Imagine waking up, one day, to the realisation you were being poisoned – slowly, but inexorably. The tell-tale signs had been there for the longest time, but you had convinced yourself that nobody had wanted you dead or debilitated so badly that they would engage in such a stealthy, patient, utterly sinister game. Indeed, you had been frequently gaslighted into believing the unmistakeable symptoms of slow, deliberate poisoning were either all in your head, or down to other seemingly more plausible explanations. You had made bad choices, were lazy or stupid, they had breezily corrected you. There was no conspiracy to poison. How would anybody organise such a massive, co-ordinated plot? How would they keep the conspiracy a secret, with so many involved?
Yet, on finally making the unarguable realisation, going back over the thousands of incidences when the trickle-slow poison was administered, you came to see, with lucid, clear understanding, that almost everyone you knew had been in on it. Some had undoubtedly done it for money. Others were unwitting accomplices, content to accept, without question, the authorities’ earnest assurances that the substance they were administering was non-toxic. Still others accepted that the poison was possibly harmful, but not in such small doses, surely.
They all denied the obvious, readily observable fact that the poison’s effects were cumulative and progressive. In the late stages, the consequences included blindness, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, loss of limbs, gangrene, infections that never healed, liver damage, kidney failure, dementia, depression, muscle seizures and wasting, severe fatigue, tooth loss, malabsorption of essential nutrients and many other quality of life diminishing afflictions. Imagine coming to understand that many people you loved the most had suffered and been taken from you, long before their time, because of this poison.
The trajectory of the toxin was deterministic. It led to every cell in your body being rendered unable to use energy, diseased and dysfunctional at a mitochondrial level. In this state, every normal action became an epic struggle between the will and failing biological machinery. Everything involved pain and exhaustion. It was ultimately fatal, with people dying prematurely of “the effects of old age”. Even in death, the true root cause was always concealed.
With your new realisation, imagine if you then discovered that this poisoning was widespread and accelerating, in the whole population. It wasn’t just you they were relaxed about poisoning; it was everyone. They were even unwittingly poisoning themselves, in ignorance. Some succumbed sooner than others, so those that were resistant were used as deceptive evidence that nobody was being poisoned.
Observing how such a monstrous thing could have been perpetrated, you learned that the government and their scientists had actually recommended you substantially base your diet on the ingestion of the poison. With your taxes, they had heavily subsidised it’s production and uptake. Doctors assured you that the poison was safe, being the most culpable of the gaslighters. An entire industrial supply chain, vast in scale, had grown up to deliver it.
Looking down the aisles of any supermarket, you saw that nearly every foodstuff on sale had the poison included, sometimes concealing the adulteration, but other times openly advertising it as a health food. Often, you could get two for one. There were entire aisles full of the stuff, so that actually avoiding taking the poison was almost impossible, especially for the unwary and those that hadn’t yet realised.
In millions of restaurants and fast food outlets, it was almost impossible to find an option on the menu that wasn’t contaminated with the poison. Convenience foods were universally tainted. Some enterprises even specialised in unashamedly dispensing it, dressing it up in attractive and delicious packages to tempt the uninformed. A lot of people were getting very rich supplying the stuff.
In tragic ignorance, parents would often feed it to their children, as a pacifying treat and expression of love, unaware of the biochemical processes they were setting in train. They’d been reassured by every authority figure they trusted. The poison was also highly addictive, causing those that tasted it to come to crave it. A physical and psychological dependency could be well established in early childhood, rotting their baby teeth down to festering, fetid stubs that had to be surgically removed.
The pharmaceutical industry had developed elaborate and expensive treatments and medications to mask the symptoms of the poison, so that the afflicted could continue to consume the deadly stuff. The mechanism of action of the poison was well understood and characterised, with a clear path, biochemically speaking, from root cause to disease effect. Triglycerides were directly correlated with the dose. But there was no money in eliminating the root cause, so doubt was cast over the simple biochemical explanation and on the scientists who espoused it. Their voices were silenced, their reputations destroyed and their warnings futile.
