Axial Age Revolution of the Mind Continues

As many have written about, there was a unique, profound, and dramatic transformation that happened across many civilizations, maybe initiated by the Bronze Age collapse (c. 1200 BCE) but not culminating until later in the following millennia (from Athenian democracy to Hellenism; also Buddhism) and lingering still further many centuries beyond that (e.g., Isis worship in the Roman Empire, one of the models for Mariolatry in particular and Christianity in general). This is what some refer to as the Axial Age, after which human society and culture would never again be the same.

Out of this era of tumultuous change, there would develop distinct categories of politics, religion, philosophy, science, etc that would proliferate in complex new understandings often in conflict and competition, particularly as distorted and co-opted by the emergent reactionary mind. But underlying it all, there were similar ideas and ways of thinking, a basic ideological worldview. As differently and partially as it came to be articulated and institutionalized among various populations and traditions, this set of beliefs can be somewhat fairly summarized and generalized as the following:

Although each of us may be a distinct expression or manifestation of individuality shaped by separate inner and outer conditions, but with independent selves, autonomous souls, and free psyches; in essence and value, we are all equal members, maybe even in some ways fundamentally identical beings (beyond false egoic identities, superficial personality differences, socially constructed social roles, etc), of a unified humanity with a shared human nature and human rights that exist within a common reality, holistic cosmos, and singular universe; an orderly and comprehensible world of natural or supernatural laws and systems where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; as originated from the same source to which everything ultimately returns or from which nothing ever actually departed.

This is the counterbalance between three main principles, as understood in human terms:

  • Liberty and freedom (negative and positive; from and toward; in theory and in reality; opportunities and results; possibilities and actions; resources and availability), guaranteed rights and protections (autonomy, security, and safety); the anti-authoritarian basis of civil society and social liberalism as part of a democratic republic, particularly more direct democracies and social democracies, including democratic socialism such as anarchosyndicalism (e.g., worker-owned-and-operated businesses).
  • Egalitarianism and fairness; respect, support, and tolerance; in the context of what is universal within the universe or at least within a given society, such as universal civil or human rights that are expected to be applied to all equally and fairly, maybe even as an expression of natural law or otherwise a cultural inheritance of shared values; with pre-Axial origins in archaic humanity, as demonstrated by many anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical hunter-gatherers through the common practice of meat-shaming and meat-sharing in order to discourage individualistic pride and sense of separation.
  • Fraternity, solidarity, and class or group consciousness; communalism and collectivism, mutuality and interdependence; shared compassion, care, and concern; brotherhood of man, family of humanity, and citizens of the world; similar to a specific people as the body politic and the kinship of the faithful as Body of Christ, as well as feudal commoners with common rights to the Commons; the idea that with freedom comes responsibility, that is to say we owe others in the living generation or even in future generations (Germanic ‘freedom’, meaning to be a member of a free society, to be among friends who will support and defend you).

One example of the above is what some consider the original baptismal creed of the earliest known Christians. It bluntly states that we are, in reality, all equal; that social positions and roles are unreal, including ethnicity (Jew or Gentile), legal status (slave or free), and gender (male and female). It is one of the most radical and absolute declarations of egalitarianism of any recorded text in history, and it was far from being mere words. The man who wrote it down, Paul, also described the practices of his fellow faithful. They lived, acted, and worshipped as if they were all literally equal before God, on Earth as it is in Heaven. The evidence of this being an already established creed is that Paul obviously was not writing about his own personal beliefs, considering he had doubts not shared by many others in the early churches.

As embodied by the communitarian and sometimes collectivist Christians, the first wave of charismatic and zealous radicalism was later violently suppressed, expunged from the Church, and the memory of it largely erased. The only evidence we have of the first generations of Christians are the Pauline Epistles, as the Gospels were written after all known living witnesses of that era were dead. The memory of the previous radicalism, nonetheless, lingered because of Paul’s awkward placement in the New Testament — thanks to the inclusion of the Epistles in the first New Testament canon created by the Pauline Marcion, a Church Father who was later slandered as a heretic.

Intriguingly, Paul never speaks of a physical and historical Jesus. His salvific figure appears to be the Cosmic Christ, more of a visionary and gnostic experience than a literal human that walked on the earth. This might be the significance of why Jesus, after asserting his own divinity, then points out that according to the Bible we are all gods; indicating that his divinity was not unique and isolated (as told in the apparently Gnostic Gospel of John). Now that would be some mind-blowing egalitarianism. This message is emphasized by Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God is all around us, not in some distant and rarified Heaven. That is to say the divine and spiritual is commonplace, is in and of the world. A priestly class is not needed to reach God.

More than a millennia later, some Christians took this kind of crazy talk quite seriously. It inspired, among the peasantry, multiple class wars and political revolts across Europe. That set the stage for the Protestant Reformation, the English Civil War, and the Enlightenment Age. Some consider the English Peasants’ Revolt to be the first modern revolution in its violent and organized challenge of caste and class, privilege and authority; in its demands for equality of rights and economic reform. This would establish a pattern of rhetoric that would revive ancient Christian radicalism.

The reverberations would be felt in the early modern revolutions of America, France, and Haiti. In echoing the Axial Age prophets, many revolutionaries proclaimed themselves citizens of the world. That was not an entirely alien concept, since Paul’s letters had saved that pre-heresiological belief in a greater common identity. It was the seed of an ancient utopian ideal finally taking root, if it still to this day has not yet fully come to fruition. The radical challenge remains. In a sense, the Axial Age has not yet ended for the transformation is not yet complete.

Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Table of Contents

  • Introduction and Summary
  • Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework
  • Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism
  • From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc
  • Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars
  • Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others
  • Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority
  • Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

Introduction and Summary

Despite having conservative parents, we spent most of our lives in liberal communities and we were raised in liberal churches. By our twenties, we were drawn toward social liberalism and increasingly leftism, although we were already becoming familiar with the reactionary before we knew what it was (from discovering Art Bell, Alex Jones, etc in the late 1990s).

But we’ve never been strongly attached to particular labels, except to the extent they are useful means. If anything, we’ve constantly questioned issues of social and political identities. So, with that in mind, we’d be more than happy if the conflict between right and left simply disappeared or became moot. That is the aim of leftism, as we see it. Leftism aspires to a world where explicit leftism is no longer necessary, that is to say a world no longer afflicted by the reactionary mind.

Summary – In a particular take of left-wing ideology, it is affirmed that:

  • Reality and society consists of systems, processes, and environments that shape us.
  • Social experience of identity, roles, and relationships are socially constructed and intersectional.
  • Situated cognition is embodied, embedded, extended, and enacted (4E).
  • The body, mind, and world are multitudinous and bundled, fluid and open.
  • People are inseparable from each other, from society, and from the larger world.
  • Humans need health, safety, security, trust, relationship, belonging, and connection.
  • The human species is inherently social; freedom is communal and collective.
  • A good society is achieved through culture of trust, cohesive solidarity, group consciousness, mutual support, and collective action.

And it is affirmed that:

  • Egalitarianism and fairness is central to human nature, is the center of any worthy politics and good society.
  • High inequality is unhealthy, stressful, traumatizing, dangerous, and unsustainable.
  • Artificial scarcity, authoritarian hierarchy, and social division should be challenged.
  • Ideological realism and false consciousness are social control through perception management.
  • The reactionary mind is abnormal and unnatural, insubstantial and deceptive.
  • The right-wing is a reaction to liberalism; it denies, obscures, and co-opts what it is reacting to.
  • Liberalism is the framework of modern Western civilization by which left and right are defined.
  • Leftism is a placeholder for something else, the finger pointing at the moon.

* * *

Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework

What does ‘left-wing’ ideology refer to? What was the original and basic meaning? The main element and motivating force of leftism has been to perceive the world and society, people and groups more as interdependent systems or processes than as reified things, unchanging categories, and isolated units; much less in terms of fixed and immutable laws, known certainties, absolutist dogma, and authoritarian institutions (or, if you prefer, unquestionable and unchallengeable institutional authority as received wisdom; that is to say, enforced norms as normative enforcement).

