DSM = The Medicalization of Human Nature

Do you disagree with authority? Well, congratulations! You’ve qualified as a victim of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and are now eligible to receive specialized treatments. This, along with many other questionable “disorders,” are included in the 2010 Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is attempting to medicalize human nature by classifying normal personality traits as specific disorders.

Every few years the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revises its Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual provides a common language and criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The legitimacy of the DSM, first published in 1952, has been frequently questioned by the medical community and the public alike, but 2010’s edition has attracted the most criticism. The most talked about new disorders include Cognitive Tempo Disorder and Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which are just fancy ways of saying indolence and adult temper tantrums.

Of course, there are individuals who seriously suffer form mental disorders and benefit greatly from treatment. However, the problem with the DSM is that it takes relatively normal behaviors and classifies them as disorders. In addition to the above mentioned, the 2010 DSM also includes Mary Whitehouse Syndrom (the thrill of being appalled by pornography), hypersexuality (the desire for multiple partners), and relational disorder (where two people struggle to get along).

But let’s go back and focus for just a minute on Cognitive Tempo Disorder. Prior to its induction into the DSM, what is now Cognitive Tempo Disorder was an informal subgroup of ADHD referred to as Sluggish Cognitive Tempo. It refers to ADHD individuals who display symptoms opposite that of classic ADHD. Those with a sluggish cognitive tempo are passive, day-dreamy, and shy. They display hypo-active behavior, both physically and mentally. In the 2010 DSM, sluggish cognitive tempo has been promoted to an official disorder, free standing from ADHD.

The issue I am having is not in the legitimacy of sluggish cognitive behaviors, because obviously there are individuals who display all of these behaviors. My issue is with its classification as a disorder. Where is the line between normal human behaviors and disorders? Some people are introverted, some are extroverted, some get angry easily, some are more disciplined than others (binge eating is now an official disorder as well). What makes life so rich and exciting is the fact that there are so many unique personalities. When did personality divergences become unnatural? When did differences become disorders? And this brings up another question: if differences are disorders, what is normal?

To the ADHD individual, his behavior is very normal. The way he thinks, behaves, and interacts with society is his only reality. That is, until you take this individual, brand him as learning disabled, and convince him (or his parents) that he needs to be fixed to become normal. By taking this individual and branding him as sick, you are segregating him from the rest of society. His unique characteristics went from personality traits to a treatable disorder. How many personalities are lost as we try to conform everyone to this standard of normal? In creating a nation of “normal” people, we may be creating a more productive society, but we won’t necessarily have a happier society.

In viewing the lists of psychological disorders, it becomes evident that this “normal” is essentially whatever allows one to function successfully in society. True, there are certain behaviors that make this more difficult for an individual. But labeling behaviors as disorders is extremely detrimental to the individual, and resultantly, to society at large.

Far from helping people to deal with their problems, the realm of psychiatry worsens these issues by shifting responsibility to an unavoidable disorder. Every person has challenges in life. Learning to overcome these challenges creates a stronger individual. If these challenges are reduced to a psychological diagnosis, the individual is never forced to take personal responsibility for his or her problems. He or she never actually learns how to deal with his or her issues. It is much easier to take pill for anxiety than to learn how to mange your life in a way to reduce it. But this is not a solution and does not address the root of the problems. Psychiatry fixes the symptoms, it does not fix the problem.

So don’t change your self; value your self, and change the external factors that are disrupting your life.

Instead of taking Ritalin, develop your creative potential.

Throw out the Xanax, and find a less stressful occupation.

Replace your morning Zoloft with a morning jog (exercise has been proven to be more effective in relieving depression than anti-depressants).

Because the truth is that there is no standard definition of normal human behavior. Differences are not disorders. Granted, these differences can pose personal or social challenges for the individual, but learning to overcome these challenges may be one of the most empowering feats this person will undergo. I would advise you to take the APA, and the whole realm of psychiatry for that matter, with a grain of salt. If we were to evaluate the mental health of this nation based on the DSM, it is likely that every person would be drugged in an attempt to create a “normal” person. And this medicalization of human nature would only serve to disempower individuals.

