“For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.”

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
by Yuval Noah Harari

  • “Poverty certainly causes many other health problems, and malnutrition shortens life expectancy even in the richest countries on earth. In France, for example, 6 million people (about 10 percent of the population) suffer from nutritional insecurity. They wake up in the morning not knowing whether they will have anything to eat for lunch: they often go to sleep hungry; and the nutrition they do obtain is unbalanced and unhealthy — lots of starches, sugar and salt, and not enough protein and vitamins. Yet nutritional insecurity isn’t famine, and France of the early twenty-first century isn’t France of 1694. Even in the worst slums around Beauvais or Paris, people don’t die because they have not eaten for weeks on end.”
  • “Indeed, in most countries today overeating has become a far worse problem than famine. In the eighteenth century Marie Antoinette allegedly advised the starving masses that if they ran out of bread, they should just eat cake instead. Today, the poor are following this advice to the letter. Whereas the rich residents of Beverly Hills eat lettuce salad and steamed tofu with quinoa, in the slums and ghettos the poor gorge on Twinkie cakes, Cheetos, hamburgers and pizza. In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.”
  • “During the second half of the twentieth century this Law of the Jungle has finally been broken, if not rescinded. In most areas wars became rarer than ever. Whereas in ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15 per cent of all deaths, during the twentieth century violence caused only 5 per cent of deaths, and in the early twenty-first century it is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality. In 2012, 620,000 people died in the world due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”
  • “What about terrorism, then? Even if central governments and powerful states have learned restraint, terrorists might have no such qualms about using new and destructive weapons. That is certainly a worrying possibility. However, terrorism is a strategy of weakness adopted by those who lack access to real power. At least in the past, terrorism worked by spreading fear rather than by causing significant material damage. Terrorists usually don’t have the strength to defeat an army, occupy a country or destroy entire cities. In 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.”

Harari’s basic argument is compelling. The kinds of violence and death we experience now is far different. The whole reason I wrote this post is because of a few key points that stood out to me: “Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.” And: “For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.” As those quotes make clear, our first world problems are of a different magnitude. But I would push back against his argument, as for much of the rest of the world, in his making the same mistake as Steven Pinker by ignoring slow violence (so pervasive and systemic as to go unnoticed and uncounted, unacknowledged and unreported, often intentionally hidden). Parts of the United States also are in third world conditions. So, it isn’t simply a problem of nutritional excess from a wealthy economy. That wealth isn’t spread evenly, much less the nutrient-dense healthy foods or the healthcare. Likewise, the violence oppression falls harder upon some than others. Those like Harari and Pinker can go through their entire lives seeing very little of it.

Since World War Two, there have been thousands of acts of mass violence: wars and proxy wars, invasions and occupations, bombings and drone strikes; covert operations in promoting toppled governments, paramilitaries, and terrorists; civil wars, revolutions, famines, droughts, refugee crises, and genocides; et cetera. Most of these events of mass violence were directly or indirectly caused by the global superpowers, besides through military aggression and such, in their destabilizing regions, exploiting third world countries, stealing wealth and resources, enforcing sanctions on food and medicine, economic manipulations, debt entrapment, artificially creating poverty, and being the main contributors to environmental destruction and climate change. One way or another, these institutionalized and globalized forms of injustice and oppression might be the combined largest cause of death, possibly a larger number than in any society seen before. Yet they are rationalized away as ‘natural’ deaths, just people dying.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, probably billions of people in world have been killed, maimed, imprisoned, tortured, starved, orphaned, and had their lives cut short. Some of this was blatant violent actions and the rest was slow violence. But it was all intentional, as part of the wealthy and powerful seeking to maintain their wealth and power and gain even more. There is little justification for all this violence. Even the War on Terror involved cynical plans for attacking countries like Iraq that had preceded the terrorist attacks themselves. The Bush cronies, long before the 2000 presidential election, had it written down on paper that they were looking for an excuse to take Saddam Hussein out of power. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killed millions of people, around 5% or so of the population (the equivalent would be if a foreign power killed a bit less than 20 million Americans). The used uranium weapons spread across the landscape will add millions of more deaths over the decades — slow, torturous, and horrific deaths, many of them children. Multiply that by the hundreds of other similar US actions, and then multiply that by the number of other countries that have committed similar crimes against humanity.