By ideology, this implies not only ‘ideas’ in the narrow sense as principles, values, and belief structure but also ‘ideos’ as worldview, mindset, and imaginary (i.e., a leftist conception of ideology; see Louis Althusser). This is based on thinner boundaries of mind that promote experience and identity that is more fluid in allowing things to overlap, shift, and merge (i.e., liberal-mindedness as expressed in social liberalism; or: FFM openness, MBTI perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type). In creating and promoting the conditions for greater empathy and compassion, it is what derogatively gets called ‘Bleeding Heart Liberalism‘ (initially used to describe those seeking to illegalize lynching), similar to being a ‘tree-hugging hippy’ and ‘sympathizing with the enemy’.

This distinguishes it from the political right where everything is defined by what evaluatively and hierarchically separates one clearly demarcated category from another (us vs them, ingroup vs outgroup, worthy vs unworthy, pure vs impure, good vs evil), within the rigidified boundaries of the egoic mind (FFM conscientiousness, MBTI judging, and Ernest Hartmann’s thick boundary type) — even left vs right, treated as a black/white division and ruling paradigm, falls prey to the reactionary right-wing; something we will try to carefully avoid. This is why conservatives more strongly obsess over narrow and/or exclusionary group identities (race, religion, ethno-nationalism, etc) and atomistic conceptions of identities (lone individuals, consumer-citizens, capitalist actors, social Darwinian competitors, nuclear families, etc); and why those on the left can become more conservative and reactionary when they become pulled into similar identities.

This lends itself to conventional thought that gives an appearance of certainty and orderliness, a sense of predictability and familiarity. A place for everything; and everything in its place — which means anything out of place better be put back into place and kept in place, by any means necessary. On the global stage, this plays out in Manichaean narratives like the Catholic Crusades, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, Cold War, and Clash of Civilizations; not to mention the overuse of the war metaphor, such as War on Poverty, War on Drugs, and War on Terror (how does one have war on an emotion like ‘terror’?). This is where there must be a winner and loser; the winner, of course, is presumably the good guys and they take all in a final victory against the forces of evil, or else the bad guys win and all that good is destroyed. There is little, if any, room for moderation, tolerance, and cooperation (other than convenient and often fleeting alliances), much less equality and fairness.

Lockstep solidarity is intentionally constrained to an insular group identity, what could be called pseudo-tribalism because of how it mimics tribalism but without the intimacy of actual tribes. To be a Westerner or American, White or Christian (or Evangelical) is to be part of an exclusive and exclusionary group that includes vast numbers of strangers who otherwise have nothing in common since most of the members have never met or shared any experience beyond mass media, nationalistic propaganda, and such. This is what makes pseudo-tribalism reactionary, neither leftist nor traditional; and so this gives the modern and increasingly postmodern right-wing a distinct flavor.

Let us make a further distinction or rather non-distinction. Liberalism, as we’ve argued, is not really so much left or right. Instead, it is the frame of both, of the whole ‘spectrum’. That is why conservatives and other right-wingers should, at least sometimes, be taken at face value when they claim to be classical liberals, even when their nostalgic rhetoric is historical revisionism, opportunistic realpolitik, and manipulative spin. When reactionaries co-opt from the left, as they do in using old liberal ideas and language, they essentially become what they are pretending to be and so, to some degree, make it real (i.e., hyperstition); the con man who first must con himself. But the radicals on the left also operate within the liberal sphere of our shared society, even when they contest this claim. Calling someone a liberal or not doesn’t really tell us much, since it can as easily and as validly be embraced by reactionaries as progressives.

As such, many leftists prefer to deny any association with liberalism or else maintain a wariness of distance, whether or not such a stance is realistic within the ruling liberal paradigm that also rules inside our minds. If they’re not careful, in reacting to liberalism, leftists can end up just another variety of reactionary and so begin to display the right-wing traits of a reactionary (e.g., the Leninist revolutionary vanguard that, in fighting bourgeois liberals, became a Stalinist ruling elite that enforced yet another socially conservative hierarchy within the Soviet Union). [Then again, the bourgeois liberals in reacting against leftists can likewise fall to the dark side (e.g., in post-WWI Germany, many of the middle class ‘liberals’ sided with the capitalist class to join the Nazis in having had fought against radical artists, freethinking intellectuals, free speech advocates, labor activists, social democrats, communists, and Marxists; or, if one prefers an example closer to home, think of the American Cold War liberals who were among the greatest enemies of the political left and ended up promoting illiberalism).]

Simply put, when reacting to reactionaries, the reactionary mind always wins because both sides offer no alternative; just two claims of lesser evil that inevitably leads to greater evil (closely related to the problematic dynamic between authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, where authoritarianism ends up defining even those who oppose it). This is ideological realism as epistemic closure, a totalizing narrative, a hermetically-sealed reality tunnel; forever mired in mind games of symbolic conflation and indoctrination. The reactionary is the shadow of liberalism and so everyone is vulnerable to infection from the reactionary mind virus; perfectly symbolized by Two-Face in the Batman mythos (this represents the whole reactionary worldview in how both Two-Face and Batman are not only enemies but two competing varieties of reactionary, since the entire dynamic between them is reactionary as is the entire Gotham story-world, specifically as fleshed out in the Dark Knight movies). Nonetheless, it could and maybe should be maintained that leftism, by definition and practice, is not reactionary and neither is it opposite of nor in opposition to the reactionary. Rather, leftism, if it is to be meaningful at all, is offering an entirely different understanding, a genuine alternative that is at the heart of the liberal project. Leftists, along with anyone else who disidentifies with the right-wing and/or disagrees with right-wing views, would do well to remember this.

Considering the complications and confusions, it is fair that some complain about the problems and limitations of these broad ideological labels, particularly the amorphous and often non-identifying left-liberal supermajority that has been suppressed and silenced. But that is all the more reason for us to pinpoint the distinctions that do matter, the distinctions that have remained relevant and potent across the centuries. The leftist difference that makes a difference keeps reappearing, no matter how often it is attacked or mimicked by the reactionary right. But it is often easiest to see something by looking back when it was still young and fresh, not yet grimy and scarred from historical accretions.

There is a thinking style — fundamentally communal and collective, broadly systemic and holistic, potentially integrative and integral — that consistently shows up as one of the defining features of the left-wing that influenced, informed, and inspired the earliest and most radical of Enlightenment thought (e.g., Baruch Spinoza‘s panentheism) and post-Enlightenment thought (e.g., Karl Marx’s historical materialism). It’s what underlies Germanic communal freedom, as opposed to Latin individualistic liberty; along with capturing the essence of egalitarianism and fraternity, particularly in terms of the Axial Age ideal of a universal humanity and the Enlightenment Age ideal of a global citizenry, but resonating with an aspect of tribal belonging as well. As for the latter, one might suggest all leftist politics begins not in abstract ideas but in the concrete lived reality of small local communities that give meaning to ideas (e.g., the labor organizing and strikes of factory workers in a factory town). That certainly was the early history of the left, a populist movement that initially formed from the bottom up.

* * *

Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism

This basic distinction between left and right is ancient, although not archaic — it does have a beginning point. There doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence of this divide in thinking styles during the Bronze Age or in the following dark age, although might have been carried as a seed of possibility within the early city-states as they began to merge into the first multicultural empires. But it was only with the Axial Age that there was a sudden and undeniable flourishing of radically new thought; as recorded in the words of real or fictitious prophets, teachers, wise men, and salvific figures. Proto-leftism was born, if only as a promise of what was to come, along with the proto-reactionary quickly following (e.g., Plato’s authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy).

Let us consider a historical example. In presaging Classical Greece, the Presocratics were the first to speak of a universal and singular kosmos that acknowledged a larger sense of a shared world inhabited by diverse people across a continuous landscape and contained within the same immense universe (literally, one verse; i.e., one story of the world and of humanity). That is to say we all look up at the same stars, something that may seem obvious to the point of being banal but wasn’t commonly understood until long-distance travel became common. At the same time, it’s the ability to think about the world abstractly in this manner that makes possible map-making where the known world can be divided up by abstract boundaries that defined larger socially constructed identities (a Greek or a Jew, a Roman or a Barbarian), and thus make possible one variety of reactionary pseudo-tribalism.

