Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves

New Feelings: Podcast Passivity
by Suzannah Showler

My concern is that on some level, I’m prone to mistake any voice that pours so convincingly into my brain for my own. And maybe it’s not even a mistake, per se, so much as a calculated strategy on the part of my ego to maintain its primacy, targeting and claiming any foreign object that would stray so far into the inner-sanctum of my consciousness. Whether the medium is insidious, my mind a greedy assimilation machine, or both, it seems that at least some of the time, podcasts don’t just drown out my inner-monologue — they actually overwrite it. When I listen to a podcast, I think some part of me believes I’m only hearing myself think.

Twentieth-century critics worried about this, too. Writing sometime around the late 1930s, Theodore Adorno theorized that a solitary listener under the influence of radio is vulnerable to persuasion by an anonymous authority. He writes: “The deeper this [radio] voice is involved within his own privacy, the more it appears to pour out of the cells of his more intimate life; the more he gets the impression that his own cupboard, his own photography, his own bedroom speaks to him in a personal way, devoid of the intermediary stage of the printed words; the more perfectly he is ready to accept wholesale whatever he hears. It is just this privacy which fosters the authority of the radio voice and helps to hide it by making it no longer appear to come from outside.”

I’ll admit that I have occasionally been gripped by false memories as a result of podcasts — been briefly sure that I’d seen a TV show I’d never watched, or convinced that it was a friend, not a professional producer, who told me some great anecdote. But on the whole, my concern is less that I am being brainwashed and more that I’m indulging in something deeply avoidant: filling my head with ideas without actually having to do the messy, repetitive, boring, or anxious work of making meaning for myself. It’s like downloading a prefabbed stream of consciousness and then insisting it’s DIY. The effect is twofold: a podcast distracts me from the tedium of being alone with myself, while also convincingly building a rich, highly-produced version of my inner life. Of course that’s addictive — it’s one of the most effective answers to loneliness and self-importance I can imagine.

Being Your Selves: Identity R&D on alt Twitter
by Aaron Z. Lewis

Digital masks are making the static and immortal soul of the Renaissance seem increasingly out of touch. In an environment of info overload, it’s easy to lose track of where “my” ideas come from. My brain is filled with free-floating thoughts that are totally untethered from the humans who came up with them. I speak and think in memes — a language that’s more like the anonymous manuscript culture of medieval times than the individualist Renaissance era. Everything is a remix, including our identities. We wear our brains outside of our skulls and our nerves outside our skin. We walk around with other people’s voices in our heads. The self is in the network rather than a node.

The ability to play multiple characters online means that the project of crafting your identity now extends far beyond your physical body. In his later years, McLuhan predicted that this newfound ability would lead to a society-wide identity crisis:

The instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing — rather than enlarging — the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences. Particularly in countries where literate values are deeply institutionalized, this is a highly traumatic process, since the clash of old segmented visual culture and the new integral electronic culture creates a crisis of identity, a vacuum of the self, which generates tremendous violence — violence that is simply an identity quest, private or corporate, social or commercial.

As I survey the cultural landscape of 2020, it seems that McLuhan’s predictions have unfortunately come true. More than ever before, people are exposed to a daily onslaught of world views and belief systems that threaten their identities. Social media has become the battlefield for a modern-day Hobbesian war of all-against-all. And this conflict has leaked into the allegedly “offline” world.

Alienated Middle Class Whites

I’ve been reading Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America that came out this past year (and already posted about it). Like so many others, it’s about what brought us to a Trump presidency. But this particular piece of journalism stands out from the crowd, albeit not a difficult achievement. I’m giving the author extra credit points because he is somewhat balanced. For a conservative (paleo-libertarian?) henchman of the American Enterprise Institute living in Washington, D.C., he surprisingly brings up a number of points a left-winger could at least partly agree with.

Looking through the book, I kept expecting to be more critical. The political right bias was there, but Carney also drew upon the views of the political left, if not to the degree and depth I’d have preferred. He discusses the history of racism, gender bias, privilege, etc. Then he puts this in context of the problems of conservative nostalgia and revanchism. He takes some pointed jabs at the right, although he plays to the frame of ‘moderation’ in believing the truth is somewhere to be found in a hypothetical ‘centrism’, such as his critique of both individualism and collectivism or his critique of both big gov and big biz.

In giving the political left credit, he admits the importance of economic factors, such as rising inequality and he also brings up the problems of segregation and mistrust. But he is completely unaware that diversity only leads to loss of trust when combined with segregation (Eric Uslaner, Segregation and Mistrust). Nor does he appreciate how far reaching are the effects of inequality (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder; Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Inner Level). His view is not superficial or lacking in nuance, even as he remains trapped in capitalist realism. But he is coming from a more or less conventional worldview, no matter how far he stretches the boundaries a bit, although admittedly he does bring some good points to the table (The Right’s Lena Dunham Fallacy).

Here is the basic limitation. He constantly associates one positive factor with another in the assumption that the link is causal and goes in the direction that fits his beliefs, but he rarely if ever goes beyond correlation and he doesn’t acknowledge all the immense data and examples that contradict his assumptions and conclusions. Consider Scandinavians who show better results on numerous measures: poverty, unemployment, inequality, small business ownership, patents per capita, education, health, etc. They do this with highly conformist and collectivist societies with centralized welfare states and without the kind of civic participation seen in the US; for example, schools are operated professionally by highly trained and heavily unionized teachers, and parents don’t belong to an equivalent of a PTA or typically volunteer at their children’s schools. Yet it can be argued they somehow have a stronger and healthier form of individualism (Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything). Such examples show that Edmund Burke’s “small platoons” can be as large and centralized as a highly advanced modern nation-state. It is true they are smaller nation-states, but large enough to have ambassadors, international policy, maintain militaries, and be allies with global superpowers.

Carney barely discusses anything outside of the United States. As I recall, he mentions Scandinavia once or twice and even then only in passing. Scandinavia undermines every aspect of his conclusions. That is the problem. He covers a lot of material and, for a mainstream writer, it is reasonably comprehensive as non-academic popular writing. But he never quite brings it together and he offers no meaningful solutions. What could have been a more worthy book stopped short of challenging the paradigm itself and pushing to an entirely different perspective and level of insight. Instead, he offers an obsession with social conservatism, if slightly more interesting than the standard approach. He makes a decent argument for what it is, maybe one of the better mainstream conservative arguments I’ve come across. He actually engages with diverse info. If nothing else, it will serve the purpose of introducing conservatives and right-wingers to a wealth of info and ideas they otherwise would never see.

I’m not sure I can hold the limitations against the author. Even if it fails in the end, it doesn’t fail to a greater degree than is expected. The analysis is adequate and, within the chosen framework, it was inevitable that it couldn’t really go anywhere beyond known territory. Even so, I really did appreciate how much space he gave to a topic like inequality. An example of where it comes short is not even touching on the saddest of inequalities, that of environment and health. It’s not merely that the poor don’t have access to green spaces and nice schools. The poor are literally being poisoned by lead in old pipes and toxic dumps located in poor communities. The oppressed poor aren’t accidental victims for their communities were intentionally destroyed by design, in the kind of capitalism we have that makes profit by devouring ‘social capital’. Still, it’s amazing how much he is willing to speak of, considering who employs him and who is his likely audience, but it ends up feeling like a wad of loose threads. The edges of his argument are as frayed as the social fabric he details. There is no larger context to hold it together, which is to be expected as the author is part of the very same problematic mainstream social order he is attempting to understand… and doing so on the same level the problem was created.

Though going far beyond where most on the political right dare to tread, he never fully takes seriously the ideals of basic human rights and moral righteousness nor the democratic values of fairness and justice as being of penultimate importance. The entire history of corporatocratic and plutocratic capitalism is that of violence, oppression, and theft. The kind of analysis in Alienated America, no matter how fair-minded and reasonable in intention (if we give the author the benefit of the doubt), doesn’t confront the bloody corpse of the elephant in the room, the reality that capitalism only applies to the poor while the rich get socialism (Trillions Upon Trillions of Dollars). Neither church attendance nor marriage rates could come close to undoing the moral harm. Forget the social fabric. We need to worry about the moral foundation of modern civilization.

As someone harshly put it, “Just a rehash of the same old “Trickle Down Economics” and “Thousand Points of Light” BS. Shrink government down till you can drown it in the bathtub destroying the social safety net while cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations and miraculously private local organizations will jump in to take care of everything. At least try and come up with a more plausible explanation for the disaster to divert us from the truth that the gangster capitalism the Republican Party has been pushing on America since Reagan” (comment to Andy Smarick’s Where civic life crumbled, Donald Trump arose). I might be slightly more forgiving as I came to it with low expectations, but basically this comment is correct.

Carney’s argument is intellectually reasonable as far as mainstream arguments go, but it lacks a gut-level punch. He remains within the range of respectability, not getting too close to anything that might be mistaken as radical. Envisioning a slightly more friendly capitalism is not exactly a new proposition or overly inspiring. Nonetheless, his refusal to scapegoat individuals and his refusal to think of communities in isolation is refreshing. His focus on alienation is key, even as I personally find Joahann Hari (Chasing the Scream & Lost Connections) to be much more probing in getting to the heart of the matter, but that ultimately is just to complain that Carney isn’t a left-winger, not that Hari is extremely radical either.

Where his take offered clarity of light to see by was his dissection of Trump supporters and voters. He does a wonderful takedown of the mainstream narrative that it was the highly religious who were behind Trump’s election. Opposite of this narrative, the facts show that, as church attendance went up in a community, Trump’s voter count went down in that location. His ‘religious’ followers were mostly the unchurched and, interestingly, those lacking in an ethnic identity, as contrasted with traditioanlly religious and community-minded populations such as Dutch-American Calvinists (Terry Mattingly, Journalists don’t understand religious fault lines in ‘alienated’ America). Yet those unchurched Trump supporters claimed that religion was important to them, apparently as a symbolic issue among those who have otherwise lost meaning in their lives, which seems to be Carney’s takeaway. It reminds me of how school shooters are also concentrated in similar communities and, even when non-religious, the assailants often express religious-like concern for meaning (12 Rules for Potential School Shooters).

He busted another myth in pointing out that core support for Trump, although coming from economically struggling populations, did not specifically come from the poor but rather the wealthier in those communities (yet strangely he kept reinvoking the very myth he disproved and dismantled, in returning his focus to poor whites). This economic class of the relatively comfortable apparently have a troubled relationship with their impoverished ‘neighbors’, either in a fear of them or in a fear of becoming like them, which is to say class anxiety in one way or another. It’s understandable as the middle class has been shrinking and surely the middle class is shrinking the most in those economically distressed communities. And that would be hitting white males most of all in how, as many other demographics (women, minorities, and immigrants) have had improving economic outcomes over the past half century, white males are now making less than in the past.

On the other hand, the wealthier in wealthier communities are more protected from these problems and so felt no attraction to Trump’s demagoguery; their local economies are less stressed and divided. It indicates that, though Carney didn’t explain it this way, the real problem is inequality, where it was immediately felt and not. The more well off communities could either ignore inequality altogether as if it didn’t exist or else treat it as a problem of other people elsewhere. To the economically-segregated elites, inequality is an abstraction that isn’t viscerally real in their immediate experience and so, in the mind of the privileged, it is not personally relevant or morally compelling. But such dissociation can only last for so long as society crumbles all around their walled enclaves — as Keith Payne makes clear, even the rich are stressed, suffer, and become sick under conditions of high inequality. Ultimately, there is no escape from a society gone mad, especially when that society is the leading global superpower.

Where Carney really gets things right is about isolation and alienation. And it doesn’t happen in the way most would expect. Why is this particular middle class white demographic so anxiety-ridden and not other populations? In dealing with everyday needs and problems, Carney writes that, “Trump voters—as compared with Ted Cruz voters, or Bernie or Hillary supporters—answered, “I just rely on myself” the most.” That is quite telling. Sanders won the largest proportion of the poor and working class, far more than Trump. So, similar to how the wealthy in wealthy communities feel greater trust and connection toward their neighbors, so do many of the poor.

Stephen Steinberg writes that, “In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”” (Poor Reason; see Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”).

So that is what Carney gets wrong. He goes from Trump’s core supporters from the middle class being isolated and alienated to shifting the frame back to the mainstream narrative of it somehow being about the declining white working class, in stating that, “In general, poorer people “tend to be socially isolated,” Putnam found, “even from their neighbors.” That probably is true to some extent, but the point is that it isn’t nearly true to the degree as found among the anxious middle class. The poorest of the poor, unlike the upwardly aspiring middle class, are those the least likely to move to seek a job and so are the most likely to remain living near lifelong connections of family, friends, and neighbors.

Yes, poverty has a way of isolating people such as being constantly busy with working multiple jobs while unable to afford childcare. Nonetheless, even when they don’t have the time to spend with those important social ties, they know that their social network is always there to fall back on in times of dire need. Sure, the rural poor are increasingly isolated quite literally in a geographic sense, as the rural areas empty out with the young moving to the cities. But in spite of the media loving to obsess over these loneliest of the desperate and aging poor, the reality is the vast majority of the poor, specifically poor whites, have lived in urban areas for over a century now. That isn’t to say it isn’t also shitty to be among the urban poor. But the basic point comes down to something odd going on here. The poorest Americans, contrary to expectation, are not the most anxious and are not those turning most to reactionary politics of nostalgia and strong man leadership. Instead, those on the bottom of society tend to be apolitial and disenfranchised, that is to say they usually don’t vote.

How different that is from Trump’s America. Trump was not speaking to those facing the worst economic hardship but those a few rungs above them. Something happened to the middle class to cause them to feel precarious, as if they had been cheated out of a more comfortable and secure lifestyle that they deserved. Maybe they had sacrificed extended family and community in climbing the economic ladder and pursuing their careers, and it turned out the rewards did not match the costs. So, they were left hanging somewhere in between. “Trump voters were significantly less socially connected,” Carney writes. “There’s plenty more data like this, charting the loneliness and social disconnection in Trump’s early core support.” For certain, something is making middle class whites go crazy and not merely those gripping the lowest edge of it (Fractures of a Society Coming Apart). Look at the breakdown of Trump voters, from my post Right-Wing Politics of the Middle Class, and notice it doesn’t fit the narrative spun in the corporate media:

“Trump voters seemed to include many average Americans, although Trump voters were slightly above the national average on wealth. With incomes below $50,000, 52% for Clinton and 41% for Trump. With incomes more than $50,000, 49% for Trump and 47% for Clinton. A large part of Trump’s votes came from the income range of +50 to -100 thousand range, i.e., the middle class. The only income level bracket that Trump lost to Clinton was those who make $49,999 and under. Trump’s victory came from the combined force of the middle-to-upper classes. Trump did get strong support from those without a college degree (i.e., some college or less), but then again the vast majority of Americans lack a college degree. It’s easy to forget that even many in the middle class lack college degrees. Factory jobs and construction jobs often pay more than certain professional careers such as teachers and tax accountants. I’m sure a fair number low level managers and office workers lack college degrees.

“Among white voters alone, though, Trump won more college-educated than did Clinton. The white middle class went to Trump, including white women with college degrees. Only 1 in 6 Trump voters were non-college-educated whites earning less than $50,000. Ignoring the racial breakdown, Trump overall won 52% of those with some college/associate degree, 45% of college graduates, and 37% with postgraduate study. That is a fairly broad swath. A basic point I’d make is that the majority of Trump voters without a college education work in white collar or middle skill jobs, representing the anxious and precarious lower middle class, but it has been argued that the sense of financial insecurity is more perceived than real. The working class, especially the poor, were far from being Trump’s strongest and most important support, despite their greater financial insecurity. Rather, the Trump voters who played the biggest role were those who fear downward economic mobility, whether or not one deems this fear rational (I tend to see it as being rational, considering a single accident or health condition could easily send into debt many in the lower middle class).”

Of course, Carney is making a more targeted point. He is speaking about Trump’s core support in specifying those who were supporting him from the very beginning of his campaign, prior to the GOP nomination. That core support wasn’t the comfortable upper middle class, but still they were solidly middle class above the common rabble. As he further emphasizes, “recall that Trump’s core supporters weren’t necessarily poorer than other voters. But they lived in places that were worse off, culturally and economically, than other places.” That cuts straight to one of Keith Payne’s main points, the way high inequality can feel like poverty even to those who aren’t poor. Economic stress comes in many forms, not limited to outright economic desperation. Inequality, when pushed to extremes, makes everyone feel shitty. And if the sense of conflict lasts long enough, people begin acting crazy, even crazy enough to vote for demagogues, social dominators, and authoritarians.

If we are to seek the cause of this problem, we should look elsewhere to those concentrations of segregated wealth. “Inequality in the United States is growing,” says Carney in pointing out the obvious. “Economic mobility is low. These facts alone suggest that our elites aren’t sharing the wealth.” That is an interesting conclusion coming from the political right, even to suggest they should share the wealth. Now if the right could only admit that most of that wealth was stolen and so needs to be returned, not merely shared, but such breathtaking honesty is far too much to ask for. We have to take what meager honesty we can get, even if it only gives us a glimpse: “This social inequality, as earlier chapters laid out, was far less in the 1960s (racial and gender inequality were far worse, of course). Between the upper class and the working class, there was a far smaller gap in marriage, in divorce, and in out-of-wedlock births. At the root of it all: In 1960, there was a narrower gap in social connectedness, including church attendance. Today, family life and strong community are increasingly a luxury good. And here we can blame the elites.”

