I’m no psychologist or sociologist…but as a human being who pays attention to their body, mind, and emotions, I think it’s fairly obvious that there has to be some kind of fatigue associated with all the menacing shit we hear on the news.
After waking up panicked about whatever new horror looms, numbing would develop…an emotional callous. It’s the phenomenon of alarm fatigue—a yawn in the face of a warning—a desensitization to the constant demand.
How many nuclear warheads and riots and stormageddons should a single individual endure in a lifetime? Based on the very few moments I happen to catch televised news in a coffee room at work, the answer is about 1 – 3 per day.
So it’s with some reluctance that I dare toll a bell.
A few months ago, I wrote about widespread environmental contamination, and how this poses a bigger threat than the headline-grabbing climate change.
In that short time, narratives about latent nuclear and race wars have moreso dominated the headlines (at least, here in North America)—and on the face of it, my argument about contamination affecting our ability to adapt to climate change is moot when faced with a nuclear winter.
It’s a good counterpoint. If we can’t get along, it won’t matter how adaptable we are. Our ancestors probably knew the reality of this better than we could, and they still set out with war paint.
Sometimes humans can’t get along, and being the kind of species that can’t go alone, that means divisions and derision. In a tragic and nihilistic way, inflicting suffering on another—on anything outside of the limits of the sense-bound body—seems inevitable. We can’t feel “the other”. We can’t feel our hair and fingernails either, and look at what we do with them.
What do we do with our hair and nails? We tend to them, to try to get along with each other. We keep our nails short so that when wipe our children’s tears we don’t rip out their eyes. We keep hair out of our eyes so we can see danger/opportunity, to protect/enhance ourselves and our loved ones. Then perhaps a discarded shell, placed properly on a combed hairline for the perfect aesthetic effect.
Around 6,000 years ago the Egyptians (and arguably others for thousands of years before) added pigments to their skin and styled their hair into ritualistic art. In the last 50 years or so, cosmetics have grown beyond naturally-occurring rust to become industrial chemical processes that we happily slather on our lips, hair, and armpits
For many of those last 50 years, companies were able to use experimental chemicals on sensitive body parts, on the basis that no research showed acute effects, and that no research had shown long-term effects (because ‘long-term’ hadn’t happened yet).
Now that a generation of guinea pigs have marched towards their elder years with the benefit of other cool medical advances, we are finding a little bit of the ugliness beneath the pursuit of all that externalized beauty.
Whereas you might be absolutely (and rightfully so) terrified of a nuclear bomb, most of us wouldn’t even wince at the thought of lathering up with body wash in the shower, putting on make-up in the mirror, or putting on a cooling face mask before bed.
But within (most of) these products, we wage a tiny nuclear war with ourselves. Parabens, for example, were just recently reported to be linked with poor semen quality, and were previously known to have estrogenic characteristics.
Keep in mind, these are also chemicals we knowingly add into products to suppress bacterial growth. It’s a process safety bonus, but essentially, the additive suppresses a life-form by disrupting membrane transportation or inhibiting DNA/RNA synthesis. It can’t be all that surprising that these have some detrimental effect, especially when their use is so widespread that it’s “[…] found in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, pesticides, plastics, detergents, food, toys, and flame retardents,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Not that I’m trying to worry you. Or trying to advocate for a ban or anything drastic. There are products which feature alternatives—grapefruit seed oil, for example. The oft-cited European Union ban was mainly based on preventing skin irritation in children, not on endocrine disruption or carcinogenicity. Research is indeed lacking.
It’s the dissonance of it that gets me, I guess. The tools we use to beautify ourselves also hobble us. Research may reveal that parabens are like high heels, but invisible. They help aesthetically, but do nothing to enhance the system by their own mode of action, and in fact, may cause more harm than we have understood to date.
And then the poetry of the thing gets me. We quake at the rare thought of nuclear fall-out, but eagerly put out our hands if a friend asks if we want to try their new hand cream.
Maybe—and only just maybe—and probably not even—but just maybe, if we didn’t willingly subject ourselves to death by a thousand cuts for relatively minor comfort & convenience, we wouldn’t try to blow the whole fucking thing up.
But then again. This is just another alarm. It’s late. North Korea is talking shit and Trump is tweeting before sunrise again. On & on & over again. Let’s wash our hands clean of this thing and not worry about getting parabent out of shape.