01
Jan
13

Poisoning the well: You’re doing it awesome

Over at The New Inquiry we discover this essay

which connects the paleo diet to libertarianism.  You can probably guess how well that goes.  We’ll start off with some false dilemma:

Every dietary preference has its corresponding political stereotype. Vegans are to Ralph Nader as meat-and-potatoes types are to Dubya. Artisanal pickle-loving hipsters gravitate towards the Obamas, and anti-soda activists have a friend in Mike Bloomberg, at least for now. Omnivores, though seemingly agnostic, are split into two camps: those who will truly eat anything, and those who will eat anything so long as it contains organic ingredients their grandmother could pronounce.

Yep.  Every dietary preference has a political stereotype.  Er… what’s mine, again?  I eat somewhere on the axis of Cheat Mode and IIFYM.  Oh, you don’t know what that means?  Just write down “paleo”, because that’s how you’re (gently) suggested to eat on Cheat Mode off-days.

Then we’ll throw in some cherry-picking:

The Paleo philosophy rests on the notion that humans adapted to vastly different circumstances than the ones they live under today — that before the relatively recent shift to an agriculture, industry- and internet-based society, we lived for millennia as hunter-gatherers, and did so without the current very high levels of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. For Paleos, the primal lifestyle is our true state of nature — our blueprint, as one advocate puts it — and we must mimic it as best we can.

I think most paleo bloggers — OMG ONOZ IT IZ TEH TECHNOLOGY, LOOKIT PALEOZ R TEH HYPOCRITES — would instead tell  you that we should be informed by the primal lifestyle, rather than try to mimic it.  Nobody in the paleosphere wants you to pray over your child’s bacterial infection rather than administer your GP’s antibiotic scrip, even though “that’s what Grok did” all the way up to Pasteur et alia changed the game.  But never mind, because someone wrote something on a forum once:

Some Paleo acolytes forgo shampoo;

“Ew, icky!”

others complain about the “unnaturalness” of antibiotics, hormonal birth control, or monogamy.

Are we poisoning the well here?  I think we are.

Judging from various Paleo forums online, homeschooling is fairly popular,

This is where all doubleplus goodthink people decide they hate paleos;

as are hairy men,

Paging Mr. Sullivan; Mr. Andrew Sullivan, please pick up the nearest white courtesy phone….

eating with one’s hands,

“Ew, icky!”

and exercise that mimics the Primal life: running barefoot (or with fancy five-fingered shoes);

Oh look, those Paleo nuts are hypocrites again, with their funny fingered Vibram shoes;

lifting heavy rocks;

Rocks, barbells: same thing, right?

avoiding “chronic cardio,” also known as distance running;

Some paleo advocates also avoid contradicting themselves within the confines of a single sentence (remember what you wrote about barefoot running a few semicolons ago?);

and practicing sprints, even in the absence of pre-historic leopards.

Oooh, the condescension, it burns!  Gosh, who’d ever “practice sprints” if they weren’t being chased by a leopard?  I mean, who’d want to look like a sprinter?

sanya-richards-ross.jpb

Um.  Got a bit distracted there.

Next our intrepid essayist ventures into the unbroken — oops, the well-trod — ground of hasty generalization:

By assuming that all that was once natural is now good, militant Paleo leans on biological determinism to back up its theories.

Now we’re talking about “militant” paleo, but it’s hard not to get any of that biological determinism ick all over the rest of (non-militant) paleo as well.  The essayist might claim that no offence was meant to the more, let’s say, science-oriented moderate paleoistas (and there’s more science per square kilobyte of paleo bloggage than there is anywhere else on the intertubes outside of XKCD) — but you first have to slog through seven paragraphs of what “militant” paleo folks might believe, including this hilarious flirtation with Godwin’s Law:

The Paleo preoccupation with what’s “natural” has even more troubling implications. Incomplete or flawed interpretations of our biology have long been used to marginalize women, racial groups, even entire civilizations, and nutrition may well become the next variant in this pattern of discrimination. If rice isn’t “natural,” does that make those entire continents with highly developed cultures who eat it “un-natural”? Doesn’t agriculture, however flawed it may be in certain societies, support billions of people? Let’s not forget that for centuries women were considered ineligible to participate in most professions, sports, and diversions on the basis of their supposed female “nature.” Are modern bread-eaters somehow less human than those carrying out “primal” urges by sprinting, lifting, and eating meat?

As Glenn Beck would say: “I’m just asking questions, here!”  Of course, our intrepid essayist has offered precisely fuck-all in the way of evidence that the paleo movement is subjugating women, or “rice-eating cultures”, or even (though the evidence wouldn’t be hard to find in the right forums) bread-eaters.  We’ve been offered nothing but mealy-mouthed sidelong insinuation.

