41 Beware of Dr. Vendedor de Aceite de Serpiente.

On my very first post in this series on my experience with cancer, the last paragraph reads:

Please don’t suggest any treatments or diets or whatever. I won’t be going to Mexico for any heroic treatments. (If and when I feel better we may go to lie on a beach though.) I’m not desperate. I won’t be buying a juicer either and I’ll continue to eat the great, wholesome mostly unprocessed food that I currently eat but my body will follow, as it must, the second law of thermodynamics. I’m okay with that.

I still feel that way. I’ve clearly decided to go the chemotherapy route so I won’t, in desperation, try on some homeopathic ‘treatment’ or ‘cure’ for the myeloma that is my curse for the rest of my life. Neither will I do anything to boost my immune system. It’s my immune system that is partly responsible for spreading my bone marrow cancer to distal regions of my body by facilitating the movement of the myeloma protein in my blood via macrophages (if I read that right). No. My immune system is fine for dealing with outside sources of infection, but it can’t do anything about preventing internal insurrection by oncogenes and the like.

Lately, I’ve had a couple of other bloggers read my posts, bloggers with agenda. Barbara Gannon has a blog called Cancer is not A Death Sentence and another is by Brian Shelley and it’s called CANCER WARRIORS. I believe both Gannon and Shelley are sincere and well-meaning. Not only that, they display a passionate belief in what they’re doing. Gannon has found alternative dietary and medicinal ways of dealing with cancer. Shelley found God. The battle metaphor is the same for both bloggers. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I am not likely to be convinced by either approach to dealing with my cancer. For one, we are all individuals with very different bodies, different genetic makeups, at different ages, with different genders, and different underlying physiological and anatomical dynamics. Cancer, although it is basically pathological mitosis, is expressed differently in each of us. What works for you in response to any given cancer at whatever stage it’s at may not work for me. Some people argue that cancer is cancer and it can be beaten no matter what. I don’t subscribe to that perspective. Some people may be misdiagnosed so it’s no big surprise when their situation improves. It was probably nothing to start with. Some cancers in certain people may go into spontaneous remission. Cancer and its various treatments are highly complex and I’ll go with science in dealing with it as much as I can. Anecdotal evidence just doesn’t cut it for me.

That said, conventional Western research science, medicine, and pharmacology are not perfect. Scientists, medical doctors, and pharmacologists are human and have human ambitions, needs, and varying moral standards. Some even cheat. Still, I think the scientific research protocols are the best way of finding out what’s going on in the world. All claims of miracle cures for cancer that I’ve run across are based on anecdotal evidence: The “I beat cancer. You can too.” type of thing. I’m not saying these claims aren’t real, only that they can’t be generalized and applied to everyone who has cancer. One problem I find difficult to deal with is the absence of ongoing scrutiny of the claims of miracle cures. I had a friend and colleague who tried everything to survive his cancer a few years ago, including juicing and trips to Mexico, but nothing worked and he died. But, again, that’s anecdotal evidence pertaining to one case only.

Of course there are huge ethical issues when doing double-blind scientific research on the effectiveness of treatment protocols. Siddhartha Mukherjee in his book The Emperor of all Maladies deals with many of the ethical issue in oncology. Recruiting people with cancer for a clinical trial, then assigning half to a treatment group and half to a placebo group is ethically charged. The placebo group is definitely at a disadvantage if the treatment works. The question then is when to switch them into treatment while still maintaining the integrity of the research project.

Nutritional studies are notoriously difficult to conduct in any kind of scientific way. This website addresses that issue and notes that some nutritional studies have been very successful, like the one finding that sailors died of scurvy because of vitamin C deficiency. But, overall, nutritional studies are notoriously difficult to carry out and are almost impossible to conduct using the standard double-blind protocol. The website ends with a statement garnered from a meeting of several nutrition researchers who find that a balanced diet is the best diet. They also note that: “Anyone who tells you it’s more complicated than that — that particular foods like kale or gluten are killing people — probably isn’t speaking from science, because, as you can see now, that science would actually be near impossible to conduct.” More on nutrition below.

Naturopathic cures and treatments.

I have no problem with naturopathy for some kinds of issues and treatments, but I have been highly sceptical of some of their diagnostic protocols, especially things like vega testing. This website debunks all kinds of naturopathic and other diagnostic protocols. The website Science Based Medicine is always a good place to check out whether or not a claim for this or that treatment is effective from a scientific perspective. Noting that here may betray my bias for science, but I have no issues with that. However, I also acknowledge that science based medicine is now being challenged more and more by what’s called evidence-based science. There are huge issues with evidence-based research, not the least of which a lot of it is funded by industry with serious conflict of interest consequences.

My interest is mainly in cancer research and treatments. This article from the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Centre provides a fair analysis of how oncologists can address patients who are reluctant to undergo chemotherapy because of the side effects. It argues that if a patient wants to go an alternative route they should still maintain contact with an oncologist who can monitor their ‘progress’.

