Posts Tagged ‘social commentary’


March 20, 2013


I’ve been thinking about moderation, and why it’s rarely seen nowadays. And why that is so.
Begin with something that’s been thoroughly demonized by now: tobacco. New York’s mayor recently moved to have tobacco products removed from view and hidden somewhere behind the counter.
There’s no question that tobacco is potentially harmful. The statistical connection between smoking and lung cancer on the one side, and oral tobacco use and cancers of the mouth and throat, is well established. The US Surgeon General has required large and blatant warnings on packages and on any advertising that’s put out to convince the public that despite the problems, tobacco is not all that bad.
Alcohol, too; alcohol is damaging to the health and causes problems in driving. Alcoholics exist, and so like tobacco alcohol can be addicting.
Cocaine; heroin; other drugs, rendered illegal because of addiction and danger to the health. Cocaine has been known to cause fatal heart attacks as well.
And yet, not all persons who try these things become addicted or suffer health problems attributable to the use of these substances.
And that led me to contemplate the concept of moderation. Native Americans used tobacco for centuries with no known side effects. South American natives chewed coca leaves to obtain the active ingredient in cocaine, and heroin is a derivative of a painkiller that’s commonly used in medicine.
What renders all of these dangerous and addictive is the cheap and readily available excess. It becomes too easy for someone who tries one of them, and finds the experience pleasurable, to decide to repeat it.
A Native American council passing the pipe around the circle is unlikely to become addicted. The same is true of chewing coca leaves. But some bright merchandiser decided to increase the potency of the tobacco (more specifically, the nicotine that’s present) and the alkaloids in coca. Indeed, the earliest Coca-Cola got the name because it contained extracts from the coca plant and the cola nut. Heroin, too; that was originally thought to be less addictive than morphine.
Now that Coca-Cola and other cola drinks no longer contain coca, we’re finding that the sugar also is addictive, although in a different fashion. But we consume too much of it for our health. There’s an epidemic of diabetes nowadays, and many trace that to the unrestrained intake of sugar.
The latest culprit is caffeine, the substance that is present in tea (fairly weak), coffee (somewhat stronger), and concentrated in the so-called ‘energy drinks’. There are currently early attempts to regulate these because some have died after consuming them. Caffeine is also known to result in a mild form of addiction.
Food, too. Look around you at the numbers of obese and overweight people. Consider that there are public and private gymnasiums nearby to help you sweat off those pounds, and yoga and karate and pilates classes to supplement the gyms. These wouldn’t have succeeded in the 18th or 19th Century; people got plenty of exercise and food was not nearly so cheap nor so readily available. But consider now that if you go to a supermarket to shop and they tell you your favorite fruit isn’t available because it’s out of season, you are likely to change stores. The next one imports those out of season fruits and vegetables from places where they are in season.
But it’s only because all these substances are cheap and so readily available that use can easily proceed to overuse and then abuse.
The same behavior patterns repeat in other ways. Books, for example; how many books do you own that you haven’t read in a year or more? Got a file of cookbooks on the shelf, just in case you decide to take up Middle-East cookery? While you’re thinking “Not my books!” consider how often you go online for information rather than take the time to search through one of your reference books. Encyclopedias? Really? When so much is so readily available online and when there’s a backup ‘hard copy’ available in the nearest public library? If you haven’t used any of them for a year, or two, or five, do you really need them cluttering up your shelves? How about the clothes you haven’t worn in years and may even have forgotten you own?
How about gadgets and machinery? I confess that I’ve got things that I bought and didn’t find the use for them that I anticipated, but which lay around in my shop because I might someday decide they’re handy?
Consider the case of ‘hoarders’. Some buy jewelry or gadgets, others collect pets.
Cheap and readily available.
And so we’ve become a society where we’re all addicts in one fashion or another.
Disclaimer: my own addictions are tools for the shop, coffee, and books. But I plan to see which of these I can begin to give up.
Coffee is pretty safe, I think.