“Laws” of Attraction

In his psychology today blog Sax on Sex, Leonard Sax ponders the reason so many more young women identify as lesbian or bisexual than young men. According to his cited studies, roughly 15% of young women identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual while only 5% of young men do. Sax theorizes a few different causes of this. He cites Professor Roy Baumeister at Florida State University who claims that sexual attraction in women is more malleable than in men. He writes that “If a teenage girl kisses another teenage girl, for whatever reason, and she finds that she likes it – then things can happen, and things can change. If a young woman finds her soulmate, and her soulmate happens to be female, then she may begin to experience feelings she’s never felt before.” He also looks at a study that shows that pornography usage among young men is on the rise. He uses this data to suggest that men are becoming more perverted and therefore less desirable to women. This, coupled with the aforementioned reason, is one theory as to why more women are self-identified as lesbian or bi-sexual.

While this may very well be true, I think that our culture is largely responsible for this disparity in numbers. Female sexuality may be more malleable than male sexuality, but this is a product of our culture, not our biology. From an evolutionary perspective, it would be no more advantageous for women to be homosexual than it would be for men to be homosexual. Heterosexuality is required by both sexes in order to pass on genes through reproduction. Therefore, the notion that female sexuality is more malleable must have cultural roots.

These roots grow from a few places.

Firstly, the female body is much more glorified than the male body. This is found not just in American today, but in many cultures throughout many different times periods. The female body is much more frequently depicted in various forms of art. In fact, the female body itself is often referred to as a work of art. Rarely is such a thing said about the male body. This reverence is well founded, considering the female body is capable of producing and feeding another human. But regardless, the fact remains that the female body is much more worshipped in our culture, which makes it more appealing to not just men, but women as well. Women are going to be attracted to other female’s bodies to a greater degree than men will be to other male’s bodies by the simple fact that our culture worships the female body. Both genders will be affected by this.

Secondly, I propose that female sexuality is more malleable than male sexuality because we allow it to be. Female homosexuality is not just more culturally acceptable than male homosexuality, often it is actually encouraged. Male centered media outlets, such as Spike TV, often feature lesbians in a sexually erotic way. By contrast, female centered networks, like Lifetime, never depict male homosexuality in a sexually erotic way to its viewers. If we were able to isolate humans from culture, I assume the number of homosexual females would equal the number of homosexual males. Male homosexuality is not as culturally acceptable, so it is likely that homosexual men may suppress that side of their self. Biologically, there is no reason for the number of homosexual women to be 10% higher than that of men.

Junk Food Tax A Triple Win

Smokers and drinkers have long had to bear the brute of their questionable habits in the form of hefty government taxes. And with the new health care plan, those who frequent tanning salons can expect to be financially penalized for their decision to fry themselves. But what about those who nosh on aspartame, trans-fats, and MSG? Should their destructive behaviors go unnoticed by a policy that attacks the vices of their neighbors? Though it’s been hailed as undemocratic, I propose that a federal junk food tax would strengthen the existing health care system by generating revenue while simultaneously encouraging Americans make healthier food choices.

With a price tag of $147 billion per year, obesity related illnesses make up over 9% of all medical spending in the United States. It is the second cause of preventable death, killing up to 365,000 people a year. But while the leading cause of death, tobacco, is levied with a hefty tax to compensate for its financial burden on the health care system, the causes of obesity remain uncompensated. There is no public policy to address one of the main causes of obesity—the overconsumption of high-calorie, low nutrient foods. Junk foods are laden with sugar, fat, and high fructose corn syrup—all of which have been linked to obesity. Soda is particularly dangerous, and has been directly linked to obesity.

