Weight Loss by the v-Memes (V) – Cutting out Sugar — The Big Psycho-Social-Environmental Picture

Michelangelo David Father Son

Father and Son, in front of the perfect human form, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy – pre- weight loss, 2015.  Note that Michelangelo’s David does not have metabolic syndrome!

One of the largest cognitive challenges I’ve found in understanding and disseminating my work is that we are not accustomed, at all, in thinking of populations as having Gestalt thought processes outside what various social mores dictate.  We are very comfortable in saying, for example, that Japanese people are very polite, or that the French like to argue.  And we are also accustomed to saying pro-social things like ‘academics are liberal’ or ‘universities are full of smart people.’  Equally so, we are also comfortable with negative stereotypes of populations that are culturally contained.  As someone from the foothills of the Appalachians, I am very familiar with the American cultural notion of “the stupid hillbilly.”

The problem with all this is the initial interpretation, especially if the stereotype is negative, is that we’d like to then state something like “hillbillies are smart” to escape a negative labeling of our own perceptions and tendencies to stereotype — because most people, if asked if stereotyping is bad, will say “of course.”  Stereotypes of stereotypes come out of the lower status-based v-Memes.  And before you know it, things get very meta.  It’s turtles all the way down.

But when you step outside of accepted social demarcations, discussing how people think is fraught with peril.  I’ve found that most people view it as a boundary violation (“how dare you tell me how I process information in my brain!” )  and usually leads to being shut out of their larger consciousness — especially if they haven’t developed any deeper reflective process on their own.  And on a larger, societal scale, what this prevents is more thoughtful analysis of how our culture changes over time, and what are the origination v-Memes that will generate the future cultural sidebars that may be more long-lasting.

We’re prevented from understanding ourselves in aggregate as we evolve over time — which means hindsight is the only politically palatable and available means for modification of our own perception.  And that doesn’t really help with the here-and-now.  If one examines our current political milieu, for example, will a stereotype emerge that Americans are, for example, very conflict-prone?  Are they victims of a unique bi-polar disorder when it comes to politics?  Or has this really been a long time coming?

With this piece, I’m going to discuss how excess sugar consumption might be affecting our fundamental v-Meme tendencies, and convert us from a more egalitarian, communitarian society, to one where Authoritarianism is the dominant v-Meme.  But I also hope to show how one might move people beyond the current dichotomous world — and to help understand the real implications of our Theory of Everything applied to multiple factors that shape our current consciousness.  I’ll discuss how the Principle of Reinforcement, and the self-similarity it advocates for– the idea that what we see in the society at large is reflected in the individuals, and those individuals then have their aggregate probabilistic v-Memes reflected upward — are in play, and always have been.  The implication is that  how our brains function, even on the smallest neural scales, on an individual basis, will inevitably express itself in the larger society.

The other thing that seems impossibly difficult to accept (in part because it requires faith in the powers of reason, no matter where they may lead) is that societies manifest their v-Memes across the entire spectrum of potential causes-and-effects in the larger system.  Lately, for those that follow this blog, I’ve been writing about diet.  And as crazy as this may see at the beginning of this — my sons warned me that writing about this, to the casual observer, as being ‘Tinfoil AF’ — as I said at the beginning, I’m going to make the case that sugar and its consumption/over-consumption in Western diets is one of the major drivers of our current neurogenic, physical, as well as political ills.

The minute that someone says something like this is that most people will expect a conspiratorial argument, along the lines of “the Sugar Industry is behind the scenes, pulling the levers politically, and they are making a ton of money off of making us sick.” The way society in general views large problems is often from the perspective of a cabal of Illuminati, working diligently to advance their financial cause, and screw anyone, or anything that gets in the way.  Very Authoritarian/Legalistic “known knowns, unknown knowns” kind of stuff, direct from our Reptilian Overlords, whose real interests are fattening us up for the slaughter.

And certainly, there are cases where conspiratorial dynamics truly ARE the case (or rather, a major part of the case.)  Take the domination of the oil industry over our society for the past 120 or so years.  Anyone wanting a global perspective on the use of oil can read Daniel Yergin’s amazing book, The Prizefor a compelling look on how money, power, and resource networks form, thrive, and actively manipulate politics.

Yet at the same time, even though there are clear names of dynastic families and companies to put on the conspiracies present in that book, it’s also important to realize that the behavior of this network was also emergent out of the v-Memes of the time.  Winston Churchill, the primary driver as the First Lord of the Admiralty for Great Britain of converting the British Navy from coal to oil, had no choice but to pursue oil as the dominant energy source for its navy, for Great Britain to emerge as the dominant empire of the 19th and 20th century.  The speed gained in her warships, and the transportability and availability of fuel was vital to projecting Great Britain’s Legalistic Authoritarian v-Meme set across the globe.

There is no question that conspiracies were at work, both known and unrecognized.  But there were also emergent factors, such as the fundamental laws of naval physics, that drove adoption.  One can never separate oneself from the desire of information and its replication, be that encapsulated in understanding as genes, culture, or memes, or what have you, to spread and persist.

The other interesting artifact about oil as a substance, though, is that it gives perspective that large systems can be influenced through leverage points, regardless of the obvious complex system of feedback loops involved.  Cut off oil, or raise the price, and all of the sudden, societies will indeed race for renewables, for example.  All sorts of pronounced  exigencies of the need for oil, if it is taken away, will become meaningless.  People, or rather the information structured and embodied in people and their social networks, will find a way. I’ve found that it makes people uncomfortable to think of themselves in this fashion.  But that’s the way the v-Memes roll.

And this is true, unless something on the inside of the social network attacks the way the information contained in the people, is fundamentally disrupted.  Even though I’m not going argue against the power of propaganda, this is hard to do on a superficial level. If you, for example, hate Donald Trump, and there’s a positive piece on him on the front page of your favorite website, it’s unlikely that your mind is going to be changed. But what if you understood your love or hate for Donald Trump as some part of the larger social dynamic that you were part of?  How might that modify your perspective?

And even deeper, what if there was something in the larger psycho-social-environmental ecosystem that predisposed you and your thoughts, subconsciously, or even unconsciously, to an increased Authoritarianism? Though I’d argue we were well on this path as a country before 9/11/2001, there’s also no question that when Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda operatives flew the three planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the world became far more predisposed to Authoritarianism in the Free World.  We’re still emptying obvious bottles of water in the name of flight safety at TSA checkpoints in airports.  At the time, there was no way to express an alternate opinion on the wisdom of invading first Afghanistan, or even Iraq.  And now we are left with the larger consequences of those impulsively driven actions, even today.  Hindsight may be 20/20, as it’s said.  But the fact that we still cannot extract ourselves from either Iraq, or Afghanistan, indicates the persistence of the mental models, and their underlying v-Memes, as anything extant in the world today.

Below, I’m going to make the argument that our consumption of sugar is one of the most powerful emergent drivers of Authoritarianism in our society today.  I want to start by giving credit where credit is due.  I’ve been listening to a handful of books that I’ll list below that are the source material for the individual, independent background necessary to synthesize the material I’ve thought about.  Any independent credit belongs to these authors.  The psycho-social dynamics, though, are all mine.  The books are:

Because I’m an academic, and it’s part of our code of ethics, I want to start, before I launch into the larger argument, where I got the background information for the various ideas, from each source.  There’s likely MORE stuff that’s jumbled up in my head that comes from these books — but hey, this is a blog post.  Not an academic paper.

From Taubes’ book, I learned about the history of sugar, as well as the etiology of sugar as a source of Western medical maladies, and the interrelationship of sugar industry sponsorship and the campaign against dietary fat — especially saturated fat.

From Teicholz’s book, I learned about the history of the whole Dietary Fat -Heart Hypothesis, as well as how cholesterol rose front and center in our belief that saturated fat causes heart disease.  This book also profiles the birth of the notion of (and deceptions regarding) the Mediterranean diet, and other current diets, as well as the genesis and extreme potential problems with vegetable oils.  It also fleshed out the continued bias in the research community of even challenging the notion that saturated fat was bad, and in reality, was probably good for your overall health.

