One thing that I want to acknowledge up front is this – I am not a medical or a psychological expert. I have no formal clinical training in either discipline other than what entry level training I received in university, the behavioral and motivational training I have received in 30+ years of managing people, through CPR/first responder training/rescue training and my training as a diver. What I have gleaned about what makes people tick and how they interact in groups when presented with a problem or an obstacle has come through observation and direct involvement.
What I do know is that true science is nothing but an extension of natural laws, the very basis of the scientific method is based on the logical convention of something either is or is not, and the subsequent testing and replication of test results to prove one way or another – and the observation of those results for causal factors. What follows does not qualify for “science”, per se, but it does conjure up an interesting hypothesis. It is likely to be seen as controversial but that never really stopped me before…
Here goes -
I am a subscriber to a magazine called Men’s Health. It is a lifestyle and health magazine for a demographic somewhat shorter in years than yours truly but I have been a follower since I was in that target demographic and I suppose that old habits do die hard. I guess these days it is far more palatable (and perhaps realistic) to read about how to get rock hard abs in 15 minutes a day than it is to actually achieve it – but in the medical section of the magazine, there are often some truly interesting tidbits about human health and the myths that we have come to believe about what that “health” really is.
In this month’s edition, there was an article about helminthic therapy as a response to the increasing rates of auto-immune diseases – the article notes:
Cases of autoimmune diseases—the immunological equivalents of friendly fire—are also rising at alarming rates. Multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, Grave’s disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and food allergies have all risen from obscurity to become commonplace in every nation with modern medicine and sanitation.
If you are eating, perhaps I should warn you about what helminthic therapy really is: it is the replacement of beneficial intestinal parasites that we have killed off in the quest to destroy the bad ones. The author tells the story through the actual journey of a sufferer of painful and debilitating Crohn’s Disease, a muscular blacksmith anonymously known as “Bear”:
Then, last winter, a longtime friend of Bear’s who works as a technician at a university medical lab, suggested a bizarre and not altogether legal fix for the deadliest of his torments. “I knew that Bear’s allergy to nuts in particular could kill him if he accidentally consumed them in processed foods,” says the lab tech, who has requested anonymity. “The two of us have been like brothers for 20 years. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if he died and I could have stopped it.”
The friend’s proposed remedy: intentional infection with eight tapeworm larvae he had harvested in the lab from a beetle and then washed, disinfected, and placed in a drinkable saline solution. In the medical literature, this approach is known as helminthic therapy, and its pioneers are convinced that restoring human-adapted wormy parasites to their rightful place in our guts is the key to treating many hyperinflammatory disorders. Like protagonists in a buddy picture eons in the making, the advocates argue, humans and worms have coevolved from enemies to frenemies who depend on each other for mutual prosperity. Our contribution to them is obvious: food and lodging. But what do we receive from them in return?
The chief benefit, the proponents of helminthic therapy claim, is an optimized immune system—one that parasitic worms help train, exercise, and prevent from going haywire by way of a variety of dampening mechanisms and secreted compounds that researchers are just beginning to identify.
The full article is worth a read if for nothing other than an example of how we humans often outsmart ourselves in the quest to “improve” the human condition yet ultimately set off a chain of unintended consequences that require yet another “fix”.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but recognize how much society behaves like an organism. If you consider the human components of society, there are many similarities to the human body in that there are groups of people who perform functions much akin to human organs – producing, repairing, adapting – essentially providing the mechanical operations to keep a society “breathing”, to keep it alive.
Unfortunately, and I think undeniably, it would be an accurate observation to say that we also have people who are the equivalent of parasites, bad bacteria, viruses, cancer. These societal “parasites” exhibit a variety of anti-social behaviors that harm society…and before you think that I’m going all Aldous Huxley/Brave New World on you – I am not advocating that we separate society into Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gamma’s and Epsilons – what I am saying is that I believe that this is exactly what modern social science is attempting to do…and failing miserably.
I would only state that my observations simply indicate in interesting illustrative parallel between human physiology and societal “physiology”.
