When it comes to the health of the human organism we have to do, from one perspective, with the inter-relationships of three different areas. First, the nerve-sense system centred in the head. At the other polarity, we have to do with all the activity centred mainly in the limbs and within the digestive and reproductive processes – what some call, as a whole, the metabolic-limb system. In between these polarities of nerve-sense and metabolic-limb, we can see a third area where the main activity is carried out by the rhythmic workings of the heart and the lungs. We see such a differentiation in the everyday language of ‘head, heart and hands’.
Much can be said – from a phenomenological perspective – about the way in which these three areas of the human organism inter-relate. We can find, for instance, their workings also within each of the three areas, as well as within each organ system and, indeed, organ within the body (see Johannes Rohen). Their dynamic interworking can even be observed on the cellular level.
Pathology and illness is generally observable when these three areas are sufficiently out of balance with one another, or when the activities of one area are too active outside of their usual domain. Such imbalances bring about the conditions for susceptibility to illness. In this sense, such imbalances create the conditions in which a pathogen (in this case the coronavirus) can reveal to us in an obvious way our existing imbalances. The illness process can, therefore, if we choose to work with it in such a way, become an instructive or even developmental process.
In addition to the role that the human organism plays in terms of susceptibility to a virus, we can also look at environmental factors such as climate and so on, and how this influences the expression of illness. And, of course, we can also look at various social factors – social contact, but also cultural, rights, and economic processes – that have an influence on whether the virus will become an illness for individual human beings.
It is, therefore, necessary not just to focus on the pathogen – on the virus itself – as the sole cause of illness. Rather, we have to do with the balance or otherwise of the host organism, environmental factors, and social factors in relation to the virus. No two people will express exactly the same symptoms. Many will never express any symptoms. All of this must be kept in mind when considering this issue, however tempting it might be to ‘demonise’ the virus itself (in earlier times evil spirits were once widely conceived of as causing disease; in the age of science we seem to pride ourselves on being able to identify such things as viruses and bacteria, but have we not merely shifted the same ‘demonising’ process onto these newly-named phenomena, rather than seeing the situation holistically for what it is?)
With this in mind, and when looking at the symptoms of a virus (especially the coronavirus) when they do express themselves, we tend to notice, generally speaking, that they have to do with the nerve-sense polarity of the human organism. Symptoms, when observed in a susceptible individual, are generally observable in the throat, or the nose, or in a fever, with temperature taken somewhere in the head region. We have here to do with the respiratory system, but as it exists within the nerve-sense polarity of the human organism. In the case of the lungs, we have more to do with the respiratory system proper. But even within the lungs themselves we find the part of the middle, rhythmic area that is more connected to the nerve-sense polarity. (We can consciously control the activity of our lungs if we choose to do so. This is not possible with the heart, which is the part of the rhythmic area more connected to the other polarity – that of the metabolic-limb system.)
Coronavirus symptoms, when they are expressed, generally impact the respiratory system (tending more towards the nerve-sense polarity of the human being). Together with the body’s immune response to fight off the virus – that which is foreign to itself – this is the area, generally speaking, where many of the symptoms of coronavirus can be found. We find here the general inflammatory responses of warmth, pain, swelling and redness.
The characteristic of pain is that it brings our attention to a particular area of the human organism. In the case of coronavirus our attention is being brought, generally speaking, to the respiratory processes, including the lungs.
What do we observe in terms of the social response to coronavirus – what do we observe when it comes to the social organism? When we observe the social organism we have also to do with three different areas. On the one polarity we have the realm of economics, represented by business. At the other polarity, we have all things cultural or spiritual in nature, as represented by not-for-profit organisation, academia, the media, community organisations and so on – all we might call civil society. In the middle region we have the realm of rights and polity, represented by government. When we speak of cross-sector processes, we have to do with these three realms of the social organism.
When do we tend to see pathology in the social organism? We see pathology when the inter-relationships of these three areas become out of balance – when one realm strays too far into the proper domain of another.
