Posts Tagged ‘batshit crazy’

Radicalism

What does it mean to be radical?

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I have a bit of a quandary with my blog.   Last week, I noticed that one of the search terms that brought someone to the site was “Stefani Ruper.”  Whoever that was, they weren’t interested in nutrition.  They weren’t already invested in the paleo movement.  They weren’t looking for vitrolic condemnations of contemporary society.   Instead, they wanted to know about me.  Curious.  And you know what?  I got scared.

I feel nervous when people I know come to my website.   I fear their judgment, and I fear alienating them.  (God, I hate myself)  In reality, of course, my worry isn’t that big.  I love who I am and what I do and what I think–I really, really, do–but I also know that unconventional passions are off-putting.  So there’s a grain of uncertainty there.  I can’t help it.  No one likes a radical.

Fuck!  I don’t like radicals!   How can I begrudge them when I have the same exact feelings?  Convictions generally piss me off.  Who are you to say what’s best for me?  Who are you to know what’s best for the world?  What is it about your knowledge and your brain that makes you so special?   Fuck!  To convinced, committed human beings I often say: get off your horse.  Be humble.  Recognize the vastness of the complicated clusterfuck in which we live and calm the fuck down.

But it’s funny, because radicalism is defined by norms.  It’s a relative scale.  My favorite analogy for this phenomenon is climate change.  I studied climate models for a couple semesters back at Dartmouth, and running regression after regression on the data prompted me to ask myself a very important question: when I got an outlier as a result, was it wrong necessarily because it was an outlier?  Or was it the right answer, and every other data point hanging out in the middle of the pack just wasn’t ballsy enough to stick to the scientific data?  Scientists struggle with this daily.  One one hand, maybe we should dismiss Joe’s answers solely because he predicts catastrophe within fifty years.  On the other hand, he may be just right, and we should all panic.  Now.

The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel proposed a method of history that has shaped western thought ever since.  He said: suppose life is in condition X.  Then event Y occurs, and now life is in condition Y.  After a while, things equilibrate to a moderate position, condition X-Y.  In this way, radical events happen all the time, and then sort of settle down to the middle.  This means we almost never give the radical serious attention.  For example, look at  today’s paleo movement.  For a while there it was: “no carbs no carbs no carbs!” and everyone swore by Gary Taubes’s work, Dr. Atkin’s results, and the benefits of a ketogenic diet.  Today, ketogenic dieters are viewed as radical, are they not?  And people are looking to Kitavan diets and the work of researchers such as Stephan Guyenet PhD and Dr. Kurt Harris, and eating bowl after bowl of rice krispies.  Is the Paleo community going to swing somewhere more neutral re: carbohydrates in the diet some time soon?  I think so.  Absolutely I think so.  Perhaps it’s there already.  In any case:  What does this mean for radical positions?  It means that they effect change, but only as a “radical.”  Rarely does the radical position hold.  Rarely is it given serious weight.   Rarely is it viewed as sustainable.  It is sometimes a catalyst, always an outlier, and rarely more.

Yikes.

What does this mean for the paleo movement?

Well.  First, I want to state right off the bat that eating a diet that eschews grains, legumes and dairy and looks to a couple of other markers of health that are supported by evolutionary anthropology is not radical.  Or maybe it is radical, but absolutely it should be, and it’s Joe, the climate guy, and we should all be paying serious attention. Eating paleo is not crazy.  I swear it.  I try really fucking hard to be scientific and fair and objective in everything I do, and to never come down on the sides of practically any issue.  But when it comes to this stuff, the evidence is just way too solid and the reasoning way too compelling.  I mean this more than I’ve ever meant anything.  I eschew radicalism and convictions like it’s my job, but I can’t help it in this case.  Eating paleo is not crazy.  What is crazy (imho) is putting something such as Saltines in a human body and expecting everything to proceed hunky dory.

In a world where nutritional science has been so mishandled and abused, talking about diet is like talking politics, complete with shame, discretion, resentment, and social pariahs. Diet comes up, and you shut your mouth.  One of two things always happens: A) Everyone looks nervously around.  No one makes eye contact.  Someone might make an aborted hand gesture or two, appearing to have a violent tick.  Or B, the more frequent reaction: Each person starts fucking talking at the same time.  Everyone eats, and everyone’s got an opinion, and for some reason we’re all experts, whether we’re vocal or silent.   This means that we, as human beings, have almost have no choice.  How do we deal with the outliers in any conversation?  Especially one’s that are so convinced of their truth?  We call them crazy and walk away.  It’s the reasonable, Hegelian, easy-existence sort of thing to do.  This comes as naturally to us as breathing.