This pseudo-tribalism took many millennia until it finally took form as the modern nation-state now so favored by the reactionary right-wing. Prior to World War era, most people instead identified with a non-reactionary or less reactionary sense of local community that included ethnicity, language, religion, and regionalism. Consider that, as feudalism came clashing into modernity with the French Revolution, the French population was still so fragmented with distinct dialects that they might not have been able to understand those in nearby feudal villages, much less able to have comprehended the respectable speech in the French Assembly. The modern French nationality had to be invented and socially constructed. That was even more true of the Italians when the majority at the time of the nation’s founding didn’t even speak Italian at all. The once feudal serfs had to be forced into modern ethno-nationalism, having resulted in the reactionary disease of nostalgia, a sometimes literally paralyzing and deadly disease.

This is pseudo-tribalism not only because it’s different than tribalism but, more importantly, because it erases the reality and memory of tribalism. One can see the path of the reactionary mind having passed by in the traces left behind of romantic nostalgia and historical revisionism. This so often leads not to national unity but endless division, as anything that is invented will ever be challenged and changed by new inventions (e.g., the Nazis deciding who was German and not, no matter how many generations or centuries one’s family may have resided there). Pseudo-tribalism erases the memory of traditional cultures with their much more complex and shifting identities, as was seen in the ancient world. The earliest Jews, for example, would not have recognized the social identity projected upon them by most modern Jews — the two worlds are alien to each other, to such an extent that one scholar noted that it was near impossible to determine who was and was not a Jew in the ancient world. That traditionalism, having survived in large parts of the world fairly late in history, has mostly disappeared from living memory.

Modern ethno-nationalism is a result of the reactionary mind and, once established, it is a further contributing factor in establishing and entrenching the conditions for the reactionary mind to spread; even as liberal mind might use this as a jumping off point for a greater sense of identity. In being a component of liberalism, it was the radical potential of modern nationalism that made possible the multicultural American, as envisioned by the progressive Thomas Paine, that transcended the insular bigotry of the mere rights of Englishmen and so was effectively wielded as a weapon against British authoritarian claims of rule. As he wrote in ‘Common Sense’, it was undeniably “absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island,” especially when “Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, [Pennsylvania], are of English descent.”

Prior to all of these changes, progressive and reactionary, people in traditional tribes and villages took their own immediate communal experience and territory as an autonomous self-contained world largely separate from that of others, each community with its own local ruling deities and spiritus loci. Consider, for example, the Semitic henotheism that can be discerned behind later Yahwist interpolations of the Tanakh; or the traces surviving into the Middle Ages when local spirits were still worshipped and appeased, such as the wintertime wassailing of the presiding spirit of the orchard. Hence, going back far enough into the past, everyone was able have claimed their own population as the first people and their own place as the center of the world without having had asserted any hegemonic intentions upon others. It was a pluriverse, not a universe.

That was the original conception of something akin to social and moral relativism, if more indifference than tolerance. Consider the Amazonian Piraha’s friendly but aloof attitude towards strangers. As a Piraha explained, Piraha culture is good for Piraha, foreign cultures are good for foreigners; and hence there is no need for cultural hegemony as ideological realism to be proclaimed as absolutist dogma, much less enforced through authoritarian and violent social control, assimilation, and genocide. To be Piraha simply means to be Piraha with no greater claims on all of reality, quite opposite of monotheistic fundamentalism (the latter being incomprehensible to the Piraha, as generations of failed missionaries have discovered). That once was a more common experience of the world. At the level of individual persons, one thing was not separate from another for the shared ground of cohesion was the larger network of kinship and community. In the case of animistic and bicameral societies, this included the bundled mind with a shared voice-hearing tradition as opposed to the privatized egoic voice trapped in each person’s skull (a few surviving animistic tribes still maintain such a cultural mentality). This relativism lingered in areas of Axial Age thought.

Keep in mind that what some think of as ancient proto-racism really wasn’t racism at all. It was a common belief that a people’s culture and collective personality was determined by their environment: weather patterns, food, etc (e.g., dark skin was caused by living in sunnier climes); an almost Larmarckian or epigenetic understanding of of real or perceived population-wide phenotypic plasticity. The experience of world and the experience of self were inseparable, such as how the animistic personal space of hunter-gatherers extends into the surrounding sensory space far beyond the physical body. This is the embodied and extended mind, closely related to the bundled mind. This still dwells within the modern mind and it regularly reasserts itself, however much most modern people pretend they are isolated and self-contained individuals — hence, the reactionary impulse of the splintered modern psyche.

* * *

From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc

This archaic sense of reality probably influenced the basis of Greco-Roman humoral theory and later on elements of Christian thought, the belief that we are shaped by external factors and hence, with a post-animistic/bicameral twist, that systems (e.g., written laws) could be used as social control that determined behavior. This was seen in medieval food laws that banned red meat before and during Carnival to prevent the excess heating of ‘blood’ that it was feared would cause people to be rowdy and rebellious; an ideology, later formulated as veganism, that was adapted by Seventh Day Adventists to supposedly prevent sinfulness, moral depravity, and physical dissolution (as part of a public health moral panic and anti-masturbation crusade). Archaic and ancient traditional thought has never really disappeared for it constantly gets reinterpreted, if the forms it takes increasingly diverge from traditional experience and understanding, in how it’s expressed in both the progressive mind and the reactionary mind.

As filtered through the stronger universalizing impulse of modern thought, this particularly came to shape 20th century leftism. It was very much informed by anthropology and social science (e.g., the study of traditional cultures by anthropologist Franz Boas and his students), in articulating a shared human nature that consisted more of flexible potentials than of deterministic laws (e.g., Carl Jung’s personality types that influenced the theories of cultural relativity espoused by some of Boas’ students, such as Ruth Benedict). This general development in Western thought shaped new understandings like social constructivism and intersectionality, not to mention even more interesting theories like linguistic relativity. As divergent as some might take them, there has always been a creative dynamic on the left between universalism and relativism. But, as always, this was just as easily co-opted by the reactionary right, if in more constrained forms that were used to prevent collective consciousness instead of promoting it (Peter Augustine Lawler: “conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism”; for example: “Russel Kirk’s unconscious postmodernismKarl Rove’s social constructivismDonald Trump’s post-truth, and Jordan Peterson’s self-loathing pluralism“).

About universalism specifically, such thinking had become more common as alphabetic languages, written texts, literary traditions, and abstract thought became widespread in the Axial Age and post-Axial Age empires (the precursors of modern WEIRD culture that took hold with mass literacy). This was seen also in natural law, as formulated by Stoics and later adopted by Christians. It was initially a radical idea and one can still sense what, at various points in history, made it such a threat. The first generation of Christians, similar to the Stoics before them, flouted the laws and social customs of both Jews and Romans, and they did so according to the belief in a higher truth of natural law that stood above human law. This was an early expression of universalism as radical egalitarianism, specifically grounded in communitarianism and often literal communes with shared work and resources, not to mention positions determined by egalitarian lots. This was in direct conflict with the authoritarian hierarchies (dividing rulers from ruled, free from slave, civilized from barbarian) in the Roman world, hierarchies of status that determined privilege and oppression in having made clear that all were not equal before God or man.

Among those early Christians, the egalitarian way of living and relating was specifically demonstrated in what some consider the original baptismal creed proclaiming that there was no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male and female; for, it was believed, we are all children of God, all one in Spirit (Stephen J. Patterson, The Forgotten Creed). Universal divine law trumped even the social constructs of identity and so denied them any reified legitimacy as ideological realism. The earliest Christians, in their charismatic practice, took this literally in how everyone, even lowly enslaved women, had equal access to leadership and authority within the church community. This was concretely expressed in how all congregants danced communally with their long hair allowed to flow freely, in direct contradiction to gender norms where Roman men kept their hair cut short and Roman women kept their hair bound up. This was one of the many things that worried Paul because he wanted to make Christianity more respectable, in conformance with normative social expectations; but he didn’t understand that this is precisely what made such charismatic faith so inspiring to the oppressed and downtrodden.

