Enchantment of Capitalist Religion

We Have Never Been Disenchanted
by Eugene McCarraher, excerpt

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

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

Has Capitalism Become Our Religion?

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

 

 

Success of Big Drug is Failure of Public Health

Pfizer has owns the rights to the drug Enbrel outside North America. Internal analysis at the company showed that there was a strong correlation to lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. It was an amazing 64% reduction. This is almost unheard of in Alzheimer’s research. At a company presentation, it was stated in no uncertain terms that, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease” (as quoted by Mark Terry).

Yet they didn’t follow up with more data analysis and clinical studies. Neither did they publicly release their findings. Pfizer can’t take all the blame, though. The company works with the Amgen in marketing Enbrel. This other drug company holds the patent and rights to market Enbrel in the United States and Canada. Both drug companies knew about the results and both remained silent. A company spokesman for Pfizer told the Washington Post that, “Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward.” I don’t doubt that is true for corporate science. But there sometimes is a vast difference between corporate science and non-profit science. This is indicated by another explanation that came out of Pfizer.

The WaPo reported that, the company “decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue.” That is odd because, based on much research, we know there is more involved in Alzheimer’s than just the brain. The only proven clinical trial that has reversed Alheimer’s symptoms used a protocol that included many methods, including the ketogenic diet (see the clinical study and writings of Dr. Dale Bredesen).

The US FDA approved use of Enbrel is for the treatment of autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis and ankylosing spondylitis. The effect it would have on Alzheimer’s is as an anti-inflammatory. This could be achieved in many ways, such as broadly reducing an overactive immunological response in the body, not only in the brain. The neurocognitive effect might be indirect and secondary to the process without the drug needing to cross the blood-brain barrier. It isn’t necessarily significant by which path, neurological or not, that it accomplishes this feat of inflammatory reduction. As reported in the WaPo:

Yet Alzheimer’s researchers believe inflammation outside the brain — called peripheral inflammation — influences inflammation within the brain.

“There is a lot of evidence suggesting that peripheral or systemic inflammation may be a driver of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said Walker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. It is a fair hypothesis that fighting inflammation outside the brain with Enbrel will have a similar effect inside the brain, he said.

“I don’t believe Enbrel would need to cross the blood brain barrier to modulate the inflammatory/immune response within the brain,’’ Walker said.

“There is increasing evidence that peripheral inflammation can influence brain function,’’ said rheumatologist Christopher Edwards, of the University of Southampton in Britain.

I refuse to believe that the researchers at Enbrel didn’t know this basic scientific understanding and didn’t explain it to those making the decisions. Maybe that is why the scientists employed by Pfizer, in opposition to the management, were pushing for more research to be done.

Basically, it was a business decision and so it was irrelevant even if it was guaranteed to cure Alzheimer’s. In capitalism, there is no financial incentive in humanitarianism, at least not when its costly. As Enbrel was already patented for another medical use and its patent life was coming to an end, getting it patented for an entirely different health condition would have been difficult because of patent laws. It would have been a high-risk business investment with low probability of success and profit.

Since it wasn’t profitable for the company to pursue further research, it also wouldn’t have been profitable for the company to release the info so that others might pursue further research or else simply gain better understanding about the possibilities of different avenues of research. Promoting scientific debate and scientific knowledge is not part of capitalism (ditto for public health), other than as an unintentional side effect. No company will freely choose to disclose any information beyond what is necessary or else when deemed unrelated to any financial gain… that is unless required by law, in which case it wouldn’t be freely chosen.

If you want to hear defenses of the actions or rather inaction of Pfizer, some pieces have been written taking the other side of the debate: A Missed Alzheimer’s Opportunity? Not So Much by Derek Lowe, and 5 Reasons Pfizer Sat on a Potential New Alzheimer’s Drug by Cory Renauer. Pfizer also went to its own defense on social media: Pfizer takes to Twitter to refute ‘Washington Post’ story by Alison Kanski. I find the excuses unconvincing. It comes across more as apologia for capitalist realism.

Still, to be fair, there has been immense failure in Alzheimer’s research. A new drug treatment hasn’t been approved by the FDA in the past decade. But that is part of the problem with the corporate model of big drug. The only promising research in recent years is from methods other than pharmaceuticals. As far as capitalism goes, it doesn’t matter if Alzheimer’s can be treated and reversed with a multifactorial approach, by a combination of diet, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, detoxification, etc. There is no profit in this, since no company can patent it and so monopolize the market for decades. In that sense, it is pointless in blaming a corporation for acting like a corporation. This is the inevitable result of capitalism.

Following the obvious financial incentive, Pfizer has stopped Alzheimer’s research. This is problematic for public health, of course. Big biz, however, doesn’t give a flying fuck about public health. If we are seeking public health, then governments will have to massively invest in public funding of research and development as the United States did in the past. Instead, public funding has been drastically cut. This is expected in corporatocratic government where corporate interests determine public policy. It’s the nature of the beast. If we think it is morally wrong to let millions of people to suffer and die when there is no profit in helping them, then we will be forced by our collective conscience to demolish our present economic and political system and then replace it with something better.

But it goes beyond even this. The causes of inflammation are diverse. With industrialized capitalism, we are drowning in physiological and social stressors, from toxins to inequality, that constantly antagonize the body while disallowing the natural processes of healing. We need an entirely different model and paradigm to confront what is causing the worsening of health across the board: metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, & heart disease), autoimmune disorders (Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, etc), mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc), and personality disorders (BPD, NPD, etc); psychosis, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, drug addiction, and on and on. A common feature found in numerous health conditions is inflammation.

When the entire social order, from economic system to food system, is inflammatory and generally harmful to public health, what is the treatment? And even if we could find effective treatments, why would we settle for that rather than seeking cures and prevention? Why are we obsessed with symptoms, instead of going directly to the root cause of so many diseases?

* * *

Pfizer had clues its blockbuster drug could prevent Alzheimer’s. Why didn’t it tell the world?
by Christopher Rowland

A team of researchers inside Pfizer made a startling find in 2015: The company’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis therapy Enbrel, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug, appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 64 percent.

The results were from an analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims. Verifying that the drug would actually have that effect in people would require a costly clinical trial — and after several years of internal discussion, Pfizer opted against further investigation and chose not to make the data public, the company confirmed.

Researchers in the company’s division of inflammation and immunology urged Pfizer to conduct a clinical trial on thousands of patients, which they estimated would cost $80 million, to see if the signal contained in the data was real, according to an internal company document obtained by The Washington Post.

“Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said the document, a PowerPoint slide show that was prepared for review by an internal Pfizer committee in February 2018.

The company told The Post that it decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue. It deemed the likelihood of a successful clinical trial to be low. A synopsis of its statistical findings prepared for outside publication, it says, did not meet its “rigorous scientific standards.’’

Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward, company spokesman Ed Harnaga said.

Pfizer Did Not Pursue Possible Evidence of Enbrel Helping with Alzheimer’s Due to Low Chance of Clinical Success
by Mark Terry

Recently released documents indicate that Pfizer spent three years reviewing whether the science supported running a trial on Enbrel in Alzheimer’s. A PowerPoint slide from a February 2018 presentation stated, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

But the company told The Washington Post that during those three years, they felt that the drug didn’t show promise for Alzheimer’s because it doesn’t directly reach brain tissue. So, they believed that the clinical trial’s chances of success would be low. Pfizer spokesman Ed Harnaga told The Post that the only reason the company didn’t go forward was the science.

That may or may not be reasonable, but the company’s decision not to release or publish the data is taking more criticism, with many researchers arguing they should have made that data available to researchers.

