Tech note: YouTube seems to want to present this in a letterbox format here, but it is not a letterbox video. If that bothers you (it bothers me), watch it directly on YouTube. (The little button on the lower right that says “YouTube”.)
I shot this video several years ago. I gave a copy to the police to help catch the driver of the car (that’s me yelling out the license number on the audio track – twice) and they released it directly to the media even though it was copyrighted footage. Somebody else uploaded it to YouTube (and that’s the link I’m posting here – I never really felt the need to post it myself; I could always prove it is mine by providing the original .avi file, after all), where it got tons of hits; it appeared on all kinds of national and international news media and I had a heck of a time trying to track the appearances down to tell the programs and networks nicely that they owed me money. In the end I made more money off this eleven second video than any single project I ever did in my whole career as a professional photographer. (I wrote about this here.)
What is my point here beyond bragging about this video that I was lucky enough to catch? Because it was a combination of luck (right place, right time) and skill (taking the camera with me when I investigated the noises we were hearing, having enough practice with it to be able to use it immediately, and most of all, thinking about using it in the first place), but anybody who was lucky and had their camera ready could have taken a version of this.
But where it got really interesting to me was the comments on YouTube; there were a lot of people who said the video is obviously a fake because the only way you could get a video like this is to set it up, to stage it. It made me realize how much we are at the mercy of group thought, and it gave me a real glimpse into how conspiracy theories can get started and then keep going. How much of what we believe we believe simply because everybody else also believes it: things like the idea that eating fat will cause heart disease (after it makes you fat), that grains are good for you, that doctors always know best – these are all ideas that seem sensible to us because we grew up with them, and yet they are all wrong.
How many other sacred cows do I believe in that could be slain? Well, there’s the problem, because since I believe in these cows I can’t see them; these are animals that must not be seen to be believed, to rephrase N. Scott Momaday. Currently, I’m reading Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, and it’s made me wonder if there isn’t another sacred cow I wasn’t aware of, one that has to do with the relationship between antibiotic use and the proliferation in our society of all sorts of conditions: weight gain, autism, allergies, celiac disturbance, GERD, schizophrenia, and lots more. To me, the sacred cow here is the idea that antibiotic use does not cause problems. But it is the default belief in our society right now for most people. You can see why I’m nervous about endorsing Blaser’s idea; if it is correct, it is huge. I don’t think Blaser makes a complete case for the overprescription of antibiotics (and their use in farm feed) as the root cause of these things, but I do think he mades a very good case for it being at the least a contributing factor.
But he also points out that this idea is one that you will have a very hard time selling to the rest of the country. That’s where it gets tricky. You can already see people lumping this idea with the anti-vaccine movement, the homeopathy and Christian Scientist crowd, and maybe even the Abominable Snowman groupies or the crystal-gazing Lemurians. It’s so easy for us to dismiss things that seem to disagree with what we already “know”.
I mean, maybe there really are Lemurians under Mount Shasta.
I know that I shot that video. Some of those YouTube commenters “know” that it was a fake, but I bet that even if I met them in person, showed them the Canon A540 camera with the video still in it, they would be able to tell me how I faked the video. After all, if I faked it, I can hardly admit that, can I? And wouldn’t I have prepared a bullet-proof explanation? It’s an argument that nobody can win. Except…except that the police believed the video, and what’s more, they tracked down the driver of the car with it and he admitted it (even in the stream of YouTube comments, if I remember right – I’m not going to go back and reread them all again).
When the evidence is strong enough sometimes you have to take a stand. I don’t think we have the luxury of believing that these antibiotics are completely harmless despite all the known good they do; that’s a stand I think we need to take as a society. And it’s a hard one to figure out how to implement, because what is a busy doctor, badgered by a parent with a child who has just caught a cold (colds are viral; they don’t respond to antibiotics) supposed to do when the parent wants some amoxicillin anyway? The doctor is already overworked; it’s just a lot easier to give ‘em the prescription than argue.
I think the first place to start is with the use of antibiotics in animal feed; this is part of industry’s effort to both increase animal size/growth rate and avoid raising the animals in healthy conditions. In other words, this is about money. And the first thing you will hear from them if you talk about legislating anything that concerns this (the first thing beyond the words “nanny state”, anyway) is the argument that food will cost more. Well, it might cost more for them, that’s correct. They will certainly pass the increase on. But won’t that just start to level the playing field a bit for the guys who are already out there trying to do the right thing?
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that there is another sacred cow out there: cheapest is best. This is the industry supported view, and it’s wrong. It leads to attitudes like the one that believes that we should irradiate our food rather than grow/raise it in safe conditions. Just live with the fuckups and correct ’em later, right? Not acceptable. Get rid of the pesky vermin problem by engineering crops that will kill the vermin. Wrong. Cook everything until the bacteria die. Not acceptable! All of these are arguments that shift the responsibility for food safety away from the industy that produces it to the consumer, and that for-profit view has got to change. We have to start seeing profit as something that we own – our health, for example. I think we have a right to profit from our health and that industry should be there to help us do it; it doesn’t work the other way around…except that right now, that’s exactly how it works. And that’s wrong.
And that’s also why I’m tagging this post as a rant, LOL. Because otherwise it’s just too disheartening, and they win. And one of the most effective ways they do this is by simply wearing us down. But that can wait for another rant.