If you see the same parallels as I do and accept my premise, then the hypothetical question I would pose is this: by trying to remove and eliminate all anti-social behaviors, especially in children, are we also eliminating valuable socialization learning opportunities, essentially killing the good “bad behaviors” and instead of “curing”, we actually harm society?
Are our attempts to eradicate behaviors that we have deemed “unacceptable” actually just putting the cork back in the Champagne bottle before we shake it?
Essentially, do we need a helminthic therapy for society? Do we need to swallow some beneficial worms, the secretions of which will inoculate us against unconscionable violence perpetrated by our young?
There is one socialization/rite of passage that was stuck in my mind as it was combining the gruesome tragedy of Sandy Hook and the Men’s Health article on the plane from Edinburgh yesterday, and I must admit that it is a personal peeve of mine and that that is the move to eradicate bullying in schools.
I’ll be the first to admit that bullying is wrong, I am not trying to imply otherwise but I can see where there are important socialization skills that dealing with a bully teach:
- It teaches confrontation management skills – no matter what modern society thinks, not all confrontations can be cured by diplomatic means. There will always be one party that will not voluntarily desist and the issues will necessarily be resolved through the oldest conflict resolution on the face of the earth – one party doing violence to the other. There are elements in society that simply will not relent until their dominance is broken by either by physical or numerical superiority.
- It teaches alternative routes to resolving conflicts. Kids learn to cope through humor or other behaviors that diffuse the situations. They discover talents that can build alliances that provide numerical superiority or they become friends with older stronger kids who provide a deterrent to the aggressor.
- Bullying acts as a filtering device. It tends to sort out kids who cannot handle the peer pressure and or cannot resolve anger in any other way and will act out in various ways that identify them to the adult population.
- It teaches that society is often brutal and unforgiving, that life isn’t always structured and safe as our school environments - that sometimes consequences are worse than getting a B- on a test.
There is no more accurate crucible of society than a third grade playground at recess. I saw it all when I was a kid. In my elementary school years, I was a small kid, I was from a rural farm setting, an only child until I was 8, and on top of that, after my third grade year, the school district lines were redrawn and I was sent to a completely different school where I knew almost nobody. My torment started in 4th grade when I was bullied by a bigger, stronger kid my from the city who had about ten times the friends that I did.
I put up with it for a year until I got tired of being afraid and in spring of my 5th grade year, in an obscure corner of the playground it came to a head and I came to a decision point. I was approached by this kid and the taunting started – but that day, instead of making jokes, I clocked him. I planted a knotted 10 year old fist right to the center of his nose and blood began to flow. Even though he outweighed me by a good thirty pounds, I climbed him like a tree and pummeled him until he started crying. There was no psychology involved; this was all about domination and pecking order on the playground.
I eventually got five licks of the principal’s paddle and another little swatting when I got home for breaking the rules but the daily torment ended that day…and my life changed. It was at that point that I learned that I would never let anybody put me down, demean or discount me in any way because I had the power and courage to overcome anything.
But that is a lesson that I never would have learned without that fateful day in April, on a playground in Mississippi.
Am I saying that violence is the answer to everything?
But violence is the answer to some things.
That much is undeniable in its rooting in natural laws, the “fight or flight” response is real and we, as humans, must learn how to manage it within the boundaries of our social constructs. Even in gym class, our coaches would take two kids who were aggressive toward each other and put the boxing gloves on and let them go at it. Does that even happen today?
I don’t know if Adam Lanza was bullied or not – but I do know that kids do a very effective job of sorting out a social structure through these adolescent engagements and I have seen cases where kids like Lanza were “protected” from these engagements and as a result, they never learn how to manage them on their own.
I have to wonder if this is the reason for so much school violence and why we see mass shootings happen at schools. I don’t expect our playground proctors to have to become mixed martial arts referees but I do have to wonder if in our attempts to kill the bad parasites, we are killing the good ones that inoculate society from such horrendous diseases. I have wonder if we are preventing our children from sorting out their own individual behaviors and limits in the safety of a managed environment in a playground laboratory until they resolve them later in life in very violent adult behaviors ending with very tragic consequences.