Many radicals since that time, from the English Peasants’ Revolt to the American Revolution, often drew upon natural law rhetoric to challenge human legal institutions (although some, like the deist Thomas Jefferson, had a less certain relationship to such beliefs). That was also part of the power of the Protestant Reformation in taking on the Catholic Church. Yet, despite its ever present potential of radicalism, it has been increasingly held up as a favorite principle of conservative-minded fundamentalists and other right-wingers, one of the many cases where once radical thought is increasingly used and monopolized by the reactionary mind. There is a mixed history to natural law, as the conservative-minded sometimes understood that it was a two-edged sword. The Catholic Edmund Burke opposed natural law specifically because of the radical threat it posed. But, for other reasons, the egalitarian and often radical Quakers have long favored an alternative to natural law since, as heretics, they sought higher authority through a personal relationship with a living God, rather than an impersonal and unreachable God of laws that required intercession by a priestly class — a different route to the same end of challenging unjust worldly power.

It’s historically complicated, but over time the radicalism of natural law seems to have faded almost entirely. It’s become neutered in being largely identified with the reactionary and regressive at this point. Fundamentalist apologetics has come to treat their beliefs about social order, gender, family, abortion, etc as akin to natural law and so seek to enforce it through human law (i.e., theocracy); in spite of the fact that Jesus offered very little light on the subject or, if anything, a rather anti-fundamentalist view in his having heretically challenged the Jewish fundamentalism of his own era. Jesus went so far as to deny his own mother on multiple occasions; not to mention having told one man about his father’s corpse to let the dead bury the dead; and having declared that he came not to bring peace but to turn son against father, daughter against mother. As for abortion and homosexuality, he was silent, as was the Old Testament. Christian family values?

Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars

This is another area where traditionalism stands in stark contrast to the reactionary right and, at times, finds resonance with a progressive left. Think about how, prior to the 1960s, abortion was a non-issue among Christians with a long history of theological arguments actually justifying it, not to mention Christian communities condoning the practice that was common in the past. The Bible does speak against infanticide, but that is referring to the killing (exposure or abandoning) of babies that were already born, not the terminating of pregnancies which was a standard practice at the time. Abortifacients have existed in nearly every traditional society, for being able to control when to have children was even more important in the past when unneeded children to feed could be a threat to the survival of family and community. Odd as it may sound in this era of reactionary culture war, most early-to-mid 20th century American Christians, specifically Protestants, saw no conflict between family values and abortion; and instead they often saw these as closely related because family planning was seen as central to family responsibility.

About another topic, when we look at historical texts and anthropological records, it’s amazing how many past societies had much more nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, to the point of including multiple gender identities/roles. That is far from saying that traditionalism has typically been socially liberal, as three or more genders could be as strict and oppressive as only two, although not necessarily. But what it does demonstrate, contrary to conservative claims, is that a binary gender belief system is not natural law that was created by God and emblazoned upon human nature and biology. That is to say gender realism is as much bull shit as ethno-nationalist realism, capitalist realism, domestic realism, etc. This has always been the line of critique by the left, the dismantling of false assumptions, the puncturing of the obfuscatory hot air that bloats the reactionary moral imagination.

We must take the past on its own terms, not ours. If we go back to the traditional societies, the fluidity of social identities sometimes included, besides temporary or permanent shifts in name and personality (at least among animistic and maybe bicameral people), gender fluidity and sexual variation as well. People could hold amorphous or divergent identities in ways that are hard for us to imagine and sometimes that meant people changing gender or identifying with two genders (e.g., Two Spirits). This is because, in many older cultures, gender was not equated to sexual anatomy or sexual activity. At the time of European first contact with Native American tribes, there were over a hundred recorded instances of non-binary gender expression, including in Mexico that has since become identified with Christianized macho culture. This was seen all over the world: Polynesia, Hawaii, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, and on and on. It might be safe to say gender fluidity and/or diversity was closer to the norm than an exception.

In the ancient world, many deities had mixed anatomy, such as goddesses with erect penises. Also seen were androgynous deities. Even older portrayals of Jesus sometimes showed him as androgynous, occasionally including breasts. In the ancient world, many salvific godmen took on the feminine traits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) associated with the archaic agricultural goddesses that had previously been the virgin mothers of such godmen, as the goddesses became demoted (e.g., the Egyptian Isis had been worshipped in her own right throughout the Roman Empire, only to have her statues co-opted as Black Madonnas and so she was replaced with worship of a merely human Mother Mary). Unsurprisingly, many of those individuals traditionally perceived as a third gender or two-gendered could become shamans, healers, priests, or otherwise play important roles in society and rituals; as someone who transcended gender might be believed to also be able to transcend other boundaries such as into the worlds of spirits, the dead, and non-human beings.

There was even open homosexuality in the pre-modern world, such as in Africa (e.g., an apparently ancient Egyptian gay couple buried together in a lover’s embrace). All of this was far from limited to only gender identity or sexuality. In the Americas, research on burials indicate that 30-50% of big game hunters might’ve been anatomically female, demonstrating gender specialization of work did not necessarily always exist. Similarly, some hieroglyphs in the Americas can be interpreted as showing both men and women holding hands of children; according to the number of fingers shown on hands, a way of symbolizing gender; possibly indicating that childrearing was not limited to one gender (info from a display at the Florence Indian Mound and Museum). Such a finding should be unsurprising, as many hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate something similar with all kinds of work being done by both anatomical women and men, even ignoring the complexity of gender issues. This wasn’t limited to the non-Western world. There were Viking and Germanic shield-maidens and they were apparently treated with respect and honor, indicating gender identities were not absolute in entirely limiting social role, position, and opportunities.

Gender fluidity or else complexity, along with multiple forms of sexual relationships, seems to have persisted quite late into history; maybe having indicated acceptance, tolerance, or indifference. In England, there was no official position on homosexuality until the 1533 Buggery Act, what one might interpret as the first sign of a reactionary culture war. That was about right when the Protestant Reformation (i.e., fundamentalist nuclear family values and heteronormativity) and colonization (i.e., the militarization of the heroic hyper-masculine figure) began, while the traditional order of feudal Church and villages was being dismantled (i.e., the decline of role-reversals and gender-bending during Carnival). Prior to European colonization in Africa, there was no known cases of anti-LGBT laws or persecution. So, conservative gender and sexual bigotry is only a few centuries old, as compared to entirely different notions of gender that were widespread for millennia before that.

As far as all of that goes, marriage and monogamy are likewise a lot more complicated than it typically gets portrayed, as based on modern Western biases. Yes, monogamy does appear to be quite common among many cultures, but such monogamy doesn’t seem to preclude promiscuity; and, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the large number of openly polygamous and polyandrous societies that have existed. To return to one concrete example, the Piraha are informally monogamous, if in practice this means serial monogamy. Basically, whenever two Piraha are having sex, they are considered married; and when one Piraha goes off to have repeated sex with another then they are divorced. There are no laws or authorities to enforce monogamy and no punishment, other than hurt feelings, to dissuade individuals from having multiple sex partners. Also, they are far from prudish. Young Piraha children learn about sex early from direct observation and sexual play, including between adults and children. And serial monogamy is so rampant that the tribes are closely bonded together by overlapping carnal knowledge, even including homosexual play among among adults.

Is this what conservative Christians mean by monogamy being the social norm of the human species? We’re reminded of an incident in early America where a white man visited a Native American tribe. He noticed how common was promiscuity and so asked how did a man know who his children were. The answer was that no one knew and no one cared, as all children were considered to belong to the whole tribe. Yet many of these tribes might get recorded as ‘monogamous’ and so falsely used as evidence to strengthen the reactionary claims of social conservatism in modern WEIRD culture.

* * *

Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others

This supports the leftist counter-claim that gender, sexuality, and marriage are socially constructed to a fair degree and obviously so in diverse ways; despite overgeneralizations made about superficial observations. But it also verifies the leftist view of how powerfully we are shaped by environment, particularly socio-cultural and material conditions. This goes back to the main point being made here. The political left perceives humans as embedded in dynamic systems, both communal and collective or otherwise interdependent. We are in and of the world. The world is us. We the People are a plural, not a collection of individuals; and that is why we are greater than the sum of our parts, but it is also what offers an escape from the prison of the reactionary mind, the key to the lock.

