Category Archives: Health & Society

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Conversation with Sr. La. Prabhupada about Providing Jobs to Others

In the last few blogs I reviewed a book critical of the effects that the internet is having on the world’s economy (“The Internet is Not the Answer”). That book made one point super clear: the internet is having a major impact on the American and possibly the world-wide job market. In other words, the internet is another huge step in that historical progression called automation. The internet has created a new sector of the worldwide economy where a very few websites control a huge amount of business transactions. And those very few companies employ very few people relative to similarly powerful companies of the past. One can argue, of course, that this is a continuation of a trend that began in the 1700’s in England with the Industrial revolution. That argument does not minimize the negative impact of such a trend.

It’s a complex situation of course, one that is beyond the scope of a single blog or even a single book to address completely but I think it is clear enough that there are serious negative ramifications of putting average people out of jobs. If we choose to use Uber to call a cab or order something from Amazon that we could have gotten locally we are supporting such a trend. Of course we may not agree that society needs to give people jobs that allow them to earn, at least, minimally for their needs. But I must ask, how can a society be successful and healthy without having work for people to do and feel good about? Where is the money going to come to buy all these things on Amazon if only a top 1% are making any money on their production and delivery?

I came across a conversation with the leader of the American wing of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness where he (Sri Prabhupada) talks about this very thing. According to him, as you will read below, taking jobs away from people is something that very poor societal leaders (he calls them rascals) facilitate and support. In fact, Sri Prabhupada makes the point of stating the importance of employment whether or not that employment is even necessary or logical in terms of business success or not.  Wow! Do we need to re-evaluate the very basic tenets of capitalism in order to regain a healthy perspective on the importance of jobs in society? Do we need to recognize and criticize any impulse of profit through automation over employment? Here’s what Sri Prabhupada had to say about this:

Nityānanda: Without a machine how can you make sugar from the cane?

Prabhupāda: Hand machine.

Nityānanda: Hand machine?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Nityānanda: Metal?

Prabhupāda: Yes, they manufacture, hand, hand … in the sugar cane, two men. Even we can prepare hand machine by cutting the wood. They do that. We are not against machine. You can utilize machine. But we should not allow others unemployed and use machine. This should be [the] point. You can use. Use machine, that’s good, but not at the risk of keeping others unemployed. This should be noted. First thing is that everyone should be employed. If you have got many men, then why should you engage machine? These rascals, they do not know. They’re taking machine and keeping so many men unemployed. And the welfare department is paying them. They do not know how to organize society. And therefore hippies are coming out. Crime, criminals are coming out. (indistinct) The government is paying for becoming criminals and hippies and prostitutes. And how you can be happy, a society full of prostitutes, hippies, and criminals?

[An excerpt from a room conversation with devotees in New Orleans, August 1, 1975] http://tinyurl.com/qh2mwor

 

“The Internet is NOT the Answer” by Andrew Keen, QUOTES Part 3

Wikipedia is written by a crew that is 90% male. According to the Guardian’s Anne Perkins Wikipedia gives “a world according to young white western men with a slight personality defect.”

I personally haven’t noticed a strong bias in the Wikipedia entries I have read but quite possibly I am one of the “young white western men with a slight personality defect” that Anne Perkins is referring to. I would be interested to hear what people of color, particularly women of color, have to say about what they read in Wikipedia.


According to a Bloomberg News article “collecting, packaging and selling personal information, often without the users’ full knowledge and sometimes without their informed consent is generally what [the social media internet corporations] do for a living.”

