Millennials Are Hitting Old Age In Their Thirties

There is a comedy sketch, This is Your Brain After Thirty, from the group It’s a Southern Thing. It is a parody of a pharmaceutical commercial. And the target audience is Millennials who are now feeling the evidence of growing older. The voiceover begins, “Are you in your 30s? You may not feel old. But you don’t exactly feel young, either.” Then it presents three characters with their symptoms:

  • Person 1: “Sometimes I walk into a room and completely forget what I walked in there for.”
  • Person 2: “I can’t remember my own phone number. And I’ve had the same number for ten years.”
  • Person 3: “I know I had supper last night. I clearly don’t skip meals. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what I ate.”

The voiceover continues with the official diagnosis. “Then you might be suffering from Thirties Brain.” There is nothing quite as comforting as having a label. That explains everything. That’s just what happens when one reaches old age in one’s thirties. Yeah, that’s completely normal. Don’t worry, though. “It’s not your fault,” reassures the voice of authority. More info is then offered about it:

“It’s a common condition that affects millions of people. People who are old enough to take their 401(k) seriously, but not quite old enough to enjoy eating at Golden Corral. It’s not your fault. Your brain is too full of useless knowledge, now. Why remember your own phone number, when you could retain every word of the 2001 hit “Drops of Jupiter” by Train? Thirties Brain can make even the most simple conversations feel exhausting. But as soon as it feels like you can think clearly again, your brain stops working again. If this sounds like you or someone you love, then ask your doctor about our new twice-a day…”

Of course, this is just comedy, but it’s funny for the very reason so many can relate to the experience. In becoming part of popular culture, it’s being normalized. That is rather sad when one thinks about it. Should we really be normalizing early onset neurocognitive decline? What they are now jokingly calling “Thirties Brain”, would not long ago have been called “Fifties Brain” or “Sixties Brain”. Indeed many serious health conditions like Alzheimer’s used to be entirely identified with old age and now are increasingly being diagnosed among the young (when we were kids, Alzheimer’s would sometimes be called Old Timer’s disease). The same is true of type II diabetes, which originally was called adult onset diabetes because adulthood was typically the age of diagnosis. These conditions are part of metabolic syndrome or metabolic dysfunction that involves insulin resistance as a key component.

Also common in metabolic syndrome is obesity. It instantly stood out that each actor in the parody commercial were all quite overweight to the point of being obese. Yet obesity also has been normalized, particularly in the South where it’s rampant. Obesity involves inflammation throughout the body, as inflammation is also seen in the brain with Alzheimer’s (along with depression, etc); and inflammation is related to autoimmune disorders, from multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis. Body fat is an organ, like the liver, spleen, or thyroid. And, in particular, body fat is key to the functioning of the hormone system. Hormones like insulin don’t only regulate appetite and glucose but also a number of other interlinked systems in the body. That is why metabolic syndrome can manifest as numerous health conditions and diseases. And that is why metabolic syndrome is the main comorbidity of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

If you’re experiencing “Thirties Brain”, you should take that as a serious symptom to be worried about. It’s an early sign of health decline that is only going to get worse, unless you change your diet and lifestyle. People typically have metabolic syndrome years or even decades before finally being diagnosed with a disease that doctors recognize, something like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. But it can often be easily reversed, particularly if caught early. Unfortunately, few Americans realize that this is a public health crisis and one that is entirely preventable. Many experts have predicted that healthcare costs are going to continue to skyrocket, as it eats up more of the national GDP and causes widespread medical debt.

This could end up an existential crisis for our society. That is what happened during the World War II draft. The United States Military suddenly realized so many young men were severely malnourished: “40 percent of the raw recruits drafted by our military proved to be so malnourished that they could not pass a physical and were declared unfit for duty” (Stephen Yafa, Grain of Truth, p. 17; quoted in Malnourished Americans). After the war, there was a public campaign with nutritional fortification of food and meal programs in schools, along with official dietary recommendations. It was also a time when obesity was finally seen as a public health crisis (Nicolas Rasmussen, Fat in the Fifties: America’s First Obesity Crisis).

At present, the military is once again acknowledging that this is a serious problem (Obese Military?). By law, the U.S. military is required to serve food that conforms to the U.S. dietary guidelines. Yet, despite military personnel having high levels of exercise, obesity is also increasing in the military. As research has shown, even when caloric intake and exercise is controlled for, the standard American diet (SAD) is obesogenic (Americans Fatter at Same Level of Food Intake and Exercise). But, on a positive note, the military is beginning to recognize the cause of the problem. They’ve determined the link the diet soldiers are being given. And research on soldiers has shown a ketogenic diet will help with fat loss.

The U.S. military is forced to be so honest because it’s simply not an option to have obese soldiers, much less soldiers experiencing neurocognitive decline. It’s only a question when other institutions of authority will catch up. There are signs that changes are already in the air (Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines; & American Diabetes Association Changes Its Tune). After decades of blaming saturated fat, it’s becoming clear that the real culprit is carbohydrates and industrial seed oils; although other factors are involved in the general health crisis, such as possibly hormone mimics that are stunting male development (Real Issues Behind Regressive Identity Politics), but that is diverging from the immediate topic at hand.

The fact is the consumption of saturated fat has declined ever since, back in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet. Likewise, beef intake has dropped about as low as it was in the first half of the 20th century, after a brief period of peaking out in the 1970s (Diet and Health, from John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future). Meanwhile, what has risen in the American diet, besides industrial seed oils, are mostly plant foods: vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, soda pop, grains, rice, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The only animal foods that have seen a significant increase are fish and chicken, the two supposedly healthy meats. That is the modern SAD diet that has led to the sudden appearance of “Thirties Brain”. Welcome to the new normal!

To make a related point, this health decline can’t be blamed on a factor like behavior, no matter how much lifestyle is implicated as well — you can’t outrun a bad diet, as some say. The young generations have become quite health-conscious, but it’s simply the health advice they’ve been given is wrong. Young adults are eating more supposedly healthy foods than did people in the past, including with rising rates of plant-based diets: Mediterranean, vegetarianism, veganism, etc. Also, when younger, Millennials (and Generation Z) had lower rates of teen sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and drug use. As observed elsewhere, one could call them prudes (Rate of Young Sluts) or at least that used to be true. But something has definitely changed that is now affecting their behavior.

After living through a major recession and a global pandemic, we are now seeing a rise of behavioral health issues among younger Americans with rising rates of self-medication, specifically alcohol and tobacco (Blue Cross Blue Shield Association study finds nearly one-third of millennials are affected by behavioral health conditions, Independence Blue Cross). Still, the rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption is now approximately the same as it was in the early 1900s, which was rather low compared to the later spike in the second half of the 20th century (graph from The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General; & Mona Chalabi, Dear Mona Followup: Where Do People Drink The Most Beer, Wine And Spirits?).

Some countries that with more alcohol and tobacco usage than the US are, nonetheless, healthier (France, Germany, etc). Limiting ourselves to the US, consider the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania in their having been studied from 1954 to 1961. At the time, they were the healthiest population in the country, despite being quite fond of drinking and smoking, not to mention their love of processed meat and saturated fat like lard (Blue Zones Dietary Myth). So, a recent slight shift of drinking and smoking among Millennials also ends up being a non-explanation. It’s more likely a result of declining health than a cause, and hence the reason to describe it as self-medication. Or, more generally, the addictive mindset isn’t limited to addictive substances; and, besides, drug use is nothing new (The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity).

Anyway, keep in mind that these Millennial rates of substance abuse are still lower than was seen, for example, among Generation X that had far fewer health problems at the same age, even with GenXers being the most lead poisoned living generation. Something unique is going on right at present and it’s hard to explain it with anything other than a ultra-processed diet high in carbs and industrial seed oils. Back when the first wave of GenXers hit their thirties in the mid-1990s, no one was talking about “Thirties Brain”. And neither did it come up with the prior generations. We are complaining about U.S. presidents of the Silent Generation (Donald Trump and Joe Biden) in their seventies who have obvious neurocognitive decline, but that is a vast difference from one’s thirties.

To put that in further comparison, there was a discussion of health in terms of running. It was part of an argument that humans evolved for running. This is supported by the fact that persistence hunting (i.e., running game down) is one of the oldest and most widespread hunting techniques, as it requires almost no technology other than something to club or stab the animal to death after it collapses from heat exhaustion. The human body seems extremely well-adapted to long-distance running, especially in heat; and this also seems closely linked to the predilection for ketosis (Human Adaptability and Health). What is relevant for our discussion here is that hunter-gatherers reach their peak aerobic health in their fifties. The average middle-aged hunter-gatherer can outrun the average eighteen year old hunter-gatherer. Up into old age, hunter-gatherers can keep up a fast pace with others who are much younger.

Think about how many middle-aged or older Americans who could do the same. Unsurprisingly, hunter-gatherers likewise have very little of the diseases of civilization. Obesity, of course, is almost unheard of among them. The have what is called a long healthspan where most people live healthily into old age and suddenly die without any lingering sickness or long periods of degeneration. In such a healthy society, they likely wouldn’t even understand the concept of “Thirties Brain”.

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Some might think Millennials are being unfairly criticized. That is not the intention. This health decline hardly began in recent decades. Weston A. Price and others were talking about it in the early 1900s. There was even a growing debate about it in the century before that, Heck, all the way back in the 1700s, people were recommending specific medical diets for obesity and diabetes, as it was already being observed that they were becoming more common. The only difference is that we are finally hitting a point of extreme consequences, as diseases of old age are now prevalent among the young, sometimes in early childhood.

We write posts like this with genuine concern and compassion. We are not disinterested observers, much less see ourselves as standing above these problems with condescension. It’s all rather personal. Though relatively healthy in many ways, we have experienced serious neurocognitive and mental health issues since our own childhood. And we suspect we previously were suffering from metabolic syndrome, if not yet diagnosed with any particular disease. To be specific about the point made in the parody video, we have experienced our own equivalent of “Thirties Brain”, as we had a memory-related learning disability that was diagnosed in third grade. For our entire lives, we’ve struggled with memory recall.

So, personal concern is underlying our public worries; magnified by the fact that our nieces and nephew span across the generations of Millennials and GenZ, allowing us to observe firsthand the health issues involved. From our own experience, we know what it’s like to be addicted to carbs and to suffer the consequences. We know what it’s like to struggle with serious mental illness, specifically depression with suicidal ideation, since young adulthood. It saddens us immensely to think that large numbers of Millennials will begin having so many harsh problems this early in life. That is a plain shitty situation, and Millennials did nothing to deserve it. Like the rest of us, they were simply born into this society with its food system and dietary recommendations.

For the most part, the majority of Millennials and other Americans have basically been doing what they were told is healthy. They don’t realize that what has been normalized should not be taken as normal because very few of them have anything to compare against. It’s not like most of us have ever lived among hunter-gatherers to realize how far human health has fallen. Even the traditional rural diet and lifestyle has mostly slipped from living memory. Certainly, hunting and fishing have become uncommon. Getting ultra-processed food from a grocery store or restaurant is simply what people do now.

* * *

44% of older millennials already have a chronic health condition. Here’s what that means for their futures
by Megan Leonhardt

Why insecure millennials are set for unhealthy middle age
by Greg Hurst

Gen X, Millennials in Worse Health Than Prior Generations at Same Age
by Amy Norton

Millennials less heart-healthy than Gen Xers at the same age
by Anicka Slachta

BCBSA: Millennials’ mental health is on the decline—and COVID-19 is making it worse
by Paige Minemyer

Millennials on Track to be Most Obese Generation in History
by Cathy Cassata

Diabetes’ Impact Is Rising Fastest Among Millennials
by Laura Entis

Study: Young adults with high cholesterol face greater risk of heart attack or stroke
by Ken Alltucker

The number of millennials with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is surging, report finds
by Tracy Romero

Millennials may need to worry about autoimmune disease, right away
by Swedish Blogger

For millennials, cancers fueled by obesity are on rise, study says
by Sandee LaMotte

Study: Millennials’ Increased Risk for Some Obesity-Linked Cancers — 5 Takeaways
by Sandy McDowell

The coming of vegetables, fruits and key nutrients to the European diet
by V. J. Knapp

“On the basis of evidence now accumulating, vegetables and fruits were not always an integral part of the European diet. Prior to 1800, vegetables and fruits were not esteemed but rather looked down upon. It has only been over the past two centuries that these two critical foods have come into vogue. First, they had to be accepted by a growing number of medical men and observers. Then, once licensed as edible foods, vegetables and fruits, starting with the potato, actually did make their way into every man’s diet. And by the end of the nineteenth century, these rich sources of carotene and Vitamins A, C and E became so universal that Europeans now forgot that a hundred years earlier these foods had barely been consumed.”

What’s on your table? How America’s diet has changed over the decades
by Drew Desilver

What happens when you take public health advice to heart?
by Lena Zegher

Why are we fatter and sicker than ever? The graphs that explain how sugar, fruit juice and margarine are to blame
by Anna Hodgekiss

What fruits and vegetables looked like before
by Andreas Eenfeldt

Banana – before and after

banana1banana2

Carrot – before and after

carrot1carrot2

Watermelon – before and after

watermelan1watermelon2

Conservative Liberals

It’s fascinating how the more reactionary conservatives can occasionally be quite honest, if in a backwards kind of way. There is always an attempt to obscure, even as damning truths are revealed. The reactionary mind must co-opt any and all rhetoric, as convenient, in order to manipulate the public mind and dominate moral imagination. But, in the contorted process, they can say the darnedest of things. Here is a perfect example of this:

“Virtually every value liberals have held for a century is now held by conservatives and scorned by leftists. Therefore, America, in serious jeopardy of being lost, will be saved when people convince the liberals in their life that the left, not the conservative, is their enemy.”

Dennis Prager, PRAGER: Questions to determine whether a friend or relative is a liberal or a leftist

That is a quote from Dennis Prager, a fairly well known and influential figure on the right, if not quite a mainstream name. He self-identifies as a ‘conservative’. But, interestingly, he claims to hold historically liberal views and admits that the United States is a historically liberal country. So, old school liberalism is the new conservatism. That would’ve been a surprise to those old school liberals of the past who fought against old school conservatives. Conservatives have become liberals and liberals leftists, while conservatism proper disappears in smoke.

Anyway, using that ideological reframing as narrative rhetoric, he then makes a typical reactionary argument in nearly equating present liberals with leftists, although he doesn’t quite go that far and maintains a distinction, however confused it is. What goes unstated but is nearly implied is that the whole political spectrum, including on the right, has shifted further and further left over time. Listen to the early English and American conservative views in response to the American and French revolutions; and you’ll hear apologetics for slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, monarchy, and theocracy.

So, the now living generation of ‘conservatives’ really are far left in comparison. This isn’t entirely true, though, in considering how far left liberalism had already gone in centuries past. Some of the colonial era and revolutionary era classicalal liberals remain, in many ways, still to the left of present American liberals. We have yet to catch up with the ‘leftist’ radicalism of Thomas Paine with his founding vision of revolutionary zeal, egalitarianism, progressivism, social liberalism, economic populism, and global citizenship. Then again, neither have we ever lived up to the democratic idealism of the likes of the much earlier Roger Williams.