“Of course they should. Why not?” Rudolph E. Tanzi, a top Alzheimer’s researcher with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In fact, in an interview with Tanzi earlier this year, he noted that more and more research is focused on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s, particularly as the amyloid-beta theory comes under fire. In Tanzi’s opinion, and there’s quite a bit of scientific research supporting it, amyloid and tangles trigger Alzheimer’s, but they’re not enough to cause dementia. But the amyloid and tangle-driven neuronal cell death eventually hits a point where the brain’s innate immune system reacts with significant levels of neuroinflammation. Tanzi told BioSpace, “Then, exponentially more cell death occurs, which leads to symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

So it seems possible that a powerful anti-inflammatory like Enbrel could have a dampening effect on the entire immune system, which might decrease Alzheimer’s risk. […]

It also seems contradictory that when so many biopharma companies are investing in artificial intelligence and data mining of real-world evidence (RWE) such as the Pfizer scientists utilized in 2015, that they would then ignore what they found.

Pfizer recognizes that it hid a drug that prevents Alzheimer’s
from The Mazatlan Post

This American media also explains in its exclusive that the role of brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease has been attracting the attention of academics after the failure of multiple experimental drugs that pointed to the accumulation of plaques in brain tissue.

“People who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s”

Thus, they recall that in 2016 researchers from the universities of Dartmouth and Harvard published an insurance claims data study , similar to the internal findings of Pfizer (for those who refused to continue investigating the possible new use of their drug) that showed a potential benefit of Enbrel.

Enbrel “shows promise as a potential treatment” For Alzheimer’s, he pointed out.” In this study, it is said that Alzheimer’s is significantly more prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a fact that was already known: people who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Also, those who were taking the Pfizer drug had a decreased risk, “explains the SEN member, who points out that there is evidence in basic research.

However, Pascual Sanchez says that […] “Of course it is a piece of interesting information [published by the Washington Post], and of course it is a line that, taking into account that others have not worked, such as amyloid, we are very interested in it.” There is strong genetic evidence and targets are being developed based on modulation of inflammation. ”

“We urgently need the pharmaceutical laboratories to bet on Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, Pfizer has strategically abandoned the line of Neurology, and has probably been one of the reasons why not bet on it, “says Sanchez.

The expert says that Alzheimer’s disease is very complex and” from pharmaceutically no Much progress has been made. The pharmaceutical companies that have bet for now have not achieved benefits because they have not taken new drugs, but increasingly we know more and we do better clinical trials. I think there are more options for us to find something that works. And the more you invest, and the more people think about this, the more likely we are to achieve it, “he says.

“We need to do more trials and probably need more complex approaches to this disease, we are realizing that we will need several treatments or different simultaneous approaches to treat the disease, there are many factors that are involved, such as amyloid, TAU protein, inflammation or even p43, probably if we focus only on one factor we will not succeed, we must have a more global vision of the problem and also of the solutions”, concludes Pascual Sánchez.

Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Michael Hiltzik

No one would say that drug companies should engage in research as a philanthropic exercise, but within the context of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer looks risk-averse. The second-biggest U.S. drug company by sales (after Johnson & Johnson), Pfizer in recent years seems to have devoted more effort to financial engineering than biomedical engineering. In 2015, for instance, it announced a $160-billion merger with Allergan, the maker of Botox. The deal was a so-called inversion, aimed transparently at cutting Pfizer’s tax bill in part by eliminating U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas.

Although the company denied that the deal was “simply… a tax transaction,” the truth emerged in 2016 when the deal was canceled; the only thing that had changed was that the U.S. Treasury had implemented new rules that all but eliminated the tax savings. So, bye-bye, Allergan.

Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.

As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year.

For comparison’s sake, Pfizer’s entire research and development budget averaged about $8 billion a year from 2014 through 2016.

Pfizer’s diversion of its tax break to shareholders parallels its behavior the last time American companies received a tax holiday on repatriated foreign earnings. That was in 2004, after corporations promised to apply their tax savings to hiring more workers and investing in their business. Instead, they laid off workers, bought back their shares, and pumped up their CEO compensation.

Pfizer brought home more than any other company in that amnesty, $35.5 billion, according to a 2007 investigation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. From 2004 through 2007, Levin reported, Pfizer bought back more than $27 billion in stock and reduced employment by 11,748 workers.

This time around, the company is again gifting its shareholders and laying off workers. Abandoning a challenging research field is a new wrinkle, however.

What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news “reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,” a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block.

Some experts recognize that the big drug companies may have been less than sturdy partners all along. “Many groups have been hoping for quick wins in the [central nervous system] space and we haven’t succeeded,” Beck of the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “so there’s some frustration from the viewpoint of management that we’re not getting the progress we need.”

He says his organization and others will still focus on the most promising pathway to a cure: Trying to understand the mechanisms of these diseases, which are still very murky. Only once those riddles are solved can drug research truly move ahead.

But as long as purely economic considerations drive drug R&D, the prospects for progress are dim. The Republicans who drafted the corporate tax cut promised that it would lead to more business investment and therefore economic growth. But as Pfizer demonstrates, all the incentives run in the opposite direction: More investment in shareholder welfare, less economic growth, and less attention to what corporations are supposed to exist for — improving people’s lives.

Profits before people: capitalists abandon Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Joe Attard

Pfizer’s announcement is an especially striking testament to the horrors of capitalism when seen in context with the damage caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. For example, the global cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia (in terms of medical care, social care and hospices) is estimated at $605 billion: equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile, the financial impact incurred for a UK citizen living with Parkinson’s disease (which affects mobility, and eventually communication) are £16,000 per year on average – factoring in assistance with cleaning, loss of income and benefits and so on. For the poorest Parkinson’s’ sufferers, professional help might be unaffordable, placing the duty of care on family members.

Pfizer pulling out of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research will shunt more of the burden of seeking treatments for these diseases on the public sector – via universities, for example. That is, as is becoming the norm, they leave the bill for research to be paid for by taxpayers, only to take over the patents for small change at a later stage. […]

The main driving force for Pfizer is cold, hard profit. Its R&D chief, Mikael Dolsten, recently told a J.P. Morgan healthcare conference that the company bases its R&D strategy on drugs with “multi-billion-dollar blockbuster potential.” These drug giants focus their attention on whatever nets the biggest windfalls with the least amount of effort, which can lead to an emphasis on manufacturing financial loopholes rather than medicines. In 2015, Pfizer acquired Allergan (the company that makes Botox) in a $160-billion merger: a move that eliminated U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas. In Britain, despite making sales of between £1.3bn and £1.8bn annually between 2001 and 2014, Pfizer paid almost no tax over the period because it announced major operating losses each year, except for a tiny profit of £9m in 2013. The company is also expected to benefit substantially from Donald Trump’s new corporate tax cut, to the tune of $5bn: 10 times more than the US government’s 2017 pledge to Alzheimer’s research, and more than half of Pfizer’s entire research and development budget from 2014 through 2016. Donald Trump has generously rewarded Pfizer’s shareholders, who have responded by slashing early development research on neurological diseases, firing hundreds of employees and continuing to inflate the cost of its products.

