Auto-Immunity and Social Justice: When Good Intentions Betray Our Own Cultural Body

Approximate read time: 10 minutes

The germ theory of disease, most famously worked on by Louis Pasteur, defines our modern understanding of infectious disease. Prior to its proposal and ultimate acceptance, the notion that tiny “invisible” organisms cover our world and fill our internal environment seemed like science fiction. But soon we came to understand how ubiquitous bacteria is in the natural world, and how eliminating certain types from certain situations contributes to our individual and societal health.

As compartmentalized Western thinking often over-reaches, we soon sought to eliminate all bacteria from all situations. Sterile environments, anti-bacterial soap, antibiotics, bleach-based cleaning products, and other similar methods for scourging our living spaces of any and all bacteria soon became the norm.

It is only several generations removed from this critical shift that we can now see the deleterious consequences that our bacteria phobia has wrought. The “hygiene hypothesis” is essentially the idea that sterile and clean environments contribute most to our overall health.

While this way of understanding our bodies has greatly decreased the rate of infectious disease, it has contributed directly to a severe rise in auto-immune disorders and allergies. Many epidemiological studies observed migrant populations who moved from less developed countries to more Western nations. The first-wave immigrants have incredibly low incidence of auto-immune conditions. Yet their children, born and raised entirely within the new country’s health understanding, show the same incidence of such disorders as their fellow citizens, not the lower rate of the parents generation.1

Learning Early About Peanuts (LEAP), an organization who’s sole charter is to understand and prevent peanut allergies, found similar phenomena. LEAP performed a randomized study of 640 infants at risk of peanut allergies (born with severe eczema and/or egg allergy) to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine. For five years, half of the participants ate a peanut-containing snack at least three times per week. The other half were not allowed any peanut products. After five years, of the half that ate peanuts only 3% developed a peanut allergy, opposed to 17% from the peanut-free group.2

Exposure creates strength. Ironically, the Western medicine idea of vaccinations is based on the idea that exposure to small amounts of dead or weakened versions of particular pathogens trains and strengthens the immune system for future encounters. Unfortunately, this same notion has not yet transcended our severe phobia of bacteria and other germs.

The Hygiene Hypothesis for the World of Ideas

While many explain the technical aspects of how the hygiene hypothesis creates allergies and auto-immune disorders, the simplest terms are these: by eliminating all potential hazards, we leave the immune system with nothing to do so it turns inward and attacks its own body.

We have created a standing army with no battle to fight. When you muster and rally a bunch of troops but give them no distinct marching orders, turmoil is sure to break out.

Our immune system’s entire purpose is this fight. We have removed the purpose from one of our most vital and powerful biological systems.

A progression of good intentions ultimately caused severe internal turmoil. This same progression perfectly explains the current trend of social justice and politically correct thinking.

The culture of outing and shaming a person or group who doesn’t conform to a specific social justice narrative is akin to a misguided immune system attacking its own body’s other systems. It creates a fight where one should not exist and causes far more harm than good.

The rise in internal attacks and demonizations from both sides of the political spectrum, but taken to new extremes by the young, radical left, stems from a multi-generational pattern of removing obstacles for the subsequent generation.

The current generation of high school, college, and recent graduates have led a life devoid of many obstacles that were daily realities for their parents and grandparents. Even their free play time cannot truly be called “free” or “playful.” Play-dates and sport practices are scheduled and supervised. Very few kids walk to and from school or are allowed unsupervised time outside their home. The education system asks very little of them. Students are no longer expected to take their own notes. Teachers now handout note packets with simple fill-in-the-blank sections. Tests ask far less as teachers are held accountable if too many students fail. More and more course work is graded solely on completion rather than content as an insurance policy for passing final grades. Participation and attendance awards have become the norm.

Not only have most young people today grown up in a far more provided-for state, but they have far less opportunity to develop their abilities to speak their mind, debate ideas, and resolve conflict in face-to-face interactions. More and more personal interactions have turned digital removing much of the human element in relationships.

Losing Our Meaning

We as individuals, and as a collective culture, require hardship for meaning.

When all struggle and hardship leave our lives, we feel depressed and unfulfilled and seek to fill these needs in other ways.

Individually, this leads to depression, violence, and self-destructive behavior. We’ve seen a stark rise in adolescent depression, self-harm, and incidence of mass-shootings.

Culturally, lack of hardship leads us to invent false narratives of oppression to create an enemy to fight.

We will have our hardship one way or another; real or fictional, constructive or destructive.

Becoming an Adult

Growing into adulthood is far more than simply aging in years. It is a mindset and sense of finding your personal agency and power. It is discovering who you are and standing up to establish and declare your place in society.

The only means by which this process happens is in meeting challenges, solving problems, and assuming responsibility for your own life and well-being. Childhood and adolescence should present a slow progression in the amount of challenge, responsibility, and freedom that you can handle. This means you will be trusted with greater and greater potential to do yourself and your community harm, but you will also be given greater opportunity to both grow and be of service.

A modern upbringing gives shockingly few opportunities to grow into independent and powerful adults.

When our society and our individual families fail to give young people constructive opportunities to explore and develop their blossoming sense of personal power, they will act out to create their own channels to express it.