In response to this, several states have proposed imposing a soda tax to reduce consumption as well as to pay for public health programs. The most visible is New York’s. New York Mayor Bloomberg estimates that the tax cold raise $1.2 dollars to help contribute to the $7.6 the state spends annually to treat obesity- related diseases. Such a tax is expected to reduce healthcare costs by about $50 billion over 10 years and raise $150 billion in revenue over the same period. Last year, however, this proposed soda tax was rejected by legislators. In this year’s plan, the same tax is now being met with protests from bottlers and vendors. Citizen groups, such as Americans Against Food Taxes, have also spoken out against the tax increase. Opponents claim that the tax would be inefficient in improving public health and would harm business. “New Yorkers know that taxes don’t make people healthy, they cost jobs and hurt working families. This is a job-killing tax that will devastate grocers and other retailers,” said Nelson Eusebio, the chairman of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes, in a statement supported by a number of state senators.

However, a recently published study by the University of North Carolina suggests otherwise. The study followed 5,115 patients from 1985 – 2006 and found that a 10% increase in the price of soda was associated with a 7.12% decrease in calories consumed from it. The same increase in the price of pizza lead to an 11.5% drop. The team estimates that an 18% tax on these foods could cut daily intake by 56 calories per person, resulting in a weight loss of 5 pounds (2 kg) per person per year, along with reductions in the risks of most obesity-related chronic diseases. With a junk food tax, junk food will no longer have the financial advantage over health foods. Consumers will no longer be swayed solely by the low prices of junk food. A junk food tax would level the playing field.

Other countries have also recognized the value in this. Norway currently has an excess tax on sugar and chocolate, and Romania recently became the first country in the world to propose a comprehensive junk food tax. The tax applies to products that are high in fat, salt, or sugar. There has been some public outcry that the tax would disproportionately affect the poor, but the government remains firm that the overall effect of the tax will be a positive one. It is expected to lower obesity rates while generating $1.3 billion in revenue.

Other European countries are carefully watching Romania, as it could be a model for future policy. The U.S. should be observing Romania as well. Romania has a much larger lower class than America, so if this tax is successful in reducing obesity rates while not adversely affecting the lower class, it could be a model for America to follow as well.

A junk food tax would be a triple win. It would increase the likelihood that consumers would make healthier food choices. When consumers make healthier food choices, they are less likely to suffer from obesity related diseases—the same diseases that make up 9% of medical spending. And to put the icing on the cake, in this process the government would be bringing in billions of dollars which could be used to fund public health programs. It’s a win- win – win.

This land is your land, this land is my land…

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying “This is mine” and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Beware of listening to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and that the earth itself belongs to no one!” – Rousseau

According to philosopher Rousseau, human are fundamentally happy in our state of nature. We each go about pursuing our own self-interests while living peacefully with one another. No man is beholden to any other man; we are all free to use the earth because this earth belongs to all of us. Man’s departure from this peaceful place, man’s fall from grace, was due to private property. Divisions of labor resulting from property ownership required man to adopt institutions of law. This established an authoritative structure which divided people. Because of the need for private property, man is no longer free and equal.

Rousseau’s philosophy never rang true more than on my recent camping trip to Santa Cruz. The trip had started smoothly enough. A friend and I would be driving from Los Angeles to the Red Wood Forest to go backpacking for the week. After stopping in Big Sur for one night, we were just settling in for the next stretch of the drive when I received a call from another friend. She had plans pending in Santa Cruz and asked if we could amend our plans and spend the week camping in Santa Cruz instead. We agreed and decided we would spend the day searching for campsites. The city of Santa Cruz is surrounded by national parks so we expected this to be an easy task. A staff member at REI gave us a handful of suggestions and we set out. However, as we would soon learn, finding a patch of dirt to sleep on is no easy task.

Every park recommended to us was closed due to budget-cuts. We had been planning on backpacking through the Redwoods, so we were extremely prepared. We didn’t require an established campsite with utilities; access to any forest would suffice. However, the State would have none of this. Every park was closed to campers and backpackers. The few campsites that were open and available were overdeveloped and overpriced. Eight hours of driving lead to utter frustration as we realized that we had exhausted all of our options. It was now dark and needing somewhere to sleep for the night, we decided to return to a park we had seen earlier in the day. The park was officially closed for the season, but we wouldn’t be needing any traditional camping amenities so we figured it would be okay. It was not okay. At all. At the crack of dawn a park ranger approached our tent and told us that if we did not leave immediately we would be fined $250 per person. A friend’s friend had rented a spot at an established site so we decided we would join him there.