From Fat Chance, by Dr. Lustig, I learned about the basics of sugar metabolism, and the separation between sugar from fruit, as opposed to refined sugar.  I also learned about childhood metabolic issues, as well as the increase in sugar consumption.

From The Hacking of the American Mind, by Dr. Lustig, I learned about the twin reward systems of serotonin and dopamine in a more concise way, as well as dynamics in the food industry and how this shapes their perspective on change.

All four books I processed over many long bike and car rides.  All four I listened to as Audible audiobooks first.  For any missed ideas and citations, I’m more than happy to cede credit to the four authors above.

What is happening to health in the United States, and increasingly, in the rest of the world is stunning.  In spite of remarkable leaps and bounds of understanding human biology and metabolism, the entire world is getting fatter and more unhealthy.  Though treatment modalities and success/cure rates are improving, cancer rates are on the rise.  The same for depression, especially among the young.  If you track childhood depression next to obesity, we see that both track each other over a ten year period, with obesity rising approximately 2% over the period 2005-2015, and depression rising 4%.

If you click through on the cancer link, you’ll see a study for the U.K., with the rationale that ‘people are living longer,’ and the caveat that about 50% of the population will contract cancer at least once in their life.  It sounds so reassuring — we’re getting cancer because we’re better off, health-wise, over a longer period of time, and something has to get us.

But if you look at the long historical record, even though cancer has always been part of human existence, the reality is in aboriginal societies, there was essentially no cancer.  Taubes does an extensive review of the British literature, which had access to reportage from the far-flung reaches of the British empire.  Cancer simply didn’t exist until Western diets showed up.  And one of the inevitabilities of our showing up was the introduction of refined sugar and flour.

Sugar, which is what I will refer to from here forward for the term ‘refined sugar’, is a very interesting substance.  Everyone from either basic health, or chemistry class, will have learned about the Krebs cycle, or how the body uses glucose to fuel all of our actions (which is what we are taught, but turns out not to be true, either.) Yet, at the same time, sugar is almost non-existent as a pure substance in nature.  Sure, there’s honey, and sugar cane, as well as agave plants.  But sugar itself is only identifiable to humans as a sweet taste in fruit, which is a sugar heavily buffered by lots of fiber, that has lots of other consequences in our guts.  The short version is that the fiber slows sugar uptake, as well as limiting the amount we can eat.  Read Fat Chance for more details.

I’ve done a lot of thinking on why the body would focus on using sugar, and its partner in energetics, to drive metabolism, when it is such limited availability in the outside world.  Our bodies are great at taking things like starches, or even protein, and turning it into sugar.  And in fact, that’s the key insight.  Evolving the ability to use a high-energy fuel source inside our systems, made from a variety of feedstocks that are available external to the system, is a fascinating evolutionary adaptation for a complex creature.  It allows us to traverse many diverse environments, where foods may come in a variety of macronutrient forms (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) while converting any and all of them into energy.

At the same time, because our primary energy driver ISN’T typically available in the external environment, it has allowed us to develop an exquisitely tuned biological system that maintains its own homeostasis regardless of the environment it’s placed in.  It goes beyond being a warm-blooded animal.  Our entire system has evolved to have an extremely limited reactivity to the outside environment.  No wonder we can live in the Tropics, as well as the Arctic.

This is a modestly difficult concept to understand.  So here’s an analogous example.  Perhaps you, or someone you know, has hay fever.  Every year, when the grass pollinates, or if you take a walk through golden fields that may appear beautiful to others, your eyes start watering.  Your nose starts running.  You get a headache.  What’s really happening is that your body is losing its ability to self-regulate the actions of your mucus membranes.  As a result, you’re covered in snot, have to take an antihistamine and go to bed.  That’s the result of losing homeostasis because of stimulus from the outside environment.  The same effect happens if you’re allergic to cats.  Cute kitty slithers up next to your legs in a friend’s apartment, and you start to do a dance.

Needless to say, an organism wouldn’t be particularly evolutionarily successful if its primary motive force was subject to the same type of environmentally caused dysregulation.  If our environments had deep-historically been flooded with available sugar, then we would have evolved in some form or another to buffer this outside influence.  1+ million years of shared humanity will do that.

But the sugar glut is really recent — only the last 400 or so years. The problem is now our environments are flooded with ingested refined sugar, and the idea that just because sugar is available inside our muscles, or in our bloodstream, does not negate the potential for loss of homeostasis.  And indeed, over time, that’s what happens.  Why?  Because of a phenomenon called insulin resistance.  Insulin is the primary hormone, excreted by the pancreas, that is used in the energetic transfer of sugar that moves our bodies, and fires our brains.  Insulin resistance is when the cells lose their ability to regulate glucose levels in the muscle, resulting in higher and higher levels of blood glucose.

But it’s worse.  Insulin is a double-stack substance.  It is also a key signal in the control system that governs our metabolic homeostasis.  When you dump sugar into the system, over a period of years, the body also loses its ability to control blood sugar, or restore homeostasis.  The key result of this collapse of function is the body then starts taking the glucose and packing it on as fat.  This leaves a person exhausted without knowing why, other than they either ate sugar or some form of a refined carbohydrate, like white flour-  a usual suspect.  The short version is that insulin is part of the metabolic process.  But it is also the trigger that things are about to happen.

What this means is that over time, ingestion of sugar not only destroys the homeostasis of your energy balance.  It also destroys one level up — your ability to control that homeostasis.  If you’ve ever messed around with car engines, it would be akin to spraying carburetor fluid in the engine.  If you did this, any mechanic will tell you that the engine will rev.  But that’s the only thing you’re doing.  You’re spraying carburetor fluid, which is highly volatile, all over the electronics that control how your engine revs.  This double whammy feedback loop is now having amazing, terrible, and unforeseen consequences.

Part of the problem in creating a deeper understanding of all this comes directly from the people studying these effects — especially in the medical community.  Physicians are arranged in modified legalistic/authoritarian hierarchies, which immediately dictate the level of metacognition and knowledge structures that they have access to in explaining things.  For those unfamiliar with the work in this blog, reading Taubes’ book will give a good description of these problems.  But once you unpack the knowledge structures that these individuals work with, you can see the deeper problems.  Authoritarians in general gravitate to dichotomous thinking, and one-on-one mappings.  If sugar is used by the body, then it must not be a poison when eaten externally.  Your muscles use sugar, after all.  Sugar is obviously either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ — and since the body uses it, it must be ‘good’.  Or so the collective thinking goes.

Low empathy social structures are also terrible in understanding long-term anything.  Authoritarian social structures work on transferred authority, where questioning is really not allowed or desired.  This belief-based thinking sits, as has also been explained in this blog, primarily in the limbic centers.  Long-term developed timescales are not its strong suit.  That’s why doctors are so prone to prescribing a pill for any given condition – a point solution for a systemic problem. It’s the way their brains are wired, and it takes the exceptional physician to see beyond that tendency.  And therein lies the rub.  The obesity crisis has been generated over decades, or really the last four centuries.  It is not amenable to Authority-based understanding or superficial mappings.

And it gets worse. Sugar itself is an addictive substance.  Yes, we have nice terms for it, like having a ‘sweet tooth’.  But fundamentally, the desire to eat sugar is rooted deep in one of our primary reward centers — the dopamine pathway — where we get our own little secret rush out of drinking a Pepsi, or chewing on a candy.  It does not affect our primary empathy and attachment reward system, which is dominated by the hormone serotonin.  As Dr. Lustig describes it, it’s the difference on an individual basis between pleasure, which is all about you, and eudaemonia, which is the sophisticated word for long-term happiness and contentedness, which usually revolves around connection with others or self.  Sugar does not promote empathy.  This is easy enough to observe on Halloween, as kids argue over buckets full of candy.  And since it is an addictive substance, sugar is its own hack into our neurobiology, which means bringing it up as a cause of major societal dysfunction is likely to meet with serious resistance.  Sugar as a substance has its own memetic protective mechanisms.