 

Certainly there are parallels between the internet industry and other industries. When the telephone was established, there were only a few companies that controlled the lines and made money off every phone call we made. Similarly today there is the cell phone system which also makes money every time we use it. But what is new with the internet business is that it is no longer just our use of it that makes money for the gatekeepers. Now what we say becomes their property for them to continue to make money on, long after we have said it. Our very ideas, our creativity becomes their produce to sell to whoever they can (within certain limits).
If we compare this to the publishing industry of years past, those companies owned a percentage of the ideas and creativity that they received and disseminated to the public. There were prior contracts that shared the value of whatever was created. The author shared ownership. Were there authors who wrote books and handed over their percentage to the publishing company in exchange for the simple act of publishing and distribution? Yes, but they were looked upon like we might look upon the illegal immigrant who was just hired to take over our job at half the pay.
Does Andrew Keen’s arguments, and mine here as well, make us pro-Union? Maybe pro-workers’ rights, perhaps. At some point we have to look reasonably at the future of the job market in America. Americans of all educational levels need work. That is a fundamental requisite of a healthy society. Not everyone can manage hedge funds, code software or consult for foreign investors. And since environmentally we need to start scaling back the fossil fuels industry, we should be thinking about other industries that can make up for the potential job loses in that sector. But instead this latest multi-billion dollar industry employs almost no one.


“‘Badass’ entrepeneurs such as Travis Kalanik [Uber] and Peter Thiel [Paypal] have much in common with the capitalist robber barons of the 1st industrial revolution. . . . These new corporations are as hostile to trade unions, taxation and regulation as JD Rockefeller, JP Morgan and Andrew Carnegie ever were in their day. The only difference is that the new titans employ far fewer people, enjoy higher margins and are less harassed by governments than their predecessors.” John Naughton, a historian editor of the Guardian.

Just as the destructive power of those monopolies of America’s past were at some point recognized by the public and re-arranged forcibly by politicians the same should happen for the Internet. Unfortunately, the political machine doesn’t seem to represent a healthy America as much as it used to and so, we need some strong maverick politicians to take a stand.


Despite the fact that both Apple and Google were originally funded with government funds, Apple is now accused of cheating the US government out of $44 billion between 09 & 2012.

It is a telltale sympton of our times that the US government does not seem willing to pursue what is owed it from big corporations without a public outcry. Nevertheless, the engine of democracy contains the ability to fix this situation where there is true concern and persistent insistence of justice.

 

“The Internet is NOT the Answer” by Andrew Keen, QUOTES Part 2

“With the creation of the Web came the creation of a new kind of capitalism. And it has been anything but a cooperative venture.” Keen pg. 33

Andrew Keen makes a really good point; that the internet feels like a democratic, forward thinking affair but when we look at it closely we see that the economics are really quite backward. Under the influence of the internet there is a greater inequity in the distribution of wealth. Fewer Americans can afford the decent minimums in life and a small number of them are amassing an ungodly fortune. In terms of economics is the internet today very democratic or is it really leading towards an oligarchy where a few dozen plutocrats run the show? [If you want to see the very close connection between these plutocrats and white house politicians read Julian Assange’s new book.]


“In 2002 Amazon’s growing financial clout enabled it to take on UPS, wringing significant price concessions from the shipping giant, thereby giving Amazon a major cost advantage over its rivals.” pg. 47

Read the history of the first American “Trust Corporation”  called Standard Oil, started and operated by John D. Rockefeller in the early part of the 20th century. Amazon’s wringing price concessions from UPS is exactly what Standard Oil did to the Railroads at the time and which enabled them to gobble up all the competition. It took Congress to pass the Trust-busting laws to break up the monopoly that was created. Today it seems the American people don’t have the antagonism we once had to monopolies. In those days it was clearly unfair business practice to squeeze out the smaller guys. Smaller business were seen to be the backbone of a healthy economy. Now smaller business are on the verge of extinction.

 


“Brick and mortar retailers employ 47 people per $10 million in sales. Amazon employs 14 people for the same amount. Amazon [has therefore] destroyed 27 thousand jobs since 2012.” pg. 49.


Google employs 46 thousand people with a market cap of $400 billion. General Motors employs 200 thousand people with a $55 billion market cap and that doesn’t include jobs created by dealers, auto-repair shops, etc. Facebook employs 8 thousand people and has a market cap of $140 billion (more than Coca-Cola, Disney or AT&T).


Uber is worth $18 billion and employed 1000 people in 2014! That is equal to the value of Avis and Hertz combined whereas those two companies employ 60 thousand people.