Manufacturers of the poison would pay for monumental art galleries, with the profits. Several times a year, marketing campaigns would, for purely sentimental reasons, exhort everybody to consume particular foodstuffs richly laden with the toxin. People who were already sick were encouraged to eat and drink more of what was killing them. Indeed, they were shamed if they refused to partake.
In an effort to increase the dosage, some companies had added the stuff to salty, aerated water, both to arrest the emetic effect of a saturated solution of the poison and to prevent your thirst from being slaked, so that you drank another glass or bottle of it, and then another. This most potent version of the poison was advertised in association with young, fit, vital, carefree, liberated people, not those in the late stages of its grip – a monstrous deception. The smartest investors in the world endorsed the company producing the drink, through large shareholdings. Profits were healthy, even if the product was not. Government secret services concealed their foreign agents by sending them into enemy territories to preside over the company’s licensed bottling plants.
Some believed that if you eliminated the most obvious form of the poison, you were safe, not realising that most other commonly available and cheap foods were converted into the poison, by your body, directly. The class of foods that either were the poison, concealed the poison or were readily converted into the poison was overwhelming.
Ironically, the worst effects of the toxin could be ameliorated and substantially reversed, within ten weeks, if all forms of it could be avoided, but that was the point. It was almost impossible to avoid. That’s why it kept on killing. Slowly. Deliberately. Uncaringly.
Imagine how your relationship to the world and everybody in it would change, once you understood that you were being poisoned and the myriad, insidious ways it had been happening. Who could you trust? Who could you tell, without them accusing you of being a conspiracy theorist? It would be a very lonely and isolating moment. You’d feel an intense sense of betrayal. How could anybody even begin to tear down this well-entrenched, institutional edifice?
The worst of it, for an artist, would be the realisation that fellow artists had enthusiastically collaborated in the artful concealment of the deception, sometimes even fooling themselves. So blinded had they been to the consequences, they had leapt at the chance to make their art in the service of death and disease. They hadn’t seen it that way, of course, but that didn’t change the truth of the matter.
In using their art to make the poison come to be seen as benign, they were just as complicit as everybody else that maintained and reinforced the deception. Other people were paying for those artistic indulgences with their very lives. No artist would like to imagine their work makes other people thoroughly sick, yet this is what they had accomplished. All of their artistry had amounted to this.
The deception, it turned out, was generations, even centuries old. Nobody had unmasked and halted it, in all that time. If anything, it was getting worse, with consumption of the toxin steadily increasing and the health of the populace steadily declining. It was almost unsustainable, as the attrition and losses mounted. No wonder productivity had grown stagnant. At the root of the economic malaise was a health crisis.
Humanity is prone to wrong-headed, bad ideas. They’re incredibly difficult to change and become tenaciously embedded into the normal run of how things are done, regardless of how harmful and maladaptive. In fact, our stubborn refusal to confront and revise them is the most maladaptive behaviour of all, with existential consequences. Mass carbohydrate toxicity, for that’s what it is, in reality, is a ready metaphor for other, even more serious human delusions. It serves as a model for how you can fool all the people, all the time.
One of the more insidious bad ideas was planted during what has been wrongly labeled “The Enlightenment”. People, in truth, are not at all like Adam Smith’s homo economicus, a narrowly self-interested agent, trucking and bartering through life. Smith had turned the human race — a species capable of wondrous caring, creativity, and conviviality — into a nasty horde of instinctive materialists: a society of hustlers. This way of thinking took hold of us and it delivered a society which is essentially amoral and asocial — one in which everybody sees everybody and everything else as a means to their own private ends.
As articles of faith, these ideas have consigned us to an endless and exhausting Hobbesian competition. For every expansion of the market, we find our social space shrunk and our natural environment spoiled. For every benefit we receive, there is a new way to pit us against each other. The costs have become too high. Mass carbohydrate poisoning, the excessive consumption of these toxins, beyond the human body’s capacity to withstand them (which turns out to occur at a much lower dose than widely acknowledged or officially sanctioned), is but one of the direct consequences of this way of thinking. The learned tendency for selfish materialism, without fear of censure, is what makes it so difficult to bring it all to a sensible halt. There’s too much money to be made in allowing the harm to continue, unabated.