We aren’t victims or passengers, much less lone actors. Our identities and roles in society aren’t imprinted into our genetics as essentialism and determinism. And, since the world we know was created by past generations, we are forever in the position to create our world again, as the Anti-Federalist Thomas Paine so wonderfully put it. This was a central concept to the American founding, that the dead hand of past generations could not and should not compel authoritarian submission of the living generation. Prior to written texts that trap the past like an insect in amber, traditional societies as oral cultures always treated traditions as organic practices brought to life by voice and invocation, not immutable laws and unchanging doctrines. This remains true, as human nature is still the same, even if the media and culture alters its expression.

That is to say we are and always have been free as a people, but this freedom is not individualistic and legalistic liberty, not the mere civil rights written on a piece of paper or upheld in a court of law. We are free according to our own human nature, something that can’t be denied or destroyed, can’t be taken away from us. We verify and prove this freedom in our own experience. And, importantly, we are not lost souls wandering in an alien land, not lost souls waiting for the afterlife in order to return somewhere else. Our shared humanity is part of larger systems of a living world in which we are enmeshed and immersed in, a world to which we belong as our home. We are social creatures by nature, not disconnected as lone individuals or nuclear families, as worker-citizens or capitalist owners. We are not separate and isolated, and so we are not powerless. The world we were born into is not inevitable. Near infinite possibility is before us, the extent of which we can only discover through experimentation and exploration. We are free through acting freely, in knowing the strength of our shared freedom.

We could end on that inspiring note. But our purpose here is not to preach to the choir or rally the forces of good. More fundamentally, we are curious about what this all means and so we seek compassionate understanding, for others as much as for ourselves. Why do such divides of the mind get formed and persist? In some ways, the whole left vs right framing could be part of the problem, as inherently dualistic and oppositional, and hence reactionary. Although this is not a new insight, the political spectrum remains a powerful way of understanding our present conflict because it isn’t just an idea. The left/right dichotomy has become built into every aspect of our society and mind. We carry it and so dismissing it is not an option. Some more powerful metaphor will have to organically emerge as a more compelling meme. That is the reason to emphasize the leftist view, since it points beyond to another possibility, a third way. In the end, the ‘leftist’ ideals of egalitarianism and solidarity (or fellowship) are not about one ideology fighting against another ideology. Rather, these words speak to the truth within us that can’t be negated. It’s simply who we are.

This is demonstrated by the so-called political issues. There is a reason the most heated debates involve such things as environmentalism, systemic racism, and class consciousness. These touch upon the leftist understanding of systems that the political right, in order to sustain their illusion of separation and division, must deny. The thing is this is not one belief system against another but rather a choice between embracing reality or an illusion, to accept our shared humanity or deny it. This is a truth known in our direct experience and also known in science. Systems are not ideas for they are how the world actually operates. Nothing is really separate, in ways that are quite profound, as quantum physics has shown us but also demonstrated in every other field of science. This is both a human truth and a scientific fact.

Whether one believes in and supports environmentalism or not, for example, it remains a stark reality explaining what is happening to the environment we are inseparable from. Climate change continues to get worse with measurable shifting weather patterns and increases in extreme weather events, as part of a single world with a single atmosphere. Ecosystems continue to be destroyed, rainforests cut down, species gone extinct, toxins having polluted the water and air, and on and on. This isn’t a leftist claim. It’s an objective and verifiable fact that also is a knowable in human experience. Anyone who has lived long enough will have noticed how monarch populations have declined, as one recollects a childhood where such creatures once were seen everywhere. Or take the opposite where invasive species spread further north where they never were before found because of global warming. No left-wing ideologue or scientific elite needs to tell us this is true. We can confirm it for ourselves and thousands of other similar observable changes. It is part of our lived experience — personal, direct, and concrete.

Similarly, whether or not one acknowledges racism and class war, it remains the social reality enforced upon so many. The victims of it know it in their bones and can see it in the world all around them, even if they don’t always have the terminology to articulate it. So, it may come out as distorted conspiracy theories and get co-opted by other reactionary fear-mongering. Think about the QANON conspiracy theory that, through dark fantasies, expresses the very real sense of a world divided by vast inequalities of wealth and power that are determined by ruling systems. But what the reactionary mind does not grasp is the first victims of propaganda campaigns are those in the ruling class. That is how ideological realism dominates, in being internalized, such as how even the victims of systemic oppression act according to the incentives and disincentives built into the systems of oppression. And, ultimately, in a victimization culture everyone is a victim of the same unfreedom (e.g., the wealthy, in high inequality societies, having higher rates of social problems and health issues; compared to those in low inequality societies).

The reactionary right is a funhouse mirror that both shows and obscures the truth given voice by the political left. That is what we get when we’ve lost our ability to see clearly because we feel alone in a fractured society. We look for enemies in those other people, rather than realizing the trap we are all caught in. So, we follow the maze looking for our cheese, instead of looking for a way out. Leftist ideology emphasizes and prioritizes the relative; and so it is not to be taken as a final truth but as a dynamic learning process, as a finger pointing toward something else. From a leftist perspective, the only value in thinking about a linear political spectrum of two polar positions is to help us create a new society where a left vs right framing would no longer makes sense. While the political right typically proclaims itself as an answer and conclusion, the political left at its best offers a beginning point that opens up to an unknown future that simultaneously gives us new insight into the past, brings light into our shared humanity. Accordingly, we are more than we’ve been told we are.

* * *

Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority

This has been a somewhat hard post to write. And it’s not clear how successful it has so far turned out. The actual writing was more involved than the simplicity of the original impetus. We’ll go for broke with further explanation and, hopefully, we won’t add more confusion in the process (if nothing else, maybe this post will serve as an intriguing thought experiment about experienced reality, according to metaphors and memes, social construction and perception management). The central observation in mind was that of leftist thought about systems and similar things. This occurred to us in thinking about the symbolic value of issues like environmentalism and systemic racism, as discussed above.

It has long stood out how those on the political right take systems thinking as one of their primary targets. What is feared about something like Marxism is that it brings to light systems of oppression so that they can be seen and challenged, analyzed and debated. Even if all leftist alternatives so far proffered are wrong and impossible, the leftist critique might remain true or at least compelling and hence dangerous. Similarly, it is understandable that systemic racism gets dismissed so easily because social conservatism has always been mired in racist systems, at least so far. Racism, after all, is simply one particular expression of social conservatism; and central to American society from the beginning. But maybe we can dream of a day when American conservatives become anti-racist in both words and deeds. Admittedly, it has been a small achievement to get the political right to declare that “All Lives Matter” since, in finally pretending to believe what they previously denied, they might continue going further left. Do all lives really matter in how they are treated? Really? What if that actually was how everyone was treated?

The political right, indeed, has become more egalitarian or else less rabidly and openly inegalitarian over time. If this continues, would there come a point where the reactionary right that we presently know essentially stops existing? As for now, the reactionary right is alive and well; and all right-wing hierarchy involves various forms of rigid authority and privilege, which inevitably lead to unfairness and injustice and oppression (i.e., inegalitarianism). This right-wing hierarchy is a socially constructed system, demonstrating reactionaries understand systems just fine. So, the general attitude in outwardly dismissing all that which is systemic seems strange because how can conservatives be so unconcerned about conserving the environment, the basis of all life and civilization. But then one realizes that, with historical revisionism, the political right has never been all that concerned about conserving. All of that is besides the point because reaction always plays out in the immediate moment. The past is a mere convenience, a stage upon which to project nostalgic visions.

The real point is not only about if this or that system gets acknowledged as real but whether this entire leftist way of thinking about systems is even included in allowable thought and collective consciousness. The political right wants to shut down the public imagination before it gets to that point, to prevent public debate before it happens — strangle dangerous ideas in their crib. The moment there is actual inquiry about systems the political right has already lost the battle, and they know this. In symbolic conflation, systems must remain obscured by the fantasizing of the moral imagination. That is the basic argument Edmund Burke made about the moral imagination. So, it’s not that systems don’t also operate in the reactionary mind, but by nature they never can operate openly, honestly, and forthrightly. They must be presented as an unquestioned or unseen reality (i.e., ideological realism), often being claimed as something else (i.e., symbolic conflation).