This website called Nature Works Best highlights the research and findings of Dr. Colleen Huber, a naturopath who’s clinic offers alternative cancer treatments. I read her article detailing her work with 379 individuals with cancer. She claims a very high rate of success from 92% for the low-hanging fruit (as I call it) and as low as 29% for patients in advanced stages of certain types of cancer. She seems to have the most success with breast cancer patients who have already had surgery. It’s hard, then, to figure out where to ascribe responsibility for remission. Thirty-two of her patients died after following her protocols. She claims that many of the other ‘failures’ (deaths) are due to patients not following her advice, especially to not eat sugar, which she claims feeds cancer cells. Her table looking at each of the 379 patients is telling. I read it very carefully, and frankly I can’t see how she can boast a 92% success rate. One of the problems is that there are twenty or so varieties of breast cancer. She doesn’t tell us which or these varieties she’s actually treating. And ‘treatment’ like I said is often post-surgery.

She has had four myeloma patients and one MGUS (describing a sort-of pre-myeloma condition. She claims that one of those patients travelled a lot and eventually died of pneumonia. Another died after leaving treatment against her best advice. A third she reported in remission but now having problems (“R, then recent elevated blood labs”). This patient reported extreme fatigue with no change due to treatment. The fourth, she reported is in apparent remission (“AR Imp quickly; could not afford to continue treatment. Then recurrence; then stem cell tx. R”) So, the stem cell transplant seems to have done the trick. I can’t see how her treatments helped at all. Myeloma is incurable by all reports so it’s disingenuous to not be clear on that point in her documentation. Her table doesn’t mention the age of the patient. That’s a critical piece of information, in my mind.

Snake oil salespeople and over-the-top woo.

You could always get a coffee enema. There are clinics nearby. Read all about it! Then you can read what Science Based Medicine has to say about it. Or you can try medical marijuana as a treatment. Here’s what the American National Cancer Institute has to say about that. It suggests that there is no evidence that cannabis or any cannabinoids can treat cancer. It does note, however, that THC may be useful for advanced cancer patients in dealing with pain and issues around appetite. Alternatively, you could try an alkaline diet. See what Robert David Grimes has to say about this in a 2017 article in The Guardian. Grimes has a lot to say too about other alternative therapies too. Check out his article if you’re interested. You can always try juicing, but even the alternative of alternatives, the Oasis of Hope hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, doesn’t advocate juicing carrots: too high in sugar. To be clear, the Oasis of Hope does use chemotherapy as a treatment, but it’s much better known for alternative therapies.

What I’m not arguing here.

I’m not suggesting here that a proper diet, not smoking, drinking in moderation, etcetera are not important. They are. However, nutritional or dietary strategies for cancer treatment are largely unfounded.

I know that there are herbalists who have a strong commitment to assisting us in our drive for healthy living and I respect that. But when it comes to cancer, the Cancer Council of Victoria in Australia has assessed the contribution of herbs in cancer treatment and says:

Herbal medicines are often used to help with the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, such as lowering fatigue and improving wellbeing. Evidence shows they should be used in addition to conventional therapies, rather than as an alternative. AND

Although herbs are natural, they are not always safe. Taking the wrong dose or wrong combination or using the wrong part of the plant may cause side effects or be poisonous (toxic). Also, herbs used with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy can cause harmful interactions. All herbs should be prescribed by a qualified practitioner.

I was cautioned not to drink green tea as it counteracts the effects of bortezomib, one of the meds I’m on. There are other contraindications too. And just because indigenous people have used some plants to treat all kinds of ills, it’s probably not a good idea for us to apply indigenous strategies willy-nilly. For example, cedar tea although very high in Vitamin C can be very toxic but people are drinking it and I expect they are not always in full knowledge of its effects on the short or long term. Carolyn and I have used products from Harmonic Arts and from a local herbalist to good effect but not specifically for treating my myeloma. That said, there is ongoing promising research. There is evidence that curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, can act as a proteasome regulator, and could work with drugs like bortezomib to suppress the growth of cancer cells in some types of cancer. A report in MyelomaCrowd notes that curcumin needs to be modified to stay in the body longer if it is to be effective against cancer cell proliferation.

I’m all for caution when it comes to my cancer treatment. I’m not happy being on chemotherapy but I don’t see any alternatives out there that are trustworthy or based on more than anecdotal evidence. I think I’ll stay the course. That said, I will continue to eat well, have the odd beer, rest but also get some exercise (as much as my condition allows me to).

Stay safe out there!

37 Me, my Body and I: Part 3

It’s time to wrap up this diatribe. Like I said at the end of my second post in this series, I’ve strayed a long way from the usual content of this blog. After this post I have to reconsider my work here. I’m getting into the long stretch of road in my chemotherapy treatments. I’m getting tired and you must be getting tired of reading this stuff. The end of this part of my road is at least six months away. Things are looking good according to my lab results, but who knows. Every day brings something new which may be fodder for this blog, maybe not. Whatever. I do have to tell you about a recent weird experience I’ve been having, but that will be for my next post.