The US music industry lost $12.5 billion in revenue and 71 thousand jobs due to internet companies Napster and others like it.


“Simon Head called Amazon, along with Walmart, the most egregiously ruthless corporation in American.”

Almost every American likes Amazon because it has made everything so easy for the consumer. But what about those who don’t have any money to use Amazon? What if the number of those poor people will only be increasing in the future because of Amazon? We should consider these things not just our own convenience when we consider Amazon and other internet giants.

 


“It seems like a win-win: we all get free tools and the Internet entrepreneurs get to become super-rich. The problem is that we are all working for Facebook and Google for free, manufacturing the personal data that makes their companies so valuable.”

 

“The Internet is NOT the answer” by Andrew Keen, QUOTES PART 1

Check out these really interesting points from Andrew Keen’s new book. I think it should be required reading for everyone who is actively contributing to the creative content available on the internet. We should be aware of what we are doing when we post to Facebook, Tweet, update our LinkedIn profile or post to Google +, Tumblr, or any comments section anywhere. Let’s not fall asleep at the wheel, assuming everything about the internet is bright and shiny and oh-so-cool.

 

“The world has gone from connected to hyper-connected.” Thomas Friedman (New York Times).

 

“The internet is not a technology; it is a belief system.” Joi Ho, MIT Media Labs.

 

“The idea of consent is foreign, even immoral, to many of the architects of what Columbia University historian Mark Lilla calls our ‘Libertarian Age.'” Andrew Keen, pg. 5.

Andrew Keen highlights an attitude within the board rooms of Silicon Valley that they don’t have to tell us (the internet user) what the long term effects of their corporations are. He is principally referring to the effect that the internet business world is having on the American middle class economy. Will we be so in love with the internet if after 15 more years of it there are no middle class jobs? Will we all be so keen of it when we are tweeting from behind the counter at Seven-Eleven?

Silicon Valley is now a place “where doing good and becoming rich are seen as indistinguishable and where disruptive companies like GOOGLE, Facebook and Uber are celebrated for their supposedly public-spirited destruction of archaic rules and institutions.” Andrew Keen, pg.6.

Few would argue that American culture worships fantastically successful business people more than ever and that is clearly characterized by the founders of some of the big Internet companies who became billionaires overnight. According to Andrew Keen, within Silicon Valley this success, also called having “fuck-you money,” is unquestionably equated with doing good, being good. What happened to the idea that selfless people were considered good? I guess it’s totally passe to consider that specific teaching from the Gospel about the difficulty that a rich man has entering the kingdom of heaven . . . . And the other one about not being able to serve two masters, both God and a bank account. . . .

 

According to a UN report in 2013 “more people had cell phones (6 billion) than had access to a flushing toilet (4.5 billion).”

“Every minute in 2014 3 billion internet users sent 204 million emails, uploaded 72 hours of new YouTube videos, made 4 million Google searches, shared 2.5 million pieces of Facebook content, downloaded 48 thousand Apple apps, spent $83 thousand on Amazon, tweeted 277 thousand messages and posted 216 thousand Instagram photos.” Keen pg. 13-14.

The point that Keen makes with all this is that this massive creation of information about all of our cyberdoings is what turns into the billions of dollars in Mark Zuckerberg’s (Facebook) or Kevin Systrom’s (Instagram) bank account. Do we know who we’re working for when we sent those Tweets, post those blogs, fill in the comment forms?

Of course, our cyber contributions are going into a huge pool of knowledge that can be accessed and used by anyone and that’s great, of course, to help others in this way but are we aware that a tiny number of gatekeepers that turn all of this into pure cash? And additionally, are we aware that there are only a handful of these super rich gatekeepers, a smaller crowd of hangers-on around them and a huge crowd of people put out of work by this new system? What’s the long and short of this: the internet isn’t all smiles and we need to think about the long-range impact it is having on the average person’s ability to have a minimally decent life.