This is in spite of the fact that we are now surrounded by seas of metabolically destabilized individuals, which may very well include you as a reader of this blog.  The odds of spreading enlightenment are not in our favor.

For those wanting to bounce back to Spiral Dynamics, and its oscillation between ‘I’ and ‘We’ v-Memes, the psycho-social implications of sugar also start opening up.  Sugar is not a substance that is prone to influencing a person’s desire to meditate.  It sits firmly down in the lower ‘I’ v-Memes.  It’s mostly Egocentric/Authoritarian v-Meme – pleasure mode, with maybe an occasional reach up to improving performance (hence the Performance/Goal-Based v-Meme) at best.  And if you were really hungry, of course, you’d eat it to survive – though almost nothing else living on the planet shares our affectation, which is why it can be used as a preservative, and is.

You don’t have to be a budding psychonaut and Spiral Dynamics junkie to see how any reference to removing sugar from one’s diet is socially destabilizing.  Sugar is a primary reward that parents use for their children.  We marvel at our children’s incipient excitement at a frosted birthday cake. And my Facebook feed is filled with parents feeding their infants their first taste of ice cream. If sugar really is poison (and an addictive poison at that) what does that say about that moment of reflection regarding what we’ve done with our own kids?  And too often, it’s far easier to just kill the messenger (decide, for example, that I’m Tinfoil AF, as my boys said.)  Telling someone what and how they should reward their kids with is about as family boundary-violating as it gets.  Don’t bring it up at Christmas dessert, or a birthday party, for chrissakes!

And then, the Authoritarian v-Meme, with its superficial mappings, just keeps on talking.  Focusing on the obesity symptom of the real problem, called metabolic syndrome, which is the result of our sugar addiction, and the precursor to Type II diabetes, is the easy, limbic, superficial thing to do.  And that leads to a whole Authoritarian v-Meme cascade.  Once we move away from our systemic understanding that metabolic syndrome provides — that obesity is merely one symptom of larger metabolic function, the whole systems-thinking thing gets thrown out the window.  Once we huck that important link, we end up with the thinking that people are obese because they are lazy, and they don’t move around.  They’re fat because they have perverse appetites (that’s a real technical term!) and they can’t control their eating.  Which implies they need someone to do that — like some Authority.  And the person who’s obese won’t be too happy when that happens.  And that is built, of course, on the sound science that a calorie in is the same as a calorie out (another one-one superficial mapping, that remains a dominant view in society today.)

There’s a whole anti-empathetic case to be made as well about the origins of sugar in our society.  Sugar was a primary driver for the slave trade, which originally exported slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean and Brazil.  Slave ships had some 400-850 people crowded in their holds, on their way to being beaten to do a task that only slaves could be compelled to do — cultivate sugar.

The problem with reinforcing such perceptions regarding sugar is much larger than just repeating outdated models regarding the cause of obesity, because it directly affects our mental function.  Sugar hacks our brains.  Studies have shown clearly that sugar causes brain inflammation.  Here’s a piece on what happens to rats when they get too much sugar.  Rats fed sugar became passive, and refused to swim when placed in water.  Additionally, they became far impulsive and scattered in their behaviors.  From the article:

“A typical experiment goes like this: rats are deprived of food for 12 hours each day, then given 12 hours of access to a sugary solution and regular chow. After a month of following this daily pattern, rats display behaviours similar to those on drugs of abuse. They’ll binge on the sugar solution in a short period of time, much more than their regular food. They also show signs of anxiety and depression during the food deprivation period. Many sugar-treated rats who are later exposed to drugs, such as cocaine and opiates, demonstrate dependent behaviours towards the drugs compared to rats who did not consume sugar beforehand.”

After reading this, you may become worried about the effect of sugar on you, and perhaps your loved ones.  The larger problem in a society that consumes somewhere close to 1/4 – 1/2 lb. of sugar every day (this turns out to be a hard number to pin down exactly)– and since this is statistically distributed, some people eat far more than that — then becomes that the psychosocial dynamics of an entire population are affected.

What does that mean?  We have a population that is seeing epidemic levels of depression, and with that, the incumbent passivity that depression creates.  That we can know.  Add to that the bias toward impulsive thinking, and increasing dopamine habituation and self-gratification behavior that comes from animal research, and clear biological reactivity mechanisms.  The cluster of these effects are clearly reflected, and reinforced in the Authoritarian v-Meme.  As we’ve witnessed this past year, we have a national government where the rule of law is flouted on a daily basis, led by a knowledge-fragment Twitter-tweeting narcissistic psychopath.

And lest the Left gets too heady on its fundamental self-righteousness, it too has fallen to a different wave of Authoritarianism — counting on individual authorities, like Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, to take out Trump.  Vast marches and social action have faded away, once again characterizing the larger social Gestalt.  A hero — or really, someone else that we don’t know, is going to save us.  Talk about passive, faith-based thinking.

Unfortunately, it gets worse.  The ideas in the paragraph above are easy to take as a snapshot of things that WOULD be different had the elections not turned out the way that they did.  But that is not the case.  One of the biggest problems with the sugar epidemic is the dramatic rise of metabolic syndrome.  Metabolic syndrome doesn’t strike young people, for the most part.  In my own personal experience, it started slowing me down around the age of 43.  Though childhood obesity statistics, and presence of childhood metabolic syndrome are growing, it’s still a disease of middle age and onward.  Taubes and Lustig both write about the current problems with childhood obesity because of increased insulin resistance showing up in the womb, with earlier and earlier onset of problems.  But children aren’t responsible for larger political decisions — that’s for adults.

And when you start statistically reducing your middle-age population’s knowledge structures to knowledge fragments, the process is started regarding diminution of the neural value of extensive temporally continuous experience bases.  Now that’s a mouthful!  What it really means is that it’s life experience that more than anything that gives us windows into “shades of gray” and modulated, multiple solution thinking, as well as the empathy that creates this type of thought.  It’s THE primary bridge toward a broader appreciation of individual circumstance, as well as deeper and more profound consequential thinking.  Sugar will statistically affect that — and its extreme form, even create Alzheimer’s Syndrome, which is now becoming known as Type 3 diabetes.

And while you can argue that only a certain percentage of the population possesses this kind of developmental empathy, there’s a profound shrinking of the pool of available intelligences and consciences. I’ve been involved in political work across multiple scales (local, regional, national) for a number of years, and can speak on authority that you’ll find evolved people (as well as the non-evolved!) working at all levels, on all sorts of problems.  One can see a self-similar degradation of collective intelligence in solving all sorts of societal maladies.  The smartest and best are not always at the top.  So it’s not just that this epidemic affects national governance.

What this means is that if we can’t fix this problem of sugar consumption, that is affecting the core of our psycho-social cognition — the base evolution of our collective consciousness — it will be extremely difficult to recover our brains enough to evolve the empathy we’ll need to fix our problems in that more complex world. Devolutionary Authoritarians are not going to be the folks that find a better way out of power and control, and into connected synergies and kindness.

Lest all of us fall into the rut of thinking sugar is the only thing that needs to be fixed in order to have society start fixing itself, I want to warn against that kind of single-solution thinking as well.  The lowering of empathy in broader society is multi-factorial.  No question that the broadening income gap, and stagnating or declining salaries at the lower end, self-arrests many well-known empathetic development ladders, like increased time for independent social contact, or travel.  And fundamental insecurity and safety of home drive trauma, another huge potential impediment to empathetic development.  Trauma and income deflation are both huge causes of our problems, which sugar feeds into as a dopamine-infused balm.  The challenge, though, comes in developing a shared leverage point between the classes.  The rich in aggregate haven’t shown the will to go along with income redistribution.  And while trauma as well is something the powerful in society share as a problem, they don’t particularly want to discuss it as a shared problem.  I can’t recommend Bessel Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, highly enough, especially for its discussion on how Sigmund Freud’s various dream theories arose as an explanation for upper-crust Vienna’s need to hide the prevalence of incest.

Sugar may be that leverage point.  It affects everyone.  Both rich and poor alike could have healthy diets.  And while the potential collapse of our health care system might affect the poor first, it will hit home with the rest of larger society.  We need more clear-headed poor people, and a kinder and more empathetic rich class.