If only social conservatives would take seriously what it means to have made the public good a luxury unaffordable to most of the public. But all we are left with is a diatribe of paternalistic moralizing. We don’t need to get rid of this modern aristocracy, so goes the lament, for the moral failure is that they’ve forgotten their noblesse oblige. They need to return to the founding ideal, as embodied by George Washington, of an enlightened aristocracy. Carney preaches that the economic elite need to once again embrace their role as ruling elite, to return plutocracy back to its aristocratic roots of theocratic patriarchy. The “more pernicious problem” is an “ideoogical commitment to egalitarianism among elites that prevents them from seeing themselves as elites.” Yeah, that is where we went wrong. The elites aren’t elitist enough and so they aren’t taking seriously their moral responsibility to compassionately rule over their local populations of neo-feudal serfs, instead locking themselves away in the modern equivalent of a castle keep. I’m glad we got that cleared up. That should set the world right again.

* * *

Alienated America
by Timothy P. Carney

A quick reminder, though, as we discuss election results and “Trump Country”: By the general election in 2016, a vast majority of Republicans had come around to Donald Trump. Many would choose anyone but Hillary. Others had grown fond of the man. By the end of Trump’s first couple of years in office, after two Supreme Court picks and a tax cut, many other right-leaning Americans embraced him.

This book isn’t about those later adopters, though. This book has mostly studied the results of the early primaries to sort out who was Trump’s early core support . When we have looked at general election results, we have been most interested in the voters or places that shifted from Democrat to Republican—the voters who would have stayed home or voted Democrat had Trump not been the nominee.

So on this question—who was Trump’s early core support ?—different studies found wildly differing results. You may recall those who said “economic anxiety” was the cause, and those who said they could prove that there was no economic anxiety, just racism at the heart of Trump’s earliest support.

What distinguished these two classes of studies? The studies that found no or little connection between economic woe and Trump support were polls of individuals. Those finding that economic woe predicted Trump support were studies of places.

As a Washington Post headline aptly put it: PLACES THAT BACKED TRUMP SKEWED POOR; VOTERS WHO BACKED TRUMP SKEWED WEALTHIER. 3

This is one reason we couldn’t tell the story of Trump without discussing community. The story of how we got Trump is the story of the collapse of community, which is also the story behind our opioid plague, our labor-force dropouts, our retreat from marriage, and our growing inequality.

The core Trump voters weren’t the people dying, obviously. They weren’t even necessarily the unhealthy ones. They weren’t necessarily the people drawing disability payments or dropping out of the workforce. Trump’s core voters were these people’s neighbors.

Trump’s win—specifically his wins in the early primaries and his outperformance of Mitt Romney—is best explained by his support in places where communities are in disarray. Many traits characterized Trump’s early core supporters. This chapter will explore them, and we will see how closely they are all tied to alienation.

How Trump Voters Are Giving the Right Qualms About Capitalism
by Park MacDougald

Yet if Carney offers a convincingly bleak view of social collapse in working-class America, his explanation for this collapse — and his suggestions for what to do about it — are somewhat less satisfying. Carney channels, to a limited degree, some of the new right-wing market skepticism: He offers a soft criticism of big business for stamping out local variation in the name of standardization and efficiency; he laments the rise of “Taylorism” and its dehumanization of work; he attacks the “gig economy” for not providing workers with stability; he disapproves of suburbanization and the isolation that stems from it; he even quotes Deneen to the effect that capitalism breeds an individualistic mind-set that makes relationships contingent and easily broken. But in explaining the troubles of working-class America, Carney tends to fall back on the collapse of church and community, which he largely attributes to traditional Republican bogeymen such as the welfare state, the sexual revolution, the rise of expressive individualism, and secularization. These explanations are not wrong per se, but they are so large and fuzzily cultural that they resist solutions beyond the local and individual. Carney offers a few policy fixes he thinks might help — reforming the mortgage interest deduction, decentralizing control over public schools — but he admits in his closing chapter that the “solution is mostly: You should go to church. Also, You should start a T-ball team.

Generally speaking, it probably is a good idea to start a T-ball team. And Carney’s willingness to critique aspects of American capitalism, mild as they may be, represents a marked shift from where the mainstream right was during the Obama years and where some of its leading lights still are. But at the same time, by delivering an account of a country facing full-blown social collapse and then retreating into calls for local, voluntary solutions, Carney ends up restating the basic premises of an old conservative consensus — it’s not the government’s job to fix your problems — that, as a political philosophy, has contributed to the alienation Carney so convincingly describes. It may be true, for instance, that the state is ill equipped to re-create devastated communities, but it is also true that state policy has enabled or even accelerated their devastation, and not merely in the sense that overregulation has hurt small businesses or that the welfare state has crowded out private charity.

Rising international economic competition, for instance, was always going to hurt the American working class. But as critics on both the left and the right have pointed out, globalization has been systematically tilted in favor of the mobile and highly educated. The critic Michael Lind, for instance, notes that the international harmonization of economic rules has focused on tariffs, financial liberalization, and intellectual property while avoiding areas that would benefit the Western working classes, such as wages, labor standards, and tax laws. Even some of the more diffuse cultural shifts lamented by conservatives have been midwifed by the state. As Harvard Law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk Gersen have argued in their study of the evolution of Title IX, civil-rights laws designed to protect women’s equal access to education have created, through bureaucratic drift and activist institutional capture, a vast federal regulatory apparatus that treats socialization into “traditional” gender roles as a public-health risk and attempts, under the guise of fighting sexual assault, to inculcate among college students a progressive view of gender and sexuality.

The point here is not to chastise Carney for not adopting a more dirigiste political philosophy than the one he presumably holds. It is to say that, even on the right, intellectuals are concluding that the problems Carney identifies are so alarming that localist, laissez-faire solutions simply aren’t going to cut it. In a recent essay in American Affairs, Gladden Pappin issued a broadside against fusionist conservatives who, in his view, waste their energies calling for the resurrection of vanished civil-society traditions “that worked only as culturally embedded practices dependent on the traditions of aristocratic centuries.” Instead, Pappin demands conservatives ask themselves, “What can we do with the reins of power, that is, the state, to ensure the common good of our citizens?”

It remains to be seen whether anyone will take up Pappin’s call and, if they do, whether such a conservatism of the state would be effective or popular. But if Middle America’s condition really is as dire as people like Carney make it out to be, it’s hard to imagine that “go to church” will turn out to be a political winner. Carney ably describes the sort of malaise that led Republicans to flock to Trump, but if there’s one thing we learned from the 2016 election, it’s that desperate people want a leader who promises to try something different, however flawed his solutions might be.

God’s Bailout: A Review of Timothy P. Carney’s “Alienated America”
by Tyler Austin Harper

It is here that Alienated America is very insightful: Carney has a genuine knack for parsing the data, drawing out counterintuitive but rigorously defended observations, and resisting simple narratives about complex states of affairs. His central claim that the 2016 election was a referendum on whether the American dream is alive or dead is not novel, but it is both convincing and better supported than similar efforts. Additionally, although his defense of the salutary nature of cultural practices like religious observance, child-rearing, and marriage are unapologetically conservative in nature, his message remains comparatively broad in scope: unlike other conservative Catholic critics of Trump (most notably, Patrick Deneen), Carney predicates his argument on the form, rather than the content, of these practices. In the pages of Alienated America, you will find no diatribe on the superiority of heterosexual marriage or the Catholic faith — he notes repeatedly, for example, that observant Muslim Americans are among the groups most likely to report optimism about America and faith in the American dream, even after Donald Trump’s election and attempted Muslim ban. Rather, Carney’s message is practical and universalist in nature: people are better off among other people, when they have something, anything whatsoever, that they belong to and that unites them in a network of mutual responsibility.

It is this aspect of Carney’s argument that I find most appealing, and most useful for progressives like myself. Namely, the author eschews the common tendency — on the right and the left — to posit a linear relationship between wealth and well-being. More specifically, his work persuasively suggests that financial security and emotional security go hand in hand not because some kind of mechanical relationship exists between the two, but because, in contrast to the working class, the wealthy tend to have the resources to live in and contribute to places that provide opportunities for meaningful lives lived in common. As he succinctly puts it: “The erosion of community […] is unequally distributed, it is concentrated in the working class, and it is geographically discrete to the point that we can see it on a map.”

While those of us on the left are generally quick (and correct!) to highlight the importance of addressing widening income inequality and an increasingly precarious labor market, for example, it often seems that we are comparatively less likely to talk about questions of community, as though we assume that fixing the former will necessarily achieve the latter. Furthermore, when we do talk about community, we often use the term to refer to people who share common interests and experiences (for example, “communities of color”) but not necessarily geographical proximity or concrete spaces of interaction. If we are willing to take Carney’s assessment seriously, then, two questions seem obvious: What are the barriers to community, understood in the sense of mutual, meaningful networks of local support? And how might these barriers be removed?

Not surprisingly, it is here that Carney’s analysis breaks down, where his professed desire for strong communities is predictably thwarted by his inability to recognize unfettered capitalism, rather than government centralization and regulation, as the primary threat to the robust civic life he vaunts. Although Carney approvingly cites Orwell’s maxim “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle,” he consistently fails to see that at the heart of every flyover town, closed plant, and shuttered church whose death he laments, there is a place where unregulated capital — not some big government boogeyman — has reared its ugly head.

Unlike his meticulously researched and tightly argued defense of the prosocial virtues of marriage and religious observance, for example, Carney’s tepid but persistent support of free-market capitalism and his assaults on liberal governance are fast and loose, often relying on anecdotal evidence, sparse data, and obscure cases of bureaucratic malfeasance to make his points. Oftentimes, his arguments are absurd — such as his claim that massive companies like Walmart, Amazon, or Starbucks crowd out small businesses because of too much, rather than too little, regulation. Other times, they’re comical — once in the 1980s, Mayor Bernie Sanders apparently professed not to believe in charities. This decades-old remark is spun by Carney into a sweeping indictment of the contemporary left’s widespread desire to have neighborly goodwill replaced by the Nanny State.

In fairness, Carney isn’t entirely oblivious to the problems caused by our neoliberal economic order — he frequently cites cases of Chinese manufacturing undermining manufacturing-centric US communities, for example. However, like many modern conservatives, he assuages his doubts by acknowledging that free-market capitalism has a few minor kinks, before swiftly pivoting to the supposedly graver dangers posed by governmental overreach, centralization, and regulation. As a direct consequence of this reaffirmation of the legitimacy of unfettered capital, Carney is thus forced to retreat into the untenable position that religion is the best and most readily available means to redress our present crisis of community. We can’t all be affluent, his argument goes, and thus we can’t all have access to the kind of secular communal life enjoyed by the wealthy. Yet, even the dirt poor can enjoy the social bonds provided by religious life.

To reiterate, I have no problem with Carney’s high estimation of organized religion. As with marriage, I know plenty of people for whom religion has been nightmarish, a source of trauma, insecurity, and even violence. I also know plenty of people, like Jim the bookish engineer, for whom religious affiliation has been a bulwark against the loneliness endemic to modern life. The problem is not religion itself, as one means among many for achieving the communal ties that foster well-being. The problem is Carney’s reliance on God to bail out capitalism. Unlike Robert Nisbet, the conservative sociologist whose classic work — The Quest for Community (1953) — he returns to frequently, Carney’s own work persistently downplays the connection between social alienation and the flow of unregulated capital that is the principal engine of that same alienation.

Although he signals kinship with an earlier tradition of postwar conservatives who were also preoccupied with the question of community — people like Nisbet, Russell Kirk, and Peter Viereck, who highlighted the corrosive and antisocial effects of the cult of free enterprise — Carney cannot ultimately bring himself to shed the laissez-faire, libertarian economics that dominate the Republican Party. The result is a book that puts its finger on the right problem, but whose author is too besotted by economic fatalism to imagine a variety of contentment that would be otherwise than religious, positioning secular forms of community as the unique provenance of the elite. While Carney’s insistence that we must reintegrate the classes, combating the geographical isolation of wealth and its resources, is laudable, his calls to privatize the safety net are as predictable as they are puerile.

Rather than buy into a zero-sum game that forces a choice between government as a tentacular monster and government as a minimalist “reinsurance” program (“a safety net for safety nets,” to use Carney’s term) is it not possible to imagine a government that supports community institutions by — and hear me out on this — actually funding and defending them? If you want a thriving book club scene, for example, why not fix the public schools? Try pumping money into education and paying teachers a salary that will make such work a feasible option for the best and the brightest. After all, lifelong learners, the kind who read for pleasure, do not grow on trees. Likewise, if you want heightened church attendance, mightn’t an increased minimum wage — allowing prospective attendees to forsake that second job, spending Sundays in the pews rather than driving for Uber — be a good start? If college graduates are far more likely to build robust communities, as Carney repeatedly claims, shouldn’t we work toward making a college education more affordable for the alienated, working poor whose cause he champions? These are the kind of questions that Carney dismisses out of hand as “centralizing” and “utopian,” preferring instead his own brand of theocratic utopianism in which a minimalist state would be kept afloat by little platoons of the charitable religious.

“Individuation is not the culmination of the person; it is the end of the person.”

Julian Jaynes and the Jaynesian scholars have made a compelling argument about where egoic consciousness originated and how it formed. But in all the Jaynesian literature, I don’t recall anyone suggesting how to undo egoic consciousness, much less suggesting we should attempt annihilation of the demiurgic ego.

That latter project is what preoccupied Carl Jung, and it is what Peter Kingsley has often written about. They suggest it is not only possible but inevitable. In a sense, the ego is already dead and we are already in the underworld. We are corpses and our only task is to grieve.

The Cry of Merlin: Carl Jung and the Insanity of Reason
Gregory Shaw on Peter Kingsley

Kingsley explains that Jung emulated these magicians, and his journey through the Underworld followed the path of Pythagoras, Parmenides and Empedocles. Jung translated the terminology of the ancients into “scientific” terms, calling the initiation he realized in the abyss “individuation.” For Jungians today, individuation is the culmination of psychic development, as if it were our collective birthright. Yet Kingsley points out that this notion of individuation is a domestication, commodification, and utter distortion of what Jung experienced. Individuation is not the culmination of the person; it is the end of the person. It is the agonizing struggle of becoming a god and a person simultaneously, of living in contradictory worlds, eternity and time.

Kingsley reveals that although individuation is the quintessential myth of Jung’s psychology, it is almost never experienced because no one can bear it. Individuation is the surrendering of the personal to the impersonal, and precisely what Jung experienced it to be, the death of his personality. Jung explains that individuation is a total mystery; the mystery of the Grail that holds the essence of God. According to Henry Corbin, Jung saw “true individuation as becoming God or God’s secret.” Put simply, individuation is deification. To his credit, over twenty years ago Richard Noll argued this point and wrote that Jung experienced deification in the form of the lion-headed Mithras (Leontocephalus), but Kingsley gives the context for deification that Noll does not, and the context is crucial. He shows that Jung’s deification was not an “ego trip” that gave rise to “a religious cult with [Jung] as the totem,” Noll’s assumption; nor was it a “colossal narcissism,” as Ernest Jones suggested, but precisely the opposite. Individuation cuts to the very core of self-consciousness; it is the annihilation of the ego, not its inflation. […]

What is fundamentally important about Catafalque is that Kingsley demonstrates convincingly that Jung recovered the shamanic path exemplified by Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Socrates. Jung tried to save us from the “insanity of reason” by descending to the underworld, serving the archetypes, and disavowing the impiety of “the Greeks” who reduce the sacred to rationalizations. There is much in Catafalque I have not addressed, perhaps the most important is Kingsley’s discussion of the Hebrew prophets who raged against a godless world. Kingsley here appropriately includes Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, that draws from the rhythms of these prophets to wail against the “insanity of America,” its mechanized thinking, suffocating architecture, and the robotic efficiency that is the child of Reason. This almost verbatim mirrors the words of Jung who, after visiting New York, says “suppose an age when the machine gets on top of us …. After a while, when we have invested all our energy in rational forms, they will strangle us…They are the dragons now, they became a sort of nightmare.

Kingsley ends Catafalque with depressing prophecies about the end of western civilization, both from Jung and from Kingsley himself. The great wave that was our civilization has spent itself. We are in the undertow now, and we don’t even realize it. To read these chapters is to feel as if one is already a corpse. And Kingsley presents this so bluntly, with so much conviction, it is, frankly, disturbing. And even though Kingsley writes that “Quite literally, our western world has come to an end,” I don’t quite believe him. When speaking about Jung giving psychological advice, Kingsley says “make sure you have enough mētis or alertness not to believe him,” and I don’t believe Kingsley’s final message either. Kingsley’s message of doom is both true and false. The entire book has been telling us that we are already dead, that we are already in the underworld, but, of course, we just don’t understand it. So, then he offers us a very physical and literal picture of our end, laced with nuclear fallout and images of contamination. And he forthrightly says the purpose of his work is “to provide a catafalque for the western world.” It is, he says, time to grieve, and I think he is right. We need to grieve for the emptiness of our world, for our dead souls, our empty lives, but this grief is also the only medicine that can revive the collective corpse that we have become. Kingsley is doing his best to show us, without any false hope, the decaying corpse that we are. It is only through our unwavering acceptance, grieving and weeping for this, that we can be healed. In Jung’s terms, only the death of the personal can allow for birth into the impersonal. Into what…? We cannot know. We never will. It is not for our insatiable minds.

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.

Fractures of a Society Coming Apart

My workplace offers a nice vantage point on humanity, to observe the comings and goings of people in the world. My job is that of a parking ramp cashier employed by the local city government. I sit in a booth and my purpose is rather simple, that of customer service. I serve the public and I take seriously this social role, as it is what I’m paid for. It’s true that, in my introversion, I’m not emotionally effusive, extraverted, and gregarious with customers. I can be perfunctorial in being a bureaucratic functionary, but still I go through the motions and play the script to the best of my ability, certainly to a greater degree than some of my coworkers. Here is my standard protocol, rarely with any deviation: I greet people, treat them politely, work quickly, try to count my money accurately, generally do my job well, and then send my customers on their way by telling them to have a good day, a lovely evening, a nice weekend, or whatever is appropriate. Then I nod my head or even slightly doff my hat, in a somewhat formal acknowledgement of the person before me and as a signal that our interaction has come to a conclusion, and sometimes this elicits an amused smile from the customer. Formality is my default, in that I tend to sublimate my personality into my professional role.