Don Juan helps us understand Brain Malfunction in Spiritual Seekers

Don Juan teaches a very interesting way of looking at mental derangement. He teaches that mental derangement has to be considered quite differently when it happens to a spiritual seeker verses an ordinary person. Don Juan teaches that every spiritual seeker will, at some point, bump up against and experience a mental derangement that would be properly be diagnosed as a mental illness or abnormality if it occurred in an ordinary person and was assessed by an ordinary psychologist. But we should know, Don Juan teaches, that mental derangement means something completely different when it happens in a spiritual seeker. He calls this experience of mental derangement a normal process for a spiritual seeker and even a necessary test.

Don Juan explains that spiritual seekers experience mental derangement for many reasons but the principle one is to test their sobriety and detachment. When an abnormal mental experience happens to a spiritual seeker the important point is to remember to remain detached, unemotional and patient. Don Juan explains that the mind of a spiritual seeker will sometimes just go haywire because of the pressure it is under to break out of conventional and limited viewpoints. The process of expansion naturally leads to moments of mental disconnect.

 

[When the central viewpoint loses its rigidity] if they’re not [spiritual] warriors then they think they’re losing their minds . . .

If they’re warriors, they know they’ve gone crazy but they patiently wait. You see, to be healthy and sane means that [your view] point is immovable. When it shifts, it literally means that one is deranged.

There are two options [open] to warriors whose [view] points have shifted. One is to acknowledge being ill and to behave in deranged ways, reacting emotionally to the strange worlds that their shifts force them to witness; the other is to remain impassive, untouched, knowing that the [view] point always returns to its original position.
From The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda, pg. 126.

 

According to Don Juan, sanity always returns naturally to a spiritual seeker if he or she can remain impassive and patient (sober) even when feeling, perceiving or even seeing strange things. Of course, when sanity does return it is never the same. The new found sanity is from that point forward imbibed with an expanded awareness of what’s possible and what’s real. And the new found sanity does not forget the strange points of view experienced so that such a spiritual seeker will always consider him or herself partially insane even when his or her actions start becoming far more reasonable that the average person. The spiritual seeker becomes a model of correct behavior only after having experienced a period of near insanity, assuming they were able to make it through that experience using their utmost self-control.

 

PTSD is a wide-spread condition that can be cured spiritually: through proper understanding and spiritual practice.

We live in violent times. Depending on the time of day that you read this you may agree with me. If you are like me, living and growing up in middle-class upwardly-mobile American circumstances, there are times where you might wonder where all the violence is. During such moods of gratitude the world in your neighborhood doesn’t seem so violent. On TV, yes, in the newspapers, yes, in the movies, yes, in video games, certainly so. But in your daily life you may notice a lot of concern about violence but not a lot of it. Then again, at other times of the day, you may realize that our world everywhere is an incredibly violent one, where a lot of the violence hides in the cracks, lives in memories. Walking down the street may seem like a peaceful enterprise for the most part but if you could look into the minds of most people, even those of first-world countries like the US, you would see the scars of violence. All too many everyday, ordinary, otherwise well-off, successful people have experienced traumatizing violent events in their lives at some point.

Someone might argue that having been exposed to only one or two violent experiences in life is pretty good, pretty lucky and nothing really to complain about. But that person might not be aware of the effects of violence, the effects of the trauma caused by experiencing or witnessing violence. Violent experiences not only live on in memory but, without proper healing, leave scars that run deep. Without a proper healing or release, violent experiences seriously reduce our ability to be happy and make others happy. And that doesn’t fade in time. Trauma undergoes changes in its appearance but remains beneath the surface in way too many people, hampering their abilities to feel loved and express love.

As a professional astrologer I know how hidden and prevalent trauma is in people’s lives. After giving hundreds of readings I know that a huge percentage of the people who have come to me for help have told stories of violence in their lives and have complained of the lasting damage that those experiences continue to cause. It is, in fact, more common than not to hear about violence that happened during childhood. These are experiences that cause the eyes to fill with tears upon recounting or hearing them, even when 30-50 years has passed since the incident occurred. When violence happens to a child and it involves members of his or her own family the wounds go deep and are difficult to heal.