Why should you believe the argument and statement of the problem above?  Why should you start by working to cut sugar out of yours, and your connected others’ diets? Understanding the argument means backing up our intellectual process and asking what knowledge structures we, as humans (and social communities) have that can understand  such a large, interconnected problem.

To start, as Taubes clearly states in his book, there is no way to run a traditional scientific hypothesis-testing experiment on the effects of sugar on human metabolism.  We can’t take a group of people, split them into two groups — the experiment, and the control, and over a 20-year period feed one sugar and one not.  The best we can do is run these kinds of experiments on animal proxies, like rats, and we’ve done that.  There’s lots of research on rats that show how sugar messes them up.  I’ve linked to some above.

The ‘Why’ or ‘How’ of sugar is also elusive for people.  Taubes talks about how certain researchers have maintained a program around the ‘anything sweet’ hypothesis, which would then put sugar an artificial sweeteners in the same harmful category as sugar.  Where this hypothesis falls apart is in understanding the pure energetics of sugar in the body.  Metabolic pathway research can, and has, shown how sugar works in the body.  Saccharin and other artificial sweeteners can’t compete.

Classic epidemiological research, performed by the nutritional community, has been until recently, a total disaster.  One of the real fathers of our dietary science woes, Ancel Keys, the psychopathic nutrition professor behind the Diet-Heart hypothesis, was funded by the sugar industry, and rammed the notion that dietary fat was behind all our metabolic disease woes.  He actively persecuted scientists who refused to assume his dietary fat hypothesis, and actively worked to discredit individuals like John Yudkin, founder of the nutrition department at Queen Elizabeth College in London, and author of Pure, White and Deadly, which was one of the original expose’s on the perils of sugar.

Looking at long-time history is useful, and Taubes does this in his book.  Additionally, he profiles a couple of aboriginal societies, and the emergence of the host of Western diseases as those social groups were exposed to sugar, albeit in an uncontrolled (from a scientific perspective) fashion.

What this means is that there is a v-Meme knowledge structure stack that creates a very convincing case for sugar as a major dietary vector of metabolic syndrome and Western disease. To recount, with the v-Memes next to the evidence:

  • Guiding Principle thinking — a deep understanding of maintenance of bodily homeostasis (Global Systemic)
  • Classic laboratory studies on lab animals (Legalistic)
  • Metabolic mechanism studies (Legalistic/Performance-Based)
  • Epidemiological Studies on transplanted aboriginal populations (Authoritarian/Legalistic)
  • Long-term history of sugar (Tribal/Mythic)

The list could go on.  But it’s the consistent v-Meme stack that shows how we might navigate complex decision making with some level of confidence.  All these levels reinforce each other as far as the veracity of the conclusion that sugar is the culprit in our dietary woes — and a potential leverage point for larger societal system dynamics.


I’m not going to comment on low empathy solutions to this problem.  They won’t work, and they just give the psychopaths justification for wild behavior.  The answers that come out of Performance and Communitarian v-Memes rely on individual experimentation, and social support.  Both are powerful forces, and evolve a shared understanding on what is possible.  It’s not that solutions like laws restricting sugar wouldn’t help some, or having various Authorities speak against sugar consumption — they would.  But we’re not going to ban the white stuff, and even if we did, as with all addictive substances, people would find a way.  Prohibitions never work.

But social networks CAN  be part of the solution.  During my weight loss period, I started my journey by deciding to make it public on Facebook.  My Facebook ‘friends’ are a relatively diverse lot, from arch-conservatives to arch-liberals, and are people who I’ve met as I’ve traveled through life.  A big hunk of them are my high school friends, as well as students that I’ve taught.  I’m not easy to embarrass, so I posted photos of my big belly for everyone to see as I ran the experiment on myself.    In hindsight, the result wasn’t surprising.  People on my list who were middle-aged started tracking what I was doing, and encouraging me to keep posting.  They also started carbohydrate reduction and sugar elimination themselves.  Many started messaging me with questions, and most lost significant amounts of weight (+15 lbs. or more) with a couple losing 50-60 lbs.  Alone, we are subject to the vagaries of our own dopamine habituation and sugar addiction.  But together, we formed a reasonably powerful collective intelligence regarding the issue.  With my high school friends, I have a reputation as a “brain/geek” so it was easy to accept my authority with the science.

But understanding the science turned out only to be a small part of how to implement weight loss in my own minimally-sized population. Most people don’t work on science (my friends are no different,) and few have the education that can teach them how to critique whether a particular study is scientifically valid or not.  I’ve read a significant hunk of the historical research, and it’s definitely been a pretty unproductive use of my time.  It’s absolutely unrealistic to expect that those non-scientifically trained will have any response other than their eyes glassing over.

What did my social network actually need?  People need coping techniques for the various feelings experienced during sugar withdrawal, and a transition to a more healthy intermittent ketosis state.  I found others had experienced the same lack of empathy, and consequently, analysis of hunger feelings that I had with the medical community.  People are quick to run back to “genetic variations” or “need more exercise” when weight loss slows or stops, because that’s what they hear from authorities most often.  Both promote powerlessness.  You can’t do anything about your genes, and many people are so overwhelmed by their lives, and also have dramatically reduced levels of energy because of their own manifestation of metabolic syndrome, that this is reason to give up.

And simple things like how to modify eating habits eluded many of my friends. I posted quite a bit of information on what I would do while traveling, when you can’t control your food environment as well as being surrounded by sugary foods and refined carbs that make up the food-scape we have to pass through.  People have traditionally associated dieting so heavily with starvation, instead of metabolic modification, it’s challenging to convince people to start any behavior mods that will lead to encouraging, tangible results early on.

Not surprisingly, changing people’s behavior also required modifications and justifications up and down the v-Meme stack.  The fundamental guiding principle — carbohydrate reduction/elimination — may have governed the advice I gave.  But folks also listened to me because of my authority as a man of knowledge inside my community.  And equally important was encouragement directed toward individuals to develop their own heuristics.  Certain individuals in my social network had problems with the concept of my authority, but nonetheless would, over time, adapt a more experimental approach toward diet because I would establish the example, and then broadcast encouragement to them.  Most 12 Step programs for kicking addiction emphasize messaging about being powerless over the addictive substance.  I view this as counterproductive.  Sugar is an addictive substance in the classical sense.  But instead, I insisted on more agency building and adaptive heuristic reasoning.  You CAN use acquired knowledge to adopt new habits and modes of eating that will be satisfying and improve your life.  I also helped people reason through other fads they might be exposed to, and understand them from a shared basis of metabolic fact.  Not discounting approaches that others have, while sometimes challenging (the walking barefoot as galvanic grounding as a solution to weight loss regime did get to me a little) paid off with keeping information flowing in the social network.

There’s a lot in the piece above to chew on (so to speak!)  And at some 6300 words already, I’m going to cut this off.  But the short version is, when it comes to refined carbohydrates, and sugar, we’re going to have to go all Authoritarian v-Meme on you and just say this: cut that shit out.  Because at first, it messes with our heads.  And over long-time, it’s really going to kill us, and our children, each generation more quickly than the last.





Decision-Making in the New Year – Triple D-VRP

Immigrants Son Small

A re-take of a picture Conor and I took four years ago, titled ‘Immigrant’s Son’.  Mike Beiser photo credit

I’ve been hammering away on a longer piece about the creeping effects and feedback loops in Authoritarian societies, which we certainly seem to be drifting towards as the New Year approaches.  It’s almost done, but I was out for a cross-country ski this morning, and thought about how I would advise people to consider issues, and the decisions they make, in the New Year.  I’ve settled on an acronym, DDDVRP — or Triple D-V-R-P.  The idea is that as much as possible, we’d like to make scaffolded and supported decisions as we roll into the New Year.  Our v-Meme Knowledge Structures (which coincidentally has the first version of the photo above!) point the way on how to do this.  Our goal with any decision-making process is to do our best to minimize metacognitive uncertainty, by inventorying what we know, and then comparing it to what others know in our larger social network, and then actively reflecting on this, as well as giving our own deeper intuitive processes some potential for emergence.  We know stuff we don’t know we know.  And our understandings are almost always incomplete.  And while humility is in order, it’s important to know we CAN make good decisions.

