Postmodernism and it’s impact on the fitness industry
Postmodernism is a philosophical school of thought and is notoriously hard to define. This is because the concept of postmodernism is applied to many different aspects of culture as well as being used to define an epoch in time. People affected by postmodernism usually have many different views and beliefs which make it a heuristic nightmare. Lecturer Daniel Palmer wrote, when asking a student to define what postmodernism meant; a student replied “it’s when you put everything in quotation marks.” I think this is simultaneously witty — and makes the point. Postmodernists believe words such as “truth” “facts” “reality” to be completely relative and without objectivity. Objective truth is a non starter in a postmodernist worldview which inevitably leads to an indulgence in cultural relativism. I am of the opinion that absolute truth is an illusion, however there is undoubtedly a hierarchical value system which can be placed on claims and we can be maximally certain about things.
Facts, for example, are at one end of the continuum in which we can be maximally certain, whilst at the other there is fabrication, of which we can be minimally certain. Truth — to the postmodernist — cannot be defined therefore there is no objective or moral system which is better than any other. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture postmodernism seems to disdain, more than anything else, hierarchical systems. Postmodernists see hierarchy as a power system which only erodes our culture and political systems. Of course, this translates perfectly to the notion of relative truth — all claims are on an equal playing field! A rejection of hierarchy is not only enervating but it also potentially poses some serious obstacles to how our society functions. You see, we cannot destroy hierarchical systems without too destroying value systems, as value systems are — by definition — hierarchies. We imbue everything we do with some sort of value ranking; this enables us to prioritize tasks, to favour one choice over anther, to distinguish between right and wrong, or to establish ethical certainty. To give you an example of how this school of thought goes beyond the pale ethically, we can look at the notion of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the notion held by many anthropologists, and inevitably postmodernists, which states that cultures can be viewed through their own lenses. This means that whether something is morally, ethically, or behaviourally right or wrong is dependent on the culture. For example, in extremist Islamic cultures woman are viewed as second class citizens and are subjugated by being poorly educated and by not being afforded the same rights as the males. A cultural relativist, and a postmodernist, would say that we cannot judge this as objectively wrong — that this is their culture. This notion, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible and I would invite the cultural relativist, if he really believes what he purports, to send his daughter off to one of these countries for a year foreign exchange; after all, there would be nothing wrong with the treatment she would receive during her visit. In fact, it may even be morally correct for the denizens to subjugate his daughter — on his own account.
Postmodernism and Fitness
So how does all this translate to the fitness industry and how the hell is it relevant to your progress and your gains. Well this school of thought, of course, spells disaster for methodological naturalism in which the scientific method is based. Science, being the main tool for which we get reliable knowledge in the fitness industry, is of course vital to the industry’s effective operation. Due to its focus on rigor, its commitment to the mitigation of human biases, and demonstrable effectiveness — we have placed science at the summit of the hierarchy of truth. Postmodernists seek to pull this hierarchy down so that all claims can share an equal space at the table. Now this is not pie in the sky rhetoric, with the global consumption of social media these ideas spread like intellectual contagions. This idea, in particular, is spreading at an astounding pace and we now have personalities such as David Wolfe and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are making health claims which require an esoteric knowledge, promulgating ideas which are being received by the public as if they have the same credibility as genuine, perspicacious, and evidence based experts. We have hard working, competent, and erudite people having their work discredited by people who believe, through a google search, that they — in fact — know better. Social media has acted like a force-multiplier for this ideology and one of the greatest impacts has been felt by the medical community with the anti-vaccination movement. With the inception of the vaccination we have, arguably, the greatest medical breakthrough in history which, is now being undermined by a large group of predominantly middle-class privileged mothers who have decided the entirety of the medical community are no better informed than anyone else. This movement has gained incredible traction and is a great example of how postmodernism can potentially threaten what is widely considered an immutable fact. The Netflix documentary The Magic Pill is an example of how we, in the fitness industry, could find ourselves exposed to the intellectual contagion. In the documentary the celebrity chef Pete Evans makes outlandish — and more importantly unsubstantiated — claims such as changing to the paleo diet can mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as Autism and cancer! Using arguments from authority, by having physicians bolster his claim, laypeople could easily find themselves fooled by his hyperbolic rhetoric. The President of the Australian Medical Association compared it to the documentary Vaxxed and said the two were competing “in the awards for the film least likely to contribute to public health.”
