Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It’s cool by the pool – right? [COLUMN]

Some things don’t change. Some things change.

It’s been an interesting week. Bomb scare yesterday, a few new faces surfacing from the past, and a few nasty incidents – strikes, suppressed military SAT photos [evidence of global warming]. I still think we’re generally in zone of not quite knowing what is wrong – or what to do about it, so basically being a bit stoic about it.

Stoicism and conservativeness, it occurs to me, are traits that run fairly deep in my family. I am an impulsive person, but deeper down I’m very conservative [some would say ‘slow’]. I think it is an important survival mechanism. To err on the side of cool headedness. I know I can be a hothead, but when it counts – it’s important to be cool. Your welfare, your life may depend on it. Some things don’t change, or shouldn’t. Our stoicism and conservativeness ought to be in there somewhere.

I’ve often wondered whether perfectionism is a useful trait or not. Perfectionism is also a sign of where our mental health is going - is perfectionism rational or obsessive? I think it is a double edged sword. Perfectionism can eat up a considerable amount of resources. Think of a housewife wanting to be buy her children the exact right pair of cute shoes, and going to five stores to find them? Think how much energy is ‘wasted’ on these errands. Think how a BMW engineer’s precision quest to have a car travel 350km/h has consequences for the world energy equation. But there is a flip side to perfectionism. It is the ability, the discipline really, to know, again, that certain behaviours can have costly consequences, whether in social strata or in survival. Putting your fingers into a plug, being discerning about food or what sort of programmes or products one exposes oneself or children too – these can have long term consequences. Like what you ask? Well, like cancer. You might get away with drinking coca cola every day for a few decades, but finally that behaviour chews through your body’s natural mechanism, like rust. It takes an inward sense of the subtle instinct why not to do just as we want – and this is a kind of perfectionism – that insures we stay around a little longer.

Perfectionism also manifests as a dark side. That when we don’t get what we want [rather than what we need] we find ourselves becoming unhappy and depressed. It becomes a self-fulfilling and vicious cycle.

I want to finish off this column with a few paragraphs dedicated to introspection. Some people are surprised and perhaps disappointed to discover that I seem to ‘moan endlessly’ about a handful of subjects. Energy related, health related and the environment. If you take those three and consider them obliquely – concerns about energy, and health and the environment, you’d think they should be our concerns ordinarily? Why aren’t they then? Well, people turn to the media for opinion leadership, and so when it comes to energy, Peak Oil is described as an extreme philosophy and there is a lot of confusing press – noise – about the state of energy. No one knows apparently. Health. Simple concept, but similar noise and mixed signals when it comes to swine flu and AIDS and even which foods are good for us. You wonder why there isn’t a clear signal on these issues. There isn’t even one on cancer, which next year will become the leading killer of human beings. And finally, there’s the environment. There is probably no area more confusing – in terms of the media blitz than this. No one can agree whether it is a problem or not or how it might affect us. Noise again.

By way of an analogy, I’m going to describe my positions on the above topics. When I lived in South Korea I read a book on diet. Diet conventionally means ‘to lose weight’. Actually, a diet is simply the foods one eats conventionally. It isn’t necessarily synonymous with starving, or cutting down or watching your weight. If we talk about animals we’ll say that parrots survive on a diet of mixed nuts and some fruit. Does that mean they restrict their intake of chicken or meat? Not at all, their natural diet is to eat nuts. In the same way, as soon as this word ‘diet’ is applied to humans, it suddenly sounds very negative. And it turns out to be extraordinarily difficult to eat a conventional, natural human diet. I discovered through extensive reading in Korea that Ironmen triathletes were leaner and stronger endurance athletes than their meat eating counterparts. I also discovered that the muscle tissue of vegetarians was denser. Surprise surprise. I did extensive research, and finally, converted, attempted to stay off meat products. You have no idea how quickly – effortlessly – I lost weight. Simply by cutting out meat and meat products. Why, because meat and meat products has contrived its way into just about every food.

Going vegetarian – it was a very difficult process, especially in a foreign country. What struck me then, and it was something of an epiphany, was noticing how almost every restaurant and burger joint was serving us food that isn’t good for us, that isn’t really our natural diet. You might think that’s no big deal, but tell me, what would you think if your dog started eating cat burgers, or horse burgers, that cows were becoming fish eaters?
I’ll make it even more immediate and uncomfortable. How will you respond when you see a chimpanzee eating meat? Well, fact is, they very seldom do. Gorillas eat virtually none. On the few occasions Chimpanzees do eat meat, it is when they clash with other tribes, and they then literally tear their opponents apart and eat their flesh. In their natural foraging they eat very little meat.

Now human being’s teeth and stomachs demonstrate that we should be eating 70% or more fruit and vegetables. But if you go to the average restaurant, your plate is dominated with food that isn’t good for you. A large steak, fried chips [cooked in fat] and so on. Advertising on television is almost solely messages stimulating us to consume food that isn’t healthy for us. Chocolates, crisps, meat, milk, eggs. How often do you see fruit or vegetables advertised? Almost never because the stuff sells itself. You probably wouldn’t need to buy vitamins if you stayed away from caffeine and all these other products,and stuck to fruit and vegetables. You wouldn’t need to buy medications for heart burn either, because there is natural roughage [fibre] in produce.