These are the classic risk-taking behaviors of substance-use, promiscuity, and reckless driving. To a certain extent, exploring (and occasionally exceeding) your limitations is part of a healthy adolescence and young adulthood. However, the current generation has taken a severe turn toward politics.

When the Follies of Youth Take a Federal Stage

Without individual opportunities to develop a personal sense of power, and without a steadily increasing set of obstacles to tackle, we see a generation of kids creating a false national agenda to defeat the invented enemy of systemic oppression.

Debate and discourse, the societal immune system necessary to suss out and eliminate destructive ideas, is being coopted and turned inward to attack the very structures and values that our country (and the rest of the Western world) stands on.

Does the US have a history of systemic racist and sexist policies. Absolutely.

Have we created a perfect system now? No way.

Is the greatest threat to our freedom and democracy a “white, male patriarchy” that stands to keep all other groups down? Absolutely not!

The social justice movement attempts to solve a false problem. Worse, they seek to do so through misguided means: politics. The entire movement is built on faulty assumptions:

  1. Not all issues are political. If there is indeed a deep underlying oppressive over-class that maintains its power through public policy and law, we would see the social justice movement attacking specific policies. This is not the case. They go after individuals, most of whom simply present rational and well-intended opposing ideas. The SJ movement’s proposed changes (to the extent that it even has a unified agenda) is to create new policies that police language, silence dissenters, and enforce equality of outcome. In other words, their political agenda cannot point to specific policies to dismantle. They only seek to promote a value structure and present policies that eliminate any opportunities to challenge it - a decidedly Fascist tactic.

  2. Not all issues can be legislated away. If there were a deeply held value structure of oppression toward minorities, this cannot be solved through policy making. This would be an issue of personal and societal beliefs. Policies to snuff the outcome would simply treat the symptoms and probably fuel the fire of such beliefs. Belief structures are only changed through multi-generational evolution and open debate - ironically, one of the pillars that the SJ trends seeks to tear down.

  3. Trying to solve your problems through politics completely abdicates personal responsibility. Even though these individuals seem to be rising to take action and challenging the world in which they were born into (two very admirable traits in this writer’s opinion), they point to the source of their problems as external and outside of their control. This external locus of control encourages outrage, victimhood, and learned helplessness. Most of the problems in each of our lives have externalities, many of which might even need to be addressed with political solutions. However, most of those with strong political agendas, particularly in regards to social issues, merely seek an external scapegoat to rationalize why the details of their life are not as they wish. Despite the fact that external obstacles will always exist, we must focus on the aspects that are within our personal and internal locus of control.

This movement, by whatever name we call it, perpetuates on two front: in individual young adults and in the parents of the children and adolescents of today.

To Young Adults:

This overly individualistic, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument falls often on deaf ears. However, we must own every aspect of our lives, even those that might seem outside of our control. Not because it is factually accurate to do so, but because it is the only productive and emboldening path forward. No matter how small, we have a hand in each of our own problems and inadequacies. If we are to claim ownership for our victories we must also own our failures.

To lift yourself up means, first, to believe that you have the ability to do so. When confronted with an issue, ask first how you may solve it yourself.

I once heard discussion of an observational study on the behavior of fox puppies versus domesticated dog puppies. I cannot find the original paper, but the lessons remain even if the story is fiction. For the test, researchers entered a test room filled with a litter of the given species. They showed the puppies food in their hand and then placed it on a shelf out of reach. The fox puppies tried tirelessly (though fruitlessly) to reach the food. The domesticated puppies made a few meager attempts then gave up and sat at the researchers feet looking as cute as they could. They had not yet seen this example from their mother, they innately knew to give up and expect assistance. This is a developed instinct from over one hundred thousands years of co-evolution with humans.

Remain a fox. Remain driven to solve your own problems.

This is not to say that external a factors will not arise or that you will never require help, but the only psychologically fulfilling way to operate is to maintain an internal locus of control.

This means to assume your individual ability to solve your own problems, to be of service when others require it, and to enact positive change in your life, your community, and your environment.

To Parents of Burgeoning Adults:

Plowing the road to remove obstacles is not helpful. Your assistance, while well-intended, removes opportunities for your kids to grow into adults that you will respect and admire. Self-reliance does not spring into existence when doted-on children reach young adulthood. Self-reliance is practiced and grown everyday, steadily expanding its power until it can take control. Do not expect your young pilot to know how to fly without any time in the cockpit.

Do less. Expect more.

Do as little as possible for your kids. This does not mean neglect. Be as present, supportive, and loving in your kids’ lives as you possibly can. However, do as little to assist them as possible. The help and guidance that they require slides with age. When they are a toddler, this means that you must do almost everything for them. When they grow into their early teen years, this means doing almost nothing.

Raise your expectations for them. Your assumption of their capabilities teaches them to assume, and thus enact and develop, their own capacity.

Let’s not grow a generation of dependent puppies. Let’s not allow the only outlet for expressing a newfound sense of personal power to be attacking the very system that allows their agency to thrive.

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References

1. Okada, H et al. “The 'hygiene hypothesis' for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update” Clinical and experimental immunology vol. 160,1 (2010): 1-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20415844

2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1414850