Rate of Moral Panic

I’m always looking for historical background that puts our present situation in new light. We often don’t realize, for example, how different was the world before and after the Second World War. The 1940s and 1950s was a strange time.

There was a brief moment around the mid-century when the number of marriages shot up and people married younger. So, when we compare marriage rates now to those in the post-war period, we get a skewed perspective because that post-war period was extremely abnormal by historical standards (Ana Swanson, 144 years of marriage and divorce in the United States, in one chart). It’s true that marriage rates never returned to the level of that brief marriage (and birth) boom following the war, but then again marriage rates weren’t ever that high earlier either.

In the 1990s, during the height of the culture wars when family values were supposedly under attack, the marriage rate was about the same as it was from before the Civil War and into the early 1900s, the period I’ve referred to as the crisis of identity. In the decades immediately before that starting around 1970, the marriage rate had been even higher than what was seen in the late 19th century (there isn’t dependable earlier data). Nor is it that premarital sex has become normalized over time, as young people have always had sex: “leaving out the even lower teen sex rate of GenZ, there isn’t a massive difference between the teen sex rates of Millennials and that of Boomers and Silents” (Rates of Young Sluts).

As another example from this past century, “In 1920, 43 percent of Americans were members of a church; by 1960, that figure had jumped to 63 percent” (Alex Morris, False Idol — Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump). Think about that. Most Americans, in the early 1900s, were some combination of unchurched and non-religious or otherwise religiously uninvolved and disinterested. A similar pattern was seen in the colonial era when many people lived in communities that lacked a church. Church membership didn’t begin to rise until the 1800s and apparently declined again with mass urbanization and early industrialization.

By the way, that is closely associated with the issue of marriage. Consider early America when premarital sex was so common that a large percentage of women got married after pregnancy and many of those marriages were common law, meaning that couples were simply living together. Moral norms were an informal affair that, if and when enforced, came form neighbors and not religious authority figures. Those moral norms were generous enough to allow the commonality of bastards and single parents, although some of that was explained by other issues such as rape and spousal death.

Many early Americans rarely saw a minister, outside of itinerant preachers who occasionally passed by. This is partly why formal marriages were less common. “Historians of American religion have long noted that the colonies did not exude universal piety. There was a general agreement that in the colonial period no more than 10-20 percent of the population actually belonged to a church” (Roger Finke & Rodney Stark, The Churching of America). This was at a time when many governments had state religions and so churches were associated with oppressiveness, as seen with the rise of non-Christian views (agnosticism, atheism, deism, universalism, unitarianism, etc) during the revolutionary period.

And don’t get me started on abortion, in how maybe as high as one in five or six pregnancies were aborted right before the American Civil War. That might be related to why fertility rates have been steadily dropping for centuries: “Extending the analysis back further, the White fertility rate declined from 7.04 in 1800 to 5.42 in 1850, to 3.56 in 1900, and 2.98 in 1950. Thus, the White fertility declined for nearly all of American history but may have bottomed out in the 1980s. Black fertility has also been declining for well over 150 years, but it may very well continue to do so in the coming decades” (Ideas and Data, Sex, Marriage, and Children: Trends Among Millennial Women).

Are we to blame commie liberal hippies traveling back in time to cause the decline of America practically before the country was even founded? Nostalgia is a fantasy and, interestingly, it is also a disease. The world is getting worse in some ways, but the main problems we face are real world crises such as climate change, not namby pamby cultural paranoia and fear-mongering. The fate of humanity does not rest on promoting the birth rate of native-born American WASPs nor on the hope that theocracy will save us. If we want to worry about doom, we should be looking at whether the rate of moral panic is experiencing an uptick, something that often precedes the rise of authoritarian mass violence.

Past Views On One Meal A Day (OMAD)

“Eating once a day is angelic, twice a day human, and three, four or more times is bestial.”
~Le Menagier de Paris, The Parisian Household Book, 1393

“Oru velai sapta yogi (if you eat once you’re a yogi);
Rendu velai sapta bogi (if you eat twice you’re a hedonist);
Moonu velai sapta rogi (if you eat thrice you’re a patient).”
~Traditional Tamil wisdom

“And there are men to be found who take but one meal a day, and yet remain quite healthy. The elder Fowler, the phrenologist, is one of them. Such, too, in past years, were Talleyrand of France, and Mr. Taliaferro of Virginia. It is even stated that some of the old Romans ate but one meal a day. Seneca, though worth an estate of $15,000,000, taught the doctrine, and, as it is said, practised it.”
~William Andrus Alcott, 1859

The Laws of Health:
Or, Sequel to The House I Live In

by William Andrus Alcott

SECTION XI. — EATING TOO FREQUENTLY.

636. The question, how often we should eat, has been much agitated, especially within a few years ; and with various results. In general, however, there is a belief that we eat too often, and that a deduction from the number of our meals might very profitably be made. Many incline to the opinion that two meals a day for healthy adults are quite sufficient. A few go farther still, and teach that nature’s purposes are best answered by only one.

637. This subject, like most others pertaining to a connection with the appetite, has been hitherto approached in a wrong way. For, since nature, perverted as she is, ever tends to excess, the great practical question in all these matters should be, not how much we may gratify ourselves without any evil results, but how little gratification will best accord with our usefulness. Instead of inquiring how near the edge of a precipice we can go without falling from it, we should seek to keep at the greatest practicable distance. The proper question is not, Which is the worst or most dangerous road? but, Which is the best?

638. In the present instance, the true physiological inquiry should be, What is the least number of daily meals which will best answer nature’s purposes? What number will preserve us in the most healthy condition, and at the same time give us the firmest appetite, and, in the aggregate, the most pleasure? The true question is not, How often can we eat and not get sick immediately? And yet, more than this, I say, is very seldom asked.

639. Although it should be our first and highest aim to do what is best and most according to truth in all things which concern our appetites, yet we can never keep pleasure entirely out of sight; nor is it the Divine intention that we should. God has kindly united duty, interest, and pleasure; and what he has joined together should not be sundered.

640. There can be little doubt that, the more frequently we eat, the less, as a general rule, we enjoy. At present, it is customary to eat so often that we seldom, if ever, reach the point of having a good appetite; and what of appetite we have, at first, is soon spoiled. The less frequently we eat, on the contrary, even to the comparatively narrow limits of once a day, the more we enjoy.

641. But observe, if you please, I do not say God has united with our duty the highest possible degrees of immediate pleasure, but only the greatest amount in the end. There is room enough left for self-denial, or what is usually called by that name ; by which I mean, a denial of present pleasure, at least in part, for the sake of pleasure in the distance, which is greater in the aggregate.

642. There are certain physiological considerations which aid us in determining how often we should eat ; or, rather, in deter mining how often we should not eat. We have seen (551) that the process of chymification is forwarded, in no small degree, by a species of muscular motion which has a slight resemblance to the churning process among dairy-women.

643. This churning muscular motion generally continues till the stomach is cleared of its contents; i.e., till all, or nearly all, has passed out at its pyloric orifice. The time required for this varies, in the adult, from two or three to four or five hours. (558.) In children, the process, like those of breathing and circulation, is more rapid.*

644. Now, it is a law with all voluntary or willing muscular parts of the body, that they shall have their seasons of rest. But the heart is muscular, and there are muscles in the walls of the thorax to aid in moving the lungs; and then, as we have seen, the stomach is muscular. None of these, it is true, are voluntary or willing muscles. Their motion takes place with out our having much to do with it, directly.

645. Still, it is true, most undeniably true, that these parts need rest. The muscular parts of the heart and lungs have their intervals of rest, though they are short; and is not this the plainest proof that they need it? The muscular parts of the stomach, in all probability, come under the same necessity. Sometimes they obtain this rest; at others they do not. But I have spoken on this subject before. (120-122.)

646. When we breakfast at six, take a lunch at nine or ten, dine at twelve, take another lunch at three, and eat a heavy supper at six, the stomach probably has no rest during the day, and, in consequence, is so much fatigued at night, that the load which is imposed on it at six is not wholly cast off during the night, and we rise in the morning to go again the same round, and with similar results.

647. Then, again, when we rise at seven, breakfast at eight, take a lunch at eleven, or twelve, as in fashionable life, dine at two, take tea at five, and a heavy lunch of the most heavy of all indigestibles at nine or ten, we come to the hour of rest, as before, with a jaded stomach; and in due preparation for a restless and distempered night.

648. And the reward we have so richly earned is sure to be received. Our sleep is too sound on the one hand, or too much disturbed on the other. The latter result is most frequent. We toss out the night in distressing dreams, and wake the next morning to a bad taste in the mouth, a dryness of the throat, a dull headache and loss of appetite, and an unwillingness to rise, except from the most pressing necessity.

649. Such a course of life, persisted in for weeks, months, or years, will bring about, in most persons, a bad state of things in the alimentary canal, which, in its sympathies or effects, some times extends to other parts of the system. Many a tooth-ache, ear-ache, head-ache, and neuralgic attack, and not a few cold feet and sour stomachs, may be fairly charged to the errors of which I have here spoken.

650. Children, no doubt, should eat much more frequently than adults. True, their stomachs are not so strong, nor their digestive powers, though they are generally more active. But even our children eat too often, in most instances. They are trained to it from the very first. Some of them seem to be almost always eating, from morning to night. Little infants, in most instances, are even nursed or fed in the night. And the penalty is but too well known. Half of them, or nearly half, die under ten years of age; and this is one of the causes.’

561. The healthy adult who eats but three times a day, and this at regular intervals of about six hours, gives his stomach a little time for rest; and may hope to proceed on in the journey of life, at least a short time, without disease. He may indulge this hope, I mean, if other things are as they should be.

652. But three meals a day for an adult, whatever may be his habits or circumstances, — except in the rare case of some peculiar disease, — is the maximum number which is admissible. It is running as much risk as we can with safety. It is going as near the edge of the precipice as we can and not fall from it, instead of taking the highest and safest and best road!

653. They who take but two meals a day, especially during the short days of winter, not only give their digestive powers — their stomachs in particular — more time for rest, but actually enjoy more, and find themselves in better general health. Of this habit we have many eminent living examples. In this case the first meal might be profitably taken at ten o’clock in the forenoon, and the second at four in the afternoon.

654. And there are men to be found who take but one meal a day, and yet remain quite healthy. The elder Fowler, the phrenologist, is one of them. Such, too, in past years, were Talleyrand of France, and Mr. Taliaferro of Virginia. It is even stated that some of the old Romans ate but one meal a day. Seneca, though worth an estate of $15,000,000, taught the doctrine, and, as it is said, practised it.

655. It is even told of, Mr. Taliaferro, that he went still farther. When by any unavoidable circumstance he was unable to dine at his usual hour of the day, he deferred it to the next day. This was to eat only once in two days. But this course I think an error. Once a day is the minimum or smallest needful number of our meals.