This should all come as no surprise. The whole medical industry has become thoroughly parasitical, making billions from ripping off state healthcare services, withholding essential medicines from Third World countries and lobbying governments to deregulate the healthcare market. Pfizer was itself hit with a record fine in 2016 after it charged the NHS £50m for an anti-epilepsy drug: up from £2m in 2013. For years Pfizer withheld fluconzale (a powerful anti-fungal agent that can be used to treat AIDS-related diseases like oral thrush and cryptococcal meningitis) from the developing world, while continuing to sell it to wealthy American and European patients. Only after provoking international outrage did it make the drug available to NGOs operating in developing countries with a greater than 1 percent prevalence of HIV/AIDS in 2001. The firm has also never been shy about using its financial clout to get its way in the political sphere, spending $25 million in 2010 alone on lobbying for healthcare deregulation in the USA. Big business and the state are connected to each other by a thousand threads. Despite Donald Trump’s promises during the primaries that he would reign in Big Pharma, his appointment of former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to replace Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary suggests otherwise.

In stark contrast to claims that free market competition fosters innovation, the private pharmaceutical industry reveals the stagnation, irrationality and base cruelty of capitalism in its state of senile decay. From Martin Shkreli’s jacking up the cost of Daraprim (a drug used in the treatment of AIDS-related conditions) from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill; to drug giants profiteering off AIDS epidemics in Africa and Asia; to Big Pharma taking public money (in the form of tendered contracts) from the NHS and stashing it in tax havens, the logic of capitalism ensures that healthy profits always take precedence over public health. Moreover, Pfizer’s actions demonstrate the sheer barbarism of allowing vast reserves of money, expertise and talent to be wasted or misdirected by private medical firms. Permitting research priorities to be dictated by market forces has resulted in pharmaceutical giants directing more attention towards lifestyle drugs targeted at the wealthy – designed to treat such tragic conditions as obesity, baldness, wrinkles and impotence. There is a multi-billion-dollar market for such products. Meanwhile, the difficult, expensive work of producing treatments for illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease is sacrificed to the bottom line.

* * *

Essentialism On the Decline

Before getting to the topic of essentialism, let me take an indirect approach. In reading about paleolithic diets and traditional foods, a recurring theme is inflammation, specifically as it relates to the health of the gut-brain network and immune system.

The paradigm change this signifies is that seemingly separate diseases with different diagnostic labels often have underlying commonalities. They share overlapping sets of causal and contributing factors, biological processes and symptoms. This is why simple dietary changes can have a profound effect on numerous health conditions. For some, the diseased state expresses as mood disorders and for others as autoimmune disorders and for still others something entirely else, but there are immense commonalities between them all. The differences have more to do with how dysbiosis and dysfunction happens to develop, where it takes hold in the body, and so what symptoms are experienced.

From a paleo diet perspective in treating both patients and her own multiple sclerosis, Terry Wahls gets at this point in a straightforward manner (p. 47): “In a very real sense, we all have the same disease because all disease begins with broken, incorrect biochemistry and disordered communication within and between our cells. […] Inside, the distinction between these autoimmune diseases is, frankly, fairly arbitrary”. In How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote (Kindle Locations 3834-3850):

“Inflammation has been a game-changer for our understanding of mental illness. For many years, scientists and clinicians held a classical view of mental illnesses like chronic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Each ailment was believed to have a biological fingerprint that distinguished it from all others. Researchers would ask essentialist questions that assume each disorder is distinct: “How does depression impact your body? How does emotion influence pain? Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” 9

“More recently, the dividing lines between these illnesses have been evaporating. People who are diagnosed with the same-named disorder may have greatly diverse symptoms— variation is the norm. At the same time, different disorders overlap: they share symptoms, they cause atrophy in the same brain regions, their sufferers exhibit low emotional granularity, and some of the same medications are prescribed as effective.

“As a result of these findings, researchers are moving away from a classical view of different illnesses with distinct essences. They instead focus on a set of common ingredients that leave people vulnerable to these various disorders, such as genetic factors, insomnia, and damage to the interoceptive network or key hubs in the brain (chapter 6). If these areas become damaged, the brain is in big trouble: depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, autism, dyslexia, chronic pain, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are all associated with hub damage. 10

“My view is that some major illnesses considered distinct and “mental” are all rooted in a chronically unbalanced body budget and unbridled inflammation. We categorize and name them as different disorders, based on context, much like we categorize and name the same bodily changes as different emotions. If I’m correct, then questions like, “Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” are no longer mysteries because, like emotions, these illnesses do not have firm boundaries in nature.”

What jumped out at me was the conventional view of disease as essentialist, and hence the related essentialism in biology and psychology.

[…]

Researchers have found that there are prospective causes to be studied. Consider proprionate, a substance discussed by Alanna Collen (10% Human, p. 83): “although propionate was an important compound in the body, it was also used as a preservative in bread products – the very foods many autistic children crave. To top it all off, clostridia species are known to produce propionate. In itself, propionate is not ‘bad’, but MacFabe began to wonder whether autistic children were getting an overdose.” This might explain why antibiotics helped many with autism, as it would have been knocking off the clostridia population that was boosting propionate. To emphasize this point, when rodents were injected with propionate, they exhibited the precise behaviors of autism and they too showed inflammation in the brain. The fact that autistics often have brain inflammation, an unhealthy condition, is strong evidence that autism shouldn’t be taken as mere neurodiversity (and, among autistics, the commonality of inflammation-related gut issues emphasizes this point).

There is no doubt that genetic determinism, like the belief in an eternal soul, can be comforting. We identify with our genes, as we inherit them and are born with them. But to speak of inflammation or propionate or whatever makes it seem like we are victims of externalities. And it means we aren’t isolated individuals to be blamed or to take credit for who we are. To return to Collen (pp. 88-89):

“In health, we like to think we are the products of our genes and experiences. Most of us credit our virtues to the hurdles we have jumped, the pits we have climbed out of, and the triumphs we have fought for. We see our underlying personalities as fixed entities – ‘I am just not a risk-taker’, or ‘I like things to be organised’ – as if these are a result of something intrinsic to us. Our achievements are down to determination, and our relationships reflect the strength of our characters. Or so we like to think.

“But what does it mean for free will and accomplishment, if we are not our own masters? What does it mean for human nature, and for our sense of self? The idea that Toxoplasma, or any other microbe inhabiting your body, might contribute to your feelings, decisions and actions, is quite bewildering. But if that’s not mind-bending enough for you, consider this: microbes are transmissible. Just as a cold virus or a bacterial throat infection can be passed from one person to another, so can the microbiota. The idea that the make-up of your microbial community might be influenced by the people you meet and the places you go lends new meaning to the idea of cultural mind-expansion. At its simplest, sharing food and toilets with other people could provide opportunity for microbial exchange, for better or worse. Whether it might be possible to pick up microbes that encourage entrepreneurship at a business school, or a thrill-seeking love of motorbiking at a race track, is anyone’s guess for now, but the idea of personality traits being passed from person to person truly is mind-expanding.”

This goes beyond the personal level, which lends a greater threat to the proposal. Our respective societies, communities, etc might be heavily influenced by environmental factors that we can’t see. A ton of research shows the tremendous impact of parasites, heavy metal toxins, food additives, farm chemicals, hormones, hormone mimics, hormone disruptors, etc. Entire regions might be shaped by even a single species of parasite, such as how higher rates of toxoplasmosis gondii in New England is directly correlated to higher rates of neuroticism (see What do we inherit? And from whom? & Uncomfortable Questions About Ideology).

Health From Generation To Generation

To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.

A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.

It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).

It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.

The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.

Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis

Fasting, for example, increases the level of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine while temporarily reducing the brains release and use of them; plus, serotonin and its precursor tryptophan are made more available to the brain. So, it allows your reserves of neurotransmitters to rebuild to higher levels. That is partly why a ketogenic diet, along with the brains efficient use of ketones, shows improvements in behavior, learning, memory, acuity, focus, vigilance, and mood (such as sense of well-being and sometimes euphoria); with specific benefits, to take a couple of examples, in cerebral blood flow and prefrontal-cortex-related cognitive functions (mental flexibility and set shifting); while also promoting stress resistance, inflammation reduction, weight loss, and metabolism, and while decreasing free radical damage, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels. Many of these are similar benefits as seen with strenuous exercise.