I’ve been a cashier off and on since the 1990s and I’ve been in my present position coming on a quarter of a century. I rarely have issues with anyone, as I’m conflict-avoidant in wanting to keep things simple and smooth. I don’t like unnecessary stress and so I try to keep it low key. The job has become a routine at this point and, having had much practice, I usually know how to deal with various situations. I don’t tend to react to much that happens at work, no matter how a customer acts. If someone is particularly friendly to me, I’ll muster a smile and try to respond in kind. Or if they tell a joke, I might pretend to be amused. And if a customer is upset or unhappy, I’ll become extremely formal and even less emotive. But most often, one customer is the same as the next, a stream of humanity that passes by my window. In a single year, I may have had hundreds of thousands of customers go through my line. I try to treat each person as an individual human being, although after a while, particularly late in a shift, it can become repetitively mindless.

That mindlessness is where I was at last night. The shift was longer than normal, since I was filling in for my co-worker and so working alone. It wasn’t stressful, though, as the students are out of town and most university employees are on vacation. So there I was after a long day ready to go home and relax, but not in a bad mood or anything, just winding down my shift. Someone pulls up in my lane and nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the individual. In typical fashion, I greeted him as I would greet anyone else with a simple ‘Hello’, but as is common he wasn’t paying attention as he scrounged around in his car. I wasn’t offended as I’m used to people being distracted. Most likely, he was looking for his ticket or wallet, not that it was any of my concern what he was specifically doing. It generally isn’t important, assuming there is no long line of cars. Besides, it’s my job to serve people and, as I have no where to go, I’m not particularly in a hurry. I get paid the same, no matter how long a customer waits in my lane.

So, fully in automatic service mode, I patiently and calmly waited until he turned around. Then he gave me an odd look and said something that I heard as, “Aren’t you going to say something?” I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, but I didn’t take it as having any grand significance. So, my response was to ask him for his ticket in order to proceed with the transaction. Apparently, that was not the response he desired. He asked me, “Aren’t you going to greet me?” At that point, I felt flustered and uncertain what to say. I explained to him that I had greeted him, but he would have none of it. He started rudely lecturing me about being polite and told me that I should learn manners. This pissed me off and I suggested that maybe he should learn manners and I added that I bet I wasn’t the first one to tell him this either.* This wasn’t the most optimal response on my part and, in reflection, it makes me sad thinking about it, but in the moment his aggressive attitude caught me off guard and immediately put me on the defense. The situation unsurprisingly didn’t improve after that, in his then threatening that, “I’m going to watch you” — well, if he had watched me the first time, he’d have known that I had given him a greeting and, as with the rest of my customer transactions that shift, it would have remained pleasant. Oh well… he finally went away, the best of all possible outcomes at that point.

There were many things that I found irritating. He was being hypocritical in demanding respect when he offered none, in being rude while complaining about how he perceived me as being rude. To be honest, there was a more basic aspect to my annoyance. He was demanding something of me, demanding a specific response, demanding that I should submissively comply and show deference. I’m just some working class schmuck trying to get through my day and this guy thinks I owe him something, as if he is more worthy than me, as if I’m obligated to accept my supposed inferiority in being scolded and berated for no reason other than his being higher up the class ladder.** And if I wasn’t unionized, I would have had to demean myself and be conciliatory out of fear for my continued employment. The implied threat in such exchanges is very much real, as such implied threats are what enforce and maintain a class-based society.*** In this case, the threat was far from veiled, in that his overtly stated warning that he was going to watch me seemed to suggest there would be some kind of consequence if I did not do as I was told, if I did not shape up and bow down appropriately the next time. It makes me wonder. If in watching me he decides that I have failed to correctly subordinate myself and comply with his demands, is he going to seek to punish me for my transgressions against his moral code of proper cashier behavior in how people like him deserve to be treated? And if so, what punishment do I deserve to teach me to know my place?

That is the worst part, the greater social import behind it, what it means in the context of the society we find ourselves in. There is a reason for the dynamic that happened, as he was part of the most common demographic of customer that causes problems. He was an upper middle class white guy, the stereotypical patriarch in our society (for context, I have never had a poor minority customer lecture me or throw a tantrum; it just does not happen). He had a nice new SUV that was recently washed, his attire was high-quality and clean-cut, and everything about him was well-groomed. He put off the signals of someone who is economically well off in society, someone who knows it and wants others to know it. And going by his behavior, he was clearly used to being in a position of authority such that he could demand others to do what he wanted and expect compliance and deference. He commanded respect, so he thought. What he didn’t know is that I don’t play that game. I treat all my customers the same in egalitarian fashion (no toast for you, whether you’re rich or poor). Whatever privileges he normally receives in his professional role and socioeconomic position do not apply to paying for his parking ticket. He is no one special, as far as I’m concerned.

It was the threat, implied or not so implied, behind his behavior that got my hackles up. Being someone likely with influence and connections, he could try to get me fired. Maybe he is part of the powerful downtown business association with personal friends in positions of political power, such as on the city council. Or maybe he is just generally used to throwing his weight around and getting his way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls to talk to one of my bosses or sends a formal letter of complaint to the city manager. And if I wasn’t unionized, he very well could get me fired. I’m sure that he is oblivious to the privilege he wields in being able to arrogantly act in that way and get away with it, to lecture and demand and threaten others without repercussion. Unawareness of one’s privilege is the greatest of privileges. On the other hand, I know his personal issues had nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is regularly rude and arrogant, bossy and snippy with a wide variety of people. Maybe this has become as mindless to him as my own behavior can sometimes be when I’m at work. That was the clash between us, two different people playing out two different scripts and finding themselves pulled into a scenario where typical responses did not apply.

In a high inequality society such as ours, there are yet other scripts that shape behavior and maybe we were being drawn into one of these scripts that we all learn from a lifetime of enculturation and media narratization: managerial class vs working class, capitalist plutocrat vs average Joe, liberal elite vs real American, or some other variation. With Donald Trump as president, class antagonism is at an all time high, and this grows worse as what was once an inequality gap grows into an inequality gulf. Back in 1981, Bernie Sanders in a television interview quaintly complained that, “the fact that in our society, theoretically a Democratic Society, you have a handful of people who control our economy. You have maybe two percent of the population that owns one third of the entire wealth of America, eighty percent of the stocks, 90 percent of the bonds, and these people have incredible power. They sit on huge corporations like the Chase Manhattan Bank, the multinational corporations, and they determine the destiny of our entire country as you know. Perhaps 50% of our population has so given up on the democratic process they don’t even vote and those are primarily poor people” (interview with Phil Donahue, segment titled “Socialism in New England,” The Today Show). That is a sad commentary on our present society. How far we have fallen since then!

Now to be considered part of the economic elite you have to be in the .1% which is a great distance from the bottom of the top 2%, much less mere upper middle class. In its own way, to be upper middle class is distressing and requires one to constantly flaunt one’s position and privilege to demonstrate that one matters at all, as the reality is that the descent from middle to lower class is not that far these days, sometimes requiring only one wrong misstep or a minor accident of fate. To be filthy rich would mean not having to deal with the peons at all or else to have no concern for them. The richest of the rich would never bother to even condescend so far as to lecture someone like me, even in the rare circumstance that they would be forced to acknowledge my existence in the slightest.**** The worst insult to the upper middle class white guy I butted heads with is that he didn’t have quite enough privilege that he could avoid or ignore someone like me and, instead, someone like me had the audacity to treat him as an equal. I shamed him and, despite his aggressive way of acting superior, I dismissed his presumption of authority. “No respect, I tell ya. No respect.”

I could simply leave it at that, but there is something about the altercation that fascinates me in looking back on it with psychological distance. I know the world this guy comes from, whether or not he has any sense of my own view of things. I grew up in the upper middle class and so my father too was a white guy of that variety, in fact a businessman who worked in factory management and later as a business management professor, both positions of great respect and authority. He never flaunted his privilege in an oppressive or arrogant way, but the privilege was present and it was obvious to others. And I can see the privileges I too had growing up. There was nothing that stopped me from aspiring to also become an upper middle class white guy, as I had everything going for me. It just wasn’t in my personality to follow that path to worldly success, power, and respect. Apparently, I internalized too much of my mother’s lingering working class mentality from her own childhood.

Still, I understand the attraction and the difficulties in social roles of that sort. Being an upper middle class white person can be difficult with immense expectations and pressure. To embrace that social identity, whether born into it or gaining it, is to take on a heavy load of social and historical baggage. It’s also plain time-consuming. On top of full-time careers, both of my parents worked the equivalent of a second job in maintaining, repairing, and cleaning the house and yard so that it was always perfectly presentable as is the standard of upper middle class. They also spent a lot of time on finances and investments, along with much time on all the social organizations they belonged to that define and preoccupy the upper middle class existence. It’s tiresome and endless. My mother practically has a week-long anxiety attack every time someone plans to come over to the house for a visit. To be upper middle class means to be judged by one’s possessions and appearance, constantly judged in every area of one’s life. It is to live as if on a stage always in the middle of a performance, maybe even performing when at home alone with one’s family. It’s a demanding social role and identity that, in many cases, might never allow for the facade to be lowered.

The guy I was dealing with was clearly a professional of some sort, maybe a business owner or a bank manager or doctor. To achieve and maintain such a socioeconomic position requires immense work, effort, and sacrifice. I didn’t go that direction in life because I don’t have it in me to adhere to such demanding rules and norms, but obviously this guy had some talent for playing the game, for conforming to the status quo, for being a good cog in the machine. He expected deference and submission from his perceived inferiors probably because he had spent his whole life giving deference and submission to his perceived superiors. Now that he had reached middle age it was his turn to be rewarded, as he thought had been promised according to the supposedly meritocratic social order. As far as I know, he might hate his job, hate his wife and kids, and hate everything about his life. Maybe he wanted to be a park ranger or artist (or dinosaur) when he was younger, but he gave up on his dreams to do what his parents and peers expected of him, in going down the path of least resistance. Maybe he never even consciously was aware of these expectations at all in so absolutely conforming to them that he came to identify with them, having lost his own sense of independent self in the process. Or maybe he once loved his job and his life but the world slowly wore him down until he became burned out and resentful.

The pressure of this social Darwinian capitalist system is immense. To climb that ladder, you have to follow your tightly-scripted role perfectly or else be punished and find yourself falling into failure or mediocrity, passed over and disrespected. To be an upper middle class white guy means a very specific identity to be maintained, always with your game face on, always pretending you are confident and know what you’re doing, that you are an authority figure standing above the dirty masses. Few people in our society, even among the economically well off, are happy and satisfied. The conflicts that erupt have little to do with the individuals involved, even as the anxiety and animosity flares up in conflicts between people. Wealthier white people aren’t immune to the psychological strain. Nor is the working class who has to take the brunt of it. It’s difficult for all sides to not get caught up in these forces so far beyond the individual. Everything and everyone is under pressure, and the results are rarely happy.

These are the fractures of a society coming apart. What we usually notice are the dramatic events like school shootings, church bombings, and mass terrorist attacks. Or we worry about the rise of violence, the mental illness among the growing homeless population, and a sense of social breakdown in our communities. And then there are the protests and riots that demonstrate a sense of ill at ease in the populace. This is what the corporate media, national and local, obsesses over. But the everyday reality of a system under stress is how it gets felt in the small interactions, the social chafing that causes emotional rawness and irritation. We have less patience with one another in our being quicker to react, to judge, and to verbally accost one another. This is what slowly and imperceptibly frays the social fabric.

* * *

* There is an amusing thought I had. I was reading about violence and aggression rates, as compared between the American North and South. This has to do with which states are or are not honor cultures. There are a bunch of fascinating studies that demonstrate this contrast, but a particular study showed the difference in certain telling details. The study in question had a staged situation where the test subject was in a room with an actor who played a role given by the researchers. This actor was to do a total of 11 specific irritating behaviors, from calling the test subject a nickname such as ‘Slick’ to throwing pieces of paper at him.

The response by Southern males was quite different than by Northern males. The Southerner tended to not respond at all, at least initially. They remained quiet and just took the irritating behavior, that is until they reached the fifth transgression. Then the Southerner went ballistic and, at this point, the researchers had to stop the experiment for fear that someone was going to get physically hurt. There was no warning other than the silence itself, which no doubt another Southern would take as a warning. If you’re around Southerners, a silent non-response might be a very bad thing and so tread carefully.

Now the Northerner guys went about it in another way. The moment the irritating behavior began they were voicing complaints. They tried to reason with their assailant, maybe with the assumption that he simply didn’t realize he was being irritating. When the actor in the study continued their rude behavior, the test subjects simply stopped responding and ignored any further insults to their person. They didn’t blow up, as did the Southerners. I wonder if that is because the Northerners in a sense had already expressed themselves, rather than suppressing their anger and allowing it to build up. It was a way of managing their own emotional experience in order to manage the social situation.

The latter Northern style applies to the scenario I was in  . This is a very Northern state, Iowa, that is part of the Upper Midwest. There is not much Southern culture to be found here, as emigration from the South to Iowa has been extremely low. Despite our class differences, my customer and I were both Northerners. We dealt with irritation in a direct fashion by both immediately complaining to the other. That may have defused the situation, as we both gave voice to our feelings and on a basic level had our respective experiences acknowledged. We mutually agreed that we were unhappy and there was nothing hidden, nothing repressed. We just let it out — the tension was vented and quickly dissipated. It didn’t escalate beyond a minute or so of expressing ourselves.

As a Northerner, this seems like a healthy way of dealing with things. Waiting for a situation to worsen such that it turns into a physical fight where someone gets injured or killed doesn’t seem like a great outcome. When some guy does a heinous violent crime, so often the neighbors, when interviewed, say that he was a quiet guy. Maybe silence is a bad thing, as a general rule. Complain openly and often. It’s good for you and for society. Verbal conflict is better than physically violent outbursts.

* * *

** As a side note, I should point out that conflicts like this rarely happen. The last event similar to this occurred about a year and a half ago (Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied). That last time did not even include an argument and, as arguing with customers is so extremely rare, I can’t even remember the last time this happened. As a practice, I just don’t argue at work. I sometimes go several years without any major event of any kind. Even most upper class white people are normally well-behaved. Heck, this guy has been through my lane before and somehow has managed to never before respond in this way.

I’m sure there were other factors involved. Maybe his father died or his wife made him sleep on the couch the night before or maybe he just woke up feeling grumpy for no reason. Considering the high stress and health problems of so many Americans, there doesn’t need to be a particular external cause of being in a foul mood. General crappiness has become the social norm of our society, exacerbated by high inequality (see Keith Payne, Richard Wilkinson, and Kate Picket). Maybe I should be shocked this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often.

None of that explains, though, the behavior and the dynamic in this individual case. Such a situation is rare and, when it does happen, it is almost entirely limited to upper middle class white people and usually middle aged at that, the kind of person who is probably at the peak of their career and socioeconomic position within society. As a demographic, such people come no where close to representing the majority of my customers. So, why are they so consistently among the majority in causing problems?

If stress and ill health was the primary cause, the poor (both minorities and whites) should be going berserk on a daily basis and yet they aren’t. As one goes down the economic ladder, there is no trend toward worsening antisocial and impolite behavior — if anything, the opposite. Why is that?

* * *

*** Such implied threats bother me to an extreme. It may be an unconscious wielding of power and privilege, but it’s nonetheless real and potentially harmful to those who don’t deserve it. It is all the more real, in class being integral to capitalist realism, that someone like this guy has the additional privilege of remaining oblivious and so not having to face the moral consequences of his own behavior. He can swagger around in making the lives of others miserable and most people in service jobs will bow down to him simply out of an instinct for self-preservation. He no doubt has grown accustomed to such treatment and now expects it as default.

It’s one of the most depressing aspects of living in in this kind of rigid class hierarchy. And it has real world consequences we see every day. It’s the reason that rich white people can regularly commit crimes in our society without any penalty or else much less penalty. When they cause problems and on the rare occasions the police do show up, they don’t have to worry about getting arrested, much less beat up or shot. They know they will always be given the benefit of the doubt. And often they’ll be given second, third, etc chances, as they can hire the best lawyers who will find legal loopholes while so often judges treat them with kids gloves. We know this from the data, in how people are treated differently for the exact same crimes by police and in courts depending on their demographics and appearance.

It’s frustrating. To be lower class is to be constantly aware of this anti-democratic injustice. As workers serving the interests of those who hold the power, we can’t afford to be willfully ignorant in the way can the privileged. It doesn’t even require any malice for the wealthier to benefit from privilege, as all they need to do is act according to that privilege by taking it for granted. The privileged individual, in their unconscious belligerence, can always claim innocence as the system of power is something they didn’t create in that they were born into it and inherited it without any stated consent. It just happens as the way the world is. Still, they benefit from it as long as they don’t openly resist it and fight against it, and so they remain complicit and morally culpable.

This came up the other day with my father. As I said, he isn’t someone to flaunt privilege, but neither is he one to be all that aware of it either. We went out to breakfast and the regular worker was serving us in taking our order. It was at the nearby Hy-Vee grocery store, not exactly a high-class place. Our server is a college student, probably tired and overworked and underpaid. My dad had previously complained that, although courteous and a hard worker, this server wasn’t particularly personable in being overly focused on his work, such as intently looking down as he enters our order into the cash register. It’s not that he is unfriendly for he always greets us. It’s just that he isn’t into small talk and doesn’t flash a big smile at customers.