656. On this point, however, I wish to be understood. I do not say, positively, that three meals a day are incompatible with the maintenance of tolerable health; nor that one a day is sufficient. But I do say that more than three are injurious ; that two would for most persons be preferable to three; and that one for most people may after all be found adequate to every purpose. Indeed, I am inclined to think it would be so.

657. They who take but one meal a day secure at least one important point, that of having always a good appetite. At least they gain this point provided they do not eat too much at this one meal. Most persons, as we have seen, eat so often that they never know what a good appetite is. They always eat before they are truly hungry, in a physiological sense; and hence know neither the blessing of a good appetite or of true gustatory enjoyment.

658. They remind me of a half-idiot, whom I knew in early life, who was always pressing the question, ” Don’t you wish to know the art of never being dry ? “that is, thirsty. ” Always mind to drink before you are dry,” he added, “and you will never be dry.” We have most of us already made a faithful application of the fool’s rule to our eating. We eat always be fore we are hungry, and hence are never hungry.

[Questions. — Is there not a general belief abroad that we eat too often! Have we arrived, as yet, at a settled opinion on this subject?]

SECTION XII. — EATING BETWEEN MEALS.

659. In the last section I was obliged to encroach a little on the topic assigned to this. I was obliged to allude to the evils of eating too often; and this of course involved the subject of eating between our meals, or, as it is called, of taking lunches or luncheons. But I have not yet said all that the case requires. Eating between our regular meals is a dietetic transgression of no ordinary magnitude.

660. Whether we eat once, twice, thrice, or ten times a day, we should stop with our regular meals, Nothing containing nutriment, whether in a solid or liquid condition, should go down our throats between our meals, except water. To this rule, so far as the healthy are concerned, I know of no exception.

661. May we not eat an apple, it will be asked, or a little fruit, of such kinds as we happen to meet with, or a few nuts? Must we go without all these things, which the kind hand of the great Creator has scattered all along our path — probably not in vain? Would we not be even ungrateful to him, did we do so?

662. No doubt that these things, for the most part, are made to be eaten, either by us or the other animals, or both. But they should be brought to our tables, and, without exception, made a regular part of our meals. Not indeed at the end, after we have eaten enough of something else; nor yet at the beginning, merely to excite an appetite for other food. They should be eaten, as the potato usually is, as a part of our meal.

[Have we not studied the subject in a wrong manner? What is a better way? What should be the true inquiry in prosecuting the study of hygiene? In our inquiries is pleasure to be overlooked, entirely so? Why not? Is our enjoyment in eating in proportion always to the number of our meals? Is he the greatest gainer in point of mere pleasure in eating, who gets the most pleasure immediately?

What are we to infer, in this particular, from the muscular character of the stomach? How may we eat so as to give the stomach and other digestive organs no rest? What are the frequent evidences of abuse during the previous day? What diseases may ensue? Should children eat oftener than adults? What is said, in particular, of the effects of eating three meals a day? What of eating two only? What of eating but one? Are there some eminent examples in both these latter kinds? To what extreme did Mr. Taliaferro go? Who are they that always have a good appetite? What anecdote is related of a certain idiot? What is the application?]

663. It may perhaps be said that our ancestors — puritannical though they were — accustomed themselves not only to lunches in the forenoon and afternoon, but to nuts and cider or apples and cider in the evening, and yet were a healthier people, by far, than their more squeamish descendants; and there will be no want of truth as the basis of the remark.

664. But, remember, that if they were more healthy than we, then we, of course, are less healthy than they. How came we thus? Is it a matter of chance, or hap-hazard? Do these things spring out of the ground? Is there not a cause for every effect? Do we not inherit a deteriorated and deteriorating constitution?

665. Besides, our fathers and grandfathers set out with better constitutions than we, so that, whatever may have been the cause of their better or our inferior stamina, they could most certainly bear up longer under violations of physical law than we, their descendants. It does not then follow, as a necessary inference, that we may eat lunches because they did.

666. May we not take nourishing drinks between our regular meals, such as milk and water, molasses and water, and bread coffee? some will ask. Not a drop. Better, by far, to eat a piece of dry bread; for that will be masticated. But you do not want either. The sediment of nutritious drinks (561) is one of the hardest ordinary things the stomach has to contend with. It is, moreover, a curious fact that a piece of dry bread, well chewed, will often quench thirst better than any liquid, even water. But, I repeat, I do not recommend even that.

667. Anything that contains nutriment must, of course, set the stomach and other digestive organs at work, more or less; even if it is nothing but a strawberry, or a lump of gum or sugar, or some aromatic seeds. I do not say or believe that it takes as long, or tasks the digestive machinery as severely, to work up a lump of sugar or a strawberry into chyle, as a full meal; but I do say that the whole process of digestion, complicated as it is, must be gone through with.

668. Many, who have listened patiently to remarks like these, have at length exclaimed, with some surprise: “But what is the laboring man to do, especially in the long hot days of haying and harvesting, without something to sustain him be tween his meals? You proscribe stimulating drink, and very properly; but what will you propose as a substitute? He, would faint away without something. Or, if he should not faint, there would often be a gnawing at the stomach, which would be insupportable.”

669. It should be distinctly known to everybody, that neither the faintness nor the gnawing here spoken of, indicate any real hunger. They are mere nervous sensations. They indicate, moreover, a diseased condition of the nerves. If any one doubts, let him but make the following experiment. The writer has made it for himself, and that repeatedly.

670. While your fellow-laborers are removing, for the time, their gnawing and faintness by a lunch, just seat yourself at their side, and, instead of adding a new load to the already overloaded and sympathizing stomach, drink slowly a small quantity of pure water, tell a story or hear one, and, if you can, excite a little the risible faculties; and when they return to their labor, join them, as before. Pursue this course a few days, or a few weeks, and see who endures it best, and com plains most of gnawing and faintness.

671. It is no uncommon thing to hear farmers telling how glad they are to be through with their haying and harvesting. But it is they who use lunches, or take other means beyond their regular meals for restoring themselves temporarily at the expense of the future, who complain most. He who eats of plain food twice or three times a day, and drinks nothing but water, endures best the heat and fatigue, and suffers least from gnawing and faintness.

672. Young men in groceries, eating-houses, and inns, as well as clerks in public offices, and in shops and factories, often injure their health very much by a foolish acquired habit of tasting various things which are constantly before them, such as fruits, nuts, confectionery, sugar, dried fish, cordials, etc. Clerks, in addition to all this, sometimes eat wafers.’

673. It is but a few days since I saw a young man about thirty years of age, of giant constitution by inheritance, who was suffering severely in his digestive machinery from the very cause, by his own voluntary confession, of which I am now speaking. And I have before my mind’s eye the painful history of a young man whom I twice cured of dyspepsia from this same cause, but who afterwards went beyond my reach, and fell a victim to it.

674. Perhaps the worst violation of the law which forbids eating between meals, is found in the wretched habit of the young, of eating what are called oyster suppers, at late hours and at improper places. Our cities, and sometimes our large towns, abound with places of resort for those who will not deny their appetites; and it is not surprising that they so often prove, not only a pathway to the grave, but as Solomon says, to hell.

SECTION XIII. — REGULARITY IN EATING.

675. There are to be found, among us, a few strong men and women — the remnant of a by-gone generation, much healthier than our own — who can eat at random, as the savages do, and yet last on, as here and there a savage does, to very advanced years. But these random-shot eaters are, at most, but exceptions to the general rule, which requires regularity.

676. For very few things, I am quite sure, can be more obvious to the most careless observer, than that those individuals who are most regular in regard to eating, other things and circumstances being equal, are the most healthy. And, what is of very great importance, too, any one who will take the trouble may soon satisfy himself that it is these regular men and women whose children inherit the best constitutions.

677. I have, indeed, admitted that we are so far the creatures of habit that we can accustom ourselves to almost any hours for eating, and to one, two, three, or more meals a day, as well as to many other things which are generally regarded as objectionable; and yet not suffer much, immediately. But I have also shown and insisted that this does not prove we are wise in forming these habits. We must look a little way into the future, and have regard to the good of the race, as well as to our own present gratification or happiness.

678. It is often said that since the conditions of civic life require occasional irregularities, it is desirable to accustom our selves to such irregularities, betimes. For, if we do not, it is still insisted, we shall be liable, at times, to such derangement and disturbance in our systems, from unavoidable changes, as might subject us to a long and perhaps severe fit of sickness.

[Questions. — Is eating between our meals a light transgression? Should nothing which contains nutriment be swallowed between meals? May we not eat fruits? Why not, if the fruits are made to be eaten? Our ancestors ate lunches; why may not we? What is said of milk and water, molasses and water, etc., between meals? Must the whole work of digestion be gone through with, when we eat but a single nut, or a strawberry? May not the hard laborer have lunches? What then shall we do, when gnawing and faintness arise? Have these sensations nothing to do with real hunger? What experiment is proposed? To what dangers are young men sometimes exposed in groceries, shops, eating-houses, public offices, etc.? Are they apt to yield to the temptations? What case is related by the author? What still more striking case came under his observation? What is the worst violation of the rule for infrequent eating?]

679. This reasoning, by way of objection to the doctrine of regularity in our habits, is certainly specious. The great difficulty with it is, that it is practically untrue. For few things can be more easily shown than that they whose digestive systems hold out best, are precisely those who are most regular in their habits of eating, drinking, etc.

680. It is indeed true that such persons, when subjected to the supposed necessary irregularities of civic life, above alluded to, may be subjected, at times, to a little temporary disturbance, but it quickly passes away. Does not this prove the general integrity of the digestive function? No condition of the human stomach is more to be dreaded than that unresisting state which permits us to make it a complete scavenger for the time; while the abuse awakens slowly, in some remoter part of the human confederacy, a terrible insurrection, and still more terrible retribution.

681. I knew a physician who, at home and abroad, with others, and especially with himself, passed for a wise man. Yet, unable to resist the temptations incident to the life of a country medical practitioner, he gradually fell into the utmost irregularities about his meals. For his morning meal he had no appetite; at the dinner hour he was among his patients, eating at any hour convenient; or, oftener still, refusing to eat at all.

682. On returning to his family, — often late at evening, — , his faithful wife, who knew his habits and expectations, was accustomed to prepare for him as rich and as abundant a meal as possible, of which he almost always partook in excess. But the penalty of his trangression was fearful. Disease, painful and harassing, early followed; and, though blessed with an “iron constitution ” by birthright, he sunk into the grave at sixty-five.

683. The history of this man is, in substance, that of thousands. I have myself witnessed twenty years of the most in tense anguish, ended by a premature and terrible death, which was the obvious result of physical disobedience. The penalty, it has repeatedly been said, does not always fall directly on the suffering organ or function, but sometimes on a part in sympathy with it.

684. It may, to many, seem strange, but it is nevertheless a fact, that they who are most regular with regard to their habits of eating, — whether as it regards times of eating, quality of the food, or quantity, — are the very persons who suffer least, as a permanent thing, when compelled to occasional changes or interruptions of their accustomed habits. Or, if they suffer, the suffering is but temporary. Their stomachs are stomachs of integrity, and their promptitude in meting out justice, and putting to rights injurious tendencies, is as striking as their integrity.

