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Friday, May 17, 2013

Good and Bad

Just a quick note on something about which I have been thinking, rather than a full blog post.  It seems to me that some people like the simplicity of easily categorizing things into good and bad.  There are good chemicals and bad chemical.  Vitamin C is a good chemical; fluoride is apparently a bad chemical.  Selenium is apparently a good chemical in your multi-vitamin, but a bad chemical when the EPA tries to eliminate it from our water supply.

In reality the world is much more nuanced.  At high concentration naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply can have negative health effects.  At the concentrations in which it is added artificially to water supplies (700 ppb to 1.2 ppm); it's beneficial. Most chemotherapy drugs are really bad for you, but maybe they are better than cancer.  Pesticides are very dangerous compounds, but mosquitoes can be deadly.  Carbon (see Carbon: Poison in Our Food ) can be toxic as hydrogen cyanide, a nutrient such as a carbohydrate, a fuel like methane, or a greenhouse gas like methane and carbon dioxide.  Ozone in the troposphere is pollution, a result of photochemical smog. Ozone in the stratosphere protects us from UV radiation.

I suspect it is tempting to do the same with people.  There is a school of thought that people can be easily categorized as good or bad.  Good people are like us; they believe what we do; we can trust them; they would never hurt a fly.  People who do bad things must be unlike us.  We search for reasons to categorize them as unlike us, rather than recognizing that but for the good choices we happen to have made, we could be those people.  I suspect that this way of looking at the world is pernicious.  It isolates us from the understanding that our choices have consequences, and that we ourselves have to be ever alert that we do not become what we despise.