Anyway, my father decided to chide him for not being more friendly in an extraverted fashion, since that is what my dad prefers as an extravert. And with an implied if unintentional threat that any customer wields to some extent in complaining, he was able to get some small talk out of him. Like the upper middle class white guy I dealt with at work, my father also presents himself with all the outward forms of class position. He was demanding something of this young guy and so similarly there is all that goes with that, with the potential threat being even greater as that is not a unionized workplace. All my father has to do is make a single complaint to the manager to make this server’s life miserable and maybe cause him to lose his job. None of that means my father has ill intent. But what it does mean is that my father has grown used to being able to demand things of others and get what he demands without any thought to why he is able to gain such easy compliance.

An implied threat is still a real threat and it is all the more powerful for never having to be stated. It is irrelevant that my father would not intentionally to do anything to harm another person. He doesn’t have to, as this Hy-Vee worker doesn’t know my father’s intentions any more than I knew the intentions of the guy at my own workplace. Such implied threats operate by being built into how the entire system functions. Unionized labor is the only thing that throws a wrench into the class hierarchy. But unionized labor has lost power as laws were passed to restrict what unions could do and as union-busting has chipped away at membership. Few workers have any respect, any way to stand up for themselves, to defend themselves with a sense of pride and real force… as long as they don’t have a democratic union behind them. That is equally true of democracy in general, which is the greater problem. As inequality rises, democracy declines. And it isn’t as if we had much functioning democracy in the first place.

This is all the more reason that all of us should become more aware. This is particularly true for those who, by choice or chance, find themselves in the position of wielding class or racial privileges. To hold power over someone, even if done with no bad intention, is to affect them and, one might add, is to affect the individual with the power as well. Their perception and behavior is shaped accordingly. We need to be kind, compassionate, and careful in how we treat others. This is true of everyone, of course, but it is a thousand times more true for those in a society where their greater position potentially asserts threat to those below them. If it helps, think of this as noblesse oblige: Don’t merely “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” but more importantly ask what you owe society, what you owe the disadvantaged and underprivileged, the least among us.

There is a moral responsibility we should accept in how we affect others, positively and negatively. We aren’t only individuals but part of social orders that inevitably are moral orders, and the order that exists must be maintained and enforced, whether directly by what we do or done on our behalf. A free society of free people doesn’t just happen. It has to be chosen, again and again and again. And we have to demand it and fight for it. That begins in the smallest of ways as expressed in how we treat others. The very least any of us can do is to not act like petty tyrants, to instead simply be kind. On a basic human level, we really are equals and should look upon others in that light.

* * *

**** Wealthier people, at least in high inequality societies, act more contentedly relaxed and pleased with themselves, disengaged and aloof toward others. It is as if they have no worries in the world, much less concern for and interest in other people, specifically when most other people are of a lower class than they and so have no power over them to affect their lives (see Science Daily’s Rich Man, Poor Man: Body Language Can Indicate Socioeconomic Status, Study Shows & Cody Delistraty’s Rich or poor? Your face might give it away). For most of us in this society, this plutocratic indifference may seem so shockingly obvious as to go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said and then repeated ad infinitum. It’s interesting that people do perceive the rich as being ‘cold’ and it’s hard to argue against this being accurate (Carolyn Gregoire, How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel) — indeed, the rich are more likely to be morally compromised and break rules, less likely to cooperate and be generous, and on and on.

Furthermore, it’s not limited to outward behavior and expression for social relations shape psychology and neurocognitive development. To be in a higher socioeconomic status manifests as lower ability to empathize with others and accurately read the emotional experience of others, whereas the poor tend to be comparative geniuses in this area (see Cathy O’Neil’s Make Rich People Read Chekhov). So, maybe it was somewhat predictable that, even as I was paying attention to this upper middle class white guy while he scrounged in his car, he paid so little attention to me that he didn’t even realize I had greeted him. As he presumably saw me as his inferior, I wasn’t judged worthy of being given his full attention. Those further up the social ladder aren’t in the habit of going to the effort of understanding those below them and so they literally have less ability to do so, but this also means less awareness about how unaware they are. It’s a self-enclosed lack of empathy based on a crippled theory of mind. They are psychologically and emotionally blind.

This doesn’t make rich people evil. It’s simply an artifact of inequality and the greater the inequality the more extreme would be these attitudes of disengagement and disinterest, disconnection and dissociation. As such, one would expect to find little, if any, of this kind of thing among egalitarian tribes like the Piraha where there is no economic inequality and no social hierarchy at all in lacking any social roles or positions of authority with no chiefs, no council of elders, no shamans, and no warrior class. There is nothing natural and normal about a high inequality society, but if it is all we’ve known it is hard for us to be aware of it. Consciously thinking about our position within a rigid hierarchy is not something we are taught in a society such as ours that we like to pretend is an egalitarian democracy, even though in our heart of hearts we all know that is total bullshit, however comforting is the lie.

The upper middle class white guy described in this post is not abnormal for our society, even if he is abnormal by the standard of most of human existence. Prior to modern civilization, inequality and hierarchy was rather limited in distance and scope (e.g., an early feudal lord lived among and attended social events with the nearby peasants). In fact, the high inequality seen now in the United States has never before existed in any society at any historical or prehistorical period. This is an unprecedented situation. Now consider that no high inequality society has ever lasted long before having events, one way or another, forcing the social order back toward greater equality: international war, civil war, revolution, famine, plague, ecological disaster, civilizational collapse, etc (Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler). We are approaching a new period of leveling. And it is likely to be far worse this time around.

* * *

On Conflict and Stupidity
American Class Bigotry
Class Divide and Communication Failure
Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

Instant Carb Addiction

There are isolated hunter-gatherer tribes, the Toulambi of Papua New Guinea, in a region that saw few Westerners. The filmmaker Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, for some reason, was in a situation that brought him and his camera man into the territory of these reclusive people. Waiting at the edge of a stream, the tribal men come out to meet the white strangers in what was claimed to have been first contact.

After a period of cautious inspections of the visitors, they invited the two white men back to their camp. They were offered modern agricultural food. One tribal guy tries some white rice and initially rejects it with a shocked response, but after a second bite he decides it is good. The whole tribe joins the feast and quite possibly this is their first experience of refined starchy carbs. And going by how they quickly devour the pot of white rice, it appears they really really like this strange new delicacy!

This is an example of an event that has happened a million times before. This is how agriculturalists came to dominate the world. These tribal people will now crave these agricultural food staples. After a generation or so of trade, poaching on their hunting grounds, environmental loss, and maybe eventual confinement to a reservation, they eventually will become entirely dependent on this addictive food source. And their health will start to noticeably decline, as Gary Taubes describes what happened to the Pima (chp. 14, Good Calories, Bad Calories).

This is called the civilizing process. Addiction is the foundation of civilization. And from it forms the agricultural mind.

As a side note, there appears to have been some controversy about this film. But in the end, there is no particular reason to doubt its veracity. There is nothing about the behavior of any of the people in the film that indicates acting or inauthenticity. Everyone making such claims were not present. What is known is that there were multiple isolated tribes in this area and contact happened a few times over the past century. But that in no way suggests that this particular group had ever met outsiders. The experience of eating white rice seems to show a genuine surprise at a food they’d never tasted before.

Jean-Pierre Dutilleux: Controversies (Wikipedia)

“In one of his films dedicated to the Toulambi tribe of Papua New Guinea, Dutilleux believes his film footage includes this tribe’s first encounter with modern white men, and poses the possibility this may be the last time in history this can occur. A video of this film has been extensively posted in the internet, prompting much discussion and questions about this claim.[19] According to an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pacific History, the colonial archives indicate that the territory of the Toulambis had been visited by at least six patrols between 1929 and 1972. In itself that is very few and Dutilleaux may be quite correct as certainly seems to be so when viewing the film.[20]”

[19] @truth. “Footage: Uncontacted tribe meets outsiders and sees modern technology for the first time? The debate goes on…” http://www.minds.com. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
[20] Lemonnier, Pierre (2004). “The Hunt for Authenticity: Stone Age Stories Out of Context”. Journal of Pacific History. 39 (1): 79–98. doi:10.1080/00223340410001684868.

* * *

Sugar is an addictive drug. Of course, starchy carbohydrates aren’t the same as sugar, but it’s basically the same as the former quickly turns into the latter. Keep in mind that pure sugar is what they give to male infants to numb the pain during circumcision. Below are videos of babies experiencing sweetness for the first time:

* * *

And for your amusement:

“Oatmeal. How are we doing on oatmeal?”
“Let’s check.”
*Opens cupboard filled with bags of oatmeal*
“Okay. We have a couple weeks worth.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast.”

Waitress: I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast. I can bring you an english muffin or a coffee roll.
Bobby: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don’t you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Bobby: You’ve got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don’t make the rules.

That is from the diner scene with Jack Nicholson in the movie Five Easy Pieces. All he wants is some toast. The waitress refuses because it’s not on the menu… and, well, there is the management-mandated rule: No substitutions! It leads to what in the movie is great comedy but in real life would be frustration for all involved. In my employment as a city parking ramp cashier, I suspect that some customers think of me in the way this waitress is portrayed. But from my perspective, I’m simply some schmuck doing my job, just following orders of management and city policy. And yet many people don’t understand why I can’t simply do what they tell me to do (e.g., not charge them $23 for a lost ticket because, after all, they assure me they were only parked for an hour).

I give them the official set of options and they don’t like any of them. This makes them unhappy and sometimes quite upset. A few of them start yelling and have tantrums. If there was a bunch of glasses to knock to the floor, they would be so inclined. Telling them, in a calm but stern voice, that they can talk to management rarely appeases them. As the person in front of them with the immense power to open or not open a gate, they see me as the ultimate authority figure who stands in the way of their being able to leave, the bad guy who is denying justice and common decency and who is refusing to do what obviously makes sense. I get it. Life sucks. And my blank face, after dealing with customers all day, probably comes across as unfeeling an unsympathetic, maybe cruelly indifferent and hardhearted. I’m the enemy, the ‘Man’, the ‘good Nazi’. Their entire fate rests in my hands.

We live in a world of rules, sometimes meaningless rules. And then there are those whose job it is to follow and enforce those rules. This is what we call ‘civilization’. Without it, we’d become savages and society would collapse into chaos! Who am I to defy all of civilization? As a mere peon, what is a bureaucratic functionary to do? It’s not just about the ‘toast’. It’s about the principle. There are ways things must be done because that is the way things are done because someone said so, someone above both of us. It’s the order of things. And if I don’t comply with the system, I’ll be fired and some other schmuck would be hired to replace me. The system itself will continue on. You’re still not going to get your side order of toast. I’m sorry about that.

Besides, look at it from the other side. This scene is from a movie script written for Hollywood. This was no small production. Jack Nicholson at the time already had 18 movies under his belt. And this wasn’t the first movie by either Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce) and Bob Rafelson who co-write the screenplay, specifically that scene. They weren’t poor nobodies struggling in the world. Imagine you are an impoverished and struggling waitress with a bunch of kids at home, a husband who left you, and bill collectors who keep calling. You work long hours at multiple jobs while going home to clean, cook, and hopefully find some time to sleep. Then a pompous Hollywood big shot comes into the diner where you work demanding toast, but the owner or manager has rules about no side orders of toast nor substitutions.

You don’t know why your boss makes up stupid rules. All you know is your boss, an middle class white guy, likes to yell at you and would be glad to fire you in an instant if you don’t do what he tells you to do. If you lose this job, you won’t be able to pay the bills or feed your kids and the threat of homelessness might be very much real. Or even if your financial situation isn’t that extreme, you’re simply overworked and underpaid, you’re tired and stressed. You have very little energy left over to deal with people making your life even more difficult.

Now tell me this. How would you feel toward some asshole acting like Jack Nicholson in this scene? This customer is another white male who has no clue what your life is like and who thinks its is his right and privilege to boss you around and tell you what to do, to harass and intimidate you. Guess what? Fuck such assholes! Leave the goddamn waitress alone. Order your fucking meal and, if all you want is the toast, then throw the rest away. Or if you don’t like the rules, just quietly go away. Don’t go away mad. Just go away. Don’t turn the situation into melodrama to feed your ego. Yes, the world sucks, but you aren’t the center of the world. Life is hard for others as well, quite likely far harder for others than you might imagine. Be kind. Be compassionate. Or failing that, keep it to yourself. Don’t add to the suffering of others in a false crusade of self-righteousness.

* * *

Bobby: I’d like a plain omelet, no potatoes – tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee and toast.
Waitress: No substitutions.
Bobby: What do you mean, you don’t have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what’s on the menu. You can have a #2 – a plain omelet, comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Bobby: Yeah, I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want.
Waitress: I’ll come back when you make up your mind.
Bobby: Wait a minute, I have made up my mind. I’d like a plain omelet, no potatoes on the plate, a cup of coffee and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast. I can bring you an english muffin or a coffee roll.
Bobby: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don’t you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Bobby: You’ve got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don’t make the rules.
Bobby: Okay, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can. I’d like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce and a cup of coffee. 
Waitress: A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.

“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?

Get on board or get out of the way!

How is the American population controlled? The main way is by controlling how the public perceives others in their society and hence how they experience their place in relation to others. It doesn’t matter what people think in their own minds, what beliefs they hold privately, as long as it is kept out of what is allowed to seen and heard in the public sphere. In fact, the more there is a sense of disconnect the more isolated and powerless the individual feels, and this is makes the public all the more easy to manipulate and manage.

Washington Post put out a two-part series about the real moral majority (The Democratic Party has moved left — but so has the U.S. This explains how and why.; & The nation’s liberal shift is likely to continue. Here’s why.). They were brought to my attention by Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and the author of the WaPo pieces “The shift,” he wrote in his blog, “is long-run, unsurprising, and likely to continue.” I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been saying this for many years, such as a major post I put together about a decade ago (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; & American People Keep Going Further Left). It’s amazing to finally see the corporate media come around to acknowledging this fact. I wonder what caused the WaPo to point out the obvious all this time later. Since this has been going on for decades, why haven’t they been hammering home this simple observation? That is a rhetorical question. I’m sure the media elite knew this info all along, as the polling data is from respectable mainstream sources and has been often reported on, despite rarely having been put into a larger context or depth of analysis. My cynical suspicion is that it’s precisely because they knew the American public was going left that they kept talk about it as limited as possible.

The corporate media and political elite, instead of causing could have prevented Donald Trump’s election, assuming they were genuinely worried about it, but that would be a false assumption. Even a crazy plutocrat gaining power within the plutocratic establishment is not a great concern to the plutocratic-owned-and-operated press and bipartisan political machine. Trump was one of their own, a product of wealth and a creature of corporate media. By the way, the main reason Trump won or rather Hilary Clinton lost is because, among those two options, he spoke with stronger progressive rhetoric (Old School Progressivism) — from Lane Kenworthy’s first piece: “Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primary race in 2016 owed partly to the fact that he was, as he tweeted in May 2015, “the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” When President Trump abandoned this pledge and joined congressional Republicans in trying to pare back Medicaid coverage, it was the least popular major legislative proposal since 1990.” Have the Democrats finally learned from this harsh lesson that publicly shamed them on the world stage? Do they even care or have a capacity to be shamed into better behavior? Maybe. Time will tell. We are seeing major push back in the Democratic Party and even the DNC preferred picks (Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg) are embracing more progressive rhetoric, even if its empty rhetoric.

The push back will continue until there is eventually reform within the system or, failing that, riots and revolt that forces change. Until then, the shift will keep going further left and the pressure will keep on building. Already at this point on many major issues, the average American is surprisingly far to the left. Within corporate news reporting that has pushed the Overton window into the reactionary right, majority public opinion is too radically far left to be part of allowable ‘mainstream’ debate. Most Americans are well to the left of the DNC elite not only on economic issues but also ahead of the curve on cultural issues like same-sex marriage. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t support same-sex marriage until many years after it had already become majority opinion. I bet the same thing is seen in comparing the average news reader and the media elite. Many, maybe most, WaPo readers surely already knew this was true without a WaPo article telling them it was so. Corporate media has primarily served the purpose of not only protecting corporate interests but also representing the ruling elite of the two-party system. Now will the WaPo write a series of articles showing how the campaign promises of the likes of Warren, Biden, and Bloomberg are to the right of the American voter?

To put it in historical perspective, the two Roosevelts, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and even Nixon were far to the left of the present DNC elite, which leaves the GOP on the distant right-wing fringe about ready to tip over the edge into outright fascism. Neoliberal and war-friendly politicians like the Clintons and Obama are essentially Reagan Democrats. The entire political elite, in both parties, shifted hard right. It’s not that Democrats (or rather the DNC elite) were dragged right. They went in that direction of their own free will. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were Blue Dogs in opposing leftist reform and more direct democracy, labor unions and fiscal liberalism, strong safety net and social democracy, etc. As presidents, that was their political ideology and identity. Look at how Bill Clinton used racist dog whistle politics, such as creating a photo op while standing in front of chained black prisoners with the most infamous KKK memorial in the background when introducing his racist crime bill to the public. And Carter, of course, was president before Reagan. His financial adviser instituted much of what later would be called the “Reagan Revolution”. Reagan inherited this adviser and so it’s somewhat a misnomer to call it Reaganomics, although Reagan did add his own special twist to it (Starve the Beast and Two Santa Claus Theory; National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity).

