I was really conflicted over whether or not to write this post and if it would do anyone any good by putting it out into the world. It involves going deep into some of my own personal pain and expressing some unpopular views that no doubt will piss a lot of people off. I decided to go ahead and write it anyway.

Normally I don’t blog about current events, but the Isla Vista shootings and media coverage surrounding it as typified by articles like this upset me and I feel compelled to clear the air on a few topics.

Most of these articles take a tone of shock and outrage at the “entitlement” to women’s bodies and misogyny expressed in his manifesto. You can just hear people thinking that this boy wasn’t “raised right” and if only he had been taught the right values the tragedy might have been averted.

I’ve got news for you. If you think those are the real problems, you really have no idea what is going on here.

Sex drive

I made a comment on Facebook about how having an intense sexual desire that you don’t feel like you can do anything about leads down a very dark path. I analogized it to lack of food in a desolate location leading to cannibalism, because once desperation kicks in rationality goes out the window.

This angered one commenter (name not posted here for privacy) who had a “profound problem with my metaphor.”

I’ve quoted part of the response here:

Food is, according to most ethicists, a basic human right and is unquestionably a necessity of life. Sex is not. It’s a basic drive, but no one has a right to someone else’s body. It’s very much about having the right values. Cannibalism results when the only other option appears to be death. Adults with the proper values realize that death is not, in fact, on the line because other humans don’t want to hand over their love and sexual attention just because someone feels entitled to it.

No doubt you’ve heard some version of this line of reasoning before. This makes me sad. Look, no one is denying the woman’s right to choose. But are we still in such deep denial about human nature?

Of course you will not literally drop dead without sex. But being taken seriously by the opposite sex as a potential mate, and yes even “getting laid,” are fundamental to psychological well being. Lack of psychological well being may not kill you outright, but it might lead to mass murder and suicide–unquestionably far worse–which is why we’re even talking about this to begin with.

But don’t just take my word for it. If you still doubt the fundamental desire for romantic companionship please refer to every Hollywood movie ever made and every song ever written. Heck, look at your own life. It’s plainly obvious that there is no greater human obsession than finding a lover for everything that entails, and are deeply distressed when we fail to do so.

What was really going on in Elliot Rodger’s head

I think most people just have this plain wrong. They see a well-to-do kid with a crazy ass world view, hatred of women, and entitlement to their bodies. The implication is that he’s a spoiled brat and a chauvinist pig.

I freely admit that I’m about to take some free license by putting thoughts in his head, but I believe I’m right. And what follows is firmly rooted in the actual experiences of real men.

I see something completely different. I see a kid with a deep inferiority complex that probably started early on with a few negative experiences with women.

I also see a kid that probably had poor social skills and a difficult time interacting with people in general. He yearned for intimacy, but didn’t really know how to get close to people.

In the beginning he probably had good intentions. He looked out at the world and saw that so many men treat women badly. “Why?” he wondered. He told himself he wouldn’t be that kind of guy. If he had a girl that good he would treat her great. Never get mad at her, never fight, always treat her nice. And it just made sense. The jerk in the movie started out with the girl, but the nice guy always won her over in the end.

Things didn’t go so well. He’d spend months working up the courage to ask a girl out, which just made it all the more crushing when the answer was no. Despite his best to appear nice and unthreatening, he sometimes got the vague sense that they felt creeped out by him which hurt deeply.

Often he felt like he couldn’t even bribe a woman to spend an evening with him and insisted that he just wanted to buy her a free dinner.

Perhaps from time to time he got a date, but it never really went anywhere.

The situation got more desperate. While he didn’t articulate it as such, he started implicitly offering women the deal, “I’ll make you the important person in the relationship and we’ll focus on your needs, if only you’ll just love me.” While he, even if unconsciously, felt like he was making a noble gesture, the women did not see it that way. In their eyes he looked pathetic and needy. Occasionally they might have felt flattered, but it was the kind of flattery you feel about a young child who gets infatuated with you and not the kind of flattery you feel about someone who is a viable mate.