So only now, after that extended exercise in poisoning the well, do we get a “to be sure” paragraph, because the essayist can’t switch over into badmouthing libertarians without first covering s/h/it’s ass:

These troubling questions are probably not the point of an apparently well-meaning lifestyle program. Many adopters of the Paleo diet do so for no reason other than weight loss, or vanity, or ailments caused by certain foods; others are simply curious about how so-called “ancestral” nutrition will affect them, or how certain types of foods affect their bodies. If their giddy testimonials are to be believed, the Paleo diet can cure everything from diabetes to anxiety attacks, which sounds wonderful. Still, the social and political implications of Paleo reasoning ought to be more closely examined, especially as the lifestyle gains adherents.

That wasn’t much of a “to be sure” paragraph.  Paleo is only an “apparently well-meaning” lifestyle.  Many adopters of Paleo do it for no other reason than, you know, vanity.  (And they’re sure it cures their diabetes and stuff, if their giddy testimonials are to be believed.)

The real point of this hit piece on paleo is that it’s a hit piece on libertarians:

Libertarians have embraced the caveman set as kindred spirits, and it would appear that the caveman lifestyle and anti-state, laissez-faire tendencies often come hand in hand. Paleo-Libertarian logic maintains that the U.S. government is to blame for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and dozens of other ills by virtue of telling us to eat the state-subsidized fruits of Big Agriculture’s labor. It says the USDA’s nutrition guidelines were created with the food lobby, not the human body, in mind.

We’ve just had about a dozen paragraphs to convince the reader that paleo adherents are dicks, and probably quite unintentionally to remind us that track athletes are hawt.  So it comes as no surprise to discover that those wacky paranoid conspiratorial libertarians, who are of course dicks, are also paleo, which makes them like dicks squared:

Libertarians have embraced the caveman set as kindred spirits, and it would appear that the caveman lifestyle and anti-state, laissez-faire tendencies often come hand in hand. Paleo-Libertarian logic maintains that the U.S. government is to blame for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and dozens of other ills by virtue of telling us to eat the state-subsidized fruits of Big Agriculture’s labor. It says the USDA’s nutrition guidelines were created with the food lobby, not the human body, in mind.

But wait!

These are by no means implausible or even particularly radical claims. Some socialists and environmentalists have come to the same conclusions, at least nutritionally speaking.

Oh, it’s a shocking twist.  Socialist and even environmentalists have come to the same conclusions.  That must make them more plausible, give them more credibility!  How ever shall we resolve this tangled narrative?

Still, this admittedly healthy distrust of government — not to mention the adoption of a diet that is the complete antithesis of the USDA’s recommendations — is innately libertarian.

Remember how, a half-dozen paragraphs back, paleo was rejecting antibiotics and shampoo?  And now it’s “admittedly healthy”?  Well, well, well.

After a few more paragraphs of what seems like innocuously descriptive text, we get this howler:

The Libertarian-Paleo link makes a lot of sense. As Mr. Wiebe points out, changing one’s diet is in almost every case an act of personal responsibility. Although some evidence suggests that  non-food factors like BPA, high fructose corn syrup, and other chemicals contribute to cancer, diabetes and other “diseases of civilization,” it’s easy to frame many fat-related ailments as a failure of the will.

(Emphasis added)

Yes, apparently HFCS, which is present in a fuck-ton of foods, is a “non-food factor”.  This must be what life is like without a science degree.

Also, right after “it’s easy to frame many fat-related ailments as a failure of the will”, our intrepid essayist claims that it’s really an information problem:

An individual’s failure to act rationally, argue Paleo-Libertarians, is exacerbated by the government’s tendency to thwart free enterprise in the health and agricultural sectors, and limit the boundaries of our knowledge when it comes to diet and nutrition.

As if those two claims don’t fundamentally contradict each other.

I regret to inform you, dear reader, that the essay ends not with a bang but with a whimper.  I’m not going to take you through the half-dozen paragraphs on the theme of “even our understanding of hour are paleolithic ancestors ate and behaved is constantly changing”, because it’s stuff I read months ago on paleo blogs — and if you’re reading this blog you probably did too.

So our fearless essayist, who set out to speak truth to power, has achieved nothing more than setting a textbook example of poisoning the well only to narrowly escape defeat at the hands of a straw man.  Curiously enough, they don’t provide for comments.


3 Responses to “Poisoning the well: You’re doing it awesome”


  1. January 5, 2013 at 19:16

    Lawl– “Misean longevity.” She can’t even use copy/paste correctly!

  2. January 6, 2013 at 16:22

    *headtilt*

    What makes this steaming hot mess even stranger to read is that to my understanding of primates, modern hunter-gatherers, and early human biology, we are by nature nosy, socialist little bastards who spend part of their time sharing all their food and a lot more time bothering each other for fun and status. Libertarianism is a reaction AGAINST human nature in the name of ethics and the poor scalability of human communities, not a supposed congruence with it.


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