To emphasize the basic fact that is conveniently overlooked, it should be noted that most of the strongest conservative views that, in past generations were majority positions, are now so taboo in their reactionary illiberalism and authoritarianism that few conservatives today would agree with them, much less mention in respectable company. Quite the opposite. Most present conservatives would denounce that conservatives ever held those beliefs and values and, instead, would argue conservatives were always liberals. This is standard revisionist history of the reactionary mind.

Yet many old conservatives like Prager would’ve in the past held extremely regressive and oppressive views, albeit now they style themselves as civil libertarians and classical liberals. Not that long ago, most conservatives openly embraced and sometimes proudly advocated or at least were extremely tolerant of blatant eugenics, racism, segregation (sundown towns, redlining, and covenants), white supremacy, antisemitism, internment camps, male chauvinism, patriarchy, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, etc. For example, in many towns during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was the leading conservative institution in defense of red-blooded Americanism, muscular Christianity, and WASP culture.

Furthermore, for all their present talk of free speech and bill of rights, many of these same conservatives earlier in life supported draconian Cold War witch-hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, censorship, book bans (sometimes burnings), Comics Book Code, and on and on. Conservatism used to be most known for attacking and constraining civil rights. That is still true to a large degree, but they’re less open about it. Even so, one can sense that the actual conservative positions have softened over time, as social norms and popular culture has pulled all of American society leftward. In co-opting liberal rhetoric, conservatives slowly become what they’ve pretended to be. That is to say the con men (and con women) succeed by conning themselves.

This massive shift was what the presidential election of Donald Trump revealed. Many Republicans left the party and many conservatives became independents or even, daresay, Democrats. Republicans haven’t won a popular vote in a presidential election in a long time. When looking at the reactionary extremism on show in the GOP and Fox News, what stands out is that polling often clearly proves that most self-identified Republicans and conservatives aren’t on board with the far right. Conservatism really has become increasingly liberal, which has opened space for liberals to go further left and so has given breathing room for a resurgence of the political left.

It’s amazing how far left the political right has gone, at least among the general population. This is where we must distinguish the majority on the right from the elite on the right. Prager, as an elite, may portray himself as being a true defender of liberalism. And it’s likely true that he has gone left, both compared to his younger Cold War self and compared to prior generations of conservatives. But keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans on the right are probably, on most issues, much further left than Prager. That means, if Prager is a ‘liberal’, then by his own argument many conservatives to the left of him are ‘leftists’.

That is demonstrated by how the progressive label is regaining popularity and traction, all across the political spectrum and even among evangelicals. We might even see a revival of the Social Gospel and Christian socialism that was so widespread earlier last century (remember that the Pledge of Allegiance was penned by a Christian socialist). That was back when populism and progressivism transcended and blurred political distinctions. With that history in mind, one might observe that what used to be called left-wing is becoming simply part of the mainstream. This is probably why those like Prager are fighting so hard to maintain the schism between liberals and leftists, in order to divide the American public, that is to say keep silenced and suppressed the American (super-)majority. There are ‘conservative’ liberals and ‘leftist’ liberals, but essentially everyone is a liberal now. Conservatives are reactionaries, that is true, but still liberals, if in distorted guise.

There is always room for a caveat, though. If we’ve all become bleeding heart liberals, maybe we also are all reactionaries as well. Or, at least, we are all infected with the reactionary mind virus, all carriers and potential disease vectors. That is to say, we live in a confused society. Nonetheless, liberalism is the frame of American society, from the very beginning. We may differ in being progressive or reactionary, but we are liberals through and through. The debate is had on shared terms. That is why reactionaries must co-opt liberal rhetoric. They have no choice because liberalism won the American mind centuries go, before there was a United States. All that conservativism means, therefore, is the conserving of one kind of liberalism in defense against another.

The important point is that liberalism is always a moving target, as conservatism follows suit. There is no central tenet of conservatism to be conserved for all time. Instead, conservatives are constantly following along behind progressive and radical liberals, picking up what is cast off or what falls away. So, conservatives are always turning against the conservatism of the past and reinventing themselves. Meanwhile, those leading the way in our liberal society are holding the light of liberal ideals, leaving reactionaries forever caught in the shadows, defined by what they are against, defined by what they are not. Yet the shadow of liberalism is inseparable from liberalism. And the greater the light the greater the shadow. Likewise, the greater the progress the greater the reaction. So, conservatives further co-opting what once was radical and progressive is actually a positive sign of change.

All of this does leave one with a thought. Considering modern conservatives claim to be classical liberals, what happened to the once numerous classical conservatives of yesteryear? During the revolutionary era, conservatism meant being a hardcore reactionary and counter-revolutionary. Classical conservatives were opposed to secular free markets, separation of church and state, democracy in any form, and everything else associated with classical liberalism. They favored big governments, authoritarian hierarchies, and paternalistic elites. Newfangled capitalism, industrialization, and a free laboring class was perceived as a threat to the new pseudo-traditional power structures they sought to build in replacement of the decaying and decadent ancien regime.

Why did conservatives eventually leave behind the social, political, and moral vision that once inspired the earliest conservatives? Is it because they lost the battle of minds, not to mention the battle of culture and politics? If they couldn’t beat liberals, they’d join them — was it that simple? What does it mean for us now when conservatism has been lost as a viable alternative, when even conservatives are liberals? Yes, liberalism won; but what was won and to what end? What if the true winners have in many ways been the reactionary liberals (i.e., conservatives) who have such a talent for co-opting, manipulating, and dominating? In that case, liberalism might have lost by winning. So, we all can be losers together. Is that true? Or might the radical and progressive liberalism of the founding vision once again regain purchase in the public mind and moral imagination?

* * *

9/6/21 – Here is an added thought for context. Our view above is atypical. Liberalism and conservatism, in conventional thought, are portrayed as opposing forces. And, by definition, the reactionary mind opposes. But that opposition happens within a shared frame, what some call a dominant paradigm. In this post, our argument is that liberalism is the common link between the American left and right, whether or not this applies outside the US and particularly outside the West. Our argument posits that this mass liberalization of American society began early on and has continually increased ever since, to the point that classical conservatism is barely a faint memory.

Such an understanding has been developing over the years in this blog. There are many sources of evidence and analysis that have fed into it. In general, we’ve at times closely followed polling and survey data over the past decade or so. There are many posts about how most Americans are often far more liberal or even leftist than how they are portrayed in the corporate media and corporatocratic politics (see some of the links in the main text above). For decades, there is a clear and growing leftist majority that at this point is an undeniable supermajority.

This was a shocking insight when we first came across the data. It made us realize we had been victims of a propaganda campaign, that most Americans and other Westerners also had fallen under the sway of multiple generations of Cold War rhetoric that continues to hold immense power, in spite of the Soviet Union having fallen several decades ago. We’re still coming to terms with what this means. And we have furthered our understanding with a study of the rise of the right-wing Shadow Network, as guided by the evil genius of Paul Weyrich and the money of the Coors family.

There is also an interesting covert culture war that was promoted by the CIA, such as keeping influential figures, media sources, and institutions on the pay roll: journalists, writers, artists, musicians, literary magazines, writers workshops, etc. One of the crazies pieces of the puzzle was the silencing of Marxists and communists not only through direct means like witch hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, and even outright censorship. The CIA ensured postmodern intellectuals gained greater attention and influence in order to have an outsized voice. They did this because, contrary to the claim of right-wingers, postmodernists were the key critics and opponents of radical leftists.

So, there was all kinds of crazy stuff going on that really mind-fucked the American public, contributing to our present confused liberalism and convoluted conservatism (as a side note, the reason the conservative-minded would’ve been a good Nazi in Nazi Germany or a good Stalinist in Stalinist USSR is the same reason they are good liberals in liberal America). Few Americans have yet realized how manipulated they have been and still are, how manipulated is the entire society — by way of what Jan Oberg has called the Military-Industrial-Media-Academia Complex (MIMAC). This has included the cooperation of Hollywood moviemakers, by allowing the Pentagon to edit and rewrite movie scripts in order to get access to government resources and properties. The Shadow Network and MIMAC are essentially the same thing; along with being closely related to the Deep State, inverted totalitarianism, and soft fascism.

Most basically, all of this is reactionary. And, as it operates within a liberal worldview, it has co-opted and redirected liberal rhetoric and values in a way contrary not only to many progressive liberals but also many classical liberals. It still might seem strange to the average American to portray conservatives as liberals, even if they could understand conservatives are defined by their reaction to liberalism. But this became a compelling explanation to our mind after we read Domenico Losurdo’s book Liberalism: A Counter-History. And that was added to our already developing understanding of the reactionary mind, by way of the writings of Corey Robin and Mark Lilla.

It was Robin who emphasized how reactionaries co-opt. That was a key insight. I first formally wrote about this in 2013 and then again in 2017, but had been tossing the idea around for a while before that period. It suddenly made so much sense, all the bull shit that comes from the political right, including the more right-leaning neocons and neoliberals among the DNC elite. It always felt strange that someone like Barack Obama gets called a ‘liberal’, no matter that he himself has never identified as a liberal (e.g., most Americans were in support of same sex marriage when he and Hillary Clinton were still publicly denouncing it in trying to win over the minority of right-wing Ferengi voters).

But it was Losurdo’s work that was most challenging. His book presents even some early slaveholding politicians as ‘liberal’. These are the kind of historical figures who are on the far right fringe of conservatism. Losurdo wasn’t exactly making the kind of argument made in this post. Still, he made a compelling case for American politics being liberal in a far broader sense than is normally considered. Liberal ideology was deeply embedded in American thought and politics from early on. It was always inseparable from a strong reactionary strain. It took a number of years of wrestling with it before we could better appreciate Losurdo’s European leftist take on American liberalism.

We aren’t merely trying to be clever by calling conservatives liberals. It’s simply a fact that, in embracing classical liberalism, conservatives have effectively betrayed, silenced, and eliminated classical conservatism from mainstream thought. This was done by conservatives themselves, not politically correct leftists. As reactionary chameleons, they became what they were pretending to be and forgot their own ideological ancestry or rather intentionally obscured it, but even that intentional obscuring quickly became forgotten.

This whole process has quickly faded from memory, even though it much of it happened in living memory. As far as we can tell, the redefining of conservatism as classical liberalism is mostly a post-WWII phenomenon, as part of the rise of neoliberalism. Classical conservatives were skeptical, wary, and critical of capitalism and hyper-individualism; whereas modern conservatives tend to be the opposite, although Trump has reinvoked some the old right-wing populist spirit. The anti-liberalism of classical conservatism, of course, remains as an unacknowledged undercurrent that never really goes away. Trump may use it to rile people up, but in reality he is as neoliberal as Ronald Reagan. That is the nature of reactionaries. They can jump between the rhetoric of opposing ideologies because principled consistency is irrelevant to their realpolitik.

All of this confusion might be why we’ve come around to emphasize the right/left distinction, rather than conservatism vs liberalism. Economic ideology is mostly meaningless for clarification, as it’s mostly empty rhetoric beyond capitalist realism itself which is the ruling ideology of both parties and all big biz media. The only relevant part is the opposition between social liberalism and social conservatism, the latter not being traditionalism but the reaction to the former. They are relative social constructs, considering social conservatives become ever more socially liberal over time. But there are elements to the right and left that persist, however dominant liberalism becomes on both sides.

The main element of this variety is that, from the beginning, the political left has upheld and prioritized a larger common identity: fraternity, global citizenship, grassroots organizing, shared action, democratic self-governance, Germanic communal freedom, fairness, etc. This has its roots in the more religious and feudalist thought of the English Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War where the framework was the community as Body of Christ where equality was taken seriously, on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is a more social, environmental, and ecological approach (sometimes even holistic and integral or else intersectional and such); in that there are no individuals as separate islands.

The co-opting and shifting has bled into this arena as well. The political right has increasingly taken on this leftist approach. It likely has to do with the whole society shifting toward what, in Spiral Dynamics, is referred to as the green vMeme (i.e., value meme) and beyond into integral proper. The hyper-individualism of orange vMeme is losing some of its hold. That could be why there has been a reappearance of right-wing populism, although it’s taking on entirely new meanings. It’s not only a general social liberalism (same sex marriage, secularism, women’s rights, etc) that has taken hold in the public mind but old school leftist politics itself (opposition to high inequality, demand for stronger gun control and environmental regulations, etc).

As more on the political right have come to identify as some variety of liberal or libertarian (the latter being another label co-opted by right-wing reactionaries), there is seen another change in the political right taking on a more leftist worldview. One can sense that maybe social Darwinism, genetic determinism, and related beliefs are losing currency in that, as with the majority in general, the majority on the political right no longer find them appealing and compelling. In place of earlier reactionary thought, taking purchase is the idea that we are affected by the world around us and hence larger sociopolitical organizations/institutions have a right and obligation to intervene on behalf of the public. Of course, that is a dangerous situation in how imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler occasionally borrowed leftist rhetoric to promote anti-leftist agendas.

Warnings aside, it is a fascinating moment in time when the political left has so powerfully won the battle over framing, if it makes the political right even harder to identify and counter as the reactionary mind goes into overdrive. Trying to pin reactionaries down is akin to those ancient folktales of a shapeshifting witch, demon, spirit, or deity that evades capture or death by changing forms in quick succession. Still, as a leftist, this can be taken as progress of sorts. Think about how the left tricked the right into defending that, “All Lives Matter!” Not that long ago, when many now older people were young, most on the political right would’ve adamantly, openly, and loudly declared that some lives clearly matter more than others. Yet now the old school egalitarian idea of all lives mattering from classical liberalism, in being co-opted, has become the reactionary position while leftists go further left still in promoting ever greater extremes of egalitarianism.

We keep repeating that we’re all liberals now or some other variant of this, such as we’re all egalitarians now. We say this not to be amusing or to get shock value. It genuinely seems to be the social reality we have come to live in. And it seems to further show how far leftism has pervaded. In the left-liberal worldview, it’s all about inclusion and widening the circle of concern, compassion, and care. With left-liberalism ruling not only society and politics but the public mind and imagination, egalitarian inclusion has even brought conservatives into the fold by uprooting them from their past classical counterparts.

Conservatives today will generally attack classical conservatism in defense of the now ruling broad liberalism. This is why the best way to defend a liberal society is to get conservatives to identify as liberals or some other similar label like ‘progressive’. Let them claim that they are “True Liberals” because then they will feel compelled to act as good liberals as their identity. Oddly, conservatives could become stronger defenders of liberalism than even liberals, as conservatives always want to be on the winning side and so always want to defend the status quo. Liberalism could become a new and larger pseudo-tribalism that breaks down old narrow identities to bring them into alignment with greater inclusion and egalitarianism. Then reactionary conservatives will assert that is what they always believed.

* * *

9/6/21 – There is something to throw in here to give a sense of how far left the American public has gone. Yes, the political right has gone left, as the centrists and moderates have gone left and so the leftists even further left still. Most Americans, on many major issues, are to the left of what is considered politically correct and allowable speech among the right-wing ruling elite in politics and media. Even the most leftist fringe has grown quite large.

This is how conservatives could become classical liberals, quite progressive at times, while not thinking this strange. After all, relative to most Americans, these reactionaries remain well to the right, even if that rightist position is further left than most liberals in the past. There are presently more supposedly radical extremists in the left-wing fringe than there has been voters in either of the two right-wing corporatocratic parties.