In the debate over whether God exists or not a single question ends up stopping the discussion. If there is a God then how could He or She allow children to be hurt by the very people that are supposed to be protecting them and supporting them? How could God have created a world in which innocent children are abused? You have probably heard this question before. In Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” which is one of the greatest novels to ever be written about religious issues (in my humble opinion), this very question is highlighted as the most important one. What you may not have considered is how relevant this question is to our times. From my experience and from other reports that I have read, experiencing violence as a child is one of the major causes of social destruction in the world today. This is mainly because it causes such deep seated scars that go on to subconsciously affect every aspect of life. Someone who experiences violence as a child is more likely to develop negative views on life itself that then go on to justify all kinds of nefarious behavior. With a negative view on life one is less likely to be interested in anything but one’s own survival and comfort. The basis for doing good is effectively undermined by an ongoing pain that this person undergoes for the rest of his or her life, all due to a violent episode experienced as a child for which no healing was ever given.

Violent experiences are not limited to ones experienced as a child, of course. Despite the wealth of the US, it has been involved in almost continuous warfare since its birth in the 1700’s! The history of the US is a history of wars, taking place mostly in various other parts of the world. These wars have created a class of veterans who have survived them but have had to deal with residual trauma.

Socially, we are given a very superficial picture of the world that is immediately destroyed by anyone who experiences violence. Society tells us all that the modern world is built on reason and justice; in other words, compromise and diplomacy. Those that go off to war quickly learn something quite different, however. The effect of witnessing, much less being a target of, violence is jarring unlike what movies and video games try to tell us. The effect of real violence on most people is shock. It is a shock that runs to the very core of what life is all about. Violence creates trauma because it forces us to look at the deepest questions in life. Violence shakes us out of the comfortable stance of accepting the superficial view of life that society gives us; that it is a fair, balanced, just affair; by confronting us with the irrationality of anger and loss.

We all experience the loss of loved ones. At the time that a loved one dies we are shocked, even if that person was sick and older. Death delivers a loss that most of us are not trained to deal with. In fact, society, if anything, un-trains us to deal with loss. Society teaches us how to live without really considering such things. So when someone close to us dies our mental system goes into shock and we feel emotional pain. But most of us just wait this period out without confronting the deeper questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. One who first hand witnesses or is a target for violence is not able to shake off the shock of such loss as easily, however. We can accept that people die from disease or other natural causes but to see someone attacked and/or killed by another human being, or killed when young, is not so easy to accept.

Of course, trauma victims aren’t usually aware of the tremendous battle that begins once they experience an act of violence. The emotional pain can often shut down the thinking center of the brain but even if it doesn’t, we haven’t been taught how to think about violence. Society doesn’t prepare us for dealing with violence, so when we are hit with it we don’t have the tools to deal with it.

The most recent psychological research is showing that trauma is a much bigger and longer lasting problem in our modern world than we previously admitted. Trauma not only diminishes individual capacity to feel loved and to love others but it passes on wholesale to the next generations. So even if you don’t experience violence directly in your life you most likely have to heal the trauma that was passed on to you from your family if you want to realize some sense of inner peace and contentment in life. This means the issue is relevant to a huge number of people and that number is growing exponentially everyday since there is little awareness of how to heal it.

According to Sarah Stillman’s August 2014 report for THE NEW YORKER entitled “Hiroshima and the Inheritance of Trauma” experiencing violence leaves a devastating impact on many generations: “In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts [of violence] through the framework of ‘trans-generational trauma,’ which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of ‘secondary trauma’ in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms ‘similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.’ More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, ‘Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.’ Instead, he proposed, ‘Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.'” http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hiroshima-inheritance-trauma?utm_source=tny&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailyemail&mbid=nl_081314_Daily&CUST_ID=30791733&spMailingID=6906899&spUserID=NzA5MDgxNTIxNTcS1&spJobID=501354630&spReportId=NTAxMzU0NjMwS0

What is very apparent to me is that in dealing with trauma only an approach that deals with fundamental questions can truly heal. The traumatized person has been forced on an existential journey that can’t be ignored if he or she is to recover. The traumatized person must be accepted as a spiritual seeker and must be taught what that means. This means that a traumatized person will not be able to regain the old levels of peace and happiness without finding answers to the deeper questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean that therapy for trauma victims has to have a religious format. I think that the simple acknowledging of their frustration and anger goes a long way.