685. Locke, the philosopher, has somewhere told us that when a child asks for food at any other time than at his regular meals, plain bread should be given him — no pastry, no delicacies, but simply plain bread. If the child is really hungry, he says, plain bread will go down; if not, let him go with out till he is so.

686. But why give him anything at all between his regular meals? These, to be sure, should be somewhat more frequent than our own; but this is not to make concessions to irregularity. Is it not truly marvellous to find the best of men — those who in many things have thought for themselves — still yielding to authority when arrayed against the plainest good sense?

687. It is very unfortunate for human health and happiness that the young should be trained from the very first — and to a most lamentable extent — in the way in which they should not go. They are very tenacious of life, — are made to live, — and yet, presuming on their known tenacity of life, we only make them the greater sufferers on account of it. I have known many a child, swept away by summer and autumnal diseases, who, but for his past irregularities in eating, might very probably have escaped.

688. That to train up a child in the way he should go, in every particular, is exceedingly difficult, every parent, master, or guardian well knows. Forbidden trees, on which hang curses, beset everywhere the path of human life, especially that broader division of it which, alas! so many of us travel. How to have our children escape all pitfalls and dangers, — how, even, to escape them ourselves, — is a question not by any means easy of solution ; but its importance is at* the least equal to its difficulties.

689. I wish the young could fully understand that every time they depart from their accustomed usages, and, during the intervals of their meals (be the latter few or many), venture on a little fruit, a little candy, a little confectionery, etc., they are not only impairing their appetite, and contaminating their blood, but impairing the tone of their digestive system, and deranging the action, more or less, of the whole alimentary canal.

690. Every well-directed effort to invigorate the alimentary canal, and increase the tone of that and the greater internal surface of the lungs, is richly repaid in future hardihood and health; while every neglect, or disregard — everything disloyal to the calls and demands of Nature’s conservator — is repaid in near or remote suffering, and perhaps transmitted to yet unborn generations.

SECTION XIV. — EXCESSIVE ALIMENTATION.

691. Nothing is more common than the remark that the greatest dietetic error is with regard to quantity. It is admitted that we often err, as regards quality; that we eat irregularly; and that we eat too fast. And yet the great practical error, after all, we are told, is, that we eat too much.

692. There is truth in the remark, as the subject must necessarily be viewed by those whose standard of hygiene is still low. And yet, bad as excessive alimentation may be, it is but the natural — I had almost said necessary — result of certain errors lying back of it. If the quality of our food, and the modes of preparing and receiving it, and the moral tendencies of our nature, were such, from the very first, as they ought to be, there would be comparatively little among us of excess.

693. The common doctrine of intelligent men is, that we eat about twice as much as nature’s best purposes require. Philosophers, physiologists, chemists, pathologists, dietiticians, and even many of the unenlightened, all agree in this. Not of course that every individual eats twice as much as he ought; but that, as a people, here in the United States, this is true.

694. Most persons, it would seem, eat just about as much as they can and not suffer from it immediately. The inquiry with most who inquire at all, is not how little is best for them and how much they can save, beyond this measure, for “him who needeth”; but how much they can consume, without loss of health or character as the consequence.

[Questions. — What is said of certain random-eaters among us? Are they whose habits of eating are most regular, usually the most healthy? Must we have regard, in the formation of our habits, to the good of our race? What very specious objection is sometimes made to these views and doctrines? Why is it unsound? Relate the anecdote of a medical man, and tell me what it is designed to prove. Is this man’s history substantially that of thousand ? What has the philosopher Locke said? Wherein is he mistaken? What is there especially unfortunate in an early training? Do all our dietetic errors, especially our irregularities in regard to eating, tend to derange the action and motion of the alimentary canal? What important hints does this afford in the education of the young? What equally important hints does it afford to the self-educated?]

695. In truth, the declaration of eighteen hundred years ago, that all seek their own, not another’s (or others’) good, covers the whole ground. To get good and apply it to the gratification of our own propensities, whatever may become of others, is fallen nature’s great law, As John Foster has well said, this not caring for others is the very essence of human depravity.

696. It is frequently asked how much we should eat; and some are unsatisfied till we put in requisition the scales, and tell them exactly how many pounds or ounces they must take, daily. I have even dined, in the city of Boston, with a man otherwise respectable, who had his scales on the table, and proceeded to weigh out, before me, his dinner.

697. Of course I do not intend to question the propriety or the usefulness of weighing out our food, at least, occasionally. Experiments of weighing food, made by scientific or thinking men, for scientific or practical purposes, might be made — no doubt sometimes are made — quite useful.

698. Thus, in experiments made in Glasgow, in Scotland, on laborers, who, from their increased expenditure during their exercises, are very naturally supposed to require as large a supply of food as any other class of men, it has been found that two pounds of good bread, daily, or six pounds of good potatoes, (which in point of nutriment are deemed about equal to two pounds of bread,) is the largest quantity demanded or required.

699. President Hitchcock, late of Amherst College, and Mr. Graham, have taught that the average quantity of nutriment which the best development and support of the body require, is somewhat less than this. They, too, have made their conclusions from observation and experiment. The former would reduce the British standard quantity about one-fourth; the latter, nearly one-half.

700. Much allowance, in this matter, must be made for early training, as will be seen in the next section. I once had the pleasure of sustaining, at college, a most deserving young man, who could not get along, as he believed, without two pounds of bread, or its equivalent, daily. But he had been trained to excess; and for the time seemed to demand it. However, he exhausted his physical capital in a few years, and died bankrupt!

701. Are there, then, you may be disposed to ask, no specific rules for the individual, about quantity? Must we gather up, from abstract or general principles and from facts, a code for ourselves? Like the new-fledged arithmetician at school, must we make our own rules? Is experience in dietetics every thing, and science nothing?

702. Not quite so fast. I have given you the deductions of science already. It has determined, no less surely than experience, that we eat too much. It has told us what is the maximum quantity required. What the minimum or smallest quantity we really need is, we have not yet inquired. And most persons do not choose to make the inquiry, lest they should have to resist, a little, their propensities.

703. To those who have moral courage enough — in other and better words, enough of Christian philosophy — to dare to make the inquiry, a few rules may be given which will enable them to approximate towards the truth in the case, by seeking an answer to the inquiry: How little can we get along with, and at the same time best discharge all our duties and secure all lawful and proper interests?

704. We have been taught, in time past, to leave off hungry; or, as some express it, with a good appetite. Or, as others still, are wont to say, we have been told never to eat quite enough. The rule is a good one, as far as it goes. I have known a few who partly observed it; and they believe they owe to this partial obedience their health and life.

705. Thus, Grant Thorburn, whose writings, over the signature of Laurie Todd, have interested and delighted many, and who, at the age of ninety, or nearly so, is almost as young in his feelings as ever he was, is accustomed to say to his friends that he never ate enough in his whole life.

706. Early in the year 1852, I called to see a man in Ohio, who was eighty-seven years of age. It was one of the severest days of a most severe winter. He was in the woods, at work, for he was a farmer; but he soon came home. Surprised at his power to labor and endure the cold, I inquired about his habits; and, among other things, asked him about the quantity of his food. His answer included just such a statement as that of Mr. Thorburn.

707. Cases of this kind might be multiplied, not, however, to an indefinite extent; for, most unhappily, the world as yet does not abound with them. I will only add to the list, at present, John “Williams, a Baptist minister of Rhode Island, who died at the age of one hundred years or more, and myself.

708. It is quite possible to err, however, under this rule. A person who bolts his food will eat much more without reaching the point of satiety than one who does not. While, therefore, he who bolts food has not reached the stopping-place, so far as he knows, another who masticates well has reached it with far less food. The former may therefore eat too much and yet leave off hungry.

709. It is a better rule still, to eat no longer than the food appears to refresh us, bodily and mentally. This rule, I grant, is liable to the same difficulties with the preceding, nevertheless, it restricts us more. For even Grant Thorburn, who never eats enough, may possibly sometimes eat so long as to become dull in body or mind as the result. I am not without doubt whether he and my Ohio friend always leave off their meal with feelings of merriment, and with a disposition to dance and sing, like children. Yet such, as I believe, should be the effect of our eating. Its main object, I grant, is to secure nourishment for a future hour; but it has a secondary object, too, which is refreshment and gratification.

710. It is recorded of President Jefferson, that he was accustomed to remark that no man, when he comes to die, ever repents of having eaten so little. This remark would be worth more if it were true that men are apt to repent of eating too much. But the truth is, we seldom exercise any genuine repentance at all when we come to die, unless we have begun the work before. Death-beds are not the very honest places some have supposed. Men generally die as they live.

711. The early travellers among the Japanese tell us that a native of that country, especially of the interior, will work all day long on a mere handful of rice and a little fruit. Yet the Japanese are among the stoutest and strongest men of Asia ; and for size and strength almost resemble the German, the Swiss, and the Yankee. Can it be that they suffer for want of food?

712. We come back, then, from our reasonings and facts to the point whence we started, viz., to the affirmation that we generally eat twice as much as we ought, and that retrenchment is loudly and imperiously demanded. Few err on the other side. Inclination, habit, refined cookery, and the customs of society are all against it.

713. I have admitted that the laborer, as a general rule, requires more food than other men, because his expenditure is greater. Yet it does not thence follow, that he who performs two days’ work in one, and who consequently overworks him self, should eat in the same proportion, that is, twice as much. Generally speaking, if he really overworks, he should eat some what less, since the same causes which have overtasked and crippled his general system must have reduced the energies of his digestive system in the same proportion.

Ancient Greek View on Olive Oil as Part of the Healthy Mediterranean Diet

“I may instance olive oil, which is mischievous to all plants, and generally most injurious to the hair of every animal with the exception of man, but beneficial to human hair and to the human body generally; and even in this application (so various and changeable is the nature of the benefit), that which is the greatest good to the outward parts of a man, is a very great evil to his inward parts: and for this reason physicians always forbid their patients the use of oil in their food, except in very small quantities, just enough to extinguish the disagreeable sensation of smell in meats and sauces.
~Socrates dialogue with Protagoras

So what did ancient Greeks most often use for cooking? They preferred animal fat, most likely lard. Pigs have a much higher amount of fat than most other animals. And pigs are easy to raise under almost any conditions: cold and hot, fields and forests, plains and mountains, mainlands and islands. Because of this, lard is one of the few common features in traditional societies, including the longest-lived populations.

That was true of the ancient Greeks, but it has been true ever since in many parts of the world, especially in Europe but also in Asia. This continued to be true as the Western world expanded with colonialism and new societies formed. As Nina Teicholz notes, “saturated fats of every kind were consumed in great quantities. Americans in the nineteenth century ate four to five times more butter than we do today, and at least six times more lard” (The Big Fat Surprise).