We know so much about this because the ketogenic diet is the only diet that has been specifically and primarily studied in terms of neurological diseases, going back to early 20th century research on epileptic seizures and autism, was shown effective for other conditions later in the century (e.g., V. A. Angelillo et al, Effects of low and high carbohydrate feedings in ambulatory patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic hypercapnia), and more recently with positive results seen in numerous other conditions (Dr. Terry Wahl’s work on multiple sclerosis, Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work on Alzheimer’s, etc). By the way, the direction of causality can also go the other way around, from brain to gut: “Studies also suggest that overwhelming systemic stress and inflammation—such as that induced via severe burn injury—can also produce characteristic acute changes in the gut microbiota within just one day of the sustained insult [15].” (Rasnik K. Singh et al, Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health). And see:

“Various afferent or efferent pathways are involved in the MGB axis. Antibiotics, environmental and infectious agents, intestinal neurotransmitters/neuromodulators, sensory vagal fibers, cytokines, essential metabolites, all convey information about the intestinal state to the CNS. Conversely, the HPA axis, the CNS regulatory areas of satiety and neuropeptides released from sensory nerve fibers affect the gut microbiota composition directly or through nutrient availability. Such interactions appear to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated such as mood disorder, autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs), attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD), multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity.” (Anastasia I. Petra et al, Gut-Microbiota-Brain Axis and Its Effect on Neuropsychiatric Disorders With Suspected Immune Dysregulation) […]

For example, a ketogenic diet modulates the levels of the microbes Akkermansia muciniphila, Lactobacillus, and Desulfovibrio (Lucille M. Yanckello, Diet Alters Gut Microbiome and Improves Brain Functions). It is the microbes that mediate the influence on both epileptic seizures and autism, such that Akkermansia is decreased in the former and increased in the latter, that is to say the ketogenic diet helps the gut regain balance no matter which direction the imabalance is. In the case of epileptic seizures, Akkermansia spurs the growth of Parabacteroides which alters neurotransmission by elevating the GABA/glutamate ratio (there is glutamate again): “the hippocampus of the microbe-protected mice had increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which silences neurons, relative to glutamate, which activates them” (Carolyn Beans, Mouse microbiome findings offer insights into why a high-fat, low-carb diet helps epileptic children), but no such effect was found in germ-free mice, that is to say with no microbiome (similar results were found in human studies: Y. Zhang, Altered gut microbiome composition in children with refractory epilepsy after ketogenic diet). Besides reducing seizures, “GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the body. Higher GABA to glutamate ratios has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety levels, lessen insomnia, reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, increase growth hormone, improve focus, and reduce systemic inflammation” (MTHFR Support, Can Eating A Ketogenic Diet Change Our Microbiome?). To throw out the other interesting mechanism, consider Desulfovibrio. Ketosis reduces its numbers and that is a good thing since it causes leakiness of the gut barrier, and what causes leakiness in one part of the body can cause it elsewhere as well such as the brain barrier. Autoimmune responses and inflammation can follow. This is why ketosis has been found beneficial for preventing and treating neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s (plus, ketones are a useful alternative fuel for Alzheimer’s since their brain cells begin starving to death for loss of the capacity to use glucose as a fuel).

All of this involves the factors that increase and reduce inflammation: “KD also increased the relative abundance of putatively beneficial gut microbiota (Akkermansia muciniphila and Lactobacillus), and reduced that of putatively pro-inflammatory taxa (Desulfovibrio and Turicibacter).” (David Ma et al, Ketogenic diet enhances neurovascular function with altered gut microbiome in young healthy mice). Besides the microbiome itself, this has immense impact on leakiness and autoimmune conditions, with this allowing inflammation to show up in numerous areas of the body, including the brain of course. Inflammation is found in conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Even without knowing this mechanism, much earlier research has long established that ketosis reduces inflammation.

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

Stephen Ilardi made two very important points.

First, depression is a disease of civilization. He spoke of research done on a hunter-gatherer tribal people. What the researcher found was that depression was almost non-existent among them. They lived a hard life and often hard deaths, but they weren’t clinically depressed. Nor did they have many of the other diseases of civilization, all of which are related to inflammation in the body.

He points out that studies have shown that depression is related to inflammation in the brain, at least partly caused by an unhealthy ratio between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3 fats. Combined with the stresses and social isolation of modern society, clinical depression has become a massive problem.

Second, clinical depression is a growing problem. Each generation has higher rates of depression than the generation before. It correctly can be called an epidemic at this point and it increases as people age. The younger generations will as they age, if the pattern holds, have 50% or more experiencing clinical depression.

This gets at an issue I continually return to. Everything is getting worse for the young generation such as poverty, economic inequality, unemployment and homelessness. My generation is the first generation do worse than their parents in the 20th century. My generation as children had poverty rates not seen since the Great Depression and had the worst child suicide rates since such things were recorded. How bad does society have to get before even children become so desperate and hopeless that they kill themselves?

Most people in the older generations never personally experienced these kinds of conditions. Because of this, they have no tangible understanding, no sympathy. They can’t see how this is a systemic problem throughout society, a problem transcending individuals and even generations.

I’ve previously discussed this a bit in terms of capitalist realism (see here and here), but I’ve never gone into much detail about this before. The analysis behind the concept of capitalist realism is based on the collective inability to imagine alternatives and hence collective inability to perceive the problems of the present system. The individual is the product and the scapegoat of capitalist realism.

Capitalist Realism and Fake Fakes

“This is where ‘we’ are now: not Harawayesque cyborgs affirming our ontological hybridity but replicant-puppets (of Capital) dreaming kitsch dreams of being restored to full humanity but “without any Gepettos or Good Fairies on the horizon”.”

~ Mark (k-punk), 2009
Honeymoon in Disneyland

* * *

“Where does that leave us? I’m not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity — to red-pill ourselves back to “reality.” What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.”

~ Max Read, 2018
How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

* * *

“In my writing I got so interested in fakes that I finally came up with the concept of fake fakes. For example, in Disneyland there are fake birds worked by electric motors which emit caws and shrieks as you pass by them. Suppose some night all of us sneaked into the park with real birds and substituted them for the artificial ones. Imagine the horror the Disneyland officials would feel when they discovered the cruel hoax. Real birds! And perhaps someday even real hippos and lions. Consternation. The park being cunningly transmuted from the unreal to the real, by sinister forces. For instance, suppose the Matterhorn turned into a genuine snow-covered mountain? What if the entire place, by a miracle of God’s power and wisdom, was changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, into something incorruptible? They would have to close down.

“In Plato’s Timaeus, God does not create the universe, as does the Christian God; He simply finds it one day. It is in a state of total chaos. God sets to work to transform the chaos into order. That idea appeals to me, and I have adapted it to fit my own intellectual needs: What if our universe started out as not quite real, a sort of illusion, as the Hindu religion teaches, and God, out of love and kindness for us, is slowly transmuting it, slowly and secretly, into something real?”

~ Philip K. Dick, 1978
How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later

A Plutocrat Criticizing Plutocrats in Defense of Plutocracy

On C-SPAN’s After Words, Koch lobbyist and Catholic conservative Matt Schlapp interviewed self-avowed elitist Tucker Carlson from Fox News. The purpose of the interview is Carlson’s new book, Ship of Fools. I don’t know much about him nor have I read his book. The only reason I watched it was because my dad cajoled me into doing so. Even though my dad strongly dislikes Carlson on his new show, he took this interview as important and to the point. I might agree.

