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One of the biggest obstacles to fasting is not the science, the health benefits, or the weight loss.

It’s the word “fasting.”

It just makes people freak out.  You say “fasting” and people hear “fad,” or “starvation” or “hunger” or “pain” or “eating disorder” or “death”!

It’s a huge issue for fasting advocates and Jurgen Habermas will help us solve it.  Ya got to read to the end to see why.  For now, you just get to see his photo.

Fasting is just one of those emotionally resonant words.  

I don’t know what your thoughts are when you hear “fasting,” but I know what mine were.  

Before I started fasting, I vaguely remember hearing about the benefits of fasting in terms of longevity, weight loss, cognitive functioning, but just instantly dismissed it as impossible to do … too much pain, too much suffering, and I just couldn’t do it.

Last Spring 2020, I didn’t start for any other reason than being a little panicked about being set up for a Type 2 diabetes screening at Mercy, especially when I knew it was so clearly related to my weight.  I was following the classic age onset track, slowly, but surely creeping up the A1C numbers along with blood sugar as I continued to gain weight.

The Fastic app made it look so simple and promised that I could lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar.  So that is why I tried it, not necessarily to lose weight.  

Sure, I was not jumping for joy about my dad bod, but I don’t carry weight only in my belly as some men do, but throughout, making me look tubby yes, but I did not have a huge belly.  While I was “obese” by body mass index classification, I did not look “obese” as in our common sense perception of that word, meaning “fat.”  I think that is why I was so carefree about my obesity classification.  My Type 2, and not my tubbiness, drove me to try fasting.

Now, 9 months later, the word “fasting” not only has no negative connotations, but it bursts with life changing positivity: weight loss!  lower blood pressure, Type 2 reversed!  Lower stress!  Autophagy!  Metabolic age reversing!   Compliments!  

I am on the other side of the looking glass as it were.  The word means something completely different to me now than before I started.

That’s the problem with persuasion with any word, especially emotionally laden words.  They are so metaphysically charged that it becomes nearly impossible to have a discussion about it.  The word just triggers so many emotions to prevent any reasonable discussion about it.

In that sense, “fasting” carries similar linguistic baggage to “socialism.”   It is just too loaded a term to use.  I have read probably 40 to 50 books on socialism, ranging from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station to John Nichols S Word, History of American Socialism.   It has a rich and nuanced history.  

When I hear that word, I think of sound money, public schools, libraries, public infrastructure, no municipal debt, human progress, and freedom to pursue individual creativity through business.   I have gratitude for all of the Socialists who helped the US win the Civil War, their staunch opposition to slavery, their sound budgeting of the Milwaukee Socialist Camp, and the Amana Colonies.  It has a positive meaning for me.  

But when I mention that word, “socialism,” people start practically hyperventilating accusing me of being a Stalinist or an ally of Pol Pot.  If they are able to stop hyperventilating, they then resort to the smug, well, you’re just naïve and idealistic, and then they brain shuffle through how socialism was such a failure in the Soviet Union.

I then respond that actually a lot of socialists hated communism too.  No less than Vladimir Lenin railed against “Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder.”  Wait, the original commie hated communism?  Of course, he meant something else than you or I think when we hear that word, but you get my point (I’m not defending Lenin here, just using this to illustrate the point).  They then can’t believe that because they’ve never heard that.

Then I’ll say, like Bernie, I mean Norwegian, Danish, or French socialism.  They then respond that it’s not “socialism”!  Even a former professor of mine, whom I really admire and learned so much from, confidently told me that these countries were at best “social democracy” and not “socialist.”  

Says who?  Like any word, its meaning evolves over time.  It is contingent on time, place, and policy.  

Why can’t “socialism” mean what AOC and Bernie says it means?  

Here’s where I have arrived.  At least for now, socialism can never extract itself from the Soviet Union, one of the worst economic systems ever.  It just carries too much emotional baggage and provides too open a target for reactionary forces, many of whom who’ve only read the comic book version, if at all, to even have a conversation about it.  

This is very unfortunate because I actually think that it is not only compatible with capitalism, but an absolute cornerstone to robust and functioning market based capitalism.  