After a while he just gave up. He resigned himself to the fact that having a relationship just wasn’t in the cards and women were just off limits to him.

That’s when resentment started to fester. He knew he wasn’t a bad guy. He tried to do the right thing at every step of the way. He knew he was great boyfriend material if only they would give him a chance. He was a little socially awkward, but if they just got to know him they’d see how great he was.

He saw men around him beating their girlfriends and treating them like garbage and it infuriated him. How is it that even these low lifes can get girlfriends and I can’t?

He started to hate women. But at the same time he was a man, and let’s face it, really horny. The conflicting emotions, anger, sadness, and sexual frustration became all consuming. But there was no release. And no hope. Just the worm of growing hate twisting and twisting in his mind.

While none of us agree with what Elliot chose to do next, given this version of events it is not difficult, much less surprising, to imagine that this was a possible outcome.

Female choice

Again, no one is denying that protecting a woman’s right to choose who she is with and when is important.

However, framing the problem in terms of “misogyny” and “entitlement” is completely missing the boat.

Men are acutely aware of a woman’s power to choose. If you push most so called misogynists on it the real complaint isn’t “women shouldn’t have the right to choose,” it’s, “for the love of god why don’t you ever choose me?”

I don’t think most women really understand how much their power of choice affects men. Especially to young men just coming out of puberty and the socially awkward, women aren’t real people. They are magical creatures that have divine power over your happiness. Women stand in judgment while all you can hope for is to do your little mating dance and hope it pleases.

After you’re a bit older, have had a few relationships, and see that contrary to popular belief women are real people too, this feeling dissipates somewhat. But not even celebrities or men who are generally considered successful with women are immune from feeling this way from time to time.

If you’re a woman reading this post, I’d like to know how it changes the way you view men hearing this. Does it surprise you to hear that men feel like you have such power over them?

A call for mentoring

If we want to prevent situations like this in the future, young men need better mentorship in their teens and early 20s from men who understand what they are going through.

It can be difficult to see the young man in need beneath the outer douchebag.

But what these men need is compassion and guidance. Not people waving a finger in their face and telling them what a bad person they are and giving them some bullshit about “values.” If you’re open minded enough to understand the chain of thoughts I described earlier, you can see that the “values” argument is actually the ultimate insult to injury.

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Is GMO Inherently Evil?

by Brian on March 20, 2014

Image by Kris

Image by Kris

“GMO” is a heavily loaded term.

Is it the savior and solution to the problem of feeding 9 billion people that marketing departments at companies like Monsanto and Pioneer portray it to be? Are unsafe and unhealthy GMO foods being released onto the unsuspecting public in a mass uncontrolled experiment?

What do we really know about genetically modified organisms (GMO).

When I first started asking health-oriented people what they knew about GMO and what their main concerns were I was struck by the sheer lack of knowledge. Most people simply have no idea how it works, but just a vague sense that something creepy and unnatural is happening to food. And these were people who are otherwise very well-informed about the latest thinking in nutrition and diet.

The creep factor is not helped by listening to scientists gleefully talk about putting spider genes into goats and getting flashbacks of watching Jeff Goldblum turn into a half-man, half-fly in the movie The Fly.

Trying to get to the bottom of the seemingly simple question, “Are GMO’s safe?” feels like digging into a never ending abyss of conflicting information. In fact, it took me a year to write this post before I felt like I could really articulate a well reasoned position on GMOs based on current evidence.

Let’s pull back the curtain and look at several issues surrounding GMO.

Coming to terms, GMO vs. Hybrids

You will often see scientists and the lay people who read those scientists’ work make some version of the argument, “but ALL foods are GMO.” Farmers have been selectively breeding crops for 10,000 years or more to bring out and enhance desired genetic traits. The entire enterprise of farming was built on the edifice of GMO from day one.

For that matter, all living things that reproduce sexually are GMO because when mama and papa get together their goal is to recombine genes into offspring with novel DNA.

