What does it mean to be radical?
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.
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: