“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we ‘ kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok ‘ But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride.” Bill Hicks RIP
Red Pill And Blue Pill Choice
The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 Film ‘The Matrix’ centres upon the concept that the modern world may not be all we perceive it to be. The underlying philosophical scenario is the brains in vats thought experiment which asks us to suspend our present realities and question in every way what we think we know to be true. In the defining moment in the film, which has come to be known as the red pill-blue pill choice, the character Morpheus (played by Lawrence Fishburne) gives the lead character Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) a stark choice.
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill-the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill-you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” The Matrix, Wachowski Brothers, 1999.
Whilst the modern world is not the matrix, how we perceive it and our role in it for the most part does not solely come from within. Knowledge may be instilled, beliefs may be indoctrinated and reasoning may be deficient.
Marketing and narratives
“Marketing is a widely used term to describe the means of communication between the company and the consumer audience. Marketing is the adaptation of the commercial activities and use of institutions’ with a purpose to induce behavioral change on a short term or permanent basis” Wikipedia
Marketing involves the manipulation of mass behaviour. Marketing may be more widespread in the modern world than many of us realise. For the history of our species, humans have sought to realise their biopsychosocial needs and goals and consequently have needed to interact with their fellow man and the world around them. For several hundred years, the printed word was the principal way to disseminate ‘knowledge’ (‘facts’). During the twentieth century, the spoken word (radio) and the moving picture also became powerful tools for the dissemination of ideas and information. Interestingly, with the latest wave of technology (internet connected touchscreen devices allied with social media), the virtually printed word is enjoying a renaissance. But even more than that, the media in the broadest sense is the way most of us perceive the world. Even non-factual and entertainment based content shapes who we are and how we interact with each other and the world around us. The point I am coming to is that the Commentariat have great power- the power to inform and instil, and the power to induce behavioural change. Whether we like it or not, we are being marketed to continually in every interaction we have with media content.
‘Narrative’ appears to be the newspeak for propaganda and, whilst I concede manipulation of reality is a prominent feature of the modern world, I think we would all prefer a world where is was not required. The media of course is not the only system which instills us with knowledge and beliefs. Organised religion also plays a role for a great deal of the world’s population. The political system would be the third power structure that constructs our world(s). Financial, business and corporate structures also have the power to control our lives. And with great power comes great responsibility.
The media fairly regularly presents us with moments of hope, that the cure for cancer may be seen in our lifetimes. The concept of a cure for cancer is much more tangible if cancer is perceived as a result of bad luck (intrinsic factors and or genetic basis) versus the result of extrinsic (environmental) factors. A recent scientific paper by the authors We, Powers, Zhu and Hannun published in the journal Nature concluded that the contribution of intrinsic risk factors to cancer development is ‘modest’- up to 30% . If cancer is indeed mainly a product of how we live our lives, then instead of a cure we must look more at prevention, both as individuals and collectively.
Clean eating, media as a political checkrein and other equine issues
The horse meat scandal was met by the mass media with the familiar pattern of immediate shock and outrage, early industry, fact finding and holding the political class to account, medium term indignation and incredulity, and very little since. Two related questions I would ask, but do not intend to attempt to answer here, are as follows. Firstly, should it be the function of the media or the electorate to hold politicians to account? And secondly, if this is the function of the media, how often is this actually achieved? Following most ‘scandals’, what seems to occur is a short term and rather melodramatic reaction played out in the media sometimes with ministerial ‘resignations’, if the issue is broadly political, or perhaps similar corporate goings on if the problem is seen to arise from that sphere. But does anything actually change?
As humanity’s previously favoured mode of transportation, the horse has generally been more appreciated by man than many other species. As such, it has not commonly been devoured by us. So, whilst there clearly were no specific public health issues with horse meat being substituted for other types of meat, the majority did appear to find the whole issue rather unpalatable. But, I would suggest the issue is far more fundamental. If a beef lasagne was, presumably for many years, actually a horse or part horse lasagne, how can we have any confidence in what is in our (mass) produced cuisine? Macroscopically, the main alleged content of said foods were in fact not what they were purported to be so who knows what chemicals and substances may be present in food which we do not prepare and/or grow ourselves.
The clean eating movement appears to be organic both in its growth and its message. People are, it seems, realising that the only way to be sure what you are eating is to cook and/or grow it yourself. We are what we eat and what we eat and drink is likely to be responsible for a significant proportion of the disease burden we see in the modern world. The mass media may not concern itself greatly with just how important food production is, but we can empower ourselves to think logically about everything we ingest. Prevention is indeed, of course, better than cure.
Clean drinking and happiness
Orwell said happiness can only exist in acceptance. Whilst we all know that drinking alcohol has many negatives associated with it, both societal and in relation to health, the zeitgeist in this regard is and always has been, it seems, that the positives balance the negatives. This was both in terms of the much quoted belief that alcohol in moderation is cardio-protective (i.e. benefits us biologically) in some way and that alcohol has positive psychosocial effects on people and populations. An alternative viewpoint is that alcohol is a drug, albeit one which has for many hundreds of years been the go to source of merriment, happiness, social cohesion and not least a global industry, and that, as with any drug, we should carefully (re)appraise its role in the modern world and our own lives.
New government guidelines on alcohol consumption finally state what many of us have known for some time, ie “drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone.” This is based on the committee on carcogenicity’s statement 2015/S2 which concluded that up to 6% of new cancers in the UK in 2013 were caused by alcohol consumption. But actually, as is often the case, there was good evidence many years prior to this. The million women study, as the name suggests, was a study of (well over) a million women who were followed for the development of cancer.  Their conclusions were “low to moderate alcohol consumption in women increases the risk of certain cancers. For every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the increase in incidence up to age 75 years per 1000 for women in developed countries is estimated to be 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancers of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the [o]esophagus, larynx and liver, giving a total excess of about 15 cancers per thousand women up to age 75.”
We S, Powers S, Zhu W, Hannun YA. Substantial contribution of extrinsic risk factors to cancer development. Nature 529, 43-47 (07 January 2016)
Beral NE, Casabonne D, Kan SW, Reeves GK, Brown A, Green J. J Natl Cancer Inst
2009, 101: 296-305
MQ Bismil is a medically qualified and surgically trained; writer and thinker. He has been commissioned to write a series entitled Health And Humanity for the London Progressive Journal in 2016. His views are his own and unrelated to his medical practice.
In this series, the generality of health is discussed: please do not construe this as specific health advice, and please consult a physician if you wish to consider making changes to your lifestyle
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This post was written by MQ Bismil