Category Archives: Ethics

We Are Way Past The Point Where Fat People Only Have Themselves to Blame

There are no words in the English language to describe the ire I feel when I hear ignorant, narrow-minded opinions about fat people.

Why are we here today? With one of the last acceptable prejudices being against someone’s weight, which as I’ll explain, has less than ever to do with victorian values of ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘a jolly good helping of elbow grease and grit’, the stuff of real characters! Go-getters! Nay, dare I say, thin people?

You’ll regularly here from thin people that ‘fat people only have themselves to blame’, but that just isn’t true. Society is playing an ever greater part in obesity, and I cannot sit by any longer and hear all about the erudite, no, transcendental wisdoms of the general public, who more often than not, have no understanding of the science of obesity whatsoever.

I’ll admit, I’m coming on a little strong, but remember, if you even have a niggle in your mind that society is at least partly to blame for fatness, then this is not directed at you. Remember that. If you’re on the fence, then this is probably not directed at you either. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and it’s hard to know without a thorough rummage through the science, what exactly is true on the topic of obesity.

No, this piece is about that charming selection of people in the audience who take no greater pleasure than provocatively poking fat people with metaphorical sticks and other sharp, pointy things, telling them how disgusting and lazy they are, and how their health is declining because they can’t stop shoving pork pies in their mouths. Well, I’ve got news for you, nasty, you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why right… now.

Despite what you may think about fat people, they are still people, and people have been peopleing now for a very long time. People have been the same, physiologically speaking, for at least long enough for me to make my next point. If, accepting that human physiology has not changed in any discernible way in the last millennia, even in the last thousand years, why, in the last hundred, have people become fatter and fatter? Obesity levels are reaching record heights. People are fatter than ever. Not just fat people, but people in general.

More people are morbidly obese, proportionately speaking, than at any other time in history. Since 1991, obesity levels in the UK have risen by 65% in males, and 25% in females. To believe that fat people are lazy or disgusting is to admit unbridled ignorance. Society is changing the proportionality of obesity. It is fair to say that the amount of human willpower, or our propensity towards good old-fashioned elbow grease has not decreased. We are still animals of fortitude, tenacity and endurance by all accounts. So what has changed? Fat people are not the hinge on which obesity generates itself, they are but a byproduct of something much more sinister and creeping.

Dr Giulia Enders in Gut tells us that the concept of obesity is far more complicated than just willpower. Our gut microbiome plays a significant role in our propensity to eat the wrong things. The most memorable test she illustrates was done on a unique set of lab rats without any bacterial colonies in their digestive systems at all. They were completely sterile. These rats then received various colonies of bacteria in transplantation. The rats who were given strains of bacteria known to cause disease became disproportionately obese. The rats given a healthy cocktail of lactobacillus and friends continued to maintain a slim weight.

What is more, the gut biome, much like the cordiceps mushroom or the parasitic wasp, may actually influence host behaviour. When you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, you are more likely to crave carbohydrates and processed sugars, Enders says. These bacteria can produce chemical signals to request more food from the host. This symbiotic relationship between our gut bacteria, which help us digest our food and us, has been a pact of understanding for aeons. We are only just beginning to understand the mechanisms by which these tiny microorganisms can have such large effects on our behaviour.

Genetics, method of birth, food eaten, trauma, antibiotics, sleep and exercise, all impact the gut biome. A compromised gut makes room for pathogens, which leads to obesity as cravings increase for processed sugars and carbohydrates which feed these bad bacteria. This mixture of influences is a fairly common list in how to be healthy or unhealthy, but it’s not as simple as ‘do these things and you will be healthy’. We are now contending with an environment which actively wants to take these things away from us.

During the birthing process, the mother provides a great deal of beneficial bacteria to the baby as it leaves the birthing canal. Cesarians are on the rise. Cesarians prevent this important transfer of beneficial bacteria. Breast feeding has also been displaced by formula milk. Breat milk contains huge amounts of beneficial bacteria to an infant, as well as lots of important antibodies. From birth, our gut biomes are under onslaught from westernised influences which can set us behind, or even lead us to obesity.

Look at sleep, for instance. Sleep deprivation is on the rise. From 2010 to 2018, sleep deprivation (classed as anything under 7 hours), rose from just over to 30%, to just over 35%. That might not seem like a lot, but if we account for the fact that this has happened over just 8 years, we can see that modern life is coming for our z’s.