In this post, the third in the series about what will happen to ‘me’ after “I” die, I want to suggest that our conception of our selves, especially our idea that we are beings composed of mind, body and soul, is socially-constructed. In a sense though, it matters not where these ideas come from if they have a real impact on my life.

By way of an example, if I have a stroke, for instance, I may attribute it to a curse put upon me by a disgruntled recently past relative for a purported wrong that I did him. However, it’s far more likely that my stroke was brought on by a busted artery in my brain. Nonetheless, the stroke and its consequences are what they are never mind their provenance. Durkheim stated that no religion is false. By that he meant that, in my example above, the stroke is real no matter where and how we think it originated. A more contemporary sociologist who wrote extensively on religion, Peter Berger, argues that much of what we call religious behaviour and even religious thinking and hypothesizing cannot be understood by deduction or reduction. He proposes that we use induction to figure out the ‘reality’ of religious experience, that we start with how we feel and experience in real terms, in our living beings, and acknowledge those feelings as real before we attempt any kind of explanation of them. This kind of fits with Unamuno’s views, although Berger is much more prosaic than Unamuno the poet-philosopher.

The provenance of the ‘soul’ is interesting and there is much speculation about it as originating in our dreams, for instance, or during hallucinogenic experiences, but once a belief in the ‘soul’ is socially established it, it has real world consequences.

Today, I intended to address the work of Emile Durkheim and Ernest Becker with maybe a little Max Weber, Karl Marx and Norbert Elias thrown in for good measure but I’ve decided not to do that in any formal sense. I have come to accept the futility of trying to summarize very complex arguments from a number of writers and how they interconnect at least in a relatively short blog post. I’m not here to convince you that I’m right anyways.

That said, all the above characters were sociologists except for Ernest Becker and he would definitely qualify as an honorary sociologist. They all conclude that religion and all ideas concerning souls, demons, angels, gods, and various other supernatural beings originate in society (i.e., in the family, school, church, law courts, governments, etcetera) defined very broadly. However, whatever their origin, religious, metaphysical ideas have real world consequences according to these guys. That’s clear.

Before getting any further into this post, I want to tell you a little story. You might be shocked to learn that I wasn’t always the model son. Sometimes I could be downright annoying and troublesome for my mom, and she didn’t deserve any bullshit from me. But she got some anyway. I remember one time (of several) when I was particularly obnoxious and teased my poor mom relentlessly.

I said to my mom: “Ma, if you had been abandoned on a desert island as a baby and were raised by monkeys, would you still be the same person you are now.”

“Yes,” she says, “of course.”

I retorted: “But what language would you talk? Would you talk monkey talk? What things would you believe? Would you believe in God?”

She replied something along these lines: “I would believe in God and I’d be the same person I am today. I don’t know any other languages besides French and English and why would I believe anything different than I do now?”

That was my mom. She wasn’t stupid by any measure, but she was ignorant in many ways mostly because she was busy raising a pack of kids and she was way too tired to be very curious and she couldn’t read metaphysics. By her answers to my questions she demonstrated a naïveté that ran deep but that allowed her to live her life in relative contentment. If my mom was ignorant in some ways, she was very knowledgeable in others. She raised tons of children, made bread like a pro and was a dedicated member of her church (although she didn’t know much about Catholic theology beyond what was in the Sunday missal). Later in her life she took up woodworking and was good at it, that is until my dad decided to sell the house and the shop from under her. After that, she fell into dementia and never recovered. I think she lost her appetite for life at that point. I loved my mom, I really did, and I regret teasing her. That’s one of my big regrets in life.

So, what was it about my mother’s responses that is significant for me here? I guess I was shocked by her very strange idea of her personhood and her unstated notion that ‘she’ was an unchanging, unchangeable being regardless of her surroundings and upbringing. It’s plain to me and I expect to most people that everything we know we’ve learned from others, either directly from other people in our homes, schools, churches, and from books or from any number of other sources. Of course, that includes any kind of ‘spiritual’ ideas we may have as well as our sense of immortality. Elias argues that we are not the individualists we think we are. He says humans are really interdependencies and interweavings. No human ever stands alone given the richness of the sources of our ‘selves’. The language(s) we speak, our gender, our cognitive skills, intelligences, values, religious/spiritual beliefs, etcetera are all learned, that is, socially derived.

It’s clear to me that my mother denied the influence of any possible ‘foreign’ source of her personhood. Obviously, there is no way my mother could know of her Catholic God if she was raised by monkeys on a desert island. The concept of God, like of language, and table manners is learned. How would my mom learn about the Catholic God? Many societies have concepts of God or gods or some such supernatural beings. There are hundreds (and there have been thousands) of religions on the planet, each with its own unique conception of immortality and supernatural beings (if they conceive of any). Babies born into those societies learn the rules and values of their specific communities. Why would my mother not realize that her position was untenable? I would suggest that her commitment to her beliefs outweighed any sense she might have had about the logical inconsistency of her position. She was like a Trump supporter in that sense. She may have been yanking my chain, but I doubt it.