So what are we currently seeing when it comes to the health of the social organism? We are seeing an inflammatory response in relation to a chronic illness which has been going on for some time. The nature of this chronic illness is such that economics has entered, in unhealthy ways, the area of politics and rights (observe, for instance, business influence in political life), as well as the area of cultural life (think of the many strings attached to grants or sponsorship). Likewise, government has been too involved in the area of culture (see government-mandated curricula in education, or government-controlled funding of cultural activities), as well as in economic life (see the unchecked bailing out of banks in the Global Financial Crisis).
And what do we see as the social organism’s current inflammatory response? We see the realm represented by government making increased decisions, and wielding increased power. (Think of the so-called leaders we currently see in the news – how many are from government compared to business or cultural life? And from those in government, how often do we see those in ‘opposition’ parties?) It is obviously different in different areas of the world, but some governments have gone so far as to make decisions in relation to health – decisions which, rightly, should be made by health professionals in the cultural space. Likewise, governments have taken on the role of economic stimulators, pulling financial activity up out the economic realm and distributing it across society.
Much like the human organism’s inflammatory response, this activity can also be seen as an attempt at healing, in this case by the social organism (inflammatory processes can themselves become destructive outside of certain parameters, however, and need to be consciously worked with in order for health to emerge). In the case of the social organism, our attention is drawn to the area of government. In the physical organism, our attention (through pain) is drawn to the lungs – to the rhythmic system more broadly – as a system of regulation. The government also plays a regulatory role. The question is whether it will play this role in a way that is healthy for the social organism going forward. In a healthy situation, government can help provide the laws and rights by which economic profit can flow in healthy and free ways to the cultural sphere, ensuring the free, productive capacities of those active in spiritual-cultural affairs. Likewise, it can help ensure what comes out of this cultural activity has an effect on the further development of economic principles and activity through more co-operative ways of doing business with one another. This is, in part, the role government can play as a regulator between free cultural life and a co-operative economic life. Government also has its own role within its own sphere of activity, of course.
What is the primary characteristic of the lungs? It is the place where the outside world meets the inside world of the human physical organism, and vice versa. In a certain sense, we can say that it is the place where the earth meets the human being. In our lungs we have to do with the balance between ourselves and the world around us. The role of government, in addition to its activity as regulator between economic and cultural life, is primarily as an upholder of equality – equality of rights of all human beings. We can immediately think of the phrase ‘everybody equal in the eyes of the law’, but we can also begin to think of everybody’s equality when it comes to the creation of laws, as the various referenda processes of the world (especially in Switzerland) can reveal.
Culture has been anything but free, both from overly-active rights activity and economic activity in its processes. Economy has been anything but co-operative, mainly through a desire to put one’s-self before others (competition). And polity and the realm of rights has been anything but equal, with the economy playing too strong a hand in its affairs. We are now in an inflammatory stage. The question is whether we as human beings – those who shape the social organism – will try to return it to its chronically-ill state before this time of acute global illness, whether we will let inflammatory processes run riot and allow the social organism to ultimately collapse, or whether we will work with the inflammatory process and try to direct the social organism towards health. The pain we are currently experiencing serves to bring our attention to the health or otherwise of the social organism. It is that which stands behind the directing of attention (as well as the inflammatory process) which has the power to change such things.
In the three areas of the physical organism we also find the seats for the three psychological processes of thinking, feeling and willing. We can also ask how well balanced each of these processes are within us. This illness, when expressed in the human organism, is related primarily to the seat of our thinking processes (the nerve-sense system) and brings attention to the seat of our feeling processes (in the rhythmic system and lungs), with inflammatory support processes coming from the seat of our will (the metabolic-limb system).
Can we, as whole human beings, also bring to bear – through the healthy interrelationships of our thinking, feeling and willing – the right forces necessary for the rebalancing of the social organism towards health? For not only are we thinking beings, nor only doing beings, nor only feeling beings; we are knowing, feeling, doing beings – physical, enlivened, ensouled beings – guided by an individuality which is also active now in the healing processes we’re engaged in; we are Self-possessed spiritual beings, and it is this part of us which is now being called upon to consciously direct the social organism through a time of inflammation to a period of health, both for the sake of the future development of the world, and of humanity.