What can we do to protect ourselves against this?
Ultimately, it is down to you to understand the difference between a good source of information and a bad one. You need to understand why some sources are good and why some are bad. You need to be sceptical of all claims and educate yourself in methods of differentiating between good information and bad. Remember that we all have biases, which we need to correct for, that make us view information through a distorted lens. We know that we are more likely to accept information which agrees with our pre-existing notions — this is called confirmation bias. Good quality sources usually have tell tail signs such as regulatory bodies, policies, or procedures which ensure that the information given is true and are held to account when it is not. There are resources out there such as Snopes, factcheck, politifact, and fullfact which you can use to filter claims on the go however, some claims will require deeper research. All the information on the internet is not equal however it is being presented to you as if it were. So where ever you get your information — especially if it’s fits into your worldview — make sure it has been objectively substantiated. Do not allow yourself to become complicit in the propagation of misinformation.
GMO’s… should you be worried? (5min read approx)
GMO is an acronym which means Genetically Modified Organism. It is a term used to describe an organism whose genetic material has been altered using any technique attributable to genetic engineering (GE). Now, while this sounds pretty scary, it is important to realise that we have been genetically engineering foods for as long as agriculture has existed simply by selecting and breeding foods for specific reasons such as size, colour, taste, yield etc. As technologies have progressed we have been able to subsume a wide variety of more specific techniques, which are much more efficient than the torpid artificial selection approach and enable us to mitigate many of the short comings which were previously inherent in agriculture.
So what is the problem here? Well a quick google search will turn up some — seemingly — terrifying results…
A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage, and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. More than 60 countries around the world – including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union – require GMOs to be labelled. Globally, there are also 300 regions with outright bans on growing GMOs. nongmoprogect.org
Responsibletechnology.org lists a number of dangers such as…
By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.
The problem here is that none of these sources seem to want to back their claims up with genuine research citations and they use logical fallacies which are easily refuted. For example, the claim that we should be worried about GMO’s due to the fact that “more than 60 countries worldwide” stipulate that GMO’s must be labelled and some have banned them. However, when we think this through this line of argumentation means absolutely nothing. Earth also has 72 countries which still currently outlaw homosexuality, using their logic we should be extremely worried about gays! This is called an argument from popularity and it assumes that a claim cannot be wrong simply based on the fact that a large number of people believe it. These kinds of claims are preposterous, rather than using facts, figures, and research they depend on buzz words like “toxins” and “chemicals” to give their assertions weight.
When we look at the scientific literature there is an overwhelming agreement that GMO’s are at least as safe as their conventional counterparts…
Here is an overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research, which incorporated nearly 1,800 studies into its analysis. The authors concluded the following:
“We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.”
After looking at the facts The Royal Society of Medicine concluded that…
Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.
The World Health Organisation stated …
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.
All this is but a snippet of the information out there which is widely available and should be convincing to any rational actors that GMO’s are completely safe to eat and use. They also provide poor countries a lifeline with which to produce crops when it would not have otherwise been possible. They ensure that crop yields are at a maximum by protecting the crops from damage from countless environmental dangers giving farmers around the world the opportunity to make a living.
The takeaway point here is that you have absolutely nothing to fear from GMO’s, there is currently no evidence — which is taken seriously — to show that there are health risks associated with ingesting them. Rather, the problem we are facing is a distrust in expertise. We have been thrust into the information age without the necessary filter to sift the good information from the bad. This has led to a phantasmagorical situation in which we, as a lay population, have decided we are better informed than the experts in the field. This is ultimately a path to disaster.
Written by Aidan Doherty