Carlson regularly states that he isn’t that smart and he is right. His intellect is rather mundane, he offers no new insights, and he admits that he was wrong about so much of what he has believed and supported. But what makes the interview worthwhile is that, if one ignores the right-wing talking points, he expresses something resembling honesty. He poses as a humble Christian speaking the truth and, as easy as it would be to dismiss him, I’m feeling generous in taking him at face value for the moment.

Much of what he says has been said better by left-wingers for generations. Some of these criticisms are so typical of the far left that, in the Democratic Party, they are beyond the pale. The message is essentially the same as Nick Hanauer, another rich white guy, warning about the pitchforks coming for plutocrats (Hanauer once said of his fellow Democrat and former business associate, Jeff Bezos, that he’ll do the right thing when someone points a gun at his head). Carlson himself not that long ago, if he had heard someone say what he is saying now, would have called that person radical, unAmerican, and maybe evil. Instead, as a defender of capitalism, he literally called evil those CEOs who wreck their corporations and then take large bonuses.

This is drawing a line in the sand. It is the conviction that there is a moral order that trumps all else. He didn’t say that these money-mongers are psychopathic, narcissistic, or Machiavellian. Such terms have no moral punch to them. Carlson didn’t merely call something bad or wrong but evil. And he didn’t say he hated the sin but loved the sinner. No, these corrupt and selfish individuals were deemed evil, the ultimate moral judgment. When I pointed out this strong language to my dad, he said it was in line with his own Christian views.

For many conservatives and also for many establishment liberals, this is a rare moment when they might hear this message in the corporatist media, whether or not they listen. If they won’t pay attention to those who have been warning about this sad state of affairs for longer than I’ve been alive, let us hope they will finally take notice of those in positions of wealth, power, and authority when they say the exact same thing.

Tucker Carlson is basically telling the ruling elite that the game is up. The only reason he is warning his fellow plutocrats, as he states in no uncertain terms, is because he fears losing his comfortable lifestyle if the populists gain power. And his fear isn’t idle, considering that a while back protesters gathered outside of his house and chanted, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!” The natives are restless. I guess he is hoping for a plutocrat like Theodore Roosevelt to ride into power and then reign in the worst aspects of capitalism in order to prop it up for another generation or two.

Good luck with that…

What If Our Economic System Conflicts With Our Human Nature?

What if much or even all of modern advances and wonders happened in spite of capitalism, not because of it?

What if social democracy and political democracy, if a free economy and a free society is ultimately in complete opposition to everything that has come to be associated with capitalism: hyper-individualism and aggressive competition, consumer-citizenship and worker-citizenship, neoliberal exploitation and resource extraction, theft of the commons and destitution of the masses, education and healthcare disparities, high inequality and economic segregation, rigid hierarchies and permanent under class, inherited and concentrated wealth, cronyism and nepotism, plutocratic ruling elite, psychopathic corporate model, corporatism and corporatocracy, oligopolies and monopolies, fascism and inverted totalitarianism, revolving door between big gov and big biz, law and policy determined by big money lobbyists, elections determined by big money donors, etc?

What then?

Income Accelerates Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure
by Scott Santens

Studies have shown that the very existence of food stamps — just knowing they are there as an option in case of failure — increases rates of entrepreneurship. A study of a reform to the French unemployment insurance system that allowed workers to remain eligible for benefits if they started a business found that the reform resulted in more entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. In Canada, a reform was made to their maternity leave policy, where new mothers were guaranteed a job after a year of leave. A study of the results of this policy change showed a 35% increase in entrepreneurship due to women basically asking themselves, “What have I got to lose? If I fail, I’m guaranteed my paycheck back anyway.”

None of this should be surprising. The entire insurance industry exists to reduce risk. When someone is able to insure something, they are more willing to take risks. Would there be as many restaurants if there was no insurance in case of fire? Of course not. The corporation itself exists to reduce personal risk. Entrepreneurship and risk are inextricably linked. Reducing risk aversion is paramount to innovation.

Such market effects have even been observed in universal basic income experiments in Namibia and India where local markets flourished thanks to a tripling of entrepreneurs and the enabling of everyone to be a consumer with a minimum amount of buying power.

Children’s Helping Hands
Felix Warneken

Young children are also willing to put some effort into helping. Further studies showed that they continue to help over and over again, even if they have to surmount an array of obstacles to pick up a dropped object or stop playing with an interesting toy. We had to be inventive in creating distracting toys that might lower their tendency to help— flashy devices that lit up and played music; colorful boxes that jingled when you threw a toy cube into them and shot it out the other end. We decided that if we couldn’t sell the scientific community on our results, we could at least go into the toy business.

As noted, the behavior of our little subjects did not seem to be driven by the expectation of praise or material reward. In several studies, the children’s parents weren’t in the room, and thus the helping cannot be explained by their desire to look good in front of Mom. In one study, children who were offered a toy for helping were no more likely to help than those children who weren’t. In fact, material rewards can even have a detrimental effect on helping: During the initial phase of another experiment, half the children received a reward for helping and the other half did not. Subsequently, when the children again had the opportunity to help but now without a reward being offered to those in either group, the children who had been rewarded initially were less likely to help spontaneously than the children from the no-reward group. This perhaps surprising result suggests that children’s helping is intrinsically motivated rather than driven by the expectation of material reward. Apparently, if such rewards are offered, they can change children’s original motivation, causing them to help only because they expect to receive something for it.

The Case Against Rewards and Praise
A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

by Sara-Ellen Amster

Rewards kill creativity. Some twenty studies have shown that people do inferior work when they are expecting to get a reward for doing it, as compared with people doing the same task without any expectation of a reward. That effect is most pronounced when creativity is involved in the task.

Rewards undermine risk-taking. When I have been led to think of the “A” or the sticker or the dollar that I’m going to get, I do as little as I have to, using the most formulaic means at my disposal, to get through the task so I can snag the goody. I don’t play with possibilities. I don’t play hunches that might not pay off. I don’t attend to incidental stimuli that might or might not turn out to be relevant. I just go for the gold. Studies show that people who are rewarded tend to pick the easiest possible task. When the rewards are removed, we tend to prefer more challenging things to do. Everyone has seen students cut corners and ask: “Do we have to know this? Is this going to be on the test?”

But we have not all sat back to reflect on why this happens. It’s not laziness. It’s not human nature. It’s because of rewards. If the question is “Do rewards motivate students? The answer is “Absolutely. They motivate students to get rewards.” And that’s typically at the expense of creativity.

Rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. At least seventy studies have shown that people are less likely to continue working at something once the reward is no longer available, compared with people who were never promised rewards in the first place. The more I reward a child with grades, for example, the less appeal those subjects will have to the child. It is one of the most thoroughly researched findings in social psychology, yet it is virtually unknown among educational psychologists, much less teachers and parents.

Is Shame Necessary?
by Jennifer Jacquet
Kindle Locations 626-640

Some evidence from work on moral licensing disagrees with this assumption that buying green is a good first step. People who buy eco-products can apparently more easily justify subsequent greed, lying, and stealing. A 2009 study showed that participants who were exposed to green products in a computer-simulated grocery store acted more generously in experiments that followed, but that participants who actually purchased green products over conventional ones then behaved more selfishly. 7 A 2013 study confirmed suspicions about slacktivism when research showed that people who undertook token behaviors to present a positive image in front of others— things like signing a petition or wearing a bracelet or “liking” a cause— were less likely to engage with the cause in a meaningful way later than others who made token gestures that were private. 8 This research suggests that linking “green” to conspicuous consumption might be a distraction and lead to less engagement later on. If this is true, we should not be encouraged to engage with our guilt as disenfranchised consumers, capable of making a change only through our purchases, and instead encouraged to engage as citizens. Markets might even undermine norms for more serious environmental behavior. In some cases, as has been noted in Western Australia, eco-labeling fisheries may even be giving fishing interests leverage against establishing marine protected areas, where fishing would be prohibited or more heavily regulated, on the grounds that protection is not needed if the fisheries in those areas are already labeled eco-friendly. 9 The market for green products might sedate our guilt without providing the larger, serious outcomes we really desire.