The political right, as portrayed on the political right, in a sense doesn’t really or fully exist. It is a mirage of the moral imagination for the reason it has been promoted by perception management, the most powerful method of social control. Even though most Americans are far left-leaning in their views, the majority when given a forced choice continue to self-identify as ‘conservative’. This belies the social reality of a leftist supermajority. That is why one can, in all fairness, question the existence of the political right. Most Americans on the political right are, in many ways, further left than was the case among most American leftists a century ago. This is shown by how such a significant number of Republicans have come to agree with the general majority in recognizing racism in the police and in supporting stronger environmental regulations; other examples have been given elsewhere. It wasn’t that long ago that such ideas were radical not only to liberals but leftists as well, back when the political left was mainly focused on economic issues. As such, the disagreement, at present, is not about the reality of the situation but our response to it or else reaction.

That said, there might be a small genuine right-wing, what elsewhere in this blog has been called the ‘Ferengi‘ (based on the acronym FER that refers to the overlapping demographics of Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans). But even there, it’s not clear to what degree most of this hardcore minority holds the beliefs they claim, as appears in polls. The reactionary mind is defined by what it reacts to, not by what it affirms. When reactionaries aren’t co-opting from the left, they are sometimes simply declaring the complete opposite for rhetorical effect and strategic positioning. So, other than being reactionary, what exactly can we know about the political right? Not much, one might argue. The vast majority of conservatives and Republicans often privately admit to holding many views that, according to the political and media elites, would be considered rather liberal and leftist. The main body of the political right mostly evaporates upon close scrutiny, leaving little behind besides the emotional reflex of nostalgia and resentment; of anxiety, fear, and paranoia. But is emotional reaction, no matter how rhetorically narratized, enough to be called an ideology?

That has been the key question others have asked, such as the political scientist Corey Robin. Basically, he comes down with the view that the reactionary is simply a modern defense of entrenched hierarchy, but where the reactionaries as an aspiring elite seek to replace the prior hierarchies in order to seize power and privilege, wealth and resources. According to the analysis here in this post, the reactionary is nothing more than inegalitarianism, the void of an egalitarianism gone missing; or what Robin describes as the denied agency of the subordinate class. This still doesn’t tell us much, other than reactionaries are not egalitarians, further defining them by negation, by what they lack. Then we are left with figuring out what might be the project of entrenched hierarchy, other than opportunistic realpolitik. That leads us back to what exactly do we mean by ideology. Is it just a vague psychological stance or does it require a specific political project that seeks a clear vision and agenda about an ideal society?

Pretty much all of the political right has embraced the leftover liberalism of past generations, but done so in the typical mix-and-match style (i.e., bricolage) of the reactionary mind. There doesn’t appear to be any consistent principle behind all of it, no reason for why this aspect of liberalism is co-opted and another attacked and still another distorted in unrecognizable form. It can seem like ideology as a fortress where what is hidden and protected behind the defensive wall remains unknown, assuming anything at all is to be found. Yet, going by the argument of this post, we would stand by the view that the reactionary is fundamentally liberal in being inseparable from the liberal paradigm, as it is defined in its reacting to and co-opting of liberalism. Among the most reactionary of reactionaries, the right-wing elite and the staunch alt-righters, one senses that many and maybe most have come to agree with broad liberalism, as well as much of leftism. They’re not really arguing for something entirely different, as in articulating a distinct vision, for their main purpose is to defend the prevailing ideological realism itself toward a specific agenda and in serving particular interests.

One would be naive to celebrate this victory of liberalism as an End of History. The reactionaries may have gained the upper hand, given that reaction is an easier task with nothing really to achieve other than constantly causing difficulty by obstructing what others are trying to achieve (e.g., anti-democratic tactics, from voter suppression to voter purges). There is a suspicion that many of the seemingly active debates have already ended and, at this point, have become mere political spectacle. The most reactionary extremists — the social dominators, Machiavellian demagogues, and opportunistic psychopaths — maybe already know, to some degree, that the left has been right in its analysis and judgment. That is sort of the conclusion Corey Robin comes to, in that reactionaries agree the past has been a failure for otherwise they wouldn’t constantly seek to replace it with historical revisionism (e.g., falsely denying that the political right once was openly defined by racism). But it goes further than that, as seen with how the political right accepts large swaths of social liberalism (e.g., the political right stopped talking much about same sex marriage once it became undeniable that the vast majority of Americans took this basic gay right as a non-issue).

Yet here we are. The right-wing systems, structures, and institutions remain in place. It really doesn’t matter what someone like Donald Trump or Steven Bannon personally believes, since it’s almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t care about one of their own family members getting an abortion or getting gay married. They aren’t anti-liberal ideologues, but they realize pretending to be so is convenient rhetoric for manipulating a segment of the public. The strange thing is most of those being manipulated probably also are fine with these issues on a personal level. This is all about symbolic politics and symbolic identities — it’s a story being told. What views and opinions, values and ideals are held by individuals is irrelevant and moot. That is the power of systems over the mind, which is understood across the political spectrum but it’s only leftists that speak this truth. Right-wingers understand that right-wing systems work precisely by being taken as a given, by being left in the background where they cloak themselves in the shadows of moral imagination.

The political left may appear to have lost the war of political power and social control, even as it won the battle over the public mind, although change always begins in the public mind where it might not see effects until generations or centuries later, as the somewhat reactionary John Adams admitted about the revolution of mind preceding the revolution of politics, although a revolution of mind that began much earlier than he realized. This is demonstrated by the immense amount of time that passed across the relevant history; starting with the egalitarian rhetoric of the 14th century peasants’ revolts, continuing with the emergent radicalism of the 17th century English civil War, and finally coming to fruition with the egalitarian action of the 18th century political revolutions. Systems change slowly because systems have a way of taking on lives of their own. They are hyperobjects that begin acting like hypersubjects — they are the demiurgic forces that rule over us, more than does any ruling elite; but also the utopian ideals that inspire us with promises of freedom. The memetic power of ideas only gradually percolates throughout a system.

What the left dreams of is a time when the demos (the public, the people) once again regains its position as the leading hypersubject, the public mind within the body politic. The left wants to bring this all into collective consciousness, to manifest the victory that, one hopes, has already been achieved within the human heart. With a firm foothold in the public imagination, how might we lift ourselves by our own bootstraps? Then maybe we can stop talking about a left and a right.

* * *

Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

After writing all of the above, we thought of a post we’d written before and another post we’re still working on. The previous post came to the bold conclusion that we are all egalitarians, similar to an earlier more humorous assertion about all of us being white liberals now. The point is that such things have come to define our whole society, either in embracing or reacting to them. Ultimately, there is no inegalitarianism, in the way there is no illiberalism. Rather, a modern Westerner can choose between being a progressive egalitarian-liberal or a regressive egalitarian-liberal. But reaction can’t escape what it’s reacting to. As we put it in the post about egalitarianism:

“Egalitarianism isn’t and never was simply about modern left-wing ideology as formed out of the revolutionary philosophies of post-Enlightenment thinkers, dreamers, and activists. Egalitarianism isn’t an abstract ideal for it is rooted within us. To attempt to remove it would be to destroy our collective soul, an act akin to ripping out our heart. We don’t hold egalitarianism as a value and principle, as a vision and worldview. Egalitarianism, rather, is who we are. There is no ‘left’ and ‘right’, no division between a set of egalitarian political ideologies and what supposedly opposes them. To oppose egalitarianism would be insanity because it would be to oppose ourselves. Egalitarianism can’t be denied. Rather than a ‘left’ and ‘right’, there is simply and fundamentally the egalitarian center of our being. To embrace this revolutionary radicalism (i.e., to return to the root) would mean to become fully human. That is the only centrism, moderate or otherwise, that has any meaning.”

That argument is biased by our spiritual inclinations and religious upbringings. In high school, we read A Course In Miracles. The theology of the text isn’t relevant, per se, but there is one statement that has stuck in our mind all these decades later: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” That is basically how we’ve come to think of the left and right, as respectively motivated by love and fear. This extends into our understanding of the social sciences, such as not seeing egalitarianism and authority as opposites for not all authority is authoritarianism, the latter being a distortion of the former. For most of human existence, egalitarianism has been the norm where most hierarchies were moderate, flexible, and temporary. This is why egalitarianism is so deeply embedded in human nature, as both inclination and aspiration. It requires tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety to go against this inborn tendency and default mode.