The site cost $35 per night and included space for two vehicles. The people already there had brought one car, so mine would be the second. The next morning I awoke to a notice on my car that informed me that if I didn’t pay for my vehicle by 9am I would be cited. Rolling out of your tent (after being awoken by the chattering of a jack hammer) only to drive to a ranger station to pay an unwarranted fee is not the most relaxing camping experience. I was further frustrated because I did not understand the origin of this fee since we were allowed two vehicles per site. Well, as the ranger would inform me, the “two vehicles” refer to one car and one camper-trailer/RV. More than one car would be charged an additional fee. Had I been trekking around the country in a motor home I would be off the hook, but my fuel-efficient low-emission Honda Civic requires additional fees. It is policies like these that support the “America” the rest of the world scoffs at.

Attempting to “own” land is the first injustice. Land ownership is largely contingent upon financial wealth, so a system of government which protects private property largely favors those in the top economic bracket. This alone exemplifies the relationship between private property and inequality. The government, by its very nature, is an authoritative structure. With its executive, judicial, and legislative powers, our representative democracy is an entire system of hierarchical powers. While it is intended to reflect the interests of the people, the great irony in our representative democracy is that it actually negates the liberty of these people it is serving. Far from leading to greater equality and freedom, our government structures society in such a way to allow inequality to flourish. The desire for private property had lead to the creation of a system which protects this property, and in this process personal liberty is sacrificed.

Any land that is not owned by an individual is owned by the government, and this brings up the second injustice of private property. State parks are public land. By not allowing me to be in the park, the State is exercising control of the land. But I pay taxes to the States. These taxes go towards supporting programs. I am willing to pay the State taxes because I expect to see the benefits of it. And usually I do. We have clean roads and a functioning education system. However, those same tax dollars also go to the maintenance of public land, so it is only fair that I would get to enjoy this land as well. The government is a structure, but it is a structure representing the interests of the people. If the State owns a park, then by default, I own that park. If we on private property, then we should at least get to enjoy the property that we do pay for- that is, public land. Forbidding one to use the land that one pays for may be a greater threat to liberty than the emergence of private property in the first place.

Respect Your Body; Expect A Change

In an ideal Lockian world, our government would be motivated solely by the desire to protect property and ensure liberty. Government organizations would execute their respective duties with only the public’s interest in mind. Unfortunately though, the nature of our economic system interferes with this. The best interest of the public is often silenced to the advantage of major corporations. The pursuit of capital has fostered a system where the very institutions that were designed to protect us, also protect the interests of these major corporations.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to our health. We’ve come to expect the government, via the FDA and USDA, to set the standard for safe and healthy products. We’ve placed such faith in the government’s ability to regulate our food and drugs that we often fail to take any personal responsibility. We assume that the government is better equipped to regulate what we put in our bodies than we are. This might hold some merit if government agencies worked solely to the benefit of the public, but these agencies have a variety of clients. They are obligated to fulfill the interest of not just the American people, but also famers, food manufacturers, and the pharmaceutical industry. The result of these conflicting interests is a citizenry whose health rests in the hands of profit driven industries. It is only by redefining our political expectations and regaining respect for our bodies that we will be able to reclaim our individual health, which will result in a healthy citizenry and a strong nation.

Healthcare is a business, and as with any business, its primary goal is to profit. Businesses do not profit if no one is in need of their services. The more people who are healthy, the less revenue the healthcare industry will receive. The healthcare industry does not want a healthy citizenry because they would go out of business. So instead of fixing the root of the problem, our entire system revolves around fixing the symptoms. By primarily dealing with symptoms, the industry guarantees the continued demand for their services.