So here goes!

  • D  —  Determine a decision/change needs to be made, and start the change process in our own minds.  This might come as part of a quarterly meeting, a change in circumstance, or the emergence of something from deep in your own mind.
  • D  —  Data – collect as much data as we can from past experience, larger available data sets, experiments we’ve run, or are going to run (a la Lean/Agile perturbations and such) and so on.  Understanding hard numbers is almost always useful as well, because it so often forces us to confront our belief structures that are too often oh-so-deep in our brains.  The best example that pops into my mind from my recent weight-loss journey might be “Think you can lose weight by exercise?”  The data simply doesn’t support it.  That’s the gift that data gives.  The start to challenging your assumptions and ingrained mental models.  And finally, the famous quote from one of my heroes, W. Edwards Deming.  “In God we trust.  All others must bring data.”
  • D  —  Dynamic – can we identify cause-and-effect relationships inside the data that show information is not merely correlated, but causal?  Here’s where Peter Senge’s notions of mental models and more conventional understandings of systems thinking come into play.  Seeing two trends line up side-by-side might give us pause.  Having a causal mechanism, based on some principle extant in the physical world, whereby one is plausibly linked to another is even better.
  • V  —  Validation is so important.  What this means is mapping our understanding of the problem to others’ understandings and perceptions, as well as the larger real world.  Here, developed empathy becomes key.  Why do others think the way they do? What experiences undergird why they think the way they do?  What’s the scaffolding look like for their decision-making process?  How can you either steal a page from their playbook, or appropriately discount their opinion?  How can you synergize others’ perspectives into your own process?  How many valid solutions, from others’ different decision making heuristics, can you come up with?
  • R  —  Reflection.  So important.  Why do we think the way we do?  What cognitive biases and flaws in our own thinking do we have?  What are areas we know nothing about that are not included in our own personal calculus?  How does earlier trauma affect the course we steer for others and ourselves?  What’s our own confirmation bias in the situation?  A perfect reason for a long bike ride — or cross-country ski, run or other contemplative cycling of your thoughts.
  • P  —  Pull the trigger.  All good decision-makers make decisions.  Pull the trigger and make the decision.  Always good to put into place post-decision monitoring, so you can watch, in an engaged way, how the decision plays out within yourself, your engaged publics, and the broader world.  But in the end — you have to Pull the Trigger!

Triple D VRP!

And for those that want, you can go back and see how this maps in with the v-Memes.  Every time you make a decision, you’re working on your own brain evolution!

Postscript: Friend and Big Data scientist/mathematician, Kevin Vixie, wrote this nice piece which basically says the same thing, in perhaps a more emotionally approachable lexicon.  Recommended.



Quickie Post — More Fun with Cetaceans and Humans

100 Islands 2012 (1)

100 Islands National Park, Philippines, 2013

By now, it’s no surprise to me to find inter-species empathy.  Especially between two groups of mesoscale predators, who have already evolved collective behavior to hunt as part of core survival mechanisms.  In the case of the article below:


The post is from 2012, but just came across my Facebook feed today.  The article documents the shared fishing behavior between humans in Laguna, Brazil, using nets to fish for coastal mullet, with the help of dolphins who drive the fish into nets.  Turns out dolphins that practice this kind of behavior have tighter social networks than dolphins that don’t.  Empathy much?

What’s mind-boggling is NOT that two separate species share coordinated behavior, and in a novel way show the power of diversity, making my point that I’ve made earlier that diversity increases data-driven rational acting.  What’s wild is that instead of looking at the behavior for the obvious learned behavior that it is, scientists want to explain it with genetics.  Think about that — two of the species with the biggest software processor on the planet must have this kind of behavior hard-coded, due to selfishness.  V-Meme egocentric projection talking much, scientists?


The Case Against Sugar — a True Psychodynamic Meta-Review

Huangshan BW

Sunrise on top of Yellow Mountain (Huangshan), Anhui Province, 2013

Those following this blog extensively know that I’ve been on a weight-loss lifestyle change that has yielded tons of insight not just in ordinary health — I’ve dropped about 57 lbs. as of this writing, and am back to the weight I was in my mid 30s.  It’s also yielded a ton of insight on why we, as a culture, believe much of what we believe, and how our diets portend for us a future that is either deeply grounded in reality, or lost to us in sickness and delusion.

When I started the journey, back at the end of May, I was at the end of a two week bicycling frenzy that had logged about 300 miles.  You might think that this would cause me to lose weight.  The reality was that I kept the scales pegged at 292 lbs. and rising.  I’ve always been a cyclist — I used to call myself a ‘fit, fat guy’ — so the time on the bike was both a joy and a sign of resignation.  If I couldn’t lose weight, the least I could do is ride my bike and be super-fit.  I now know that 99% of us can’t be both, and that obesity is almost always caused by other problems.  It’s not a character flaw.  Obesity is a symptom of metabolic instability and disease.

But that was at the beginning of the journey.  Fellow chronic co-conspirator Ryan Martens, gearing up to run a marathon (his story, and the social network that facilitated it is a blog post soon to be released) and who carries far less excess poundage than Yours Truly, recommended a in-part diet book by Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Body.  Tim is a super-interesting author in that he believes that if an expert is going to get reviewed for the advice doled out, Tim himself is going to apply the advice given and see how things turn out.  The Four Hour Body is his aggregation of narratives, as well as recommendations, on how to lose, as well as gain weight and muscle strength.

His weight loss diet, explained simply, is ‘meat, beans, greens and nothing else – especially NO white food (like potatoes, rice and sugar.)’  I’ve written about this with the following posts.

Weight Loss — it’s in the V-Memes
Weight Loss — It’s in the v-Memes (II)
Weight Loss by the V-Memes — (III) What’s the v-Meme stack look like?
Weight Loss by the V-Memes (IV) or Channeling your Inner Australopithecine

I can still remember the beginnings of all this, staring at the Costco Italian sausage and can of refried beans I had microwaved for lunch, and thinking “here goes nothing!”  What happened in the subsequent days was transformative.  I lost 8-9 lbs. in two weeks.  And I had never lost weight before, consistently.  And yes — I’ve exercised for all my adult life.

Ryan went on to drop 20 lbs. (or something!) and successfully completed his marathon.  At this point in the timeline (December 3) I’m down close to 60 lbs., and likely will have a very hard time losing past my current fluctuating 235 lbs.  But I’m super-healthy, never tired, and possessing endless energy.  Definitely not what I was, body-composition-wise, when I started all this.

It was back, though, at 282 lbs., at the very beginning, that my brain kicked in and said “Why?”  Why am I losing weight, when I had suffered under the illusion that exercise and moderately healthy eating was the best I could manage?  Why was I strung out on an increasing list of typical late middle-aged prescriptions (blood pressure medicine, sleep apnea machine, occasional gastro-esophageal reflux, creeping pre-diabetes, swollen joints and a need for Ibuprofen, and recommended-but-never-taken statins)?  The doctors were more than happy to tell me I was just getting old, and that I better adapt to my failing health, because I was doing most everything I could.  Pain, obesity and decrepitude were all part of the mortal contract.  And they would make it better, or rather, drag it out, if I would just take one more pill.  Man-boobs, regardless of my exercise habit, were my destiny.  98% of people who lose weight put it all back on in a year.  “Science” has shown that.  I would most likely fail as well.  If only I would stop drinking alcohol, things would change.  Maybe.

Of course, I know now that all of that is total bullshit.  What disorder I had, diagnosed by friends over the Internet, and what I learned it was called, by putting myself out on Facebook and having my entire community work on my problem (and theirs as well) is called metabolic syndrome.  Coupled into metabolic syndrome is a prime characteristic known as insulin resistance.  I’m not alone. Over 100 million of my fellow Americans have similar problems.  Another third are overweight, and on their way.  We are literally witnessing a Great Dying due to ‘something.’

