What are society’s barking dogs? After reading the introduction to this series, this may have been the first suspicious question that poked its head up, whispering in your figurative ear. Or, perhaps, with great confidence you thought of several examples for yourself of what society’s barking dogs may be.
Perhaps city after city filled with obesity was brought to the forefront of your thoughts, or an image of the people in which Alzheimer’s occurs, or the self mutiny of autoimmunity, or even the onslaught of diabetes being fought — but in actuality the reality is that all of these are barking dogs. All of these and more I’m afraid to say, but don’t worry because I’ll make the case for these and more and explain exactly why I dare say so aloud.
Before we begin we should likely start by detailing how I define a barking dog – after all, definitions are important, and if I can’t defend my use of the term down the road then you will surely know the entire dialogue was for naught. Without building an opportunity for falsification, there is no meaning. So, allow me to begin detailing the broad strokes of my finer points so we may paint a picture that we can gaze upon together.
As discussed prior, a barking dog is a circumstance (disease; symptom) which is presumed to be ultimately caused by faulty genetics, poor luck of the draw (randomness), an inherent flaw that was just waiting to break under even the slightest stress (moral or physical), or some other explanation that implies the issue is inherent, progressive, meaningless, unavoidable, and ultimately serves no underlying function or has no logical/purposeful cause but which is likely is the opposite (a meaningful, functional, avoidable result of a pathway or mechanism which has evidence of carrying great importance to survival under normal circumstances). The last points may seem an odd thing to say given the short list we’ve already built (how could a disease be attempting to serve a function? how could anything about these things have a purpose?). These are questions I have asked myself, as I used to truly believe that this could not be the case, but hopefully by traveling with me through my thought process over the course of this series you’ll understand my perspective, and why I chose this phrasing specifically.
Likewise, Alzheimer’s or dementia was described to me as something that happens due to age, or a natural part of getting older, or vaguely described as being caused by the build up of proteins in the brain. As if this is something that occurs by accident, happenstance, out of the blue with no warning. Certainly it instilled in me a fear of my own body malfunctioning as the impression I got was that the brain was a ticking time bomb ready to go off at any moment to steal my memories, due to an unfortunate random error. Going off of what I heard the only conclusion I could come to was that this sort of thing just happens, and the most you can do is play crosswords or piano (to steal a line from Amy Berger). Although more recently I’ve seen the finger being pointed at bacteria in the brain, in which case the recommendation is to brush your teeth more and also hope for the best because ultimately it’s luck of the draw. This, also, was what I believed up to adulthood, because it was all I heard, until I heard voices around me saying this might not actually be the case.
Another excellent example is Type 2 Diabetes similarly either described as caused by hefting around too much fat, or perhaps just genetic and all about potential risk – the last being a particularly troublesome idea to me, as my mom had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me and I was always warned that diabetes may be lurking around the corner for me as well. Later, I came to hear instead that diabetes is a consequence of eating too much sugar because humans can’t help but consume endless quantities of it, and this raises blood sugar, and this raises insulin, and this results in stubborn fat cells who refuse to take in more fuel instead of differentiating and proliferating to make more room, and this causes insulin resistance. This was more compelling to me, because at least it explained something about diabetes (and obesity) because at least it implied there was something you could do about it, and I certainly experienced that eating carbs increased my appetite. An answer that explains something is certainly one I’m more willing to consider than one that explains nothing at all – that’s all too reasonable. All the same, though, this explanation, too, hinged on an assumption that in some way, somehow, the body is stupid, and it begins and ends with an inherent malfunction that has the only purpose of pissing you off (probably).
In other words, no matter where you turn, the general impression that I got while growing up, across the board, is that either your body is trying to kill you, via things like obesity or diabetes – likely a punishment for your sins of enjoying things and eating things or god forbid both at the same time – or rather just sucks a bit at staying alive and functional simultaneously, such as we see ascribed to autoimmunity or cancer or Alzheimer’s or chronic inflammation, or any other number of explanations that rely on assuming things happen for no good reason, because, well, life just sucks and understanding suffering is a part of life is a necessary piece of growing up.
But, what if there was an alternative explanation to all of these things? What if it wasn’t many random occurrences (or sneaky punishments) happening all of a sudden to modern people in urban environments? What if it wasn’t primarily genetic, although perhaps genetics could lend people to be more vulnerable in certain areas than others, and there was in fact a trigger, and in fact a plausible and sustainable resolution? What if these things all happen because they are being called upon to happen for some plausible, functional, reason and only when they are driven to the point of failure do we suddenly take notice? What if they are all symptoms of the same thing?
After some time of looking past assumptions (with the help of many other people in the community) I realized that hints abound if you look for them. Indigenous populations – like the inuit, maasai, and others – showing no evidence of modern disease, even in their elders. A scant few cases of cancer, diabetes, fatal myocardial infarction, autoimmunity, seasonal allergies, acne, or obesity to be seen. The list of what they don’t have is tremendously long, in parallel to our own woes – even in cultures that traditionally eat a high carbohydrate diet. Even in societies that eat plants full of oxalates, or indulge in nightshades, or legumes or fruit. Even in societies that gorge themselves on fatty meat, thriftiness and gluttony be damned.
Not only that, but now interestingly anecdotal cases are beginning to emerge from ketogenic, and carnivorous, communities touting improvement or remission of supposedly totally random/genetic/progressive/karmic diseases – all the while eating to satiety what would likely not be described as unpalatable foods. I’m certainly not the first, and undoubtedly not the last, to take notice of this happening and, to be sure, many feel that this confirms that sugar is the problem. But, perhaps the treatment says nothing of the cause. Perhaps there’s more to uncover here, more hints, more possible explanation, more sense to be made of the mess of puzzle pieces we have before us. I certainly don’t feel I have all the pieces in front of me, nor am I absolutely sure of the picture it will make when we’re finally done putting it together (however far off of a future that is), but at the very least I can begin to show you some of the pieces that I and a few others are starting to take notice of, so you can decide for yourself how they may fit together.
This describes the situation I currently live in, a world full of barking dogs, conditions which are genetic – yet differ in frequency depending on lifestyle – progressive and incurable – yet can go into remission depending on diet – are caused by gluttony and addiction to carbohydrates – yet don’t occur in all populations that consume high carbohydrate diets – are caused by obesity – yet occur more rapidly in those who are less obese than their American counterparts and can remiss in those haven’t lost weight.
No doubt anyone would be temporarily baffled when confronted with these contradictions, as I was. Anyone would be filled with confusion, but – hopefully – also curiosity. All hope is not lost, as confusion merely means we have plenty to learn.
To gain a bit more understanding, let’s not just start working backwards.
Let’s start thinking backwards.