Have we really become less violent? Or has violence simply taken new forms? Maybe we should wait until after the coming World War Three before declaring a new era of peace, love, and understanding. Numerous other historical periods had a few generations without war and such. That is not all that impressive. The last two world wars are still in living memory and hence living trauma. Let’s give it some time before we start singing the praises and glory of our wonderful advancement as a civilization guided by our techno-utopian fantasies of Whiggish liberalism. But let’s also not so easily dismiss the tremendous suffering and costs from the diseases of civilization that worsen with each generation; not only obesity, diabetes, heart disease but also autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, and on and on — besides diet and nutrition, much of it caused by chemical exposure from factory pollution, oil spills, ocean dumping, industrial farming, food additives, packaging, and environmental toxins. And we must not forget the role that governments have played in pushing harmful dietary recommendations of low-fat and high-carb that, in being spread worldwide by the wealth and power and influence of the United States, has surely harmed at least hundreds of millions over the past several generations.

The fact that sugar is more dangerous than gun powder, Coca-Cola more dangerous than al-Queda… This is not a reason to stop worrying about mass violence and direct violence. Rather than as a percentage, the total number of violent deaths is still going up, just as there are more slaves now than at the height of slavery prior to the American Civil War. Talking about percentages of certain deaths while excluding other deaths is sleight of hand rhetoric. That misses an even bigger point. The corporate plutocracy that now rules our neo-fascist society of inverted totalitarianism poses the greatest threat of our age. That is not an exaggeration. It is simply what the data shows us to be true, as Harari unintentionally reveals. Privatized profit comes at a public price, a price we can’t afford. Even ignoring the greater externalized costs of environmental harm from corporations (and the general degradation of society from worsening inequality), the increasing costs of healthcare because of diseases caused by highly-profitable and highly-processed foods that are scientifically-designed to be palatable and addictive (along with the systematic dismantling of traditional food systems) could bankrupt many countries in the near future and cripple their populations in the process. World War Three might turn out to be the least of our worries. Just because most of the costs have been externalized on the poor and delayed to future generations doesn’t mean they aren’t real. It will take a while to get the full death count.


20 thoughts on ““For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.”

    • It was a slow transition for me. I was so addicted to sugar.

      I first switched to diet pop, not that it is necessarily all that better. It turns out that, according to some research, even non-sugar sweeteners can harm the body similarly to sugar, such as causing diabetes. The body treats the sweet taste of anything with a similar response as to sugar and so the whole insulin resistance train wreck can follow.

      But I finally kicked the habit. The only non-sweetener I use these days is stevia. Sometimes, I think I’d be better off giving up on all sweeteners, even natural ones like stevia. The sweet taste itself maintains some of that old addictive feeling.

        • Even fruit can be problematic. Cultivated fruit is immensely more sugary than wild fruit. And over time cultivated fruit has been made sweeter. For example, as I recall, an apple today as five times as much sugar as an apple earlier last century.

          There is a guy I work with. He is extremely healthy, by conventional standards, in that he does everything his doctor tells him to do. He jogged regularly. He ate salads, whole wheat bread, etc. And he ate fruit, since he was told it was healthy.

          Even though he avoided candy, pop and other junk food, he got diabetes. He also had to get a knee replacement, maybe related to inflammation, as the conventional American diet is highly inflammatory, not only sugar but also industrial seed oils.

          The thing about fruit is that, until quite recently, it was only ever eaten in small amounts and seasonally. My mother remembers that getting a piece of fruit as a child was a rare and special treat.

          • Of course, back in the 1950s, my mother’s family had enough property to grow apple trees. During the appropriate season, apples were eaten in abundance with every meal and snack. But that was a brief period. And as I said, the kinds of apples were far different, less sweet and probably more nutritious, than what is bought in a grocery store today. For the rest of the year, fruits were uncommon.

            That is how most humans ate fruit until modern agriculture and shipping fully took hold in the decades following WWII. Humans didn’t evolve to eat large amounts of sugar and starches all day long with every meal and snack and in every season for the entire year, an endless massively high-carb diet.

            I continually find it amusing and shocking that what goes for a low-carb diet in nutritional studies, 40% and below, is the macronutrient ratio for a normal hunter-gatherer diet. Carbs as 40% of calories, according to data, is the highest end of the range for hunter-gatherers. So, what is a low-carb diet to modern Westerners is a high-carb diet to hunter-gatherers. Low and high are relative terms.

  1. True. There is Coca-Cola. There is also…the pharmaceutical “industry.”

    You appear to be open to personal experience.

    What should I think of a “Doctor” who asks me a few questions; settles on a “diagnosis” (Lymphedema, in my case); and…immediately starts throwing pills (and shots) at me? Especially when I’ve said that my Chiropractor has been exceptionally astute in his assessments and his treatments exceptionally beneficial to my well-being?