What that ‘something’ is is a fascinating story in itself — and not surprisingly, it has to do with what we believe that is not true — a reliability/validity conflict of massive proportion.  It’s layered deep with human intrigue, loaded with control, manipulation and psychopathy, and unpacks the v-Meme stack in how we know things and interpret them as a culture AND an individual.  And it also wraps in the Principle of Reinforcement, addiction, and timescales outside the empathetic development of most of the culture.

But back to the point of me staring at my Italian sausage and refried beans.  Or rather, 10 days after, when I had lost ten lbs.  I HAD to figure out why, after so many years, miles on the bike, and hours in the gym (which were not wasted – but did not affect my weight) I lost 10 lbs. in two weeks, but could never dream of such an outcome only two weeks earlier.  What was wrong with my thinking?  What didn’t I know?  And more importantly, what didn’t I know that I didn’t know?

I started doing research, commencing with the podcasts recommended by Ryan, and reading The Four Hour Body.  I followed Tim Ferriss to Dom D’agostino, to Rhonda Patrick.  Friends chimed in who had suffered similarly.  I was given the terms metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance by a formerly morbidly obese friend who is now a bodybuilder.  That led to the usual superficial descriptions, but layered underneath by scientific citations, which I am lucky enough to have the education to be able to read.  Lots of Wikipedia and familiarization with various terms in biochemistry, as well as resurrection of knowledge learned in high school followed.  I emerged into the world of ketogenic dieting with lots of connections between fields, some learned, some made by myself.  Along with my Facebook page came re-emergence of old friendships, people who were following my weight loss journey, and decided, oddly inspired by my example, to begin their own.  I figure in aggregate, we’ve lost about 400 lbs. together.

And as my own brain works, I used it.  I’m constantly looking for deeper causal mechanisms and connections.  It’s what I do.  At the end of all of this, I finally ended up with three books, which had already documented professionally much of what I had independently done, and learned.  Here’s the gift.  These three books, written by four people, really had already traversed the ground I had followed on my own — besides doing it in a more thorough, professional way.  The good news is that you don’t have to buy into my own ‘Deep Paleo’ theories (read my blog posts for more detail.)  You can read better, more scaffolded versions in these three books, written by experts.  They are:

After reading (I actually digested them with a mix of reading and Audible.com) these three books, you can come to the same independent conclusions I came to, along with a ton of other stuff.  I’ve made this point before — the difference between an amateur’s understanding (I’m definitely an amateur when it comes to weight loss) and a professionals’ is v-Meme scaffolding and completeness of information content.  But I came to exactly the same conclusions — you can be a skilled learner as an amateur.  If you were to believe me alone, you’d have to be going on faith in my limited authority.  With these three books, exhaustively researched (Nina’s project took nine years, and Gary has been writing on these things for the last 15 at least, with a published Nature article) you don’t have to take my word for it.  And if you need to hear this from experienced doctors and nutrition researchers, Volek and Phinney are the ticket.  Pick your authority.

But if you want the most complete, interesting story, and only want to listen to one, I’d have to recommend The Case Against Sugar.  Teicholz’s book is almost as impressive, and worth it if you need convincing the need for adding animal fat to your diet.  Volek and Phinney’s is a bit drier.  Both Taubes’ and Teicholz’s books are available on Audible.com.

What is fascinating about Taubes’ book, and Teicholz’s as well, is that both are journalistic reviews of scientific literature, where both journalists undertook a journey to read and digest the current scientific literature, as well as do deep tracing of original sources to understand the true roots of current perspective.  For the rest of this post, I’m going to focus on The Case Against Sugar.  But much of the praise, as well as the thinking, can also be attributed to Teicholz’s book.

In The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes executes what we in science call a meta-review.  What is a meta-review?  It’s where someone pulls all the relevant past research on a particular area, and exhaustively looks for commonalities and contradictions in the literature to show how various hypotheses are, or alternately not, supported.  A traditional scientific meta-review constrains itself only to the scientific literature.  It is typically written by an authority in the field, and through virtue of precedent, constrains itself solely to facts and figures from the reviewed material.  Though opinion is implicit, it is suppressed.  Usually review papers are written by invitation only, from people dominant in the field.  And as Taubes reveals in his book, such an approach would never result in a damning indictment such as his.  Why?  Because so many of the researchers in the nutrition discipline have been bought by the sugar industry, or brought up to never question the basic hypotheses regarding the ostensible deleterious effect of saturated fat in diet that pervades the thinking and funding in the nutrition community.

The general form of The Case Against Sugar is laid out in the Author’s Note at the very beginning of the book.  Taubes lays down the gauntlet in the first and second paragraphs.

The purpose of this book is to present the case against sugar — both sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — as the principal cause of the chronic disease that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise, in the twenty-first century…. If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.

Taubes then goes forward to exhaustively document the history of sugar, and refined flour as well, its known effects against indigenous people (it rots out their teeth, destroys their health and incapacitates them in short order.)  Anyone needing some deeper insight into Sherman Alexie’s book, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Meand Alexie himself, discussed here on this blog, on what happened to the Spokane Indians when they lost salmon from their diet after the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, can map the same outcomes Taubes discusses for tribes like the Tohono O’odham in the U.S., and the Tokelau in New Zealand, in detail to the Spokane Indian tribe.

Taubes decisively makes the case that sugar is a long-acting addictive, and destructive agent, acting over decades.  He chronicles in-depth the impact: increases in metabolic syndrome, which basically captures all the various internal organ dysfunctions; heart disease; and the obesity epidemic.  He even devotes a whole chapter to three specific illnesses that plague us — gout, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, stacking up the evidence and the conclusions.

But what’s truly awesome about Taubes’ work, from a v-Meme perspective, is that while Taubes himself is unaware of a v-Meme classification for knowing, he attempts to explain the differences between levels of causality that exist in the different knowledge structures.  And throughout the book, he really looks at the psychodynamics present in the community that made these decisions.  He digs deep into the “why” and “how” certain conclusions in the nutrition community got created, which then puts him in the bailiwick of my own work.  What is the fundamental OS that generated the specific knowledge that has led us to getting so far off-track with how we eat?  When the average American ingests over 150 lbs. of sugar and year, and didn’t eat nearly so much only 50 years ago, how can we believe there is NO effect?  Or, at a minimum, believe that there is no effect worth investigating? Formally, we might call this a reliability/validity crisis.  But informally, it’s gaslighting of the highest order.

Taubes walks up the v-Meme spiral, from the loss of heuristic causality present in Performance v-Meme German science pre- WWII and its analysis of obesity as a metabolic disorder, to the re-established postwar authority of the far less scientifically evolved and sophisticated, Legalistic v-Meme, and far more Authoritarian American medical community.  He continues with critiques of a lack of clinical experience in testing theories in the American medical community, and then finally moves toward advancing the long-time notion of sugar as a driver for most modern Western diseases.

Along the way, he confronts the authority of psychopathic actors, like Ancel Keys, credited with inventing the military K-ration, and one of the most famous nutrition professors of all time. Funded by the sugar industry, Keys advanced the Diet-Heart Hypothesis, that maintained that replacing saturated animal fats with vegetable polyunsaturated fats would prevent heart disease.  The indirect result of Keys’ aggressive advocacy for invalid science was the removal of saturated fat from processed food, and the massive substitution of sugar in those same foods in an attempt to retain palatability.

Keys drew these conclusions from his famous Seven Countries Study, which would become infamous not for rigorous science, but confirmation bias and convenient omission.  He was also infamous for his chronic, rebarbative attacks against his fellow researchers who were openly skeptical of Keys’ recommendations — in particular,  John Yudkin, another famous nutritional research professor at Queen Elizabeth College in London, who attempted to warn the public about the dangers of sugar as far back as the late 1950s.

Taubes attempts to wrap up the book explaining the value of scaffolded heuristics (my words, not his!) and how the existence of uncertainty is part and parcel of any grand theory.  There are times I think he remains not completely convinced of his own conclusions — which is a good thing.  In the final chapter, he buttresses his insights with long-time knowing about changes in history, which once again reflects some pretty profound metacognition on his part.  As well as the ability to change his mind.  That’s awesome.