Which god do you worship (if any)? Well, if you do still worship a god, probably the one your parents do (or did). These days, however, there is a movement towards more individualistic, personal forms of spirituality, a trend which fits in nicely with capitalist morality, individualism and consumerism while allowing people to retain a belief in the immortality of the ‘soul.’ It’s also true that significant numbers of people are now defaulting to atheism or agnosticism in greater numbers than ever before, a movement also compatible with capitalist morality. There is still a great deal of intergenerational retention going on today even if there are obvious exceptions. So the frontier mentality of rugged individualism and fending for yourself is still a thing in the Twenty-first Century. Of course, as individuals, we can be creative, and come up with new ideas and ways of doing things but we always do so using materials, processes and relationships that already exist. How else could it happen?

The truth is, we, none of us, can conceive of anything absolutely new under the sun. Everything we invent, think about, or imagine has roots in our interactions and interdependencies with other people via our social relations, past and present. The present is always built on the past. Inventions are generally new conceptions of how to use and combine already existing technologies or ideas. That means that new religious denominations or churches are invariably modifications on past ones. How many variations on Christianity are there? Lots…I haven’t counted them. Which one is the ‘true’ variant?

As I note above, one perspective all the writers and thinkers I mention above have in common is that they all agree that religion and our ideas of personhood originate in society as does the belief in immortality. Durkheim, for example, argues that the concept of God is actually a personification of society, a personification that can then be used to judge the behaviour of adherents still living. Elias in his book What is Sociology? builds a conception of individual/societal interaction by using a metaphor of a card game. In his metaphor, a card game is happening with four or five players. The game has rules, of course, to which all players must adhere. Then, one person decides to leave the game and another person joins in. That change of players does not affect the game, nor the rules. The new player must adhere to the rules like the drop-out did. The game is a metaphor for society. We are born into society, learn all the rules, then leave (die). Society goes on. The game goes on. Society, seen from this perspective, is supra-human. It exists above and independently of any individual yet has control over all individuals and circumscribes the parameters of possible ideas and decisions individuals can make. No wonder we come to think of it as divine.

Because society is supra-human and veritably invisible to most people, it’s not a stretch to understand why people ascribe to it a supernatural existence disconnected from their individual lives. Because it IS disconnected to their individual lives in a real sense. As Elias would say, the game goes on no matter what individuals do as players. To which Durkheim would add: the individual ‘soul’ is in the game but is actually a piece of the collective, social SOUL. Therein lies our idea of its immortality. Society exists before us and after us. It’s virtually immortal. Our souls are immortal because they are a piece of the greater social SOUL.

Durkheim defines religion as: “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” (from Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1912) For Durkheim, sacred things are by definition social things and the sacredness of things can change with changing social conditions.

Ernest Becker goes much further than Durkheim when he argues that culture as a whole is sacred. For Becker there is no distinction between profane and sacred. It’s culture as a whole that promises people immortality. In fact, he argues that “Each society is a hero system that promises victory over evil and death.” (from Escape From Evil, 1975, page 124)* Of course, no society can promise such a thing. Becker writes:

But no mortal, nor even a group of as many as 700 million clean, revolutionary mortals, [in reference to China] can keep such a promise, no matter how loudly or how artfully he protests or they protest, it is not within man’s means to triumph over evil and death. For secular societies the thing is ridiculous: what can “victory” mean secularly? And for religious societies victory is part of a blind and trusting belief in another dimension of reality. Each historical society, then, is a hopeful mystification or a determined lie. (EFE, page 124)

Marx would have agreed with Becker here but he concluded that religion was the opium of the people, a salve to soothe the savage treatment that most people received under capitalism (as one might find depicted by Charles Dickens.) He found that religious beliefs were instrumental in mollifying the masses and having them accept class inequality under capitalism. Weber also recognized the class basis of religion although his definition of class was not the same as Marx’s. Weber, in his Sociology of Religion, addresses the early rise of religious behaviour in human interaction with drastic natural events like floods, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, etcetera, the ‘soul’ in its various iterations and manifestations, and ritual. He argues that the forms of gods varies depending on natural and social conditions.

In conclusion, I just want to re-emphasize the notion that according to the sociologists I mention here as well as countless other sociologists and social scientists I don’t mention, ‘society’ is the source of our beliefs about the immortality of our person by way of our ‘souls.’ There is no ‘supernatural’ teacher that teaches us our values around immortality, and any ideas we have around these notions come from notions already just laying about out there waiting to be picked up and incorporated into our world view. In other words, our ideas around the immortality of the ‘soul’ do not result from perceived connection to an immortal God or gods, but from the immortality of society.