To that I say: fuck off!  Who wants to be average?  Who wants to be a republican or a democrat?    Who wants to plod through life as easily and obsequiously as a mule?   Evolutionary anthropology and biology are fucking important.  A paleolithic perspective should not be dismissed just because it’s different.   No viewpoint should be.  Real life and real decisions and real changes aren’t easy, and it’s about time we own up to that fact.   What is radical in any system?  Why do we consider some things radical and others not?  Are we compelled by fear?  By ignorance?  By stagnancy?  Are we too in love with our boring routines to really give an ear to revolutionary viewpoints?   Hell yes, we are.   Clara Pinkola Estes once said: “Be brave.  Be fierce.  Be visionary.”  Amen, sister.  Yet we don’t even have to go that far.  “Be thoughtful, be open, be positive,” would work just as well.  What is radical?  Who is radical?  By whose standards?  Fuck that shit, and live!

So am I radical about diet?  I don’t know.  You tell me.  At the very least, I am radical about the pursuit of knowledge.  I am radical about listening to unorthodox ideas, and about weighing facts, and then doing with my new knowledge as I see fit.  I am radical about making positive change.  I am radical about reaching out to people.    I am radical about helping clients deal with eating disorders as best they can, about using every possible tool at our disposal, and about positive progress.   I am radical about living naturally, about listening to our bodies, and about the freedom to think and act as we all see fit.  I am radical about life.  And I’ll be damned if I ever let fear of being labeled a radical bother me again.  The things about which I am radical enable me to live a beautiful and informed life.   Fuck, I love it.  There is nothing more.  There’s just me and fierce, fierce a desire to live.

Fortunately, Paleo is a part of that package.

 

 

 

I’m off my game.  I haven’t ended a post with a lol cat in a while.  Here goes:

 

05

05 2011

An Ode to Indignancy

What a weapon.  My goodness.  Arm yourselves, friends.  This is a good one.

Says dictionary.com:

Indignant: –adjective

Feeling, characterized by, or expressing strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or base:

Synonyms:

angry, resentful, mad, infuriated.

—————————————————————————————

Yeah, infuriated.  That’s the one.

But..  hah.  Anger isn’t really a good thing, is it?  It’s kind of painful, and it causes a lot of problems, and it’s also a fair bit scary from time to time.   I would assert, however, that being indignant at injustices is a healthy form of anger, and it’s one that I’ve been practicing since the day I first gracelessly flopped out of my crib and incited a territorial rumpus with my dog.   Indignancy may be unorthodox, and it may be less common in every day life than in large scale events, but it is an emotion that can light a fire in our souls, and we need that if we ever desire change.

There are plenty, plenty of things out there to be indignant about.  Is your metabolism a bit slow, you think?  Be indignant not about your genes, but perhaps about the fucked up culture that fostered margarine on you in your youth.  Do you constantly crave pastries?  Be indignant that this industry exists at all.  Most importantly, however: do you ache for the people in your life who suffer, but who don’t know how to fix it?  Do you wish desperately you could cure your brother of diabetes?  Your husband of fatty liver disease?  Your sister of breast cancer?  Be indignant about the world that is suppressing them.  It suppresses you, and that sucks, but indignancy goes beyond even that.  Being indignant is about righteousness, and about making changes, and about garnering enough passion to fight injustice.  It’s about the world around you, and parts of the world that really suck, and about feeling a fiery need to fix as much as we can.

And boy, is there a lot of fixing to do.

Being indignant is what compelled me to start this blog.  Fuck if I know if I’ve made any difference, but at least I’m trying.  Being indignant is what makes people put their names on lists like “first regiment of Lexington, 1776.”  And being indignant is how people end up participating in hunger strikes, going to jail, and protesting on college campuses.

So why is it relevant right now?

Because there are a hell of a lot of things to be angry about in this world, specifically, at this moment, the horrific cultures and norms that have given us hormone disorders, autoimmune diseases, and self esteem issues.  Sometimes I feel like American culture wants us to be whiny teenagers for our entire lives, given the amount of shit it throws around. Honestly I’m impressed that people don’t fall to pieces more often.  We are relisient, regardless of the fact that there is so much out there to be upset about.  Or not, perhaps.  Look at the alarming rates of depression, anxiety, divorce, and violence out there.  That points to an inordinate amount of negativity, for an infinite amount of reasons, and it seems as though we’ve accepted a lot of into our lives as bedfellows. Naturally.  Defeatedly.  Ugh.