Read the below to get a sense of how far left we’ve gone, how far left the Overton window has been dragged by popular opinion, despite the right-wing elite conspiring to push it right going back generations (e.g., CIA propaganda campaigns). Also, keep in mind that most of the Americans voting for either right-wing party would vote for candidates much further left if they were viable within a functioning democracy.

As an example, most AFSCME union members wanted Bernie Sanders for presidential candidate, but AFSCME union leadership backed Hillary Clinton; and so that indicates that even the elite within labor unions are further right than the average American. So, if labor unions no longer represent workers, then who do they represent? The same could be asked of so many other powerful institutions in our society, far from limited to mainstream political parties and media giants.

By the way, it’s not only the majority of the general public that is being censored and silenced. Leftists struggle to get hired in elite institutions, not only big biz media but also academia (Anarchists Not In Universities). And, once in academia, most of the targeted professors are leftists (Zack Beauchamp, Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions). Yet, of course, that is not the narrative heard in the supposedly ‘liberal’ corporate MSM.

All of the following text is from the linked article:

Media Gloats About Censoring the Far Left
by Ted Rall

Thirty-seven percent of American citizens are socialist or communist. That’s far more people than voted for either Hillary Clinton (28 percent of eligible voters) or Donald Trump (27 percent) in 2016.

The majority is voiceless. A privileged minority rules. The United States is a political apartheid state.

If the left were allowed on the ballot in this fake democracy, given space in newspapers and on television, invited to join political debates, and if it wasn’t brutally suppressed by the police and FBI, the left wouldn’t need to wage a revolution in order to take over the country. Leftists could easily win at the ballot box, if America were a real democracy.

Media censorship plays a major part in the conspiracy to deny the majority left its rightful role as the nation’s rulers. Socialist and communist Americans read newspaper editorial pages and draw the false conclusion that they’re members of a lunatic fringe. More than 1,000 papers — yet not one single leftist opinion columnist or editorial cartoonist on staff?!

Leftist Americans exist by the millions but many are isolated from one another. They watch CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and figure they’re all alone. None of the three major cable news networks employs a single left-wing commentator. They go to the polls but there’s no left party on the ballot. Or if there is, they’ve never heard of it and don’t want to waste their votes.

To be a leftist in America today is analogous to how black people felt until recently while watching TV: You don’t see anyone like you. The powers that be want you to feel like the Invisible Man, as though you don’t exist, as though you don’t matter.

American politics is a party to which you have not been invited.

There used to be a little space. In the 1990s, lefties like me were granted occasional mentions in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NPR. Even Fox News had us on to serve as punching bags. Shortly after 9/11, we disappeared along with the Twin Towers, relegated to a few blogs and alternative weeklies. Now newspapers and cable TV news and corporate news websites never give space to representatives of the left. (Don’t email me about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s a Democrat, not a leftist.)

Ashamed and afraid, the gatekeepers used to have the decency to keep secret their suppression of people whose political sin is that they really, truly believe that all humans are equal.

Censorship with a smile is no longer enough for America’s corrupt news media. Now they’re brazenly contemptuous and impressively thorough. They even seek to elevate censorship of the left to a proud American value!

Biblical Justice

Shared responsibility, collective action, and intergenerational justice are core Biblical values. Certainly, moral concern for the least among us is as Christian as it gets. It’s strange how even most ‘conservative’ Christians, at least among American white Protestants, have come to embrace hyper-individualism such that they no longer recognize what traditional values look like.

It’s no accident that Black Lives Matter embraces this old time religion, as did the earlier Civil Rights movement. Blacks have higher religiosity rates than even conservative whites and, in a sense, take their religiosity more seriously as applied to their communities. American blacks have for centuries been steeped in the Biblical language of intergenerational justice, on earth as it is in heaven — the Promised Land!

This is one of the many ways that progressivism, liberalism, and leftism are more similar to premodern traditionalism. Conservatives, as reactionaries, are typically more concerned with the nostalgia of revisionist history and invented traditions; more than they are concerned with closely adhering to the actual traditional views and practices of the past. Reactionaries will attack all things leftist, even when they’re Biblically-based.

Still, among American whites who self-identify as conservative Christians, some do understand and so uphold the ancient commandment that the sins of our fathers (and mothers) do fall upon us, we the living generation. This is true of David Platt, “a bestselling author, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and the pastor of McLean Bible Church (MBC), a huge and influential church located outside Washington, D.C.”

Platt has been preaching, as Jesus did, that we are morally responsible to others. But worse of all, along with pastor Mike Kelsey of the same church, he joined a Christian BLM march. The right-wing members of that church have lodged complaints and even sought state intervention into church affairs. These critics, however, don’t have the Bible on their side; even as they claim sola scriptura as their defense of conservative values. Platt stated:

“A disparity exists. We can’t deny this. These are not opinions—they’re facts. It matters in our country whether one is white or black. Now, we don’t want it to matter, which is why I think we try to convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. We think to ourselves, “I don’t hold prejudices toward black or white people, so racism is not my problem.” But this is where we need to see that racialization is our problem. It’s all of our problem. We subtly, almost unknowingly, contribute to it.”

We are responsible because we’ve inherited the privileges and oppressions, the benefits and harms. All of it is built into our social order and our institutions, including our churches, not to mention unconsciously internalized within our psyches and behavior (sins burned into our souls). We should act to make right what was done wrong simply because it is in our power to do so. And, if one is a Christian, one should also do it because God has commanded one to do it. The moral arc may eventually bend toward justice, one way or another, but we can align ourselves with moral righteousness and divine law or oppose it.

Of course, this can be understood in purely secular terms, as many of us do on the political left. But it is true that most Americans on the political left also were raised as Christians and still identify as Christians. It remains a largely Christian society all across the political spectrum. There might be a reason most younger Christians prefer the ‘progressive’ label. Maybe Christianity is finally returning to its Biblical roots.

* * *

This is an ongoing line of thought in this blog. There is something odd about the reactionary mind, particularly in its ability to co-opt anything (along with its ability to dismiss anything, so as to eliminate and erase what is inconvenient). That appears to be a defining feature of reaction. It’s not defined in and of itself but by what it opposes and excludes. And this antagonistic impulse defines everything about the reactionary mind.

This creates much confusion. The reactionary isn’t exactly or simplistically ideological in the conventional sense, although definitely ideological in the Althusserian leftist sense. The only core idea underlying it all is a demand for division and that always includes some form of rigid and entrenched hierarchy, either as already existing or as an aspiration (Corey Robin writes about this). It’s opposition to traditionalism is on this level for it has historically sought to replace traditional social order.

Yet conservatism, as a reactionary phenomenon, requires the legitimacy stolen from traditionalism. It does this by usurping the role of traditionalism, like fairies stealing human children by replacing them with fairies, or like a spectral cuckoo bird laying its eggs in the soft nesting material of the mind. So, it’s a form of indoctrination that gets people to internalize an alien and alienating ideology as a socio-cultural identity, to disconnect the dividual from lived somatic experience (related to Morris Berman’s thoughts in Coming to Our Senses).

This is far different from the organic ground-up development of traditionalism over centuries or millennia. Reactionary conservatism, instead, is an immediate response to a sense of existential crisis and societal breakdown. Yet it demands an appearance of continuity, in order to hide its true nature of reaction. This is because, in essence, it’s much more of a product of modernity than it would like to admit (see Karen Armstrong’s argument for fundamentalism as modern and often pseudo-scientific, whereas traditional religion often interpreted scripture less literally; i.e., more symbolically and imaginalistically).

The obfuscation and erasure of the past, of ancient tradition and intergenerational memory, of living organic culture. But, even if this impulse didn’t gain its full reactionary force until the modern age, an early form of it first appeared in the Axial Age (e.g., Plato as proto-reactionary). Much of this has to do with the living word of archaic authorization being replaced by literary scripture. Probably why this shows up in Protestantism to such an extent is because that is the first religion that embraced mass literacy, which of course happened in recent centuries.

Still, there is obviously something more to it than literacy, in spite of its key role. Consider the political left, specifically liberalism. Liberals probably have higher literacy rates than Protestants, along with a greater immersion in the literary experience of higher education and high culture. Yet liberalism, in being less reactionary, can be more accommodating to traditionalism by way of multiculturalism. This is also true in liberalism being able to tolerate conservatism in a way that conservatism can’t offer in return. Within the reactionary mind, there is a totalizing impetus. This is why conservatives typically espouse ideological realism in denying their own ideology is an ideology.

So, a reactionary conservative can never fully acknowledge as real or true that is different from their ideology. That would be involved with why they can’t respect traditionalism on its own terms but must force the idea of ‘traditionalism’ to serve non-traditional agendas and interests. The past can never merely be the past, within the reactionary mind. If a liberal opposes something about the past, they are open about it without quibbling (e.g., slavery). A reactionary-conservative, on the other hand, constantly dances around issues like historical racism. The essential potency of the reactionary mind is contained within what is hidden behind symbolic proxies. Traditionalism often serves this role of empty rhetoric, of scripted and staged culture war.

That said, all of modernity is reactionary to a large extent. One might go so far as to assert that the reactionary or the potential for it is inherent to post-bicameral consciousness, divided as it is against itself. So, yes, liberals too have the potential for becoming reactionary. The difference is that what we call a liberal is simply someone who doesn’t tend toward the reactionary, doesn’t fall into it as easily or strongly, and certainly doesn’t become stuck in it as their default mode. But the longer one remains within the reactionary attitude the more one will express the attributes of the reactionary mind:

Ideological realism, limited (or tightly scripted) moral imagination, restricted/narrow circle of empathy, tribalism (or rather pseudo-tribalism), groupthink, social conservatism (doesn’t necessarily or simplistically apply to economics), bigotry, chauvinism, xenophobia, hyper-patriotism, hyper-individualism, thick boundaries of ego-mind, divisiveness, dualistic thinking, dogmatism, symbolic literalism, authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, social Darwinism, elitism, inegalitarianism, stress, fear, anxiety, paranoia, purity-mindedness, etc. And, at the furthest extremes and in the most malignant form, there is the Dark Tetrad that overlaps much with the reactionary: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

One might note it is easier to get a liberal to become a conservative than the other way around. All that is required is continuous stress. Basically, one might argue, the reactionary is simply the unhealed traumatic scarring of stress overload. And in a highly dysfunctional and anxious society of high inequality, such as the United States, it’s not uncommon for Dr. Jekyll liberals and leftists to become Mr. Hyde conservatives and right-wingers. On a practical level, nearly everyone in the modern world is somewhere on the scale of the reactionary; all the more reason to respond with non-reactionary empathy and compassion.

Sadly. Amidst all the schizogenetic soul sickness, it admittedly is hard for traditionalism to be meaningfully appreciated. So, something like inter-generational justice becomes simply another political battlefield. If an Old Testament prophet or Jesus himself returned from the dead to preach a jeremiad about American moral failure, I’m fairly sure few conservative Christians would hear his words, much less heed them.

* * *

There is one major difficulty in all of this. Reactionaries, by nature, are chameleons. So, they can say or do something that completely contradicts what they’ve said or done before. And, if you try to pin them down, they might shapeshift on you. Just as they sometimes claim to be traditionalists they’ll also claim to be classical liberals, the real or original liberals, but at the same time they’ll assert they are conservatives and only those who agree with them are conservative. They can co-opt anything and everything. Making generalizations about them is fraught from the get-go.

One may make a convincing argument that reactionaries, in general, don’t grasp what traditionalism is all about. But that isn’t to say they won’t pick up pieces of traditionalism as convenient. And no doubt they are great mimics. It might not always be clear when one is dealing with a reactionary, at least not at first. But they eventually give the game away, if you’re paying close enough attention. The contradictions tend to become apparent quite quickly.

As the penultimate expression of schizoid modernity, the reactionary mind tends to operate in a state of unawareness. That is important to keep in mind. It’s not necessarily that those afflicted are necessarily being duplicitous and deceptive but that they genuinely can’t understand themselves or the reality tunnel they are trapped within. This is because their worldview and identity is defined by what they are reacting against, not defined by any principled beliefs and consistent ideas.

Words can take on a loose and shifting sense within the reactionary mind. Most conservatives, as reactionaries, may call themselves ‘traditionalists’ with total conviction and still not grasp what it means. Few modern people have ever had much, if any, experience of a traditional culture. That is because America, even in the colonial era, was never a traditional society. This social order and sociopolitical system is a modern invention of Enlightenment thinkers and revolutionaries. The traditionalist label simply becomes yet more rhetoric to be lobbed about.

Within this state of confusion, it’s not all that clear what reactionaries do or do not understand. If forced to be honest, most reactionaries on some level probably do get what is inter-generational justice and that it’s an ancient value, specifically within the Abrahamic tradition. But, like so many other moderns, they simultaneously know and don’t know many things. When it is self-serving (in applying to themselves or to those they identify with), they will strongly embrace intergenerational justice.

There are conservatives who still hold a grudge about the perceived injustice of how Southern whites were treated after the Civil War, as part of the Lost Cause mythos. And many reactionaries, mostly on the right but also some on the left, believe that inter-generational justice is a moral rationalization for Zionist Jews oppressing, persecuting, and killing Palestinians (mostly children) while stealing their land — all in the name of settler colonialism, apartheid, and genocide. For claims of such justice, blacks and Palestinians (or other low status groups) need not apply. This is inter-generational justice for me and mine but none for thee. The hypocrisy of it goes over their head.

That is a defining feature of the reactionary mind. Any of us who falls under the sway of this mentality is, for all intents and purposes, a reactionary. None of us is immune. The difference, though, for most of us is that, even if we temporarily go reactionary, we can pull ourselves out of that state and realize that isn’t a state we want to be permanently in. To be a reactionary proper is to lose the capacity to be anything else. It fully becomes one’s sense of self and reality. When that happens, one goes from one reaction to another. Listen to the constant fear-mongering of right-wing media and you’ll get an intuitive sense of what it would feel like to live in that worldview all the time.

* * *

Structural Racism Isn’t Wokeness, It’s Reality
Christians must not deny the full consequences of centuries of intentional, racist harm.

by David French

But on the core issues of American racism, Platt is biblically and historically right, and it’s his detractors who are biblically and historically wrong. These “conservatives” have placed a secular political frame around an issue with profound religious significance. They’ve thus not just abandoned the whole counsel of scripture, they’ve even contradicted a core component of the secular conservatism they claim to uphold. 

To understand the flaw in their argument, let’s first turn to biblical text. A pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of an intriguing and sobering story from 2 Samuel 21. During the reign of King David, Israel was afflicted with three years of famine. When David “sought the face of the Lord” regarding the crisis, God said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house.” (Saul had conducted a violent campaign against the Gibeonites, in violation of a covenant made with the Israelites many centuries before.)

Saul was king before David, and God was punishing Israel years after Saul’s regime because of Saul’s sin. It was the next king, David’s, responsibility to make things right. And so David turned to the remaining Gibeonites and said, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” 

The Gibeonites’ request was harsh—to hand over seven of Saul’s descendants for execution. David fulfilled their request, and “God responded to the plea for the land.” 

Note the underlying conception of justice here: Israel remained responsible for its former leader’s sins, and they were required to make amends. This is a consistent theme throughout scripture. I’ve referred to it before. In the book of 2 Kings, Josiah “tore his clothes” and “wept” when the high priest found the Book of the Law neglected in the temple. Why? Josiah said, “because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book.”