______________________________________________________________________

*There is no substitute for reading Becker because his argument forms a cohesive whole. Pulling a quote out of his book, although provocative, is probably not helpful although I do it. I can’t help myself. If it spurs people to go read Escape From Evil so be it. Many of my early posts on this blog constitute a review of EFE. That would be a place for you to start in trying to understand his work. Just type Becker in the search box in my blog and you’ll find the relevant posts all numbered and everything or you can start here: https://rogerjgalbert.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?post_type=post&jetpack-copy=874. You can then work your way through the archives on my blog site.

Durkheim (Elementary Forms of Religious Life) and Weber (The Sociology of Religion) both have sections of their books on the soul. Do a bit of research if you’re curious. Dr. Google is full of stuff on these guys and I’ve got all the books for local people to borrow if you’re interested. Elias is great. His book The Civilizing Process is well worth the read.

THC and CBD: My Personal Experience.

So, I’ve had chronic pain for decades, at least since the early 1990s. I use acetaminophen regularly, sometimes resorting to T3s and even hydromorphone (oral morphine) on occasions where the pain and discomfort were (are) extreme. I can’t take ibuprofen because I have only one kidney (my left one was removed because of cancer in 2002) although it works the best for me. The other day, as a tribute to our silliness, Carolyn and I went canoeing on Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park. Such a beautiful place, but the wind can come up very strongly. We knew it could do that, but we blithely went out in the canoe anyway, and surely enough we got caught in a very snotty windstorm. We had to paddle at ramming speed for quite a while. My 72 year old body protested on every stroke. A couple of days later things came to a head and I had excruciating pain in my back because of a severe muscle strain (probably a tear, but who’s quibbling). So now I had acute pain competing with my chronic pain for attention. Both were winning at this stage. Enter CBD and THC.

There are lots of websites extolling the virtues of CBD and THC for the treatment of chronic pain, arthritis included. Here is one example from Medical News Today. WebMD is what I judge to be a fairly reliable source of internet-based medical information. Like this article in WebMD argues, consulting a physician is always important before using CBD as a medicine.

Great, so in the interests of attempting to alleviate some of my chronic pain, and being desperate, I decided to try using CBD and THC. To that end I had an MD ( a locum in my medical clinic) refer me to a group of health care professionals (physicians, nurses and therapists) at a clinic not far from my home. I figured I’d be a test subject although I know very well that a one person study is not a study at all. I was called shortly thereafter to a consultation with a physician who has experience with using CBD and THC medicinally. I was prescribed the use of CBD daily for chronic pain and THC at night to help me sleep through the night. On the physician’s recommendation I bought a 40 MG vial of CBD and a 40 MG vial of THC from what they said was a reputable manufacturer. So far, I’ve found that the manufacturer has been very careful to sell me only what I have a prescription for. The physician I saw prepared for me a sheet of instructions for taking CBD and THC. Since then, I’ve had regular calls from the clinic inquiring as to my experience with the products. I completed my first course of using CBD and THC a while back and have recently picked up my second prescription.

I really hoped that CBD and THC would work for me. T3s are fine, but harsh on the stomach. The THC is fine. It gets me stoned to some extent so I tried to take it only at nighttime. Doing what I do in my daily life, I can’t be stoned all the time. I need a clear(ish) head. I have enough trouble with brain fog as it is because of my immune disease. I don’t want to add to it with meds that don’t work all that well. I don’t think CBD worked for me at all, ever. I kept giving it a shot paying very close attention to my symptoms but I felt no improvement.

After I injured myself canoeing, I saw an MD again. I still had a few T3s left so I wasn’t too concerned. Well, the T3s ran out really fast. At one point when my pain was pushing 9.5 out of 10, I took T3s, up to 4 at a time and washed that down with a ml of CBD and another of THC. I also had some alcohol to really wash it down. I was then able to sleep, but I couldn’t keep that insanity up for long. So, back to the my regular medical clinic for some more T3s.

I also went back to the other clinic, the one that prescribed the CBD and THC for me. I had a consultation with an MD there and we basically agreed that CBD was not going to work for me. Clearly, it doesn’t work for everybody. I may still try using THC, but only at bedtime, and only if I’m feeling I need it for putting me to sleep. I may cease taking it altogether.

I’m quite sad about this because I had high expectations. At the moment all I can do to keep my pain levels down is to do very little of anything. Obviously I can write, but walking is even difficult and going out to socialize is increasingly unpleasant. Damn it, I love to socialize! I still go out and do volunteer work and maybe go to a restaurant now and again, but I have to rest frequently.

I knew that CBD and THC had not been tested using double-blind studies, but I hoped they would work anyway. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t (and isn’t) the case. I sincerely hope they work for you.

People are Strange.

I haven’t written here in some time because I’m working on another writing project that’s taking up a lot of my time, plus I have a number of other gigs that are taking my attention away from here.

I’m still very much concerned with social justice issues and, for today, the nature and reliability of science. I’m a scientist (retired). I care about the nature of the scientific method and that all of us can trust the findings of science. Science education is woefully inadequate for the task at hand, which is educating the public (all of us) as to the scientific method and how critical thinking is such an essential part of it.