Modern society offers its citizens an existential pass and most people are taking it up on that offer; that is, they are choosing not to think deeply about the meaning of life and the existence of God. They are given superficial pat answers instead of a deep inquiry that serve to cover up those deeper questions in life. But when a person is traumatized by violence a very important part of their mind wakes up and realizes that it has accepted a lie. The traumatized person can no longer pretend that life is as simple as they had previously been lulled to believe. That part of the brain begins to start problems in their life because it is unwilling to accept the old picture of things. When a traumatized person tries to go back to their old life, that irritated part of the mind resists. That inner psycho-emotional resistance to accepting normal life (to being content with life) IS trauma and produces the recognizable conditions of irritability, insomnia, restlessness, chronic fatigue, depression, etc.

A traumatized person must come into contact with their anger, frustration and confusion directly, in relation to not only those who instigated the violence but, more importantly, to God or the overarching Universe itself. If a traumatized person recognizes the need to express that anger and then is encouraged to talk about it and then to pursue the issue by studying what spiritual leaders have said about the issue then true healing can begin. Eventually the traumatized person could accept that he or she has been forcibly put on the spiritual path. With an acceptance of that fact, the traumatized person can enter “rehab.”

In this case, “rehab” is not about lifting weights and doing repetitive motion exercises but rather involves taking up the exercises that have been recognized for thousands of years to help with spiritual issues. Those spiritual practices, called “sadhana” in India, are designed to soothe the soul and bring answers to those deepest questions in life. The questions about the existence of God and the question about “why do bad things happen to good people” are the questions that the traumatized person must ask and seek answers for, if only because a part of their mind has awoken that will not be happy until they are. Those questions can not be answered for them (despite what some religious people believe). Each person must undertake the journey to those answers on their own and must also decide on their own which type of “rehab” they are going to rely on to get there. The counselor can only give support, encouragement and an explanation of the different types of spiritual “rehab” that are available. Knowing that they have contracted a disease, one that, if untreated, will infect many others, will hopefully add motivation to engage the spiritual journey and the path to healing and release.

 

Salt

Nature is extremely generous. The Earth has proven to have an abundance of resources for life above and beyond what would be considered minimally required. Earth has given and given and given. In contrast, modern history could be summarized as the story of humans figuring out how to take more and more and more and then use what we take in ever increasing ways. For some of us it is obvious that this is not always wise; it is not always in our best interest to take whatever we can and use what we take in anyway possible. Some of us, however, believe that abundance is a fact of life and so, taking on any level is justified. And then there are others who believe that we have a right to use whatever we take in whatever way we can.

I am thinking of a particular example that shows the disadvantage of taking excessively and inappropriately. This example is not just about something that the Earth has given us in abundance. It is also about something that the human body has given us in abundance. It is a case where we have abused the generosity of the human body and now are paying a dear price for it.

Many of us may look at our own bodies without a sense of gratitude, much less awe, for its abilities. Many of us are too busy protecting our bodies and catering to its addictions to see how amazing the human body really is. But I am thinking of one particular example of the flexibility of the human body that has made life so much easier for humans and yet, has now caused so much harm because it has been misused. I am thinking about the ability of the body to ingest salt.

Human civilization grew past a certain point to a large degree because the human body was so flexible in its ability to ingest salt. Salt allowed humans to preserve food and the use of salt for that purpose greatly expanded humans’ ability to live close to each other and to live in colder climates. Food could be transported with salt over larger distances. Without salt and other food preservation abilities humans could not have survived in cold climates in any great number nor could they live so close to each other in a village or city. Without salt our ancestors would have a more difficulty selling food to each other in populous cities and during the winter months. Thus, without salt humans would have had much greater difficulty inhabiting all but the warmest parts of the world and having anything but sparsely agricultural or nomadic lifestyles.