Josiah was far from alone. Daniel confessed the sins of Israel’s fathers. In the book of Nehemiah, the Israelites confessed the “sins and iniquities” of their fathers. In the book of Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites to “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers.” 

The reason for this obligation of repentance and atonement is obvious. The death of the offending party does not remove the consequences of their sin. Those who’ve been victimized still suffer loss, and if the loss isn’t ameliorated in their lifetimes, that loss can linger for generations.

Let’s apply this more concretely, to the United States of America. Enforcing the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and passing the Civil Rights Act was (and is) necessary to end overt, legal discrimination, but it was hardly sufficient to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. These effects are so embedded in our system that powerful people often perpetuate those structures even when they lack any racist intent at all. […]

So how is a Christian to respond? First, let’s go back to scripture and recognize that the obligation to “act justly” is intergenerational. If there is injustice that predates our personal power, it is still our obligation to do what we can to set it right. Second, when you see these racist structures at work, you recognize that you need sociology, history, and economics to help understand not just their reality, but their remedy.

“Sola scriptura” doesn’t tell us how we should zone our communities, district our schools, or protect civil rights. Indeed, there’s an entire Christian doctrine of common grace that teaches us that truth can come from many sources. Even those “conservatives” who resist David Platt likely understand this in their daily lives. Is it the case that we can rely on non-Christian wisdom in, say, military strategy, trade policy, and law enforcement tactics, but when trying to untangle the effects of centuries of racial oppression, the Bible alone will be our guide? 

Now for a note about conservatism. I simply don’t grant that the dissenters’ objections to Platt are “conservative.” Right-wing, yes. Conservative? I object. Years ago, my friend Rod Dreher wrote that “the business of a conservatism with integrity is not to impose an idealistic ideological narrative on reality but rather to try to see the world as it is and respond to its challenges within the limits of what we know about human nature.”

I love that framing. Applied to race, it means that when we discern “the world as it is” (complete with understanding the structures that racists built) the policies a conservative might propose will be different than those of a progressive, in part because conservatives often (but not always) have a different view of human nature and human frailty than their friends on the left. 

In other words, a conservative might have a different conception of “what works.” Progressive-dominated institutions haven’t cracked the code. Can conservative ideas do any better?

Research On Meat And Health

Dietary Recommendations for Familial Hypercholesterolaemia: an Evidence-Free Zone
by David M Diamond, et al

Key points

  • Current dietary guidelines for management of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk in familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) are based on the diet-heart hypothesis, which is outdated and unsupported.
  • There is no evidence to support the recommendation that FH individuals should consume a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet.
  • A low carbohydrate diet (LCD) significantly improves cardiovascular disease biomarkers, compared with a low fat diet.
  • There is sufficient rationale for conducting clinical trials to assess the effects of an LCD on FH individuals with an insulin-resistant phenotype.
  • Extensive research has documented that hypercoagulation is a more important risk factor for CHD than low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in FH. Therefore, LCD trials should include FH subjects with an elevated risk of hypercoagulation.

Consumption of Unprocessed Red Meat Is Not a Risk to Health
from World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) Scientific Council

A synopsis of five significant, recent and broad-scale scientific investigations on the health risks and health benefits of red meat consumption indicates that there is no convincing scientific evidence for assertions about harmful health effects of unprocessed red meat intake. If at all, the data very slightly lean toward an association of red meat consumption and protective health benefits. Overall, any of the statistical associations of up to 100 grams of red meat consumption per capita per day are so weak that they should be considered neutral. It is notable that less than 1% of the global population consumes more than 85 grams of red meat per day. From a global public health perspective, then, red meat consumption above the threshold of 85 grams is so negligible as to be irrelevant. National governments and supranational organizations such as the EU and UN, and their initiatives such as this year’s UN Food Systems Summit, as well as international business and consumer associations, would be wrong to assume that a scientific consensus exists to justify policies to reduce red meat consumption in the general population for health reasons.

Associations of unprocessed and processed meat intake with mortality and cardiovascular disease in 21 countries [Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study]: a prospective cohort study
by Romaina Iqbal, et al

In a large multinational prospective study, we did not find significant associations between unprocessed red meat and poultry intake and mortality or major CVD.

Controversy on the correlation of red and processed meat consumption with colorectal cancer risk: an Asian perspective (full paper)
by Sun Jin Hur, et al

We conducted an in-depth analysis of prospective, retrospective, case-control and cohort studies, systematic review articles, and IARC monograph reports, which revealed that the IARC/WHO report weighted the results of studies based in Western countries more and that the correlation between intake of processed meat products and colorectal cancer incidence in Asians is not clearly supported. Among 73 epidemiological studies, approximately 76% were conducted in Western countries, whereas only 15% of studies were conducted in Asia. Furthermore, most studies conducted in Asia showed that processed meat consumption is not related to the onset of cancer. Moreover, there have been no reports showing significant correlation between various factors that directly or indirectly affect colorectal cancer incidence, including processed meat products types, raw meat types, or cooking methods.

Red meat and colon cancer: A review of mechanistic evidence for heme in the context of risk assessment methodology
by Claire Kruger & Yuting Zhou

In conclusion, the methodologies employed in current studies of heme have not provided sufficient documentation that the mechanisms studied would contribute to an increased risk of promotion of preneoplasia or colon cancer at usual dietary intakes of red meat in the context of a normal diet.

Meat intake and cause-specific mortality: a pooled analysis of Asian prospective cohort studies
by Jung Eun Lee, et al

Ecological data indicate an increase in meat intake in Asian countries; however, our pooled analysis did not provide evidence of a higher risk of mortality for total meat intake and provided evidence of an inverse association with red meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. Red meat intake was inversely associated with CVD mortality in men and with cancer mortality in women in Asian countries.”

No association between meat intake and mortality in Asian countries
by Dominik D Alexander

After pooling data across the cohorts, Lee et al (3) observed no significant increases in risk of all-cause mortality comparing the highest with the lowest intake categories of total meat, red meat, poultry, or fish. In contrast, most associations were in the inverse direction with significant decreased risks for poultry (among men and women) and fish (women), with a nearly significant decreased risk with greater intakes of red meat in women (upper CI: 1.00). Similar patterns of associations (most indicating a decreased risk) were observed for cause-specific mortality; comparing the highest with the lowest intake categories, significant decreased risks of CVD mortality with red meat (men) and cancer mortality with red meat and poultry (women) were observed. The only significant positive association in the overall analyses was for the highest category of fish intake and cancer mortality. Little effect modification was apparent after stratification by educational level and by BMI.

Cancer link to red meat consumption may not exist for Asians: Study
by Pearly Neo

Researchers in Korea have discovered that the link between meat consumption and colorectal cancer may not apply to Asians. The meat-colorectal cancer correlation was first elucidated in a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015. The Korean researchers carried out a thorough review of over 500 studies that had previously been conducted on meat consumption and cancer. These included cohort and case-control analyses, prospective and retrospective studies, other review articles, as well as IARC monograph reports. Of these, 73 human epidemiological studies were selected for more in-depth analysis.

“The aim was to investigate the relationship between meat intake and colorectal cancer risk from an Asian, particularly Korean, perspective,” ​said the authors. “[We found] that approximately 76% [of the studies] were conducted in Western countries, whereas only 15% of studies were conducted in Asia. Furthermore, most studies conducted in Asia showed that processed meat consumption is not related to the onset of cancer.”​ “[As such], the correlation between intake of processed meat products and colorectal cancer incidence in Asians is not clearly supported,” ​they concluded. The study also reported that there do not exist any conclusive reports proving a significant correlation between meat consumption and colorectal cancer, whether it involves processed meats, raw meats or the relevant cooking methods.

Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium
by Bradley C. Johnston, et al

Recommendations: The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). […]

Contemporary dietary guidelines recommend limiting consumption of unprocessed red meat and processed meat. For example, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting red meat intake, including processed meat, to approximately 1 weekly serving (1). Similarly, United Kingdom dietary guidelines endorse limiting the intake of both red and processed meat to 70 g/d (2), and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research recommend limiting red meat consumption to moderate amounts and consuming very little processed meat (3). The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans (4). “These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness (5–9). […]

In our assessment of causal inferences on unprocessed red meat and processed meat and adverse health outcomes, we found that the absolute effect estimates for red meat and processed meat intake (13, 16) were smaller than those from dietary pattern estimates (14), indicating that meat consumption is unlikely to be a causal factor of adverse health outcomes (Table 1).

Should dietary guidelines recommend low red meat intake?
by Frédéric Leroy & Cofnas

3. Meat eating and chronic disease: evaluation of the evidence
3.1. Evidence from observational studies needs to be interpreted with care

As a first point of concern, the input data obtained from food frequency questionnaires should be interpreted prudently as they can be problematic for a variety of reasons (Schatzkin et al., 2003; Archer et al., 2018; Feinman, 2018). Social desirability bias in food reporting is just one example, as reported consumption can be affected by the perceived health status of certain foods. Not all self-defined vegetarians avoid meat, which is suggestive of a considerable risk for underreported intake in health-conscious groups (Haddad & Tanzman, 2003).

Secondly, diets are difficult to disentangle from other lifestyle factors. It has been shown that Western-style meat eating is closely associated with nutrient-poor diets, obesity, smoking, and limited physical activity (Alexander et al., 2015; Fogelholm et al., 2015; Grosso et al., 2017; Turner & Lloyd, 2017). Given the fact that health authorities have been intensely promoting the view that meat is unhealthy, health-conscious people may be inclined to reduce intake. Typically, the associations between meat eating and disease tend to be higher in North American than in European or Asian cohort studies, indicating the presence of lifestyle bias and the need for cross-cultural assessments (Wang et al., 2016; Grosso et al., 2017; Hur et al., 2018). A pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies in Asian countries even indicated that red meat intake was associated with lower cardiovascular mortality in men and cancer mortality in women (Lee et al., 2013). Likewise, when omitting Seventh-Day Adventist studies from meta-analyses, the beneficial associations with cardiovascular health for vegetarian diets are either less pronounced or absent indicating the specific effects of health-conscious lifestyle rather than low meat consumption as such (Kwok et al., 2014; FCN, 2018). This is important, as Seventh-Day Adventism has had considerable influence on dietary advice worldwide (Banta et al., 2018).

As a third point, the relative risks (RRs) obtained from observational studies are generally low, i.e., much below 2. In view of the profusion of false-positive findings and the large uncertainty and bias in the data due to the problems mentioned above (Boffetta et al., 2008; Young & Karr, 2011), such low RR levels in isolation would not be treated as strong evidence in most epidemiological research outside nutrition (Shapiro, 2004; Klurfeld, 2015). Relationships with RRs below 2, which are susceptible to confounding, can be indicative but should always be validated by other means, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) (Gerstein et al., 2019). The association between meat eating and colorectal cancer, for instance, leads to an RR estimate below 1.2, whereas for the association between visceral fat and colorectal neoplasia this value equals 5.9 (Yamamoto et al., 2010). The latter provides a robust case that is much more deserving of priority treatment in health policy development. […]

3.2. Intervention studies have not been able to indicate unambiguous detrimental effects

As stated by Abete et al. (2014), epidemiological findings on meat eating “should be interpreted with caution due to the high heterogeneity observed in most of the analyses as well as the possibility of residual confounding”. The interactions between meat, overall diet, human physiology (including the gut microbiome), and health outcomes are highly intricate. Within this web of complexity, and in contrast to what is commonly stated in the public domain (Leroy et al., 2018a), the current epidemiological and mechanistic data have not been able to demonstrate a consistent causal link between red meat intake and chronic diseases, such as colorectal cancer (Oostindjer et al., 2014; Turner & Lloyd, 2017).

RCTs can play an important role in establishing causal relationships, and generally provide much stronger evidence than that provided by observational data. However, even RCTs are not fail-safe and can also be prone to a range of serious flaws (Krauss, 2018). Intervention studies that overlook the normal dietary context or use non-robust biomarkers should be interpreted with caution, and do not justify claims that there is a clear link between meat and negative health outcomes (see Turner & Lloyd, 2017; Kruger & Zhou, 2018). The available evidence generally suggests that interventions with red meat do not lead to an elevation of in vivo oxidative stress and inflammation, which are usually cited as being part of the underlying mechanisms triggering chronic diseases (Mann et al., 1997; Hodgson et al., 2007; Turner et al., 2017). Even in an epidemiological cohort study that was suggestive of an inflammatory response based on an increased CRP level, this effect became non-significant upon adjustment for obesity (Montonen et al., 2013). Moreover, a meta-analysis of RCTs has shown that meat eating does not lead to deterioration of cardiovascular risk markers (O’Connor et al., 2017). The highest category of meat eating even paralleled a potentially beneficial increase in HDL-C level. Whereas plant-based diets indeed seem to lower total cholesterol and LDL-C in intervention studies, they also increase triglyceride levels and decrease HDL-C (Yokoyama et al., 2017), which are now often regarded as superior markers of cardiovascular risk (Jeppesen et al., 2001).

Based on the above, we conclude that there is a lack of robust evidence to confirm an unambiguous mechanistic link between meat eating as part of a healthy diet and the development of Western diseases. It is paramount that the available evidence is graded prior to developing policies and guidelines, making use of quality systems such as GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation; Guyatt et al., 2008). One of the founders of the GRADE system has issued a public warning that the scientific case against red meat by the IARC panel of the WHO has been overstated, doing “the public a disservice” (Guyatt, 2015). The IARC’s (2015) claim that red meat is “probably carcinogenic” has never been substantiated. In fact, a risk assessment by Kruger and Zhou (2018) concluded that this is not the case. Such hazard classification systems have been heavily criticized, even by one of the members of the IARC working group on red meat and cancer (Klurfeld, 2018). They are accused of being outmoded and leading to avoidable health scares, public funding of unnecessary research and nutritional programs, loss of beneficial foods, and potentially increased health costs (Boyle et al., 2008; Anonymous, 2016; Boobis et al., 2016).

3.3. A scientific assessment should not overlook conflicting data

Dietary advice that identifies meat as an intrinsic cause of chronic diseases often seems to suffer from cherry-picking (Feinman, 2018). One example of a fact that is typically ignored is that hunter-gatherers are mostly free of cardiometabolic disease although animal products provide the dominant energy source (about two-thirds of caloric intake on average, with some hunter-gatherers obtaining more than 85% of their calories from animal products; Cordain et al., 2000, 2002). In comparison, contemporary Americans obtain only about 30% of calories from animal foods (Rehkamp, 2016).