The evidence for this is overwhelming. It is impossible to turn on the television and not see an ad for a new pill that promises to make you happier, healthier, and thinner. But be warned, this drug is not for everyone, including those with a family history of high blood pressure or strokes, as this drug may increase these risks in some users. Also keep in mind that rare, but serious side effects may occur. Of course, this is all explained as you see a man and his wife, walking down the beach laughing. The ad usually begins with a brief intro about, “if diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough….” but then stops at that. Self-interest, as manifested in the pursuit of capital, drives our economy. As a result of this, we have a healthcare system that favors revenue generating solutions for those in charge. Diet and lifestyle changes don’t profit major corporations. Pills do. In recent years, there has been more of a push by health advocacy groups to educate consumers on healthy choices. But with a multibillion dollar budget, the pharmaceutical industry is not a force to be reckoned with.

The Vioxx scandal illustrates the degree to which the industry is willing to sacrifice public health for the sake of profit. In 2004, Merck, the producer of arthritis drug Vioxx, voluntarily withdrew the drug from the market after it was proven that the drug increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This proof came in the form of 100,000 deaths, and 10,000 lawsuits. Investigations for the lawsuits revealed some disturbing information: Merck knew that the drug posed certain cardiovascular risks prior to its release, but chose not to disclose that information to the public. This was revealed by an internal memo that was found during investigations. Consumers felt betrayed, not just by Merck, but by the FDA’s failure to protect the public from this catastrophe.

We have put so much faith in the government’s role as regulator of our health, that we rarely question it. If a drug is passed by the FDA, we assume it’s safe and it would be in our best interest to take this drug. We assume that the government agencies responsible for overseeing the safety of these drugs have our best interest in mind. We don’t think about the billions spent by the industry on TV commercials and print media. Or the $12 billion dedicated to handing out samples and employing a sales force to influence doctors to promote specifically branded drugs. Nor do we consider the 1,200 lobbyists the industry employees, 40 of which are former members of Congress. We don’t consider that in 2009 the pharmaceutical and health products industry’s federal lobbying expenditures reached $266.8 million, outpacing all other business industries and special interests areas in 2009. Such enormous sums of money aren’t spent at disposal. The industry is willing to put out so much money because it expects to get it back through the sale of products. Products can only be sold once they’ve been approved by the FDA. The industry may have to buy their support, but it is support nonetheless.

When Vioxx was removed from the market, David Graham, Associate Director of Science and Medicine in the Office of Drug Safety, testified before the Senate about Vioxx’s safety concerns. At the end of his testimony, he asserted that the policies within the FDA were insufficient to protect the public from drugs which carry unacceptable risks, saying “I would argue that the FDA, as currently configured, is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx. We are virtually defenseless.” Shortly after this testimony highly acclaimed health guru Gary Null sent his lead investigator and director of operations, Manette Loudon, to Washington, D.C. to interview Graham. The interview revealed disturbing facts about the internal workings of the FDA. The full interview is well worth reading and can be found here. But for the purposes of this paper, consider the following segment:

Loudon: On November 23, 2004 (during the) PBS Online News Hour Program, you were quoted as making the following statement: “I would argue that the FDA as currently configured is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx. Simply put, FDA and the Center for Drug Evaluation Research (CDER) are broken.” Since you’ve made that statement, has anything changed within the FDA to fix what’s broken and, if not, how serious is the problem that we’re dealing with here?

Dr. Graham: Since November, when I appeared before the Senate Finance Committee and announced to the world that the FDA was incapable of protecting America from unsafe drugs or from another Vioxx, very little has changed on the surface and substantively nothing has changed.

Dr. Graham: The structural problems that exist within the FDA, where the people who approve the drugs are also the ones who oversee the post marketing regulation of the drug, remain unchanged. The people who approve a drug when they see that there is a safety problem with it are very reluctant to do anything about it because it will reflect badly on them. They continue to let the damage occur. America is just as at risk now as it was in November, as it was two years ago, and as it was five years ago.

Loudon: In that same PBS program, you were also quoted saying, “The organizational structure within the CDER is currently geared towards the review and approval of new drugs. When a serious safety issue arises at post marketing, the immediate reaction is almost always one of denial, rejection and heat. They approved the drugs, so there can’t possibly be anything wrong with it. This is an inherent conflict of interest.”
Based on what you’re saying it appears that the FDA is responsible for protecting the interests of pharmaceutical companies and not the American people. Do you believe the FDA can protect the public from dangerous drugs?