Being indignant, however, channels that pain and that frustration and that burning helplessness into productive action.  It is, I passionately assert, a healthy form of anger.  When we stop cowering from particular ways in which we’ve been hurt, and stop complaining about them, and instead jump into action to fight for the sake of others, ourselves, and justice, we develop a sense of agency. We gain power over the demons that keep us down.   Justice gives us the will to fight. No, I will not pinch my fat in the mirror.  I will not buy your products.  What you are selling/doing/promoting is wrong, and I hate it, so for the sake of me and every other potential victim out there, I reject you.

Our indignant actions can come in simple forms.  Outrightly dismissing advertising, for example.  Consider it beneath you.  Or go farther: stand up for good health in discussions and stop pretending that you have funny food allergies just to avoid social discomfort (I really am a pot and a kettle on this one, I do it about a hundred times a day.)   Or make a list of things you love about your daughter and read them back to her, arguing passionately about why she’s beautiful and worth it and no one is ever going to steal that from her.  Take whatever part of the world that hurts you or your loved ones most deeply and refuse it.  Deny it.  Rule it.  Fuck no!  What’s going down is not right, and for that reason I will not stand for it.

I once read: “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”  Amen.  It breaks my heart so deeply to hear from my readers about their pains and frustrations and the kind of anger that simmers and burns.  Instead, I offer indignancy up to you as one avenue into which you can channel those negative emotions.  A way to gain power over them.  A way to be inspired to soldier on.  Eating disorders be damned.  I am sick of pain, and I, for one, demand change.

Vive la revolution!

07

04 2011

Feel deprived? Throw a hearty ‘fuck you’ at American culture

What the fuck.  I live in the most abundant age, and in the most abundant place, that this planet has ever known.  As mentioned before, there are more choices in my life than I could ever, ever possibly imagine.  And yet: I feel as though I don’t have enough.  I can’t eat enough.  I can’t consume enough.  I can’t do enough.  I can’t be enough.   What the fuck is going on?

Someone once pointed out to me that we were raised in a culture in which our grandparents and parents suffered deprivation.  I acknowledge this point.  My father, for example, is an extraordinarily frugal man because of the frugal and tenuously stable environment in which he grew up.  I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’m grateful for this experience.  But my father feels more secure and content than practically every person I know.  I think this “Great Depression” theory is a pretty poor explanation for my feelings of deprivation.  If I really were feeling the pains of that time period, or of the giant monetary burdens I am shouldering during this century’s own clusterfuck of an economy, I might, instead of feeling deprived, be overjoyed at the abundance of cheap choices available to me.  Indeed: it seems to me that those who lived through such frugal times do not quail at the abundance of our culture, but instead (I think) tend to happily proceed on minimal means and take advantage of whatever benefits come their way.

So, big deal.  People are deprived all over the world.  The problem really is is that we exist in a culture designed to make us want more.  Choices are abundant, and we live in a sea of variety, such that every time we make a choice, we end up regretting the choice we did not make.  I feel this pressure in a big way in deciding which graduate school to attend in the fall, and I feel this pressure in a more mundane way when choosing what foods to eat a buffet.  And since this problem is more mundane, it effects more of my daily life.  Still using the buffet for an example, I always try to get as much of it as possible, because if I don’t try every food then aren’t I being deprived of something I could otherwise have at minimal cost?   Think about the PIES for god’s sake.  Apple, blueberry, strawberry, mixed berry, pumpkin, banana cream, key lime, lemon meringue… jesus christ thank GOD I am paleo and I don’t have to make that kind of choice anymore.   Even worse, this tyranny of choice doesn’t just apply to my taste buds but to my sense of nutrition: if I choose to go for the seaweed because of its iodine content, I am instead missing out on the lycopene in the tomatoes!  Woe is me!  How can I ever be healthy?  How can I ever be satisfied?  How can I ever meet all the needs society is insisting I have?

Commercials, advertisements, companies, even schools, universities, and governments… they depend on us feeling deprived.  Its our deprivation that makes us consume their products and services.   Don’t have enough education?  The University of Phoenix is here for you!  Too fat?  Try my food!  Too ugly?  Try my eight billion dollar cosmetics industry!  Chasing progress (but not perfection) is all well and good, but American culture positively pounds it into us.  If you don’t have this new thing or that new fad or God knows what popular personality trait, then you’re just not cutting it.  You need to be perfect to find happiness, to find a lover, to be complete.  This sucks.  Idiots.