This leads us to the post we’ve been working on for a while and still plan to finish. It brings in the health angle. We are a sickly society and so, combined with high inequality and artificial scarcity, it makes perfect sense that we are drowning in anxiety and fear. There has never been such overwhelmingly stressful societies as seen in modern industrialized states, and it’s an entirely new kind of set of stressors; chronic stress as unresolved tension and unhealed trauma. This is shown in the growing rates of psychosis among urbanized youth and growing rates of disease in general at ever younger ages. Our entire social order, lifestyle, and food system is out of sync with our evolved nature. An example of this is our being literally ungrounded from the earth. It wasn’t until the post-war period that humans started using synthetic material for shoes that disconnects the human body from the immense source of electrons in the earth, possibly why we’ve become so obsessed with antioxidants that are able to loan electrons in preventing body-wide damage from free radical cascades.

In observing people, it is obvious how disconnected, sickly, stunted, malformed, and mentally disturbed is the average person — a genuine reason for moral panic. So many people feel crappy in both their minds and bodies, and so they act in ways that are personally and socially dysfunctional. This is not a normal state of humanity and it might explain why our society, in having a weakened social immune system, has become so vulnerable to the reactionary mind virus (what one might call the terrain theory of memetics). It’s not only about powerful ideas but an alteration of how the human body-mind functions. Even low levels of stress from sickliness can trigger personal and social responses of authoritarianism, as shown in the research on communities with higher parasite load. What if most of the framing of right vs left is simply a confused attempt to grasp the distinction between a healthy society and an unhealthy society, pro-social behavior and anti-social behavior, societal progress and societal decline? It’s one thing for a society to temporarily fall into reactionary mode as a survival response to an immediate concrete threat. But to become stuck continuously in reaction is abnormal, unhealthy, and dangerous.

That is how we’ve come to see this whole issue. We all react at various points in our lives and that is perfectly normal. That is a survival response. But remaining permanently in a state of fight or flight is unbearably stressful. Research has found that low levels of chronic stress are more traumatic than a single much worse traumatic event. That is what living in a high inequality society does to us. It potentially can be worse than a war or a famine, being violently attacked or raped. The reason is because it never ends and so never can be escaped. There is no respite or refuge, no moment to rest and de-stress. It often leads to learned helplessness or worse, various dysfunctional mental illnesses and personality traits: mood disorders, personality disorders, the Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, authoritarianism, and narcissism; or Dark Tetrad if sadism is added), etc. The reactionary mind, one might argue, is simply the pattern of symptoms seen in severe unhealed trauma. And right-wing ideology is simply the political, economic, and social reaction of the most traumatized in a society of the severely traumatized.

We see this in decades of data that compares societies that are high and low in inequality. It matters less if this involves poverty or wealth. Many of the physically and mentally healthiest populations are traditional cultures like hunter-gatherer tribes where they have little outward wealth. But what they also lack is the authoritarian enforcement of artificial scarcity. We’ve noted how modern Americans act as if they live in a world of scarcity, despite stores full of stuff. This is because the basic human needs are not being met. Inequality creates an environment of stress, anxiety, and fear where there is a constant sense of vulnerability to danger and threat. We are disconnected from the world in a way that is not true in traditional societies. The Piraha, to return to a favorite example, live amidst great abundance of food and resources that are easily obtained from the surrounding jungle and nearby river. That is why they don’t worry about survival nor even store food. They eat when they want, but can go days without eating for no particular reason. As Daniel Everett observed, they seem to have no fear of the world around them, a world that objectively we modern Westerners would perceive as extremely dangerous. To them, they feel at home.

Not only do the Piraha lack scarcity, real and imagined, but also they lack authoritarian hierarchy. They have no permanent positions of authority or even expertise; council of elders, no chiefs, war leaders, healers, shamans, etc. To occasionally achieve some practical end involving cooperation, a single individual might temporarily take leadership but it doesn’t continue beyond the activity itself. It’s not merely that their life is simple for they do possess immense knowledge that requires a level of memory few modern Westerners are capable of. What results from this? The Piraha are happy, friendly, gregarious, kind, and welcoming; including toward strangers who visit them. There is no signs of long-term stress or unhealed trauma, no known cases of depression or suicide. They are one of the few remaining egalitarian tribes that shows us the conditions under which human nature evolved. They show us the potential that exists within us all.

This isn’t about some nostalgic past but about the present and, if we allow it, it could also be about our future. That is what is imagined in the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation. What might it be like to live in fully functioning democratic socialism that is not based on sickness, fear, and punishment? We don’t have to limit ourselves to science fiction utopias. We already know, to some extent, what is possible. The more successful social democracies have many elements of democratic socialism about them, including wide-scale public ownership and operation of numerous areas of the society and economy — not only welfare, education, and infrastructure, but also childcare, job training, healthcare, utilities, natural resources, and much else. These quite socialist social democracies are, importantly, low-inequality with all that goes with that: better public health, lower rates of violent crimes and mental illness, and such.

All of the factors that feed into the reactionary mind are much more muted in these societies focused on the public good. That is what allows the egalitarianism within human nature to fully express. Healthy environments create healthy people and healthy cultures. This is a world where differences are allowed to a greater extent within a shared concern and motivated by a shared humanity. When people are no longer trapped in fear and scarcity, then even public disagreement and debate doesn’t have to result in reactionary polarization and tribalism. This is the leftist vision of humanity that, instead of offering a final conclusion and totalizing answer, offers new beginnings and opens up to new possibilities. What this specifically would mean for any given society at any given time would be determined through a culture of trust and democratic self-governance, an inspiring potential that can’t be guaranteed or proven in advance.

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”.

* * *

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

Below are mostly some scientific articles on meat-related research. Mixed in are also some general articles discussing such research. A major focus is on the data available and lacking, but also the data that is contradiction, specifically between Western and Asian sources. What some of the authors explain is how this is problematic in having led to unsubstantiated dietary recommendations and healthcare practices. Added further down is a section that explores a specific example, that of the so-called China Study.

* * *

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).

Vegetarians and Heart Disease: Will Ditching Meat Really Save Your Arteries?
by Denise Minger

Studies on vegetarians are inherently tricky. Although some folks dump animal foods strictly for ethical reasons, many of the meatless [Maria Gacek, Selected lifestyle and health condition indices of adults with varied models of eating] eat their veggies alongside other pro-health behaviors like exercising more, nixing tobacco, swapping refined grains for whole, limiting processed food (soy Frankenmeats notwithstanding), and avoiding the biggest of the baddies (trans fats, corn syrup, Cadbury Creme Eggs, and pretty much everything on this site).

What does all of that equal? Confounderville for researchers. It’s impossible to adjust for every little diet and lifestyle tweak a vegetarian makes in the name of health, so in scientific studies, vegetarians almost always have an advantage over health-indifferent omnivores. But the reason can’t be pegged on their meatlessness: Vegetarianism is a marker for a comprehensive shift in behaviors that influence disease risk.

But that’s not always the case with all groups of vegetarians. Studies focusing on some religious vegetarians (namely Buddhist and Hindu*) are more likely to show the effects of going meat-free in isolation rather than as part of a health-boosting plan. Confounding can still be an issue (especially in terms of stress reduction from certain religious practices)—but unlike the vegetarians who make a cascade of changes when they ditch meat, some religious vegetarians eat diets pretty similar to their omnivorous counterparts, just without flesh. That makes it a bit easier to compare apples with apples: We can see how an average omni diet stacks up against a similar diet sans meat, instead of comparing an average omni diet with a multifaceted vegetarian lifestyle.

So where am I going with this? Right here [Chih-Wei Chen et al, Taiwanese Female Vegetarians Have Lower Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2 Compared with Omnivores]. That’s the full text for a recent study from Taiwan looking at inflammatory markers in mostly-Buddhist vegetarians versus omnivores. (And if access to that link disappears, as full-texts are wont to do, just shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you.)

