I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

I continue to see alarmist articles on how much bacteria there is on everyday items and more than toilet bowls and then they put the bacteria in a petri dish where it turns into a veritable rainforest of colors and bizarre shapes.  Our ignorance about bacteria is the only thing that is alarming, and hopefully this book will change it all.  As this book points out, bacteria is mostly harmless and in more cases helpful.  In fact, many multi-celled animals (Eukaryotic) would die without them.  Bacteria thrived on Earth for one-and-a-half billion years before Eukaryotes came along which existed for a billion years before multi-cellular life came along.  Multi-cellular life is only 1.5 billion years old compared with the 4 billion-year life of bacteria.  Not only are bacteria more sophisticated and talented than we could ever imagine, but their coexistence and cooperation with multi-cellular life is also more complex and sophisticated than we could also ever imagine. 

 The problem with modern civilization and specifically public school education is that it largely dismisses and forgets history before Christ.  There is good reason for this.  In order for the Church to take over all forms of ideology and religion, it had to rewrite history starting with Genesis.  It belittled the importance and weight of everything before Christ so as to amplify the importance of Christ and the new religion (Catholicism).  Perhaps unknowingly, public schools followed that model.  In doing so, we convenient forgot that there was a rich plethora of ideology, religion, and mythology long before Christ.  We forgot about the countless great kingdoms and movements throughout the world and especially outside of the Middle East and Europe.  We forgot that most of our evolution we lived without civilization and far from psychopathic savages and brutes, we actually were the most collaborative and harmonious of the intelligent primates using our social abilities to succeed over more brutish and physically imposing primates.  And of course, we never knew that for billions of years, our ancestors evolved not as animals but rather complex multi-cellular life for a billion years, Eukaryotes for a billion years before that, and single-celled life for one-and-a-half billion years before that.  Our schools and churches would have you think that none of that occurred, and if it did, these creatures were just sitting around doing nothing instead of the incredibly amazing trial-and-error of evolution experimenting with all types of coexistence, mutually beneficial relationships, new weapons, new defenses, etc. 

 In fact, as the book notes, Darwin has been largely misinterpreted, just as Christ before him.  People conflated the meaning of evolution and made it sound like a dog-eat-dog world where the most physically fit and strongest individual was competing for survival against everyone else, and success went to individual strengths and perhaps ruthlessness.  Social engineering evolved right after that and has still greatly impacted our lives with rich people talking about having better genes and breeding and how it seems they are competing against poor people and their wealth is proof and justification for their superiority and dominance.  This book paints a completely different picture.  What enabled humans to beat the competition of other intelligent primates was our diversity and collaborative skills.  The stories we write and the movies we make all echo this ancient story of how more physically fit and monoculture primates (jocks) were outsmarted and “out-teamworked” by smaller, more diverse, odder, less physically fit humans.  Today, we ignorantly talk about how great alpha-males are and how we all need alpha-males which completely forgets and ignores our true history as monogamous primates.  We are becoming the very primates we beat out hundreds of thousands of years ago.  The history of life must be corrected not as the dog-eat-dog fight between individuals for scarce resources but rather the  collaboration to access the abundance of resources.  The history of life is more about collaboration than competition.  Even when we talk about economics, we talk about the freedom to compete, but this actually should be called the freedom to collaborate.  We tend to think of collaboration as a bad word like collusion, cartels, and conspiracies to fix prices.  However, these are examples not really of collaboration but rather a few selfish and powerful companies or individuals who are making it more difficult for others to collaborate successfully.  You hear about the sharing economy and government mostly reacts to it negatively, but the sharing economy is actually the foundation of our economy.  Our economy is about sharing and things we do to limit or undermine sharing hurt the economy while things we do to enable and amplify sharing help the economy.  Ultimately, we will learn that destruction and wars, while making a few people rich, is the most harmful thing to the economy but also to humanity and the planet as well.  Only under the old paradigm of the dog-eat-dog world does destruction and war make sense. 

 And this is why it is absolutely critical to either replace or downplay our public education system.  There are three major threats posed by it.  The first is the fact that it keeps feeding us the old paradigms and dismisses history before Christ.  In fact, public schools dismiss everything before the creation of the Progressive Movement that created public education.  Kids who did well in history almost invariably grow up to support the Progressive Movement and Progressive ideology.  Those who did not do well in history grow up to be Republicans.  It’s obvious that if a Progressive teaches you history, you will grow up to be a Progressive.  If the Church teaches you history, you grow up to believe in Genesis and Adam and Eve.  It’s ineluctable. 

 The second is the fact that schools ultimately destroy and crush your intellectual curiosity and interest in books and learning.  By assigning a grade to everything you learned and associating the stress of failure with learning, most people graduate school and never take another class, read another book, or learn anything new except when forced to by work.  There is a reason for this.  The Church and the public school are not institutions of learning.  They are institutions of indoctrination.  Yes, you are learning, but you are only learning one thing and that is their scripture and nothing else.  They both make you xenophobic about anything that is not covered and put on the final exam.  Every kid learns to ask that stupid question, “Will this be on the final.”  If not, then we learn to ignore it.  But we keep that mentality with everything in life.  So if big media later on tells us it doesn’t exist or it’s not important, that it won’t “be on the final” we ignore and dismiss it like 3rd party candidates.  The problem with this is that we are entering the Information Age where your intellectual curiosity will define your success not your industriousness and ability to follow and obey rules. 