Dr. Graham: As currently configured, the FDA is not able to adequately protect the American public. It’s more interested in protecting the interests of industry. It views industry as its client, and the client is someone whose interest you represent. Unfortunately, that is the way the FDA is currently structured.
Within the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, about 80 percent of the resources are geared towards the approval of new drugs and 20 percent is for everything else. Drug safety is about 5 percent. The “gorilla in the living room” is new drugs and approval. Congress has not only created that structure, they have also worsened that structure through the PDUFA, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, by which drug companies pay money to the FDA so they will review and approve its drug. So you have that conflict as well.”

As stated by Graham, the FDA is “more interested in protecting the interests of the industry. It views industry as its client, and the client is someone whose interest you represent.” This relationship is intensified by the dual-roles of many members of the FDA. Ten of the 32 FDA drug advisers whose total votes favored the controversial painkillers Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx had financial ties to the industry. According to public records and disclosures in medical journals, the 10 advisors had recently consulted with the drugs’ makers.
It should now be painfully clear that citizens can not expect government institutions to provide products that ensure a long and healthy life. It is vital that consumers use common sense and take responsibility for their bodies instead of relying on Big Brother to provide for them. However, political corruption is not limited to the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal policy on farming, agriculture, and food. As a government agency, its task is to regulate these areas so that consumers don’t need to worry about food safety. This is great in theory, and we’ve come to expect the USDA to provide us with a variety of safe, “healthy,” food choices. But again, we’re faced with the situation where the regulatory agencies are controlled by the very industries they are regulating.

Take, for example, the cash crop corn. Corn is easy to grow and can be manipulated for a variety of food purposes (maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, etc.). As explained in the documentary Food, Inc., food mogul Tyson lobbied Congress to get subsides on corn. With corn subsidies, corn is now produced at below the price of production. Since meat animals are fed corn, this significantly reduces the price of meat in America. However, the over-abundance of corn has had negative social results. Because corn is so cheap, food manufacturers are using corn products as food additives. High fructose corn syrup is particularly dangerous. It is the number one source of calories consumed in America, and it has been linked to obesity and diabetes. But the health risks extend beyond just the overconsumption of calories (which, by the way, is very easy to do since high fructose corn syrup paralyzes the “I’m full” switch in your brain). High fructose corn syrup is not natural and interferes with your body’s ability to secrete insulin and metabolize fat. However, because it is so cheap it is used in literally thousands of processed foods. Processed foods seriously damage your health, but yet they are the most affordable foods on the market. This is possible because of government subsidies on major cash crops. These government subsidies are the result of billions of dollars spent on lobbying efforts by major food corporations. And as is the case with the pharmaceutical industry, the interests of the food industry are often tied to government agencies. Under the Bush administration, the chief of staff of the USDA was the former chief lobbyist to the beef industry. The head of the FDA was former executive vice president of the food processing association (this, and other information about food manufacturing can be found in the documentary Food, Inc).

Everything we eat affects our being. When you eat a cheeseburger, it doesn’t just pass through you. Your body uses that food to give you energy, rejuvenate (or destroy) your cells, and create new blood. What we eat, drink, pop, or inject becomes a part of who we are. We have been relying on social institutions to dictate the methods for achieving lifelong health. But we have been wrong. We can not depend on a system whose interests are vested in the financial gains of its members to provide us with adequate health care. As long as there is money to be made from sick people, corporations will continue to promote this state. As long as members of the USDA have financial investments in the food industry, policies will favor the financial gains of the industry over the health of the consumer. We need to redefine our political expectations to address the root of the problem. The FDA and USDA are currently acting as the middle man between the consumer and the industry. And right now, the favor is in the industry. We can not change this; but we can change our expectations. We need consider these agencies as performing the bare minimum, rather than the maximum. Instead of expecting the FDA and USDA to guide us to healthy living, we need to take actions which support the change we would like to see. Reforming the system may seem like a daunting task, but I believe it is possible.

