So, thanks to a friend, I’ve stumbled upon this strangely intriguing thing going on at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog regarding his ongoing study of slavery, the Civil War and the Confederacy. His studies, right now, mirror mine in a sense where his blog posts deliver context to my current reading.
That being said, he’s written a post titled “Lies Damn Near Everyone Told Me,” which is a part of him debunking the myth – and yes, it is a myth – that slaves fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. They didn’t. They didn’t. They didn’t. (You can thank Coates for those links.)
…but I digress. It brings up an interesting point, though, this post. I’m going to quote the part that I’m referring to, here:
It’s rather fascinating when you lay it all out. Let’s leave aside the excellent research of Bruce Levine. Let’s leave aside Kevin and the incredible site he’s assembled, all of [it] based in fact. Let’s say you aren’t convinced by any of that. James McPherson is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian at Princeton University. I can’t really imagine looking at that dude, and all the research he’s done, and saying, “Meh. Some guy on the corner told me different.”And it gets deeper. As the Takeaway’s hosts pointed out, none other then Henry Louis Gates–chair of the black studies department at Harvard–has endorsed this myth. If Neal Degrasse Tyson is endorsing creationism what chance do laypeople, and even journalists, really have?At the core of this is a very difficult truth–the Civil War was about slavery. More than that, the Confederacy was erected with the aim of creating a country where white supremacy could flourish and where blacks would constitute an imprisoned laboring class in perpetuity. The difference between the Dukes of Hazzard Confederacy and the actual Confederacy is so vast that when laid bare, it inspires disbelief.If you had told me before I began this research that 30,000 blacks fought for the Confederacy, I would not have been surprised. That was me barely four years ago. People fight against what we perceive to be their own interest all the time, right? Even being black, even being skeptical, I really had no sense of how deeply the Confederacy was rooted in the explicit and outright domination of black people. Not some amorphous “people of color.” Specifically black people.
What if I shifted this and flipped it to the point where I said that this mirrors my thoughts on nutrition? If the people to whom we’ve given credibility are spreading falsehoods regarding nutrition and wellness simply because they’re being paid to do so – abusing their credibility – or simply because they don’t know any better… what chance do laypeople – you and I – stand?
“At the core of this is a very difficult truth – nutrition science doesn’t know as much as we all think it does. More than that, it doesn’t know enough to credibly posit that it knows what we need, to the point where it can identify synthetic nutrition as superior over that which is grown organically*. The differences between the effects of eating organically* and eating processed foods are so vast that, when laid bare, it inspires disbelief.”
That’s why I’m comparing what he’s saying there to what I’m thinking, here. They sound alike. When you find yourself in a position where you have to buck the system that tells you what to do? You feel like you don’t have the comfort of “well I know this is right because everyone is doing it” to keep you “grounded” anymore. The strange thing about nutrition is that every time we’ve followed popular advice, we’ve become sicker. We followed popular advice on margarine, and people started dying of heart disease. We followed popular advice on being fat-free, and it made us overweight. We’re following popular advice regarding sugar, and it’s making people sicker. We have every reason to question the system, because many of us are living breathing proof of the harmful effects of its bad advice… but they have credibility that we fear questioning.We fear making ourselves look stupid… or fear being defined as “the fringe.” We all know what “the fringe” looks like. We don’t like it. We clown “the fringe.”
My blog isn’t quite “the fringe,” but I’m well aware of the fact that it’s close.
Nutrition, in my mind, is different because we’re also able to see immediate benefit and results of our knowledge. The fact that what I learned about food in such a short time allowed me to lose so much weight so quickly is what compelled me to start this blog. Knowing that what I knew about food – which, if you think about it, isn’t revolutionary at all – was enough to restore my health and that the information wasn’t being promoted properly or fairly compelled me to act. I didn’t really need a team of scientists behind me to make me believe I was right. I was losing weight at a pretty rapid speed. That was enough to tell me I was right. I’ve kept it all off. That’s enough to tell me I’m right. My health is restored, and I’m kickin’ ass. That tells me I’m right. It wasn’t until after all that that I found out that there were tons of people who agreed with me… and we all stand together.
What do we do when we find that our own thinking may not be correct? How on Earth do you challenge the thinking of the people you’ve decided are the authority on what they speak? What happens when you stand in front of a thousand methods and don’t know where to go? One of Coates’ commenters said the following:
“… James McPherson is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian at Princeton University. I can’t really imagine looking at that dude, and all the research he’s done, and saying, “Meh. Some guy on the corner told me different.”
How much of that refusal to listen to folks that know what they’re talking about is a misplaced desire to ‘judge the facts on their own merits’ and not give in to the argument from authority? I mean, sure, MacPherson is The Man when it comes to the Civil War, Eric Foner is The Man when it comes to Reconstruction and the early history of the Republican Party.* Just like every climatologist agrees the earth is warming and damn near every climatologist thinks it’s largely our doing. But people want to decide for themselves and be independent thinkers, not ‘just’ listen to the experts.
Maybe it’s that no one ever told us that being an independent thinker requires intellectual discipline and hard work, but I think people often think that all that’s required for independent thought is some attempt to reach your own conclusion. That’s not the case. You can’t just listen to some fool who says some vague stuff about old black men in confederate reunion photos or the old cliches about tariffs and state’s rights, then listen to an interview with MacPherson and say ‘obviously the experts aren’t sure about this, so I’ll withhold judgment. Hell, before you even start reading you have to be willing to mercilessly examine your own preconceptions, when required to do so. Really thinking for yourself is scary, demanding and unpredictable. But the pressure to not be a robot, the cultural desire to come to one’s own conclusions, is very real, so we often want independent thought on the cheap.
I think that’s a good way to look at it. If you’re going to have an active opinion about something, you owe both yourself and the people with whom you converse to be just as active in researching and learning about both sides. We’ve always said that knowledge and education are empowering… here’s a relatively bold example of how and why that plays out the way it does.