Archive for November 15th, 2010

Before anyone weighs in with comments about how what follows is based on faulty logic, I’ll start the post off with a full disclosure: it makes no sense at all, has ’bout nothing based in science or fact or undisputed info and I don’t even end up agreeing with myself completely.


This is simply a morning diversion, since, after all, I love to go a pondering along strangely convoluted tracks before I settle my brain down before the anvil and commence pounding away.

Today’s journey began at this article on sugar addiction.

One study out of France, presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, showed that when rats (who metabolize sugar much like we do) were given the choice between water sweetened with saccharin and intravenous cocaine, 94 percent chose the saccharin water. When the water was sweetened with sucrose (sugar), the same preference was observed — the rats overwhelmingly chose the sugar water. When the rats were offered larger doses of cocaine, it did not alter their preference for the saccharin or sugar water. Even rats addicted to cocaine, switched to sweetened water when given the choice. In other words, intense sweetness was more rewarding to the brain than cocaine.

But this isn’t about sugar, or cocaine and addresses addictions only peripherally. No, it’s about one of the big questions in life:

Why are all the good things so bad for us? And if they are so bad for us, why are they so good?

(Well … that and some other stuff …)

Those are two different questions, and it’s actually the second that interests me this morning since health professionals have no trouble reeling off reasons sugar, fat, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, casual sex and narcissistic men are bad, and we’ve heard them all; include them in your life at your inevitable peril.

My wander is more about why we’re so deeply attracted to shit we know will kill us, and in my wander I wonder if there’s a reason as primal as our ancestral genetic mandate to collect calories when we can.

Back in the early days of humans, life was a short prospect. Breeding started at puberty when hormone secretions kicked off the process that made sex desirable and babies possible, and anyone managing to live past thirty was considered either a burden or a deity. Feeding the clan took more effort than a stroll to the fridge and people were considered snacks-on-the-hoof by some of the neighbors. Yes, we lived fast, died young and … well … pretty is as pretty does.

Some of that fast living included a predilection for a tipple and a partiality for getting high, so there’s nothing new about our fondness for altered states.

Of course, the ancients didn’t know they were playing with their health.

We do.

We’ve made a slew of changes in the way we spend our time on the planet … we moved out of caves, traded our pelts for Prada and prefer Merlot over mead … so many so that our ability to conceptualize the way our ancestors lived has been greatly influenced by Fred and Wilma. These changes have resulted in extending our lives many decades beyond what would have been even remotely conceivable, but to date we have yet to unload the baggage that is a hankering for some stuff our species has been craving since Day One.

Again with the Why?

I’m guessing here one reason may just be that somewhere under our modern veneer, a place deep in our most primal of being, we actually understand that we will someday be dead.

Yeah, yeah … I know that’s a stretch. After all, we’re constantly getting messages about how if we reduce this and give up that and forego the fun of whatever we can cut the death rate (Funny how often that pops up.), giving some the impression that living forever is an option if rules are assiduously followed and enough sacrifices are made.

Okay … much is actually focused –in intent, if not in words — on dying younger than the average death or on being healthier in old age. Fine. I get that. But until there’s a way to stop the cycle — you’re born, you live, you die — there are only two options available; you die, or you get old.

Back in 1960, Maurice Chevalier summed up his ideas on the options when he said: Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

Allow me to point out that Monsieur may now have a better base of comparison.

Actually, there are three options, the third being you live as best you can, and John Mortimer nails that point to the wall:

There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward.

Could it be that we carry remnants of our Paleolithic selves — those beings we once were who knew for fact that life is short and then you die — that prompt us to go for the gusto?

An aside:

At this moment I have three friends engaged in fights against cancers of various types. All are significantly younger than I am (two in their 30s), none ever smoked, all followed reasonable dietary plans, drank in moderation and did not partake in illegal substances.

Back in the 80s I worked with a group of people who, although bound by certain interests, varied widely in lifestyle. My dear friend Robbie and I were the oldest of the bunch and by far the most debauched. Two of those people, perhaps the cleanest livers amongst us then, have now been dead for a number of years. Robbie and I are still kicking … and debauching.

I’m not afraid of death. It’s the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life. ~Jean Giraudoux, Amphitryon, 1929

Toss those dice … and while you’re up, can you pour me another glass of the white, please?

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