This is present in all aspects of our lives, and in all forms of consumption, but it is particularly striking in food culture.  What kills me the most is that…well, we have this abundance.   We have established that this can lead to unhealthy thought patterns.  Even worse, however, is that we are given feelings of inadequacy to go along with the deprivation. We see commercials and advertisements and friends with freakishly mutant genetics and start to develop a crazy idea: other people have what I want, but they don’t suffer negative consequences.  That woman on the TV can eat chocolates and not have fat thighs!  My friends can eat dairy without developing acne!  My brother can eat pounds of ice cream a day without nary a negative side effect!  Why am I so unique, and so deprived, and so incapable of having the same pleasures as everyone else?  We are simultaneously bombarded with signals that scream: “you need more products and variety!” and signals that scream: “these people are perfect, why aren’t you?” and it tears at our souls, it really does.

Our culture of abundance is structured to make us feel deprived, and it is these exact feelings that give us patterns of disordered and binge eating (not always, of  course, but often enough.)  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought, or had friends or clients share it with me: “I’m tired of eating what I’m supposed to eat.  I’m tired of eating when I’m supposed to eat.  I’m tired of following rules and having to watch myself so closely and censor all of my food choices.Honestly, I hate this more than anything.  I feel it intensely, and I acknowledge its power, but I still have a hard time getting over it.  Why can my roommate eat five times a day?  Why can she eat carbohydrates?  Why can’t I?  why can’t I?  Why can’t I?

This is because there is SO MUCH out there telling us to eat more, tempting us, telling us its possible to eat these awful things without having negative consequences, and making us feel like our dietary choices (re: a paleo diet with regular meals) is a deprivation diet.  Ugh.

What this says to me is that what we really need is psychological freedom.

We need to acknowledge that our feelings of deprivation are external in origin. And not only that, but they are deliberately instilled in us by consumer culture.   How dare they?  How dare we?  What the fuck are we doing to ourselves?  Is there a solution?

Well.  There are a few.  They’re not panaceas, but they do help, some.

First, acknowledging the power of this cultural machine is a big help.  Once you acknowledge what kind of sway food culture has over you–whether it’s by advertising, by the abundance of choice (like me at a Taiwanese buffet!), by friends who eat conventional diets and seem to do just fine, or by people who pressure you to partake in unhealthy foods–you can fight it.  You can see it coming and dodge.  You can hide.  You can use whatever strategies you have in your arsenal, from outright anger to, again, hiding from the media, to help alleviate the psychological pressures.  One way in which I’ve really helped myself feel better is by moving away from America.  Honest.  And I don’t watch TV.  So I am no longer ever confronted with images of beautiful, leggy, clear-skinned, elegant women all over advertisements.  I don’t spend time wishing I were them.  Another way you can do this is to make a point of never, ever watching commercials.  Every time they come on the TV, put it on mute and open up a book.  Or stop perusing those horrific Self or Cosmo or Shape magazines.   Pay attention to what they’re saying to you: the message is always “indulge, indulge, indulge,” because they already know, and are trying to cultivate, your feelings of guilt and deprivation.  They’re not helping you, no matter how much they insist this is true.  Instead, they are deliberately crafting their self help magazines to make you keep needing their help.  Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it all.

Another solution, though not an easy one, is to turn it around.  Instead of feeling deprived because you can’t partake in this food culture, feel sorry for everyone involved in it.  Your diet is right and your lifestyle is awesome and it’s actually (really, it is) quite sad that they don’t have a truly healthful, fulfilling diet.  If you’d like, permit yourself to partake in this culture occasionally.  Writing yourself off from it entirely might make you feel even more deprived, and you don’t want it to have this kind of power over you.  Philosophies of asceticism are abstaining are dumb (*usually).  Life is short.  Instead, be the ruler of your own mind and your own body, and exist above popular ideas and consumer culture.  Come down and mingle with it from time to time, show it who’s boss, and then head on back up to your lofty spot of awesome health.  You are in control of your health and your diet (or at least most of the time!) and that is a completely badass, empowering fact.  Every day you choose to follow the paleo lifestyle (or a similarly good one) because it is right and it feels right and it’s so good for your body.  Fuck cookies!  They taste good but they destroy your liver.  You don’t need that shit.   Your diet is not just tasty but is awesome for you, and I feel sorry for all the idiots out there who are deliberately ignorant of these facts.