That the two corporate parties shifted right doesn’t lessen the author’s point that simultaneously the American public shifted toward what the ‘mainstream’ media hacks and political elite have portrayed as the extreme left-wing. That is the sad part. The divide isn’t a split in the general population. Rather, it’s a class war between the powerful rich and everyone else. In starting this war, the plutocracy sought the support of the shrinking middle class in keeping a solidarity of the majority from forming. The elite have become quite talented and successful in their strategy of divide and conquer. One of their best tactics is lesser evilism, not that they’re limited to this (Inequality Means No Center to Moderate Toward; Political Elites Disconnected From General Public; Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism; & The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1). No matter how far right both parties go, the DNC elite always argue that we have no choice but to vote for the DNC candidate who is slightly less right-wing ‘evil’ than the other main party. And so the two-party stranglehold is maintained. Meanwhile, the corporate media works closely with the two-party system to silence third parties and independents who are in line with majority opinion (The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties; NPR: Liberal Bias?; Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media; Black and White and Re(a)d All Over; & Funhouse Mirrors of Corporate Media).

All of this is brilliant in its Machiavellian evil genius. You have to give them credit. It is highly effective for propaganda campaigns, perception management, social engineering, and social control. The majority of Americans, the real moral majority, have been kept in the dark about the fact that they are the majority. Instead, we Americans have been made to feel isolated and powerless in not realizing most other Americans agree with us. But we the majority aren’t without influence. Slowly, the DNC party platforms have been slowly and reluctantly drifting leftward in following the lead of Democratic voters, although the DNC elite is still trailing behind in this trend. Even conservatives haven’t gone further right and, in some cases, have also gone left, including on social programs — again from Lane Kenworthy’s first piece: “As political scientist Matt Grossman has documented, most conservative states in recent decades have either offered slow increases or no change, rather than reductions. In a few instances, such as universal preschool for 4-year-olds in Oklahoma and Georgia and free community college in Tennessee, these states have led in expanding social policy.” Of course, party elites remain right-wing corporatists, but pressure from below is forcing them to moderate their authoritarian tendencies or at least to hide them better. They are talking the talk, if not yet exactly walking the walk (e.g., Obamacare’s corporate-friendly insurance ‘reform’). But they are coming around on certain issues, such as how Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama finally came out in support of same sex years after it had developed into a majority position. On economic issues, the shift has been slower, though one can feel the ground moving beneath one’s feet.

A right-wing reactionary like Trump having used progressive rhetoric to steal enough votes from the political left and cobble together a narrow victory was a game-changer. Now every candidate has to use progressive rhetoric. This is populism and progressivism returning to its transpartisan roots, as seen in the movements from earlier last century. These kinds of social movements that seize the entire population are never constrained by party politics or else, when they do take partisan forms, it is most often in the form of third parties, independents, and local politics. That is until it becomes an undeniable force that reshapes even the main parties, maybe as we are seeing now. It is a groundswell of change that sweeps up from below, a seismic shift that reorients all of society. That is what we are in the middle of, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Anyone with their eyes open these past decades saw this coming.

I might add this shift would have happened much more quickly and dramatically if the public hadn’t intentionally been kept ignorant by the media and education system. Polling has shown that the American public has zero tolerance for high inequality. So, why do we have such high inequality without any populist revolt to threaten the plutocracy? It’s because the American public has been lied to with corporatocratic propaganda. Most of the citizenry simply does not know how bad it has gotten, just as most don’t know they are part of a majority. Everything that the public is told is carefully framed and all debate is tightly controlled. The specific lie in this case is the claim that inequality is small when it is actually large (Christopher Ingraham, Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research; ). In fact, it is immensely larger than public polling shows most Americans think should be allowed (Dan Ariely, Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don’t Realize It); & Chuck Collins interviewed, U.S. Public Opinion Favors Bold Action to Address Rising Economic Inequality). Why is it that the elites of both parties and all of the corporate media conveniently forget to tell the public this inconvenient truth? That is another rhetorical question.

Despite being trapped in this black iron prison of managed perception, many see through the spectacle and illusion while still others sense, if unclearly, that something is wrong, that there must be something else than what is being shown. Even in not fully grasping how bad it is, the vast majority nonetheless support more regulations on corporations and more taxes on the rich. Americans are strongly in favor of better social programs and a stronger social safety net. There is split opinion about how to pay for it, but that brings us to the next part of how social control is maintained. Our demiurgic overlords in their paternalistic concern explain so kindly that we can’t afford it, as if chastising a child asking for cake for breakfast. Money doesn’t grow on trees. All that wealth belongs to others and it would be wrong to take it. Naughty children! The intellectual elite over at Reason Magazine, the propaganda rag for the Koch Robber Barons with numerous corporate front groups as the funding sources (SourceWatch, Reason Foundation), want to help us understand the error of our ways: “Tens of trillions of dollars in new taxes are likely to prove a bit of a hurdle for Americans who want lots of new goodies from the government only if they’re entirely free” (J. D. Tuccille, More Americans Want Bigger Government—If It’s Free).

Trillions? Such a big scary number. Really, asshole? I think I’ve seen where the trillions go. We can’t afford ‘socialism’, you say. Well, I suspect most Americans would agree with me in thinking that we can’t afford kleptocracy, socialism for the rich (Americans Can’t Afford Kleptocracy). Just look at one small part of one industry over a single year, and it still would be an underestimation because most of the wealth, resources, and other benefits given away goes uncounted: “fossil fuels enjoy $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies” (Brian Kahn, Building All the Fossil Fuel Projects Already in the Pipeline Would Wreck the Climate). Multiply that by the other areas of big energy such as nuclear and coal. Then multiply that by the numerous other industries that suck at the government teat: big tech, big ag, etc. And finally multiply that over the many decades that have bled the American public dry. Just over the past decade alone, we could be talking about the equivalent of hundreds of trillions of dollars of public wealth being stolen and stuffed into the pockets of the already rich. Now think about the incomprehensible amount of wealth that has disappeared into the private sector over our lifetimes, most of it probably having been diverted into foreign investments and secret bank accounts or wasted in financial gambling and conspicuous consumption.

All that money stolen and wasted, not to mention externalized costs on top of that. According to a study sponsored by the United Nations, “The report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders. Sometimes the environmental costs vastly outweighed revenue, meaning that these industries would be constantly losing money had they actually been paying for the ecological damage and strain they were causing” (Michael Thomas, New UN report finds almost no industry profitable if environmental costs were included; also see An Invisible Debt Made Visible). So, not only are industries like that of big energy taking trillions of dollars of corporate welfare as part of plutocratic socialism for they are simultaneously, on the other side of the equation, offloading trillions of dollars of costs onto the public. And we have no way to measure the further costs externalized through pollution and ecological destruction. It is an incomprehensibly large net loss for all of society, in the United States and across the world.

We are told that we can’t afford a few trillion to ensure most Americans don’t suffer and die from preventable and treatable health concerns, some of it caused by the very costs of pollution externalized on the public, especially the poor who are more likely to live in industrial toxic zones. That is psychopathic to a degree that is truly evil, not lesser evil, just plain evil. If the public ever figures this out, it will be game over for the plutocracy. And the plutocracy knows it. This is why they spend so much of their wealth in keeping the American public ignorant, confused, and divided. It is an investment in maintaining plutocracy itself. Yet, for all this effort of manipulation and deception, the entire population continually and steadily heads further left, in an instinctive reaction to such grotesque corruption as the public runs away from the stench. Americans, in being kept in the dark for so long, don’t know where they are heading in embracing a progressive sensibility, but they understand that there is no other moral choice than to seek something different by leaning forward into new possibilities. That is the first step toward radical imagination and political will, wherever it might end up.

The self-appointed ruling class will either get out of the way and follow the public’s lead or they will be find themselves trampled under foot. As we face global crises of a scale never before seen, old school authoritarianism won’t work in the way it did in the past. Such authoritarianism could only make things worse, for poor and rich alike. I don’t know that, if given a chance, progressivism will succeed, but nothing is going to stop the masses from trying. With climate crisis and global catastrophe on its way, the sense of urgency will only increase and with it public demand for justice and fairness. Either we will find a way to create a better society or we will go crashing into mass conflict, quite possibly not just world war but total war. We would be lucky if such mass conflict merely ended in revolution.

This isn’t about one ideology defeating some other ideology. What is at stake is the survival of civilization as we know it. This is why most people, not only in the United States but in many other countries as well, are looking toward egalitarianism. Amidst the threats of disaster, we humans somehow hold onto a sense of hope, that maybe, just maybe we will pull out of this tailspin at the last moment before smashing into the ground. Is that sense of hope realistic? If nothing else, it is far more realistic than what the kleptocratic kakocracy is offering with more of the same and worse in wringing every last drop of wealth out of society. Instead of cynicism, maybe its time to try something else. Let’s choose hope and see where it takes us. But if so, that would mean choosing egalitarianism as the first step before anything else would be possible.

A highly unequal society is inherently unstable and conflict-ridden. And as Walter Scheidel argues in The Great Leveler, there has been no society in human existence, from hunter-gatherers to empires, where wide disparities of wealth did not end in violence, if not revolution or war then catastrophe and collapse. Put that in the context that the inequality in the present United States is higher than anywhere in the world and higher than any other society in all of history and prehistory, and it’s getting worse (Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place; Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects; Inequality in the Anthropocene; On Conflict and Stupidity; Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied; The Coming Collapse; & “Not with a bang but with a whimper.”). So, willingly or unwillingly, this age of concentrated wealth and desperate poverty will end. How it ends is our only freedom of choice. Knowing that this oppressive and unjust social order is doomed, we could choose to soften the crash landing by overhauling society as quickly as possible with mass reforms. Peaceful resolution is always a possibility, if we so choose, but that would require us to envision it as a real and desirable possibility. I’m not sure we have the wisdom and foresight to take this course of action, as history shows that humans and especially Americans tend to react to vast problems only after it’s too late to correct them. Have we learned from such mistakes and will we avoid repeating them?

I could end there, but let me shift gears. This kind of discussion can feel abstract, in speaking about a ‘majority’ and ‘inequality’. Looking at data, whether polling data or economic figures, can create a psychological distance from lived human experience. The reality on the ground is that ordinary people are involved, people who are suffering and struggling as individuals, families, and entire communities. An increasing number of Americans are trapped and isolated in poverty and this has stark consequences (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder; Kate Pickett & Richard G. Wilkinson, The Spirit Level).

In speaking of the upper, upper (self-identified) “middle class,” what is in fact the top 9.9% that is only below the 0.1% ruling elite, Matthew Stewart offers the kind of class critique that is almost shocking to find published in the corporate media (The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy). This 9.9% is the right hand of the powerful, whereas it is the 0.1% that owns the media, buys elections, controls society, and such, the puppet masters behind the scenes (we wouldn’t know about the puppet masters at all if not for investigative journalism that has dug up their covert actions, dark money, and webs of influence: Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, the Buzzfeed expose, a WaPo investigation, etc). The new aristocracy of inherited wealth and privilege are the henchmen who carry out the orders of the ruling elite or else act as a buffer between the ruling elite and the dirty masses — they are the upper class professionals: politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, CEOs, corporate board members, think tank operatives, talk show hosts, movie producers, etc. Together, the top 10% maintain the rigid hierarchy of inequality and the social control that protects and enforces it.

Matthew Stewart writes that, “The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We 9.9 percenters live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids. These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.” This is how the immense gulf between wealth and poverty has been hidden. It’s not only hidden from the poor and the dirty masses, including those directly below them, the genuine middle class. More importantly, the reality of their privilege is hidden from their own awareness, a total dissociation. They are playing make-believe because the reality of inequality would cause them to feel uncomfortable and one of the most cherished advantages to higher class status is the ability to maintain a sense of comfortable numbness to the suffering of others, but this requires also maintaining the inequality that keeps the rest of humanity separate for if the 9.9% ever saw how most others lived their illusion would be shattered.

Pretending to be middle class is necessary for plausible deniability about class war. Rather than flaunting their status, the upper classes have flown under the radar. The 9.9% present themselves as ordinary Americans, as “middle class.” And the 0.1%, for the most part, don’t present themselves at all. Consider how disheveled and unimpressive Steve Bannon appears, and I have to wonder if that is an intentional disguise. In reality, he is one of those 9.9% working on behalf of the ruling elite. Bannon had a successful career in Wall Street banking and Hollywood movies, but he wasn’t part of the highest echelon of the capitalist class. He was one of those henchmen who, even if he aspired to be part of the ruling elite, was used and funded by those far more powerful than he is (the Mercer, Koch, and Trump families). He was used and, when no longer useful, he was discarded. Yet he remains influential within his lesser sphere and will be comfortable for the rest of his life. He will go on playing his games of power and privilege, and he will go on trying to scramble further up the socioeconomic ladder while kicking down at those behind him.

This is the world we find ourselves in and one of the results is disparity of not only wealth but also of health. To be rich means to live well and to live long while poverty is a sentence of life-long suffering and dying young. Socioeconomic status is built into our lives and bodies. This is to be comfortable in a visceral and concrete way, to experience full physical development and expression, to ensure optimal health — as explained by Stewart: “This divergence of families by class is just one part of a process that is creating two distinct forms of life in our society. Stop in at your local yoga studio or SoulCycle class, and you’ll notice that the same process is now inscribing itself in our own bodies. In 19th-century England, the rich really were different. They didn’t just have more money; they were taller—a lot taller. According to a study colorfully titled “On English Pygmies and Giants,” 16-year-old boys from the upper classes towered a remarkable 8.6 inches, on average, over their undernourished, lower-class countrymen. We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease are all two to three times more common in individuals who have a family income of less than $35,000 than in those who have a family income greater than $100,000. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Driving the trend is the rapid growth in what the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “deaths of despair”—suicides and alcohol- and drug-related deaths.”

We are seeing a decline in the health of Americans (Health From Generation To Generation; Dietary Health Across Generations; A Century of Dietary and Nutritional Trends; & Malnourished Americans), but it isn’t not affecting everyone equally. The wealthy, of course, are doing well. But the older generations, having grown up at a time of greater wealth in the general population, are also doing better than the younger generations with increasing poverty. Many of the 9.9% (or their parents or grandparents) were able to enter the new aristocracy at a time when there was much greater and easier upward mobility that created a once growing middle class that, for many, served as a step ladder into the upper classes. If you look at wealth, it is also disproportionately tilted toward the older generations. On average, those in the Boomer and Silent generations were never as poor when younger and started off with many advantages; cheap education and housing, unionized jobs with large pensions, a booming economy that grew their stock market investments, etc. The class divide is magnified and further hidden within a generational divide, not unlike how class gets obscured by race. Instead of talking about class, we use proxies that are tied into economic realities.

Health is another one of those proxies. Since data began to be kept, American longevity has been continually increasing, that is until the past three years. It’s not for a lack of healthcare funding, as the money going into the healthcare industry is increasing, but we are getting less bang for our buck, in spite of spending way more than other developed countries that get better health results, including longevity rates that continue to rise. It is hitting the young the hardest — Joel Achenbach writes that, “By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people age 25 to 34” (‘There’s something terribly wrong’: Americans are dying young at alarming rates). That is not a positive sign, considering the young represent the future. It is already fueling social and political unrest: “About a third of the estimated 33,000 “excess deaths” that the study says occurred since 2010 were in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana — the first two of which are critical swing states in presidential elections. The state with the biggest percentage rise in death rates among working-age people in this decade — 23.3 percent — is New Hampshire, the first primary state.” And it is cutting across racial demographics: “Increasing midlife mortality began among whites in 2010, Hispanics in 2011 and African Americans in 2014, the study states.” So, we’re not only talking about the resentment politics of poor whites. The anger and anxiety did help Trump in his victory, but keep in mind that Trump also gained strong support from older Hispanics in the rural Southwest, Haitians and Cubans in Florida, etc. The sense of social fracture doesn’t always follow simplistic media narratives and political rhetoric.

Much of the health problems, by the way, are tied into metabolic syndrome which is primarily caused by diet — Achenbach continues: “Obesity is a significant part of the story. The average woman in the United States today weighs as much as the average man half a century ago, and men now weigh about 30 pounds more. Most people in the United States are overweight — an estimated 71.6 percent of the population age 20 and older, according to the CDC. That figure includes the 39.8 percent who are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher in adults (18.5 to 25 is the normal range). Obesity is also rising in children; nearly 19 percent of the population age 2 to 19 is obese. “These kids are acquiring obesity in their early teen years, sometimes under the age of 10,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “When they get up into their 20s, 30s and 40s, they’re carrying the risk factors of obesity that were acquired when they were children. We didn’t see that in previous generations.” “This isn’t a one-time phenomenon,” he added. “It’s going to echo through time.”” The quotes directly above come from one of the articles linked by Chuck Pezeshki in his recent post with a long descriptive title, More Societal Implications of the Obesity Epidemic — Insulin Resistance, Epigenetic Preloading and Obesity Showing Up in Mortality Stats.

Pezeshki takes a systems approach to understanding humanity and often focuses on health with a rare understanding of diet as part of a food system, specifically the problems of a high-carb diet in being the main contributing factor to metabolic syndrome. He has had a prediction, one that I agree with: “That prediction is that our awful diet that excludes saturated fats, and gives a pass to sugar and refined carbs, is combining with epigenetic preloading of insulin resistance and driving obesity in our young people. This earlier expression of insulin resistance, leads to earlier onset of Type II diabetes, and the incumbent Western diseases that flow from that. And that will lead to an increase in All-Cause mortality at younger and younger ages, leading to an enormous public health crisis.” But it’s coming quicker than he predicted: “I thought that it would take until the 2030s to really see some effect. As the data shows, I was wrong. The bell is tolling now.” And  it may result in “a compounding civilization-altering event.” Also shared, he has an even better piece, linking diet and a growth in authoritarianism (which was used as a jumping-off point for one of my own writings, Diets and Systems). Like some others, he points out that, “The states most affected are swing states looking for reversals of their fortunes, because their people are suffering.”