Physical exercise becomes a chore when so many of our waking hours are consumed by menial tasks, work commitments and socialising at the end of the day. Jobs demanding physical activity are falling as more people work at a desk for at least 8 hours a day. A poll of 2000 UK residents found that, during the lockdown, physical activity fell by 30 minutes, leading to weight gain over time.

Antibiotics are a blessing. They provide a way for us to perform surgeries without sepsis. They allow common infections to be treated and cured with relative ease. They’re essential to saving lives. Unfortunately, they’re also overprescribed needlessly for common complaints which might improve with rest, and they’re devastating for the gut biome. When antibiotics are used long-term, they can kill off many of the important fibre digesting bacteria which support health, which then leaves space for hardier pathogens to take root in the gut lining.

Finally, the food that we eat is laced with additives which promote weight gain. Drinking a diet coke to be skinny? The artificial sweeteners are known to cause obesity. Our meat is drenched in hormones and antibiotics to meet high meat demands and the growing prevalence of disease and antibiotic resistance in intense agriculture. Pesticides riddle our produce. Tomatoes are bred to contain more sugar. Food is a constant onslaught for our insides. All of these factors are detrimental to our gut health, and poor gut health correlates with weight gain, autoimmune diseases and metabolic syndromes.

Society is fuelling obesity, perhaps not consciously, perhaps not with malicious intent, but definitely, and powerfully, and even, dare I say it, clandestinely. We just see fat people and their fatness, and it makes for an easy target. They’re there, we can observe that they are fat and therefore, by some kind of cave man logic, they must be the source of fatness, but, as with anything that’s worth researching about, it’s not that simple.

People like to blame what they can see because it’s much easier to live with than what they cannot. The Cold War was a time of anxiety, deep suspicion and secrecy. The sort of contextual backdrop which leaves the hairs on your nape on end. Not knowing your enemy, or when he will strike is fear itself. Without fat people to take the fall for obesity, who would we point the finger at? It’s not easy when you can’t see the problem, but it is there and it needs addressing now.

Fatness is endemic.

Fatness is spreading.

Fatness is not about fat people.

Society plays a bigger role than ever in fatness. Fat people have agency, yes. We all have agency, but agency is also effected by societal structures. Big food corporations, employment law, covid isolation sanctions, stressful lives and so much more. To say that fat people bring about their own health issues is to ignore the mounting scientific evidence. The walls are closing in on us. We’re being squashed in our freedoms, liberties, and desires for healthier lives. You can’t fight a shrinking room with no doors. Not without looking at the problems in our modern lifestyles will we begin to make better choices.

The paradox of it all is this.

As our world shrinks in around us, we’re all going to get bigger.

Fat is symptomatic of an imbalance in the social fabric of our lives. The sooner we recognise that, the faster we can begin to heal.

And for the last time, repeat after me, fat people are not the cause of fatness, society is.

Can Big Food Corporations Really Claim To Care About Us?

Coca Cola and other big brand names are pulling ad funding for Facebook due to some novel kind of ‘moral obligation’ to themselves and the general public.

Yet Coca Cola is one of the largest funding bodies for the American Diabetes Association, who’s CEO’s are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for leading a ‘non-profit’ organisation.

Just think about that for a second. The largest advisory board for diabetes health is also taking huge sums of money from Coca Cola et al, to give advice to people suffering with the condition.

Does that sound very moral to you?

Coca Cola, both full fat and fat free, are seriously contributing to diabetes and obesity in America. Both the added sugar and the artificial sweeteners have DEFINITIVELY been implicated in rising obesity and diabetes numbers.

Do you really think coca cola and friends have any kind of moral obligation to anyone, least of all you, the every day man or woman, to avoid platforms or products which are causing division and disease?

Facebook has been involved in a number of data breaches and security scandals, it is also run on algorithms which thrive on negativity (please take a look at this article where I talk more about that), and it’s losing ground to more popular visual platforms like snapchat and instagram (but it still owns these companies, so be aware).

It’s much more likely that big corporations are sensitive to these aspects of Facebook’s recent behaviour which can potentially harm their image, than due to any arbitrary sense of ‘moral obligation’ to the public.

All I’m asking is that people remain vigilant and alert to language which takes on a moral tone, when it’s coming from large multi-national companies. The likelihood that morality plays any part in choice is low to none in most cases. Where you see language like ‘we care’, or ‘we have a duty’, or virtue signalling regarding current world affairs, you would be safest to take that language with a pinch of salt.