Whereas per capita consumption of meat has been dropping over the last decades in the US, cardiometabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes have been rapidly increasing. Although this observation does not resolve the question of causality one way or the other, it should generate some skepticism that meat is the culprit (Feinman, 2018). Moreover, several studies have found either that meat intake has no association with mortality/morbidity, or that meat restriction is association with various negative health outcomes (e.g., Key et al., 2009; Burkert et al., 2014; Kwok et al., 2014; Lippi et al., 2015; Hur et al., 2018; Iguacel et al., 2018; Yen et al., 2018). As another example of conflicting information, the epidemiological association pointing to a potential role of the meat nutrient L-carnitine in atherosclerosis via trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) formation (Koeth et al., 2013), is contradicted by intervention studies (Samulak et al., 2019) and epidemiological data showing that fish intake, being by orders of magnitude the largest supplier of TMAO (Zhang et al., 1999), improves triglycerides and HDL levels (Alhassan et al., 2017). […]

5. Meat avoidance leads to a loss of nutritional robustness

Diets poor in animal source foods can lead to various nutritional deficiencies, as already described more than a century ago for the case of pellagra (Morabia, 2008), a condition which remains relevant today for poorly planned vegan diets (Ng & Neff, 2018). Advocates of vegetarian/vegan diets usually admit that these diets must indeed be “well-planned” in order to be successful, which involves regular supplementation with nutrients such as B12. However, realistically, many people are not diligent about supplementation, and will often dip into deficient or borderline-deficient ranges if they do not obtain nutrients from their regular diet. In such cases, general malnutrition (Ingenbleek & McCully, 2012), poorer health (Burkert et al., 2014), and nutrient limitations (Kim et al., 2018) may be the result, as found in various countries, such as Denmark (Kristensen et al., 2015), Finland (Elorinne et al., 2016), Sweden (Larsson & Johansson, 2002), and Switzerland (Schüpbach et al., 2017). For example, a substantial number of vegetarians and vegans are in the deficient or borderline-deficient range for B12 (Herrmann & Geisel, 2002; Herrmann et al., 2003), despite the fact that the need for B12 supplementation is well-publicized (see also Herbert, 1994; Hokin & Butler, 1999; Donaldson, 2000; Elmadfa & Singer, 2009; Gilsing et al., 2010; Obersby et al., 2013; Pawlak et al. 2013, 2014; Pawlak, 2015; Woo et al., 2014; Naik et al., 2018). B12 deficiency is particularly dangerous during pregnancy (Specker et al., 1988, 1990; Bjørke Monsen et al., 2001; Koebnick et al., 2004), childhood (Rogers et al., 2003) and adolescence (van Dusseldorp et al., 1999; Louwman et al., 2000).

Other potentially challenging micronutrients for people on plant-based diets include (but are not limited to) iodine (Krajcovicová-Kudlácková et al., 2008; Leung et al., 2011; Brantsaeter et al., 2018), iron (Wilson & Ball, 1999; Wongprachum et al., 2012; Awidi et al., 2018), selenium (Schultz & Leklem, 1983; Kadrabová et al., 1995), and zinc (Foster et al., 2013). Even if plant-based diets contain alpha linolenic acid, this may not (as noted) prevent deficiencies in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (Rosell et al., 2005), which can pose serious risks in pregnancy and for growing children (Burdge et al., 2017; Cofnas, 2019).

Risks of nutritional deficiency are also documented by an extensive list of clinical case reports in the medical literature, with serious and sometimes irreversible pathological symptoms being reported for infants (e.g., Shinwell & Gorodisher, 1982; Zengin et al., 2009; Guez et al., 2012; Bravo et al., 2014; Kocaoglu et al., 2014; Goraya et al., 2015), children (e.g., Colev et al., 2004; Crawford & Say, 2013), adolescents (e.g., Chiron et al., 2001; Licht et al., 2001; O’Gorman et al., 2002), and adults (e.g., Milea et al., 2000; Brocadello et al., 2007; De Rosa et al., 2012; Førland & Lindberg, 2015). The latter reports commonly refer to failure to thrive, hyperparathyroidism, macrocytic anemia, optic and other neuropathies, lethargy, degeneration of the spinal cord, cerebral atrophy, and other serious conditions. Although the direction of causality is not clear, meat avoidance is statistically associated with eating disorders and depression (Zhang et al., 2017; Barthels et al., 2018; Hibbeln et al., 2018; Matta et al., 2018; Nezlek et al., 2018) and may mirror neurological problems (Kapoor et al., 2017).

Our main concern is that avoiding or minimizing meat consumption too strictly may compromise the delivery of nutrients, especially in children and other vulnerable populations. Evidently, health effects of plant-based approaches depend largely on the dietary composition (Satija et al., 2016). Yet, the more restricted the diet and the younger the age, the more this will be a point of attention (Van Winckel et al., 2011). According to Cofnas (2019), however, even realistic vegetarian diets that include diligent supplementation can put children at risk for deficiencies and thereby compromise health in both the short and long term. There is some direct and indirect evidence that the elevated phytoestrogen intake associated with low-meat diets may pose risks for the development of the brain and reproductive system (Cofnas, 2019). Moreover, attempts to introduce dietary modifications that are also compatible with vegan philosophy often pose a medicosocial challenge (Shinwell & Gorodischer, 1982). In our opinion, the official endorsement of diets that avoid animal products as healthy options is posing a risk that policy makers should not be taking. As stated by Giannini et al. (2006): “It is alarming in a developed country to find situations in which a child’s health is put at risk by malnutrition, not through economic problems but because of the ideological choices of the parents”.

Related posts:

Dietary Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Cancer
Blue Zones Dietary Myth
Eat Beef and Bacon!
Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?
Vegetarianism is an Animal-Based Diet
Being “mostly vegan” is like being “a little pregnant.”
Plant-Based Nutritional Deficiencies
True Vitamin A For Health And Happiness
Hubris of Nutritionism
Ancient Greek View on Olive Oil as Part of the Healthy Mediterranean Diet
Wild-Caught Salmon and Metabolic Health
Early Research On the Industrial Diet
Amish Paradox
Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration
Health From Generation To Generation
Ancient Atherosclerosis?

“What is the most important thing in life?”

The answer, according to a hunter-gatherer: 

  • “Meat.”
  • “Honey.”
  • “Corn porridge.”

That is the order he gave them in. He paused between stating each. But the first answer came without any pause. And the last one would’ve been introduced during colonialism.

To emphasize his point, he later said, “If we have meat, honey, and water, then we are happy. Thank you, friend.” He didn’t bother to add the corn porridge in the second answer. Corn porridge is probably only what they eat when they have nothing else.

Then further on, the interviewer asked, “What is your biggest struggle?” Guess what the hunter-gatherer’s answer was. “Meat.” It really does all go back to meat, although they did explain the importance of water as well. Honey is a nice treat, but they kept coming back to meat.

This hunter-gatherer was really obsessed with the baboons they were going to hunt that night. He was quite excited about it. Those baboons on the rock in the distant meant meat.

Meat makes the world go around, including the fear of becoming meat. The first answer to their greatest fear was, “Lion.” Eat or be eaten. The hunter-gatherer’s whole live is obsessed over the next kill and avoiding being killed.

Honey is pleasurable and good quick energy. Plant foods can be eaten in a pinch or for variety. But, for humans, lack of meat in the wild means death.

The Human War On Cat Drugs

When our uncle died recently, we cleaned out his house and it was quite the job. He had been a bachelor his entire life and had lived alone in that large house since the 1970s. He left behind many things, including some cats. One cat, a calico, was found in the house by the emergency workers and she was brought to the vet. When we got there, a couple of outdoor cats were needing to be fed. One of those cats, orange and white, was our uncle’s buddy and would follow him around; according to the neighbor. We were able to catch him, but not the other grey cat. Then several days after working in the house, we heard a noise when we sat down on the couch.

It turns out another cat had remained hidden for about a week after our uncle’s death, as some water and spilled treats were still around. This kitty is a black and white female who we named Betty. She was the third kitty to be caught and adopted. After bringing them back to our house, she was bullied by her feline housemates. It turned out the other two cats preferred being outdoor kitties, anyway; and so we sent them to a farm. Because of some clawing issues, we thought we might have to get rid of Betty as well. She was also such a scaredy cat that we hadn’t been able to touch her since bringing her home. But, on the morning the other cats were to be sent away, we were finally able to pet her. So, we decided to give her a chance to see how she was without the other kitties. It turns out she is a sweety, if still skittish, although less so over time.

One of the things she loves most in the world, besides constant petting, is eating the leaves of a dracaena plant we’ve had for 30 years. She’d prefer to have several leaves every day, if we’d let her. Even though she has shown no ill effect, we decided to make sure the plant isn’t poisonous. Many websites declare the plant toxic, but it doesn’t seem so straightforward once further investigated. In one of the articles that warned about the plant, it pointed out that there was no evidence of toxicity and yet still the warning was emphasized, just to be on the safe side. It was written that, “However, while the Dracaena is poisonous to cats, they likely won’t consume too much as it’s quite bitter. Furthermore, the plant is only mildly to moderately toxic, so ingestion won’t be deadly. According to the ASPCA, no death from Dracaena plant consumption has been reported to date. […] There are also no lasting effects related to the poisoning” (Donna-Kay, Dracaena Marginata and Cats – Is the Dracaena Toxic to Your Feline?).

So, what is the issue? The main one is the cat might vomit. But then again, cats will vomit from eating grass and licking their own fur. Cats vomiting is not exactly a sign of anything unusual going on. What are some other symptoms of supposed dracaena poisoning? There is loss of appetite, dilated pupils, and lethargy. Hey, wait a second, that just sounds like a drug; similar to marijuana, except losing appetite rather than gaining it. No wonder my kitty loves this plant so much, although she has never gotten lethargic as she is quite spunky. But when she wants her dracaena leaves, she begs for them. And it seems to make her extremely happy. How could anyone be opposed to the happiness of a sweet little kitty? Nancy Reagan says, Just say no! Yeah, whatever. They used to say that smoking marijuana would make people go psychotic, commit crimes, and kill people. Plant chemicals have been under a long war on drugs. Why foist our human delusions onto innocent non-human animals? Why must poor little Betty suffer for the sake of our unfounded fears?

The only possible issue is that the leaves contain saponins, a common plant chemical, specifically a bio-detergent (breaks up lipids and so useful as a soap). They are considered natural toxins, as the purpose of them is to discourage creatures from eating them. They are plant defense molecules, but they are generally harmless to mammals, except at very high levels. Plants are full of all kinds of defense chemicals. Those like Dr. Steven Gundry advise not eating certain plants or preparing them carefully to reduce the concentration of what are called antinutrients. Saponins are simply one variety of antinutrients. The thing is dracaena doesn’t necessarily contain any more plant antinutrients than many common vegetables humans eat, from the brassica family to the nightshade family. We couldn’t see any information that dracaena is a particularly toxic plant or that it has excess antinutrients compared to any other plant.

Technically, all of the antinutrients have toxic qualities and there are cases of people dying from eating large amounts of certain plant foods — a poison is in the dose. But such deaths are rare. Largely, it’s the antinutrient aspect that is the concern. “Like lectins, saponins can be found in some legumes—namely soybeans, chickpeas, and quinoa—and whole grains, and can hinder normal nutrient absorption. Saponins can disrupt epithelial function in a manner similar to lectins, and cause gastrointestinal issues, like leaky gut syndrome” (Melissa Sammy, Should you be eating anti-nutrients?). Saponins are also found in kratom, gynostemma, sarsaparilla root, licorice, avocado, spinach, asparagus, oats, agave, yam, and approximately a million other plants imbibed by humans and other creatures. It’s insects, in particular, that don’t like saponins; as central purpose is as an insecticide.

Cats, humans, and other mammals consume plant chemicals all the time, including saponins. This is an intentional activity, as plant chemicals can also have medicinal effects (ed. by Kazuo Yamasaki & George R. Waller, Saponins Used in Traditional and Modern Medicine). A cat might be drawn to eating saponin-rich leaves in order to kill parasites, suppress viral infections, reverse bacterial overgrowth, and clean out their intestinal system. Some saponins have also been found useful for treatment or reduction of symptoms for many conditions: cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, fatty liver, etc; and COVID-19. Also, they lower cholesterol, modulate the immune system, and act as an anti-inflammatory. Medicinal plants like ginseng have saponins as active compounds. In fact, dracaena is used medicinally: “Many of the dracaena saponins are steroids and contribute to the use of this plant as a form of traditional medicine in west Africa” (Helga George, Is Dracaena Toxic to Cats or Dogs?).

So, it’s not exactly implausible that cats might use dracaena as a drug, either medicinally or recreationally. Ginseng with its saponins is an extremely popular and effective adaptogen and nootropic. People take ginseng not only because it improves their health but because it gives them energy, improves neurocognitive functioning, and makes them feel good. Yerba mate is another stimulating herb with saponins. All animals use plants to change their internal chemistry and functioning. That is the role of plants, as nature’s chemical factories. Saponins come in two main varieties, triterpenoid and steroidal; the latter of which are structurally similar to some human hormones, and presumably the same applies to other mammals like cats; but the triterpenoids are also biologically active.

But one doesn’t want to be eating large amounts of saponins all the time. Traditionally, people would rinse and soak saponin-rich plant foods or use other methods in order to eliminate some of the saponins and so make them less harmful. Some suggest simply being more careful about which plant foods one eats. Then there are those who advocate removing plant foods altogether. There pretty much isn’t any plant foods that don’t have one antinutrient or another in them. As for saponins, some potential negative effects are — besides as antinutrients: disrupting fat metabolism, increasing intestinal permeability, cleaving cholesterol, disrupting endocrine function, and toxicity to cells. The problem is that, if this is reason for your cat to not eat dracaena leaves, it’s also the same reason for you to not eat hundreds of plant foods you’ll find at the grocery store and farmer’s market.

There is a lot of debate about antinutrients. And the evidence is mixed. But, generally, they aren’t deadly. Or rather, if they’re going to kill you, it will likely come slowly over many years of overconsumption. No one really knows if these plant chemicals are a net benefit or a net risk to human health. We know even less about cat health. Cats in the wild would nibble on all kinds of plants. And various species of felines have lived all over the world for millions of years. They are highly adaptable creatures. Generally speaking, they probably aren’t going to keep eating any plant that makes them sick. Every claim about dracaena being toxic is pure speculation based on absolutely zero knowledge of any proven evidence or mechanism of dangerous toxicity. That isn’t necessarily to say one should be entirely unconcerned. Maybe try to limit your cat’s consumption. But if and when your cat chomps down on a dracaena leaf, you probably don’t need to immediately call your vet in a state of panic. Just watch your cat to see if it’s fine.

It’s interesting that the warnings are so consistently and widely repeated, based on no facts or known cases of harm. The main thing seems to be that some cats act ‘intoxicated’ and therefore they must be in a state of potentially threatening toxicosis. By that logic, you should call 911 every time you see a mildly inebriated person. So, why does this warning get repeated? Most of the websites are from veterinarians or other official websites related to health, toxicity, and pets. In their formal capacity of authority, they are going to be cautious, even when there is no rational reason for caution. If a veterinarian gives out a warning of toxicity about a non-toxic plant, the worse that happens is someone unnecessarily throws away a perfectly fine houseplant. But if a veterinarian tells someone that a plant is safe or simply has no known toxicity and an animal gets sick as a result, that could lead to bad results for their reputation and career. Yet this is in stark contrast to how mainstream health professionals for humans usually dismiss claims that saponins in plants are anything to worry about, even though there are real concerns in some cases.