The bottom line is that pursuing a vegetarian diet is very difficult, in fact it feels completely at odds with society. Vegetarians are also thought of by society as nutty. Conventionally. It is when you notice this odd schism, this flipping of reality, that you begin to question other things. If we’re taught to shovel poison into our mouths, if so much money is made by garbage food producers like McDonalds, and the media are sort’ve making money out of advertising McD [an unhealthy product that gives us cancer], well then who can we trust?

It turns out that many big companies profit from us not knowing or caring. Same goes for climate change. Energy companies, mining companies, governments. They profit from us not knowing or caring, so mixed messages serve them just fine. Because the last thing they need is another expense to worry about. Health is the same. We know it as health care but what it really is is disease care. Pharmaceutical companies are not interested in showing us how to be healthy [it’s cheaper for us in the long run to be healthy]. They are more interested in showing us what to use to treat our diseases. A sick, addicted, distracted unhappy consumer tends to spend more than a healthy, focussed and discerning one. The very wealthy tend to be the latter though. Wealthy people tend to be healthy, fit, and trim and energetic, and not lazy but discerning in their consumption.

The epiphany I had about diet, and the widespread misconceptions around this were reinforced in my youth by a number of other factors. The SA government stepping backwards from their policy of Apartheid, saying it was wrong. That’s rare – for a regime to say, “We were wrong.” Reinforced again by the death of my mother, which amounted to a similar admission: “I was wrong about how I lived my life.” She was an extreme perfectionist. But also emotional. Something that also afflicts me on occasion. There were others, like Hansie Cronje, who were heroic one day and tragic the next. Michael Jackson is another example. I consider myself an example in a sense too. I certainly don’t feel I have reached my potential in terms of sport, or writing, or work, or relationships.

In two other areas, where one trusted in the wisdom and leadership of others – in religion, and in world economics, it seems wishful thinking and greed clouded the judgments even of the most moral and most astute. And so it began to occur to me to search for reality without having a vested interest, a stake. It’s not easy. And it’s no surprise that no one wants to hear it because it stands in conflict to everything we think we know, everything we’re advertised, everything we believe and tell ourselves. And probably most important of all, reality is seldom good for business. This is why commercials for alcohol and cars and cigarettes [now banned of course] focus on how they make you feel [important, surrounded by friends or a sexy partner] rather than having much to say about fuel consumption or being cancer causing or anything else that, well, actually matters.

So perhaps I have acted as someone hellbent on saving what can be saved, changing hearts and minds in lieu of what must be the inevitable moment when the mirror shatters, and we are left with just ourselves and cold, stony reality. We’re not far away from that immient reality now. That’s going to be a very painful shock for a lot of people. My epiphanies over many years have been that – shocking; imagine the blow of having all this stuff foisted on you in one go as you’re saying goodbye to your wicked life? Revolt, rebellion. But for those who saw it coming, acceptance, and I hope, adaptation.

Some things don’t change, but some things do, and must. You ask why I complain and shake my fist about issues relating to energy, and health and the environment. Quite simply because I care and to me it is obvious. I believe we’re capable of more because I know I’m capable of more. The more who know the better the prospects become for me and these new converts. It is us standing outside a house in our neighborhood and seeing the curtains catch fire, and trying to alert the owners to the obvious. But they would rather watch tv and play computer games. That smoke, those shadows flickering beyond the flames. Could be anything. Could be a trick of the light. Why not check?

Over the next few weeks I’m going to turn my attention to a few other obvious issues. You will no doubt disagree, and say it isn’t black and white, or that I am entitled to a particular point of view. No, it is black and white. Is there a God or isn’t there? If there he is, we can relax because this is all part of the plan, and it’s in his hands, and he’ll probably sort it out. If it ain’t, this mess is our creation, and we have to sort it out.

If we have to sort it out, we need to sort out all the nitwits who continue on seeing their escape clause as exile from problems on earth by an eternity of reward in Heaven. It’s that dangerous and deceptive psychology that propelled us to where we are now. These people need to get onboard a ship called Reality, and begin making towards a Promised Land made out of human labour, not a Promised Land based on God’s promise and now human effort. If they insist on religion – cast them adrift. We need to form communities filled with insight dedicated to enlightening each other and caring for the environment in a sustainable way. Religion in the near term can’t form part of this project. It might, since it tends to foster altruism and the formation of communities, and sharing, but then it needs to lose its delusions of grandeur and exclusivity, and I doubt whether they are capable of that. Religious groups will foster dissension.

In order to address this I will examine conscience, guilt, the idea of the soul, and sin and our idea of God. 5 concepts. I will then provide a summary of how and why Judaism came into being, and unlucky for us, it then went even further to become Christianity. I say unlucky with a bit of license. There were times in our history when faith in God was useful. Towns and cities in new lands were erected around a faithful few. Faith inspired fortitude when we needed it. Now though, the evidence of our luxurious delusions is all too obvious. We think we know the truth, we think we are children of God, but really, what we are is arrogant, we’re just very very silly children who insist on playing our games our way, and imagine our superparent condones us. If there was one, he wouldn’t condone what amounts to chronic hypochondria. Not one bit. Stay tuned for more.

Meanwhile, leave a comment or shoot the donkey.

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