Tag Archives: vitality

Vitality and Human Capital


“Evening in Karl Johan Street,” Edvard Munch, 1892

It is sometimes said that money is a form of energy, but it may be more appropriate to suggest that money is a symbol of vitality, or life energy.  In theory, this is the “means of production” that Karl Marx said defines capitalism.

“Capitalism” has become a sinister term in some circles, but I wonder if the term has been commandeered not by the individuals who provide the vital force that keeps “the economy” functional, but by the aggregators of human capital under institutional umbrellas.

Some claim Adam Smith, who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776, is the “father of modern capitalism,” but Smith never mentions the word “capitalism” in his book.  He refers a lot to “capital” and to “stocks,” without defining either term.  For a lay reader, The Wealth of Nations is tedious reading, and it comes across as a tax collector’s bible.  Smith states up front that “the late war,” which he never pinpoints, but is probably the Seven-Years War (the French and Indian War in North America) was exceedingly expensive, and the UK went into a lot of debt to pay for it.  The Wealth of Nations, which supposedly supported “free trade” also supported military protection of UK commercial interests in foreign ports and foreign trade, because it was easier to tax.  “The colonies” were great sources of raw materials, and because Britain had a monopoly on trade with its colonies, it and British investors could buy tobacco and lumber, for instance, and sell at a huge profit.  Smith tells us that growing tobacco in France was illegal, because it was too hard to tax domestic products.

Another striking feature of Smith’s book was that it was so cold-blooded regarding the value of labor.  Labor should be paid enough to raise four children, because statistically, two die before reaching majority, and the parents need to replace themselves. Rents should be as high as the tenant can afford.  Farmers are lazy because they do a variety of different things, whereas factory workers do the same thing all day and are more efficient.  He refers to the “idle” without defining them, but when he says the “idle” will spend gold to buy exotic birds and fish from remote lands, where bank-issued currency is not accepted, it becomes clear that the “idle” are rich rather than poor, and possibly associated with the court and the aristocracy.   He also noted government jobs are greatly coveted, because of the security and “perks” they provide.

It is therefore not surprising that Smith’s book was so popular that its author was appointed Customs Commissioner of Edinburgh after it was published.

When Karl Marx defined “capitalism,” as the “ownership” of the “means of production,” he didn’t specify what the “means of production” was.  It was assumed to be the machines or the land from which salable items were produced.  But nothing is produced without human effort, which leads to the idea that the “means” is the human labor itself.   “Ownership” thereof is either explicit, as in slavery, or implied, as in employment by the aggregator of human capital under a larger umbrella.

The intrinsic value of human capital has never been fully appreciated.  Both Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman mentioned human capital, but neither took the idea far enough to assert that only individuals can be “capitalists” in the purest sense of the word.  Human beings, by their individual efforts provide the means, through the application of their vitality, to produce commercial goods.  This is what translates into money, the tangible result of the applied effort.

This may sound like a petty point, but it has far-reaching ramifications.  In the United States, it is said that all taxes ultimately fall on the individual.  This means that the individual in this country is supporting taxes imposed by federal, state, county, and sometimes city governments, and is expected to obey laws enacted by all four levels of government.

The system is a hierarchical, patriarchal one of “government over the people” that was set up intentionally by an elite group of landowners, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, and other conspirators who met in secret, locked in a room in Philadelphia for three months, drafted the US Constitution, and by-passed state legislatures to have it ratified by special assemblies.  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who are considered among the “founding fathers,” were both out of the country at the time.  Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State and approved by the Senate without his knowledge or consent.

Alexander Hamilton, who was an ideological protégé of Adam Smith and a British subject, was New York’s only standing delegate to what became known as the Constitutional Convention.  Suffice to say that he had a heavy hand in the drafting, forming strong alliances with George Washington and James Madison, and was probably instrumental in insuring certain provisions, including federal control of all “economic narrows,” such as roads, waterways, the postal service, coastlines, money, patents and copyrights.  Ultimately, the Constitution is an economic document that assumes all taxpayers are federal government property.  Undoubtedly, Hamilton made sure the federal government could assume debt, because as Treasury Secretary later, he pushed through the first tariff, the Hamilton Tariff Act of 1789, and the whiskey tax in 1791.  The whiskey tax was in advance of his creating the first US central bank.  Stock shares in this bank and the Bank of New York, which Hamilton had previously started, were among the first stocks traded in what would become the New York Stock Exchange.

So all the hype US citizens and taxpayers have been sold all these years about “freedom” and “democracy,” and “capitalism” and all the noble values people assume the “founders” intended, are the result of masterful marketing, a talent now well developed by New York’s Madison Avenue.  The bottom line is the US is and always has been an economic machine in the tradition of British imperialism.

So this “government-over-the-people” mentality has been carefully cultivated over the US’ 245 year history, based on this implicit notion that everyone must work to support “the economy,” which is an amalgamation of the federal bureaucracy in Washington DC, Wall Street, the bankers—and of course the military– but it is a perverse, upside down system that is now collapsing from its own weight.

The undervalued human capital that has been conscripted and seduced into this arrangement is catching on, resentful and angry at the betrayal of those whose version of “protection” translates into higher and more painful costs and increasing restriction of individual freedom.  The hoi polloi are not “rising up,” as the revolutionaries might wish.  Instead, they are “beaten down,” giving up, flunking out, doing drugs, both legal and illegal, going bankrupt, committing suicide in shockingly increasing rates, getting sick and tired of the stresses and strains in living in such a “wealthy” society.