As always, do your research, listen to all sides of the argument, and never dismiss the idea that businesses may not be working to make your life better.

It’s not out of the question that they might not be rooting for you in the way that they say they are.

Stay safe and aware, and please like, comment, and subscribe for more information on digestive health, diet and society.

Julian

Stoicism On A Diet – What Would Marcus Aurelius Do?

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

― Marcus Aurelius

When we think about health, we think of ‘new beginnings’, of turning over a new leaf, or starting afresh.

It’s a time for throwing away our past defeats and diving into the kick with a revived child-like vigour.

‘This time it’ll be a success. I’ll have the willpower, time, and energy to make it work, and I’ll never give up!’

Admirable, in a ‘not gonna work, but I admire your zeal’ kinda way.

I’m not saying the effervescent optimism of a health kick isn’t charming, and useful, even, when used properly, but to win in the health game, you have to buckle down for the long haul. The honeymoon period doesn’t last long, and before you know it, that deliciously crisp ceasar salad, filled with antioxidants and nourishing vitamins, is a wilted, sweaty abomination, sending you overboard into a miserably deep ocean of relapse, filled with sweet carbs and sumptuous, forbidden fried delights.

That’s why I love that quote by Marcus Aurelius, a Grecian Emperor and stoic philosopher from ancient times.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Stoicism is the belief that all you can change is your perception. The only control that you have is in the way that you tackle the chaos that sweeps your daily life.

When you apply this to dieting, it provides you with a refreshing approach.

Instead of getting bored and giving up, then slipping into a spiralling pit of despair coated in syrup and lard, you can change your approach.

Having a bad day? Did you eat something naughty?

Ok, well now we get to analyse what we could do to prevent that. Could we take something out of our day that then makes everything more easy to tolerate? Could we maybe find a different way to approach a difficult or stressful task which makes it less of a monster? Do we need to think that all our hard work is destroyed because we ate something bad?

When we start questioning the habits that cause us to react poorly, we can begin to regain some control over them.

The obstacle becomes the way.

We want to look at what is making our life more difficult. The boulder of hardship. Can we find a way over it, a way under it or a way around it?

If we can, can we do it every time we come across it? Better to slip past, or chip away at an obstacle than to spend hours and days crumpled in a heap over the whole agonising weight of its total mass, like a behemoth of misery and despair that we, personally, have to lug up hill.

Changing our approach to dieting by making our lives easier, adapting our habits, and maybe even recruiting the help and support of our friends and families, can make the whole burden of the task so much easier to face.

That’s why I love stoicism.

I just like the simplicity of self-analysis it affords.

You just need to look at your biggest problems and find better ways to tackle them.

And I know, seriously, I know, that that is easier said than done when you’re already overwhelmed. Your plate is already well past full (your metaphorical plate, but your real plate can also be full so long as it’s mainly wholefoods, don’t limit yourself).

I’m just saying that self-care is really important, and if you don’t give yourself some time to reflect, you’re going to burn out faster than a tealight from poundland. Sometimes we need five minutes just for us to get some perspective and start tackling those problems, one at a time, bit by bit.

Meditation can also be great for this. Asking yourself a question, just dropping it into your subconscious. ‘How can we tackle x?’. Not demanding an answer, just taking 5 – 10 minutes and just dropping the question. Eventually, answers bubble up!

So anyway, next time your start to feel like flinging your salad, ripping all of your clothes off, and screaming from your cubicle in the office, just think, ‘how can I approach this differently?’. Give yourself five minutes to relax, maybe even take a meditative minute to drop that question in the dimming pool of your mind. See what comes up. ‘The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way.’

Diet is an obstacle. If we keep approaching it the same way, we’ll never keep going with it. We need to constantly find new ways to approach it, or the obstacle will overwhelm us. Just remember, there is always a way around, through or under your health obstacle, you just need to find out which way works best for you, and allow yourself the space to get there without judgement.

Now get your chisel, there’s a big bully boulder ahead, waiting to be slugged down to size.

Students, You Should Get More Dietary Support At University

After living as a student for the typical three years in the UK, I KNOW for a fact that only the most minor fraction of students eat a healthy balanced diet.

Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, poor sleep, too much coffee (though coffee should not be seen as the enemy of digestive health) and stressful deadlines/ social engagements, and you have a recipe for DISASTER.