 The third is that the end game of continued indoctrination by public schools will result in a misinformed and uninformed public that votes for destructive policies and politicians.  Perhaps the most redeemable thing about Trump getting elected is that it shatters our faith in the American voting public.  But instead of blaming conservative Trump supporters, we need to look at what created them as well as us.  We both graduated from the same indoctrinating system.  The worst part about a misinformed and uninformed public is how easily it can be manipulated, and if it the current system of rule by elite persists where war and destruction is profitable for them and harmful to the public, the end game is extinction. 

 While many people are loath to jump on school vouchers, perhaps we can compromise.  Perhaps we just keep public schools around for teaching the basics like math and English.  Kids go to these archaic public schools once or twice a week.  Then we have vouchers where kids go to non-profit or for-profit schools where they learn everything else they want.  At the same time, it shouldn’t take 12 years to graduate.  We can reduce that to 10 years.  Then you can decide whether you want to go to a public-funded trade school or community college or join the army or travel the world or whatever.  At the same time, we should also reduce the Bachelor to three years or create a degree between an Associates and Bachelors.  Mandating that everyone should be indoctrinated for 12 years is absurd.  It is the height of absurdity that people are taxed for schools and then homeschool their kids and get no tax credits.  School reform is not just about free markets or being more competitive but rather it is fundamentally about protecting our planet and ending state indoctrination which just supplanted religious indoctrination.  How convenient that the state made it illegal for poor kids to go to religious schools that provided free education.  When will people wake up and realize that the omnipotent state has replaced once omnipotent religion in America?  That today, Americans worship the state just as they once worshipped God, that even if they think they can reject the state and worship God by becoming Republicans, the Republicans are nothing but a shell company for the rich who own the state and use the state to enrich them.  The public school system put Trump in the White House, and it will continue to put unqualified celebrities into office. 

 One of the most startlingly disturbing concepts the book covers is the idea that there are no good or bad microbes.  We are anthropomorphizing nature, but what does that really mean?  Are we anthropomorphizing ourselves unnecessarily?  The concept of good and bad are axis of morality where good tends to signify pro-social behavior whereas bad signals antisocial behavior.  But as this book discusses bacteria, you learn that there are many relationships and they are both fleeting as well as dependent on context.  Many bacteria help us when they’re in the gut, but if they seep into our blood stream, they cause damage.  Also, too much of anything is a bad thing.  We all like to believe in love and perfect relationships, but fact is, nature teaches us that while there are many mutually beneficial and beautiful symbiotic relationships, there are also many predatory, parasitic, and pathogenic ones.  Is this the reality of nature?  There is no such thing as good and evil in nature but just different types of relationships from the spectrum of harmful to helpful?  As social beings, we are just biased toward helpful symbiotic relationships and idealize this.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when we conflate this with psychedelics and think that we are all one, we aren’t.  We are integral parts of diverse and different relationships, part of a whole and that part has a fleeting relationship before it is consumed by others. 

 One of the big lessons of the book is that the concept of mutualist bacteria fixing everything should not be over inflated like every other big medical fad.  You can’t just eat yogurt or take a probiotic pill and expect overnight results.  Mutualist gut bacteria need fiber to thrive, so you do have to change your diet from sugars and junk food to more vegetables and fruit.  Since it’s possible that gut bacteria can also signal your brain to crave certain foods, the more good food you eat, the more mutualist gut bacteria you have, the less you’ll crave the bad stuff.  I’ve noticed that when I don’t eat a candy bar or ice cream for a long time, my cravings for them just disappear.  The problem is when a coworker puts donuts or junk food in the breakroom.  All the sudden the craving for junk food returns.  Perhaps you should never have a cheat day.  For my birthday, I let myself eat whatever I want, but then the following week, it’s so much harder getting back to a healthy diet.  Once you restock your antagonistic gut bacteria with junk food, they rally back.  Then again, it’s good that any bacteria are resilient, because if they weren’t taking probiotics and eating healthy food wouldn’t do much either. 

 One of the oddest things in the book is when they mention Fecal Matter Transplants and how the FDA has regulated shit as a drug.  The overregulation of things reminds me of how a town in Europe got rid of most of their traffic signs and traffic accidents went down.  In a world where we expect government to protect us from everything with regulations, we tend to turn off our own caution sensors and common sense.  Jackass the TV show is a great demonstration of this, and it’s no coincidence that the show came about in an over-regulated environment.  Our mentality seems to be, if it’s not against the law, it must be safe to do.  Opponents of deregulation will bring up countless examples from pre-regulation times where unethical storekeepers would add all sorts of garbage to food to cut costs and increase profits.  But it wasn’t like every storekeeper was doing this.  I could come up with just as many if not more examples of how modern businesses also add garbage to food to cut costs and increase profits.  Don’t even get me started on what China does to their food which is legally sold in America.  Regulation doesn’t stop anything.  It just makes everything more expensive, and it turns off our own responsibility to be cautious, do homework, and use common sense.  Providing universal or subsidized healthcare also “terraforms” humanity into garbage-eating, exercise-avoiding blobs that rely on stop-gap medicine to fix what they should have prevented throughout their lives.  This relates back to bacteria in that we have become a species that attracts the worst kind of bacteria, and we have become the most unhealthy, destructive, and fragile species on the planet. 

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