The article I’m sharing with you here by Dorothy Bishop is aimed at educating us to the dangers of shoddy science and the ways that are leading to more reliable and trustworthy scientific findings and publication.

That said, there’s no accounting for the reliability and integrity of journalists and reporters who, without any background in science or any sense of the impact of their reports, publish misleading and often tentative or even false scientific findings. Journalists and reporters have their own deadlines and job requirements, I understand that, but not checking basic facts is unacceptable. The report falsely linking autism with vaccinations is a case in point. The fraudulent report made for what journalists might consider good reporting, but it fed into the general public’s distrust of science and scientists.

Add to that the general ignorance and fear that drives large segments of the population and we end up with a perfect storm of ridiculousness and absurdity.

As Gwynne Dyer notes, most people are fine as individuals but get us together in groups and we can behave very badly. People are strange indeed. I don’t see the future being much different from the past in terms of how humans behave. We haven’t evolved that much in the past thirty thousand years. We’re just as collectively short-sighted and stupid as ever and I don’t see that changing any time soon. We’re still strangled cognitively by our fear of death and our longing for immortality. That pushes us to allow our amygdala to dominate our behaviour rather than our frontal cortex. Good luck, all. We’re going to need it.


Why Are You Cutting My Umbilical Cord?

I’m reading The Facts of Life by R.D. Laing from 1976. You can read more about Laing in Wikipedia, but I’m not so much interested here in his biography as in the state of him mind. He died in 1989 at the age of 62. He was a character, that’s for sure. Most of his work is highly critical of psychiatry, his chosen profession. I have and have read many of his books. He was a scientist but he assuredly dabbled in psychotropic drugs and allowed himself some very unscientific musings like this:

“I am impressed by the fact that “I” was once placenta, umbilical cord, and fetus.

Many people seem to confuse the placenta with the uterus. The placenta, amniotic sack, umbilical cord (and all the fetal “membranes”) are cellularily, biologically, physically, genetically, me. Similarly for all the rest of me I left behind in the womb, or was cut off from forever when my umbilical cord was cut.

It seems to me more than likely that many of us are suffering lasting effects from our umbilical cord being cut too soon.

Is it necessary to cut them off at all?

If one waits, it withers away “of its own accord.” What’s the harm in waiting? It has been suggested that we may lose 30 percent of the blood we would have if our cord and placenta, together with the circulatory system connected with them in us, were allowed to phase itself out naturally. Since it does do so naturally, why interfere with the natural course of events?

If all goes well, there seems to be no risk involved to the life of mother or child in not clamping and cutting the cord, at least before it has stopped pulsating.

Under such happy circumstances, not cutting the cord does not seem in the least to affect adversely the onset of breathing. In fact, I suspect that usually, in normal circumstances, breathing and the rhythm of the heart are greatly disturbed, perhaps for life, by clamping (throttling) the umbilical cord and then cutting it, while it and the placenta are still fully functionally us

                        comparable to the guillotine?

                                    strangulation?”*

So, do we sever the umbilical cord as a convenience to the medical staff present so they can get on with other duties? Why do we cut and rush the process? Was (is) there any thought given to the effects of these seemingly simple, harmless processes on the rest of a person’s life? Why are we so impatient? 

*From: R.D. Laing, TheFacts of Life: An Essay in Feelings, Facts, and Fantasy, 1976 Pantheon Books.

Stop with the Categorical Thinking Already!

Robert Sapolsky is a Stanford University neuroscientist. In this video he introduces a course he taught (7 years ago at least) on human behavioural biology to a freshman class. As he explains in this video, students don’t need any prerequisites for this course. They don’t need a science background. 

Although the course is called Introduction to Human Behavioural Biology, it’s about avoiding categorical thinking in science but also generally in life. 

Sapolsky is one of the most talented and entertaining lecturers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to and watching. I would have loved to have taken his course. It’s well worth watching this video in its entirety (57 minutes). The second video in the series is  1 hour and 37 minutes long, but again well worth the time to watch and re-watch. Aside from these YouTube videos Sapolsky was featured in a 2008 National Geographic video called Stress (available on YouTube) which I used in my classes. It compares olive baboons in Africa with stressed out British bureaucrats in Whitehall, London, the seat of the British civil service. 

If you want, you could watch the YouTube video now and after watching it continue reading below to see why I suggest you watch it. 

I’ve recently had to think about categorical thinking because of a comment made by a commentator to my blog who suggested, very innocently I’m sure, that it’s probable that older people get set in their ways. She wasn’t denigrating that outcome as she saw it suggesting that it’s likely natural (as I interpret her meaning). I had to think: is categorical thinking inevitable as we age and am I a ‘victim’ of categorical thinking? My answer to both questions is a categorical no! Categorical thinking is not inevitable and if there’s anything I have spent my whole career trying to avoid, it’s categorical thinking. 

