partner, a religious denomination and even which country to live in. This “freedom” is central to the post war ideology of the West. In archetypal terms, however, this is a false freedom.
The Orphan’s challenge as so beautifully portrayed in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is to face the ultimate lack of freedom which is death. To face death and come out the other side with your childlike sense of wonder, optimism and faith intact is what Dostoevsky considered the highest task in life. But one must face death. That is the Orphan’s challenge. To revert to the Innocent without going through the initiation of the Orphan is the denial of that challenge and a false pathway.
We can represent this using the Jungian concept of the Shadow as follows with the shadow forms at the bottom of the table:-
Level of Being
Orphan Transformation to Adulthood
Individuation (the Self)
Work, marriage, citizenship, church
Denial of puberty
Breakdown of marriage, church, state, bullshit jobs
Denial of Self
This fits with Jung’s idea that the task of the modern world was to incorporate Satan. For him, what is happening right now is the integration of the Shadow at the societal level.
It also represents the end of the Antichrist phase of history. Both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche analysed the historical figure of Christ as the Innocent. Whether that’s historically true or not, there can be no doubt that the modern West was founded on such a concept as we see in the ubiquitous Virgin and Christ Child paintings.
If the Virgin and Christ Child was the founding archetype of the Faustian, we have now arrived at its inversion: Devouring Mother and Child in Shadow form.
The other day I had what seems like a fairly obvious idea in hindsight: an inversion of the famous Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. A quick internet search reveals that this idea has occurred to others although I didn’t find a version that fits the way I was thinking about it.
My idea was that the Maslow hierarchy needed a Jungian shadow or inverted segment. I was pondering this in relation to Kierkegaard’s idea that “the door to happiness opens outward”. That is, you cannot “push” your way to happiness. You cannot read Maslow’s hierarchy and try to follow the steps. (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually read Maslow, so I may be doing his ideas an injustice here).
Anyway, here is my version of the Maslow hierarchy with a Jungian shadow below mirroring the pyramid that everybody will be familiar with. It seemed fitting to draw it in doomy grey.
The idea is that the inverted segments below the mid-line are the “shadow” side of the positive segments that we all know. Thus, the shadow of Physiological Needs is Addiction. The shadow of Safety Needs is Fear. The shadow of the need for Belonging and Love is Clinginess and the projection of your own insecurities onto the other person. The shadow form of Esteem is Egotism and Narcissism. Finally, the shadow form of Self-actualisation is the denial of Self. Ultimately, all the shadow forms are an attachment to the ego which prevents the transcendence to the Jungian Self.
I also mapped Jung’s anima/animus progression on the left as this matches to Maslow’s concept in the sense that Jung believed one progresses through the different levels. The basic physiological needs Jung considered to be the base level anima/animus as represented archetypally by Adam and Eve. Belongingness, love and esteem maps to the second tier anima/animus as the man of action or accomplished woman. This is the person who has found a place in society where they feel they belong.
Jung had two extra tiers of anima/animus that map to the Self-Actualisation phase of Maslow and this is where things get interesting because Jung’s individuation concept seems to imply that you have to first manifest the shadow forms in order to get to individuation. In other words, Maslow was missing half the story because he implies that you can “ascend” the hierarchy in a purely “positive” fashion whereas Jung believed you have to first descend down to “hell”. You have to manifest the shadow before you can integrate it.
Kierkegaard had a similar idea. He would have called the “self negation” tab at the bottom of the hierarchy “despair” and he implied that one could not self-actualise without first going through despair. This fits with Jung’s concept of enantiodromia. There is a sudden reversal from despair to self-actualisation/individuation but it is not something you can plan for. The door to self-actualisation/individuation must open for you, you cannot push it open.
Just as despair has many forms, so too does the positive side of the equation and thus the last two anima/animus steps to go from Maslow’s esteem needs to self-actualisation. Thus, in relation to the anima, Mary is the 3rd tier and Sophia the top. Both of these would be sub-levels within Maslow’s self-actualisation phase. The poet, Robert Graves, had a similar idea although he a triad of anima figures with Mary, the White Goddess and the Black Goddess as Sophia. This is probably where the correspondence with Maslow breaks down since it doesn’t feel right to call these “potential”.
That’s why so many famous religious figures were actually successful people in earlier life but renounced their success to pursue something higher. It may very well be that you need to renounce all the other needs in order to pursue Self-Actualisation at all; hence poverty, celibacy and living away from society. Whether that renunciation is the equivalent of manifesting the shadow forms in a Jungian sense is an interesting question. I think Kierkegaard would have said one needs to be a sinner first. Avoiding sin altogether is also avoiding despair.
Both Jung and Kierkegaard believed that most people will avoid despair. Within this model, that would prevent them from attaining self-actualisation. Because we live in a time where physiological needs are taken care of, this would mean that we would expect most people to get stuck at egotism and narcissism, unwilling (or perhaps uninvited is a better word) to take the final leap into despair necessary to transcend the ego and integrate the Self. Sounds like a pretty good description of modern society to me.