All of these factors have been shown to impact digestive health massively, and universities do absolutely nothing to support this process.

Many of you savvy readers may have heard of the gut-brain axis, how the state of your gut reflects the state of your mind. Depression is more and more seen as an issue of systemic inflammation in the body, which naturally impacts the brain (we should never think of the brain and the body as separate entities, they are very much reliant on, and influenced by, each other).

Students are the highest risk factor group in society for mental health issues, ranging from depression and anxiety most commonly, all the way to schizophrenia and bipolar less often.

In my mind, it doesn’t take a genius to pull the chords of connection together.

Students, having some of the most unhealthy lifestyles of any group in society, are suffering a mental health crisis because universities do not do enough to support their digestive health.

What blows my mind, having known that these places claim to be the epicentres of enlightenment, the pinnacles of intelligent discovery, is that there is still no self-reflective awareness of the impact of this stressful student lifestyle on student mental and physical health.

This is a tragedy which has lasting ramifications.

Though I am a firm believer in the power of the gut to heal itself under the right conditions, I also know that this is a process that can take YEARS. People can be set back whole periods of their life just because they are not being properly supported by their institution.

What is more, not everyone’s digestive health is equal. Some people make it through unscathed, others are brought to their knees. Those who already experienced mental illness before university, those who have neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism, and those with autoimmune disorders need even more care during this stressful time. I don’t think it’s fair that those who start out with poor digestive health should end up paying for that more than those who are resilient.

We need to be acknowledging this crisis and should be providing health workshops for university students. Showing them the tips and tricks which can bring health back into their lives, but won’t burn a hole in their wallet (we know you’re on a tight budget). Exams need to be arranged to avoid unreasonable stresses and allow good sleep. Controversially perhaps, I think freshers week is a disaster. Alcohol promotion gone wild. Stop pushing alcohol on young people who’s gut flora are more sensitive (studies are beginning to demonstrate that gut flora becomes more stable as you age, but may still be easily influenced in young people). Instead, foster a community where people can talk and play games together, even eat or cook a healthy meal together. This emphasis on booze is a catastrophe for students and irresponsible of learned institutions.

I spent three years at university and on reflection, I let the stress of this lifestyle damage my mental and physical health massively. Looking back on it, there was very little support and I had a sensitive constitution to begin with. I really suffered. My health deteriorated to such a point that by third year I had to move back in with my parents and drive to university for lectures and seminars. I was a wreck.

Students, don’t blame yourselves for your depression, anxiety or struggles with university. This is a very unnatural environment which puts multi-pronged stressors on your body. You are going to feel the impact of that, especially if you have a sensitive constitution. Instead, empower yourself and others to heal the damage, by learning which foods you can and cannot tolerate, and affording yourself the rest and relaxation needed for recovery.

I know I felt very alone in that environment and I could sense something wasn’t quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it when you’re in it.

I’m rooting for you and I hope this post makes you feel a bit more normal in a really strange place.

Please also like, comment and subscribe to heathen.life in the right top hand corner for more healthful information.

Keep well and learn to nourish your body.

J

Colour Me In Trust – Sensitive Data and Colour Psychology

We all know that a great deal of marketing strategy goes into making an app, more so those apps that go onto become successful and lasting presences in our daily lives.

But what if I told you that part of what makes an app successful is the colour it conveys to us in its design?

What does it say about an app that subliminally attempts to infiltrate the user’s subconscious defences with colour? Should we trust the apps that have utilised these psychological attacks?

Facebook, Twitter, Google Authenticator, the Iphone email app. What do they have in common other than their pervasive and integrated use in society?

They are all blue…

apps in blue

A harmless coincidence, I am sure many are thinking, but when we apply colour psychology, we begin to see that blue means something to the human psyche.

Blue conveys a number of qualities. It is calming and serene, indicating stability, order and reliability. These qualities are foremost indicative of a central core quality that is constancy, which in turn coaxes trust from the observer.

We naturally trust what is dependable and unchanging. This is hardwired into our DNA. Change presents danger, constancy, safety. Our primitive and precursory nervous systems submit to fear above all else, and changes in our perception of it are strong impulses, even now as we use our more developed prefrontal cortex to modulate our feelings and primal instincts.

colour me blue

What else is trust? It does not only relate to our monkey brain response to fear stimuli, but also to the quality of sedation which is linked to calmness and tranquillity. Sedation is the quality of calmness induced usually by drug use. A major class or type of drug, the sedative artificially induces sleep, quiet or calm in the patient. Blue is a natural visual sedative because of the qualities which it carries with the subconscious.