Similar to my own perspective, he links a high-carb diet to a particular mentality and way of being in the world, from addiction to authoritarianism. But more fundamentally is the most immediate and undeniable impact on the body: “What’s really wild is the documentation, through photos, of the obesity and incumbent diabetes crisis. Though obesity is not even discussed, almost all the photos included in the article show people who are morbidly obese. The kicker is the one healthy person in the story resisted his doctor’s advice and put himself on a de facto ketogenic diet.” A ketogenic diet, in case you didn’t know, is one that is extremely restrictive of starches and sugar; and a diet, I’d add, that probably was the norm of human society and evolution prior to modern agriculture. The shift to a high-carb diet was dramatic and traumatic and, since then, has become systemic with immense consequences in altering how the body functions.

“Even the basic concept of diet as a metabolic destabilizer — the real phenomenon going on here — is not understood. It’s not surprising. We still count food in terms of meaningless calories, instead of the most powerful medicine we ingest regularly into our systems. The problem with the whole issue of metabolic destabilization is that it drives diseases that are well-recognized, like cancer, with their own pathologies and entire industries set up to treat. Few scientists or physicians are talking about how to prevent cancer in the first place. It’s not that these people are evil — with rare exception (like cigarette smoking) the causal thought just doesn’t occur to them. Like the AIDS virus that destabilized its victims’ immune systems, leading to contracting all sorts of diseases one normally has resistance to, metabolic destabilization runs under the surface of the epidemic. Out of sight, out of mind. And that, dear readers, is a function of the social structure that is investigating the problem. Medical and dietary research organizations are just not set up to investigate root cause.”

This goes back to inequality, not a topic Pezeshki talks much about. Structures and institutions calcify as hierarchies form and become entrenched. This is why systems lose the capacity to cause change from within. And when reform fails, the only option is revolution or some violently disruptive equivalent, whether from internal factors (e.g., economic collapse) or external factors (e.g., plague), as Walter Scheidel describes in his history of inequality. Demagogues, sociopaths, and social dominators like Ancel Keys become increasingly common as the system rigidifies, since it becomes prone to authoritarian control. All Keys needed was to co-opt the American Heart Association and draw in some political allies, and from there he was able to command a total transformation of the US nutrition studies, food system, government recommendations, and medical practice that enforced a dietary pattern onto the entire population. That society-wide change is still with us more than a half century later. It is unsurprising that, during that same period, inequality kept growing greater and greater. Going back many centuries, it was understood that dietary ideology was important for social control, based on an explicit understanding that food alters not only health but thought, mood, and behavior (Diets and Systems), and I argue that the high-carb diet not only has to do with addiction and authoritarianism but also the fracturing and isolation of a hyper-individualistic worldview.

Let me use the example of doctors to make an important point. To return to the topic of the 9.9%, Matthew Stewart asks a key question and offers an explanation: “Why do America’s doctors make twice as much as those of other wealthy countries? Given that the United States has placed dead last five times running in the Commonwealth Fund’s ranking of health-care systems in high-income countries, it’s hard to argue that they are twice as gifted at saving lives. Dean Baker, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has a more plausible suggestion: “When economists like me look at medicine in America—whether we lean left or right politically—we see something that looks an awful lot like a cartel.” Through their influence on the number of slots at medical schools, the availability of residencies, the licensing of foreign-trained doctors, and the role of nurse practitioners, physicians’ organizations can effectively limit the competition their own members face—and that is exactly what they do.” Yes, a cartel. That is another way to say a hierarchical and authoritarian system, which is to say an expression of the mentality of control.

As part of the 9.9%, doctors play a pivotal role in moderating the harm and decline of our society. It fits a high inequality society that medical practice has come to primarily focus on treating symptoms rather than preventing, reversing, and curing disease. The authority of doctors helps shift the blame of societal problems onto individuals and so scapegoat the patient who is supposedly suffering the wages of their own sin because of gluttony (eating too many calories, fat, etc) and sloth (not exercising enough). But the reality is that most doctors are as ignorant as the rest of us since, in never having been educated on the topic, they know little about the science of diet and nutrition (Most Mainstream Doctors Would Fail Nutrition; & “Simply, we were dumb.”). The problem is, as authority figures, few of them will admit their ignorance. And the fact of the matter, most doctors at this point have become simply one more cog in the machine. Most doctors today are employees of large hospitals and clinics, not independent practitioners, and so they aren’t free to do what they want. If they don’t toe the line, they can have their license removed. Doctors, in being key to the system of social control, are also under the thumb of those above them. That is the plight of the 9.9%. Even among the wealthiest Americans, there is an underlying sense of being trapped within the dominant paradigm, though rarely acknowledged, and ideological realism makes it seem inescapable. So, most people just go along to get along.

What this does, though, is make all the problems worse in the long run. It doesn’t only shut down the ability to change but also shuts down the awareness of the need for change, in the way that the 9.9% refuse to acknowledge that they are on the top of a vast hierarchy that leaves most people impoverished, powerless, and disenfranchised. They might be the 9.9% in the United States, but still they are among the tiny fraction of a percentage in terms of global inequality. These are among the richest people in the world, but all they see is the super-rich far above them. It’s hard for this new aristocracy to realize what they are and the role they play. The drugs they overprescribe and the diet they tell their patients to follow, these are integral parts to a system of corporate profit. To challenge that oppressive and harmful system would mean, instead of being a beneficiary of power, making oneself a target of that power (as happened to Tim Noakes, Gary Fettke, Shawn Baker, etc). If only unconsciously, the 9.9% know they are disposable and replaceable.

If that is how the 9.9% is feeling, imagine the impossible situation for the rest of the population. Undermployment has become rampant, affecting nearly half of Americans and, as with so much else, that is probably an undercount because of who is excluded from the data (Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Nearly half of U.S. workers consider themselves underemployed, report says). This means that these people and their families are barely making ends meet or, without welfare, they aren’t even able to pay the bills and are forced to skip meals. Consider that the majority of welfare recipients are employed, but minimum wage no longer pays enough to live on in many places, much less enough to try to raise a family with. No one actually knows how many unemployed and homeless there are, as an official full count has never been done. The permanently unemployed, imprisoned, and institutionalized are purposely kept out of the unemployment records. As jobs have become more scarce, teenage employment has gone down as well, but the government doesn’t count that either as part of total unemployment (Teen Unemployment). Combine all forms of unemployment and underemployment, throw in welfare and disability and so much else, and we are talking about the vast majority of the population is largely or entirely out of commission, what some would call “useless eaters” (Alt-Facts of Employment; Worthless Non-Workers; Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?; Conservative Moral Order & the Lazy Unemployed; Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration, Race, & Data; Invisible Problems of Invisible People; On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc; When Will the Inevitable Come?; & A Sense of Urgency).

At least a third of the population and growing is now a permanent underclass, in that they inherit poverty as the upper classes inherit their wealth (the data shows that most wealth in the US is inherited, not earned), that is to say we’ve become a caste system. Most of the lower classes, of course, are without higher education (70+% of the population) and, unlike other developed countries, little is being offered in way of job retraining or any other form of useful assistance to better their lives. They are simply being left behind, abandoned by the economy and government — surely, that is how it feels to these people and the injustice of it burns, but more than anything they’ve given up trying or hoping for anything else. This is why we are seeing the return of multi-generational households, for purposes of survival.

Along with the wealth gap, we are falling into another kind of inequality, that of work. There are those who have little, if any, employment and, on the other side, there are those working multiple jobs and long hours. Those doctors, for example, in order to keep their jobs have to be willing to work 16 hour days and 60-80 hour work weeks. That is why there is much drug abuse. It’s just that doctors and other white collar professionals use prescription uppers, instead of meth, but it’s the same difference. The safer and more reliable sources of drugs along with better access to healthcare and drug rehabilitation programs, though, for these wealthier folk means they are less likely to die, as happens in poor communities, from drug overdose and poisoning. A large part of the rising death toll among in certain demographics is partly due to untreated drug use. Poor people are forced to turn to the unregulated black market for their drugs and that is not conducive to health and long life. Whether uppers to help work long hours and hard work or downers to deaden the despair of poverty and hopelessness, the entire American population is turning to ever greater drug use.

Both conditions create stress and failing health, the drug use merely being one of many symptoms of an ailing society (Stress and Shittiness; & The World Around Us). On top of that, quality healthcare is increasingly out of reach for most Americans, that is when they can afford healthcare insurance at all, and without healthcare insurance people simply don’t go to the doctor. Even when it’s a life or death situation, many people won’t call an ambulance because they know that ambulance ride alone will put them into permanent debt that they might never escape: “Not long ago a young boy came into the emergency room at Pemiscot Memorial with a severe asthma attack. His mother didn’t know how to use the inhaler properly. She hesitated before seeking help, and she drove him to the hospital herself rather than pay for an ambulance. The boy died. “To have a kid die of asthma,” Dr. Arshad says, “who’d have thought that could happen in 2017?”” (Sarah Brown & Karin Fischer, A Dying Town). They can’t afford to go on living, and in some cases dying can be more cost than families are able to pay. So, people die at home from preventable health conditions, often dying alone, to save on costs.

Beyond lack of healthcare, the poorest communities also lack clean air and water, with heavy metal toxins in their water pipes, not to mention the paint chipping away in their aging houses and schools, and on top of that it is in these communities that old industrial zones and toxic dumps are located. In areas of the South, the living conditions are equivalent to what used to be called “third world” with open sewage that causes high parasite load, which like lead toxicity contributes to developmental and neurocognitive issues (Lead Toxicity is a Hyperobject). That contributes to even more need for the very healthcare they don’t have. To deal with the worst problems, local and federal government is being forced to pick up the costs in treating the most basic of preventable diseases. In the US, we spend more on healthcare and get less for it, as compared to other Western countries. It’s not only the costs of healthcare but also the costs of increased number of people taking sick days, on disability, and spending their time taking care of sick family members. Furthermore, such things as lead toxicity stunts impulse control and increases aggressive behavior, which translates as higher rates of abuse, bullying, violence, crime, policing, and incarceration (Connecting the Dots of Violence). The diseases of civilization keep on rising and soon will be so costly as to bankrupt our society. Add that to the costs of an entire planet become sick from destroyed ecosystems, housing burned down from wildfires, storms devastating entire coastal areas, people starving and dislocated from droughts and plagues, political unrest, wars over limited resources, and wave after wave of refugees.

The world seems out of control. Sadly, it is the modern ideological system of control that has created the very problem of being out of control and then offers to solve the problem it caused. It just so happens that the rich get richer in selling us their solutions or in being funded by the government to do so. The whole paradigm of control is the problem itself, not the solution. But the system of control keeps us from seeing outside to any other possibility, as it keeps us from seeing how bad inequality, public health, etc has become. We are trapped in Fantasyland mediated by corporate media. We are a well managed population, but disease and climate change doesn’t give a fuck about human ideologies of control. Our ignorance and obliviousness of our situation is not helping us, and in the big scheme of things it isn’t even helping the rich and powerful. But we are addicted to control because the two are inseparable, such that control serves no purpose other than furthering the desire for control or, as William S. Burroughs put it, control is controlled by its need for control. Basically, a system of control is a self-contained reality tunnel. As it gets worse, the imposing of authoritarian control becomes greater. And the more control is asserted, it gets worse still as we spiral out of control.

The data does tell us much: shifting public opinion, rising inequality, declining public health, worsening climate change, and on and on. It offers a dark view of where we are and where we are heading. But all the data in the world can’t really explain anything, can’t offer any deeper insight nor any meaningful response. We didn’t get to this point out of no where, as the cultural underpinnings were put into place over centuries and maybe even millennia. I look at something like the EAT-Lancet report and what stands out is the narrative being told, the framing of perceived reality (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). This is part of what I’ve called corporate veganism. The argument goes that human health, moral order, the environment, etc are out of control and so need to be put back under control. According to the EAT-Lancet report, the ruling elite need to enforce a different diet and food system onto the global population by way of food regulations, taxes, and bans. The public itself needs to be controlled because they are acting badly in eating too much meat that, as claimed, is harming humanity and destroying the world.

This is a particular way of seeing the world. There is a reason why diet has long been understood to be central to culture and social control, since food influences thought and behavior, and so public health has played a key role in moral panic and culture wars, public policy and political action (The Agricultural Mind; “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”; Autism and the Upper Crust; To Be Fat And Have Bread; Diets and Systems; Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration; The Crisis of Identity; The Disease of Nostalgia; & Old Debates Forgotten). Maybe this relates as well to the inequality we see in who gets access to quality healthcare, food, and nutrition. There historically has been a caste or class separation in what people eat and are allowed to eat. Slaves, serfs, and indentured servants typically subsisted on a high-carb diet of cheap grains and root vegetables. Based on Belinda Fettke’s research, I’ve noted that modern “plant-based” rhetoric originates in the Seventh Day Adventist’s agenda to control the sinful nature of humanity, such as advocating high-fiber grains (e.g., cereal) to suppress libido and so lessen the attraction to moral wrongdoing and sexual deviancy such as masturbation that endangers the mortal soul. So, eat your veggies! The Seventh Day Adventists seem to have inherited this dietary ideology from the older cultural strain of thought of Galenic theory of humors that was revived, popularized, and Christianized during the Middle Ages. Social control was essential to maintaining the feudal order and, as red meat was considered invigorating, it was often banned, although fish allowed (maybe explaining the cultural bias of why vegetarians and vegans will sometimes make exception for inclusion of fish in their diets).

Why has Western society been so obsessed with control? This goes back quite far and so is obviously significant. Control is definitely more important as inequality goes up and the social order destabilizes. As a contrast, consider the Mongols contemporaneous with European feudalism. Mongols had low inequality, lacked rigid hierarchy, and apparently required no oppressive social control. Even in organizing a large military, they operated in an organic manner that allowed them to be extremely adaptable to changing conditions on the battlefield without requirement of a strict chain-of-command to tell them what to do in every moment. Europeans, in their rigid minds and rigid social order, couldn’t respond quickly enough and were overwhelmed.

That is an old conflict, farmers vs herders, Cain vs Abel; and this was made part of the American mythos with the Wild West narrative where clod-hoppers and businessmen clashed with open-range ranchers and cowboys. This same basic contest of ideological and cultural worldviews echoes in the present public debate over a plant-based diets and animal-based diets where one side must win and dominate, but interestingly it is primarily the plant-based advocates who are interested in this public debate and so it’s a bit one-sided. Meat-eaters don’t tend to be opposed to plant foods in the way that vegetarians and vegans hold such strong opinions about meat. And so the meat-eaters are less interested in enforcing dietary control on the other side. Maybe there is something about the two diets that feeds into different mentalities and attitudes about control. Related to this, maybe this explains the coinciding rise of inequality and the high-carb, plant-based diet based on the big ag and big food. Industrial agriculture and the modern food system is all about enforcing control on nature to ensure high yields in order to make cheap, shelf-stable, and highly profitable food products. This has brought inequality into farming itself where the small family farm and small farming community has almost entirely disappeared.

Yet it is this modern economy of industrialization and neoliberalism, plutocracy and inequality that has caused so many of the problems. We wouldn’t need to control nature, from big ag to climate change measures, if we hadn’t done so much damage to the environment in the first place, if we hadn’t gotten so far out of balance in creating an unsustainable society. Everything feels precarious because we’ve collectively taken actions that create instability, something that in the past was openly and proudly embraced as creative destruction. But now everything feels out of control with creative destruction threatening to become plain destruction. Climate change causes catastrophes and that sends waves of refugees around the world. Those refugees are dangerous and so must be controlled. Whether it’s building a wall to keep people out or enforcing a vegan diet to keep people in line, it’s the same desperate demand for control. And the demand for control comes from up high with the dirty masses, foreign and domestic, as the target of control. But the only way the ruling elite can control society is by controlling the public mind. And likewise any revolution of society would mean revolution of the mind, the ultimate threat to a system of control. That is what some of the American founders understood. The revolution of the mind came first and prepared the way. I’d add that it came from the bottom up. Decades of social unrest, populist riots, and organized revolts preceded the American Revolution. To go further back, there had been uprisings since the early colonial period in the British colonies.

Here is the issue. We know changes were happening in the colonies. But why were they happening? And despite Thomas Paine’s attempts to inspire his fellow Englishmen, why did revolution fail to take hold back in England? Maybe that is where diet and food systems come in. What changed before both society and mind was a change in diet. In the colonies, some of the most common foods were fish, meat, lard, and butter (Nina Teicholz points this out, as quoted in Malnourished Americans); whereas back in England, the poor, when they weren’t starving, were still eating a peasant’s diet with few animal foods. It’s a rather simple dynamic. Unlike the English poor, the colonists were healthy and strong. Also, their food system was independent as they were surrounded by an abundance of wild game. From a Galenic viewpoint, it’s maybe relevant that the colonists were eating a lot of red meat, the very thing the old order of the ancien regime feared. Red meat was sometimes specifically banned before Carnival for fear that riots might develop into revolts. They genuinely thought red meat had this power over collective behavior and maybe they were right. As long as we modern Americans remain under the control of a high-carb, plant-based diet, we might never be able to achieve a revolution of mind and so no any other kind of revolution could follow from it. If we are hoping for radical change toward a free society, we’ll first have to have a dietary revolution and regain autonomy of our own food sources. As with the American Revolution, this will be a fight against the imperialism that has colonized our minds and lives and the transnational corporations that seek to dominate our society.

The American Revolutionaries had to create a new identity as a public. We’ll have to do something similar in coming to realize we the public are a moral majority, a progressive majority. That means changing the most basic structures of our lives that shape and influence who we are. Political change will be an effect of that, not a cause. There are many possible leverages, but maybe we’ve been overlooking one of the most powerful, that of diet and food systems. A nutrient-dense(and bioavailable), animal-based, and largely ketogenic diet sourced in local regenerative farming could be revolutionary with repercussions we cannot as yet imagine. Once there has been a shift in neurocognition and consciousness, then and only then can we begin to open up some space for radical imagination. Following that, we can do the hard work of working out the details, the same challenge the American colonists were faced with once their own mentality had started to shift in a new direction. But first things first. Changing diet is a far easier thing to accomplish and will make all the rest easier as well. Until we regain our birthright of physical and mental health, we will go on struggling as a society and find ourselves without the strength to fight back with determination. To have a revolution of the mind, we will have to nourish our brains and bodies. In the coming era of crises, we are going to need all of our human potential out on the table.

