Everything you know is wrong Part I

(This is the first in a continuing series that will end when everything you know is correct. – Joe)

I have this theory. When the government, media, experts, clergy, parents and the rest of the establishment agree on something, they are usually wrong. I call this the Everything You Know Is Wrong theory.

This theory does not apply all of the time. But in a large number of cases – especially when the thing agreed upon is not immediately provable – what passes for conventional wisdom winds up a crumpled, stupid idea in the dustbin of history.

I’ll give you three examples.

1. It is unwise to anger Zeus.

Wrong. It is not unwise to anger Zeus because there is no Zeus. The ancient Greeks – the folks who popularized democracy, philosophy and Olympic synchronized swimming – worshipped nonexistent deities. Now we know the truth. If a swan rapes you, that swan isn’t Zeus in swan form. It’s a swan with anger issues.

For a list of dead gods, read H.L. Mencken’s Where is the graveyard of dead gods?

To avoid being raped by a swan, stay out of swan bars and swan neighborhoods. Don’t load your pockets and shoes with bird pellets. And never wear gloves or mittens. The swan’s only enemy – the only thing it fears – is the human clap.

2. The earth is not round.

Wrong. The earth is round, but it has a great personality and you will really like her when you get to know her, it’s just one double date, you have to do this for me, Steve.

3. We must fear the commies.

Wrong. We must not fear the commies. Like all children born in the 1970s, I was raised to believe that communists actually had a shot at taking over the world. Now we know better. Communism is a bad idea and its only beneficial function seems to be the creation of goofy posters.

(Above: If there’s anything hotter than a Warsaw Pact chick in a blue skirt throwing a grenade, I don’t want to know about it.)

So what is today’s Zeus? What is the current claim that the earth is not round? Who are the new commies? This is what I aim to explore with this series, which I will update every few months. For the first installment, I thought I would start by taking a contrarian view to something we can all relate to, something basic, something that is featured in one of my favorite Beatles songs, something that local TV weathermen feel the incessant need to place sunglasses upon.

I am talking about the sun.

The conventional wisdom today is that exposure to sunlight is harmful and bad and will kill you and come after your children three years later when they are living in Arizona under assumed names. Sunlight is harmful. Sunlight is evil. If the sun was being cast in a movie, it would be played by Alan Rickman.

(Above: Alan Rickman is probably murdering someone right now.)

This is what our federal government actually says you should do if you find yourself in the presence of the sun.

“It’s always wise to choose more than one way to cover up when you’re in the sun. Use sunscreen, and put on a T-shirt… Seek shade, and grab your sunglasses… Wear a hat, but rub on sunscreen too. Combining these sun protective actions helps protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays.”

(Coincidentally, this is also what you should do if you find yourself in the presence of Alan Rickman.)

Two years ago a doctor told me that I should wear sunscreen even if I am walking from my home to my car. She said this would help me avoid being “radiated.” So I started slathering up every time I left the house. But I stopped last month – not because I have a death wish. My love of Chinese buffets is proof of my death wish. I stopped because I want to be healthier.

A journalism professor once told me that one of the big differences between newspapers and magazines is that a good magazine shapes the choices you make. He was right. You trust it. I have this relationship with Psychology Today.

In the December 2007 issue is an article by Jennifer Ackerman entitled Sunshine Standoff. Ackerman’s piece argues in favor of a nuanced view of sunlight. The article clearly acknowledges that prolonged exposure to the sun can damage your skin, but it reveals a growing body of evidence that says limited direct exposure to sunlight “could be vitally important in preventing ailments from autoimmune disorders to cardiovascular disease and cancer. And in reducing mortality from them.’

How so?

Ackerman writes: “Our ancestors evolved in a world bathed in bright sunlight. The rays that shaped the bodies of our oldest mammalian ancestors still glimmer deep in our genes.”

To summarize: A properly functioning human body requires some sunlight. Cancer rates are higher in places where people are least exposed to sunlight. People who avoid the sun for fear of skin cancer could be putting themselves at risk for other types of cancer.

What’s so great about the sun? Sunlight ensures that your body gets enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is the Winston Wolf of the human body. It solves problems.

(Above: This is what vitamin D looks like if you’re cancer.)

An expert quoted by Ackerman said that exposing your arms and legs to the midday sun for 10 to 15 minutes in the spring, summer and fall will net you sufficient vitamin D. The expert warned against burning and said one should apply sunscreen after 10 to 15 minutes.

The article concludes: “Is there a level of sunlight sufficient to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D that will not raise the skin cancer risk? The jury is still out. Whichever way the balance tips, it’s vital to understand that the story of sunlight is now shaded in gray.”

I could not believe what I read. How come I’ve never heard this before? Some of this information has been available for years. Why is it not common knowledge?

Is Big Sun Block to blame? Is the federal government in league with the Pro Moon Alliance? And what of Alan Rickman?

I hate that I had to discover this information in a relatively obscure mental health journal.

Is exposure to the sun good or bad? I leave it to you to decide what to
do with your body. (I know. How gracious of me.) I now think the sun is good in short bursts. The deciding factor for me was that so many people who have been so wrong so many times all happen to disagree.

We live on a planet whose most enlightened people once asked themselves, “What would Poseidon do?”

Experts often are wrong.

May they be raped by swans.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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