Of course, we took it for granted that we are able to salt foods and still be able to eat it later. Salt (I am particularly speaking of sodium chloride which is “tablesalt”) is actually toxic to life. What I mean is that there are few organisms in nature that can survive in contact with sodium chloride. This tablesalt dissolves flesh. Just observe a dog’s paws that has walked on a salt-covered winter road: very painful conditions immediately result. Salt is also very destructive of fresh water aquatic life. Those lifeforms don’t have the defense mechanisms necessary for survival in contact with salt. Our skin shields us from salt but try putting salt into an open wound. The reason that we can’t drink salt water is, of course, this inherent toxicity of salt to the body. There are very few organisms on Earth that can survive when salt is in direct contact with its live cells.

But the human body is capable of filtering out a large amount of salt eaten in preserved foods. And this flexibility has allowed the development of human society that I mentioned above. This generosity of the body has allowed for expansion of society. But what is happening now? The need to preserve foods with salt has been diminishing tremendously over the past one hundred years but salt intake has not been reduced. In fact, it has increased! We have refrigeration now and that does the job of food preservation better than salt. But instead of going back to the salt-free diet of our healthy pre-historic ancestors or our salt-free aboriginal brothers we have kept on taking salt and taking salt and taking salt. Are we not over-abusing the generosity of our human bodies? Did not our bodies willingly sacrifice themselves in order for us to develop socially? And now we continue to take beyond the need, to our own detriment.

To talk negatively about modern salt intake is highly unpopular, I know. Almost everybody likes salt. Some excessively and some moderately but almost everyone balks at going without salt. People actually break out in a panic-laden sweat over the thought of it. With a salt addiction, all food is almost tasteless without it. It is amazing to me that there is almost no public information about the strength of this addiction. Some people have reported that life didn’t seem worth living when they went off salt. I can testify to this experience personally. This type of response is rare even for smokers. Is salt a stronger addiction than tobacco? We might not see a study that answers this any time soon because there is almost no awareness of the real harm of table salt.

The average internet search on the use of salt will yield a lot of cautionary advice but not much more. We are told by most “experts” on the internet that we should keep our salt intake moderate because high intake of salt is known to cause high blood pressure, etc. Some sites even say that this level of caution on salt is over blown. The kidney’s are known to be able to excrete up to 25 grams excess table salt in a single day, they say. Because of this, only those experiencing blood pressure or kidney problems need to keep a cap on salt intake, many sites report. And many people disregard even these minimal cautions as well. Salt is felt to be too vital to the “enjoyment” of life to cut back too much, even for those who know it is harmful because of an already present disease.

The truth that I have uncovered and have experienced directly myself is that even the stronger cautions around salt given by the government and other official health agencies are misleading. They avoid the hard science as I have researched it and certainly have done very few studies to learn anything more.

The official word from the World Health and FDA warns humans not to eat more than 5 to 6 grams of salt per day. The way this is worded keeps us thankfully free of the real facts involved. Saying that we should not eat more than a certain amount a day effectively avoids having to answer the question as to whether it should be eaten at all. Most warnings are combined with a very minimum of information stating that the body needs salt but too much is no good, etc. What I learned when I looked deeper into the matter myself made the public warnings appear to be a cover-up of important information.

According to the textbooks on molecular biology that I studied sodium is a very important element in the body. Sodium, along with potassium, is used to get things into and out of otherwise impermeable cell walls. Almost every type of cell, including neurons, use sodium for this purpose. That’s an important and wide-ranging function. Chlorine is also used to create the acid that our stomachs use to break down food. That’s also an important function. But when I read on I learned something that I had never heard before. Apparently our body is able to recycle a very high amount of the sodium it uses. In other words, sodium is used by the cells and then normally gets recycled by the kidneys. This happens all the time without the intake of table salt. If we eat table salt then the excess amount of sodium also gets sent to the kidneys. The kidneys excrete this excess salt into the urine. But the kidneys can just as easily recycle the sodium that comes to them if there is a need in the body. What I learned from these molecular biology textbooks was that we need to eat very little sodium compared to the amount that our body uses everyday because our body can re-use sodium over and over again. This, of course, is lessened if we sweat a lot but even then the amount that we need to take in through food is small.

