Monday, June 8, 2009

Soylent Green Is People

"The human body is ... in perpetual inner self-construction and self-destruction; we destroy in order to make it new."

Norman O. Brown

There's this great line in Garson Kanin's play, Born Yesterday, about how democracy is this beautiful machine and someone is always tampering with it. That theme, how we're always ruining a good thing, kind of echoes some recent thoughts that have been floating through my brain attic, basically that humans are astonishing, beautiful, magical accidents that are hardwired to destroy themselves.

If you really think about it, no matter whether you ascribe to a creationist or evolutionary viewpoint, our very existence is amazing and our abilities to think and reason and make art and build civilizations and all the other things we do even MORE amazing. Unfortunately, part and parcel of that is our ability (or perverse need?) to destroy ourselves. We do this, obviously, through war and murder and misunderstanding and fear and all that. But we also seem to do it based on an innate preferences for that which will destroy us. We seem to naturally prefer tastes, smells and textures that need to be synthetically augmented, or wholly unhealthy, in order to truly satisfy. And it's those synthetic additions that so often are responsible for throwing the environment out of balance.

For example, deodorants and anti-perspirants. Beyond the ridiculous packaging (there's GOT to be some sort of container that uses less plastic than the dial-up stick...10 percent product, 90 percent non-recyclable packaging, so annoying), our societal dislike of basic human odors has prompted the need for anti-pit smell products that require synthetic ingredients to make them strong enough to satisfy us and to ensure a really long shelf-life, or the desirable texture. These ingredients, including parabens, aluminum and propylene glycol, are toxins that are absorbed into the skin with daily application and also wash off of us in the show and end up in our water supply. Some of them mimic hormones and contribute, I'm quite sure, to all sorts of reproductive ills throughout the food chain. But, despite evidence of links between deodorants and breast cancer and other health issues, you don't see the deodorant/antiperspirant section at the drugstore getting any smaller. Nor do you see an increase in the number of natural scent-maskers that don't usel parabens, aluminum salts or petroleum by-products. Why? Because we've gotten so used to the convenient effectiveness of these little sticks of toxins that we can't imagine just living with a little B.O., so we'll continue to poison ourselves directly and indirectly by using them. Which kind of means that we prefer slow self-destruction over self-preservation.

Or food. We know that it would be better for our health and possibly the natural world if we'd follow Michael Pollan's directive to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." But do we do this? Not so much, at least not here in North America. I know that my own excessive fondness for fats is a matter of both taste (fat IS the vector for flavour, people!) and texture. The mouthfeel of whipping cream or butter, the richness of egg yolks, the nectar that is good olive oil, the fulsomeness of cheese -- these are all things I used to over-indulge in regularly (daily!) because maintaining a more spartan diet of steamed vegetables and plain, broiled fish or meats just seemed so...dull. Again, sensible self-preservation goes out the window in the face of a dinner of raclette, or vegetables eaten with liberal amounts of aioli, or sunnyside-up eggs cooked in an inch of bacon fat, or...well, you get the picture.

A girl I used to work with would often talk about the earth as a "self-regulating organism" that would somehow (weather? seismic activity?) systematically dispose of its biggest threat in a manner that would keep the planet in some sort of balance. [Cheerful lunchtime talk, I know -- we were a deep bunch at Opera Ontario]. So, is humankind also some sort of self-regulating organism, too? Intent on systematic disposal in order to keep some sort of balance, or to ensure there's always room for the new?

I have no idea.

I do know, however, that it might be wise for me to avoid reading any sort of apocalyptic newspaper stories (Saturday's Globe and Mail was a doozy for that) when I'm pre-menstrual because this blog entry is exactly what happens when I go to the dark place.


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