Yesterday, I had reason to step foot in a health food co-op in pursuit of organic, free-range chicken. Part of me loves the grocery stores that don’t sell coco puffs. All those varieties of honey. Tea that is going to save my life. Incense. Coconut milk. Tofu hotdogs. Real butter.
Okay, sarcasm aside, I’m super excited about real butter.
So I’m up and down the aisles, feeling virtuous about blue tortilla chips, and I make it to the vitamin aisle. There is a supplement for everything. And I’m turning in circles in this aisle, the ecologically sustainable lighting bouncing off of gleaming bottles, and beginning to feel fear encroaching. Eventually, I figure out that I’m having the same problem with the store that I have with religion. The message is that if you do the “right” thing, you can control your outcomes.
In religion, it is conformity to the scriptures that the culture chooses to emphasize. Hate gay people, ignore the part that says you can’t eat meat and milk together. No more cheeseburgers for you, my friend. In political ideologies, if you just defend this aspect of our definition of freedom, then you will be on the right side of history and if we can implement the ideology across the board, then everything is going to be okay.
It’s all this fight against uncertainty.
And you can do the same basic thing in the aisles of your local health-food store. Bee pollen. Antioxidants. Ayurvedic herbs. If you just cut out enough stuff – partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, aluminum: and add in the right things – organic everything, a mysterious mix of herbs and vitamins, whatever. Then you can control things like cancer, aging, wrinkles, Alzheimers.
I can see it. Why wouldn’t you want to create the best possible conditions for yourself and your health as you move through life? If you can just not eat off of aluminum and reduce your chances of getting Alzheimers, that makes sense to me.
But somehow, this ongoing fight against chaos and entropy does something horrible to my sense of balance. Ideology, religion, health-obsession, they share this common assumption: if I do xxxx, then everything is going to be okay. I want everything to be okay too, I really do. But the luxury of believing that I have control over that is no longer available to me. In that dichotomy between wanting to be correct enough to prevent disaster and the recognition that such things simply are beyond any of our control, I get nervous. Really nervous.
Three chocolate bars and some eco-friendly laundry detergent later, I ran. Can’t we just shrug our shoulders and admit that we don’t know and we aren’t in control, and you just do the best you can with where you are?
Oh, because pragmatism doesn’t sell stuff. Only fear sells reliably.