Alan Kirker


November 28th, 2022 by

In his book, “The Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of Pain” (2022), author Haider Warraich states that since the dawn of the Industrial Age, when human bodies were viewed as machines, our pain alarm beeped if the gears started to grind, and morphine then “became the lubricating grease that you could pour over the cogs to get the body rolling again” (p. 143).

Besides physical maladies, the modern era appears to have also birthed a deepening spiritual disease, perhaps beginning in the Atomic Age when humanity realized not only its “creative powers hold the potential for self-destruction” but that its industries have “disturbed the ecological balance and… contaminated (our) own milieu”, according to theologian Henri Nouwen. In “The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society” (1972), he references psycho-historian Robert Jay Lifton’s claim that nuclear man is “characterized by; 1) a historical dislocation, 2) a fragmented ideology, and 3) a search for immortality” (p. 6, 7). Do these characteristics not still carry resonance today?

With the Information Age came the rampant advertising of the pharmaceutical industry, and the marketing of medicine directly to doctors. This approach paralleled corresponding advances in medical science that “deem(ed) suffering unacceptable” (2022, p. 147). People in pain sought refuge in doctors’ offices, at pharmacists’ counters, and even on the street, with the drugs of choice being a host of anxiety and pain-easing narcotics, stronger morphine derivatives, followed by even stronger compounds including fentanyl. Warraich states that strong chronic pain prescriptions were a poor choice from the outset, as “they are simply too blunt and too powerful, rocking the delicate balance of the body’s natural pain-regulation systems” (2022, p. 177).

Journalist Beth Macy describes the larger context of the opioid crisis in her book “Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis” (2022), where “rampant OxyContin prescribing, set against a backdrop of economic devastation, had been the taproot of the epidemic” (p. 240). The scale of the overall resulting devastation was only faintly mirrored in the pharma industry’s payouts for its hand in the crisis (p. 283).

How does suffering on this scale reconcile with our supposedly compassionate human nature? Does numbing some forms of pain inadvertently create others?

Buddhist doctrine states more generally that suffering, or Duhkha, including many modern ills, finds its root in “our fundamental misunderstanding of the true nature of ourselves and reality”, in which we are seen as separate, individual entities. “Good or bad for me” then scales up to “good or bad for usto include groups and societies where “greed, aggression, and indifference don’t just poison our lives, they poison society” (September 2022, p. 44). Probing deeper, can human suffering grow from what are initially personal, painful, physical sensations, all the way to conflict and war that can form a sort of collective trauma? Or, do things (also) grow the other way; from collective trauma all the way down to personal suffering?

Beyond the Industrial Age, the Atomic Age, and the Information Age, are we on the cusp of evolving into a new age of humanity, and if so, what might it look like? Will it be artificial, or real, or both? Can technology and spirituality play a role in uniting us on some level? Or, does the poisonous nature of our greed, aggression, and indifference foreclose such opportunity?

Macy, B. (2022) Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice and the Future of America’s Overdose Epidemic. New York, United States: Little, Brown and Company

McLeod, M. (July 2022, print: September 2022), No Self, No Suffering, in Lion’s Roar: Buddhism, Meditation, Life, Halifax, Canada: Ben Moore

Nouwen, H. (1972) The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Garden City, United States: Doubleday & Company Inc.

Warraich, H. (2022) The Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of Pain. New York, United States: Basic Books / the Hachette Book Group


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