To return to the Greeks, the modern population is not following a traditional diet. Prior to the World War era, pork and lard was abundant in the diet. But during wartime, the pig population was decimated from violence, disruption of the food system, and the confiscation of pigs to feed the military.

The same thing happened in the the most pig-obsessed culture in history, the long-lived Okinawans, when the Japanese during WWII stole or killed all of their pigs — as the Japanese perceived these shamanistic rural people on an isolated island to be a separate race and so were treated as less worthy. The Okinawans independence was dependent on their raising pigs and that was taken away from them.

When the Greeks and Okinawans were studied after the war, the diet observed was not the diet that existed earlier, the traditional lard-based and nutrient-dense diet that most of the population had spent most of their lives eating. They were long-lived not because of the lack of lard but because of it once having been abundant.

So, something like olive oil, once primarily used as a lamp fuel, was turned to in replacing the lost access to lard. Olive oil was a poverty food used out of necessity, not out of preference. It is great credit to modern marketing and propaganda that olive oil has been sold as a healthy oil when, in fact, most olive oil bought in the store is rancid. Olive oil is actually a fruit juice which is why it can’t be kept long before going bad, maybe why it gained a bad reputation in ancient Greece.

Lard and other animal fats, on the other hand, because they are heavily saturated have long shelf-life and don’t oxidize when used for cooking. Also, unlike vegetable oils, animal fats from pastured animals is filled with fat-soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, essential to health and longevity. How did this traditional knowledge, going back to the ancient world, get lost in a single generation of devastating war?

* * *

American Heart Association’s “Fat and Cholesterol Counter” (1991)

Even hydrogenated fat gets blamed on saturated fat, since the hydrogenation process turns some small portion of it saturated, which ignores the heavy damage and inflammatory response caused by the oxidization process (both in the industrial processing and in cooking). Not to mention those hydrogenated fats as industrial seed oils are filled with omega-6 fatty acids, the main reason they are so inflammatory. Saturated fat, on the other hand, is not inflammatory at all. This obsession with saturated fat is so strange. It never made any sense from a scientific perspective. When the obesity epidemic began and all that went with it, the consumption of saturated fat by Americans had been steadily dropping for decades, ever since the invention of industrial seed oils in the late 1800s and the fear about meat caused by Upton Sinclair’s muckraking journalism, The Jungle, about the meatpacking industry.

The amount of saturated fat and red meat has declined over the past century, to be replaced with those industrial seed oils and lean white meat, along with fruits and vegetables — all of which have been increasing.** Chicken, in particular, replaced beef and what stands out about chicken is that, like those industrial seed oils, it is high in the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. How could saturated fat be causing the greater rates of heart disease and such when people were eating less of it. This scapegoating wasn’t only unscientific but blatantly irrational. All of this info was known way back when Ancel Keys went on his anti-fat crusade (The Creed of Ancel Keys). It wasn’t a secret. And it required cherrypicked data and convoluted rationalizations to explain away.

Worse than removing saturated fat when it’s not a health risk is the fact that it is actually an essential nutrient for health: “How much total saturated do we need? During the 1970s, researchers from Canada found that animals fed rapeseed oil and canola oil developed heart lesions. This problem was corrected when they added saturated fat to the animals diets. On the basis of this and other research, they ultimately determined that the diet should contain at least 25 percent of fat as saturated fat. Among the food fats that they tested, the one found to have the best proportion of saturated fat was lard, the very fat we are told to avoid under all circumstances!” (Millie Barnes, The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions).

It is specifically lard that has been most removed from the diet, and this is significant as lard was a central to the American diet until this past century: “Pre-1936 shortening is comprised mainly of lard while afterward, partially hydrogenated oils came to be the major ingredient” (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise, p. 95); “Americans in the nineteenth century ate four to five times more butter than we do today, and at least six times more lard” (p. 126). And what about the Mediterranean people who supposedly are so healthy because of their love of olive oil? “Indeed, in historical accounts going back to antiquity, the fat more commonly used in cooking in the Mediterranean, among peasants and the elite alike, was lard.” (p. 217).

Jason Prall notes that long-lived populations ate “lots of meat” and specifically, “They all ate pig. I think pork was the was the only common animal that we saw in the places that we went” (Longevity Diet & Lifestyle Caught On Camera w/ Jason Prall). The infamous long-lived Okinawans also partake in everything from pigs, such that their entire culture and religion was centered around pigs (Blue Zones Dietary Myth). Lard, in case you didn’t know, comes from pigs. Pork and lard is found in so many diets for the simple reason pigs can live in diverse environments, from mountainous forests to tangled swamps to open fields, and they are a food source available year round.

Blue Zones Dietary Myth

And one of the animal foods so often overlooked is lard: “In the West, the famous Roseto Penssylvanians also were great consumers of red meat and saturated fat. Like traditional Mediterraneans, they ate more lard than olive oil (olive oil was too expensive for everyday cooking and too much in demand for other uses: fuel, salves, etc). Among long-lived societies, one of the few commonalities was lard, as pigs are adaptable creatures that can be raised almost anywhere” (Eat Beef and Bacon!). […]

Looking back at their traditional diet, Okinawans have not consumed many grains, added sugars, industrial vegetable oils, or highly processed foods and they still eat less rice than other Japanese: “Before 1949 the Okinawans ate NO Wheat and little rice” (Julianne Taylor, The Okinawan secret to health and longevity – no wheat?). Also, similar to the Mediterranean people (another population studied after the devastation of WWII) who didn’t use much olive oil until recently, Okinawans traditionally cooked everything in lard that would have come from nutrient-dense pigs, the fat being filled with omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins. Also, consider that most of the fat in lard is monounsaturated, the same kind of fat that is deemed healthy in olive oil.

“According to gerontologist Kazuhiko Taira, the most common cooking fat used traditionally in Okanawa is a monounsaturated fat-lard. Although often called a “saturated fat,” lard is 50 percent monounsaturated fat (including small amounts of health-producing antimicrobial palmitoleic acid), 40 percent saturated fat and 10 percent polyunsaturated. Taira also reports that healthy and vigorous Okinawans eat 100 grams each of pork and fish each day [7]” (Wikipedia, Longevity in Okinawa).

It’s not only the fat, though. As with most traditional populations, Okinawans ate all parts of the animal, including the nutritious organ meat (and the skin, ears, eyes, brains, etc). By the way, besides pork, they also ate goat meat. There would have been a health benefit from their eating some of their meat raw (e.g., goat) or fermented (e.g., fish), as some nutrients are destroyed in cooking. The small amounts of soy that Okinawans ate in the past was mostly tofu fermented for several months, and fermentation is one of those healthy preparation techniques widely used in traditional societies. They do eat some unfermented tofu as well, but I’d point out that it typically is fried in lard or used to be. […]

The most popular form of pork in the early 1900s was tonkatsu, by the way originally fried in animal fat according to an 1895 cookbook (butter according to that recipe but probably lard before that early period of Westernization). “Several dedicated tonkatsu restaurants cropped up around the 1920s to ’40s, with even more opening in the ’50s and ’60s, after World War II — the big boom period for tonkatsu. […] During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a piece of tonkatsu, which could be bought freshly cooked from the butcher, became the ultimate affordable payday treat for the poor working class. The position of tonkatsu as everyman food was firmly established.” This pork-heavy diet was what most Japanese were eating prior to World War II, but it wouldn’t survive the conflict when food deprivation came to afflict the population long afterwards.

Comment by gp

I just finished reading The Blue Zones and enjoyed it very much, but I was wondering about something that was not addressed in great detail. All of the diets discussed other than the Adventists (Sardinia, Okinawa and Nicoya) include lard, which I understand is actually used in significant quantities in some or all of those places. You describe (Nicoyan) Don Faustino getting multiple 2-liter bottles filled with lard at the market. Does he do this every week, and if so, what is he using all of that lard for? In Nicoya and Sardinia, eggs and dairy appear to play a large role in the daily diet. Your quote from Philip Wagner indicates that the Nicoyans were eating eggs three times a day (sometimes fried in lard), in addition to some kind of milk curd.

The Blue Zones Solutions by Dan Buettner
by Julia Ross (another version on the author’s website)

As in The Blue Zones, his earlier paean to the world’s traditional diets and lifestyles, author Buettner’s new book begins with detailed descriptions of centenarians preparing their indigenous cuisines. He finishes off these introductory tales with a description of a regional Costa Rican diet filled with eggs, cheese, meat and lard, which he dubs “the best longevity diet in the world.”

Then Buettner turns to how we’re to adapt this, and his other model eating practices, into our current lives. At this point he suddenly presents us with a twenty-first century pesco-vegan regimen that is the opposite of the traditional food intake that he has just described in loving detail. He wants us to fast every twenty-four hours by eating only during an eight-hour period each day. He wants us to eat almost no meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products at any time. Aside from small amounts of olive oil, added fats are not even mentioned, except to be warned against.

How Much Soy Do Okinawans Eat?
by Kaayla Daniel

There are other credibility problems with the Okinawa Centenarian Study, at least as interpreted in the author’s popular books. In 2001, Dr. Suzuki reported in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition that “monounsaturates” were the principal fatty acids in the Okinawan diet. In the popular books, this was translated into a recommendation for canola oil, a genetically modified version of rapeseed oil developed in Canada that could not possibly have become a staple of anyone’s diet before the 1980s. According to gerontologist Kazuhiko Taira, the most common cooking fat used traditionally in Okanawa is a very different monounsaturated fat-lard. Although often called a “saturated fat,” lard is 50 percent monounsaturated fat (including small amounts of health-producing antimicrobial palmitoleic acid), 40 percent saturated fat and 10 percent polyunsaturated. Taira also reports that healthy and vigorous Okinawans eat 100 grams each of pork and fish each day. Thus, the diet of the long-lived Okinawans is actually very different from the kind of soy-rich vegan diet that Robbins recommends.

Nourishing Diets:
How Paleo, Ancestral and Traditional Peoples Really Ate

by Sally Fallon Morell
pp. 263-270
(a version of the following can be found here)

From another source, 7 we learn that:

Traditional foods of Okinawa are extremely varied, remarkably nutrient-dense as are all traditional foods and strictly moderated with the philosophy of hara hachi bu [eat until you are 80 percent full]. While the diet of Okinawa is, indeed, plant-based it is most certainly not “low fat” as has been posited by some writer-researchers about the native foods of Okinawa. Indeed, all those stir fries of bitter melon and fresh vegetables found in Okinawan bowls are fried in lard and seasoned with sesame oil. I remember fondly that a slab of salt pork graced every bowl of udon I slurped up while living on the island. Pig fat is not, as you can imagine, a low-fat food yet the Okinawans are fond of it. Much of the fat consumed is pastured as pigs are commonly raised at home in the gardens of Okinawan homes. Pork and lard, like avocado and olive oil, are a remarkably good source of monounsaturated fatty acid and, if that pig roots around on sunny days, it is also a remarkably good source of vitamin D.