    What should I think?

    What I think, actually, is this: Most “doctors” are actually mechanics, and so enthralled by the pharmaceutical industry’s propaganda that they can see little else. It is a “truism:” a good doctor is hard to find.

    So…. It’s physical therapy for me for now. Thank you. This particular “Doc” can keep his “blood thinners”…and anti-inflammatory shots to boot. Only if such are absolutely necessary — as in the case of high blood pressure, heart problems, clots, etc. — should they even be considered.

    But, of course, that’s just my humble opinion.

    • I’ve written previously about some of those kinds of issues. If you look around, you’ll find some detailed posts about the medical profession and healthcare.

      There are few doctors who are free agents who are self-employed without any concerns for the powers that be. Most of them, instead, are beholden to various institutions. A side effect of Obamacare was the increasing market share of hospitals and large clinics. Insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies have likewise grown more powerful and influential over time, including within the medical education system.

      The typical doctor operates according to their formal education and training and according to the incentives of the system. I don’t doubt that they mean well, but they are largely ignorant about certain kinds of info and trapped within a particular ideological structure. It is what it is, until something forces it to become something else.

      • It is what it is….

        “It’s always been this way.”

        Something no one ever wants to say to me, especially if they think they’re my “boss.”

        I recently got this from someone who declined to provide me with the “full-time” hours my (supposedly) “full-time” status (as a “full-time” employee) entails.

        She argued: “I just don’t have the hours! There are no ‘shades of gray’ about that.” To which I responded, “I am a ‘full-time’ employee. There are no ‘shades of gray’ about that, either.”

        An “uphill” battle I’ve fought many times over.

        Too bad for both of us that “‘Humane Resources’ is out of date,” as well.

        If the culture doesn’t change, nothing ever will.

      • I know some people despise the saying, “It is what it is.” That is why I threw in the last part of, “…until something forces it to become something else.” With or without that additional thought, when I use such a phrase, there is never an implication that, “It’s always been this way.” Nothing has always been this way.

        The world is endless change, even if some change is so slow as to be imperceptible to the individual human mind. That came up as I was reworking a post of mine and was reading some more about schizophrenia. Mental illness is what it is, that is under present conditions, until those conditions change. And all of it will change, one way or another, but it might be more beneficial for all involved if we embraced change.

        I came across these quotes from Torrey and Miller:

        – “If this increase was real, we have argued, then we are now in the midst of an epidemic of insanity so insidious that most people are even unaware of its existence.”
        – “Living amid an ongoing epidemic that nobody notices is surreal. It is like viewing a mighty river that has risen slowly over two centuries, imperceptibly claiming the surrounding land, millimeter by millimeter. . . . Humans adapt remarkably well to a disaster as long as the disaster occurs over a long period of time.”
        – “At the end of the seventeenth century, insanity was of little significance and was little discussed. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was perceived as probably increasing and was of some concern. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was perceived as an epidemic and was a major concern. And at the end of the twentieth century, insanity was simply accepted as part of the fabric of life. It is a remarkable history.”


        • I know some people despise the saying, “It is what it is.” That is why I threw in the last part of, “…until something forces it to become something else.”

          I know.

          That other saying should actually read: “It’s always been done this (or that) way,” btb. Eesh. Makes my skin crawl. : )

      • Forgive me for backtracking, but your comments regarding formal medical education, training and incentives so closely paralleled those of my chiropractor, it’s uncanny. Among the many things we discussed, he noted that typical medical training is predicated on disease whereas chiropractic training is predicated on health.

        That particular statement is a bit too generic to be applicable across the board and, of course, we’re all well aware of the heightened tension between conventional and alternative forms of medicine; but dis-ease is dis-ease whether cardiovascular, musculoskeletal or, indeed, dis-ease along any other passageway of the continuum that is a human being. So, in a way, both conventional medical and chiropractic training are predicated on health and disease along with the “maintenance” of health, but perhaps more so in the symptoms and effects of disease than underlying causes in the case of conventional medicine.

        At any rate, I’m not really going anywhere with this…yet. Those comments just got me thinking about much of what passes for “preventative medicine,” for example, not to mention just how much that phrase resembles “preemptive war.” o.O Ask a typical doctor why s/he thinks this or that test (often with proven deleterious side effects), invasive procedure or pharmaceutical necessary and the typical response is, “It’s routine.” (In fact, that word is applied to just about everything from medical procedures to bankruptcy proceedings.)