Finally, I know that this is easier said than done.  But I really, strongly believe that feelings of deprivation are huge components of disordered eating.  They make us crave fulfillment and indulgence and immediate pleasure, and food can give us that.  Especially when the exact thing we feel deprived of is, in fact, food.   Try not to view your healthy diet and your progress away from bingeing or grazing behaviors not as a step into deprivation but a step forward into the light of psychological freedom.  Without food on the mind, and without that desperate wishing and need so common to disordered eaters, we are free to feel all sorts of new positive emotions.  This is perhaps the most wonderful and empowering fact of paleo dieting.  It is a long and a hard road, sometimes, but increasing our awareness of what’s hampering that progress does nothing but compel us forward.

And, like I’ve said perhaps a million times, though a million is surely never enough: progress is the true goal.

Columbus (the idiot occasionally had one or two eloquent thoughts) once wrote:

“Following the light of the sun, we left the old world.”

Amen.

Leave the ugliness of consumer culture behind.  Transcend its call, and rise to a life of progress and holistic health.  You’ve got the tools.  All you need is a bit of attitude, a confident swagger, and a eye on continually building your self-love and progress.

And Stone Cold Steve Austin.

I don’t brush my teeth

This is how I get all my hot dates.

“Hi, I’m Pepper.  I don’t brush my teeth.  Want to make out?”

….

……..

But really.   I don’t brush.   This is the point at which back-pedalling usually becomes wise.  “Well, no, of course I brush my teeth, that would just be ridiculous.  Honestly.”

But I do not.  My name is Pepper, and I do not brush my teeth.

Except for when I feel like it or when I consume carbohydrates, which might be once every day or every other day or five or so.

So shoot me.  I do brush my teeth.  I’m a little bit of a liar.   But I don’t do it for hygiene, and I do it very reluctantly, and infrequently, and angrily.  Fuck you society!  Who are you to fuck up my teeth and then make me give you money to fix them?  Who are you to tell me what to eat and what to clean?  Who are you to create banes of humanity such as gingivitis and root canals?

When I do brush, it’s for vanity’s sake.  It’s true that they look a bit whiter having residues scrubbed off of them.  I’ve whitened them before, too.  I really do care about my teeth.  I also always make sure my breath smells nice–I’ve spent much of the last few years asking very blunt people about my odor just to make sure–so that’s a big motivator.  But other than that, I just don’t do it.  I don’t enjoy brushing my teeth.  It’s a waste of an entire 12 minutes of my day, which adds up to more than 4000 minutes per year.  I suppose it does give me that “clean” feeling everyone raves about, but what if my mouth never feels dirty in the first place?  What if it’s never swimming in plaque?  What if I never put garbage in it, so no swarms of bacteria can ever fester?

Because I don’t.  And that, my friends, is my case.

This is how we develop cavities:

Bacteria are always present in our mouths.  They help enzymes in our saliva break down food, and then they get to enjoy the kickback benefits of their altruism, which is a benevolent living environment.  What’s more, in today’s day and age, they get to go crazy.  Our sugar consumption is through the roof.  Given that glucose is saliva bacteria’s preferred fuel, sugar enables them to hang out on the surface of our teeth and multiply.  Proteins in our saliva help them stick together to form a plaque biofilm (ever feel like your teeth are fuzzy?  This is it.)  A byproduct of glucose metabolism is acid.  Acid leaks out of the plaque biofilm and onto the surface of our teeth, reacting with the basic Ca/Mg carbonate, and dissolve s it.  Poof, there goes our bones.  Voila, here come the fillings.

I have yet to find any reference online about bacteria in our mouths consuming anything but sugar.  And surely you’ve noticed as well– that ‘fuzzy tooth’ feeling really does only follow carbohydrate consumption.   With a diet low in carbohydrates, plaque builds slowly.  A day or two can pass before anything might seem even the slightest bit off, and then one can brush, happily.

These bacteria are also the ones that go wild at nighttime and give us morning breath.  So, while my morning breath definitely hasn’t disappeared, it’s certainly become more pleasant since cutting carbs.  I like this.  A few other people in my life have enjoyed this too.

That said, we have conventional wisdom to thank (again) for a whole host of unpleasant diseases.  Bad breath, cavities, tooth erosion, gingivitis, perionditis, and something really pleasant called trench mouth.