So, your blue apps are constantly signalling, often unbeknownst to you, that they are ‘trustworthy’, that you should be calm and sedated while using them.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘this sounds like a good idea – I would like to be calmer when I use apps!’ And on the surface, it is not a bad idea to encourage trust in users, but we must look at this within the wider subtext of the apps in question.

Almost always, these are apps that deal with sensitive information, personal information, data which, if in the wrong hands, can wreak personal and social havoc.

How many political scandals have involved email interceptions or coincidental ‘misplacement’ of important records and vital evidences? How many times do we need to see Facebook implicated in public data mining incidents like the Analytica scandal?

Almost none of the apps that claim the colour of trust as their own, can be trusted to secure personal information which protects the public. In some cases, these apps are actively deceiving us into selling our information for some universal need, be it connection to one another, or communication in all variety of personal and professional lanes.

With that in mind, one does wonder: ‘What does an app that has no interest in public trust need to convey subliminal trust to its users?’ It is one thing to claim you are trustworthy overtly, but to claim it in such an insidious way strikes of ill-intent from the start.

Take care to consider the colour of the apps that you use. They are telling you something without saying it to you in a way you may consciously understand. Such covert methods must be considered in the light of suspicion.

Blue blinkers hood our eyes. Actions speak louder than words. It is what you do and say, not the colour you convey, which earns honest respect. It is time our social media giants started being trustworthy, rather than dressing up in its colours. We deserve honesty, not trickery, and that your apps are blue, while your social profiles are picked clean by your providers, like carrion for crows, we are no closer to honesty and racing towards deceit.

In nature, dangerous things signal their danger in the colour they display. Yellow is poisonous and red signals danger. The primordial flush of fear we feel is written into our DNA.

Blue is not always order and trust, but sometimes deception and sedation.

The banner must meet the carrier in action, or it is a lie.

Watch for the banner your apps carry. Turncloaks and mercenaries carry many flags, almost always for pride, power or gold.

J

5 Things I’ve Learned Being Fat

1. Finding love should be easier when you don’t meet societal standards of beauty, but societies standards make you feel that you aren’t worthy of love.

2. Negative comments about weight perpetuate weight gain. I no longer accept malicious comments and will challenge them or turn them into positive affirmations internally.

3. My time is for creative, meaningful experiences and not absurdly weighted towards attaining punishing weight loss goals.

4. Diets always fail and eventually lead to binges. Change habits in small ways to make a global impact.

5. Challenging negative self talk. I deserve better than to project social expectations which have never served me onto myself in a bad way.

I used to be fairly thin, but I was just as unhappy and so much more of my time was spent on dissatisfying activities that stopped me from developing spiritually.

I am beginning to experience a great deal of pain just getting about normally and I need to make room for exercise, but not at the expense of my happiness and progress in life.

I’m glad I’m not conventionally attractive because at least people see me for my personality and not what I look like. That’s a far better starting point for long term happiness than beauty.

I’m not going to sit here and say ‘fat is beautiful, or healthy, or happy’, but I will say, fat teaches you to accept yourself and to challenge your limitations, to become a person people can look to for other reasons than my flesh suit.

Fat is often seen as weakness, but fat can be powerful. A desire to overcome expectation, to become happier in spite of what you look like or who you ought to be. We learn acceptance and forgiveness, both towards society and towards ourselves, so profoundly affected by it before we even have a chance to fight back.

Fat is forgiveness, acceptance and power.

J

The Commercialisation of Veganism

As I said in my last vegan related post, veganism has had such a warped presence in the media lately. It’s become a sign of political deviancy (definitely not always a bad thing), it’s become a trend or social statement amongst certain subcultures, but probably the most disturbing aspect of it’s image, and what has the most potential to destroy its benefits, are its aggressive commercialisation.

I believe the commercialisation of veganism is a slippery slope that takes the diet away from its root values.

Sure, it’s great that we have so many options now a days. For instance, we can get alternative milk products nearly anywhere – great for someone like me who has eliminated dairy. I can make sure I have something other than water to add to my porridge, and it means I don’t have to drink my hot drinks black all the time (though I don’t mind black coffee at all). There are so many types of tofu and other alternative meat products, and they’re getting cheaper. Even the dreaded vegan cheese is improving and I am seriously impressed with some of these options, no doubt attained through well meaning and dedicated research. All wonderful stuff.

