The first thing you need to know about me is that one of my favourite things to do is to take what is the generally accepted, conventional wisdom on any given topic and refute it. Why? Two reasons: first, I like fighting an uphill battle, and second, the conventional wisdom is often wrong. A very large percentage of what we believe is just flat-out wrong.
The laws of natural selection don’t apply to ideas; ideas don’t survive and propagate themselves on the basis of some internal merit. On the contrary, bad ideas tend to spread much faster than good ones, and this is because, as humans, we’re self-serving creatures. We tend to prefer ideas that justify whatever we happen to want at this particular moment but not necessarily ideas that reflect the truth in any objective sense.
With that in mind, let’s start debunking.
A few weeks ago, I posted a video by a clinical psychologist named Barry Schwartz who argues that too much choice – too many options – can be a bad thing. I won’t repeat his sentiments, but the crux of his arguments run as follows: too many options result in raised expectations, and when those options reach a saturation point – dozens of brands of blue jeans, hundreds of mutual funds, thousands of prospective partners on online dating sites – the expectation becomes that one of those numerous options ought to satisfy our every need.
When our choices invariably fail to live up to our lofty expectations, we become disappointed even if by all measurable standards, the choice was a good one.
I’d like to make an addendum to Schwartz’s talk. His argument seems to be predicated on the idea that we live in a society that tries to maximize choice in every possible scenario. He believes that the resulting rise in depression is correlated with this maximization of choice. He’s not wrong, but I think he left out an important piece of the puzzle.
The idea that I would like to submit for consideration is that we live in a society that only maximizes choice over frivolous matters. We are given a near unlimited amount of choice with regard to fashion, transportation, gadgetry and entertainment, but the areas of life that matter – food, medicine, education, resource management, environmental protection – are determined by political realities outside of our control. To quote the late George Carlin, “You’ve got thirty-one flavours of ice cream but only two choices for president.”
These big issues (food, medicine, etc.) represent our basic needs. Under our current social structure, we can satisfy almost any want, but satisfying our basic needs is often much more difficult than we would like it to be. This is what I believe to be the true source of the rise in depression.
Let’s look at a specific example.
he supermarket can offer just about any kind of food you want to eat: steak, eggs, pizza, salad, yogurt, lunch meat. It’s all there for you. There is no question that we enjoy a greater abundance of food than any society throughout the entirety of human history.
However, let’s say that you’ve been educated on the dangers of a high-sugar diet, and you’re trying to limit your sugar intake. Can you do it, given the foods available at your local grocery store? You see, sugar is what the medical community refers to as a chronic toxin. That means that ingesting it one time won’t do any lasting harm. But repeated exposure to sucrose over the course of one lifetime can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, liver damage, depression and, oh yes… obesity. Sugar is the number one cause of obesity in North America.
Now, there is an enormous amount of science that goes into this which is to big for us to cover here. But if you want to check my facts, here is a link to another talk by Dr. Robert Lustig MD. This one’s over an hour long, but if you can spare the time, I highly recommend it.
Acknowledging that a high-sucrose diet is bad for you, let’s ask ourselves what foods contain added sugar. Some of these will be in the form of corn syrup which contains fructose. So let’s clear something up right now. There is no chemical difference between fructose corn and ordinary sugar in terms of their effects on the body. If you watch Dr. Lustig’s talk, you’ll learn that a fructose molecule is basically two sucrose molecules pasted together. That’s all.
And the offenders are:
Jelly / Jam
Ketchup / Mustard / Barbecue Sauce / Mayonnaise.
Breakfast cereal (Including healthier choices like Grape Nuts).
Sweetened drinks of any kind. (Juice, soda, etc).
Macaroni and Cheese
Now, I’ll add a caveat that not every single brand of the above food types uses corn syrup or sugar. But most do.
How many of you are honestly thinking that I just eliminated 75% of your shopping list? You might be asking yourself “How in God’s name can I cut down on sugar if it’s in everything?” That’s the point; you can’t. Yes, technically you could restrict yourself to locally-grown fruits and vegetables, organic meats and no processed foods of any kind, but those methods are both time consuming and. for many people, prohibitively expensive.
This is where food companies will usually respond with something like, “Well, we have to put sugar in these things or they won’t taste good.” Well, yes… Because you’ve trained us all to crave sugar, and now things taste wrong without it. Our ancestors never had this problem. You see, another interesting fact is that sugar is about as addictive as alcohol.
Many of us have been turned into sugar addicts without our consent and – in many cases – without our knowledge.
With that in mind, I return to my original question. How much choice do we really have over the things that matter?
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!