The diet of Okinawa also includes considerably more animal products and meat—usually in the form of pork—than that of the mainland Japanese or even the Chinese. Goat and chicken play a lesser, but still important, role in Okinawan cuisine. Okinawans average about 100 grams or one modest portion of meat per person per day. Animal foods are important on Okinawa and, like all food, play a role in the population’s general health, well-being and longevity. Fish plays an important role in the cooking of Okinawa as well. Seafoods eaten are various and numerous—with Okinawans averaging about 200 grams of fish per day.

Buettner implies that the Okinawans do not eat much fish, but in fact, they eat quite a lot, just not as much as Japanese mainlanders.

The Okinawan diet became a subject of interest after the publication of a 1996 article in Health Magazine about the work of gerontologist Kazuhiko Taira, 8 who described the Okinawan diet as “very healthy—and very, very greasy.” The whole pig is eaten, he noted, everything from “tails to nails.” Local menus offer boiled pig’s feet, entrail soup and shredded ears. Pork is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, kelp and small amounts of sugar, then sliced or chopped for stir-fry dishes. Okinawans eat about 100 grams of meat per day—compared to 70 grams in Japan and just over 20 grams in China—and at least an equal amount of fish, for a total of about 200 grams per day, compared to 280 grams per person per day of meat and fish in America. Lard—not vegetable oil—is used in cooking. […]

What’s clear is that the real Okinawan longevity diet is an embarrassment to modern diet gurus. The diet was and is greasy and good, with the largest proportion of calories coming from pork and pork fat, and many additional calories from fish; those who reach old age eat more animal protein and fat than those who don’t. Maybe that’s what gives the Okinawans the attitudes that Buettner so admires, “an affable smugness” that makes it easy to “enjoy today’s simple pleasures.”

Hara Hachi Bu: Lessons from Okinawa
by Jenny McGruther

Traditional foods of Okinawa are extremely varied, remarkably nutrient-dense as are all traditional foods and strictly moderated with the philosophy of hara hachi bu. While the diet of Okinawa is, indeed, plant-based it is most certainly not “low fat” as has been posited by some writer-researchers about the native foods of Okinawa. Indeed, all those stirfries of bittermelon and fresh vegetables found in Okinawan bowls are fried in lard and seasoned with sesame oil. I remember fondly that a slab of salt pork graced every bowl of udon I slurped up while living on the island. Pig fat is not, as you can imagine, a low-fat food yet the Okinawans are fond of it. Much of the fat consumed is pastured as pigs are commonly raised at home in the gardens of Okinawan homes. Pork and lard, like avocado and olive oil, are a remarkably good source of monounsaturated fatty acid and, if that pig roots around on sunny days, it is also a remarkably source of vitamin D.

“What would Mister Rogers do?”

“He had faith in us, and even if his faith turns out to have been misplaced, even if we have abandoned him, he somehow endures, standing between us and our electrified antipathies and recriminations like the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square in a red sweater.”
~Tom Junod, My Friend Mister Rogers

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an inspiring and, in the end, a challenging portrayal of Fred Rogers, AKA ‘Mister Rogers’. It took some suspension of disbelief, though. Tom Hanks does as good of a job as is possible, but no one can replace the real thing. Mr. Rogers was distinctive in appearance and behavior. The production team could have used expensive CGI to make Hanks look more like the real man, but that was not necessary. It wasn’t a face that made the children’s tv show host so well respected and widely influential. A few minutes in, I was able to forget I was watching an actor playing a role and became immersed in the personality and the moral character that was cast upon the screen of imagination, the movie presented as if a new episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had just been released.

The way the movie was done was highly effective. It was based on an Esquire article, Can You Say … Hero? by Tom Junod. It was jarring at first in taking a roundabout approach, but it might have been the only way to go about it for the intended purpose. Fred Rogers appears to have been a person who was genuinely and fully focused on other people, not on himself. So a biopic that captures his essence requires demonstrating this concern for others, which makes him a secondary character in the very movie that is supposedly about him. We explore his world by experiencing the profound impact he had on specific people, in this case not only Junod but also his family, while there are other scenes showing the personable moments of Mr. Rogers meeting with children. The story arc is about Junod’s change of heart, whereas Mr. Rogers remains who he was from the start.

This leaves Mr. Rogers himself as an unknown to viewers not already familiar with the biographical details. We are shown little about his personal life and nothing about his past, but the narrow focus helps to get at something essential. We already were given a good documentary about him from last year. This movie was serving a different purpose. It offers a window to peer through, to see how he related and what it meant for those who experienced it. Part of the hidden background was his Christianity, as he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Yet even as Christianity inspired him, he never put his faith out in the public view. As Jesus taught to pray in secret, Fred Rogers took it one step further by keeping his faith almost entirely hidden. He didn’t want to force his beliefs onto others. The purpose of religion is not dogma or outward forms. If religion matters at all, it’s about how it transforms people. That is what Mr. Rogers, as a man and a media personality, was all about.

Some people don’t understand this and so don’t grasp what made him so special. Armond White at National Review wrote that, “Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster don’t show enough faith in Rogers’ remedies—and not enough interest in their religious origins. In short, the movie seems wary of faith (it briefly mentions that Rogers was an ordained minister) and settles for secular sentimentality to account for his sensibility and behavior. This not only weakens the film, but it also hobbles Hanks’s characterization” (Christian Faith Is the Missing Ingredient in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). That misses the entire message being conveyed, not only the message of the movie but, more importantly, the message of Mr. Rogers himself. As Greg Forster subtly puts it, “that is of course the whole goddamned point here” (Pass the Popcorn: Anything Mentionable Is Managable).

To have put Mr. Roger’s Christianity front and center would be to do what Mr. Rogers himself intentionally avoided. He met people where they were at, rather than trying to force or coerce others into his belief system, not that he would have thought of his moral concern as a belief system. He was not an evangelical missionary seeking to preach and proselytize, much less attempting to save the lost souls of heathenish children or make Christian America great again. In his way of being present to others, he was being more Christ-like than most Christians, as Jesus never went around trying to convert people. Jesus wasn’t a ‘good Christian’ and, by being vulnerable in his humanity, neither was Fred Rogers. Rather, his sole purpose was just to be kind to others. Religion, in its highest form, is about how one relates to others and to the world. Thomas Paine voiced his own radical faith with the words, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” I suspect Mr. Rogers would have agreed. It really is that simple or it should be.

That childlike directness of his message, the simplicity of being fully present and relating well, that was the magical quality of the show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid. It was a fixture of my childhood, a show I watched and that was all. But looking back on it, I can sense what made it unique. Like the man himself, the show was extremely simple, one might call it basic, demonstrated by the same ragged puppets he used his entire career. This was no fancy Jim Henson muppet production. What made it real and compelling to a child was what the people involved put into it, not only Fred Rogers but so many others who were dedicated to the show. Along with the simplicity, there was a heartfelt sincerity to it all. The scenes with the puppets, Daniel Striped Tiger most of all, were often more emotionally raw and real than what is typically done by professional actors in Hollywood movies.

That is what stands out about Tom Hank’s performance in bringing this to life. He is one of the few actors who could come close to pulling it off and even his attempt was imperfect. But I have to give Hanks credit for getting the essence right. The emotional truth came through. Sincerity is no small thing, in this age of superficiality and cynicism. To call it a breath of fresh air is a criminal understatement. Mr. Rogers was entirely committed to being human and acknowledging the humanity in others. That is such a rare thing. I’m not sure how many people understood that about him, what exactly made him so fascinating to children and what created a cult-like following among the generations who grew up watching his show. As a character says about the drug D in A Scanner Darkly, “You’re either on it or you’ve never tried it.”

Some people claim that “sincerity is bullshit” (Harry Frankfurt), a sentiment I understand in feeling jaded about the world. But I must admit that Fred Rogers’ sincerity most definitely and deeply resonates for me, based on my own experience in the New Thought worldview I was raised in, a touchy-feel form of Christianity where emotional authenticity trumps outward form, basically Protestantism pushed to its most extreme endpoint. Seeing the emotional rawness in Mr. Rogers’ life, although coming from a different religious background than my own, reminded me of the sincerity that I’ve struggled with in myself. I’ve always been an overly sincere person and often overly serious, that is how I think of myself… but can anyone really ever be too sincere? The message of Mr. Rogers is that we all once were emotionally honest when children and only later forgot this birthright. It remains in all of us and that core of our humanity is what he sought to touch upon, and indeed many people responded to this and felt genuinely touched. The many testimonies of ordinary people to Mr. Rogers’ legacy are inspiring.

This worldview of authenticity was made clear in one particular scene in the movie. “Vogel says he believes his dining companion likes “people like me … broken people.” Rogers is having none of it. “I don’t think you are broken,” Rogers begins, speaking slowly and deliberately. “I know you are a man of conviction, a person who knows the difference between what is wrong and what is right. Try to remember that your relationship with your father also helped to shape those parts. He helped you become what you are”” (Cathleen Falsani, Meditating On Love and Connection with Mr. Rogers and C.S. Lewis). That dialogue was not pulled from real life, according to Tom Junod in his latest piece My Friend Mister Rogers, but even Junod found himself emotionally moved when watching the scene. The point is that what mattered to Fred Rogers was conviction and he lived his life through his own conviction, maybe a moral obligation even. The man was exacting in his discipline and extremely intentional in everything he did, maybe even obsessive-compulsive, as seen in how he maintained his weight at exactly 143 lbs throughout his adult life and in how he kept FBI-style files on all of his friends and correspondents. He had so little interest in himself that even his wife of 50 years knew little about his personal experience and memories that he rarely talked about. His entire life, his entire being apparently was focused laser-like on other people.

He was not a normal human. How does someone become like that? One gets the sense that Mr. Rogers in the flesh would have, with humility, downplayed such an inquiry. He let on that he too was merely human, that he worried and struggled like anyone else. The point, as he saw it, was that he was not a saint or a hero. He was just a man who felt deeply and passionately moved to take action. But where did that powerful current of empathy and compassion come from? He probably would have given all credit to God, as his softspoken and often unspoken faith appears to have been unwavering. Like the Blues Brothers, he was a man on a mission from God. He was not lacking in earnestness. And for those of us not so fully earnest, it can seem incomprehensible that such a mortal human could exist: “He was a genius,” Junod wrote, “he had superpowers; he might as well have been a friendly alien, thrown upon the rocks of our planet to help us find our way to the impossible possibility that we are loved” (My Friend Mister Rogers). Yet for all the easy ways it would be to idolize him or dismiss him, he continues to speak to the child in all of us. Maybe ‘Mister Rogers’ was not a mystery, but instead maybe we are making it too complicated. We need to step back and, as he so often advised, remember what it was like to be a child.