A society that conceals and continues the death and debilitation, for profit, is one based on a blind faith in science; a self-serving belief in progress; rampant materialism; and a penchant for using state violence to achieve its ends. In a nutshell, it’s a habit of placing individual self-interest above the welfare of community and society.
When we replace the vital ties of kinship and community with abstract contractual relations, or when we find that the only sanctioned paths in life are that of consumer or producer, we become alienated and depressed in spirit. We open the door to blithely, if slowly, killing each other, without a pang of conscience. Abstract rights like liberty and equality turn out to be rather cold comfort. These ideas, however lofty, may not get at the most basic human wants and needs – the need to huddle, socially, to care for one another, to share our warmth and to experience the security and comfort of solidarity. We want to feel safe from harm.
We would much prefer to live in a “social economy of affections,” or, put more simply, a moral economy. Simple societies tend toward cooperation, not competition. They emphasise feeling and mutual affection. Today we are taught to believe that society doesn’t owe us a living. In simpler societies, they feel the exact opposite. Everybody owes everybody else. There are mutual ties. People don’t rely on a social contract that you can break. Instead, they have a social compact. You can’t break it. You’re born with it, and you’re delighted to be part of it, because it nurtures you. That’s very different from the Hobbesian notion that we’re all out to vanquish each other.
You have to create peaceful, nurturing conditions, or the human race can’t survive. There is no other fount of social morality itself. But, we have a bias toward centering on male aggression and taking it to represent everybody, which is unfair.
Most of our utopian visions carry on the errors and limitations born of a misguided view of human nature. That’s why communism, as it was practiced in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, projected a materialist perspective on progress, while ignoring and actively, visciously suppressing the natural human instinct for autonomy— the ability to decide for ourselves where to go and what to say and create. On the flip side, capitalism runs against our instinct to trust and take care of each other. We’re labouring under the yoke of some very bad ideas, which work to obscure better answers for society. We’re blinded.
The natural outcome of our blinkered belief in rugged individualism is conquest, violence, dehumanisation, a tendency to attack or exploit those weaker than ourselves, narcissism, mindless escapism and consumerism, bullying, assault, adherence to hierarchies of power and unquestioningly trusting in illegitimate authority figures. All of these terrible flaws are what keeps the carbohydrate overdosing going, for example. That’s how you keep a massive conspiracy active, yet hiding in plain sight – by tacit, unspoken agreement. It’s all there. There’s no master plan or organising committee. The monstrosity perpetuates organically, because we all accept its premises and assumptions as axiomatic.
Regrettably, artists have, for centuries, used their work to legitimise these terrible ideas, which deny our true human nature. They’ve actively participated in the propagation of the propaganda, programming all of us to keep taking the poisons, whether they be simple carbohydrates, or racism, misogyny and prejudice. It’s very disappointing that such brilliant, creative talents could belong to such hard-hearted, shitty specimens of humanity. We could have done better, had we chosen to.
Ultimately, we can resist and defy the institutions that deny our real humanity. Rather than violence or revolution, we can engage in evasion, passive-aggressive insolence, disobedience and exile. We don’t have to eat the poisons they foist upon us.
We had better get to it, though. To put it bluntly, our current set of ideas are not compatible with human civilisation. One of them has got to go. I know which one I’d rather eliminate. Our current politically-driven orgy of indulgence in the worst ideas possible will precipitate an inevitable existential crisis and we’ll have to choose which will be retained – civilisation or our delusional beliefs. Perhaps that moment will come sooner than we expect.
Abuse people long enough and they become brutal too, in turn. The brutalised brutalise. The cycle becomes harder to break. This is where we are. We poison ourselves, each other and our children, in myriad ways, interconnected by a belief in a body of bad ideas, rather than facing uncomfortable truths and dismantling entrenched privileges.
What we have is a distinct solidarity deficit.