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Cult of cleanliness

Sushma Joshi

Sushma Joshi

Cult of cleanliness

I theorize that one factor responsible for the high death rates from coronavirus in Western cultures is this cult of ‘cleanliness’

I got a new puppy recently. When my mother entered my bedroom she said: “It stinks in here.” The puppy had taken several pee breaks in a corner of my room, so I knew she was right. I went into my bathroom and right up on the top shelf, a previous tenant had left a nice plastic bottle full of bleach cleaner. It had a bright lemon neon sticker on it, with the helpful suggestion that a capful of the liquid in four liters of water would cure all my ills.

Although I haven’t used industrial cleaners in decades (I prefer soapnut, neem and lemon peel), I immediately pulled it down and poured the capful in a bucket. The white foam rose in a satisfying swirl. As I mopped my floor, I had a feeling of virtuosity. If cleanliness is next to godliness, I was somewhere close to paradise. The sickly perfume gave me a heady sense of accomplishment.

Immediately, however, I could tell something was wrong. An acrid smell from the mixture rose up and entered my nose. I felt a scratchy feeling at the back of my mouth from the fumes, and after a minute my throat ached. The cleaner had come with this soothing assurance: No need to wipe afterwards, just leave it as it is. But as I lifted my shoe, I could hear a crackling sound which told me a layer of chemicals was sticking to my sole.

I opened the door to see why it was so quiet outside (was the puppy eating the electric wires?) and the dogs rushed in. I watched appalled as the puppy sat down in a puddle of wet bleach. Within seconds, it had rolled around in several patches of wet floor. For about 10 minutes afterwards, it ran maniacally back and forth, chewing up my curtains, pulling off the mop’s cotton strands, and biting the other dog.

My mop left a bucket full of black water. At the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking the liquid was a miraculous solution to my dirt problem. It was hard not to think that the bleach was a holy concoction of hygiene, necessary in a pandemic when germs lurked in every corner, waiting to attack.

This is how the industry which sells us cleaning products works on our minds. We are not good people with a connection to the divine till we’ve bleached our floors. Yet researchers have shown this germicidal blitzkrieg can wipe out our microorganisms on which the pyramid of life rests. Unicellular lifeforms like bacteria and virus form the food of microscopic sea creatures, the fish eat the small amoeba, the big fish eat the little fish, then the big fish is eaten by the mammals, including humans.

Yet we are unaware of how virus and bacteria form the basis of our lives. We are told by the chemical industries that all of these lifeforms must be eliminated—through bleaches, laundry powder, pesticides, paint thinners, etc. Chemicals in every possible molecular combinations now make up the blocks of modern life. Most, if not all, are toxic and lethal to lifeforms our eyes cannot see. The chemicals change the behavior of our children and elderly people, giving us cancer, causing life-threatening allergies, and affect our lives in many other unseen ways.

President Trump was mocked for suggesting that bleach should be introduced into the human body to kill the coronavirus. The fact he saw this liquid as a miracle “medicine” is not an accident. America’s chemical industry has worked hard to create the notion that chlorine-based cleaners and solvents are healing, good, and holy.

Chlorine is known to be carcinogenic. Yet drinking water is chlorinated in modern, advanced Western societies. The quantity is minute, people are assured, and its only action is to kill the bad germs. We have no idea how much damage these vast swathes of chlorinated water have done to wildlife.

Chlorine may be a sacrament for modern cultures, dripped religiously onto the floors where babies play, in much the way as holy water is dripped onto the babies getting baptized in Christian churches. People in Western cultures feel the same sense of safety and protection from both chlorine and baptism water. But we must never forget that nothing which wipes out the basis of life is either ethical, moral, good, or holy.

I theorize one factor for the high death rates from coronavirus in Western cultures is this cult of “cleanliness.” By wiping out the macrophages which eat malefic viruses, Western medical professionals are eliminating a valuable ally from their arsenal of medicine. I read an article about the river Ganga and how it had this marvelous capacity to self-cleanse and get rid of cholera bacteria after a few hours. The scientists theorized it was the macrophages in the Ganga—the macrophages which fed on the dirt of a river riddled with sewage and corpses.

When a Nepali man coughs and spits on the ground, should we tell him to stop? Certainly if we want to stop TB. But maybe not if we want to stop the coronavirus. There is a high possibility that the macrophages in his sputum eats the coronavirus.