The bitter truth of sweet hearts, economy and regulation

We have frequently heard about how high sugar consumption in our daily diets is a risk factor for type II diabetes. The message is sometimes interpreted by many to mean that eating too much sugar will necessarily lead to type II diabetes, which is not true. Genetics plays a significant role in disease, and diabetes is no different. It’s a combination of genetics and lifestyle that affects pathogenesis as far as diabetes in concerned. Apart from sugar consumption, overall calorie consumption and amount of daily activity are important lifestyle factors. However, there is a definitive relationship between sugar consumption and type II diabetes in populations where risk for diabetes is moderate to high, and an individual cannot know the exact odds that they will develop type II diabetes, so it’s a good idea to have a balanced, sugar and calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise to keep the odds as low as possible. We are also usually told that excessive consumption of sweet food is bad for the teeth, because it attracts bacteria that might cause tooth decay. One warning we hear less commonly is that binging on sugar might lead to cardiovascular disease. While it’s true that there isn’t a great deal of information that can tell us to what extent sugar consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease and it’s still a matter of debate and further research, evidence from rather recent research has consistently pointed towards a positive association. And the reason why the evidence has been rather recent is, well, the sugar industry, a recent article published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests.

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A look at cults: Dalai Lama, Swami Vivekananda and Che Guevara

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You speak of Rastafari, but how can you justify-

-belief, in a god that’s left you behind?

Haile Selassie: Propagandhi

The cult of Rastafarianism (or Rastafari, proponents of which claim they are above all “-isms”), which is basically another plagiarized version of Christianity (or Abrahamic religion) emphasizing the black people as the chosen ones, Haile Selassie as an incarnation of their God and Ethiopia as their Promised Land, would probably not like to answer the question above. But the answer is simple enough. Apotheosis of a mere mortal doesn’t lead to that mortal acquiring supernatural powers, or even for that matter, natural powers. The opening lines of the song by Propagandhi allude to Haile Selassie’s desertion of his army and the Ethiopian capital in the face of a vicious attack against his kingdom by the Italian Fascist forces and its allies. He left his people behind to face the fury of the enemy, but apparently that kind of betrayal had no effect on his followers who continued to pretend that they thought Haile Selassie was The One.

There have always been cult figures in human history. The idea behind cultism is that there is a perfect human being who everyone ought to emulate. One who is flawless and who is the saviour of all humanity. One who brought along with them epiphanies or great intuitive or divine wisdoms that were hitherto unknown to human beings. Everything they said or did was supposed to have great meaning. Eventually the cult figures would pick up mannerisms and affectations that would complete the picture. Some cults have lasted in time, some haven’t, some have been revived and for some, a new cult figure has adopted a modified version of an old cult philosophy. Objectively speaking, these were just people who were either smarter than the ones they influenced or were charismatic or both. They carefully picked their audiences and appealed to their popular notions, and then challenged some, making people think that they had stumbled upon a gem. And this is how their popularity spread. Some extended their popularity with the sword while some did it through peaceful and measured, peripatetic sophistry. From Buddha to Dalai Lama, from Jesus to Mother Teresa and from Muhammad to David Koresh, we see the same general aspects, the same hunger for soft or hard power over the masses. Here I want to take a closer look at three cult figures belonging to disparate backgrounds.

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Angus Deaton, the economics of well-being and the politics of poverty

Angus Deaton has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2015. I am not one to go gaga over Nobel Laureates – or the Nobel Prize itself -nor do I have a liking for economics or economists in particular. However, I do take interest in Angus Deaton’s work that led to him receiving the prize. And yes, thanks to the Nobel Committee for bringing it to public notice. Much of Deaton’s work evidently comes from a deep understanding of the psychology of human deprivation. He has made observations (like the eponymous Deaton’s paradox, in which it is found that consumption curves tend to smoothen in the face of greater unpredictability of income levels) that tend to make little economic sense on a collective basis, but which can be explained if the individual is studied. He has collaborated with Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel winning psychologist, who has made important discoveries regarding human behaviour and factors influencing decision-making.

Angus Deaton is mainly concerned with individual consumption of goods and services, and with the intricate patterns connecting consumption and happiness. He argues -and one feels rightly so- that the governmental ritual of collecting information about income levels and assets, especially in case of those people who are understood to be poor, is seriously insufficient in providing any idea about individual sense of happiness and fulfilment. His work has taken him to many parts of the world where poverty is high, and much of his work is based on his experiences in India. He has found that the conventional indices of economic progress tends to be simplistic and misleading, as different people have different preferences, and tend to spend, or want to spend, accordingly. This leads to different and complex deprivation patterns among individuals, which are not revealed by averaging and general poverty indicators (such as the poverty line), which only serve academic and political purposes.

The most important assertion by Prof Deaton, in my view, is that the current poverty situation is the result of hundreds of years of conflict, inequality and social inequities. It is through this process that the rich have become richer, and the poor poorer. As the 19th century French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said, “Property is theft!” So is poverty. And poverty tends to pass on to successive generations so much that it could be mistaken as a genetic trait. Indeed, Deaton has had to reject the nonchalant idea of some Indian economists and policy-makers that short height amongst poor children is something genetic, rather than an indicator of malnutrition and poverty: “..arguments about the role of genetics is residual: if we cannot think of anything else [we assume that] it must be genetics.” Evidence, however, suggests something else.  It is assumed that the “poor” people are happy with the “help” they get from philanthropists and NGOs, and of course, from the government. However, they have aspirations and ambitions of their own, as Deaton has found, and they cannot realize them because of their socioeconomic station in life, and because the government isn’t too keen on providing them with an enabling atmosphere.

Philanthropy looks good on the surface, and for the social image of the relatively well – off, but that makes it a competitive affair that does little for the target individual. By “helping” the poor people, you make them even more indebted, in addition to the overwhelming burden of poverty that they are already carrying. Indeed, the business of philanthropy needs poverty to exist for its own survival. The hypocrisy of philanthropy of the filthy rich actually comes alive in Deaton’s observation: “The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care… They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone, or to worry about the low quality of public schools that plagues much of the country…To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the well-being of everyone else.” Governmental projects in this regard are more about announcements and big projects, than any serious concern and work. They have more to do with “meeting targets”, so that they can make themselves look better on the world stage. Hence, a poverty line threshold of 32 rupees (or around US$ 0.5) a day is deemed defensible. The poor person is just a stain on the nation’s reputation that they want to wish away, if not wash away.

All this is not to say that all philanthropy is some kind of gross affectation. Nor is the government entirely apathetic towards the poor person as a rule. It’s difficult enough to tackle poverty as it is. One likes to think that ambitious programmes and movements undertaken to eradicate poverty are more often well – intentioned than not, but obviously they are inadequate. The poor person does not yearn for the pity of the more well-off, nor do they care much about who represents their electorate. They want an enabling atmosphere, where they have the freedom to make their own informed choices. Policies in this regard have been flawed at best and shambolic at worst, but Deaton says there is hope yet, because things have improved over time. However, a lot of work remains to be done, he says. Data about individual consumption patterns need to collected and more needs to be done in order to address individual concerns. This obviously makes the whole endeavour more cumbersome, but in order to make the society more equitable and more happy, which is what a democratic welfare state is supposed to be all about, this is what needs to be done, according to Deaton.