Strange Contagion
by Lee Daniel Kravetz
Kindle Locations 1157-1169

Grant’s research is at the forefront of work motivation and leadership. Oddly, despite teaching in a school dominated by economists, he’s landed at a surprising place in terms of the one social contagion he grudgingly propagates. “The study of economics pushes people toward a selfish extreme,” he tells me after his class lets out. More to the point, he says, “The scholarship of economics is responsible for spreading a contagion of greed.”

The Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank has discovered many examples of this, Grant says. Consider that professors of economics give less to charity than professors in other fields. Or that students of economics are more likely to practice deception for personal gain. Then there’s the fact that students majoring in economics routinely rate greed as generally good, correct, and moral. In fact, says Grant, simply thinking about economics chips away at one’s sense of compassion for others. Studying economics also makes people become less giving and more cynical. Students who rank high in self-interest might self-select for degrees and careers in economics-related fields, but by learning about economics they wind up catching more extreme beliefs than those they possess when they first register for class. By spending time with like-minded people who believe in and act on the principle of self-interest, students of economics can become convinced that selfishness is widespread and rational. Self-interest becomes the norm. Individual players within the whole unconsciously model and catch behaviors, in turn pushing ethical standards.

Noble or savage?

From about a decade ago, in the last year of the Bush era, The Economist published the article “Noble or savage?” It is a typical piece, a rather simplistic and uninformed view, as expected. Rhetoric like this gets spun on a daily basis, but this particular example hit a nerve.

“two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year.”

That is plain fricking idiotic. Modern hunter-gatherers are under social, political, military, and environmental pressure that didn’t exist to the same degree until the modern era. Plus, they would be experiencing greater levels of pollution and introduction of new diseases that has been causing further stress and instability.

“Richard Wrangham of Harvard University says that chimpanzees and human beings are the only animals in which males engage in co-operative and systematic homicidal raids. The death rate is similar in the two species.”

Like modern hunter-gatherers, modern chimpanzees are living under unnatural conditions. The territory of chimpanzees has been severely impacted by human encroachment, environmental destruction, poaching, and violent conflict. Why would any halfway intelligent person expect anything other than dysfunctional behavior from populations of two closely related species experiencing the same dysfunctional conditions?

“Constant warfare was necessary to keep population density down to one person per square mile.”

Not necessarily. Hunter-gatherers have a lower birthrate, partly because of later puberty. Plus, they have higher infant mortality. Overpopulation is simply not much of a problem for most hunter-gatherers. They are usually able to maintain a stable population without needing warfare to decrease excess numbers. During boon times, population stress might become a problem, but that isn’t the norm.

“Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead.”

Maybe to some degree. But this would have to be proven, not claimed as empty speculation. Once past early childhood, hunter-gatherers have lifespans that are as long as and health that is superior to modern Westerners. Adult hunter-gatherers have low mortality rates, regularly living into old age with few if any of the stress-related illnesses common among WEIRD societies (low or non-existent rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, psychosis, trauma, etc).

“Notice a close parallel with the industrial revolution. When rural peasants swapped their hovels for the textile mills of Lancashire, did it feel like an improvement? The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.”

Along with being ignorant of anthropology and social science, the author is likewise ignorant of history.

Most rural peasants didn’t freely choose to leave their villages. They were evicted from their homes and communities. The commons they had rights to and depended on became privatized during the enclosure movement of early capitalism. Oftentimes, their villages were razed to the ground and the then landless peasants were forced into a refugee crisis with their only option being to head to the cities where they found overcrowding, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and starvation.

In comparison, their rural life had been a quite secure and pleasant. Barbara Ehrenreich discusses this in Dancing in the Streets. During much of feudalism, specifically earlier on, as much or more time was spent in socializing and public events (celebrations, holy days, carnival, etc) than in labor. The loss of that relatively easygoing and healthy rural life was devastating and traumatizing. This set the stage for the Peasants’ Revolt, English Civil War, and the revolutionary era. Thomas Paine saw firsthand the results of this societal and economic shift when he lived in London. It was a time of near continuous food riots, public hangings, and forced labor (either as convicts or indentured servants).

“Homo sapiens wrought havoc on many ecosystems as Homo erectus had not. There is no longer much doubt that people were the cause of the extinction of the megafauna in North America 11,000 years ago and Australia 30,000 years before that. The mammoths and giant kangaroos never stood a chance against co-ordinated ambush with stone-tipped spears and relentless pursuit by endurance runners.”

That probably had as much to do with environmental changes. There is still scholarly debate about how much of those extinctions were caused by over-hunting versus environmental stress on species. It was probably a combination of factors. After all, it was large-scale climate shifts that even made possible the migration of humans into new areas. When such climate shifts happened, ecosystems were dramatically altered and not all species were equally adaptable as their former niches disappeared. For example, neanderthals probably died because they couldn’t handle the warmer temperatures, not because they were massacred by invading homo sapiens.

“Incessant innovation is a characteristic of human beings. Agriculture, the domestication of animals and plants, must be seen in the context of this progressive change.”

That is rhetoric being used to justify an ideology. All societies and species experience change, as they are forced to adapt to changing conditions or failing that to die out. That is the natural state of earthly existence for all species. But the narrative of ‘progress’ is a particular view of change. All of evolution has not been heading toward Western Civilization, as an inevitable march of history as foreordained by God’s plan for the dominance of the white race over the beasts and savages.

“It was just another step: hunter-gatherers may have been using fire to encourage the growth of root plants in southern Africa 80,000 years ago. At 15,000 years ago people first domesticated another species—the wolf (though it was probably the wolves that took the initiative). After 12,000 years ago came crops. The internet and the mobile phone were in some vague sense almost predestined 50,000 years ago to appear eventually.”

How shockingly simpleminded! Nothing is predestined. That sounds like the old Whiggish history of Manifest Destiny. This entire article is a long argument for Western imperialism in its genocide of the natives and the stealing of their land. No one is arguing that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is or was perfect, but let’s at least acknowledge the aspects of that lifestyle that were relatively better, such as low levels of social stress and mental illness. Do we really need yet another apologia for neoliberal hegemony and modern globalization? No, we don’t.

“There is a modern moral in this story. We have been creating ecological crises for ourselves and our habitats for tens of thousands of years. We have been solving them, too.”

There might be a modern moral in this story. But it might not be the one promoted by the ruthless dominators who have willfully destroyed all alternatives. The royal ‘we’ that supposedly have been solving these problems just so happens to be the same ‘we’ that has eliminated the natives and their lifestyle, often by way of one form of death or another, from war to disease. These hunter-gatherers, as representing an alternative, may seem problematic to the ruling class of capitalist nation-states. And no doubt that problem has been solved for the endless march of capitalist ‘progress’, such as it is.

“Pessimists will point out that each solution only brings us face to face with the next crisis, optimists that no crisis has proved insoluble yet. Just as we rebounded from the extinction of the megafauna and became even more numerous by eating first rabbits then grass seeds, so in the early 20th century we faced starvation for lack of fertiliser when the population was a billion people, but can now look forward with confidence to feeding 10 billion on less land using synthetic nitrogen, genetically high-yield crops and tractors. When we eventually reverse the build-up in carbon dioxide, there will be another issue waiting for us.”

