“Natural” living creates communities of fear

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Seemingly disparate groups like anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO advocates, foodists like the Food Babe Army, and the anti-fluoride brigade, share one very important thing in common.

Wait, let me amend that.

In addition to ignorance of basic science, statistics and logic these groups share a second important characteristic.

All are cringing, whingeing communities of fear.

They are all defined by what they are afraid of and they are afraid of anything they don’t understand.

Anti-vaxxers don’t understand immunology.

Anti-GMO advocates don’t understand genetics.

Foodists don’t understand toxicology.

Ditto for the anti-fluoride brigade.

And they have chosen to band together and create an identity around that fear.

Sure they tell themselves and others that their communities are united by refusal to gullibly accept the assurances of experts, but their communities are actually united by the fear generated by their gullible acceptance of fabricated warnings from quacks and charlatans.

Consider the foodist cri de coeur: I won’t eat it if I can’t pronounce it.

What it really means is this: If I can’t pronounce it, it’s a big word. If it’s a big word, it might be technical. If it’s technical, I can’t understand it. If I can’t understand it, I fear it.

Imagine if our distant ancestors, the ones the natural living communities harken back to, had behaved in the same fearful manner.

“Fire? OMG, fire is dangerous. People could get burned. There is no way that I am cooking my meat before eating it!”

“Killing animals with spears? What if someone’s aim is off. They could kill me instead of the wild boar. No, I’ll take my chances getting in close and bashing wild animals over the head with my club.”

“Deliberately planting seeds in the ground? You have got to be kidding me! How do we know that the seeds we plant deliberately will grow into plants as safe and nutritious as the ones we gather? They might be poisoned so we better not eat them.”

Or much, much later:

“Central heating with gas? The gas could blow up!! We’ve been using fire to heat our homes for thousands of years; I’ll stick with that.”

“Electricity? That’s hard to pronounce. I’d rather sit in the dark.”

“Sorry, but there is no way I am getting on an airplane. If we were meant to fly, we’d have been born with wings.”

Sounds ridiculous, right? The innovations that make life longer and less arduous today were new and poorly understood once. That made them scary, but being scary is not the same thing as being dangerous. Once people learned more about these innovations, and observed them in action, they embraced them.

Our distant ancestors could be forgiven for fearing innovations since they had no way to understand how they worked. No one understood that cooking meat made it easier to extract more nutrients giving a competitive advantage for societies that cooked their meat over societies that continued to eat it raw. In time, the individuals that ate cooked meat out-competed everyone else, and those that ate meat raw simply died out. The technological innovation of cooking was so advantageous that we actually evolved to eat only cooked meat, the only animals to do so.

Contemporary anti-vax advocates are ignorant because of their own actions. The knowledge of how vaccines work and their efficacy is available to anyone who cares to learn. But anti-vaxxers are like those who whined that if raw meat was good enough for their ancestors, then it’s good enough for them. If natural selection were allowed to work unimpeded, they would simply die out, but not before they made other people sick as well.

Anti-GMO advocates are like the distant ancestors who may have fretted over the innovation of planting seeds in the ground. Who knew what might grow? Certainly not those fretting ancestors who didn’t understand botany, farming or the genetics of improving crop yields. But contemporary anti-GMO advocates have no excuse for their ignorance of genetics beyond their desire to remain ignorant and afraid.

The ultimate irony of course is that it is technology (the internet) that has allowed for the exploding growth of communities of fear of vaccines, food, and “chemicals.” Most of those who create and inhabit the anti-vax, food phobic, and chemical phobic communities can no better explain how their smart phones and tablets work than they can explain how vaccines and genetic modification of food works. Nonetheless, they surround themselves with high tech gadgets, wireless signals and displays that give off electro-magnetic radiation the better to transmit their fear of vaccines, food and chemicals.

The sad fact is that if it had been up to the cringing, whingeing members of these communities of fear, we’d still be living in small tribal bands in caves, eating raw meat and gathering wild grain and tubers. Fortunately, human history has been advanced by those willing to create and use technological innovation, and advanced much further still by those who made the scientific discoveries that led to the many technological advances that we use today.

Sadly, those who are afraid of technological innovations that they cannot understand are still huddling in the proverbial darkness of their internet communities of fear.