This study has a few good things going for it. For starters, it excludes smokers and uses only women—which automatically eliminates problems associated with controlling for tobacco use or gender-related differences in inflammatory markers. As the researchers note, the health-consciousness gap between Taiwanese vegetarians and Taiwanese omnivores is probably much smaller than with Western vegetarians and Western omnivores:

Most western vegetarians include fresh vegetables and fruits as their main source of nutrition and energy, based on health benefits of the foods. In contrast, most Taiwanese vegetarians choose a vegetarian diet because of their Buddhist religion, which teaches a policy of “no killing.” Buddhists in Taiwan have a dietary pattern similar to that of most Taiwanese in terms of meal patterns and cooking methods, except that they do not include any meat, fish, or poultry in their meals.

Although the researchers don’t explore the subject at all, the difference in religious practices between the vegetarians (apparently Buddhist) and omnivores (whose religion(s) weren’t documented) could be significant. Stress and mental outlook may play a role [K Rees et al, Psychological interventions for coronary heart disease] in the progression of heart disease, and meditation/centering practices associated with Buddhism could help improve both [Erin L Olivo et al, Feasibility and effectiveness of a brief meditation-based stress management intervention for patients diagnosed with or at risk for coronary heart disease: a pilot study]. If any of that is confounding the results, we won’t be able to know from the data presented.

But other than that, the study was pretty thorough. It tracked BMI, blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, cholesterol (total, HDL, and LDL), white blood cell count, homocysteine, and two inflammatory markers: lipoprotein-associated phospholipase AS (Lp-PLA2) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

The good news for the vegetarians is that their Lp-PLA2—a marker specifically for vascular inflammation—was lower than in the control group. But that’s where the good news ends. The researchers seemed pretty surprised to report that the vegetarians had higher levels of CRP (borderline significant at p=0.05) than the omnivores, along with higher homocysteine and triglycerides. […]

Interestingly, the researchers note that one of their earlier studies [C-W Chen et al, Total cardiovascular risk profile of Taiwanese vegetarians] showed borderline lower CRP in vegetarians—but despite using it to claim vegetarians had a better risk profile than omnivores, that finding might not be very meaningful:

As we know, gender and smoking influenced the serum hs-CRP level significantly. In our previous study, there are more males and smokers in the omnivore group that can influence the statistical power of difference of hs-CRP between both groups. Actually, it failed to demonstrate a significant difference if male and female samples were analyzed separately.

In the current study, the researchers offer a few explanations as to why vegetarians might have higher CRP levels, even if their Lp-PLA2 levels were lower. One is that there were large variations in the CRP levels for all groups, which makes it harder to analyze statistically (translation: “maybe the correlation is a fluke”). They also mention that Taiwan vegetarians rely heavily on soy products as a substitute for meat, eat fewer fresh vegetables than western vegetarians, and typically cook vegetables in oil (presumably industrial seed oils).

The significance of this study is that it underscores the major issue with vegetarian research at large: The health-protective effects of vegetarianism are probably due to factors other than meat avoidance. When you study vegetarians that aren’t partaking in a bigger diet and lifestyle change, they no longer have a glowing health report. The lower Lp-PLA2 levels in this particular study are noteworthy, but higher CRP and triglycerides aren’t doing anyone any favors.

Of course, this isn’t the first study to poke holes the claim that meat-avoiders have special protection against heart disease. A 2005 study conducted in China [Timothy Kwok et al, Vascular Dysfunction in Chinese Vegetarians: An Apparent Paradox?] rounded up some long-term vegetarians (6 to 40 years of meatlessness)—including many religious vegetarians—and compared their heart disease markers against an omnivorous control group. Apart from eating less saturated fat, protein, and cholesterol, the vegetarians had nutrient intakes similar to those of their omni friends.

The surprising results? The vegetarians had significantly thicker arterial walls (p<0.0001), reduced flow-mediated dilation (a predictor of cardiovascular events) (p<0.0001), higher blood pressure (p<0.05), and higher triglycerides (p<0.05) than the omnivores. (According to the paper, the raised blood pressure might be related to some popular high-sodium vegetarian foods such as processed protein food substitutes, fake oyster sauce, and tomato paste.)

In the researchers’ multivariate statistical models, vegetarianism had the strongest association with both artery thickness and diminished flow-mediated dilation out of all the variables documented—including age, gender, and triglyceride levels.

As might be expected, the vegetarians also had lower B12 levels and higher homocysteine than the control group—but even after adjusting for these, vegetarianism remained strongly linked with less-healthy hearts. The researchers concluded with this:

In summary, contrary to common belief, vegetarians, at least in the Chinese, might have accelerated atherosclerosis and abnormal arterial endothelial function, compared with omnivore control subjects. The increased risk could only be partially explained by their higher blood pressure, triglyceride, homocysteine, and lower vitamin B12 concentrations.

A little alarming, no? My guess is that these vegetarians got such a lousy report card because they didn’t make all the positive health changes most Western vegetarians make when they forgo flesh—but rather, replaced meat with processed foods, ate more carbohydrates and polyunsaturated plant fats, and failed to get enough B12 (resulting in higher homocysteine). This is what happens when you simply pluck meat out of your diet and fill the void with plant-based substitutes: the Healthy Vegetarian image becomes a lot less rosy.

No doubt some vegetarians would dismiss this study because the participants “did vegetarianism wrong” by not supplementing B12, not eating enough fruit and vegetables, consuming too much salt, and failing to provide daily offerings to the Arugula God. But if that’s the case, one could argue that all the meat eaters in the studies supporting vegetarianism just “did omnivorism wrong” for similar reasons. This is a good study because neither the vegetarians nor the omnivores seemed particularly health conscious. It’s rare that we get a level playing field like that.

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”.

* * *

To explore a specific area of debate, consider Colin Campbell’s book The China Study. It was a correlative analysis of earlier data. And it’s focus on an Asian population is relevant. But some have pointed out that the correlations are mostly statistically non-significant while other statistically significant correlations were ignored. The best and most thorough critique was done by Denise Minger, in a series of articles she published at her website. One of her articles was specifically about the meat issue. Even one of the original researchers admitted that nothing meaningful was likely to be concluded from the data because there simply is too much noise of uncontrolled confounders. Anyway, in summarizing some of Minger’s findings, Harriet Hall wrote,

“The data do show that cholesterol is positively associated with various cancers, that cholesterol is positively associated with animal protein, and that cholesterol is negatively associated with plant protein. So by indirect deduction they assume that animal protein is associated with cancers and that reducing intake is protective. But if you compare animal protein intake directly with cancer, there are as many negative correlations as positive, and not one of those correlations reaches a level of statistical significance. Comparing dietary plant protein to various types of cancer, there are many more positive correlations and one of them does show strong statistical significance. The variable “death from all cancers” is four times as strongly associated with plant protein as with animal protein. And Campbell fails to mention an important confounder: cholesterol is higher in geographic areas with a higher incidence of schistosomiasis and hepatitis B infection, both risk factors for cancer.

“Campbell says breast cancer is associated with dietary fat (which is associated with animal protein intake). The data show a non-significant association with dietary fat, but stronger (still non-significant) associations with several other factors and a significant association with wine, alcohol, and blood glucose level. The (non-significant) association of breast cancer with legume intake is virtually identical to the (non-significant) association with dietary fat. Animal protein itself shows a weaker correlation with breast cancer than light-colored vegetables, legume intake, fruit, and a number of other purportedly healthy plant foods.)

“He indicts animal protein as being correlated with cardiovascular disease, but fails to mention that plant protein is more strongly correlated and wheat protein is far, far more strongly correlated. The China Study data show the opposite of what Campbell claims: animal protein doesn’t correspond with more disease, even in the highest animal food-eating counties” (The China Study Revisited: New Analysis of Raw Data Doesn’t Support Vegetarian Ideology).

Beyond Minger, others have also responded to The China Study that gets cited endlessly by vegans. Chris Kresser noted that, “Campbell conveniently fails to mention the county of Tuoli in China. The folks in Tuoli ate 45% of their diet as fat, 134 grams of animal protein each day (twice as much as the average American), and rarely ate vegetables or other plant foods. Yet, according to the China Study data, they were extremely healthy with low rates of cancer and heart disease; healthier, in fact, than many of the counties that were nearly vegan” (Rest in Peace, China Study). Another Chris, of the Masterjohn variety, discussed issues involving the roles of lysine and folate, with his giving credit to Minger for making the connection to lysine (Denise Minger’s Refutation of Campbell’s “China Study” Generates Continued Debate).

* * *

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

* * *

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.