Fred Rogers was a simple man who spoke simply and that is what made him so radically challenging. “Indeed, what makes measuring Fred’s legacy so difficult is that Fred’s legacy is so clear.” Junod goes on to say, “It isn’t that he is revered but not followed; so much as he is revered because he is not followed—because remembering him as a nice man is easier than thinking of him as a demanding one. He spoke most clearly through his example, but our culture consoles itself with the simple fact that he once existed. There is no use asking further questions of him, only of ourselves. We know what Mister Rogers would do, but even now we don’t know what to do with the lessons of Mister Rogers.” He might as well have been talking about Jesus Christ, the divine made flesh. But if there was spiritual truth in Fred Rogers, he taught that it was a spiritual truth in all of us, that we are children of God. Rather than what would Mister Rogers do, what will we do in remembering him?

Native Americans Feasted Some But Mostly Fasted

“There are to be found, among us, a few strong men and women — the remnant of a by-gone generation, much healthier than our own — who can eat at random, as the savages do, and yet last on, as here and there a savage does, to very advanced years. But these random-shot eaters are, at most, but exceptions to the general rule, which requires regularity.”
~William Andrus Alcott, 1859

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal
by Abigail Carroll, pp. 12-14

Encountering the tribal peoples of North America, European explorers and settlers found themselves forced to question an institution they had long taken for granted: the meal. “[They] have no such thing as set meals breakfast, dinner or supper,” remarked explorer John Smith. Instead of eating at three distinct times every day, natives ate when their stomachs cued them, and instead of consuming carefully apportioned servings, they gleaned a little from the pot here and there. English colonists deplored this unstructured approach. They believed in eating according to rules and patterns—standards that separated them from the animal world. But when it came to structure, colonists were hardly in a position to boast. Though they believed in ordered eating, their meals were rather rough around the edges, lacking the kind of organization and form that typifies the modern meal today. Hardly well defined or clean-cut, colonial eating occasions were messy in more ways than one. Perhaps this partially explains why explorers and colonists were so quick to criticize native eating habits—in doing so, they hid the inconsistencies in their own. 3

Colonists found Native American eating habits wanting because they judged them by the European standard. For Europeans, a meal combined contrasting components—usually cereals, vegetables, and animal protein. Heat offered an additional desirable contrast. Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that many “meals” consumed by the natives of the mid-Atlantic, where he traveled in the mid-eighteenth century, consisted simply of “[maple] sugar and bread.” With only two ingredients and a distinct lack of protein, not to mention heat, this simplistic combination fell short of European criteria; it was more of a snack. Other typical nonmeals included traveling foods such as nocake (pulverized parched cornmeal to which natives added water on the go) and pemmican (a dense concoction of lean meat, fat, and sometimes dried berries). Hunters, warriors, and migrants relied on these foods, designed to be eaten in that particularly un-meal-like way in which John Williams ate his frozen meat on his journey to Québec: as the stomach required it and on the go. 4

Jerked venison and fat, chewed as one traversed the wilderness, was not most colonists’ idea of a proper meal, and if natives’ lack of sufficient contrasting components and the absence of a formal eating schedule puzzled colonists, even more mystifying was natives’ habit of going without meals, and often without any food at all, for extended periods. Jesuit missionary Christian LeClercq portrayed the Micmac of the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada as a slothful people, preserving and storing only a token winter’s supply: “They are convinced that fifteen to twenty lumps of meat, or of fish dried or cured in the smoke, are more than enough to support them for the space of five to six months.” LeClercq and many others did not realize that if natives went hungry, they did so not from neglect but by choice. Fasting was a subsistence strategy, and Native Americans were proud of it. 5

Throughout the year, Native Americans prepared for times of dearth by honing their fasting skills. They practiced hunger as a kind of athletic exercise, conditioning their bodies for the hardships of hunting, war, and seasonal shortages. According to artist George Catlin, the Mandan males in what are now the Dakotas “studiously avoided . . . every kind of excess.” An anthropologist among the Iroquois observed that they were “not great eaters” and “seldom gorged themselves.” To discourage gluttony, they even threatened their children with a visit from Sago’dakwus, a mythical monster that would humiliate them if it caught them in the act of overeating. 6

Native and European approaches to eating came to a head in the vice of gluttony. Many tribal peoples condemned overeating as a spiritual offense and a practice sure to weaken manly resolve and corrupt good character. Europeans also condemned it, largely for religious reasons, but more fundamentally because it represented a loss of control over the animal instincts. In the European worldview, overindulgence was precisely the opposite of civility, and the institution of the meal guarded against gluttony and a slippery descent into savagery. The meal gave order to and set boundaries around the act of eating, boundaries that Europeans felt native practices lacked. As explorers and colonists defended the tradition of the meal, the institution took on new meaning. For them, it became a subject of pride, serving as an emblem of civilization and a badge of European identity. 7

Europeans viewed Native Americans largely as gluttons. Because whites caught only fleeting glimpses of the complex and continually shifting lives of Native Americans, they were liable to portray the native way of life according to a single cultural snapshot, which, when it came to food, was the posthunt feast. It was well known that natives ate much and frequently during times of abundance. John Smith recorded that when natives returned from the hunt with large quantities of bear, venison, and oil, they would “make way with their provision as quick as possible.” For a short time, he explained, “they have plenty and do not spare eating.” White witnesses popularized the image of just such moments of plenty as typical. 8

Although Native Americans were hardly gluttons, Europeans, fascinated by the idea of a primitive people with a childlike lack of restraint, embraced the grossly inaccurate stereotype of the overeating Indian. William Wood portrayed the natives of southern New England as gorging themselves “till their bellies stand forth, ready to split with fullness.” A decidedly strange Anglo-American amusement involved watching Native Americans relish a meal. “Why,” asked George Catlin, “[is it] that hundreds of white folks will flock and crowd round a table to see an Indian eat?” With a hint of disappointment, William Wood recorded the appetites of tribes people invited to an English house to dine as “very moderate.” Wood was uncertain whether to interpret this reserve as politeness or timidity, but clearly he and his fellow English spectators had not expected shy and tempered eaters. 9

One culture’s perception of another often says more about the perceiver than the perceived. Although settlers lambasted natives for gluttony, whites may have been the real gluttons. According to more than one observer, many a native blushed at Europeans’ bottomless stomachs. “The large appetites of white men who visited them were often a matter of surprise to the Indians who entertained them,” wrote a nineteenth-century folklorist among the Iroquois. Early anthropologist Lewis Morgan concluded that natives required only about one-fifth of what white men consumed, and he was skeptical of his own ability to survive on such a paucity of provisions. 10

Through their criticisms, exaggerations, and stereotypes, colonists distanced themselves from a population whose ways appeared savage and unenlightened, and the organized meal provided a touchstone in this clash of cultures. It became a yardstick by which Europeans measured culture and a weapon by which they defended their definition of it. They had long known what a meal was, but now, by contrast, they knew firsthand what it was not. Encountering the perceived meal-less-ness of the natives brought the colonists’ esteemed tradition into question and gave them an opportunity to confirm their commitment to their conventions. They refused to approve of, let alone adapt to, the loose foodways of Native Americans and instead embraced all the more heartily a structured, meal-centered European approach to eating.

The Violence of Bourgeois Revolutions and Authoritarian Capitalism

Why is there so little understanding of the French Revolution? I’ve previously pointed out that, “More people died in the American Revolution than died in the French Reign of Terror. The British government killed more people in their suppression of the 1798 Irish bid for independence. The Catholic Inquisition in just one province of Spain had a death count that far exceeded the number killed in the entire French Revolution. In criticizing revolution, such counter-revolutionaries were defending colonial empires and theocracies that were more violent and oppressive than any revolution in history. For example, the Catholic Church, that ancient bastion of traditionalism and conservative morality, ordered the death of millions over six centuries. At least, a revolution is typically a single event or short period of violence. Oppressive governments can extend such violence continuously generation after generation.” (The Haunted Moral Imagination; for specific figures, see this comment)

That isn’t meant to rationalize violent revolutions. Still, let’s be honest with ourselves. Who started the French Revolution or else co-opted the revolutionary fervor? Sure, there were the bread riots involving the restless peasants who were starving to death, but that alone would not have led to revolution. It was primarily the clerical elite and landed aristocracy who wanted to wrench power away from what they perceived as a failed and incompetent monarchy in order to increase their own power. The Jacobins, and later on Napoleon, weren’t democrats, much less socialists or even populists. Those who gained control of the French Revolution, as the Federalists did with the American Revolution, were mostly the upper classes who were aspiring to be the new ruling elite — as conspirators, leaders and beneficiaries of what were, in Marxist terms, bourgeois revolutions (different than proletarian revolutions; some Marxists argue that bourgeois revolutions are what create capitalism whereas proletarian revolutions as a following stage of development that happens within capitalism itself after it’s been established, since the latter requires a capitalist working class, the proletariat, to exist before they could revolt). Many of these bourgeois revolutionaries, from Maximilien Robespierre to George Washington, were a variety of what today we’d call right-wing reactionaries, at least going by Corey Robin’s use of that label.

This was the soon-to-be capitalist class. They were radically and violently enforcing capitalism upon a feudal society or what remained of it. We forget that this was the bloody birth of modern economic ideology, following its earlier conception in imperial colonialism and the centuries of privatization/theft of the commons. The French Revolution had everything to do with capitalism, something that would not exist in its present form if not for Napoleon having overthrown all across Europe the despotic pre-capitalist system and local idiosyncrasies of common law, having replaced it with a well-regulated civil law and a common monetary system. This created the groundwork for a certain kind of modern capitalism that has ever since defined mainland Europe. British mercantilism was even more violent, based on a variety of evils, including but not limited to genocide and slavery. Those were among the main models of modern capitalism. If you’re against violent revolution and radical ideologies, then that means you’re opposed to capitalism as we know it. There is no two ways about this. It didn’t emerge naturally and peacefully but was imposed by revolution and empire.

From the Jacobin takeover of the French Revolution to its culmination in the imperial reign of Napoleon, it was a right-wing backlash through and through. It had nothing to do with democracy as mobocracy. It was mostly controlled by wealthy men who were the elite both before and after the revolution. Thomas Paine in the French National Assembly was ignored when he suggested that they should write a democratic constitution ensuring equal rights, including voting suffrage, to all citizens. The ‘revolutionary’ elite thought egalitarianism that included the masses was ludicrous. Don’t forget that Napoleon gave the land back to the former landed aristocracy. Instead of aristocrats, they were then capitalists. Instead of imperialism justified by monarchy, it was an empire built on capitalism. And instead of a king, there was an emperor. It was the same difference. The authoritarian power of the system remained quite similar. Millions upon millions of feudal serfs and foreign populations were sacrificed on the altar of European capitalism.

