Failure

Did you know that Amish children have some of the lowest rates of allergies and asthma of any children in the westernized world?

Care to hazard a guess why?

Recent studies say it’s because the little dirtballs run around outside all day, hang out in barns with farm animals, have no television or electricity, and eat real home cooked meals rather than highly processed, sterile Franken crap.

It’s now thought that the early and frequent exposure to such allergens builds up superior immunity in the Amish that few other western children enjoy.

What’s more interesting is that numerous studies show that the incidence of allergies is something that seems to be on the rise in developed countries like the United States.

According to a national survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health from 1988 to 1994, about 54 percent of Americans indicated that they were allergic to something – pollen, cat hair, or even a peanut. That was up to five times higher than the allergy rates found by NIH between 1976 and 1980.

Cleanliness seems to be the culprit, and a theory known as the “hygiene hypothesis” explains why: Children simply aren’t exposed to enough dirt, infectious agents and bacteria early in life and their under-stimulated immune systems go into overdrive when exposed to benign things such as peanuts, milk or eggs.

In other words, our immune systems are bored… And, looking for a little excitement they go out and attack the first thing they can find, even if its something that is a completely normal and quite benign agent such as the food we eat.

If you think about how most of us in developed countries live today, it makes perfect sense: We live in antiseptic, temperature controlled, self-contained homes. We drive to the office in air-conditioned cars with the windows up. We work in sterile temperature controlled offices with massive HVAC systems. We pump ourselves full of drugs at the first sniffle or sneeze. And we shop in squeaky- clean warehouses where our food has been grown in monoculture farm environments and then repeatedly assaulted with every possible preservative and insecticide to kill off beneficial microorganisms.

In a larger sense, what we’ve done is a brute force elimination of the low-intensity instability that builds resilience and immunity. Low-intensity instability is a fascinating concept first outlined by the excellent political and economic theorist Charles Hugh Smith.

What low-intensity instability is all about is the critical importance of small failures in virtually any system.  The theory is much broader than simply our health — it applies to all systems, and to our quite understandable tendency to try and eliminate risk from all aspects of our lives.

We see this today on a global scale in the economic mess central banks and governments have created by refusing to acknowledge and accept the failures of our decrepit banking and debt based monetary system. Had small failures — the creative destruction that is supposed to be the cornerstone of our capitalist system — been allowed to occur and work themselves out of the economic “immune system” years ago, we wouldn’t be facing the massive global economic instability we face today.

Or to use another analogy, think of our national forests.

I grew up in Colorado and returned earlier this year for a ski trip. Colorado’s mountainous areas have been utterly devastated by a massive pine beetle infestation that has destroyed up to 30 million acres of lodgepole pine forests in the western United States.

While there are many theories about the cause, many believe it’s because of the way our national forests are “managed” to prevent low-intensity instability in the form of naturally occurring and beneficial forest fires.

Such “small failures” root out the overgrowth and unhealthy pines in our national forests and create more resilient, healthier and more dynamic forests. But because of our inability to accept such small failures, the western United States is now faced with the very real prospect of massive failure – think TBTF forests where fires will spread uncontrollably through millions of acres of dead pine.

At it’s core, immunity – whether it’s immunity to allergies, financial catastrophes, or even the environment we live in – is about accepting low intensity instability and acknowledging that it is a key dynamic of ultimate success. Accepting small failures allows us to dynamically adapt to threats and disruptions because such failures provide the constant feedback, diversity, experimentation, mutation and variation that ultimately lead to greater resilience and success.

In this sense, the old saw that “failure is not an option” couldn’t be more incorrect and dangerous. In fact, to create dynamic, resilient, healthy systems, failure is a requirement.

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One Response to "Failure"

  1. Great article.I read an article years ago about RH factors in houses and how that plays a role in our health.Apparently, the big old leaky farm house with drafts makes a much healthier environment than today’s air tight sealed houses! I believe spending a lot of time outdoors also helps, UV kills viruses and bacteria off quickly.

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