However, I am falling into the convenience trap. I can go to any local store these days and pick up a vegan sandwich. It’s probably still healthier than the meat filled alternative, but the list of additives and preservatives in these meal deal sandwiches is, or can be, astonishing.

I am primarily a vegan for my health and secondarily for the planet and its animals. When I eat these easy-to-grab meals, I’m making a sacrifice in this aspect. These chemicals are not good for our bodies, and I now have to fend off the ever growing number of unhealthy vegan options available. This is fine if you’re not in it for the health reasons, but for me, it’s a shame to see more and more of this ‘technically vegan but not very nutritious’ commercial food being brought into our near view and within arm’s reach.

Macdonalds, the kings of convenience food, even launched a vegan meal just the other day. Again, it’s technically vegan, but it’s also deep fried. Is the market now going to become saturated with unhealthy vegan foods at the expense of one of its core tenets, health? As with most things that become popular, they tend to lose their roots, their original purpose and human benefits.

So, how do we combat this change? Campaigning is one thing, but we aren’t all into that, and many of us are using veganism as a way to recover from mental and physical illness.  We don’t have the time or energy yet to face the political and business side of commercialisation.

On the ground level, the individual only has two choices. To join groups where knowledge of healthy, free from additives foods can be found. We deserve to gain information from our like-minded peers on places that do nutritious vegan food that can still be enjoyed without cooking from scratch. Convenience doesn’t actually have to cut corners on health, but often it does and we must scan our local towns and cities intently to find those hidden gems, restaurants, diners and sandwich stores, that make the effort to produce good, nutritious food.

The other branch of focus is pretty straight forward and we attempt to do it all the time. We must try to organise our time so that we can cook healthy vegan food that we know will give us energy and help us recover from our ailments. We need to try hard to bring our enjoyment of cooking and preparation to life and to find ways to make food at home which is nutritious, simple and easy. It can be done, and like anything worth doing in life, persistence and practice makes it possible.

Well-being for the planet and the individual should remain the core focus of veganism going forward, and we can achieve this by drawing on our collective knowledge through local groups and working on our relationship with cooking and food preparation. Remember why eating vegan is important to you, perhaps even meditate and reflect on it a bit every day, so that you can focus on your goals and prepare yourself for daily success.

Good eating, cooking and learning friends,

J

Facebook – The New Opiate for the Masses That’s Making You Sick.

A week ago I announced I’d be leaving Facebook for a month to see how things changed in my life. This was after I did some research on how Facebook algorithms transform the way you behave online. Jaron Lanier’s ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ inspired me to take the plunge. In his book, Lanier outlines that algorithms used on these platforms are constantly analysing your online behaviours, processing this information, and adapting your feed of information to maximise your engagement. Constantly evolving, these data-grabbing parasites find new ways to seize your attention and keep you locked in. It really works! And it’s especially effective against those of us who are compromised by our real life experiences. Let me illustrate by sharing a little of my own journey with the platform.

My Experience with Internet Addiction

Nearing a year prior to my decision to leave, Facebook had taken over my life. I was so invested in the platform that I spent most of my day getting attention, good and bad alike, as a mini kick to supplement my pathetic natural dopamine reserves. Thank you, brain, you’re so good to me. During this time, several significant life events had happened to me that knocked me off my feet. I had slipped a disk in the second year  of my degree which was causing a huge amount of pain and numbness in my legs. All the while I was working part time, hiding the fact from my boss and managing dicey personal relationships. I was cutting more and more real people out of my life as I slowly disconnected from reality. I had panic attacks, dissociation, health anxiety, and serious depression. I wanted to die, but I was also terrified of the idea of death. An unpleasant oscillation of negative emotions gripped me every day. As my real life started to implode inwards, my activities became deeply withdrawn and passive. I started to construct an alternative online persona, a confident, happy, egotistical version of myself that said whatever was on his mind. In short, a charming asshole. The feeling of having lost my voice in the real world translated to a booming, but meaningless online presence. I was clinging to control in the only corner of my life that I believed I had any left.