To me this is a bit like people who say, “but ALL food is organic because it’s all based on carbon atoms.”

While strictly speaking they are not wrong, their arguments are missing the target. For the most part people are not running out and protesting, “how dare you only breed the biggest strawberry from your field to try and make a generation of bigger strawberries!”

“Hybrid” is a term that throws some people off when they first hear it. But when you explain that this refers to, say, trying to mate a higher yielding variety of wheat with a disease-resistant variety of wheat in order to produce an offspring variety of wheat that is both high-yield and disease-resistant, most people don’t have a problem with that either.

In other words, aside from gluten sensitivity issues, objections to mama wheat and papa wheat having baby wheat are very rare. Or in a more familiar example, people are generally okay with horses and donkeys having baby mules.

“Transgenic GMOs” are where the rubber meets the road. This is when you take a gene from one species and splice it into the genome of another, usually wholly unrelated, species. This is the Franken-world of putting spider genes into goats and insecticide producing bacteria genes into corn. These types of crosses are not possible through mating in the wild and rely on laboratory intervention.

Pro-GMO people object, “Who cares where the gene came from? It’s the result that matters.”

They have a point. But is the result good or bad?

Many people still can’t let go of what they perceive to be an arbitrary distinction between hybrids and transgenics because “they are both GMOs.” But if you want to join the debate, you have to understand where the battle lines have been drawn and play with the same terms that everyone else is using.

Are there studies that show GMOs are unhealthy?

First, I have bad news for the anti-GMO crowd. There is no evidence that GMOs are categorically unhealthy.

It gets worse. There can never be any studies proving that GMOs are categorically unhealthy.

The reason is simple. Each organism is different. We have to take them all on a case-by-case basis. There is no mysterious dark GMO energy that is uniformly transferred to organisms when you manipulate their genome in a lab.

Anti-GMO people often give some argument like the body doesn’t recognize unfamiliar compounds in new foods and treats them as toxins. If this were true the human race would have been SOL a long time ago. We have regularly encountered new foods with novel compounds in our migration across the globe. The humble blueberry is a new world food. It certainly contained compounds in novel combinations that our ancestors had never seen before, but there has been no epidemic of blueberry deaths or blueberry cancers.

On the other hand, humans that first encountered and ate poison dart frogs in Central and South America probably didn’t fare so well. Perhaps the frog might even be surprised at how effective its poison was on this creature it had never seen before.

Again, everything has to be taken on a case by case basis. Simply never having encountered a particular compound before tells us almost nothing about whether or not it will be fatally toxic to us. There might be a higher probability that a novel compound will be toxic, but the probability is not 100%.

However, basically all we’ve shown here is that you can’t make a categorical statement like, “all GMOs are bad.”

On the other hand, we can say that some GMOs are bad. In fact, many strains are thrown out by GMO companies during the testing process for that very reason.

There are many reasons for legitimate concern. Epigenetics, emergent cross-talk between genes, effects on or creation of unidentified compounds. If you’ve ever attempted to make sense of the nutrition literature, it should be clear to you that we don’t have it all down pat yet.

I also hear a record scratch every time a scientist says, “All genes do are create proteins. We just insert the gene that creates the protein we want.”

Genes don’t produce proteins on a strict 1-to-1 basis. The human genome, for instance, contains 20,000 – 25,000 genes that code for about 90,000 proteins. Some genes work together and their products influence each other. In some cases, gene order also matters.

Throwing a new gene into a genome is like throwing a new boy into a classroom. He might hang out by himself and be a lone wolf just doing his thing, or he might interact with others and change the classroom dynamic a bit. Even if he does keep to himself, just by virtue of seating him between two best friends you might affect the dynamic between those two.

At the end of the day I think you have to view genetic engineering as a tool. It’s no more inherently good or evil than a hammer. It’s what you do with it that matters.