Education is the first step. Our public schools provide little, if any, heath education. The food pyramid is a pathetic excuse for a food guide, as it makes no distinction between processed refined grains (think Wonder Bread), and whole grains. When grains are refined, the bran is removed. This contains an abundance of nutrients and is the main source of fiber. Without the bran, refined grains are instantly converted into sugar by the body. Whole grains contain fiber and a huge array of nutrients. However, I think it is fair to say that most consumers don’t differentiate between refined grains and whole grains. A basic understanding of nutrition is vital if we hope to reclaim our health from the industries controlling it. One needs to understand the properties of foods and their interaction with the body if one is expected to make healthy food choices. Implementing a national health education program in public schools would go a long way in creating a healthy citizenry. Lifelong habits are formed during teenage years, so this would be the most effective time to present health education to the public. A citizenry who is properly educated about food choices will result in a healthier citizenry. A healthy citizenry will be less dependant on synthetic drugs to keep them “healthy.” Of course, a healthy diet won’t solve all of the nation’s woes, and there will still be a need for prescription drugs; but with education the power will be in the hands of the people, not the industry.

The massive budget of the food and drug industries has secured them a cozy place in government policy. As citizens, there is little we can do to change that. We need to stop expecting the government to provide us with healthy options. It is not likely to happen. A far more practical approach would be demand our government provide us with the tools necessary to make informed decisions about our health. Health education would help level the playing field, while still adhering to the rules of the game. However, a public health education program is not just going to appear. As citizens it is appropriate, and vital, that we take an active role in implementing this. Despite the corruption, we do still live in a representative democracy, and the government is still going to receptive to the demands of the people. So write to your senator or call your representative; stop being a victim of the system; take back your liberty. Your body is your first form of property. The government’s job is to protect your liberty and property. Make them make it happen.


Berenson, Alex, Harris Gardiner, Barry Meier, and Andrew Pollack. “Despite Warnings, Drug Giant Took Long Path to Vioxx Recall.” The New York Times 14 Nov 2004.

Mercola, Joseph. “More Vioxx Coverups Float to the Top” Dr. Mercola 7 July 2005

Mercola, Joseph. “Secrets of the FDA Revealed by Top Inside Doctor.” Dr. Mercola 13 July 2005

Levinthal, David. “Federal Lobbying Climbs in 2009 as Federal Lawmakers Execute Aggressive Congressional Agenda.” Capital Eye Blog 12 Feb 2010

Graham, David. “Testimony of David J. Graham, MD, MPH.” 18 Nov 2004

Loudon, Manette. “The FDA Exposed: An Interview with Dr. David Graham, the Vioxx Whistleblower.” 30 Aug 2005

Gardiner Harris, and Alex Berenson. “FDA Painkiller Panel Advisors Lined to Pharmaceutical Firms: 10 members worked as paid consultants.” San Francisco Chronicle. 25 Feb 2005

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Picture, 4 June 2009.

Mercola, Joseph. “

Eliminating the “Ladder” of Success

Blogger Stephen Mack at The New Democratic Review recently posted a cynical response to the review of a new book called The Spirit Level, which explores the social repercussions of economic inequality. The book claims that economic equality is bad for everyone and causes societal breakdowns.

Without having read the book, I would like to expand upon the reason that economic inequalities are a social time bomb. The claim that economic inequality fosters societal breakdown “by boosting insecurity and anxiety, which leads to divisive prejudice between the classes, rampant consumerism, and all manner of mental and physical suffering” really only covers the symptoms of the problem. The reason economic inequality boosts insecurity and anxiety rests in the political nature of a segregated economic system.

As set forth by Aristotle, a large upper class increases the prevalence of factions, while a large lower class increases the chances of revolt. Both factions and revolutions disrupt the government and threaten the stability of a society. Money yields political power. It is not uncommon for the interests of the upper class to be over-represented in government, and often these interests are pursued at the expense of the poor.