The absolute worst part is that no one seems to make sense of the correlations between dentistry and wider health.  Idiots.  Gum disease is widely known to be associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pancreatic cancer. This time, it’s the Harvard School of Public Health claiming that “our study provides strong evidence that periodontal disease may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.”  Jesus.  Can they never look at the bigger picture?  What do diabetes, tooth decay, and the pancreas have in common?  With heart disease and stroke on top of that?  I know that these are just correlations, and that I cannot just fling my hands around in the air and shout “meaningful cause and effect!  meaningful cause and effect!” the way the Harvard researchers are doing,  but I am going to continue to be angry when I brush my teeth.  I’ve got a hunch about the connection between these diseases, and I will not go down without a fight.

My name is Pepper.  And I do not brush my teeth.*

*Often.

17

02 2011

The ethics of eating bread: why a food choice is never evil and Objectivism is fucking nuts

Let me start out by saying that I was an Objectivist for three years. That’s with a capital O. This means that, like most others in the movement, I read the novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We the Living and Anthem, and proceeded to craft my personal life and morality around them. Additionally, I read Rand’s philosophical texts, and I deferred to her on every count of debate. She loved logic! She couldn’t possibly be wrong. Plus, so much of what she said really resonated with me. I felt as though Rand was articulating ideas that I had been looking for all along. So when she made ethical pronouncements, their logical supremacy almost necessarily followed.

Plus, I was 15 years old, and really fucking dumb.

Perhaps the largest paradox of the Objectivist community is the weight it gives to Rand’s words. For a community committed to truth and logic above all other things, Objectivists sure love to hero worship.   This is demonstrated, in one way, when Objectivists engage in philosophical debate.  They almost inevitably raise the questions: “What would Rand do?” Or “What does Piekoff say?” with the answers intended to settle the debate. I’m not even close to kidding. If you disagree with Rand, you’re SOL.  Evil.  Stupid.   Excommunicated.   Fucked.  There’s a whole history to this phenomenon, and it is in fact well documented.  Another good example of hero worship is that one of Objectivism’s most popular online forums is titled “Objectivist Living: Dedicated to Ayn Rand and the Art of Living Consciously.” The Objectivist movement has made Rand (or, now, Piekoff, her official “intellectual heir”) very seriously, it’s God. It would be one thing if Objectivists looked at Rand and her work and tried to glean insights from her. But this is not the case. Instead, Objectivism parrots the words of this extraordinarily narcissistic and arguably mentally ill woman.

This shit kills me.

How is this relevant for my post today? Well. I’m almost sorry for that diatribe. I want to be fair. Diana asks an important question on her blog, and I mean no disrespect to her viewpoint. Please, take very serious note of the fact that I respect Diana’s conclusion, and I respect all of her badass work. And I have a great deal of respect for people who look at a movement’s principles and try to learn from them without centering their life around them. I do not conflate the Objectivist movement with individuals within the movement, so not a single moment of my batshit crazy ranting applies to her or to any of you Objectivists/Randians/thoughtful thinkers out there. Believe me. But I have approximately zero respect for Objectivism as a phenomenon. This extreme distaste (I hope) is not a result of “emotional” or “impulsive” behavior, moreover, but is instead due to all of the realizations I have had about logical fallacies in Rand’s work and her followers’ behavior.

————————————————————————————

In the podcast, Diana asks the question: “Is eating bread immoral if I think it is unhealthy?” This not the most irrelevant question I’ve ever come across. Morality is tied up with food in a lot of ways, and there are books and books worth of interesting things to say on the matter.  It is phenomenally important to contemplate ethical eating.

Diana’s response to the inquiry is this: Yes.  If you eat bread, and if you know that it is unhealthy for you, and if you have other food options, then yes. Your actions are morally reprehensible. Diana and Greg (her podcast partner) call this “evasion.” The idea is this: in making an unhealthy choice, such as eating bread, an individual is evading the rational truth of the harm that is coming to him.  Evasion is a common Objectivist theme, and it is in fact automatic cause for condemnation.  In his book, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Piekoff states:*

“Evasion is the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think–not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment–on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it.”

And then:

“Morally, evasion is the essence of evil. According to Objectivism, evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices. In the present era, it is leading to the collapse of the world.”

(*By using this term, I do not mean to put words in Diana and Greg’s mouths.  They don’t use the word “evil.”  Yet most Objectivists, including Piekoff and Rand, clearly, do.)

