Surly Almost

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Back in the 1920s, everybody knew that fillintheblank was bad for you. In the 1950s, they knew the opposite thing, that something else was good for you, say, fillinanotherblank. In some instances, we still think the same thing as they did, and in others we think something completely different. Gone are the days when a particular brand of cigarette could be marketed as a “choice of doctors,” but equally gone are the times when we knew that processing grains made more nutrition available to the eater. Whole grains are a great delivery module for getting nutritional value down to the sewer treatment plant.

But there is a difference between believing in progress, which I generally do, and believing that it is automatic, and therefore necessarily favors whatever we are all thinking now. This latter approach is not a thoughtful position, but is rather a form of generational ego-centricity. It doesn’t take much effort to believe that your beliefs are correct (Prov. 16:2). That is what makes them your beliefs, after all. What takes a lot of wisdom is to budget for the possibility that you are not correct.

Since human nature has not changed since the 20s, or the 50s, when do you think it will occur to us that we are doing the same kind of thing that they used to do, assuming certain things to be true with a knowing chuckle, and simply because we read about it in Reader’s Digest? They had their “what everybody knows,” and we have ours. Theirs are easy for us to see, and the knowing chuckle arises unbidden. Ours are impossible for us to see. They are impossible to hear about also, because whenever someone tries to point something out, they are drowned out by the shrieks.

You ask for an example? Well, okay, if you promise not to freak out. Obesity does not represent a major health crisis in America today. How’s that?

In order to sell something to people you have to create a demand for it. In order to sell billions of dollars of something to people, you have to create a huge demand for it. This has now been successfully done — with pills, with weight loss programs, with healthy food regimes, and with more pills.

We live in a time when the government assumes way too much regulatory responsibility for food and drugs, and we should recognize that this does not eliminate the idea of a free market price. It just moves the free market price from the food and drugs, where it ought to be, and creates a free market price for regulators, where it ought not to be. Anybody who thinks that you can give the FDA complete control over what you can put in your mouth, and not set up a bidding war in the food industry as a consequence, is a person who probably has a very sunny disposition, and who is routinely surprised at what people do to him. Every morning is a new day.

So my request is this. Simply allow for the possibility that our generation is a herd, just like the others, and stampedes, just like the others. Budget for the possibility that when you go to a restaurant, and you look over their “heart healthy” choices, that they are nothing of the kind. Just acknowledge that it’s possible. Maybe it is very tasty, and if so, be my guest. Whether that entree is tasty can be ascertained without twenty more years of scientific research. So just allow for the likelihood that in certain areas our generation is just as dumb as all the others.

“Man,” you may be thinking, “he’s kind of cranky this morning.” Perhaps you feel that I am blogging with the critical attitude of a timber wolf with his front paw in a trap — surly almost.

Nah — cheerful as ever. It’s kind of fun that we do this.



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