While the nation and world are increasingly “de-vitalized” by the expectations and hoops that the “ruling class” have set for them, the human capital that churns the wheel is getting crushed under it.

The idea of  “capitalism” has been twisted and perverted into its opposite by those who would enslave the “human capital,” the vital life forces that provide not only the “means” of production but are also the purchasers of the goods produced.

The healthiest and most vital people may or may not have money, but they excel at self-determination because they only answer to the wealth between their ears.   These are the “capitalists” we can respect and emulate.



The Power of Life


May 28, 2017—The following thoughts give an overview of my reasons for skepticism about Western, allopathic medicine and the paradigm it represents.  I claim the overriding belief in external agents for healing or symptomatic relief ignores the basic dignity of the individuals in question and the “vitality” that keeps us going.

The body is a marvelous homeostatic instrument, for which health is the natural state.  This understanding pervades Oriental medicine, which is based on the concept of “qi” (“chi”) or life force.

I’m an amateur student of Oriental medicine so can only describe it in general, simplified terms.  Essentially, it holds that there is a continuum between spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical levels.  Problems begin as spiritual.  If not resolved at that level, the problems become increasingly “dense” until they show up in the physical body.

In Chinese medicine, the idea of qi underlies and informs the entire system.  This sets Oriental medicine at odds with the Western, mechanistic viewpoint we Occidentals take for granted.  With the advent of the industrial age, the “scientific method,” and the requirement for “objectively verifiable” evidence, we’ve come to rely on instrumentation and a cause-and-effect sequence for assessment and treatment of any given condition.  The body is treated as though it’s a machine, with the resident human being largely a passive recipient of the diagnoses and treatments decided by the technician/physicians who administer them.

While the official stance of “science” receives almost religious devotion and some legitimate respect, it is exceedingly limited in what it can do.  “Science,” which relies on measurable “proof” has yet to prove that life exists.  Nor has it located the “mind,” although most believe the “mind” is in the brain.  The scientific method relies on studies that theorize causes, then set up conditions that limit variables to one, to determine whether there’s a significant correlation between cause and effect.

My unorthodox approach to life, health, and medicine stems from a fundamental belief in the power of the life force.  I call it “vitality,” but others may refer to “qi,” “quality of life” or use any number of terms to describe this battery that keeps us going.

Whether individuals survive physical death, and if so, in what capacity, is a question no one can answer, although religions and philosophers of all persuasions have tried.  What is life, anyway?  Is it a candle flame that can be extinguished?  Is it an essence, like “qi” that joins the “qi” of the cosmos, to be re-born in another place and time?

I won’t try to answer these questions but raise them simply to note that a belief in life beyond death strongly influences how I live mine.  Certainly others wrestle with the question, especially as they get older and wonder what lies ahead.

I became a psychiatrist partly to help make philosophy practical, but the profession—and Western medicine as a whole–is going in the opposite direction.

“How so?” a reasonable person may ask.  The most obvious answer is that it devalues the most basic principles that keep us healthy or make us sick.  Western medicine systematically undermines the individual’s faith in his or her own body’s self-correcting mechanisms.  It pits mind against body, which is deemed untrustworthy, a thing to be feared, unreliable.

The intangibles that formerly distinguished psychiatry from other medical specialties, the “quality of life” issues—now take a back seat to “evidence-based medicine” and the vain attempt of psychiatrists to align with the more “scientific” practitioners.

The antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) was introduced in 1989, two years before I graduated from medical school.  This began the separation of psychotherapy and other “talk therapy” from “medical management” of emotional problems.  While other antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety agents, and mood stabilizers had been on the market for decades, Prozac began the trend toward a raft of new, patented, drugs that could treat symptoms while ignoring the larger life pattern that led to the problems.  “Talk therapy” was shifted to psychologists and social workers, with the move heavily supported by government and insurance reimbursement criteria.

Since that time, the avalanche of patented drugs, technologies, diagnostic tests, and other interventions has made the “health care industry” one of the most profitable sectors in the United States.  Costs for the individual have skyrocketed, such that few can afford medical help without insurance.  Now, the government has made insurance mandatory.  No one seems to recognize that insurance does not equal health care.  In fact, insurance impedes, rations, and delays health care, and it raises the price for everyone.

Medical care costs twice as much in the US as anywhere else.  Medications are significantly more expensive.  A continuing medical education article I read says medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the US, after cardiovascular events and cancer.

That medicine and psychiatry seem obsessed with finding or creating problems already puts patients at a disadvantage, in a defensive position.  Psychiatrists don’t get reimbursed for “no diagnosis.” They must find or invent a diagnosis, a label, to justify the time they spend.

No wonder Oriental medicine has such appeal for me.  Here, diagnosis is based on patterns of disharmony within the body and mind.  The hands-on approach is individualized and personal.  The patients and the practitioners are partners, with the belief in the treatment’s effectiveness–“the placebo effect” in Western terms—a desirable component.  In short, it respects the dignity of the vital forces that medicine presumes to reinforce.

I hear people say that “health care is a right.”  We also have a right to refuse health care, especially when it’s forced on us by hostile, predatory forces.  We have the right to eat nutritious foods, life a balanced life, and keep stress levels low.  We have the right to maintain our vitality and health they best way we know and to choose who and what to trust for help when we need it.