So, the vision offered by the ruling elite is endless creative destruction that pulverizes everyone and everything that gets in the way. One problem ever leading to another, an ongoing Social Darwinism that implicitly presumes Westerners will continue to be the winners and survivors. They shall consume the entire earth until there is nothing left and then they will isolate themselves in post-apocalyptic biodomes or escape to the stars following their tech-utopian fantasies.

As for the rest of us, are we supposed to be apathetically submit to their power-hungry demands and world-weary pessimism threatening that resistance is futile, that no other options remain? Are we expected to unquestioningly accept how ideological realism denies moral and radical imagination, denies our freedom to choose anything else?

* * *

Noble or Savage? Both. (Part 1) And (Part 2)
by Jason Godesky

Romantic primitivism
by Evfit

Eating the Poor

Early in their careers, the Wachowski brothers (or rather sisters) wrote a movie script about eating the rich. “The script was too disturbing,” Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski said, as quoted in a 1999 New York Times piece. “We showed it to some people in Hollywood who said: ‘This is a bad idea. I can’t make this. I’m rich.’ ” They never could find anyone to fund it and so it was never made.

What immediately occurred to me simply reversing the roles in the script make it perfectly acceptable to the moneyed interests in Hollywood. A quarter century earlier in 1973 the novel Soylent Green was made into a major movie with a well known lead actor, Charlton Heston. It received multiple awards and honors and, remaining popular, has had repeated releases in every format. At this point, it has made immense profit.

So, why is it that Hollywood is fine with portraying poor people being eaten but not rich people? Well, as one Hollywood figure explained, “I can’t make this. I’m rich.”

Hollywood is a business, but not everything is about profit. Even if a movie about eating the rich could make more money than hundreds of other movies that get made every year, the profit motive can only go so far. The rich are as or more concerned with maintaining their position in society, which means maintaining the image that the dirty masses can’t touch them, literally and metaphorically. The Wachowskis didn’t only make a movie about the rich being eaten but specifically eaten by the poor and homeless. That is a step too far in a capitalist plutocracy.

Fantasies are fine, except when they hit too close to home. Class war isn’t something we are supposed to talk about. Or rather we are only supposed to talk about it when it portrays the rich winning. Hollywood companies are fine with rich people being portrayed as evil, as long as they are also portrayed as dominant and powerful. But even making portraying the reality of plutocratic rule too starkly can be considered unacceptable.

When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal”, many criticized the eating of babies. In his defense, he pointed out that the killing of babies was what was already happening to the poor, specifically in Ireland, and he simply made it explicit. The sensitive souls in respectable society were fine with mass torture and murder. They simply didn’t want to be forced to acknowledge it. Even so, he was able to get his writing published and widely read. But if he had written a similar piece about eating the rich, he would have been censored, his career destroyed, and probably imprisonment following. Although considered in bad taste, it was acceptable for him to write about eating the poor. As true then, still true today.

In a talk, William McDonough spoke of a visit to Birkenau in Auschwitz: “I stood in the center Birkenau camp which is a mile in diameter three, miles in circumference. And I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the worst, the first signal of human intention, this was the signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself at what point is a designer standing there say wait a minute you’re asking me to do this.”

He describes how every aspect of the camp and all that supported its functioning was carefully designed by architects, engineers, and scientists. This included how humans would be processed and used, including the bodies. From slave labor in the factories to stacking the bodies, it all had to be carefully calculated and planned out. Efficiency was key. It was a modern project embodying scientific principles. Many of the chemicals still in use today were first experimented on humans in these camps.

McDonough came to the realization that this mentality applied to the modern world in general. The way we design buildings and infrastructure is toxic and self-destructive. Our society is a highly efficient killing machine that results in illness, suffering, and early death. He wasn’t being merely dramatic for effect. We see this in the increasing use of carcinogenic chemicals and the rise of cancer. The modern world is designed to be efficient and profitable, not to be sustaining of life and well being.

One might note that the greatest victims, as always, are the poor. The rich can escape the pollution of old industrial centers, distance themselves from toxic dumps, and hide away from environmental destruction. The poor, on the other hand, are trapped. In the Swiftian sense, the poor are being eaten by this system that processes and uses their life and labor to build the beautiful world of the rich. According to the Social Darwininan aspirations and capitalist realism dreams of plutocrats, that is how it should be. But you won’t find a well-funded blockbuster Hollywood movie portraying this real world dystopia in all of its gory details, much less such a movie that radically imagines an inversion of power and a reversal of victimization.

To understand how this society operates, you have to notice not only what is present but also what is missing, what is allowable and what is not.

Social Construction & Ideological Abstraction

The following passages from two books help to explain what is social construction. As society has headed in a particular direction of development, abstract thought has become increasingly dominant.

But for us modern people who take abstractions for granted, we often don’t even recognize abstractions for what they are. Many abstractions simply become reality as we know it. They are ‘looped’ into existence, as race realism, capitalist realism, etc.

Ideological abstractions become so pervasive and systemic that we lose the capacity to think outside of them. They form our reality tunnel.

This wasn’t always so. Humans used to conceive of and hence perceive the world far differently. And this shaped their sense of identity, which is hard for us to imagine.

* * *

Dynamics of Human Biocultural Diversity:
A Unified Approach

by Elisa J. Sobo
Kindle Locations 94-104)

Until now, many biocultural anthropologists have focused mainly on the ‘bio’ half of the equation, using ‘biocultural’ generically, like biology, to refer to genetic, anatomical, physiological, and related features of the human body that vary across cultural groups. The number of scholars with a more sophisticated approach is on the upswing, but they often write only for super-educated expert audiences. Accordingly, although introductory biocultural anthropology texts make some attempt to acknowledge the role of culture, most still treat culture as an external variable— as an add-on to an essentially biological system. Most fail to present a model of biocultural diversity that gives adequate weight to the cultural side of things.

Note that I said most, not all: happily, things are changing. A movement is afoot to take anthropology’s claim of holism more seriously by doing more to connect— or reconnect— perspectives from both sides of the fence. Ironically, prior to the industrial revolution and the rise of the modern university, most thinkers took a very comprehensive view of the human condition. It was only afterward that fragmented, factorial, compartmental thinking began to undermine our ability to understand ourselves and our place in— and connection with— the world. Today, the leading edge of science recognizes the links and interdependencies that such thinking keeps falsely hidden.

Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference:
Race in Early Modern Philosophy
by Justin E. H. Smith

pp. 9-10

The connection to the problem of race should be obvious: kinds of people are to no small extent administered into being, brought into existence through record keeping, census taking, and, indeed, bills of sale. A census form asks whether a citizen is “white,” and the possibility of answering this question affirmatively helps to bring into being a subkind of the human species that is by no means simply there and given, ready to be picked out, prior to the emergence of social practices such as the census. Censuses, in part, bring white people into existence, but once they are in existence they easily come to appear as if they had been there all along. This is in part what Hacking means by “looping”: human kinds, in contrast with properly natural kinds such as helium or water, come to be what they are in large part as a result of the human act of identifying them as this or that. Two millennia ago no one thought of themselves as neurotic, or straight, or white, and nothing has changed in human biology in the meantime that could explain how these categories came into being on their own. This is not to say that no one is melancholic, neurotic, straight, white, and so on, but only that how that person got to be that way cannot be accounted for in the same way as, say, how birds evolved the ability to fly, or how iron oxidizes.