Yet what if this individual acknowledges the harmful truth of what he’s doing, but accepts the consequences because something he values more, such as social etiquette, is at stake?   He is NOT evading truth, here, but is instead weighing his fucking options, perhaps with the most logical and clearheaded reasoning on the planet.

A food choice, evil? Maybe wrong, and maybe misguided, and maybe stupid. Maybe deliberately self-destructive. But—so?  Am I going to despise you, or are you going to despise yourself, and consider yourself immoral, for weighing the pros and cons of eating bread and concluding that it really wouldn’t be the end of the world to indulge? Food choices are Not Evil, made consciously or not, and I endeavor, in the following paragraphs, to show you why Objectivists are so completely wrong on this count.

Diana and Greg’s responses were fairly straightforward. You can listen here, but I covered all the basics of it, I think, pretty fairly above.  Bread = evasion = bad.   To get more at the root of this idea in Objectivism, I turn to the writings of Ayn Rand.  Therefore, my response is not to the podcast, per se, but to the arguments and basic tenants I have read in Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. Unfortunately, I came to Taiwan with nothing but two shirts and a laptop, so my copy of the text is at home. I am not going to make any formal references. I’m sorry. If you have good textual rebuttals, think I am mistaken, or have objections to my statements, just lemme know, and I’ll hope off my soap box and take the beating.

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Objectivists believe, generally, that a self-destructive behavior is evil. How do they arrive at a such a conclusion?  Ayn Rand’s argument is a syllogism I first read in The Virtue of Selfishness, and it goes as follows:

A) It is human nature to prioritize one’s own survival above all other things.

B) It is evil to go against human nature.

C) Ergo, performing self destructive acts such as eating bread is E V I L.

Select rebuttals:

A) It is human nature to prioritize one’s own survival and life above all other things.

The above statement is not supported by science. No scientist would (should) ever have the hubris to proclaim the truth of human existence and purpose. The human condition is one of the most complex phenomena ever encountered, and it is extraordinarily presumptuous and naïve to make statements about the ultimate human concern. Doing so disregards anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and a whole host of other disciplines.

Most egregiously, this assertion is just plain false when considered in light of evolutionary theory. The most basic tenant of evolutionary biology is as follows: the propagation of genes is the primary driver of all life. I want to put a citation in here, but who the fuck am I going to cite? My high school science textbook? The most recent copy of Cell Biology? My college thesis? Life exists because DNA and RNA replicate themselves. Organisms evolved certain behaviors to ensure the replication of these molecules. Humans evolved, as organisms, the same way. Each species needs to optimize the well-being of it’s offspring, else it faces extinction. As such, it is widely accepted that practicing some “altruistic” behavior, particularly for the sake of one’s children, is universally human.

Humans do not intrinsically prize individual survival–nor necessarily should they–above all other things. QED.

B) It is evil to go against human nature.

One thing we need to think about pretty seriously here is how we’re defining our terms. We already went over one component of human nature, the survival instinct, above.  The second component is the tool humans use to achieve that survival. This tool is the intellect.

Objectivists prize the intellect above just about everything else. The intellect is what defines man against animals, is what accounts for human achievement, and is what helps man make good, logical decisions.  In essence, to survive.  To be human is to use one’s mind, and an Objectivist will never let you forget it.

The second word we need to pay attention to is “evil.” In general, I can go out in the world and define evil as “extremely morally reprehensible” and not find too many people who want to argue with me.  Moreover, most definitions of “evil” concern the well-being of others, and most of the world probably wouldn’t argue with that, either.  Yet Objectivism takes the idea of evil in an entirely different direction. To be evil is not defined by acting immorally, but is defined instead by acting directly against “human nature.”  Anything that might decease the survival chances of the self is evil, including a sacrifice made for another human being. Rand, Piekoff, and, I daresay, the rest of Objectivist movement, believe it is evil to dive into the ocean to save someone if you believe your own chances of survival are slim. This is well established Objectivist Doctrine.   Some other evil actions include imposing your will on another human being, deliberately obscuring truth, or impairing your own survival by ignoring a rational conclusion. This is the “evasion” to which Diana and Greg and Rand refer. Evading truth is an affront to the human intellect, and to Objectivists this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Why Objectivists think it’s acceptable to make an ethical pronouncement such as this is entirely beyond me. Explain to me why you can go ahead and redefine “evil” at your whim. Explain to me why your definition of evil is more accurate than mine. And explain to me why you can logically make this fucking statement at all. It’s axiomatic. Rand’s all like, “this is the definition of evil because I said so,” and never says why. I’m not making this up. Far be it for her to explain herself when thousands of philosophers before and after her have written tomes on the matter and still not yet come to any kind of consensus.