Little did I know at that time, Facebook, my little haven of safety, fantasy and control, was actually taking advantage of my vulnerability to keep me trapped in a cycle of depression, gasping for a breath of attention, but starved of real human connection. And these algorithms are designed to keep a person’s attention at the expense of the vulnerable. They learn the best ways to keep you online, and those most susceptible to addiction suffer the worst. How can we allow a platform that seems so innocuous and practically useful to systematically prey on the most compromised individuals in society? It’s simple, people just don’t know yet, and they really need to wake up from the stupor. Facebook has the chloroformed cloth to our face, and we’ve been under for long enough for us to forget who kidnapped us.

Would You Let an Organisation Build a Palace of Opiates in the Midst of Deprivation?

Do you know why a heroin addict takes heroin, even at the expense of his health, both physical and mental? He’s not lazy or a cockroach, he’s escaping his reality, and people who experience internet addiction on platforms like Facebook are doing the same. Groups and pages like ‘BPD meme Queen’ (BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious personality disorder that requires real world intervention) with over 120k likes, actively invites mental illness onto the platform, trapping more and more vulnerable people in the molasses of hollow experience.  Glorifying mental illness in the shape of memes and signposting it on Facebook is not healthy, yet it’s absolutely allowed on the platform.  I ask you, would you allow an organisation to hand out free opiates to vulnerable, struggling people who need help figuring out their reality? Would you let a giant corporation build a gleaming white tower in the centre of the most deprived area of a city, offering out free syringes for the people’s unbridled attention? I don’t think so. Yet we happily turn on our computers and let algorithms fuck with us all day long. Algorithms which become exponentially more effective, the more unwell we are.

The reality is this, you don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people. Sure, it might be easier to use social media, it has all of your information in one place and it’s keeping it warm for you, but you do have a phone, you have messenger services, you can still send a text and ring people, even write letters (yes, we should do more of that especially). If we don’t put pressure on the networks to change, we’ll continue to experience all of these issues going forward. Facebook is making ill people worse over time, and in the best case, keeping people chronically not better.

Mark Zuckerberg – Building a Disease Free World on the Bodies of the Addicted

Mark Zuckerberg previously announced that, along with his partner Priscilla Chan, he would be donating 99% of Facebook’s shares to eradicate all human disease, founding the Chan Zuckerberg initiative in 2015. A lofty goal, but more importantly, one at odds with the very product used to fund this research. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental, but according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a human disease. Many will argue that there are more serious and debilitating disorders, but that’s another debate and beyond this article. In its own right, addiction is a serious, debilitating brain disease that is being actively abused by Facebook’s algorithms, monitoring user behaviour, analysing the most visceral impulses of addiction, and using them against its users.

Addiction disconnects. Not only does Facebook help us unplug from reality, it does it under the guise of connecting the world. Why is this a problem? Facebook is funding its research against human disease with a technology that makes a serious human disease worse in the population. The very system that sells itself as making the world more social, more connected, is actually doing the opposite. Now, there are smarter people than me working at Facebook, of that I’m sure. Moreover, these people understand the technologies inside and out. So, given that the odds of Facebook engineers knowing everything I do and more, and yet not even advertising to the public better methods of networking, methods that are less manipulative and damaging to vulnerable people and the social fabric of society at large, what is the gig? Why isn’t this big news? Why isn’t this issue even on the radar at all? One can only imagine they have their very good, very legitimate reasons.

I’m sure.

Students! You are Prime Targets for Manipulation!

At this point many of you are probably wondering ‘what has this got to do with me? I’m not addicted. I’m just a student.’. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to ask, but here’s the thing: As a student, you’re extremely vulnerable to Facebook’s manipulation. Students deal with higher levels of mental illness, depression and social anxiety, those being some of the most debilitating aspects for our social group. More than this, students are trying desperately to form social connections, especially when they first start out at university. Facebook and other social media platforms thrive on the insecurity of students trying to make their way on the social scene. We’re also chronically bored. Bored people find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on these platforms because there’s nothing better to do. Procrastination, too, adds to student stress and burnout. Perhaps if we weren’t constantly having our essence sucked by horny virtual-dementor-algorithms, we’d have time to get some of our work done (I’m sure the least popular argument on this list). All of these factors make students prime targets for algorithms which want to keep you trapped in Zuckerberg’s Wonderland for as long as possible.

I’m not saying go cold turkey like I did but think very carefully about how you use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. When we look out of the window, the things on the other side look back. The real question when using social media is who’s using who?

This article is also available at Slain Media.