On a personal level, we do take our cat’s health seriously and would do nothing to intentionally harm her. This is about risk-benefit analysis. The case for risk is weak and minimal, but there are some potential real negative outcomes. Is it any more dangerous than a human drinking a beer or eating spinach? No one knows. From the perspective of the precautionary principle, one might simply remove the plant from the equation, just in case with the idea that it’s better safe than sorry. Then again, Betty just loves her dracaena leaves, one of her few joys in life, right up there with watching chipmunks out the window. But as the responsible human caretakers, we are in the position to make a decision on Betty’s health and happiness. It’s not like she’d likely fall into despair by the loss of her beloved dracaena habit. Even if risk could be calculated, how much risk is pleasure worth? Certainly, pleasure can’t be calculated. If we were making this decision for ourselves about a plant that had saponins in it, we’d definitely think twice before imbibing every day. Yet, we enjoy the buzz from our multiple cups of coffee a day, yet another plant drug that contains antinutrients, including saponins. Too much coffee is probably harmful as well. We are feeling uncertain and undecided about what to do with this dracaena plant.

* * *

6/13/21 – We finally gave into fear-mongering. Or rather we rationally sided with the precautionary principle. We couldn’t find any scientific evidence or even anecdotal evidence that dracaena is harmful for cats. The closest we came to evidence of any sort is that it’s traditionally used as medicine in Africa. And it’s interesting to note that Africa is one of the origins of the modern domesticated cat. Presumably, some of the wild cats of Africa evolved with dracaena. It would be interesting for someone to study the habits of these wild cats. Do they eat dracaena? Do they enjoy it? Do they get ill? Do they die?

Anyway, we don’t know where this “old wives tale” came from. And we don’t know why veterinarians, medical professionals, those in pet-related fields, and animal lovers are promoting this seemingly unfounded rumor and spreading apparent disinfo. But, based on the precautionary principle, we feel compelled to give tentative credence to the notion that such evidence might exist, even if the dozens of websites we looked at cited no such evidence. It’s maybe better safe than sorry. The only downside is Betty’s temporary unhappiness. We removed the dracaena plant yesterday morning and since she keeps looking for where it went. She’ll probably have forgotten about it by the end of the week. So, she’ll have to find a new addiction or replacement. Maybe she’ll, instead, eat more food to fill the void in her life, become fat, and then die of metabolic syndrome.

Jokes aside, we honestly do take seriously the potential risk of plant toxins and antinutrients. We’ve intentionally gone strict carnivore for periods and, even when not carnivore, we limit the kinds and amounts of plant foods we allow in our diet. Tonight, for example, we picked out the pork and left the beans, although we did take a heapful serving of cabbage (the dark leafy greens are a nod to my past paleo diet and the influence of Dr. Terry Wahls). In line with Dr. Paul Saladino and others, we’re really not sure that plants offer much benefit to human health; and probably even less to cat health; although the harm is likely minimal if plant consumption is occasional. Then again, there is also the happiness principle or at least the pleasure principle. We’re certainly not trying to take away the small joys from Betty’s life. But we do follow an anti-addiction philosophy and, admittedly, Betty is acting a bit addicted to her cherished dracaena leaves. At the rate she was eating it’s leaves, we’d probably have to buy a new dracaena plant every month or two.

To demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions, we’ve cut out almost all sugar and starches from our diet. The only exception is very rarely some honey, wild berries when in season, and maybe baked goods if made by someone we personally know. The neighbor lady made cookies for taking care of her cat and so we ate one of them. Yet, typically even at birthday parties, we’ll abstain from cake and ice cream because it’s just store-bought crap. Make cake and ice cream from scratch and that is a whole other matter. The thing is we used to be carb addicts and so we are now on an extremely low-carb diet. On a typical day, we get near zero carbs of any sort. Sure, even meat has some carbs in it, if rather meager in amount. The most carbs we typically might get is from cheese, but we tend to eat aged cheese which only has 1 gram of carb per 1 ounce. We still get cravings that we fulfill with stevia, yet another plant, and even that bothers us because it seems to keep the craving alive. We went a period of time without even stevia and it was interesting how some of the simplest of things could taste sweet. Without sweeteners to dull the tongue, the carbs in dairy jump out on the palate.

Unrelated to helping Betty kick her dracaena habit, we went on a caffeine fast this week and withdrawal was a doozy. We were in a state of near continuous semi-unconsciousness for a couple of days, until our body kicked back into gear with producing its own dopamine again. We really hate the feeling of being addicted to anything. Should we force our Puritan abstention on innocent Betty who just wants her next hit of dracaena goodness? Obviously, if she is addicted, she doesn’t mind it. And it’s not like it negatively affects her life or employment. All she does is lay around the house anyway. She seems to prove the war on drugs propaganda. She is a lazy loser who is wasting away her life while more productive citizens carry her weight. But she brings added value to the world in her own way. Oh well. She’ll get over it, hopefully.

Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the idiotic warnings, however improbable, might have some merit. Still, one has to wonder how there could possibly be zero known evidence, at least unknown to the fear-mongers and rumor-mongers, if it truly was a dangerous plant. Cats, of course, are one of the most common house pets and dracaena is one of the most common house plants. If dracaena was dangerously toxic, there should be thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases of dracaena poisoning of cats. The lack of evidence, in this case, could be taken as a massively overwhelming evidence of lack. Why should the precautionary principle give deference to irrational fear? It shouldn’t. But there is an off chance that the fear could be rational. After all, how could an endless number of experts be wrong? That is kind of a stupid question for anyone familiar with the replication crisis and public health epidemic related to the field of diet and nutrition, which does overlap with the contentious issue of plant antinutrients.

For whatever it’s worth, maybe Betty and the rest of us will drift back toward a strict carnivore diet. We did a meat fast (i.e., meat-only diet) this winter and last. And maybe we’ll do it again, particularly eliminating caffeine and stevia as well, if only as another experiment. In doing so, we could join Betty in solidarity by sacrificing all of our plant pleasures, such as our love for avocado and olives. It’s good to clear the system out once in a while to get the sense of how plants are affecting one. Yet it doesn’t mean we have to be anti-herbivore forever. Betty doesn’t seem to like cat grass, but maybe we can find some similar plants she could safely nibble on, if not as addictively as her dracaena plant.

“We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

Dr. Gabor Maté, Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare

The quote in the title is a statement made by Dr. Gabor Maté. It comes from a talk that is part of a longer interview by Russell Brand. The beautiful dream is that of Zionism. The man speaking is Dr. Maté, a Jew and an infant survivor of the Holocaust. Many in his family died in Nazi death camps. Early on, he spent time in Israel and Palestine, and so he saw the conflict firsthand. After an idealistic youth, he became disillusioned about Zionism, although not disillusioned about humanity.

Besides speaking on a personal level, he is also an expert on trauma and addiction. He has a compassionate attitude about how humans get trapped in harmful patterns, but he also has an uncompromising moral position. Unresolved trauma can be dangerous, particularly at the level of a large population. In the interview, he said: “I can understand the warmth that Jews have for Israel; I used to be in that same camp. I can understand, after the horrors of the Nazi genocide, how we desperately want some protection. I can understand all that. But none of that excuses what we are doing… There are no two sides…in terms of power and control and its pretty straightforward. There was a land with a people living there and other people wanted it, they took it over, and they continue to take it over, and they continue to discriminate against, oppress and dispose that other people.”

The early Zionists had a slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Dr. Maté mentions this and points that all of the Jews knew the land was not without a people. Many Jews, he says, knew this and so argued against Zionism. His conclusion is that it inevitably was a “colonial project” involving the imperial powers at the time. He goes so far as to call it “ethnic cleansing” that he says is continuing. He asserts this is undeniable to anyone like him who has studied the history and who was there to see what actually happened. There is one thing he doesn’t mention, though. Maybe some of the Zionists took that slogan seriously and literally. The fact of the matter is many Israelis have not treated Palestinians as if they were people. In nearly every case of human oppression throughout history, the victims are portrayed as animals and brutes or as non-animals, or as simply not existing and not mattering — unheard and unseen.

Rhetoric is powerful, particularly beautiful dreams that become enmeshed in shared identities. They can feel empowering even, but they can also lull us asleep and we might find ourselves in nightmares. “Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned”, Dr. Maté says to his son. “It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.” Later on in his talk with his son, he emphasizes that ignorance is not an excuse. “So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

In watching another video on the Some More News Youtube channel, someone going by Beretta249 left a comment. It’s a good example of how someone becomes disillusioned with Zionism or else how someone loses sympathy with those wielding it as a dangerous and deadly weapon. This person stated that, “For me this “conflict” got uncomplicated when I saw the IDF firing artillery, like modern 150mm guns, into Gaza. That isn’t precision. That isn’t proportional. That’s firing artillery into a city. That’s random slaughter. Like firing a shotgun into a fishtank” (Uncomplicating The “Complicated” Palestine/Israel Conflict – SOME MORE NEWS). The worst part is this random mass violence mostly kills children, the most innocent of innocent.

The jerry-rigged rockets used by Palestinians are cheaply designed, unprofessionally built, lacking in any guidance system, highly ineffective, and rarely kill anyone. Comparing those Palestinian rockets to the near carpet-bombing the Israelis do is like comparing firecrackers to bazookas. When those committing mass atrocity and crimes against humanity invoke, “The Holocaust!”, one’s only response is to shake one’s head in sadness and despair. Anyone with a soul and a beating heart can’t help but become disillusioned. Such trauma-induced psychosis strains one’s capacity for compassion and understanding, but we have to try to heal these wounds if the cycle of violence and victimization is ever to stop.

Some further quotes from that video:

187 Trauma and Israel (with Dr. Gabor Maté)
from Under The Skin with Russell Brand

Gabor Maté
from Promised Land Museum

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Here is another interview with his son, the journalist Aaron Maté, where Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the related topic of antisemitism:

“From the beginning, there were Jews who said: Yeah okay we need a state, maybe. And we have a right to seek protection. But the reality is that, in Palestine specifically, there’s already another people. And there’s no way to create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing violence to the local population. And so, from that perspective, Zionism becomes a colonial project. It can only be achieved at the expense of the local population and only by cooperating with the leading imperial imperial power of the time which is Britain which which controls Palestine after the First World War.

“And so, within the Zionist movement, there’s this debate, right. There’s this giant slogan, “A land without a people for people without a land”, intimating that Palestine was an empty land. But the Zionists knew right from the beginning that there was no land without a people. And both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, in almost identical words, said that when the Arabs fight against us it’s not terrorism; it’s nationalism. They’re fighting for their own land just as we would in their situation. So they were clear about this.

“Then you get the horrors of the Second World War and the worst and the most horrific imaginable expression of antisemitism and racism in history. And now you have the identification of the Jewish state with Jewish survival and the fight against antisemitism. So that. when a lot of the Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Palestine then came up against the Arabs the local Arabs who (for previously valid reasons as Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky pointed out) opposed to take over their land, they just saw them as another bunch of antisemites.

“So there’s been this confusion right from the beginning. Now it’s become much stronger in recent years as more and more people are in the world have woken up to the reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 and has really been taking place ever since. And so now the uh the charge of antisemitism is being raised against just about any critic of Israeli policy. So it no longer matters that whether somebody actually is making a legitimate criticism or whether somebody’s coming from an antisemitism place. The two are confused quite deliberately, I think, by propagandists who who serve the interests of Israeli policy. And that means a lot of the mainstream Jewish leadership in North America. […]

“When you identify with something, whether for economic or emotional or political or any combination of reasons, and you make yourself the same as that, then when that’s criticized you’re going to feel criticized. And so what I’m saying to people is: Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned. It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.

“I read a book by Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister, I think. He spent 40 years in jail as a war criminal in Spandau after the war. And, in his biography, he talks about that everybody is always asking me or my generation what we knew about what was going on; the crimes, the antisemitic and anti-people anti-human crimes of the Nazi regime. And he said, the real question is not what we knew but what we could have known had we wanted to find out. And he gives a couple of examples which are more detailed now where he had very strong clues that something horrible was happening in the east (i.e., the death camps), but he never pursued the clues. He didn’t want to find out. He didn’t actually know. I believe he didn’t know, but he could have known. He didn’t want to know.

“Now that’s the same dilemma for all of us The difference being that these days you can read the Israeli histories of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, there’s a book called the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Illam Pape who had to leave Israel. H lives in Britain now. He came under such hostility. You can read the articles of Gideon Levy in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that details it almost daily, the horrors of the occupation. You can go online and see any number of Israeli soldiers talk about what they had to do and how they are ashamed of what they did in the occupied territories. So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

Gabor Mate on anti-Semitism and Zionism
by Phil Ebersole

“He said he has gone through three disillusionments in his lifetime—with Hungarian Communism, with American exceptionalism and with Zionism. Disillusionment is painful, he said, but it is better to be free of illusion than a slave to it.”

Gabor Mate on the misuse of anti-Semitism and why fewer Jews identify with Israel, an interview for The Gray Zone.

America in denial: Gabor Mate on the psychology of Russiagate, an interview for The Gray Zone.  With transcript.

* * *

“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”

Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare
by Dr. Gabor Maté

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth. […]

My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

Addiction is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté

John Lavitt: Given the history of such patterns of institutionalized evil, does evil actually exist? Isn’t such evil beyond being just about childhood trauma? Having survived the Nazi genocide, aren’t you sometimes worried that it could happen again?

Gabor Maté: If you mean can it happen again, it has happened again. We have seen massacres of human beings all over the world. We have seen it in Rwanda, we have seen the Americans slaughter half a million Iraqis, we have seen Israelis slaughter Palestinian children, we have seen American soldiers wiping out men, women and children in Vietnam and get away with it, and we see the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic state in the Middle East right now. While nothing on the industrial scale of Auschwitz has happened since then, in terms of human violence, cruelty and a complete willingness to make other people suffer, that has continued ever since. 

So am I worried that something like Auschwitz will happen again? I don’t think history repeats itself in that way. But it doesn’t have to take Auschwitz. You don’t need Auschwitz for humans to be deliberately and viciously cruel to one another. We see that all the time. Now, does evil exist? Yes, evil exists. Evil not as a kind of abstract force or as an embodied devil, but as the expressions of human pain that finds some release in creating pain in others, and that’s unconscious. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says evil does not have an absolute existence, but has a relative existence rooted in the human unconscious. If you look at people who are willing to perpetrate such things, you look usually at traumatized people.

John Lavitt: […] As a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, how do you reconcile your love of your family’s tradition with such a state of affairs? Isn’t Israel similar to the survivors of trauma that you write about? How can Israel return to what you define as a lost dream?

Gabor Maté: John, I thought this was going to be an interview about addiction. Why are we talking about the Middle East?

John Lavitt: Gabor, my interviews are focused on addiction, but they are not just about addiction. I examine as much of the history and writings of the subjects that I interview, and I try to find the most engaging and powerful questions based on my findings. This root of this question is not because I have a flag to wave in terms of an agenda. Rather, when I read the article, it affected me deeply, particularly the part about wanting to ask your friend, “Can we not be sad together?” That truly moved me as a Jewish man also conflicted by the actions of Israel, thus giving rise to the question. 

Gabor Maté: Okay, I got it, John, thank you for answering my question. In relation to what you asked, you can’t return to dreams. Dreams are not real by definition. The idea that you could somehow beautifully and cleanly create a refuge for European Jews by taking away the land from the local inhabitants was never more than a dream. It could never have been done. The only way you can ever take land away from the people that live on it is to kill them or to expel them and oppress them. That’s reality. 