I do not understand why obscuring the truth is inherently evil. I can think of a billion situations in which lying is appropriate, and I stand by them. Telling Susie her hair looks like shit helps nobody, and telling her it looks nice harms no one. Believe me—being honest is one of my highest principles. I believe in external honestly like the dickens, and I believe even more fervently in being brutally honest with myself. But this does not mean I think it Evil to lie. I am a relativist, and I believe that each situation calls for a unique weighing of pros and cons.  And don’t you dare attack that line of thought with some “A is A” bullshit.   I just might die.

C) Ergo, it is evil to consume bread.

Since statements A and B do not hold, statement C does not hold. Syllogisms are so BCE.

The last thing I do not understand is why it is necessarily immoral to evade truth, or to be self-destructive. I understand why it is harmful, and I could absolutely get behind a statement that imposing my will on another human being and forcing them to eat bread would be an act of evil—and I could even buy the argument that eating poorly is reprehensible because it affects the relationships I have with those around me– but my body is my body, and it is my autonomical right to treat it as I see fit.

What’s more, in a given situation, eating bread may in fact be the best choice for my well-being. For example, I may deem it more important to make my aunt happy and tell her I really loved eating her pumpkin loaf than to abstain and preserve my gut lining. Is this a sacrifice I’m making for another person? Sure. But, more importantly, it is a choice I’m making about my values. Who are you to tell me what I should value most highly?  No one knows my body and my life like I do, and I may in fact be optimizing my happiness by choosing to partake in an unhealthy activity.

Evil?  Good god. Ghengis Khan was evil. Pope John the XXII was evil. Lucifer was evil. What these figures all have in common is that they committed atrocities that hurt others. They were bad guys. I, simply, am fallible. Information comes at me from a million different angles, and I process it, and I try as hard as I can to maximize my well-being. If I fail to do so—if I act as a creature with addictions and needs and desires and if I cannot always “be my best self,”—am I, in fact, immoral?

Perfection is not possible. Objectivists would do well to remember this, and to stop holding everyone to unrealistic and stupid ethical standards. Even if I do my best to eat as healthfully as possible, the science of nutrition is constantly evolving, and no one has the key to perfect health. I can always try, but I don’t even know for sure if what I’m doing right now is optimal. Why not indulge, then? Bread may be harmful, but it is not poison, and if in eating the bread I feel pleasure, then perhaps that pleasure is more important than any pain I might endure.

I am currently watching a woman I know undergo knee replacement surgery and contemplate getting liposuction. She refuses to give up carbohydrates, not even for a while to see if it helps. Still yet I do not consider this evil. I consider it misguided. I consider it fearful of change. I consider it tremendously sad. But to call being fallible wrong, especially when it is not harming anyone but yourself… that is no logic. That is cruel. This line of Objectivist thinking promotes all sorts of negative mental states, the worst of which is perhaps the self loathing that often accompanies failed attempts to achieve perfection. We see, day in and day out, where this leads with food. Exponentially increasingly numbers of young women diet and binge eat and starve themselves because they are trying to achieve some arbitrarily constructed ideal. Health is holistic, and I believe that no amount of moral judgment for lapses is warranted.

Objectivist and perfectionist ideals like this are well known for driving people crazy. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden used to live and work within the Objectivist movement and was in fact Rand’s “true love.” …That is, until he began to see loopholes in the arguments, and to notice in his psychological practice how profoundly unhappy all of his Objectivist patients were. I remember reading about one patient of Branden’s in particular who loved a woman but could not marry her because she wasn’t as awesome as Dagny Taggart. He thought that he was evading that truth whenever he spent time with her. They ended up separated and living alone. Heartbreaking.

Instead of condemning personal choices as evil, we need to move forward in life with supreme awareness of both our physical and our mental health. Optimal happiness is about a balance, and it is a balance personalizable to each human being. Your food choices are Never Evil. Being fallible without causing harm to others is Never Evil. Prizing pleasure, and occasionally elevating it over health, is Never Evil. The way that you treat yourself might be misguided, but it is not morally reprehensible. You are not condemnable for what you ate this morning, and I will not condemn you for what you eat tonight. Food is a complicated source of nourishment and of pleasure, and to turn it into a weapon of condemnation does a great, great disservice to holistic health.

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02 2011