        Here’s hoping “routine” undergoes more penetrating scrutiny in the medical profession (and elsewhere) than it is presently receiving.

        • I guess this kind of thing has been on my mind for a long time. I was raised in alternative thinking, both religion/spirituality and diet/nutrition. My grandmother moved to the Bay area of California and then to the Portland area of Oregon.

          She passed on a West Coast mentality to my Midwest family. I’ve been surrounded by people with alternative health views since childhood, including going to chiropractors when I was young. My foot was bothering me in playing soccer as a kid and a chiropractor fixed it. My recent writing on such things is a revisiting of the world I was raised in.

          To focus on health and root causes rather than sickness and symptoms is very much of that world, even within the religious part of it, as my childhood church was New Thought Christianity. This way of thinking feels natural to me. But what is different now is that the science is finally starting to catch up.

          I’m enjoying the process of learning about the science. The entire field of nutrition studies has been thrown up in the air. And it’s not clear where it will land or what it will look like when it settles back into place. But the outlines of what is forming is becoming more clear.

  2. I was relieved to see you turn and drop the hammer on these sorts of stat heavy clever generalizations. Pinker is especially irritating as I’ve read some of his work and it’s a lot of statistics don’t lie but statisticians do. I haven’t read Hariri but reviews point to the same problematic methodology.

    Record keeping for violent/war deaths has been notoriously poor and only relatively recently has it become more reliable.

    As recently as 2012 a major study reevaluated deaths during the US CW and added nearly 250k to the total (the number has a variance but is now estimated to be closer to 800+k).

    And of course there’s the rhetorical issues – who defines “violent” death vs “collateral”?

    Someone asked me about how violent the South Side of Chicago was and I said it was bad but there’s still crime on the North side – it’s just conducted indoors on computers so you don’t see it on the news.

    • To my mind and conscience, collateral deaths are yet another variety of violence. Fuck rationalizations! Violence is violence, as dead is dead.

      The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

      If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

      That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

      Just imagine if some other country (or alliance of countries) over a period of decades invaded the United States multiple times, armed and trained paramilitary groups here, overthrew the government, propped up a dictator or left the country in chaos, sent drone or military strikes from across the national border, enforced economic sanctions, and on and on. Just imagine that these actions led to the harming and killing of millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands innocents (women, children, and other civilians), maybe taking out a few gay clubs that were in the wrong place.

      • Statistic and the politics of what is defined as “data” is fascinating.

        Consider the often quoted “fact” that flying is safer than driving. We’re told that more people are killed in driving accidents and that’s true.

        Buuut, what no one discusses is that more people survive car accidents than plane crashes which of course changes the equation.

        Another example is historical: One can read that German war production peaked in 1945 thus “proving” that the strategic bombing was a failure.

        Except that as a result of both strategic and tactical bombing from the air, the Germans were unable to deliver supplies to their ground forces, therefore, the campaign was a success.

        Of course this races to the edge of the dreaded Deconstructionist or Structuralist or even worse Postmodernist approach and that makes you some sort of Marxist who smells bad.

        People (some people) will quote “Shakespeare” and says the first thing we will do is kill all of the lawyers.

        The lawyers of today like to respond that the character saying that was the villain.

        They in turn forget that the men writing the play were hacks working for the Tudor’s writing propaganda.

        The staggering number of deaths from the illegal, immoral and illogical invasion of Iraq undoubtedly are in the millions.

        One could add to that number the untold number of suicides due to PTSD and that in turn branches out into economic warfare in which veterans and civilians crippled by the “cost” of the war kill themselves.

        Of course control of the narrative is crucial.

        The reactionary assault against Postmodernism is no accident even if useful idiots like J.P. have no idea they are clearing the path for more intelligent and more lethal reactionaries and authentic fascists who of course are militant about control of the narrative – both their personal cult narrative and the wider story they fabricate.

        “Fake News” is a hydra issue – with everyone involved twisting the “facts” to suit their version of events.

        What remains are the millions of dead who need someone else to tell the story for them.

        • There are no facts, only opinions. We have no one in authority to trust, if ever this as a wise thing to do. Faulty authorities (but of course! they are human) who are consistent have at least that quality to commend them. Empiricism Si! Rationalism No!

          • As I like to put it, “I have one authority in this world…and it’s none of ‘you’.”

            Of course, it depends what one thinks ‘you’ means as to how that’s taken, but I’m old enough now that I really couldn’t care less anymore.

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