GMO as it’s practiced today

First, let’s get a couple things straight. As of this post, there are only 8 GMO crops:

  • Alfalfa
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Papaya
  • Soy
  • Sugar Beets
  • Zucchini / Yellow Summer Squash

Note that wheat is not one of them. When your friend comes back from Europe telling you how much healthier he feels because they “don’t have GMO wheat there,” you set him straight.

Secondly, there are other GMO products than just crops. Much of the insulin that diabetics take has also been derived from bacteria with an insulin producing gene spliced in. This method results in a higher purity and lower cost product than other production methods. This is a great use of GMO in my opinion.

Some of the vitamins at your “natural” health food store are also synthesized with genetically engineered bacteria in the same way.

That out of the way, I do take exception with GMO as it’s practiced in agriculture today. I think the synergy between farm policy and the large GMO seed companies like Monsanto has turned our food system into a runaway juggernaut pointed in entirely the wrong direction.

GMO products that enhance nutrition like incorporating beta carotene into “golden rice” could be of enormous benefit.

However, that’s not the road we’ve gone down. In the name of increasing crop yield, GMO companies have predominantly arrived at solutions that allow you to either:

  • put the poison in the plant, or
  • put the poison on the plant

Not particularly appetizing. And I can’t escape the feeling that products like “Roundup Ready” seeds just seem like a way of hooking farmers on purchasing a steady supply of Roundup. Stanford study notwithstanding, there’s reason to believe that pesticide use does reduce nutrient content of produce.

In combination with US farm policy and subsidies we have vast tracts of land planting GMO corn and soybeans from “fencerow to fencerow.”

Admittedly, this is one solution to feeding 9 billion people. However, it’s one heavily skewed towards a couple relatively nutrient poor foods. A diet of corn and soy may keep us alive, but it isn’t sufficient to make us thrive.

A lot of rhetoric gets passed around that this is actually the “only” way to feed 9 billion. However, that is a myopic view. The past 50 years or so of farm policy and commercial practices have pushed us a good way down this road, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way and there’s certainly nothing to say that it’s the “best” way.

Another issue I have with GMO as it’s currently practiced is that there are no publicly transparent standards for testing them. The FDA’s position is essentially, “regulate yourselves.”

No company has ever manipulated data when a billion dollar product was on the line right? I mean… Monsanto and others that produced DDT swore up and down that it was safe for humans for 30 years, but surely they would never do something like that again.

As I currently see it, I disagree with many of the products and business practices of GMO companies as they exist today, but I cannot categorically condemn GMO. If we have the ability to someday create superfoods I don’t see any reason why not to. On the other hand, the foods we have now are already pretty darn good.

What do you think? Any points I’ve not addressed? Still not convinced by any of my arguments?

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Why NOT to do 30 Day Fitness Challenges

March 13, 2014

First, let me say that I love 30 day challenges. If you can stick to a new habit for 30 days and see good results, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to maintain it into the future. So why this article? Not all 30 day challenges are created equal. Some–even those created by highly […]

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How to Eat Paleo in Korea

March 3, 2014
Thumbnail image for How to Eat Paleo in Korea

I recently moved to Seoul, South Korea with the intent of being here for at least a year. This is the story of my attempt to eat Paleo here. Bringing your healthy eating habits to another country for months or even years at a time is very challenging. I’ve been to Seoul many times before […]

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Should You Eat Anything with a Face?

January 5, 2014

Recently there was a heated debate on intelligence squared over the topic “Don’t Eat Anything With A Face.” Normally I dismiss these debates as only so much huff and puff between ideologues making oversimplified arguments based on emotional pleas rather than some semblance of facts, but this one caught my attention because it included two […]

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Genealogy 101: Rediscovering Lost Family History

October 24, 2013

What country did my ancestors come from? Were there any famous people in my family tree? Was great-great-great grandma a full blooded Cherokee? Gaining deeper insight into those that came before us gives us deeper insight into ourselves. Even if much of the time you think your ancestors are just a bunch of old dead […]

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