The rhetoric of capitalism has often used the language of revolution and reform, but in practice those imposing capitalism were less than idealistic. This includes Napoleon in his claims of a civil society where everyone was on equal footing: “Overall, the is no consensus amongst modern historians about the legacy of French and Napoleonic reforms in Europe. The view of Grab (2003, p. 20) that “On a European level, the main significance of the Napoleonic rule lay in marking the transition from the ancien régime to the modern era,” is a common one. Yet there is disagreement about this point, with some, for example Blanning (1989), arguing that reform was already happening and the effects of Napoleon were negligible or even negative. Grab himself notes that Napoleon was “Janus faced”—undermining his reforms by his complicity to the rule of the local oligarchs. He writes: “Paradoxically, Napoleon himself sometimes undermined his own reform policies . . . In a number of states he compromised with conservative elites, allowing them to preserve their privileges as long as they recognized his supreme position” (Grab, 2003, p. 23)” (Daron Acemogluy et al, From Ancien Régime to Capitalism: The French Revolution as a Natural Experiment). Then again, this “Janus faced” tendency remains true of capitalism to this day, such as how the American empire will argue for rule of law in one case while at the same moment elsewhere aligning with local oligarchs or, if the desired local oligarchs don’t already exist, then creating them. That duplicity and complicity is the defining feature of capitalist regimes.

Whatever you think of it, you can’t deny the result of these revolutions was capitalism. Napoleon was a visionary who sought to implement a continental-wide trade system that would make Europe independent. His was a different vision of capitalism than that of the British, but it was capitalism, maybe more akin to Thomas Jefferson’s vision as opposed the corporate hegemony and mercantilism of the British East India Company: “A vision of the peasant smallholder and modest bourgeois landowner – hard-working, self-sufficient leaders of tightly knit rural communities and small towns – to whom the ethos of his legal and financial reforms appealed so much” (Michael Broers, Napoleon was a European to his core – except when it came to England). These two visions, expressed as Federalism and Anti-Federalism, would struggle for power in post-revolutionary America, but what both had in common was the assumption that capitalism inevitably would be the new social order. Feudalism was decisively ended and, though proto-socialism had challenged the establishment as early as the English Civil War, no other alternative was able to challenge the dominance of capitalist realism until much later.

Napoleon was defending the new capitalist system. Yes, it is true that Napoleon was an imperialist, even if it was merely a variant of what came before. There was no conundrum in that. Capitalism, right from the beginning, went hand in hand with this revamped imperialism. This was seen with how colonial corporatism, indentured servitude, slavery, sharecropping, prison labor, company towns, etc were the various expressions of modernized neo-feudalism in carrying over some of the old practices and incorporating them into the emergent capitalism that was taking shape during that period and following it, although eventually many of these traces of feudalism would fade (e.g., the slave plantation and the company town, like the feudal village that came before, would prove to be less profitable than the hyper-individualism that destroyed community and consumed social capital; though feudal-style capitalism still seems to work well in countries like China where workers are locked into factories).

There were other elements during that revolutionary era. But genuine left-wing voices like Thomas Paine, they were silenced and eliminated. That was the case in both major revolutions, American and French, with Paine having failed to fully promote democracy in either one. His advocacy of a free society, a free citizenry, and free markets would not prevail. For the most part, the authoritarians won. In some ways, the post-revolutionary authoritarianism was less oppressive than the feudal authoritarianism. The reason the peasants were restless under the French monarchy is because they were starving to death and food shortages became less of an issue with the modern improvements and reforms of agriculture, trade, etc (when people did starve in the post-revolutionary era as they did in Ireland under British rule, it was done intentionally to weaken and eliminate the population, an artificially-created food shortage by stealing the food and selling it on the international market). But whatever you think of one kind of authoritarianism over another, the point is that it wasn’t left-wing ideology that came to rule in the United States and France, not even when the revolutions were at their height. Both countries sought their own versions of imperialism and attempted to spread across their respective continents, although one attempt was more successful than the other in the long term.

No rational, intelligent, and educated person could blame any of this on left-wingers. Even much of the so-called “classical liberalism” that came to define the capitalist class has since then been claimed by the political right, ignoring the more complex history of early liberalism such as that of the radicalized working class (Nature’s God and American Radicalism). The rabble-rousing left-wing of that era, limited as it had been, was so fully trounced that it took generations for it to regain enough force to be a threat later on in the 19th century (e.g., feminists). Capitalism won that fight, for good or ill, and it was a particular kind of capitalism, plutocratic and increasingly corporatist, mostly that of wealthy white male landowners. Those in favor of capitalism have to accept both credit and blame for what was created through that early modern period of violent revolution and brutal oppression. And, yes, the American Revolution involved a high death count.

The French Revolution was central to the rise of modern capitalism in its relationship to modern rule of law and well-regulated markets, as is rarely acknowledged. But admittedly, it was the American Revolution that was most fully led by a capitalist class, as the colonies were the site of the emergent capitalist mentality. The earliest British colonies, after all, were originally founded as for-profit corporations. That was something that had never before existed. That brand of capitalism, from that point on, would be marked by violence. That has been true ever since, as seen with big biz alliance with Nazis, Pinochet, Saudis, etc, not to mention the CIA overthrowing democratic governments to ensure that big biz can freely exploit foreign workers and natural resources. This continues with the wars of aggression in the Middle East for purposes of controlling oil fields, pipelines, and ports.

Within capitalism, the revolutionary is simply the precursor to the counter-revolutionary. But in a sense, all of modernity has been an ongoing revolution, a radical overthrow of traditional society, a piecemeal dismantling of the ancien regime, the elimination of the commons and the commoners. That revolution maybe is finally coming to its culmination, as there isn’t much left of what came before. The so-called creative destruction of this capitalist revolution, over the ensuing centuries, has consumed itself and what remains is transnational corporatocracy and kleptocracy, a brutal authoritarianism at a scale never before seen. The seed of that violence was apparent in those first modern revolutions. That isn’t to dismiss the genuine democratic reforms that followed in some cases, if less impressive than was hoped for at the time, but the democratic reformers of the revolutionary era could not have imagined how much worse authoritarianism would get. And with fascism returning to public imagination, I doubt we’ve yet seen the worst of it.

St. George Tucker On Secession

“And since the seceding states, by establishing a new constitution and form of federal government among themselves, without the consent of the rest, have shown that they consider the right to do so whenever the occasion may, in their opinion require it, we may infer that the right has not been diminished by any new compact which they may since have entered into, since none could be more solemn or explicit than the first, nor more binding upon the contracting partie.”
~St. George Tucker *

Secession from the Articles of Confederation, the first Constitution, set a legal and moral precedent. The Constitutional Convention was initiated with the limited mandate of improving, not replacing, the first Constitution. Not all the states were present at the Constitutional Convention and the the second Constitution was initially ratified and enacted prior to the agreement and consent of all states, which was directly and explicitly unconstitutional according to the first Constitution (The Vague and Ambiguous US Constitution). The first Constitution originated in unanimous agreement and required unanimous agreement to make any changes to it, but the second Constitution was an act of fiat and so a non-violent coup.

Or was it non-violent? The American Revolution continued on with numerous rebellions by the veterans of the Revolutionary War. These rebellions were violently put down by the federal government (e.g., Shays’ Rebellion). This was the very thing that the Anti-Federalists feared and warned about. They sensed the imperialist and authoritarian aspirations of some of the leading pseudo-Federalists. Once a large centralized government controlled both taxation and military, the ruling elite would have total control and a free society would be doomed (Dickinson’s Purse and Sword). It turns out the Anti-Federalists were right

Since the second Constitution was an entirely new constitutional order enforced through coercion, there is no reason a third (or fourth or fifth) Constitution could be blocked on constitutional grounds. A third Constitution would not require legitimacy based on the second Constitution any more than the second Constitution required legitimacy based on the first Constitution. Unless there is consensus, as was the case with the first Constitution, any further Constitutions would be acts of secession, as was the case with the second Constitution. The fact that we, nonetheless, accept the second Constitution as legitimate explicitly gives legitimacy to secession itself.

Neither of the constitutional orders were formed without violence. And as the second Constitution was a secession from the Articles of Confederation, the first Constitution was likewise a secession from the British Empire. There is a strong precedence of secession in American history. The Southern states weren’t wrong in affirming this right of secession. The initiation of the Civil War wasn’t done to stop secession. The federal government would not have had public support for attacking the Confederacy, if Southern rebels had not first attacked the federal government in shooting cannons at Fort Sumter. Without that initial act of violence, the South probably would have successfully seceded and so would have set a new precedent for peaceful secession.

Secession had long been part of American thought. Leaders in the Northern states had earlier discussed secession as well. That was one of the original rights of the Articles of Confederation, that the union was an agreement freely joined according to consensus of all states. The states were considered independent. That is why they were called states, in the sense of being nation-states in a union. Democracy was assumed to operate within the separate (nation-)states, as the federal government was intentionally constrained. The federal government served the states, as the states served their citizenry, not the other way around.

Ultimate authority exist within the public mandate of each local citizenry. A state seceding from the United States, as such, is no different than secession of the UK from the European Union. This is what it means to be part of a free society where citizens are free to choose their own government.

* * *

* Quoted in a comment at the Civil War Talk forum.

St. George Tucker was an American Revolution veteran, slave emancipation advocate, law professor, respected legal scholar, and federal judge. He wrote View of the Constitution, the first detailed commentary on the U.S. Constitution after its ratification, and Commentaries that became the most important text on early American law.

He was an Anti-Federalist (i.e., true Federalist) and a strong believer in Natural Rights. His defense of the Second Amendment was not in favor of individual rights but states rights, that is to say he saw the purpose of the public owning a gun not as a justification for vigilantism but as a way for citizens to protect their freedom against authoritarianism (Saul Cornell, St. George Tucker and the Second Amendment: original understandings and modern misunderstandings).

Old Debates Forgotten

Since earlier last year, I’ve done extensive reading, largely but not entirely focused on health. This has particularly concerned diet and nutrition, although it has crossed over into the territory of mental health with neurocognitive issues, addiction, autism, and much else, with my personal concern being that of depression. The point of this post is to consider some of the historical background. Before I get to that, let me explain how my recent interests have developed.

What got me heading in this direction was the documentary The Magic Pill. It’s about the paleo diet. The practical advice was worth the time spent, though other things drew me into the the larger arena of low-carb debate. The thing about the paleo diet is that it offers a framework of understanding that includes many scientific fields involving health beyond only diet and also it explores historical records, anthropological research, and archaeological evidence. The paleo diet community in particular, along with the low-carb diet community in general, is also influenced by the traditional foods approach of Sally Fallon Morrell. She is the lady who, more than anyone else, popularized the work of Weston A. Price, an early 20th century dentist who traveled the world and studied traditional populations. I was already familiar with this area from having reading Morrell’s first book in the late ’90s or early aughts.

New to me was the writings of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz, two science journalists who have helped to shift the paradigm in nutritional studies. They accomplished this task by presenting not only detailed surveys of the research and other evidence but in further contextualizing the history of powerful figures, institutions, and organizations that shaped the modern industrial diet. I didn’t realize how far back this debate went with writings on fasting for epilepsy found in ancient texts and recommendations of a low-carb diet (apparently ketogenic) for diabetes appearing in the 1790s, along with various low-carb and animal-based diets being popularized for weight-loss and general health during the 19th century, and then the ketogenic diet was studied for epilepsy beginning in the 1920s. Yet few know this history.