At the moment I’m reading a (1999) book by Ellen Meiksins Wood called The Origin of Capitalism. Well, over the years I’ve read dozens of books on this topic from various perspectives within various disciplines. Every time I pick up a book, any book, I’m open to having my mind changed and my ideas modified. Otherwise, why read anything? In this case, Wood is presenting me with a viewpoint on the subject I haven’t seen before and I’m still wondering what to make of it. I keep shaking my head because her perspective is quite foreign to me. For one thing, she is focussed on the origins of capitalism. Capitalism is a word Marx never used. At best it refers to a political-economic system. When Marx discusses capital or the capitalist mode of production, he’s not referring to a system, but to a period in history. I have to re-read Wood to ensure that I understand her notions of capitalism and especially her contention that capitalism originated in English agrarian life. Equally strange is her use of the terms revolution and class. 

Reading Meiksins forces me to rethink categories. I will assess her perspective and incorporate it wholly or in part into my worldview or reject it based on the evidence. 

I just received another book in the mail today. It’s by R.D. Laing, one of favourite rogue psychiatrists. It was written in 1976, the year I entered grad school, and is entitled The Facts of Life.  After I’m done reading these books and watching more Robert Sapolsky on YouTube, something which always helps buoy my spirits, I’ll re-read Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. Sapolsky is really high on this guy so I have to read it again in light of the video posted above. 

Please, enjoy Sapolsky. Find his other videos on YouTube. He’s a delight!

When the internet finds out that ignorance is bliss it goes crazy!

Alright, so here’s my rant for the week. Nice clickbait title, eh?

Clickbait titles are a tease, of course. They want you to follow them because their income depends on the number of hits they get. Our natural curiosity makes us vulnerable to this tactic and we fall for it all the time. Well, I thought I’d try to get you to have a look at my blog by using this stupid title. Is it working?

The title is misleading, of course, as many clickbait titles are. However, accuracy is not as important as getting you to click on their bait. Ignorance has its cost and its consequences. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it is a necessary condition for all of us. We cannot know everything about everything. The trick is to recognize and accept that.  You can only do something about it by way of learning to be open minded, critical (as in dissecting ideas, values, political events, everything) and scientific. Even at that, you may part the curtain of ignorance slightly. You’ll never open it completely.

Ignorance is the normal human condition at this time in history, especially since the industrial revolution. We have dealt with it using division of labour and so far that’s worked fairly well. A division of labour means that we cannot know everything about everything so we depend on other people to help us out every day of our lives with tasks we have no idea of how to accomplish ourselves. All of us are entirely dependent on others just to make it through a normal day and the more we live in a technologically complex world, the more that’s true. Basically, we are completely ignorant of most of the systems we rely on just to get through each day. And we don’t sweat that. It seems normal. It’s all good.

You may be adept at some things and a klutz at others. You may be a wonderful carpenter, a great mechanic, a skilled brain surgeon or a gifted musician but you’re not likely good at carpentry, mechanics, brain surgery, and music. You’re probably not one of the very few people who know about electricity and how to get it into your home. You trust that there are people who can ensure that electricity gets to your computers, stoves, refrigerators and heaters. You probably know nothing about farming either unless you’re one of the specialists in that field. Oh, you may dabble in growing your own food, but you may not know how to grow food on a scale large enough to feed your family or your village. You depend on others to produce the food you need. With some exceptions you will never know any of them personally. It’s true that some of us get pretty handy with tools, can grow a few veggies, repair a broken piece of furniture, glue a toy back together, or sew a badge on a shirt. We can do stuff without being an expert. But for the big stuff, we must leave it to the experts. Of course, experts can and do make mistakes and we need to make them accountable for their mistakes. What we need in that case is a method to measure success or failure and agree on a system of accountability. That in itself is no easy task. Science is a method of creating models of how the world works. Science can create systems to evaluate just how accurately any idea, structure, method, process, etc., conforms to how the world works.

So, we are ignorant of most things and that’s okay. However, there are things that you will pay dearly for if you ignore them.

For instance, if you see a little warning light on the dash of your car come on that looks like an oil can with one little drip of oil coming out of the spout and you ignore it and keep driving anyway there’s a good chance that you’ll trash your engine in the process. Don’t ignore warning lights on your dash! Automakers put them there for a reason. Don’t ignore the flashing lights at a railway crossing! Sheesh. Don’t run red lights!

The fact is that we get lots of warnings in our daily lives that we must heed, some of them are metaphorical warning lights that light up in our everyday lives that we ignore at our own peril, like ignoring our diet, high blood pressure, or a cold silence emanating from our partner. This is all fine and dandy, but there’s a whole other dimension to ignorance that revolves around ideas, policies, values, and social practices. That’s where I want to go now.

I know nothing about brain surgery and I don’t think you should trust me to remove your appendix. However, I have studied society and history for decades and I would expect that you would recognize that and give me my due. At least hear me out and listen to what I have to say before thinking of what you will come up with as a rebuttal based solely on your own personal experience or hearsay.