Corporate Veganism

The main purpose here is to share resources on a traditional healthy diet, in contrast to industrial diets of big ag and processed foods (from SAD to vegan), as related to human evolution, agricultural practices, food systems, corporate capitalism, modern civilization, and environmental sustainability. Below are listed documentaries and books, along with the names of health advocates and public intellectuals who have shaped my thinking or simply come onto my radar, and a few select videos. These recommendations can be found at the end of this post, but first I wanted to share what motivated me to make this list. One thing that has received a lot of attention lately is the just released vegan documentary The Game Changers, a slick Hollywood production with big money and big names behind it, such as James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Andersen, Jackie Chan, and many more, including sports stars and a celebrity chef — all producers or executive producers which means they contributed either money or influence for the film. (By the way, if you want a mainstream analysis of the science, check out Paul Kita’s review at Men’s Health: This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.)

There is an obvious and direct conflict of interest, and more importantly there was no disclosure of this fact. Cameron, as the leading name among the executive directors, is the founder (along with his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron) and CEO of Verdient Foods, the largest pea protein processing plant in the world in which he owns a hundred and forty million dollars worth of investment, according to Shawn Baker (stated in video below). To a lesser degree of conflict, though also unstated, others involved in the documentary have vegan-related and “plant-based” products and services they sell: supplements, retreats, online programs, meal planning service, publishing, books, DVDs, etc (Meredith Root, The Game Changers – A Scientific Review With Full Citations; Layne Norton, The Game Changers Review – A Scientific Analysis (Updated)). That might explain why wealthy individuals would put so much money into a documentary that is guaranteed to lose money.

It’s an investment and advertisement, what Lance Ng said “felt like ‘covert marketing’ — the kind of secret sponsorship of product placement, blogging, or social media posts that brands do today to subtly influence consumers” (Is Game Changers Funded by Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat?). And Ng goes on to say that, “The documentary was also somewhat ironic. It lambasted the cigarette industry for using sports stars and doctors in the past to promote smoking and play down health concerns. It then accused the meat industry of doing the same to create the perception that ‘real men eat meat’, as well as funding research to dispel the link between cancer and meat diets. But throughout the whole documentary, it was interviewing athletes, scientists and doctors who endorsed plant-based diets. Wouldn’t that be a classic case of ‘pot calling the kettle black’?” I’ll note that something like pea protein is a product of big ag and big food, a key concern for me as I will explain. How would you perceive an expensive documentary produced by the Ford car company advocating that Americans should buy more cars and drive more often because it would make them happier, more attractive, improve their sex life, or whatever?

Industrially produced and processed supplements like pea protein are becoming big business, as it’s “a key ingredient in Beyond Meat, which is in short supply right now” (Lance Ng). “Financial publication MarketWatch explained that the recent moves will allow Ingredion to “capitalize on the growing taste for plant-based foods and diets.” Ingredion predicts that the global plant-based food market will reach $1.5 billion by 2022″ (Jemima Webber, James Cameron Participates in $140 Million Vegan Protein Investment). To put this in further context, Ingredion is “one of the leading global ingredient suppliers” (Anthony Gustin, Game Changers Movie Review: Fact vs. Fiction). These are no small players in corporate capitalism and neoliberal trade. And it extends beyond a single company, including a network of business interests. “I found at least one direct link between celebrity investment and The Game Changers. Remember Chris Paul, the executive producer and NBA star? He’s an investor in Beyond Meat. […] There’s another less direct but much more pertinent link. James Cameron and his wife are both producers of The Game Changers. Cameron and his wife met on the set of Titanic, which starred… Leonardo DiCaprio, another Beyond Meat investor” (Lance Ng). It’s not really about getting people, I’d argue, to become fully vegan but to spin industrial products as “plant-based” health foods.

I came across another example of vegetarianism and veganism getting promoted by corporate interests. Frédéric Leroy, in a recent talk about scapegoating meat, gave an analysis of how “this narrative gets propagated by mass media.” His focus was on ‘mainstream’ newspapers. The example given was amazing in how blatant it is as perception management and social engineering: “The Guardian has received a substantial amount of money to publish a series called animals farmed which goal is to depict animal agriculture as harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc. Now this money is originating from the Open Philanthropy Project which is also an investor in Impossible Foods, by the way” (from the last video below). That is corporate-funded fake news being presented as actual news reporting. Anyone, even vegans, should find this disturbing. Could you imagine the public outrage if a major investor in a beef company paid for a series of articles depict industrial agriculture producing fruits and vegetables as “harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc.” That would be considered unacceptable or else laughable. The reputation of the newspaper would have taken a major hit. So, why does this kind of corporate propaganda get published without any other major news source doing an investigative piece on it? Maybe because all of the corporate media receives similar money from various corporate interests.

Sadly, one has to assume that any news reporting in corporate media might be part of a larger corporate agenda, unless proven otherwise. Whether or not a particular news outlet is getting direct funding to lie to or otherwise manipulate the public, the whole bias and spin that has been manufactured seeps into all of the corporate media and beyond. Here is another example that makes me suspicious, even if I don’t know the exact corporate interests behind it. It’s from Carte Blanche, a South African news program that has done award-winning investigative journalism. In a show that just put out, Meat vs Planet (11/17/19), they portray themselves as investigating the issue without bias. It’s simply a matter, according to the narrative, of our choosing either meat or the planet. Framed like that, it really is a tough decision. I do like meat, but the planet also has its advantages. Too bad there wasn’t a way to have both meat and the planet. Jeez! That is so pathetic as supposed “investigative journalism” that everyone involved in that show should resign in shame. In a post on Facebook, Carte Blanche further framed it as “Meat vs Beans“. It’s so fucking idiotic. Basically, you must eat beans for the rest of your life, if you care about continued existence of the planet. Eating some meat is equivalent to planetary mass homicide. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with this topic knows it’s not this simplistic. This has stood out to me ever since I researched the EAT-Lancet report that advocated a “plant-based” diet to save humanity and all life on earth (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet):

“One might note that EAT-Lancet is specifically partnered with big biz, including big ag companies such as Monsanto that has poisoned the world’s population with Roundup (i.e., glyphosate), and understand that big ag is among the most powerful interests in the US considering our country’s wealth was built on agriculture (a great example being the wealth of the plutocratic and corporatist Koch brothers whose wealth in part came from manufacturing fertilizer). Other companies involved are those developing meat alternatives produced from the industrially-farmed crops of big ag. And big ag is dependent on big oil for production of farm chemicals. EAT Foundation president and founder, Gunhild Stordalen, has been noted as a significant figure in the oil industry (Lars Taraldsen, ONS 2014 conference program to feature oil industry heavy hitters). But don’t worry about how this carb-laden diet of processed foods will harm your health with the majority of the American population already some combination of insulin sensitive, pre-diabetic, and diabetic — they’ve got this covered: “The drug company Novo Nordisk supports Eat-Lancet. Smart. Insulin is 85% of their revenue” (P. D. Mangan). I’m beginning to see a pattern here in the vested interests behind this proposal: “Eat lancet sponsors. Chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies (mostly making diabetes meds), the world’s biggest pasta manufacturer, the world biggest seed oil supplier, the world’s biggest breakfast cereal supplier” (David Wyant); “Pesticides, fertilisers, #gm (Bayer/Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta);sugar+fake flavourings/colourings (PepsiCo, Nestle, Givaudin, Symrise);ultraprocessed grains/starches (Cargill, Kellogg’s);#palmoil (Olam); additives and enzymes (DSM)- companies backing #EatLancet diet. I wonder why?” (Joanna Blythman).

“Just to throw out a crazy idea, maybe transnational corporations are the problem, not the answer. “Just think about it. EAT Lancet is the processed food industry telling us that eating more processed food is good for our health & planet. That’s like oil industry stating burn more fossil fuel will save planet. Vested interests think we are that gullible?”, in the words of Gary Fettke, an outspoken surgeon who (like John Yudkin and Tim Noakes) was bullied and harassed when challenging the powers that be, for the crime of advising an evidence-based low-carb/sugar diet. “This Poison Cartel of companies,” writes Vandana Shiva in reference to the corporate alliance behind EAT-Lancet, “have together contributed up to 50% Green house gases leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.” The Lancet Journal itself, from a new report, is now warning of us the exact same thing, in that many corporate sectors (including those backing EAT-Lancet) receive $5 trillion in government subsidies: “Big Food’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimize industry participation in public policy development” (Swinburn et al, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change).”

But the most damning part is that these corporate backers of EAT-Lancet were hidden on a page buried many layers deep on the EAT Foundation website. It’s strange that big biz wants to push a particular diet on the entire world population, as is the stated intention of the EAT-Lancet campaign. What specifically about “plant-based” diets is to the benefit and profit of big biz? And why were they hiding their involvement, as opposed to using it as a PR opportunity for greenwashing their corporate image? The EAT-Lancet report was supposedly about saving humanity and the earth. That sounds like a positive thing. Why the secrecy? It made no sense that these corporations wouldn’t want to be openly associated with it, if their intentions were truly good as argued in the report.

Then it occurred to me that these corporations want to shape the political narrative and manipulate the public debate but without it seeming like a special interest agenda. It was being spun as environmentalism and humanitarianism, but the thing about many environmentalists is that they’d be suspicious of such a corporate campaign openly being framed as a corporate agenda. Those attracted to environmentalism tend to be critical of big biz, and so to manipulate activists and the rest of the public it is necessary to make it seem like a neutral project to improve the world. So, instead of advertising the corporate-friendly nature of it, the EAT Foundation was joined by Lancet that would give it scientific credibility and public respectability. It was also spun as an issue of morality, as part of hyper-individualistic consumer-citizenry. Adopt the right dietary social identity and buy the right products. Then you are free of all sin and guilt. You are one of the good guys and so can feel morally righteous as part of the cause. Tapping into people’s need for self-worth and belonging is a powerful motivator. Yet, this kind of hyper-individualism always casts a shadow of authoritarianism, as seen in how vegans and vegetarians argue for laws that would force compliance (e.g., EAT-Lancet). There is the elect who choose righteousness and then there is the rest of fallen humanity who must be made to get into line.

Still, why is a “plant-based” diet used to enact such a vision and agenda? Vegans and vegetarians are always claiming that the world is ruled by corporations producing animal foods, the secret cabal of beef and dairy lobbyists. So, why are some of the most profitable and powerful big ag, big food, and other big biz companies choosing to push rhetoric that blames animal foods and scapegoats meat-eaters? During recent HHS and USDA hearings about the 2020 dietary guidelines, the beef industry lobbyist didn’t even advocate for a meat-based diet, much less an all-meat diet (2020 Dietary Guidelines: Fight Over Low-Carb). Instead, he weakly and defensively pointed that meat could be part of a healthy, balanced diet along with grains, fruits and vegetables, hardly a controversial or biased position to take. This is a standard argument from the beef industry — consider a similar point made in the Beef Magazine: “Because the heart of the matter isn’t if we eat meat or just plants. What truly is at stake here is our freedom of food choice and our freedom to farm. And beyond that, this advice is dangerous, elitist and irresponsible” (Amanda Radke, Why Schwarzenegger’s “Game Changers” documentary is dangerous). This is far from an extreme, biased position. Instead, it’s a plea for moderation and balance.

It’s not the animal foods companies and their lobbyists spinning plant vs meat rhetoric nor even telling people to eat an animal-based diet, much less an all-meat carnivore diet. This is in contrast to something like EAT-Lancet that very much has gone on the offense in making a hard sell for the plant-based diet, not moderation as part of a balanced diet but pushed to an unhealthy extreme. They aren’t simply making scientific-based recommendations for including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds along with diet that also allows equal portions of meat, eggs, and dairy. Nor is it even a focus on vegetarianism that potentially allows large helpings of animal foods, as one could be vegetarian while eating eggs and dairy with every meal. Instead, based on moralistic dogma, this is advocacy for a plants-only diet, where “plant-based” or “plant-forward” is thinly veiled vegan propaganda. Isn’t that an intriguing distinction? The plant foods industry is attacking the animal foods industry in trying to get consumers to buy less animal foods, but there is no equivalent action in the other direction. I’ve never come across a beef, egg, or dairy representative or lobbyist arguing against plant foods, much less attacking vegetarians and vegans. So, why this one way hatred and judgment, dismissiveness and scapegoating?

This isn’t hard to understand once you realize the immense profit in industrial agriculture and processed foods. Meat is irrelevant, as far as big biz is concerned. Most processed foods are not made with animal foods but with shelf-stable ingredients such as wheat, soy, corn, corn syrup, seed oils, etc. The real issue here isn’t meat vs beans or meat vs planet or whatever other bullshit. It’s sustainability of regenerative farming vs externalized costs of industrial agriculture (Carnivore Is Vegan). Besides, these companies are hedging their bets. The parent companies operate businesses in multiple areas. The same company making hamburger patties, for example, likely is also under another brand name making veggie burgers. If the sales of one product goes down, the sales of the other product likely will go up. Their only concern is to ensure they control the system and dominate the market, whether producing animal-based processed foods or plant-based processed foods, although the latter does have a better profit margin. What is unimportant to profitability is that, in analysis, production of some of the veggie burgers causes far more environmental harm than the raising of cows in factor farms for hamburgers. What is being sold is an image of health for humanity and the earth. As for the inconvenient details, they can be smoothed over with nice-sounding rhetoric.

It’s worse than this. The fact of the matter is that all animal foods could be produced through regenerative farming, as only 5% of the land in the United States and 5-10% of the usable land in the world can be used for farming, what is called arable land, whereas 100% of it can be used for grazing (about two-thirds of all land could produce food for humans, i.e. usable land, not considering other lands available for hunting and trapping). To feed the world with plant foods on a few percentage of the usable land requires industrial agriculture with high-yield harvests from chemical-drenched monocrops. So, promoting a “plant-based” diet is a way of promoting industrial agriculture without having to state it that way. No one, vegan or otherwise, is going to become a political activist to defend big ag. It must be presented as something else and that must be given a compelling narrative, which is where emotion-laden environmentalism comes in. The greatest threat to industrial agriculture is not meat in general, definitely not factory-farmed meat, but specifically meat that is sustainably produced. Industrial agriculture is not sustainable and that is the public debate big biz hopes to avoid. And in avoiding that, they are avoiding the messy details of how closely linked is big ag to the entire network of big biz interests: big oil, big defense, big tech, etc (Is California a Canary in the Coal Mine?). Immense effort goes into avoiding that public debate.

It just so happens that “plant-based” diets are a perfect fit for the big biz profits and the power structure they represent. That is even more true for veganism, since veganism is literally impossible without industrialization of not only agriculture but transportation systems, fortified foods, and supplements. By the way, this is what potentially differentiates veganism from vegetarianism (Vegetarianism is an Animal-Based Diet); like omnivore and carnivore diets, vegetarianism theoretically could be done with regenerative farming, assuming the vegetarian would eat mostly eggs and dairy during the season (winter and spring) when locally-grown organic plant foods aren’t available; and so any of the animal-based diets, including vegetarianism, can avoid deficiencies of animal-sourced nutrients (fat-soluble vitamins, choline, carnitine, etc; even cholesterol that is required for brain function). The industrial diet, veganism most of all, is so nutrient-deficient that it requires nutrients to be added back into the diet (by the way, calling a supplement-dependent diet ‘healthy’ is a joke; one could survive, if not thrive, by literally eating shit as long as the shit was nutrient-fortified and one had plenty of supplements). That is the reason veganism did not exist prior to industrialization. Big biz doesn’t actually give a fuck about the environment or human health. It’s just convenient rhetoric to get animal-loving environmentalists on board as useful idiots. As long as they keep the attack on meat-eaters, the typically anti-corporatist environmentalists will never pause for a moment to look at the corporate interests that are directing their attention away from the corporations themselves. The average vegan or vegetarian watches an unscientific documentary like Cowspiracy or The Game Changers and they suddenly think they’re informed. They have no idea of the evil genius and Machiavellian powers that are manipulating them through carefully crafted rhetorical framing used in line with the propaganda model of media.

The question is what makes these otherwise critical left-wingers such willing dupes. My sense is it has to do with the religious nature of these dietary ideologies. Vegetarianism was introduced to the West from Hinduism and veganism emerged out of a divine vision of a late 19th century Seventh Day Adventist. These “plant-based” diets have maintained their religiosity and zealotry. It’s not only a diet but an entire social identity tied into a readymade social movement. There is a reason that a much more scientifically-supported diet like the Mediterranean diet with no origins in religion doesn’t attract such a loyal following or gain such extremes of media and political attention. Even the carnivore diet, the equivalent extreme opposite of veganism, never draws as much interest. Or take the keto diet that has been scientifically studied for a century or other low-carb diets that have been scientifically studied going back to the 19th century. None of these other diets have ever been turned into sociopolitical movements that make arguments about it being the End Times and so we must convert to their dietary promise of salvation.