Ancel Keys was one of those powerful figures who, in suppressing his critics and silencing debate, effectively advocated for the standard American diet of high-carbs, grains, fruits, vegetables, and industrial seed oils. In The Magic Pill, more recent context is given in following the South African trial of Tim Noakes. Other documentaries have covered this kind of material, often with interviews with Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz. There has been immense drama involved and, in the past, there was also much public disagreement and discussion. Only now is that returning to mainstream awareness in the corporate media, largely because social media has forced it out into the open. But what interests me is how old is the debate and often in the past much more lively.

The post-revolutionary era created a sense of crisis that, by the mid-19th century, was becoming a moral panic. The culture wars were taking shape. The difference back then was that there was much more of a sense of the connection between physical health, mental health, moral health, and societal health. As a broad understanding, health was seen as key and this was informed by the developing scientific consciousness and free speech movement. The hunger for knowledge was hard to suppress, although there were many attempts as the century went on. I tried to give a sense of this period in two massive posts, The Crisis of Identity and The Agricultural Mind. It’s hard to imagine what that must’ve been like. That scientific debate and public debate was largely shut down around the World War era, as the oppressive Cold War era took over. Why?

It is strange. The work of Taubes and Teicholz gives hint to what changed, although the original debate was much wider than diet and nutrition. The info I’ve found about the past has largely come from scholarship in other fields, such as historical and literary studies. Those older lines of thought are mostly treated as historical curiosities at this point, background info for the analysis of entirely other subjects. As for the majority of scientists, doctors and nutritionists these days, they are almost entirely ignorant of the ideologies that shaped modern thought about disease and health.

This is seen, as I point out, in how Galen’s ancient Greek theory of humors as incorporated into Medieval Christianity appears to be the direct source of the basic arguments for a plant-based diet, specifically in terms of the scapegoating of red meat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Among what I’ve come across, the one scholarly book that covers this in detail is Food and Faith in Christian Culture edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden. Bringing that into present times, Belinda Fettke dug up how so much of contemporary nutritional studies and dietary advice was built on the foundation of 19th-20th century vegan advocacy by the Seventh Day Adventists. I’ve never met anyone adhering to “plant-based” ideology who knows this history. Yet now it is becoming common knowledge in the low-carb world.

On the literary end of things, there is a fascinating work by Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet. I enjoyed reading it, in spite of never having cracked open a book by Jane Austen. Kozlowski, although no scholar, was able to dredge up much of interest about those post-revolutionary decades in British society. For one, he shows how obesity was becoming noticeable all the way back then and many were aware of the benefits of low-carb diets. He also makes clear that the ability to maintain a vegetable garden was a sign of immense wealth, not a means for putting much food on the tables of the poor — this is corroborated by Teicholz discussion of how gardening in American society, prior to modern technology and chemicals, was difficult and not dependable. More importantly, Kozlowski’s book explains what ‘sensibility’ meant back then, related to ‘nerves’ and ‘vapors’ and later on given the more scientific-sounding label of ‘neurasthenia’.

I came across another literary example of historical exegesis about health and diet, Sander L. Gilman’s Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient. Kafka was an interesting case, as a lifelong hypochondriac who, it turns out, had good reason to be. He felt that he had inherited a weak constitution and blamed this on his psychological troubles, but more likely causes were urbanization, industrialization, and a vegetarian diet that probably also was a high-carb diet based on nutrient-depleted processed foods; and before the time when industrial foods were fortified and many nutritional supplements were available.

What was most educational, though, about the text was Gilman’s historical details on tuberculosis in European thought, specifically in relationship to Jews. To some extent, Kafka had internalized racial ideology and that is unsurprising. Eugenics was in the air and racial ideology penetrated everything, especially health in terms of racial hygiene. Even for those who weren’t eugenicists, all debate of that era was marked by the expected biases and limitations. Some theorizing was better than others and for certain not all of it was racist, but the entire debate maybe was tainted by the events that would follow. With the defeat of the Nazis, eugenics fell out of favor for obvious reasons and an entire era of debate was silenced, even many of the arguments that were opposed to or separate form eugenics. Then historical amnesia set in, as many people wanted to forget the past and instead focus on the future. That was unfortunate. The past doesn’t simply disappear but continues to haunt us.

That earlier debate was a struggle between explanations and narratives. With modernity fully taking hold, people wanted to understand what was happening to humanity and where it was heading. It was a time of contrasts which made the consequences of modernity quite stark. There were plenty of communities that were still pre-industrial, rural, and traditional, but since then most of these communities have died away. The diseases of civilization, at this point, have become increasingly normalized as living memory of anything else has disappeared. It’s not that the desire for ideological explanations has disappeared. What happened was, with the victory of WWII, a particular grand narrative came to dominate the entire Western world and there simply were no other grand narratives to compete with it. Much of the pre-war debate and even scientific knowledge, especially in Europe, was forgotten as the records of it were destroyed, weren’t translated, or lost perceived relevance.

Nonetheless, all of those old ideological conflicts were left unresolved. The concerns then are still concerns now. So many problems worried about back then are getting worse. The connections between various aspects of health have regained their old sense of urgency. The public is once again challenging authorities, questioning received truths, and seeking new meaning. The debate never ended and here we are again, and one could add that fascism also is back rearing its ugly head. It’s worrisome that the political left seems to be slow on the uptake. There are reactionary right-wingers like Jordan Peterson who are offering visions of meaning and also who have become significant figures in the dietary world, by way of the carnivore diet he and his daughter are on. T?hen there are the conspiratorial paleo-libertarians such as Tristan Haggard, another carnivore advocate.

This is far from being limited to carnivory and the low-carb community includes those across the political spectrum, but it seems to be the right-wingers who are speaking the loudest. The left-wingers who are speaking out on diet come from the confluence of veganism/vegetarianism and environmentalism, as seen with EAT-Lancet (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). The problem with this, besides much of this narrative being false (Carnivore is Vegan), is that it is disconnected from the past. The right-wing is speaking more to the past than is the left-wing, such as Trump’s ability to invoke and combine the Populist and Progressive rhetoric from earlier last century. The political left is struggling to keep up and is being led down ideological dead-ends.

If we want to understand our situation now, we better study carefully what was happening in centuries past. We are having the same old debates without realizing it and we very well might see them lead to the same kinds of unhappy results.

Local Newspapers Were The Original Social Media

Local newspapers were the original social media. It reminds me of how, in early America, even personal letters would get published in the newspaper and sometimes without consent. A letter coming from a faraway friend or family member might mean news for the whole community. Or else it would make for great scandalous material your opponent might get a hold of (read about America’s founding era).

Privacy wasn’t always highly prized in centuries past. What was going on in your life was everyone’s business and so everyone had a right to know what you’ve been doing, as you had a right to know what everyone else has been doing. Apparently, you were wise to write your letters as if anyone might read them. That is still wise advice in writing anything today, something we’re regularly reminded of when some Tweet comes back to haunt someone as news.

More generally, newspapers were where people looked to learn about anything and everything, as there were few other sources of information. A daily newspaper told you what was going on in your little world and indeed the focus was almost entirely local. Whatever was even mildly significant would get reported. Look at that old newspaper — they really packed in the articles with small print and few pictures.

This still can be seen in some small communities. When my family and I were traveling out West, we passed through an isolated Indian Reservation, probably with a small population. There was a correspondingly small local newspaper. All the articles were about such things as a teen winning an award at school, the public library having purchased some new books, the ladies knitting club planning a bake sale for next Wednesday, etc.

This kind of news is only newsworthy because, in a tight-knit community, everyone is familiar with everyone else. These people are your neighbors and coworkers, friends and family. They go to the same church you do. Their kids go to school with your kids. You see them at the post office, bank, and store. It’s common knowledge about what goes on at Mrs. Jeffries’ card club, who attends, and the kind of person Mrs. Jeffries is. It’s part of a web of local information, what might be called gossip.

Now we have social media for that purpose where you keep close tabs on those you personally know. I might have little sense of what is going on in the lives of my brothers and their families if not for their Facebook postings, despite all of us living close to one another. It could be amusing to publish a monthly newspaper for reporting of family news where all the articles are based on the details gathered from social media, although I think there would only be one edition of the publication before everyone blocked me.

* * *

JULY 10, 1944 – ROBOT BOMBS, NAZIS, SEXISM AND HOME RENTAL AT $50 PER MONTH
by Johnny Joo

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

One thing I found interesting was that stories were published about such mundane things, such as – “Mrs. Jeffries Is Hostess To Club” where it goes on to tell about Mrs. Ralph Jeffries and her card club, which she had hosted at her house on a Wednesday night. A following article talks about a family hosting a Sunday dinner at their home.

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

1940s painesville ohio newspaper

The paper also throws out a whole bunch of personal information about people:

“Miss Suzanne Miller of Cleveland has returned to her home after spending two weeks at the home of her grandmother, Mrs. H. G. Early, and her cousin Alice Young, of 111 E. Jackson St.”

“Mr. and Mrs. George Yager are now residing at their newly furnished apartment at 236 Courtland St.”

and many more to go along with those ^

If things like this were shared today, people would be throwing a fit (never mind that people share their entire lives on social media)

Enchantment of Capitalist Religion

We Have Never Been Disenchanted
by Eugene McCarraher, excerpt

“The world does not need to be re-enchanted, because it was never disenchanted in the first place.  Attending primarily to the history of the United States, I hope to demonstrate that capitalism has been, as Benjamin perceived, a religion of modernity, one that addresses the same hopes and anxieties formerly entrusted to traditional religion.  But this does not mean only that capitalism has been and continues to be “beguiling” or “fetishized,” and that rigorous analysis will expose the phantoms as the projections they really are.  These enchantments draw their power, not simply from our capacity for delusion., but from our deepest and truest desires — desires that are consonant and tragically out of touch with the dearest freshness of the universe.  The world can never be disenchanted, not because our emotional or political or cultural needs compel us to find enchantments — though they do — but because the world itself, as Hopkins realized, is charged with the grandeur of God…

“However significant theology is for this book, I have relied on a sizable body of historical literature on the symbolic universe of capitalism.  Much of this work suggests that capitalist cultural authority cannot be fully understood without regard to the psychic, moral, and spiritual longings inscribed in the imagery of business culture.”

Has Capitalism Become Our Religion?

“As a Christian, I reject the two assumptions found in conventional economics: scarcity (to the contrary, God has created a world of abundance) and rational, self-seeking, utility-maximizing humanism (a competitive conception of human nature that I believe traduces our creation in the image and likeness of God). I think that one of the most important intellectual missions of our time is the construction of an economics with very different assumptions about the nature of humanity and the world.”