Can we place sugar in a larger context inside our current woes?  Based not just on Taubes’ book, but on further reasoning as well, I think we can.  Sugar turns out to be the perfect addictive substance for a feedback loop into our current Authoritarian malaise.  Sugar and insulin resistance create the metabolic conditions for low energy and depression.  The decline in health is slow, so effects on the actors only culminate in old age, after effective work life is complete.  Unlike other addictive substances, like heroin, that incapacitate individuals almost immediately, sugar takes decades.  And its constant ingestion then makes the individual dependent on a host of other industries in order for sustained survival.  Not the least of which is Big Pharma, who makes the drugs to counter the bad effects, and Big Agriculture, that makes the high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose in the first place.

Conclusions emerge from his basic work.  If sugar is the cause of the diabetes/obesity epidemic, its effects are striking earlier and earlier in our young people.  Type II diabetes used to be unheard of in our young people.  Now it is rising across the globe at epidemic rates.  If sugar causes brain inflammation and incumbent depression, it’s no surprise to me that in large populations, we see an escalation of such tragedies as school shootings, which then reinforce trauma mentality and emergence of Survival v-Meme thinking. T, in turn, increases Authoritarianism and destroys empathy and its development in our young people’s schools.  And then that same Authoritarianism creates a lack of desire for understanding causal thinking, or even promotes divergent and unsupported perspectives.  Which THEN become refocused on such things as environmental toxins, which may have effects, but are far less supported or plausible than the 150 lbs./year of sugar we eat.  Sugar turns out not just corrosive to our health.  When we live in denial of its impact, it becomes far more corrosive to our sense of truth.

As wild as it may seem, if there’s one place in the Principle of Reinforcement — that individuals create thought patterns in societies, that then in turn create thought patterns in individuals — that might suggest a profound intervention in our political woes, it is in our diet.  And while diet is indeed complex, and sugar is not the only element that needs fixing (a return to saturated fats is also mandatory,),  eliminating sugar is a great place to start.

There’s more stuff to unpack here that I’ve been thinking about.  Here are a few, peripherally related thoughts to work on connections yourself:  Insulin itself is a fascinating core control chemical in the body, and its ability to separate core energy systems in the body, from external drivers in the environment is likely the reason we evolved dependence on insulin in the first place, since we use sugar for our primary energy cycle, but can’t find it very often existing in nature.  The fact that wheat and Authoritarian hierarchies to grow it co-evolved, and led to conflicts with hunter-gatherer cultures were likely no surprise.   You needed the suppression of independent expression, if not agency, to get everyone to go to war in some orderly fashion — another great expression of the Principle of Reinforcement.  Understanding caste cultures built on vegetarianism, such as India, is an area rich for understanding control of large populations through food.  Advocacy against sugar as a daily ingested substance, at this point in time, will likely net you the same looks that anti-tobacco advocates sixty years ago.  As Dr. Robert Lustig noted in his most recent book, The Hacking of the American Mindsugar as a dopamine-producing agent, fuels addiction and pleasure seeking, and thus reinforces the Authoritarian social structure, whereas animal fats promote serotonin production, and very likely promote empathetic development.  The implications in shifting population densities and social structures are staggering — humans come together over eating animals, but as we shifted up into Authoritarian and Legalistic hierarchies, we evolved a food source that made us passive and self-reinforcing for the new population-dense social structure.  Wow.  Alcohol is on average is pro-empathetic, sugar anti-empathetic.  These are just a few things shooting through my head as I’ve, uh, digested all this material.

Our brains are so dependent on the food we ingest.  I’m looking forward to spring and all the bike rides I’ll have to muse on this.

But when it comes to sugar, for my mind, there isn’t that much complexity.  As I’ve been telling my friends lately — just cut that stuff out.


Quickie Post — More Evidence that Sentience is Evolutionary – Cetaceans Redux


Swimming with dolphins in the open ocean, Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, 2013, the Big Island of Hawaii

For those that need a break from our self-created trauma machine of social media lately (there’s a whole post on that, but I just can’t bear to write it!) I just got this link from Frans De Waal’s Facebook feed.  Not surprisingly, the science is coming back that cetaceans have complex societies.  Whales and dolphins both engage in intense empathetic behaviors that have led to the rise of cetacean ‘cultures’.  From the piece:

The long list of behavioural similarities includes many traits shared with humans and other primates such as:

  • complex alliance relationships – working together for mutual benefit
  • social transfer of hunting techniques – teaching how to hunt and using tools
  • cooperative hunting
  • complex vocalizations, including regional group dialects – ‘talking’ to each other
  • vocal mimicry and ‘signature whistles’ unique to individuals – using ‘name’ recognition
  • interspecific cooperation with humans and other species – working with different species
  • alloparenting – looking after youngsters that aren’t their own
  • social play

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-whales-dolphins-rich-human-like-cultures.html#jCp

The most interesting thing I found in the article, though, is the statement from one of the professors from Stanford, Dr. Kieran Fox:

Dr Kieran Fox, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, added: “Cetaceans have many complex social behaviours that are similar to humans and other primates. They, however, have different brain structures from us, leading some researchers to argue that whales and dolphins could not achieve higher cognitive and social skills. I think our research shows that this is clearly not the case. Instead, a new question emerges: How can very diverse patterns of structure in very different species nonetheless give rise to highly similar cognitive and social behaviours?”

I think I might just have to drop him a note.












Weight Loss by the V-Memes (IV) or Channeling your Inner Australopithecine

Salmon River Neck FatSkinny Chuck Mike Sailboat

Me, about 50 lbs. ago, on the Salmon River in central Idaho, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, in 2016, followed by me a little over a year later, next to friend Mike Beiser’s sailboat.

For those that have been following my weight loss journey — far more immediately impactful that some of the secrets-of-the-universe squirrel talk that appears on this blog — you’ll remember that I make a couple of big points about how we view food.  For those without the patience to read the older posts, here they are:

  1.  Most of how we view food in the contemporary world, and fat, has absolutely nothing to do with the actual biochemistry of how our bodies process food.  Even the stuff about how we’re supposed to feel when we EAT certain food!
  2. Most of how we view food is wrapped deeply in notions of social control that feed the Authoritarian v-Meme in our society.
  3. The deep shame that the top of the Authoritarian food chain wants to lay on us for ostensibly being lazy deprives us of receiving meaningful information on what food (and hunger) actually does to us.  The short version of our current food crisis is a.) we eat sugary food because it gives us a buzz, we’re depressed, and it’s addictive, and b.) it makes us fat, and then that feeds back into a system where other people call us lazy.

I’ve advocated for a diet, very similar to Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, I’ve taken to calling “Deep Paleo”.  This is the diet we actually evolved to eat, over about 1 million years.  Screw the various “genetic bottlenecks” that say humans evolved to blow up into zeppelins with minimal food, or the very distinguished folks that say “because we nearly starved, we had to figure out how to get along with each other and hunt cooperatively.”  Those beliefs, though widely held (and reliably recited — hang on to that thought) are very likely total bullshit.  Empathy — the thing that really organized us — requires energy surpluses.  Not energy shortages.  Food shortages would drive more factionalization and extinction.  Not more social evolution.

But back to that ‘social structure/influence-free’ diet.  That evolutionary diet’s history (once again, think a million years ago, not 10,000) is straightforward — for 10 months each year (the Dry Season in central Africa) we ate lizards, and things we could run down, because we could run a long time.   Two months of the year (during the Wet Season), we ate fruit, and we got fat, and the women produced estrogen, and got pregnant.

And then, when the fruit was gone, we shifted back to being skinny, because that’s what we needed to be in order to chase impalas and lizards.  Farley Mowat showed you could eat mice and be a large carnivore and do just fine.  And because it wouldn’t do for us to wander around starving for months at a time, our bodies evolved to shift into lizard-grabbing/antelope chasing food mode in about a week – without much pain.  As crazy as it may seem, you’re supposed to be able to lose weight and get back into shape without much pain.  We mastered that over a million years of evolution.