In some cases, such as the diagnosis of mental illness, kinds of people are looped into existence out of a desire, successful or not, to help them. Racial categories seem to have been looped into existence, by contrast, for the facilitation of the systematic exploitation of certain groups of people by others. Again, the categories facilitate the exploitation in large part because of the way moral status flows from legal status. Why can the one man be enslaved, and the other not? Because the one belongs to the natural-seeming kind of people that is suitable for enslavement. This reasoning is tautological from the outside, yet self-evident from within. Edward Long, as we have seen, provides a vivid illustration of it in his defense of plantation labor in Jamaica. But again, categories cannot be made to stick on the slightest whim of their would-be coiner. They must build upon habits of thinking that are already somewhat in place. And this is where the history of natural science becomes crucial for understanding the history of modern racial thinking, for the latter built directly upon innovations in the former. Modern racial thinking could not have taken the form it did if it had not been able to piggyback, so to speak, on conceptual innovations in the way science was beginning to approach the diversity of the natural world, and in particular of the living world.

This much ought to be obvious: racial thinking could not have been biologized if there were no emerging science of biology. It may be worthwhile to dwell on this obvious point, however, and to see what more unexpected insights might be drawn out of it. What might not be so obvious, or what seems to be ever in need of renewed pointing out, is a point that ought to be of importance for our understanding of the differing, yet ideally parallel, scope and aims of the natural and social sciences: the emergence of racial categories, of categories of kinds of humans, may in large part be understood as an overextension of the project of biological classification that was proving so successful in the same period. We might go further, and suggest that all of the subsequent kinds of people that would emerge over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the kinds of central interest to Foucault and Hacking, amount to a further reaching still, an unprecedented, peculiarly modern ambition to make sense of the slightest variations within the human species as if these were themselves species differentia. Thus for example Foucault’s well-known argument that until the nineteenth century there was no such thing as “the homosexual,” but only people whose desires could impel them to do various things at various times. But the last two centuries have witnessed a proliferation of purportedly natural kinds of humans, a typology of “extroverts,” “depressives,” and so on, whose objects are generally spoken of as if on an ontological par with elephants and slime molds. Things were not always this way. In fact, as we will see, they were not yet this way throughout much of the early part of the period we call “modern.”

Mark Fisher’s Suicide

Mark Fisher died earlier this year. I didn’t even know about it. He wasn’t much older than me. But similarly he suffered from severe depression, having struggled with it for a long time. That is what finally got him, by way of suicide. He was an interesting writer and no doubt his depression gave an edge to his way of thinking and communicating.

His book on capitalist realism was insightful and brought difficult ideas down to ground level. He had a talent for explanation, connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar. His descriptions of capitalism in some ways fits in with Corey Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind, but with his own twist. Here is Fisher from Capitalist Realism:

“When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and re-defined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

I always appreciate writers who can connect intellectual ideas to pop culture examples. It’s one thing to call something reactionary but it’s a whole other thing to offer a clear image of what that means. That which is reactionary is also dynamically creative in that it can take in anything — not just co-opt but absorb, assimilate, and transform anything and everything it touches (or that touches it). Portraying capitalism as the Thing makes it more real within the imagination.

I just bought his latest book that also just came out this year in the US. I’ll have to prioritize reading it before all else.

In Memoriam: Mark Fisher
by Dan Hassler-Forest, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Mark Bould, Roger Luckhurst, Carl Freedman, Jeremy Gilbert

Mark Fisher’s K-punk blogs were required reading for a generation
by Simon Reynolds

Remembering Mark Fisher
by David Stubbs

“just a means to that end”

Dirty Jobs and Macro Questions
by Patrick Watson, Mauldin Economics

“Serving others is always honorable work. Every major religion teaches this. If the work itself is honorable, why don’t we honor those who do it?”

That sounds nice. The only problem is it’s total bullshit. I doubt he wants an honest answer to his question.

Our society does not value serving others and never has. If you are working some crap job serving others, our society makes it very clear that you are a loser in the game of capitalism and Social Darwinism. This is supposedly a meritocracy and so those on the bottom of society are assumed to be those without merit. That is the entire justification for our society, the story we have to believe in to maintain the social order.

“Answer: Because we would rather spend our money in other ways. When we consumers take our demand signals elsewhere, the market efficiently reduces restaurant wages to match what we’ll pay. It’s the invisible hand at work.”

There is no invisible hand, as if divine intervention were determining the Elect. No more than there is a Santa Claus. If there is a hand manipulating the system, it is most definitely visible and all too human. Get up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and I guarantee you’ll see that it isn’t Santa who is stuffing money into the pockets of the plutocrats.

We don’t have a free market, as is obvious to anyone who pays attention. What we have is a corporatist system where big government colludes with and to some degree is controlled by big business. Some go so far as to call it inverted totalitarianism.

“Jobs don’t disappear because greedy capitalists replace people with robots. Businesses turn to robots because consumers want lower prices than can be achieved with human workers.

“The robots are just a means to that end.”

Yeah, well…

The feudal rights of the commons didn’t disappear because greedy aristocrats privatized and enclosed land by having replaced serfs with slaves. Plantations turned to slaves because consumers wanted lower prices than could be achieved with free citizens.

The slaves are just a means to that end.

Okay. So, I guess that means everything is perfectly fine and morally justified. Quit your complaining. It’s the invisible hand responding to market forces that stole your job. It’s no one’s fault that, as surplus labor, you are now a worthless human and a useless eater. Progress marches on, with or without you.

This attitude is strange. It’s a fatalism built on capitalist realism, which is no better than communist realism. The attitude is that we are helpless before forces greater than us. All we can hope to do is adapt to the inevitable. But if failing that, then we better get out of the way or else get run over as we deserve.

Oddly, after all the clueless blather, the author almost comes to a decent conclusion.

“I think our twisted ideas about money, work, and education are the real problems. They’re distorting supply and demand. The root causes aren’t so much economic as cultural and psychological.”

Sort of. The problem is that people like this author hold such ideas and will defend them, no matter the costs. He isn’t suggesting we fundamentally change our thinking, just maybe tinker a bit around the edges.

Otherwise, the system itself is just fine. The real problem is the people, which is to say all those poor people complaining. Sure, the root causes are cultural and psychological. I’d add that indeed they are also economic, as all of it is inseparable. Improving the bad attitudes of poor people isn’t going to solve the systemic failure.

“This year’s US election, contentious though it was, brought important issues to the surface. Ditto events around the world, like Brexit. The economy isn’t working like we think it should. People are tired of asking questions and getting no good answers.”

That is to put it lightly. Important issues were brought to the surface, in the way that magma is brought to the surface when a volcano erupts. Just wait until that volcano really blows its top, turns the sky black with smoke, blocks out the sun, covers the land in ash, and sends the population fleeing in all directions. Then questions and answers will be moot.

“I don’t have all the answers. I suspect no one person does. But the answers are out there, and we won’t find them unless we look for them.”

At least, he is admitting this much. After writing all that, he states he doesn’t actually have all the answers. Yet, as an economic analyst writing for a investment newsletter, it’s his job to have answers or else pretend he has answers. He belongs to the upper class intellectual elite who are supposed to be telling the rest of us losers what we should be doing.

“That awkward, uncomfortable search will be the global macro story in 2017 and probably beyond.”

Well, it will surely be continuing into the coming generations, assuming mass catastrophe and collapse doesn’t happen before then. What is up ahead on the road might not be a pothole to easily drive around. That very well might be a sinkhole that could swallow us whole. Society continues to move forward. Some think this means progress. But what are we moving towards?

Maybe we should slow down a bit and get our bearings.