Most of you will have no educational experience to even begin to figure out what I’m up to here any more than you can figure out what makes a computer tick. It’s not because you’re stupid (well, some people really are) it’s because you’re ignorant, unknowing. My use of the word ignorant is not pejorative or negative, it’s accurate. You are largely unknowing and don’t have the resources to really figure out the dynamics that drive your existence, not your ideas, your values, your wants and desires, your sexuality, your emotions, nor your very lives and how difficult it is to figure out what the hell is going on. You may have some idea of what drives the dynamics of your life, and in fact, ignorance is not an either or thing. It can be partial…and, of course, that can be dangerous. Every day when I went to work, I was paid to think about these things. How many people have that kind of privilege?

This may sound harsh, but it’s simply true and there’s no way around it. We simply cannot know all things we need to know to live. Furthermore, we are all blinded by our institutions, those habits that drive our actions and thoughts. They prevent us from seeing the world for what it is. Why and how does that happen? Many scholars and scientists have spent their lives sorting out these issues with a great degree of success in my mind. To figure out how the social world works, you just have to know who these scholars and scientists are and read everything they wrote (or write). Then you have to think real hard about how their works relate to each other and build on each other. Who has the time or inclination to do that? The consequence of not doing that is continued ignorance (but don’t feel bad about that). The cost of doing it, unfortunately, in my experience is social compromise and intellectual loneliness (and I can live with that).

I really do feel that I have a fairly good grip on what drives us as humans in our specific cultures and how our cultures evolve. I got this grip from careful and systematic study at university and in private research. That makes me an expert, I guess.

In my next few blog posts I’ll explore various aspects of our lives and suggest models to explain them. That’s the scientific way. You can ignore what I say, of course. You may have particular expertise in a given activity or occupation. I’m sure I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to do your job.  If you want to know something about how society works, you might want to ask me or someone else who has spent a lifetime learning about these things. We each have our areas of expertise. Mine is society and history.

I’m a student of social and cultural life in a historical context. If you have anything you are curious about, ask me. See what comes out.

My next blog is about women and the way women have been portrayed and treated over history. A lot of what I write about will revolve around misogeny, sex, reproduction, patriarchy and seduction.

The “Canadian Economy?”

Following my last post where I look at Statistic Canada’s analysis of intergenerational income in Canada without coming to any conclusions, today, I intend to make one specific point. That point also relates to a Statistics Canada post today on labour productivity in Canada.

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/161202/dq161202b-eng.htm

The point I want to make has already been make frequently enough. Harold Innis, the pre-eminent political economist who worked at the University of Toronto and who died in 1952 and his mentor and predecessor, Thorstein Veblen, the even more pre-eminent economic historian who taught in various American universities and who died in 1929 both in their own ways decried the use of statistics on a purely national basis. The transnational nature of corporate power and control has been studied carefully by scores of scholars over the decades. See in particular the work of William Carroll at UVic and the network of scholars with whom he is associated worldwide. In my own dissertation (1981) I argued following Innis that the weather doesn’t stop at national borders, nor should statistical analysis.

In an age where corporations are spread all over the globe and where a head office may be in one country, research and development in a couple of others and commodity production in several others, how does it make sense to talk about the ‘Canadian’ economy? If StatsCan wants to get with the times it needs to begin to follow corporations in the various parts of their businesses wherever they happen to be. It’s telling that the former Canadian Manufacturers’ Association is now the Canadian Manufacturers’ and Exporters Association. With the massive reductions in value-added production in Canada over the past half century, the concept of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is losing its relevance. This is even more true when we consider that the extractive industries in Canada, especially in the petroleum industries are 95% under foreign control.

There is no such thing as the Canadian economy. The sooner we accept that and change our patterns of gathering data the sooner we will get an accurate picture of the global reality of ‘the economy.’ Of course Statistics Canada is there to serve the Canadian government so it’s by it’s very nature political. Harold Innis warned decades ago that scholars should not let politicians lead them around by the nose. It seems like that’s exactly what has happened for a long time now and is still the driving force of data collection in StatsCan.

I deal with this topic in several posts. Check my archives for more.

How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps | Alternet

How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps | Alternet.

Predicable.  The author Debra Leigh Scott doesn’t mention Thorstein Veblen’s essay The Higher Learning in America published some 100 years ago but he noted then how business was taking over higher education.

Pure science is under attack everywhere, a consequence of the decline of the importance of the national state and the rise of global corporate power.  It’s anarchy out there.  Corporations don’t want to spend a dime more than they need to in order to make megaprofits so they want ‘science’ that is strictly geared to their needs.  Countries (meaning you and I) are left with supporting pure science with the uncertain knowledge that it will benefit them in any practical way.  States still do support pure science in many forms, but the pressure is on the increased importance of ‘applied’ science…which is really engineering.