(The Psychology of Idealistic Diets--continued, Part B)
|The attractions and pitfalls of purist
black-and-white dietary philosophies
I take it, then, you have some other observations to introduce before we proceed further?
Yes. Let's back up at this point and set the context for why people get into Natural Hygiene or any other dietary system in the first place.
PROBLEM #1: Confusion and contradiction in the marketplace of dietary ideas and research. I think most of us have experienced before we got into Natural Hygiene how confusing the dietary world is these days. Everyone has something different to say and even the scientific studies on nutrition seem to contradict themselves every few years. About the only things anyone seems to agree on right now are that lots of fresh fruits and vegetables are good, and too much fat in the diet is bad--and some people don't even agree about the details of the latter. On most every other topic there is divisive controversy. Most people are confused. There is nothing that leads to a good argument like food these days. Of course, maybe it's always been that way, but in any event, confusion and contradiction about diet are rampant and have been for a long time.
PROBLEM #2: Feeling powerless over microbes, genetics, or out-of-control authoritarian health-care. Another part of the psychological climate to look at here is that with the dominant/submissive doctor/patient relationship that has dominated the Western medical approach for decades if not centuries, people don't feel in control of their health. They feel at the mercy of unknown forces--not only doctors, but microbes, inherited genetics, and so forth.
- THE APPEAL: The psychological attractions of emotional certainty. So the first thing to look at here is that people strongly crave a lot more certainty in this area. This is important from the psychological standpoint: It means there is going to be appeal in systems that make everything very simple, very black-and-white, systems that offer some sort of key litmus test by which you can assess everything and reduce it all to fundamental, delineated concepts, hopefully with few ambiguous gray areas--even in spite of the fact the real world may turn out to be far more complex.
- THE PITFALL: Oversimplifications and illusory truths. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with desiring more certainty in and of itself. The problem comes in when the illusion of absolute certainty is so strongly desired, and people become so sure of themselves, that everything becomes oversimplified and things start getting left out of the equation. We'll talk more about this later too.
PROBLEM #3: Thoughtful non-authoritarianism vs. mere reactionary rebellion.
- THE APPEAL: Giving people tools to regain individual control over their own health. So here, there is an inherent appeal in dietary systems that give back control to people by putting tools and methods in their hands that give them more power to control their own health. Again, this is good, of course.
- THE PITFALL: Perceptual reframing of health factors can blind people to real dangers. But on the downside, there can be the danger of a false sense of control that occurs when people are not as much in control as they think they are, or think they know more than they do. This can cause one to view health or disease symptoms through perceptual filters which distort one's vision of what may actually be going on, which can get people into real trouble. We see this in the case of Natural Hygiene where all symptoms tend to be viewed as "detox," blinding people to other possibilities that may go unaddressed as their condition worsens while the person thinks they are getting better. This we will also discuss in depth.
- THE APPEAL: Casting off outmoded or oppressive authority, and thinking for oneself. Another psychological backdrop for the appeal of Natural Hygiene and other give-control-back-to-the-people approaches is that they are anti-authoritarian. There is an inherent and legitimate appeal in systems of thought that take power away from oppressive systems like what much of our current modern health-care system has become. I would hope most of us laud this trend.
- THE PITFALL: Myopia and self-delusion. However, there is also a danger here as well, in that if one becomes so reactionary that they begin not to listen to feedback from others, they risk becoming lost in an emotionally reactive, subjective world of their own. Feedback is the only corrective to self-delusion, and the feedback of information outside your own "self-certain" or myopic thinking processes can be vital if your world is not to become solely self-oriented to the point you lose your bearings.
Okay, this gives us some insights into what psychological factors are appealing to people about a dietary system like Natural Hygiene. However, people also usually get into health foods because of specific health problems. Why Hygiene and not some other system?
Well, this is something I have done a lot of thinking about, including thinking back to why I personally was attracted to Hygiene, and I've also observed what people new to the M2M talk about. And I don't think it would be exaggerating too much to say that it is the paradigm of "detoxification" that captures people's imaginations and satisfies their sense of logic. It powerfully addresses the three psychological desires we talked about above, by:
Other unconscious needs also met. Psychologically, all of this serves a lot of unconscious needs by giving people a sense of identity, villains to fight against, Gentiles to convert to the cause, and so forth. One can even be a martyr and a prophet not recognized in their own country (family) during holiday gatherings where they are ostracized for refusing to partake in heathen rituals like turkey-eating. And of course, as I have personally experienced first-handedly, there are the heretics such as myself who are upbraided for having abandoned the cause, or the backsliders who are pitied in their weakness. It's a complete psychological package that people often get a lot more mileage out of than they realize.
- Number one, answering the desire for a feeling of certainty with a simple, powerful theoretical and practical mechanism that appears to explain everything (or almost everything). It also gives a completely new perspective for most health-seekers who--like most of the populace--have been absorbed in the make-sure-you-get-all-the-right-nutrients approach or who have been mesmerized by the idea microbes are at the root of everything.
This is what I think is responsible for the statement you often hear by converts to Hygiene that "it just had the ring of truth." What I think people are really describing here is the shift from one paradigm to another. Suddenly you have the new explanatory paradigm that in one stroke simplifies the entire health equation, relegating microbes to a secondary role and assuring you that if you just eat a variety of vegetarian natural foods, you will get all the nutrients you need, so what you end up mainly needing to focus on is eating clean foods. It is this simplicity that is partly what makes people feel so certain, along with the fact that this simplicity is so logically black-and-white, a characteristic of Hygienic thought we will also look at more as we proceed.
- Second, just as convincingly, the need for control is answered by the fact one can actually see results by eating cleaner foods. This part of the Natural Hygiene system definitely works for almost everybody who has been eating what we call the "SAD" ("standard American diet")--at least at first, and up to a point--and so it is what one could call the "conversion experience" or the "rite of initiation" that furnishes the proof people need to be convinced of the validity of the entire system of Hygienic practice. Whether on the basis of initial symptom disappearance due to detoxification the entire fabric of Hygiene merits unquestioned credence is an issue most people don't think about. But the fact is, it does play the role of convincing people to follow the rest of the dietary admonitions of the system too, by extension; i.e., if this is so powerfully true, how can the rest not be also?
- And third, of course, people love the anti-authoritarian blast-the-medicos rhetoric that blames their profession for everything short of the fall of Greek and Roman civilization. It gives people something to stand for--the underdog against Goliath, or the lone light of truth in a dark, SAD-eating world--and enables us to pump up our egos by showing how ignorant most people are, especially the M.D.s, who know nothing about nutrition, and who with their drugs are creating more toxification of people and creating the very problem that needs solving in the first place. Even the scientists are seen as stupid too, who, in spite of all their knowledge, can't see the forest for the trees like we Hygienists can see it, just by using a little common sense and breaking out of our previous paradigms.
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(Success/Failure Rates of Vegan Diets in Natural Hygiene)
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SEE TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR: PART 1 PART 2 PART 3
GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets
GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution
GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets
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