Almost all foods contain some sodium as well. So a “tablesalt”-free diet still takes in a lot of sodium.

I kept studying and then found out that the body handled potassium very differently than sodium. Remember that the body’s cells need sodium and potassium equally to bring things into and out of the cell walls. But the body cannot recycle potassium as well as sodium so the requirements for potassium intake in daily food is much more important. It is strange to me that popular health sites emphasize the fact that excessive potassium in the blood can be dangerous and rarely harp on how important proper amount of potassium intake is.

Many websites give the impression that the kidneys can filter out any excess salt without any harmful effects but that’s clearly not true.  Salt intake may be managed by the kidneys but there is a time lag. Salt intake leaves an excess of sodium in the blood almost always in advance of the kidney’s abilities to clear it. That salt has some proven effects: hypertension and edema. It doesn’t take too much thought to realize that these are very general descriptions of the effect of excess sodium. Blood goes to every cell in the body. If it has a continual out-of-balance condition of anything we would guess that might have widespread health effects. But the warnings only talk about hypertension. It’s like saying that the result of jumping overboard on a trans-oceanic ship is that you get wet. Yes, you get wet but there are a lot more problems behind and connected with that.

The fact is that very little scientific study has been done to investigate exactly what are the effects of excess sodium. The fact that sodium needs to be in constant balance with potassium for the healthy function of every single cell in the body tells us that the effects could be wide-ranging. In the simplest terms, if sodium/potassium levels are out of balance then the cells have more difficulty taking things they need in and more difficulty getting things they don’t need out. If sodium plays as an important role as has been reported in the function of brain cells there might be serious implications in the ability to think clearly due to excess sodium.

Some may say that I am exaggerating an issue that science has covered well and deemed not to be so great a concern. But the reason I don’t trust this “science” is that I have personally had experiences that contradict it. Despite what this “science” says is healthy and even possible I have gone completely without salt for two different durations in my life. During both of my salt “fasts” I not only didn’t collapse from lack of salt but experienced a revitalization in my physical and mental health.

The first salt “fast” I undertook was part of a larger program of detoxification called the Gerson Therapy (www.Gerson.org). As part of this therapy I abstained from even the smallest micron of salt for a year and a half. This means that I never ate any food that had sodium chloride (“salt”) in its list of ingredients, in addition to never adding salt in any form to any food that I ate. Zero salt. Of course, I ate healthy organic vegetables that gave me plenty of naturally occurring sodium but no table salt or any additive that had salt in it. As I said, I never felt healthier than I did through the duration of and at the end of this salt-free Therapy.

The second fast was only one month but it showed me how strong the salt addiction really is. I undertook the second fast during a time I already felt healthy (I did the Gerson Therapy when I was sick in order to regain my health). As a healthy person, de-toxifying from salt, I was shocked to witness the strength and psychological component of my withdrawal cravings. During those first two weeks my emotions plummeted and I lost some level of interest in life itself. If it hadn’t been for a level of discipline I had gained from years of spiritual practice I would have caved in and ate some salt. I felt I was dying for something salty. By the end of the month my urges had diminished about 70% but I watched them come back to full strength with my first serving of salty tortilla chips after my fast.

What is going on, I wondered, witnessing such a desperate need for a non-essential food item that is supposedly only a condiment?  Is the entire world fooling itself? Have I been completely unaware of how dearly I need salt in my food to feel good about eating, about life? How have I not seen this huge monkey on my back? What is the price for this worldwide salt habit? Is it having a deeper effect on our quality of lives than we ever thought possible? Could it be connected with a deep-seated unhappiness, an angst, that modern humans almost universally suffer with? Could it have something to do with a level of frustration and discontent that modern humans carry and that distinguishes us from the aboriginal tribes who added no salt to their foods?