The bottom line is NOT that we should go back to that 10 month/2 month cycle.  The bottom line is that our deep history tells us what we should eat if we want to lose weight and be lizard-grabbing lively, or carbohydrate-sleepy.  We don’t HAVE to do anything (including eating lizards) for 10 months at a time.  We can lose weight for a week or so, eating figurative lizards and antelopes and still not being hungry, and then grab some jalapeño poppers with our friends at the bar once every other week or so.  It’s really that easy to control your weight.  The deep insight is intensely liberating — and also promotes agency.  Something else the control-oriented in our society aren’t so into.

All this is pretty cool.  But you don’t have to just believe me.  Watch the video below — about horses and humans racing along in Wales.


Someone with a lot tighter editorial control than this blog is singing my song.  They attribute our ability to run all day to cooling abilities of early proto-hominids as opposed to their prey.  I totally agree.  I’ve said that, barring a super-hot day, you ought to be able to easily exercise for 3-4 hours without a Camelbak.  Certainly without ‘hitting the wall’.  And the science supports this.  But the other unexpressed elephants-in-the-room, are the food we ate to be able to do that, as well as the efficiency of bipedal locomotion.  It also means, implicitly, that ketosis and gluconeogenesis were the historic way humans dealt with getting the majority of the energy, especially for motion, most of the time, that they need.  Not carbs, glycogen, glycolysis, and fatty livers.

Because our society can’t process the real basics of who, and what we are, and these basic principles of how our metabolism evolved, we, as a nation, are destroying ourselves.  What many of us get, especially as we age, is insulin dysregulation, more properly called, insulin resistance, that leaves many of us suffering with metabolic syndrome.

Even Stephen Hawking has warned us of the ramifications of the obesity crisis.  Though, not surprisingly, as a good, old-fashioned Authoritarian, he’s warned us (kinda) about the wrong thing.  “Sitting to much is killing us,” and he’s partially right.  But he blows any opportunity to really change the debate by doubling down on the old ‘humans are lazy’ trope, instead of discussing the real driver, diet – sugar, fat, and metabolic syndrome — the real demons in this passion play.

What’s really interesting, though, is how the whole food discussion is also a great way to understand the “reliability/validity” discussion I’ve talked about on this blog.  We can look at our deep ancestors and come up with all sorts of reasons to reliably support our current views on eating lots of cinnamon rolls and bananas.  That doesn’t make them insightful, true or accurate.  It just means they’re repeatable, and everyone will basically say the same thing.

But validity-wise, all this is really falling apart.  On our carbohydrate-dominated, processed food diet, almost everyone is getting fat.  You can go to your local Walmart, or even your local health food store (lots of obese, unhealthy looking people there too!) And we believe we can actually eat that stuff.  Our beliefs, more than anything else, drive the creation of our food supply, as well as what we put in our mouth.  And everything about that fails profoundly the validity test.  When we reach for the cinnamon roll AND the orange juice at breakfast — what we believe balances pleasure and health, we’re still getting fatter.  That means it fails the validity test.  In spades.

What I’ve found in my own world (or rather, my own body) is that my big brain gets pretty happy when I eat carbs.  Which makes sense — the brain burns something like 20% of the calories  we eat.

But sometimes you just shouldn’t listen to your brain.  Sometimes, you just need to go out and grab a lizard.  Or remember those days, loping across the Central African savannah, chasing an antelope with your homies.

Shout-out to co-conspirator Ryan Martens and his successful marathon completion.  Ryan’s a little younger than me (not much), and after training only a couple of months (he was in fine shape, but not a marathoner a priori) he ran a marathon all with sub 10-minute miles.  Interestingly enough, empathy drove his training — he was coupled with an app and a group of other fine folks, who encouraged each other to stick to the training regimen, virtually chasing that antelope all together across the savannah.  Kinda like we did 1 million years ago!


Empathetic Leadership – the Road Map

Les Teresa Conor Salmon fishing

Les, son Conor, and Teresa after a successful day salmon fishing in the ocean off the Columbia Bar.  Les was one of my original design process and leadership mentors.

Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting, along with chronic co-conspirator, former Rally Software CTO Ryan Martens, and new friend, SAFe Fellow Jennifer Fawcett, at the Scaled Agile Summit, a convergence of software managers and engineers interested in accelerating and managing ever more complex software development projects.  We’ll be sharing the stage and talking about development of empathy in leadership, which I discuss in my posts below on Servant Leadership 2.0.  We’re shifting the terminology a little bit, but at the same time, I think it’s fair to commend Jim Collins’ work in Good to Great on Servant Leadership as a starting point for my process of reflection on how leadership works.

As well as what has changed. The demands of companies as we approach the year 2020 are still somewhat the same — we have to ship product or services and make money.  But with increasing diversity, global markets, and far more connected systems and integration problems, lots has also changed.  Collins’ book was originally published back in 2001, when doing business in China, for example, wasn’t exactly new, but also still relatively difficult.  Now the entire globe is mapped together with interconnected supply chains, software is traded in 24/7 work cycles that follow the rotation of the Earth, and even locally, customers expect levels of personalization for basic products that were heretofore reserved only for the very high end of anyone’s product line.

Equally, the challenges of integrating larger social and environmental concerns loom large, and as a corporation, what you’re not aware of not only can hurt your bottom line, but increasingly, on a planet beset by global warming, can literally kill us all.  24 hour media cycles, and the ubiquity of the Internet also means that the expanse of global awareness has been amplified almost immeasurably.

And though, at times, this seems like a burden, it’s a good thing.  We are all interconnected, of course, so the actions of everyone can and do affect the whole.  At the same time, the enlightened leader has to prioritize actions, and spheres of influence.  We can feel deep compassion for starvation in the South Sudan.  At the same time, our own survival is keyed to shipping the next revision of our product.  That’s just a fact.

What Ryan, Jennifer and I will be presenting on is not a topical-level road map toward solutions of all these problems.  Anyone telling you that you’re going to master leadership by clicking through a checklist is selling an increasingly long bill-of-goods.  The evolutionary answer is to create the circumstances within your empathetic self, so your awareness grows — becomes emergent — and you can use all those tools, skills and experiences gained over your lifetime and career to facilitate the growth of the people around you.  As well as yourself.  It’s not an open loop process — it’s a coupled system, and as your empathetic self becomes more connected to others and feeds information and energy into others, so it also comes back to you.  There is no chicken, nor egg — but we can help with the process of self-preparation.  That’s our intention.

How do we intend to do this?  We’re going to lay out the real Big Picture — the meta- road map of how we’re all connected, from the neural level through our own organizations and desired outcomes, to larger societal cultures, constraints and intentions.  And then we’ll help with a little self-training.  While it is true that we’ve only got 45 minutes, we also believe that you can start the evolution process, interestingly enough, by seizing the development of personal agency through interaction with others.  And then hopefully, you’ll take that back and use it on yourself.  Of course, there’s more.  But all great quests begin with a handful of friends.

The connections you make will influence how that path will develop, and where those differences will be made.  We can’t know, and don’t pretend to.  But we do hope to inspire, at least a little by example.  How?  With one of the main lessons I think all three of us have learned in our own very different paths — by facing our ignorance, accepting ourselves, and then committing to action.  It’s as simple as the statement “I don’t know.  But I believe in myself enough that I can find out.  And I’m going to do it.”

All my Servant Leadership 2.0 posts are listed below.

Servant Leadership 2.0 — A Starting Point
Servant Leadership 2.0 — It’s coming, whether you like it or not
Servant Leadership 2.0 — some Semi-Final Thoughts
Servant Leadership 2.0 Continued — the Evolved Global Holistic Team
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — the First in a Series
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — Part II — Understanding the Legalistic Transition
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — Part III — Trust-Based Relationships and Leadership Acceleration
Combining Servant Leadership 2.0, Empathy, and Design Heuristics in High Performance Teams

Postscript:  This hit my Facebook feed today.  None other than Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is singing the importance of empathy.    And the most in-depth, systemic perspective is right here on this blog.  Word.