Blog entry by Alan Chapman

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by Alan Chapman - Wednesday, 3 June 2020, 7:33 PM
Anyone in the world

Handwashing, Heresy, Non-Conformity

This article is about:

  • non-conformity, 
  • heresy (opinions/choice different to 'normal' or orthodoxy or establishment), 
  • heretics (people who choose an opinion different to 'normal', etc), 
  • endoheretics and exoheretics,

and is explained using examples of:

  • handwashing in health and the work of its tragic originator and heretic Ignaz Semmelweis, 
  • with reference also to Alan Turing, the WWII 'codebreaker', polymath, public servant of the Allied Forces and thereby all the Allied Nations; also a tragic heretic, in homosexual freedom of choice.

As a personal side-note, I want to add that I am English-born, with genetic ancestry mostly from immigrants of the past 100 years, as are most English people.

When I write articles like this, as I have done for over 25 years, and I see reflected again the shame and hypocrisy of Britain's/England's past, present, and (hopefully not) its future too,  my own personal shame in being British/English increases greatly. 

"Some days, when I consider this deeply, I feel so ashamed to be English that I would prefer not to live at all. It's that profound. Wherever I might go, I would be English and know it, and be ashamed of it."  

That said, I'm generally joyful and optimistic (such is 'Positive Disintegration'); cherishing every moment, and the belief that a better world will emerge, and drag England with it.  Also, it seems still I have work to do, and so I do what I can to try to help. There is great hope. 

Heresy, Endoheresy and Exoheresy

Like most things in life, things are not what they seem. Nor is this article.

This article attempts to teach something very fundamental - that wisdom is often not in the establishment; it is often in heresy.

The heretic - the non-conformist - is simply ahead of the orthodoxy, and the orthodoxy will eventually catch up, although this can take decades, centuries, and certainly later than the heretic may see it..

Another word for heresy, outside of religion, is non-conformity, for example:

Note the suggestion by Isaac Asimov that: 

"...Heresy has repeatedly become orthodoxy." 

And (from Wikipedia about non-religious heresy, retrieved 3rd May 2020): "...Asimov concluded that science orthodoxy defends itself well against endoheretics [by control of science education, grants and publication as examples], but is nearly powerless against exoheretics.

Endoheretics are heretics inside science (and established orthodoxies, establishment, etc) and exoheretics are heretics outside science (and established orthodoxies, etc).

I strive to be an exoheretic. It's all I'm qualified for.   

Personally I believe that everyone can and should be an exoheretic, and many people are; it's simply that they/we don't yet have enough confidence or connections to get published and seen/heard, and to join up with others, which is another story. (See John Bunzl's

Now more than ever we need new thinking. We will not fix any mess by the same thinking that made it, paraphrasing Einstein.


'Heresy' (heh- ra-see') nowadays refers to an opinion that is different to popular and establishment beliefs, or 'orthodoxy' or 'convention', or established systems of power and government and institutions. 

'Establishment'  usually means political, and any aspect of how society is governed, including economics, education, health, environment, law, etc., and extending to science and academia. 

Technically and historically heresy refers to an opinion that challenges the views of religious establishment, which dates from when the political rule was based on, or was actually, religion (both of which still apply in much of the world, to a lesser or near complete degree). 

Some big aspects of organised religion remains a major lever in how people's thinking is moved and influenced - controlled - by systems and people of power. 

Besides many very good aspects of organised religion, there is a prevalent mechanism of some religions that is rooted in the fear of death, and hell (punishment of sin), and notions and promises of heaven and reward in the 'afterlife' if you do as you are told in the human life (by religious and political leaders). 

It is 'one of the oldest tricks in the book' - especially religious texts and political speeches. Also basically in diet books, mindfulness books, and probably even in my writings too, albeit from the perspective of 'live a good life, fearlessly' by accepting mortality and that we only have the present moment. Humans naturally fear death and pain - like many animals - and humans probably much more so since we started living in static settlements (from around 10,000 years ago), and so began to lose connections with nature. And these fears have increased since industrialisation, and again more so since the computerrised, globalised mass media age (beginning in the mid-1900s).