In turn, a large lower class threatens the stability of the upper class through the increased risk of a revolution. Economic inequality degrades a society because it is not isolated to the economic realm. It extends into the social and political realm, where is disrupts society at multiple levels.

Economic inequality further hurts society by invading upon the individual’s pursuit of his of her goals. In America we tend to characterize financial wealth as a marker of societal success. By this mentality, those at the top of the ladder are the most “successful,” and everyone is racing to the top. Economic inequality has created this specific definition of success, and in doing so it isolated those at the bottom of the ladder as failures.

I’ve always though success to be the fulfillment of personal goals. The accumulation of wealth may not be everyone’s personal goal, but in a society which values financial gains first and foremost, this accumulation inadvertently becomes a mark of social distinction. In a culture with greater economic equality, success can no longer be defined solely by the accumulation of capital. With no ladder to climb, one has the freedom to create, and live up to, one’s own definition of success. “Success” will not be tied to fulfilling cultural expectations.

The Solution: Conscious Consumption

My examination of consumer culture in my post “Consumerism is a [modern] Humanism” produced a dilemma. I don’t like the fact that I am a consumer. I don’t like the personal, social, and ecological repercussions of my consumption habits, but yet I don’t know the alternative. I am a child of this system. I don’t know how to avoid being a consumer while I am living in this culture. As a sole individual, I can not overturn the very system that produced me. I don’t have the power to beat Goliath, and if I am unable to disassociate from David, my attempts will be in vain and will only yield personal resentment. I need a new plan of action.

Rather than playing the victim role, it would be far more productive to work within the system to minimize the micro and macro effects of consumption. And, ironically enough, the most effective way to do this would be through responsible consumerism. Money itself is a form of communication. Every dollar spent works to strengthen the industry receiving it. In a culture such as our own, money speaks way louder than words. It is through the practice of consumption that we can stimulate change, as least on a physical level.

Walmart, the godfather of modern consumerism, recently began carrying organic dairy products from cows not treated with bovine growth hormones (rBGH). The products are from Stonyfield Farms, who gets their milk from Organic Valley. Organic Valley is a co-op of small family farms that sell their dairy to be processed, packaged, and distributed as yogurt. As discussed in the documentary Food Inc., Walmart’s inclusion of organic dairy was a direct response to consumer demand. Because Walmart’s customers began to demand organic dairy, Walmart began carrying it. This in turn supported the practices of organic diary farmers, whose environmental and social impact is far less than that of conventional farmers. Of course, this is still Walmart, and it should not be glamorized. This decision has hurt the business of many smaller organic diary famers who are unable to compete with the empire’s everyday low prices. It would be far more ethical to purchase dairy from family owned stores or directly from farmer’s markets. But regardless, the fact that a corporation like Walmart began to support organic farming as a response to consumer demand illustrates the power of the consumer to amend the system.

Money speaks. Corporations listen. Corporate America cannot survive in the absence of its customers. It is not necessary (nor is it practical) to boycott the entire system; rather, it is important, and far more constructive, to become a conscious consumer. Before you buy that BigMac, think of the hundreds of feedlot cows being treated as meat machines instead of animals. Think of your water supply, which is becoming increasingly tainted with factory farm runoff. Think of the local farmers who are being put out of business by this mega-corporation. Think of the thousands of immigrants working long hours in dangerous conditions to provide you with that 99 cent patty. And if nothing else, think of your body. Think of this magnificent vessel with all of its intricate parts working so harmoniously to provide a house for your being. Do you really want to pollute it with antibiotics, hormones, and flavor enhancers?

Despite my person objections, consumer culture is our reality and the most mature response is one of personal responsibility. Many of the negative byproducts of consumerism, such as economic inequality and ecological distress, can be mitigated through responsible consumption. Even the more individual effects of consumerism, mainly personal dissatisfaction, can be circumvented with conscious consumption. The first step is to really think about what you are buying. Think about how it was produced and the value it will bring to your life. In doing so, I suspect your purchases will provide you with a far greater level of satisfaction.