I was saddened to hear of Tessa Jowell’s death, at the age of 70. I can’t say I had any dealings with her during my nine years as an MP – there wasn’t any pressing need for me to lobby her, and anyway I often thought (a little self-destructively perhaps) that New Labour in the noughties had little time for my kind of input. But her death coincides with my reading Natural Causes, Life, Death and the Illusion of Control by Barbara Ehrenreich, and her book serves as a timely reminder that we are not entirely in control of our body's destiny. Indeed, for all the remedies available, even the best – a righteous life (physical workouts, proper exercise, good diet, no wanking, constant prayer, self-flagellation, etc) won’t save you. This sounds disrespectful. But Natural Causes tells us that our own bodies have no respect for us. They have their own destiny and there’s bugger all we can do about it, even if the inevitable can be delayed or ameliorated for a short while. I have every sympathy with Tessa’s last campaign about cancer treatment, and god knows if the big C (as it was once known) were to befall me I wouldn’t be happy – but something is always going to get us, and it would be as well to acknowledge that.
What Natural Causes has taught me is that my body – which strangely emerges as not even ‘my own’ – is a universe of happenings and divergent contests which regardless of the idea of ‘self’ will pursue their own course towards inevitable destruction. The only question actually is how long this process is likely to take, NOT that it won’t. But hey – what’s molecular biology got to do with anything? Your brave battle with cancer – which we’re told is what we have to have – sadly has very little impact on the millions of macrophages that are traitorously assisting cancerous cells kill our essential organs, etc., etc. I don’t want to hear how brave people can be in these circumstances. It would be healthier to acknowledge these circumstances. Perhaps I’ve just crossed a line.