This goes deep into our cultural inheritance. As I’ve noted before, social control as dietary control has a long history in Western civilization and is rooted in Christian authority as seen in Medieval food laws and in theology of the sins of gluttony and sloth (The Agricultural Mind & Diets and Systems), the latter is discussed by Gary Taubes. This Christian belief often expresses as an idealism and paternalism that, in the modern world, often expresses as techno-utopianism and technocracy (Hubris of Nutritionism) with the key example being EAT-Lancet. The vegan argument is that we can separate ourselves from the cycle of life and death. That is essentially a Christian argument for an idealized Heaven that transcends this fallen world. The reality, though, is that veganism is part of an industrial system that wreaks immense havoc. Vegans aren’t above it all. The only way they could attain their moral innocence and purity would be by living in isolated and self-contained bunkers that were disconnected from all ecosystems and where all food was industrially-produced or lab-grown, and so no life would be harmed because no life would be possible other than human life and the microbes that inhabit us. That is the ultimate conclusion of vegan idealism of harm-free diet and food system.

I doubt this utopianism is possible. It’s a death denial. It’s similar to many right-wing libertarians I’ve come across who are former fundamentalists, in how they go from hoping for eternity in Heaven to fantasizing about cryogenic immortality and space stations among the stars. It’s a desire to be free of the messy complications of earthly life. On the opposite side of this dualistic worldview are those like neocons, kleptocrats, corporatocrats, etc as death-mongers who, rather than denying it, want to rule over the world of misery and decay like gnostic demiurges. Between these demented extremes, there can be no genuine moderation and balance, no real world solution. The idea of sustainability through regenerative farming doesn’t fit into this entire ideological paradigm. Actual sustainability would be revolutionary. Interestingly, both sides of the mainstream debate are fighting back against this revolutionary possibility. In fact, both sides have a secret compact. Look at EAT-Lancet where idealistic vegans, if unknowingly (?), have formed an alliance with Machiavellian industrialists. Both sides, supposedly in opposition, are working together to ensure that health and sustainability never happens.

In an email, Fabrice DeClerck, science director of the EAT-Lancet Commission, admitted that, “the meat consumption limits proposed by the Commission were not set due to environmental considerations, but were solely in light of health recommendations.”(Frank M. Mitloehner, EAT-Lancet’s environmental claims are an epic fail. And the Commission knows it.). But if you closely read the EAT-Lancet report, they point to all the exceptions of people who wouldn’t be healthy on this diet and basically admit that the dietary recommendations don’t apply to most of the global population. Besides, the food industry contributes less to carbon emissions than does the healthcare industry. Mostly or entirely plant-based diets, in creating ill health and greater demand for healthcare, would increase carbon emissions; and that would be true even in ignoring the carbon emissions from industrial agriculture. So, what exactly is the effective agenda, as opposed to empty rhetoric, of something like EAT-Lancet and The Game Changers? We are forced to conclude that the branded identity of “plant-based” diets has become just another product to be sold by big biz. Health and sustainability is irrelevant.

* * *

Documentaries/Shows:

(lists here & here)

The Perfect Human Diet

The Magic Pill
The Paleo Way
Love Paleo
My Big Fat Diet
Fed Up
Fat Head
Fat: A Documentary
Globesity
Cholesterol, The Great Bluff
Statin Nation
Carb Loaded
What’s With Wheat?
Is Sugar the New Fat?
Sugar Blues
That Sugar Film
The Big Fat Surprise (in production)

Books:

James Suzman – Affluence without Abundance
John Gowdy – Limited Wants, Unlimited Means
Marshall Sahlins – Stone Age Economics
Christopher Ryan – Civilized to Death
Murray Bookchin – The Ecology of Freedom; & Post-Scarcity Anarchism
George Monbiot – Feral; & How Did We Get Into This Mess?
Derrick Jensen – A Language Older Than Words; The Culture of Make Believe; Railroads and Clearcuts; & Strangely Like War
Abdullah Öcalan – Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings; & Capitalism: The Age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings
James Scott – Against the Grain; Seeing Like a State; & The Art of Not Being Governed
John Zerzan – A People’s History of Civilization; Why Hope?; Future Primitive; Future Primitive Revisited; Twilight of the Machines; & Running on Emptiness
Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel; Crisis; Upheaval; Collapse; & The World Until Yesterday
Joseph Tainter – The Collapse of Complex Societies
William Ophuls – Immoderate Greatness; & Plato’s Revenge
William Ruddiman – Earth Transformed; & Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum
William Catton – Overshoot
Andrew Rimas & Evan Fraser – Empires of Food
Marcel Mazoyer & Laurence Roudart – A History of World Agriculture
Richard Manning – Against the Grain; Grassland; Rewilding the West; & Go Wild
David Montgomery – Dirt; Growing a Revolution; & The Hidden Half of Nature
Wendell Berry – The Unsettling of America
Laura Lengnick – Resilient Agriculture
Gabe Brown – Dirt to Soil
Joel Salatin – Folks, This Ain’t Normal; & Salad Bar Beef
Judith Schwartz – Cows Save the Planet
Graham Harvey – Grass-Fed Nation; & The Killing Of The Countryside
Allan Savory – The Grazing Revolution; & Greening the Desert
Paul Shepard – Traces of an Omnivore; Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game; Coming Home to the Pleistocene; The Only World We Got; The Others; Thinking Animals; Man in the Landscape; & Nature and Madness
Tovar Cerulli – The Mindful Carnivore
Lierre Keith – The Vegetarian Myth
Mara Kahn – Vegan Betrayal
Natasha Campbell-McBride – Vegetarianism Explained
Michael Crawford & David Marsh – Nutrition and Evolution
John Nicholson – The Meat Fix
Harlan Walker – The Fat of the Land; & Disappearing Foods
Vilhjalmur Stefansson – The Fat of the Land
Shawn Baker – The Carnivore Diet
Susan Allport – The Queen of Fats; & The Primal Feast
Samuel Pepys – Fat is Our Friend
Gary Taubes – Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Case Against Sugar; & Why We Get Fat
Nina Teicholz – The Big Fat Surprise
Nicolas Rasmussen – Fat in the Fifties
Zoë Harcombe –The Obesity Epidemic
Carl Lavie –The Obesity Paradox
Tim Noakes – Lore of Nutrition; Real Food On Trial; Challenging Beliefs; & The Real Meal Revolution
Tim Noakes et al – Diabetes Unpacked
Richard Feinman – Nutrition in Crisis; & The World Turned Upside Down
April Merleaux – Sugar and Civilization
James Walvin – Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity
Elizabeth Abbott – Sugar: A Bittersweet History
Rebecca Earle – The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492–1700
Michael LaCombe – Political Gastronomy: Food and Authority in the English Atlantic World
Henry Notaker – A History of Cookbooks
Sarah Walden – Tasteful Domesticity
John Coveney – Food, Morals and Meaning; & Food
Susan Friedland – Food and Morality; & Vegetables
Kathleen LeBesco & Peter Naccarato – Edible Ideologies
James McWilliams – A Revolution in Eating
Anne Wilbraham & J.C. Drummond – The Englishman’s Food
Sandra Oliver – Food in Colonial and Federal America
Ken Albala – Eating Right in the Renaissance; Food in Early Modern Europe; Food and Faith in Christian Culture; & Wild Food
Trudy Eden – Cooking in America, 1590-1840
Katherine Leonard Turner – How the Other Half Ate
Abigail Carroll – Three Squares
Bee Wilson – The Way We Eat Now
Harvey Levenstein – Fear of Food
Tristram Stuart – The Bloodless Revolution
Adam Shprintzen – The Vegetarian Crusade
Benjamin Zeller et al – Religion, Food, and Eating in North America
Ronald Numbers – Prophetess of Health
Howard Markel – The Kelloggs
Brian Wilson – Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living
Katharina Vestern – A Taste of Power
S. Margot Finn – Discriminating Taste
Helen Zoe Veitn – Modern Food, Moral Food
Julie Guthman – Weighing In
Louise Foxcroft – Calories and Corsets
E. Melanie DuPuis – Dangerous Digestion
Kyla Tompkins – Racial Indigestion
Lizzie Collingham – The Taste of Empire; & The Taste of War
Bryan McDonald – Food Power
Anastacia Marx de Salcedo – Combat-Ready Kitchen
Susan Levine – School Lunch Politics
Denise Minger – Death by Food Pyramid
Joanna Blythman – Swallow This
Krisin Lawless – Formerly Known as Food
Marion Nestle – Food Politics; & Unsavory Truth
Michael Carolan – Embodied Food Politics
Carl Cederström & Andre Spicer – The Wellness Syndrome
Charlotte Biltekoff – Eating Right in America
Gerardo Otero – The Neoliberal Diet
Alyshia Gálvez – Eating NAFTA
Andrew Fisher – Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups
Michele Payn – Food Bullying; Food Truths; & No More Food Fights!
Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, & Sinikka Elliott – Pressure Cooker
Anna Kirkland & Jonathan Metzl – Against Health
Verner Wheelock – Healthy Eating
Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet; & The Paleo Answer
Robb Wolf – The Paleo Solution
Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint
John Durant – The Paleo Manifesto
Jack Wolfson – The Paleo Cardiologist
Fred Provenza – Nourishment
Nora T. Gedgaudas – Primal Body, Primal Mind
Sally Fallon Morell – Nourishing Diets
Catherine Shanahan – Food Rules; & Deep Nutrition
Sarah Ballantyne – The Paleo Approach; & Paleo Principles
Valerie Bracken – My Life without Bread; Uncle Wolfi’s Secret; & Dr Wolfgang Lutz and his Chickens
Konstantin Monastyrsky – Fiber Menace
Steven Gundry – The Plant Paradox
David Perlmutter – Grain Brain
William Davis – Wheat Belly; & Undoctored
Richard Harris – Rigor Mortis
Ken Berry – Lies My Doctor Told Me
Malcolm Kendrick – Doctoring Data; The Great Cholesterol Con; & Fat and Cholesterol Don’t Cause Heart Attacks and Statins Are Not The Solution
Uffe Ravnskov – The Cholesteol Myths; Fat and Cholesterol are GOOD for You; & Ignore the Awkward!
David Evans – Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Prevent Heart Disease; & Low Cholesterol Leads to an Early Death
Jack Kruse – Epi-paleo Rx
Daniel Lieberman – The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease
Christopher James Clark – Nutritional Grail
Stephen Simpson & David Raubenheimer – The Nature of Nutrition
Stephen Hussey – The Health Evolution
Barry Groves – Trick and Treat
Eric Westman & Jimmy Moore – Cholesterol Clarity; & Keto Clarity
Stephen Phinney & Jeff Volek – The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living
Eric Kossoff, John Freeman, Turner Zahava, & James Rubenstein – Ketogenic Diets
Susan Masino – Ketogenic Diet and Metabolic Therapies
Mackenzie Cervenka – The Ketogenic and Modified Atkins Diets
Thomas Seyfried – Cancer as a Metabolic Disease
Travis Christofferson – Tripping Over the Truth; & Curable
Miriam Kalamian – Keto for Cancer
Nasha Winters & Jess Higgins Kelley – The Metabolic Approach to Cancer
Siim Land – Metabolic Autophagy
Jason Fung – The Obesity Code; & The Diabetes Code
A. Simmonds – Principia Ketogenica
Jacob Wilson & Ryan Lowery – The Ketogenic Bible
Mary Newport – The Complete Book of Ketones; & The Coconut Oil and Low-Carb Solution for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Other Diseases
Amy Berger – The Alzheimer’s Antidote
Dale Bredesen – The End of Alzheimer’s
Terry Wahls – The Wahls Protocol
Carol Simontacchi – The Crazy Makers
John Yudkin – Pure, White and Deadly
Robert Lustig – Fat Chance; & The Hacking of the American Mind
E. M. Abrahamson – Body, Mind, & Sugar
David Courtwright – The Age of Addiction
Sally Fallon Morrell – Nourishing Fats; Nourishing Traditions; & Nourishing Diets
Weston A. Price – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Francis Marion Pottenger Jr. – Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition
Kate Rheaume-Bleue – Vitamin K2 And The Calcium Paradox
Paul Greenberg – The Omega Principle
Gyorgy Scrinis – Nutritionism
Catherine Price – Vitamania
Lee McDowell – Vitamin History, the Early Years; & Mineral Nutrition History, The Early Years
Jessica Mudry – Measured Meals

Blogs/Websites:

(recommendations here)

Gary Taubes
Nina Teicholz
Tim Noakes
Richard David Feinman
Mary Newport
Robert Lustig
Gary Fettke
Jeff Volek
Stephen Phinney
Loren Cordain
Robb Wolf
Mark Sisson
Malcolm Kendrick
Ken Berry
Nora Gedgaudas
John Durant
Jimmy Moore
Pete Evans
Zoë Harcombe
Chris Kresser
Chris Masterjohn
Sarah Ballantyne
Catherine Shanahan
Shawn Baker
Lierre Keith
Terry Wahls
Will Cole
Siim Land
Josh Axe
Dave Asprey
Mark Hyman
Joseph Mercola
David Perlmutter
William Davis
Jimmy Moore
Natasha Campbell-McBride
Joanna Blythman
Kristin Lawless
Paleohacks
The Weston A. Price Foundation
Price-Pottenger
Ketopedia

Videos:

Frédéric Leroy talking about the business of “plant-based” fake foods that are industrially-produced, highly-processed, and additive-filled: egg-free eggs, milk-free milks, hamburger-free burgers, etc (from above video):

“You have to mimic something extremely complex and you need a lot of technology to do so. Now you could say this is the future food only to a minority. We don’t really have to mind it all that much. It’s just a couple of people. And you know, soon it will pass. And it’s just one of those things that food industry comes up with. But this narrative is starting to cross a certain line which I find quite concerning.

“Now I’ll present you here to a tweet from the official account of UN Environment. I’ll read it to you: “So warning no meat was used in the following video. Cutting back on meat is an essential part of preventing the degradation of our environment.” And then the most worrisome part: “Mainstreaming meatless burgers benefit businesses, consumers & our planet.” Now it has a little video that goes with this. And in the video you see that in 2018 UN Environment has declared Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats as champions of the earth.

“Now we’ve just seen Beyond Meat. It was the burger I just showed you before. Impossible Foods is a similar company and this company has also as a goal to eliminate the need for animals in the food chain by 2035. So let this sink in for a minute. We have an official account of the United Nations promoting ultra-processed foods and an extreme agenda.

“At this point I would like to introduce you to something that is called the pharmakon. I think it’s a useful concept to look at this problem. The pharmakon is a philosophical idea that has been used by Jacques Derrida in the previous century and goes all the way back to Plato. Now pharmakon is a substance that is both beneficial and harmful. So it’s something that is at the same time a cure and a poison. And you see that also in the concept of pharmacists, in the word pharmacy. The pharmacy sells medicine which is, at the same time, a bit of poison.

“See what it’s coming from. And I would say that meat is a perfect example of the pharmakon. And that is because one side of society would refer to meat as something nourishing. That’s a long-standing connotation, to offer you strength, vitality, and nutrients. And at the same time, another narrative would state that it causes cancer, it will kill you, and all sorts of things. Now, the pharmakon concept has been used in philosophy to expose Western thinking for being binary and reductionist. And you have this tension here at play and such attention always brings about another concept which is called pharmakos. Pharmakos is Greek for scapegoat. So one of these ideas has to go out. So you’re scapegoating something. Meat has become a scapegoat and we’ll come back to this.

“What I find particularly toxic is that this narrative gets propagated by mass media. You may know or not know that The Guardian has received a substantial amount of money to publish a series called animals farmed which goal is to depict animal agriculture as harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc. Now this money is originating from the Open Philanthropy Project which is also an investor in Impossible Foods, by the way.

“Last year we published a study that looked into discourses in the Daily Mail. Now the Daily Mail is another major British newspaper and what we have done is analyzing every single article that was published dealing with meat and health during 15 years, so the first 15 years of the century. And we have quantified certain aspects. We also have done discourse analysis. And what we found is that it’s not all that much about science, but it is about post-truth being prone to cherry-picking invention effects.

“So it’s not about the facts that such is how you put them together and you create a storyline. And it is also about the attention economy and that has to do with the way those kind of mass media systems are financed. So they’re financed by advertisers and those advertisers want clickbait. That’s how how you generate income. So the more attractive you make your headlines the more money it brings in. So you’ll end up with these screaming headlines. This is an example. It’s also an example of a pharmakon. This is the British breakfast the British fry up. One article in The Daily Mail stated that is the healthiest breakfast of all and another one states that it may raise risk of bowel cancer by 60%. So how to confuse your public.

“And you can say, well this is the Daily Mail. It’s a sensationalist newspaper in the first place. But what we have seen is that it has not always been the case, at least not to the same extent. Now in the first years of the period, we notice that the headlines were quite moderate. We’ve seen an increase, as you can see in the graph over there. We’ve seen an increase in the length of the title’s over the years, especially starting after 2005-2006, and also more sensationalism within those headlines.

“One of the headlines, for instance, taken from 2006, “Red meat can raise cancer risk,” which I would say is a fair headline. You can discuss about those things, but as a headline it’s pretty much okay. The ones you get at the later stages, well you see a couple of examples on the right side. If you want to see the other ones, you can find them in my paper. But some of them are really interesting. Just to give an example: “Why feasting on steak makes it difficult for men to father a child (it makes their sperm slow),” “Vegetarians have a better sex life,” etc. etc.

“A very interesting one — and it’s also the point where we stopped our analysis — was the one from 2015 at the bottom. Let me zoom into this one: “Bacon, burgers, and sausages are a cancer risk, say World Health Chiefs.” And then they compare processed meats to cigarettes and asbestos. Now this refers to the IRC/WHO report, World Health Organization. And this is of course not what the report is saying, but this is what the Daily Mail made out of it. And what you see here is very important, “World Health Chiefs,” because this shows you that authority is stepping in. So you will have appeal to authority, which is reinforced I would say from 2015 on. It’s very hard to argue about place of red meat and processed meats if you have to face authority because people will always refer, yes but WHO said, and that blocks a lot of the debate. Now what you can notice is that it’s a very strong authority.”