People were willing to do that because they thought the European Jews had suffered so much that that suffering gave them the motivation and the right to make others suffer. Right now, we are dealing with the impact of that decision, and the way it’s going, we’ll continue to deal with it for decades to come. For me, it’s not a question of returning to a dream but a question of waking up from a dream. We have to wake up from the dream that it was ever possible to find a beautiful solution to the European Jewish problem by creating suffering for people in the Middle East. We have to wake up from that dream. It was never possible. 

Not only was it never possible, the people that did it knew it was not possible. Privately, they talked about it. Publicly, they pretended otherwise. And I’m talking about going back a hundred years or more. They knew there was another people there. They knew that there was no land without a people. In terms of what that means in the present, we’re not talking about expelling Israelis, we’re not talking about any particular solution here, but if you want to find a solution, let’s wake up from the dream and certainly let’s wake up from the dream that many Jews have that you can continue to keep doing this and somehow it’s going to turn out okay. It’s not going to turn out okay. We are creating intense suffering for other, and we are going to create intense suffering for ourselves. 

* * *

From a different interview, Dr. Gabor Maté talked of Jordan Peterson’s “suppressed rage”. We were reminded of that because of his focus on trauma. Peterson obviously has unresolved issues that get projected onto others and get expressed in dark views of humanity.

Peterson makes verbal threats, writes of violent fantasies, praises bullying, claims slavery is the natural state, pushes fear-mongering, and preaches conspiracy theories. The latter is seen with his ranting about “cultural Marxism” which originated in Nazi Germany as an antisemitic conspiracy theory called Jewish Marxism or Jewish Bolshevism.

This is what is so sad about Peterson constantly warning about Nazism and portraying the left as Nazis. He is a crypto-Nazi that, because of unresolved trauma, is playing out trauma in his political visions and reactionary demagoguery. This pattern among reactionaries is sadly all too common.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Peterson gives unquestioning support to Israel. He equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. And he regularly retweets Ben Shapiro who supports war crimes against Palestinians, going so far as advocating that Gaza be carpet bombed.

Peterson believes that peacefully protesting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic oppression. Apparently, to his mind, Apartheid is freedom and the only freedom Palestinians deserve is to submit to being ruled over by those more powerful. As George Orwell put it, “Slavery is freedom.”

This is what makes Dr. Maté different in talking from experience. Peterson, as an ideologue, only knows these issues from secondhand sources and so they become fodder for his demagogic rhetoric. But to Dr. Maté, the Holocaust and Israeli Apartheid are personally real in his experience.

Early Research On the Industrial Diet

By the early 1900s, the modern diet had long been a growing concern, as it already was a topic of public debate going back a century, such as obesity and conditions like ‘nerves’. This public health issue became a moral panic with tuberculosis and neurasthenia that was linked to diet. Much of the focus was scientific study. Many vitamins and micronutrients were being discovered and researched.

Also, the industrial seed oils were being linked to ill health right from the start; although not yet understood as oxidative, inflammatory, and mutagenic. The initial observations were being made on farm animals being fed “on by-products from margarine factories”, as advised by feeding experts. It would be decades later that a mass experiment would be initiated on humans when, in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet.

The following decades after that in the post-war period would begin the public health crisis of skyrocketing rates of metabolic syndrome: obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, etc. But long before that, the health decline was already becoming apparent to many, such as Dr. Weston A. Price and Dr. Francis M. Pottenger Jr, and even earlier with Dr. Claude Bernard, Dr. William Harvey, Dr. James H. Salisbury, etc. Another example of someone on the leading edge was Dr. M. J. Rowlands.

* * *

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is it a Deficiency Disease?
By M. J. Rowlands, M.D.
May 25, 1927

My clinical investigations began as far back as 1912, when I installed an X-ray apparatus with the idea of trying to find out what similarity there was in the lesions amongst my cases. In the war during 1914 and 1915 stationed at Netley. The blood-cultures and joint punctures I carried out proved sterile.

Owing to ill-health I had to relinquish the Service for some time; I returned to it again in 1916 and was given the pathological charge of three hospitals of some 2,000 patients, where I could place as many rheumatoid patients for whom I could find beds, an order being posted in the London area that all true rheumatoids were to be sent to one of my hospitals. In this way I was able to accumulate some 200 rheumatoids and keep them for investigation. But with all this opportunity and all the advantages of able assistance and cordial help for over three years, until May, 1919, nothing of great value was discoverable. In 1916 I wrote a paper which was published in the Lancet1 giving the results of my investigations up to that time.

After the war I again took up the investigation of this disease chiefly owing to my farming instinct. The question of vitamins and the work of Hopkins, Funk, Plimmer and Drummond, was being published. I began to experiment with pigs, as I found that a large number of my pigs which were bred on the open-air system were from time to time suffering from marked stiffness and swollen joints. I began to feed my animals on a full vitamin diet and the result of these experiments was marvellous. There was a complete change in the condition of my herd and I decided to show my experimental animals at the largest Fat Stock Show in the world-namely, Smithfield. The result of the first time of showing was every possible prize that I could have won as well as the Cup. This gave me ample proof that in animals’ malnutrition lay the seat of investigation. In 1921 I read a paper before the Farmers’ Club at the Surveyors’ Institute discussing my experiments. Professor T. B. Wood, of Cambridge, and Dr. Crowther, Principal of the Harper Adams College, who opened the discussion, ridiculed all my experiments, and the whole idea of vitamins, and, in fact, the only member of the audience who agreed was Lord Bledisloe. To-day I think both Professor Wood and Dr. Crowther are aware of the value of vitamins and now admit their use to the British farmer. […]

I had by me all the notes of an experiment I had carried out a few years previously. Feeding experts were constantly advising farmers-and are doing so to-day-to feed their pigs on by-products from margarine factories, such as palm kernels, coco-nut, earth-nut, soya beans, etc. So I placed three pens of pigs on these foods as a test, using against them a food containing meat, yeast, cod-liver oil and a salt mixture, the carbohydrate content of the diet being the same in all the pens. Within a few weeks it became apparent that the pigs on a diet of palm-kernel and coco-nut were rapidly going downhill; and at the end of the test the pigs fed on my mixture had increased by 143 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increase in weight had consumed 2 * 62 lb., whereas the ” palm kernel pigs ” had increased only 40 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increased weight they had consumed 5 lb. The palm kernel pigs showed a vitamin B deficiency. […]

In dealing with the deficiency of vitamin B in cases of rheumatism, Dr. Rowlands’ paper was convincing and dramatic, but the relationship between this deficiency and the various forms of rheumatism was not clearly shown. Whereas it was probably a factor in rheumatoid arthritis, the co-relation was not evident in either osteo-arthritis, with its prevailing characteristic of robustness, or in the climacteric type associated with thyroid deficiency. Possibly there were other vitamin deficiencies-an “A” deficiency and probably a “D” deficiency-concerned in the control of phosphates, […]

Rheumatoid arthritis was certainly a deficiency disease, and the deficiency was connected with the assimilation or utilization of phosphoric acid and other phosphates, so that probably vitamins B and D were often associated with it. Rheumatoid arthritis never attacked the bon viveur or the alcoholic, but was the disease of the total abstainer, the vegetarian and the careful liver. […]

An important point which none of the discussers had mentioned was the great change in our diet, not so much in our own choice of food, but in the food of the animals on which we depended so much for our own. For instance, cows used to be fed on ground oats, ground wheat, ground barley, ground rye; all these contained the essential vitamin B. To-day very few farmers gave such food to their cattle; instead, they gave cotton-seed cake, linseed cake, and all kinds of patent foods which were deficient in vitamin B, and therefore. milk was not now so good as in former days. Chickens, again, were now fed on all sorts of material, and were the subjects of intensive culture, with the result that the egg-yolk was not of the same value as formerly. Vitamin B was not an animal product, it must be supplied to the animal from some outside source.

Wild-Caught Salmon and Metabolic Health

Related to the high-fat vs low-fat debate, there is an interesting article to shake up our thinking: Study of Alaska Natives confirms salmon-rich diet prevents diabetes, heart disease. It states that, “A diet of Alaska salmon rich in Omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect Yup’ik people from diabetes and heart disease — even when the individuals in question have become obese, according to a recent study that examined eating habits and health in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region. […] Something was different, and it didn’t appear to be genetics. […] “Interestingly, we found that obese persons with high blood levels of Omega-3 fats had triglyceride and CRP concentrations that did not differ from those of normal-weight persons,” Makhoul concluded.” Now that is fascinating. There could be a lot going on with this population, but they do make for a useful comparison.

To begin, it should be noted that these Inuit/Eskimos are on average overweight, similar to other Americans. Yet they have some of the lowest rates in the world of metabolic syndrome and obesity-related diseases like diabetes. This is in spite of their no longer being entirely on a traditional diet. They are getting plenty of crappy processed and packaged foods, in line with the industrialized Standard American Diet (refined grains, high fructose corn syrup, seed oils, etc). And these native Alaskans are unhealthy in other ways, as obesity isn’t a good thing. But those large doses of healthy unoxidized Omega-3s from wild whole foods seem to be their saving grace. It is true that most Americans are getting too many inflammatory Omega-6s and increasing Omega-3s is already known to decrease inflammation. That is all the more reason to eat fresh cold water fish, assuming it’s wild-caught in clean waters (it’s too bad we’re overfishing the oceans). Or, failing that, supplements might be beneficial; including algae-based sources.

That might go against the argument of those like Dr. Paul Saladino who speculate all polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are problematic at high intake; whether Omega-6s or Omega-3s, industrial or whole, oxidized or fresh; and no matter the PUFA ratio. The argument is all PUFAs will oxidize, even in the body after consumption because the unsaturated carbon bonds are unstable in being able to pick up oxygen atoms and the body can only handle so much oxidization using its limited supply of self-produced antioxidants and dietary antioxidants. The system overwhelmed by oxidized PUFAs is unable to contain the free radicals that wreak havoc with oxidative stress. But is that excess PUFA theory true? The jury is still out on that. Even if too many PUFAs overall might still be harmful in other ways, the recent Inuit study indicates certain PUFAs maybe can’t be blamed for metabolic syndrome and such.

It would be useful to look at these Inuits’ total PUFA intake and Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, which determines inflammation levels. And one might wonder about a causal link between inflammation and insulin resistance. Of course, as Dr. Saladino would argue, it might be simpler to just remove all the processed carbs and industrial seed oils; rather than try to counteract the harm with more Omega-3s. But if your (carb-caused, stress-induced, etc) cravings or other factors beyond your control have compelled you to eat a health-destroying diet that has made you fat or otherwise metabolically unfit, not to mention inflamed and maybe with high LDL (a response to inflammation), then by all means glug down some Omega-3s as medicine. It is known to have numerous health benefits, at least for those on an unhealthy diet, including this other evidence for possibly preventing/reversing insulin resistance and diabetes. You might slowly die of some other dietary-related disease, but at least you’ll lessen a large swath of health problems and feel relatively better.

Dietary details and confounders aside, this study blows the anti-fat crowd out of the water, including those like Ted Naiman who argue for low-carb, high-protein, and moderate fat. This seriously challenges the claim that the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is dead and that it’s simply about energy excess, either carbs or fat (or both). Ben Bikman, a leading insulin expert and active researcher, still thinks the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is valid and his view appears to be supported or not contradicted, according to this data. But, if nothing else, this new evidence clearly keeps the debate undeniably alive and even more compelling, however it might remain unresolved in continuing disagreements. What is refuted is the sweeping declaration that all energy excess, though surely sometimes a valid factor, can apply to every form of dietary energy under all conditions and in all diets.

It really does matter what kind of fat one is eating. Then again, it also matters what kind of carbs (Dr. Saladino thinks honey might be metabolically different, a whole other contentious debate). Talking about macronutrients as general abstract categories may not always be helpful. Sure, many people can lose fat by restricting calories or particular macronutrients. Both low-carb, high-fat diets and low-fat, high-carb diets can cause some people to naturally reduce calorie intake because there is nothing that causes overconsumption like the fattening powerhouse of carb-fat combo. And no doubt one could choose to increase protein, instead. But even if one eats high-carb, high-fat diet and so unsurprisingly becomes obese, it doesn’t follow that metabolic syndrome is inevitable. In that case, the healthy fats might protect one against metabolic syndrome, even on an industrial diet. If this is confirmed, Omega-3s not only balance excess Omega-6s but also excess simple carbs.

This seems to imply the unoxidized Omega-3s from fresh wild-caught whole foods is maintaining insulin sensitivity, despite the fact that all those carbs typically would be causing insulin resistance. That is the really interesting part. The whole point of the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is that excess glucose in the blood eventually overtaxes the body’s capacity and throws off the hormonal system, specifically the hormone insulin but also possibly involving insulin-glucagon ratio. The hormonal system acts as locus of messaging and control for multiple other systems, including metabolism. With insulin resistance, fat simply gets stuck in fat cells and can’t be accessed. So, the individual gets hungry and eats more. Interestingly, long-term fasting can sometimes kick insulin sensitivity back in gear and so the body will start burning the fat. That mechanism described is what the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is all about. That is the theory that supposedly down for the count.

Maybe we need another theory. As countering the harm described by the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, we could call it the fat-insulin hypothesis or, to be more specific, the Omega3s-insulin hypothesis. This might relate to how certain fats promote fat-burning, specifically in terms of Stearic fat (in tallow) which is a saturated fat, the supposedly worst fat. It apparently means eating energy as this kind of fat not only increases metabolism but encourages the release of the bodies energy stored as fat. This presumably would have to include a role of insulin sensitivity, the opposite of insulin resistance. It’s true that eating lots of Stearic acid on a high-carb industrial diet while obese and metabolically unfit might not be all that helpful. As another factor, consider that wild-caught fish would be higher in fat-soluble vitamins and micronutrients. The fat-soluble vitamins play a powerful role similar to hormones. In that case, it might be a fat-soluble-vitamin-insulin hypothesis, but that is getting a bit wordy. Context, as always, is king. Obviously, we need to get away from overly simplistic generalizations. The macronutrient model is as unhelpful as the caloric model, if not combined with more detailed knowledge.

COVID-19 and States, Lives and Jobs

In reference to the below COVID-19 graph of loss of life and jobs (per capita), someone wrote to us that the, “Lower left would appear better [i.e., more people alive and working. BDS]. Iowa was slightly lower left, but mostly in the center of all states. Hawaii had lowest excess death rate (negative), but highest job loss. West Virginia, Maine, and Indiana were well balanced.” The graph is from Hamilton Place Strategies. It is included with their brief data analysis as presented in the recent (4/18/21) article, 50 States, 50 Pandemic Responses: An Analysis Of Jobs Lost And Lives Lost, co-authored by Matt McDonald, Stratton Kirton, Matisse Rogers, and Johnny Luo. The time period for the data is unstated, which could make a difference. That aside, most of the states clump near the center; although more states tended toward higher death toll; but, of course, it’s the outliers in the four quadrants that grab one’s attention.