Incidentally religious legacy and taboo is one of the big reasons so many people kill themselves - ie., die by suicide (about a million every year, globally). The shame and taboo that stops people seeking help when suicidal or suicidally bereaved (and therefore often suicidal too) originates in religion's concoctions of sin, and so the medieval brainwashing and adoption of the notion that suicide is sinful, and therefore it became a crime (hence 'commit' suicide).

Religion certainly offers a helpful code as to how to live a loving giving compassionate grateful humble life, for those who need a code for such morality; and certainly billions of religious people do wonderfully good things everywhere, but some very big parts of organised religion must also take responsibility for the shame and guilt among many people that turns into misery, self-loathing, desperation, isolation and suicide.

Religion is also used by certain maladjusted leaders to facilitate and justify horrific acts of war and persecution, for example 'ethnic cleansing' 

"God will be my judge," is in my humble opinion a warning that a political or economic leader, or any leader of people who uses this term, should be questioned by everyone now. 

I can be a judge, and so can anyone else, although in many situations this is not easy. Hence the power of talking with others about difficult subjects, taboos and secrets, etc.

Think about this the next time a politician uses religion or God's judgement (implicitly far beyond any lifetime and law) to justify anything.

I digressed...

Significantly the word 'heresy' originates from ancient Latin and Greek haereis and hairesis, meaning 'choice'.  

A 'heretic' is a person whose opinion is considered to be 'heresy', and this is from ancient Greek 'hairitikos' meaning 'able to choose', ultimately from 'haeriomai' meaning 'choose'.

So if you want to choose what to think and say, and this conflicts with establishment thinking, then you are a heretic.

The origins of words, and expressions, teach us a lot.

Heresy can be dangerous for the heretic. People are routinely persecuted, tortured and killed for heresy.

And yet, heresy often becomes orthodoxy.

Handwashing and Ignaz Semmelweis

It is not widely known that handwashing for clinical and medical hygiene was heresy for over 20 years after it was first proposed, in 1847.

People - especially most doctors and the medical establishment  - believed until the late 1860s that disease and germs and illness were spread only through the air.

Now, of course, we know that disease very definitely spreads by physical contact, as well as through the air, depending on the nature of the bacteria or virus.

We are told that if we do not wash our hands, we will kill people.

Yet for over 20 years, after the discovery and publishing in 1847 that handwashing for clinical and medical hygiene could save millions of lives, the suggestion was heresy - completely rejected by the medical establishment, and so also by the media of the times, and governments and business/economic and educational interests surrounding medical science.

Note that there are always vast interests - especially financial power and control - of media, politics, economics, education and law, surrounding health. 

This is obvious given that we're all born; (increasingly) we live, get ill, and die. And most people are terrified of illness and death. And so perhaps more than anything else, health and fear of death, are the biggest drivers of political and economic influence.

And this tends to sustain vast inertia and resistance to new ideas and heresy. And heretics are given a very hard time. 

The heretic who discovered and suggested in 1847 that handwashing would save millions of lives was Hungarian physician and scientist Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-65).

Please read about the life and work and death of Ignaz Semmelweis:

Semmelweis was persecuted, ridiculed, rejected, insulted, tormented and eventually committed to a lunatic asylum, where he died after violence against him, age 47. Seemingly he went mad, and no wonder.

Being basically alone against the world of medicine, and under pressure from big institutions and corporations and publishers/media, is not sustainable for very many years, especially if you have a heretical belief about the health and life and death of millions.

And so Ignaz Sammelweis died without knowing that he was right and all the experts were wrong.

That is unless we apply an extremely severe view of Darwinian survivalist theory, which interestingly served human evolution for all but about 250 years of the six million years since we started walking upright... which is another story, about how weak we've become since creating cities and technology beyond fire and stone tools. 

You might say "Ah, but people only lived to about 35 or 50 years old back then... and had to live wild in nature, in small communities, and basically sang and danced, and gathered and ate natural food, made clothes and camps, and swam and told stories.... "  Exactly. Another story. And one we'll probably never know. 

