Vitalism Signs

Concentration. Jeff Foxworthy has already made the classic joke saying, “If you’ve ever stared really hard at a juice container because it said, ‘Concentrate,’ you might be a redneck.” In fact, if you even know who Jeff Foxworthy is, you might be a redneck. And, just so you know, there are rednecks everywhere; they just go by different regional names. I, myself, try to convert as many people as possible so they get the “redneckization” they deserve. And, just so you know, I am a redneck of a more reformed, rather than orthodox, variety. I suppose I’ll describe myself as part of the neo-redneck tribe—we’re all about our own idiosyncrasies—and just generally being who we are while trying to respect others’ right to do the same. But, as usual, I digress.

Back to orange juice, which is made through the process of concentration. Why? Because it’s the very cheapest way to get the very worst of the orange crop out to us, the consumers, in the form of a product that can be frozen, then reconstituted and served anytime of year for the convenience we’ve been sold on by the orange juice industry. If you don’t believe me, get stuck behind a truck hauling oranges to the juice processing plant sometime. The smell is buzzard-gagging, and soon all those smelly oranges will be concentrated, poured into little cans, frozen and on their way to a warehouse or grocery store near you.

The process of concentration makes things ever more condensed into purer, simpler or more homogenous forms. Now, I’m doing a little condensing of my own, but essentially, concentration represents a core tactic of a purely scientific approach—the idea that, in order to understand anything, we must first reduce it into all of its separate components and then test each of them, one at a time, and measure its effects. And, in the end of this view is the idea that everything is merely a collection of its simplest parts and, further, that nothing can be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also the idea behind the cornucopia of concoctions and supplements we’re constantly being told are the true secret to health and/or the treatment for various conditions and diseases. It’s so easy for someone who thinks reductionistically to also think in terms of “magic bullets” and be eternally on the lookout for the newest one that will cure what ails you, like aspirin, penicillin, HCG or vitamin D—or even an adjustment, for that matter.

Unfortunately, concentrating things in order to make them more “pure” and presumably more effective may sometimes have the opposite effect. Salt, for instance, is actually much healthier in its less refined state, when its sodium and chlorine are accompanied by other naturally occurring trace elements, rather than when it’s thought of as a simple chemical commodity and then refined to its “pure” state, bearing traces of the toxic elements used to concentrate or “purify” it. Illegal drugs are probably the best example of the danger of the concentration effect, as well as the law of unintended consequences. By way of example, when the leaves of the coca plant were first brought to North America, it was in their natural form—as leaves. In that form, coca is a mild stimulant (not unlike coffee) that has some medicinal properties and has been in use by human beings for centuries. Interestingly, from a historical perspective (according to a Jan. 13, 2013, NY Daily News article), coca became the target of an elimination campaign in the 1930s at the same time Coca-Cola was trying to corner the market on coca for its exclusive use. Coincidence? You make the call.

The point is that, by making coca and other drugs illegal in all forms, including their naturally occurring ones, we create a black market. Along with a black market comes a criminal subculture, ranging from occasional users to those who sell to support their own habit, to large scale distributors and, ultimately, ending at every level with those who will do anything to support their habit, protect their turf or retain their power. And, we ensure that the drug, cocaine, will be concentrated into its cheapest, purest, most compact and most dangerous forms, so that it can be smuggled as profitably as possible. You can’t exactly swallow a field full of coca leaves and try to smuggle it through customs in your stomach. But, if you take that field full of coca leaves and reduce them to cocaine, you end up with a product that is very valuable, highly addictive and potentially quite deadly. From a strictly business standpoint, it’s a great proposition. If you’re making your product increasingly concentrated and, in the process, you’re also making it increasingly addictive, you’re going to be off the charts in “customer loyalty.” So much so that, even if your product kills a bunch of customers, it’s no big deal—your product will continue to create new users for you.

This isn’t about the law or politics or morality. Rather, it’s about taking a consistent philosophical stand that supports the natural order of things instead of taking the stance that everything in nature can be “improved” or somehow exploited for profit and power. If coca leaves were legal wherever they could be grown sustainably for local use in their natural form, we’d be talking about coca as if it were coffee.