We didn’t initially give it much careful thought, even though such data does make one curious about what it represents, beyond some seemingly obvious observations. Here was our initial off-the-cuff response: “It maybe should be unsurprising that the most populated states struggled the most with finding a balance or, in some cases, keeping either low.” That was tossed out as a casual comment and it was assumed no explanation was necessary. But apparently it was perceived as surprising (or speculative or something) to our collocutor who asked, “Why?” This seems to happen to us a lot, in that we are so used to looking at data that we assume background knowledge and understanding that others don’t always share. It genuinely was not surprising to us, in that ‘populated’ clearly signifies particular kinds of factors and conditions. Once committed to the dialogue, we felt compelled to answer and explain. Continue further down, if you wish to see the unpacking of background info and social context that, once known, makes the graphed data appear well within the range of what might be expected.

It seemed unsurprising to us, as we’ve looked at a lot of analysis of (demographic, economic, and social science) data like this over the years. So, we’re familiar with the kinds of patterns that tend to show up and probable explanations for those patterns. But maybe it seems less intuitively obvious to others (or maybe we’re biased in our views; you can be the judge). In the original article, the authors do note some relevant correlations indicating causal factors: “States with major hospitality and tourism sectors were hit hard in terms of job loss, with the impact falling unevenly across sectors. And states that were in the first wave of infections—when the healthcare system was still learning how to treat COVID-19—fared comparatively worse on their death tolls. New York, which falls into both categories, had the worst overall outcome, with both high excess deaths and high job losses.”

The authors go on to say, “The states that emerged in the best position were Idaho, Utah, and West Virginia, all with some combination of low loss of life and low loss of employment.” Others that did reasonably well were North Carolina, Nebraska, Maine, West Virginia, Indiana, and Wyoming. I don’t recall any of these being hit early by COVID-19 outbreaks nor are they major tourist and travel destinations, other than NC to some extent. It could also be noted that all are largely rural states, if not as rural as they were last century, but still way more rurally populated (or rather less urbanized with fewer big cities and metropolitan areas) than states that had it rough in soaring death and jobless rates: New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, etc. It comes down to a divide between more and less urbanized, and hence more and less populated and dense. That has much to do with the historical economic base that determined how many people, over the generations, have moved to a state and determined their residential location.

As for the really obvious observations, there is the typical clear divide between North and South. Many liberty-minded Southern states, with historically high rates of total mortality and work-related mortality (along with historically overlapping classism and racism), were tolerant of sacrificing the lives of disproportionately non-white workers during a pandemic, particularly when it kept the economy going and maintained corporate profits for a mostly white capitalist class (see: Their Liberty and Your Death). ln general, all of the Deep South and Southwest states, along with most of the Upper South states, had above average death tolls (with MS, AL, AZ, and SC leading the pack); whether or not they kept job losses low, although they did mostly keep them down. All of the states that sacrificed jobs to save lives are in the North (AK, RI, MN, MA, etc) or otherwise not in the South (HI), be it caused by intentional policy prioritization or other uncontrollable factors (e.g., reduced tourism). Northern industrial states, as expected, took the biggest economic hit.

As for the initial point we made, larger populations that are more concentrated create the perfect storm of conditions for promoting the spread of contagious diseases. This represents numerous factors that, though any single factor might not be problematic, when all factors are taken together could overwhelm the system during a large-scale and/or long-term crisis. That typically describes states with large cities and metropolitan areas. Look at all of the highly populated and urbanized states and, no matter what region they’re in, they are all near the top of excess deaths per capita. None of them managed to balance keeping people alive and employed, though some did relatively less worse. And it is apparent that the worst among them had the highest population density. That last factor might be the most central.

For comparison, here is the land area, population, and population density of the top 6 largest US cities, all in different states: New York City (301.5 sq mi; 8,336,817; 28,317/sq mi), Los Angeles (468.7 sq mi; 3,979,576; 8,484/sq mi), Chicago (227.3 sq mi; 2,693,976; 11,900/sq mi), Houston (637.5 sq mi; 2,320,268; 3,613/sq mi), Phoenix (517.6 sq mi; 1,680,992; 3,120/sq mi), and Philadelphia (134.2 sq mi; 1,584,064; 11,683/sq mi). New York City has about half the land as Houston and Phoenix, but has about four times the population of Houston and about seven times the population of Phoenix. So, even among the largest cities in the US and the world, there are immense differences in population density. States like Texas and Arizona have encouraged urban sprawl which, though horrible for environmental health, does ease the pressure of contagious disease spread.

This particular pattern of public health problems is seen all the way back to the first era of urbanization with the agricultural revolution when populations were concentrating, not sprawling. It wasn’t merely the nutritional deficiencies and such from change in the agricultural diet. The close proximity of humans to each other and to non-human animals allowed diseases to mutate more quickly and spread more easily (a similar probable reason for COVID-19 having originated in China with wilderness encroachment, habitat destruction, and wild meat markets). Many new diseases appeared with the rise of agricultural civilizations. Even diseases like malaria are suspected to have originated in farming populations before having spread out into wild mosquitoes and hunter-gatherer tribal populations. Even in modern urbanization, humans continue to live closely to and even cohabitate with non-human animals. This is why populations in New England, where indoor cats are common, have high rates of toxoplasmosis parasitism, despite a generally healthy population.

Plus, at least in the US, these heavily urbanized conditions tend to correlate with high rates of poverty, homelessness, and inequality (partly because most of the poor left rural areas to look for work in cities where they became concentrated) — these high rates all strongly correlated to lower health outcomes, particularly the last, inequality. Of the only four states with above average economic inequality in the US, three of them (NY, LA, CA) had all around bad COVID-19 outcomes, with only high inequality Connecticut escaping this pattern by remaining moderate on job losses and excess deaths. As expected, the states that did the best in keeping both low were mostly low inequality. Other than two in the mid-range (WV, NC), all of the other cases of COVID-19 success are among the lowest inequality states in the country — according to ranking: 1) UT, 4) WY, 7) NE, 12) ID, 13) ME, and 15) IN. All of the top 10 low inequality states were low in COVID-related mortality and/or unemployment. That result, by the way, is completely predictable as it matches decades of data on economic inequality and health outcomes. It would be shocking if this present data defied the longstanding connection.

By the way, rural farm and natural resource states tend to be low inequality, whether or not they are low poverty, but research shows that even poverty is far less problematic with less inequality — as economic inequality, besides being a cause or an indicator of divisiveness and stress, correlates to disparities in general: power, representation, legacies, privileges, opportunities, resources, education, healthy food, healthcare, etc (probably entrenched not only in economic, political, and social systems but also epigenetics; maybe even genetics since toxins and other substances, such as oxidized seed oils in cheap processed foods, can act as mutagens which can permanently alter inherited genes; and so inequality gets built into biology, individually and collectively, immediately and transgenerationally). Certain economic sectors tend toward such greater or lesser inequities, and this generally corresponds to residential patterns. But the correlation is hardly causally deterministic, considering the immense variance of inequality among advanced Western countries with more similar cultural and political traditions (party-based representative democracies, individualistic civil rights, and relatively open market economies).

The economic pattern is far different between rural states and urban states, specifically mass urbanization as it’s taken shape over the generations, and it has much to do with historical changes (e.g., factories closed in inner cities and relocated to suburbs and overseas). In big cities, many large populations of the poor (disproportionately non-white) have become economically segregated and concentrated together in ghettoes, old housing, and abandoned industrial areas (because of generations of racist redlining, covenants, loan practices, and employment). These are the least healthy people living in the least healthy conditions (limited healthcare, lack of parks and green spaces, lead toxicity, air pollution, high stress, food deserts, malnutrition, processed foods, etc), all strongly tied to COVID-19 comorbidities. In these population dense and impoverished areas, there is also a lack of healthcare infrastructure and staffing that is especially needed during a public health crisis, and what healthcare exists is deficient and underfunded.

To complicate things, such densely populated areas of mass urbanization make public health difficult because there are so many other factors as well. Particularly in American cities with immigrant and ethnic residents historically and increasingly attracted to big cities, additional factors include diverse sub-populations, neighborhoods, housing conditions, living arrangements, places of employment, social activities, etc. And all of these factors are overlapping, interacting, and compounding in ways not entirely predictable. This might be exacerbated by cultural diversity, since each culture would have varying ways of relating to issues of health, healthcare, and authority figures; such as related to mask mandates, vaccination programs, etc. It would be challenging to successfully plan and effectively implement a single statewide or citywide public health policy and message; as compared to a mostly homogeneous small population in a small rural state (or even a mostly homogeneous small population in a small urban country).

Also, disease outbreaks in big cites and metropolitan areas are much harder to contain using isolation and quarantines, as many people live so close together in apartment buildings and high-rises, particularly the poor where larger numbers of people might be packed into single apartments and/or multiple generations in a single household, and that is combined with more use of mass public transit. This came up as an issue in some countries such as in Southern Europe. Italians tend to live together in multigenerational households and tend to take in family members when unemployed. Combined with poverty, inequality, and policies of economic austerity, the Italian government’s struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic made it stand out among Western countries, such that it early on showed potential risks to failing to quickly contain the pandemic. But, in many ways, it might have been as much or more of a sociocultural challenge than a political failure.

On the completely opposite extreme, the Swedish have the highest rate in the world of people living alone, but also some of the lowest poverty and inequality in the world. So, even though Sweden is heavily urbanized (88.2%), contagious disease control is easier; particularly with an already healthy population, universal healthcare, and a well-funded public health system (no economic austerity to be found in Swedish social services). Indeed, they only had to implement moderate public measures and, with a high trust culture, most of the citizenry willingly and effectively complied without it becoming a politicized and polarized debate involving a partisan battle for power and control. By the way, Sweden has a national population only slightly above NYC but less than the NYC metro. Of Nordic cities, Stockholm is the largest in area and the most population dense: total density (13,000/sq mi), urban density (11,000/sq mi), and metro density (950/sq mi). New York City has about two and a half times that urban density.

Then again, all of that isolated urbanization takes it’s toll in other ways, such as a higher suicide rate (is suicide contagious?). It is one of the most common causes of death in Sweden and the highest rate in the West; in the context of Europe being one of the most suicidal continents in the world, although it’s Eastern Europe that is really bad. Among 182 countries, Sweden is 32nd highest in the world with 13.8 suicides per 100,000; compared to Italy at 142nd place with 5.5 suicides per 100,000. That is two and half times as high. But, on a positive note, COVID-19 seems to have had no negative impact in worsening the Swedish suicide epidemic (Christian Rück et al, Will the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a tsunami of suicides? A Swedish nationwide analysis of historical and 2020 data), as presumably being socially isolated or at least residentially isolated is already normalized. If anything, suicidal inclinations might become less compelling or at least suicide attempts no more likely with the apparently successful response of the Swedish government to COVID-19, especially combined with the Swedish culture of trust. Not that global pandemic panic and local pandemic shutdown would be a net gain for Swedish mental health (Lance M. McCracken et al, Psychological impact of COVID-19 in the Swedish population: Depression, anxiety, and insomnia and their associations to risk and vulnerability factors).

So, theoretically, public health during pandemics doesn’t necessarily have to be worse in large dense urban areas, as other factors might supersed. But, unfortunately, it apparently was worse in the US under present (social, economic, and political) conditions, however those conditions came about (a whole other discussion barely touched upon here). Many of the states that fared badly are massively larger than Sweden. As seen with New York City, the US has cities and metros that are larger than many countries in the world. These unique conditions of not merely mass urbanization but vast urbanization have never before existed in global history. The US population now in the COVID-19 outbreak is more than three times larger than during the 1918 Flu. The five boroughs of NYC have almost doubled in population over the past century with Queens almost five times as populated, and surely the NYC metro area has increased far more.

Places like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City are hubs in immense systems of commerce, transport, and travel with heavily used airports and sea ports, interstate highways and railways, a constant flow of people and products from all over the country and the world (the rise of mass world travel and troop transport was a key factor in the 1918 Flu, helping it to mutate and spread in the deadly second and third waves). Systems thinking and complexity theory have come up in our studies and readings over the years, including in discussions with our father whose expertise directly involves systems used in businesses and markets, particularly factory production, warehousing, and supply chains. Those are relatively simple systems that can to varying degrees be analyzed, predicted, planned, and controlled. But massive and dense populations in highly connected urban areas are unimaginably complex systems with numerous confounding factors and uncontrolled variables, unintended consequences and emergent properties. Add a pandemic to all of that and we are largely in unknown territory, as the last pandemic in the US was over a century ago when the world was far different.

Also, there is there is the issue of how systems differ according to locations and concentrations of various demographics, specifically in contrasting the privileged and underprivileged. That goes back to the issue of poverty, inequality much else. A major reason we’ve had so many problems is because most politicians, lobbyists, media figures, public intellectuals, and social influencers involved in the ‘mainstream’ debate that gets heard and televized are living in separate comfortable, safe, and healthy communities, as separate from both the rural and urban masses, particularly separate from minorities, the poor, and the working class (see: Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown). We could note that the individual who originally showed us the graphed data, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, is of this typical demographic of wealthier urban white who has never personally experienced impoverished population density (AKA slums or ghettoes). And even though urban, like us, he lives in this same rural state with clean air surrounded by open greenspace of parks, woods, and farms; not to mention being smack dab in the middle of the complete opposite of a food desert. This could be why our reference to ‘populated’ states could gain no purchase in his mind and imagination.

Obviously, as complex systems, the densely populated big cities and metros described above aren’t isolated and insular units, contained and controlled experiments. Their populations and economies are inseparable from the rest of the global society, even more true in this age of neoliberal globalization. That would complicate pandemic response in dealing alone with either excess deaths per capita or job loss per capita, but that would exacerbate further the even greater complexity of finding a balance between the two. When these major centers of industrial production, service industry, commerce, trade, transportation, marketing, and finance get shut down (for any reason) and/or when other closely linked major centers get shut down, it severely cripples the entire economy and employment of the state, even ignoring the potential and unpredictable pandemic threat of overwhelmed hospitals, death toll, and long-term health consequences. Economic and public health effects could ripple out and in with secondary and tertiary effects.

It’s not anything like less populated rural farm states and natural resource states where, no matter what is going on in the rest of the country and world, the local population is more isolated and the local economy usually keeps trucking along. The Iowa economy and housing, for example, was barely affected by the 2008 Recession. Indeed, for all its failed state leadership in dealing with COVID-19, low inequality and low poverty Iowa was below average on both job losses and excess deaths. So, if Iowa could do better than most states, in spite of horrible leadership by the Trump-aligned Governor Kim Reynolds (even our Republican parents despise her handling of the crisis), maybe governments in other states also don’t necessarily deserve as much of the blame or credit they are given, at least not in terms of the immediate pandemic response, although long-term public health planning and preparation (over years and decades) would still be important.

That is to say, the situation is complicated. Yet we seem to know what are some of the key complications, however entangled they may be as potentially causal or contributing. It’s a large web of factors, but strong correlations can be discerned, all of it mostly following already known patterns, but of course we are biased in what we notice according to our focus. The data gathered and analyzed this past year, as far as we can tell, is not fundamentally different in nature than any other data gathered and analyzed over the past century. So, even though COVID-19 is a highly unusual event, what is seen in the data isn’t likely to be surprising, even if requiring multiple layers and angles of interpretation. Still, unexpected results would be welcome in possibly indicating something new and interesting. Serious study of this pandemic has barely begun. The data will keep rolling in. Then decades of debate and theorizing will follow. Some of the observations offered here might to varying degrees stand the test of time, such as the well-established inequality links, but surely much of it might prove false, dubious, misleading, or partial. Many questions remain unanswered and, in some cases, unasked.