(That is unless you agree with the notion that we can go back in time - but not go forward again, so you'd know, but you wouldn't be able to tell anyone else, unless they went back in time too of course.... And then of course, don't touch anything, or certainly don't breed with anyone, or that'll really mess things up. Or not. Another story.)  

Anyway, Semmelweis is now known as the 'Saviour of Mothers.' But he should be known also as the man who invented handwashing for health. 

He was not the first heretic to die before his ideas became orthodoxy.

(Incidentally I suspect that some of the nurses who worked in Semmelweis's maternity ward guessed before he did, about physical contact and handwashing, and that it was not a good idea for the male surgeons to deliver babies directly after completing post-mortems on diseased corpses, but perhaps the nurses lacked the confidence and power - and certainly 'Team Briefing' and Kaizen - to suggest it, and as now, the men probably wouldn't have listened anyway... And this is another story.)

Male bias and psychopathic insecurity is responsible for much of the mess we are in now.

Everyone is doing his or her best, according to how he/she sees the world, and we must try to be compassionate even in matters of highly emotional politics.

The responsibility is with all of us, especially in the democratic nations, to choose our leaders carefully.

Alan Turing

There are big similarities between Semmelweis and Alan Turing, the English homosexual codebreaker genius scientist, sensitive, polymath, whose work for the British nation, and so also many countries (i.e., for billions of people), significantly enabled the Allied Forces to defeat Hitler and Nazism in the 2nd World War. 

A few years later, in 1952, when his homosexuality was discovered by the insane English authorities, Alan Turing was persecuted, prosecuted and castrated by the English establishment, so that the brilliantly lovely Alan Turing killed himself with cyanide in 1954, shortly before his 42nd birthday.

Do please read about Alan Turing:

Turing's lifestyle was a heresy that would become orthodoxy, eventually, although we are some way from homosexual people being free from persecution and discrimination in the UK. Like suicide, it was not a fearsome taboo for the ancient Greeks.

Besides example of 'heresy' that years later is understood to be a matter of free choice, accepted and and interpreted now by English law, the tragedy of Alan Turing's treatment, death, and 60 years waiting for justice, offers example of the shameful hypocrisy that continues to thrive in the British/English establishment. It is systemic rather than being an intentional wrong by leaders. Everyone is doing his/her best, according to how each sees the world. We are a product of our upbringing and experience in life.

There are crucial differences between England and the rest of Britain/UK: England is home of London and the politics of shame, arrogance and murderously negligent delusions. Again everyone is doing his or her best; it's a systemic challenge.

Turing and his diabolically shamed beautiful reputation, his killing by the establishment driven by fearful 'wounded leaders', religious death-fearing paranoia, and the indescribable distress of his family and friends, had to wait until 2009 for an official apology from the British Government; until 2013 for a posthumous pardon by the Queen Elizabeth II; and until 2017 for the 'Alan Turing Law' that retrospectively pardons criminally convicted men for homosexuality.

2017 was just three years ago (from my time of writing this in 2020). 

Alan Turing was arrested and charged in 1952 for being a homosexual, castrated, and killed himself in 1954. 

This is a very long time for a 'civilised' 'developed' 'democratic' nation to correct such a terrible wrong. 

England's politics and governance - of everything important - especially health, education, economics and environment - are now more disturbing than these 65 years of determined negligence.Again, it's systemic. Everyone is doing his/her best, and we must strive for cooperation, and be compassionate.

Alan Turing's heresy was sensible essential orthodoxy, but 65 years too early.

Are we making a better world? 

Ask yourself. Do we need more orthodoxy; the thinking that brought us our problems, or more heresy, the new thinking that will fix them? 

There is hope. And the time is now.

Love is the answer and the essential moderator and fuel for transformation. We must use it carefully, determinedly, upliftingly and inspiringly, with clear purpose, as to the sort of world we want for our children, and all that this means.  

"We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done." Alan Turing, 1950.

[ Modified: Wednesday, 23 December 2020, 1:05 PM ]