It gets us all to the same starting line, let’s us compete, and provides the basic structures of stability to allow us all to follow Milton Friedman’s freedom to choose ethos.  Socialism is not antithetical to capitalism, but complimentary, a bedrock upon which capitalism thrives.

Where would be GM or Ford be without socialist roads?

Microsoft without public schools?

Imagine how much entrepreneurship could happen if people weren’t tied to their jobs solely because of health insurance?   A grownup argument can be made that socializing one domain, medicine, could lead to a burst of capitalist  activity in another, entrepreneurship.  Ever heard of job lock?

There’s absolutely no rule that requires us to start waiving our little red book just because we like that word.  No one will arrest us if we define that word differently than dumb people in the Soviet Union who implemented that word in a terrible and horrible way.  

I won’t try to define socialism, but just say what I mean by it.  I mean the precise way we fund public schools.  That’s it.  Look at public schools.  We all pay for it and that public good is not dispensed based upon money.  That is what I mean by “socialism.”  That’s all I mean by it.  It’s not either/or about, but how much we want.   I want more public goods provided by that same mechanism that we pay for and distribute public goods such as schools, roads, bridges, health care, higher education, environmental protection.

But I acknowledge that concept works really well in some things and horribly in others.  That’s the task of politics and economic policy: to think about where that concept works well and where it doesn’t.  I happen to love capitalism as it applies to clothing, housing, farming, food production, entertainment.  Nothing in the Universe requires me to adopt one concept and make me have to apply it in all domains.   

Can we all just grow up a little bit people?  

We are just talking about words and the meanings attached to those words.  As to the properties of those words, i.e. whether they work well or not, that is completely contingent on time, place, and what we are using these concepts for.  Some things work well sometimes and others time not.    Price controls and rationing worked really well for the US during WWII.  It worked horribly in Soviet Russia at all other times.  Note, we are not letting the market determine who gets the COVID vaccine, and rightly so.   

If we are still at loggerheads, then you need to read the great 20th Century philosopher, Jurgen Habermas and his theory of commutative rationalism so we at least know why we are mad at one another. 

I need language and you do too.  Our subjective meanings attached to words are often times totally disconnected with the properties of those words.  Here’s how Wikipedia defines commutative rationalism: “[communicative] rationality refers primarily to the use of knowledge in language and action, rather than to a property of knowledge.”  The article then continues that “Habermas explicates the deep structures of reason by examining the presuppositions and validity dimensions of everyday communication, while the relativists focus only on the content displayed in various concrete standards of rationality.”   

This explains why people argue so much about politics.  Libertarians you are particularly guilty of this.  When you argue for “markets” and “capitalism” you imbue those words with a set of positive metaphysical spin while loading down “socialism” with totally unfair straw man arguments that not even socialists believe.  (Trust me, betcha I can argue those points against socialists better.  I not only know why you think you are right, but why you think I am wrong too.)

Note I do this too.  We all do because, unless we learn Spock like mind meld abilities, we need language to communicate, but that need of language necessarily implies emotionally laden attachments to words, which are particularly fraught in discussions of politics and religion.  

Just realize this phenomena exists and then use your new found awareness of commutative rationalism to assess whether your meanings attached to words explains the disagreement rather than the actual underlying reality.

These problems occur in science and math too, but they have better tools and shared understandings to resolve these conflicts.  

So back to fasting, I have no idea whether Jurgen Habermas every expressed any opinions on fasting, but commutative rationalism has helped me understand why people freak out so much about the word.  It’s not as much a reaction to the properties of the word, but the emotionally laden content of that word. 

Some people suggest that we should solve this problem by adopting “time restricted eating.”  That’s certainly fine if you want to.  I would understand why you would do that so you can avoid the emotional baggage of fasting.

But that’s just not going to work for me.  Even with all its emotionally laden linguistic baggage, I will continue to the word “fasting.”  I love that word, “fasting.”  It’s ancient, religious, time tested, based under modern science, and has completely transformed my life.   

Like many new adopters, am I just experiencing the irrational exuberance associated with early stage adoption?  Will my fasting bubble burst?  No, it won’t because I am equipped with Karl Popper, one of the great philosophers of science.  I understand that my bubble can be “popped” at any time, undermining my new found paradigm of knowledge.  More on that in my next post.   

See all y’all tomorrow!