Alarm about the hazards of Ultraviolet rays in sunlight became widespread in 1985 when scientists discovered a hole in the earth’s ozone layer: without the protection of O3, the full impact of sunlight’s dark side would cause a disastrous rise in human skin cancer. Thanks to capitalist indifference to environmental degradation, sunshine had become the enemy of our children.

For champions of capitalist economics, such crises invariably fail to trigger self-interrogation. Rather, each new milestone on our culture’s free-fall towards disaster is seen as a business opportunity. The answer to religious or ethnic conflict? Supply both sides with guns! Too many cars? Build more highways! Not enough fossil fuel? Frack Mother Earth! Lethal daylight? Sun block!

Yesterday, my dermatologist compared Ultraviolet radiation to a bank account that forbids withdrawal: like the ionizing radioactive residue that gathers permanently in your kidneys with every CT Scan, so, too, the impact of UV on your skin is cumulative. He told me to wear sun block all the time, even indoors. “If there’s light coming in the window, it’s got UV in it. And exposure builds up over a lifetime.” The “broad spectrum” UVA & UVB stick he sold me cost $20. It contains numerous toxic ingredients, and some suspected carcinogens. Should I be thankful for this solution?

In 1975, social critic Ivan Illich published a book about iatrogenesis – doctor-created disease – called Medical Nemesis. He described the West’s medical industry in shocking new terms: medicine was responsible for almost as much sickness as cure. Numerous examples – among them cancer “cures” that were cancer-causing – pointed to a corrupt enterprise that created a market for itself. Hospitals were dangerous places from which you might emerge sicker than you went in – if you emerged at all. Today, in a validation of Illich’s critique, the sledge hammer rule of Big Pharma medicalizes every aspect of life – from the rising suicide rate associated with anti-depressants, to the outcome of elections. Exaggeration? Not with the Bush family owning major shares of Eli Lilly, maker of Prozac (I can’t prove it, but I’ll wager that anti-depressants made voting for Bush palatable for significant layers of the population); not with medical marijuana’s imminent morphing into full stoner legality in an illusory win for the forces of “progress” (remember: 1) ghettoes are full of drugs because drugs immobilize rebellion; 2) the Left fell for the “liberating” qualities of drugs in the 1960s, to the detriment of serious political movements).

Illich’s vision, which blew the whistle on the business allure of treatment as opposed to cure, contemporary medicine’s impotence in changing life expectancy, and the magnitude of medically-inflicted damage to health, can serve as a model for capitalist social organization itself. Unable to solve humanity’s real problems (war, starvation, misogyny, pollution, racism, poverty), it creates conditions and maladies which it “addresses” with “treatment” – from charity to sunblock.

About Doug Williams

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