Selective Absolutism

Every couple of months I will see a friend post something on Facebook that has to do with the healthiness of certain every day products.  This causes cancer, that causes autism, etc.  I catch this most frequently when the product they’re targeting is artificial sweeteners.  I’m a sucker for Splenda in my coffee.  There are really two issues at work here: one, people believing some crap they read on the internet and sharing it without verifying it.  We’re all probably guilty of that to some degree so I won’t throw stones at that one.  But two, many people act like absolutists, when in reality, they’re being very selective about their absolutism.  So, let’s unpack that one.

“You put Splenda in your coffee?  You’re gonna die!”  Okay, so that’s exaggerated, but only slightly.  I’ve had numerous people over the years lecture me about this.  At first, I was genuinely concerned, so I went out to see what the scientific community had written.  There are indeed white papers that say artificial sweeteners cause cancer.  If you look a little deeper though, you’ll see most of these were funded by the sugar industry.  Hmmm, wonder why the sugar industry would do a thing like that?  Every scientific study I could find that was unbiased and looking for the truth had inconclusive results.  So, we don’t know that Splenda won’t give me cancer, but we don’t know that it will either.  

I always start here, with the evidence on the particular claim. However, a lot of people don’t believe me.  Feeling smarter than someone else, whether you’re right or not, is a powerful drug. If I don’t know the person, I then start asking question about their lifestyle.  If I know the person, I start tearing apart their lifestyle.  “So, let me get this straight.  You’re lecturing me about putting a little Splenda in my coffee that we have no strong evidence about, but I know for a fact you have a pack of cigarettes in your car?”

That’s not hyperbolic, I’ve actually said that to at least one person throughout the years.  That guy also lectured me about eating apples because of the pesticides sprayed in orchards. I asked him what he thought they sprayed in tobacco fields.  He switched to American Spirits after that.  

The reality is that we all take risks every single day.  Some of these are known risks; we smoke, we eat fast food, etc.  Most of these are easily avoidable, but eating a Big Mac a few times a year as a treat isn’t going to hurt you.  Eating one every day for lunch is another story.  Some risks are inherent, we don’t know what’s in the air we breathe or the water coming out of the faucet, but we don’t have a choice in the matter.  Most of us also don’t have a choice about being in an automobile and on the roads every day.  If we don’t drive, we’re still susceptible to those who do unless we stay in the house all day.  You can walk, bike, or take the bus, but you’re still out on the roads.  

If you want to have a conversation with a loved one about their smoking, horrible eating habits, texting and driving, etc. please do.  But please don’t act like you’re perfect and high and mighty.  Even those who obsessively read the ingredients to everything and worry about everything, they’re not healthy either.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a real thing.  

We’re human.  We’re going to be imperfect and we’re going to view the world through a selfish lens. I’m defending my use of Splenda, when in reality, I should drink my coffee black.  The difference is, I know I am doing this, I do not think that I am better or my habits are better than someone else’s.  Before we go around criticizing others’ choices, we need to be aware of our own contradictions and hypocrisy.