The Chemicals Between Us

Earlier this week, as a reward for completing one of the many projects that I have done in a crazy week that begins the busiest time of year where I work, I was promised an iced tea and butter croissant from Starbucks as a reward, as I am not someone who tends to drink any coffee. Yesterday, in talking with one of the people involved in the promise, we chatted about the particular way to order the tea to specifications, which ended up being no classic, because I do not like the taste of the simple syrup nor do I like the way that I can feel it course through my veins on the way to my hands, and no water, because I do not like to drink tea that is watered down. I finally received the drink this morning, and while I was drinking it I reflected on the fact that stimulants are such a large part of work that often goes unremarked [1]. While one is used to problems in countries like Thailand where the productivity of workers is increased artificially by having drinks laced with amphetamines, the same sort of way that baseball players have been known to drink “leaded” coffee as well, it is not always well-understood just how much of our own work life is strongly affected by chemical stimulation, from the fact that people tune up in the morning with coffee, smoke throughout the day, or drink energy drinks to keep their energy levels high enough to function for work, and the fact that people often tune down after work with alcohol or various sleep aids, or various recreational drugs.

I do not say this as a blanket condemnation of all the people who do this, for not only do people and businesses as institutions engage in the management of mood and energy level by chemistry, but our bodies do the same thing naturally. Perhaps it is because of the problematic nature of my own internal chemistry that I reflect on these matters. To give but one example, I have suffered intermittently from gout since the day after my twenty-fifth birthday, despite not having a diet that tends to produce a great deal of uric acid. The cause of my gout tends to be the fact that my kidneys do not secrete uric acid well, letting it dissolve in blood at high levels until it becomes supersaturated and settles like the sugar in my iced tea to the bottom of my body, namely my right big toe. Since the function of kidneys is harmed both by excessive intake of sugar as well as by my body’s overproduction of adrenaline due to being by nurture an immensely panicky person prone to frequent and excessive flight or fight responses when people unexpectedly come behind me, touch me, or invade my personal space, it is likely that the root causes of my gout lie in my problematic personal history. It is the consequences of the gout that are of most interest here [2], as a higher level of uric acid in the blood acts as a natural stimulant whose effects are like coffee, leading people afflicted with gout to have more energy and be more productive as writers and researchers. While I do not know how much of my higher than average energy level and productivity and creativity is due to the persistently high levels of uric acid in my blood, but if it acts like caffeine, and it’s always there, its effects on my behavior are likely to be notable and serious, and it makes it hypocritical to condemn others for doing purposefully what my own body does without any conscious intent with the same consequences.

As someone who is remarkably sensitive to chemicals, and perhaps a bit oversensitive in many other ways, I find it intriguing to observe the cascading repercussions of our desires to regulate human mood and behavior through chemistry. The fact that from early in life, when naturally hyper and energetic children are often pushed into taking dangerous psychoactive drugs to calm them into a manageable stupor, to our adult experiences with taking stimulants in the morning and depressants in the evening to work productively enough during the day while still being able to sleep sufficiently at night, we are prone to look for an answer to the problems of our lives through chemistry. This is true even though our brains appear to have sufficiently idiosyncratic responses to chemicals that our actions amount to making ourselves experimental subjects with a high degree of risk in the consequences and without enough knowledge about ourselves or others to make those decisions wisely. To the extent that we know our personal reactions to various chemicals, we can act wisely and moderately in response to that knowledge, which is why despite being a moderationist when it comes to alcohol use, to give but one example, I tend to strenuously avoid drinking, because of my own family background and high degree of personal sensitivity to the effects of alcohol. We should seek knowledge about ourselves, so that we can behave in a wiser fashion, and understand the constraints that we work under, and also seek knowledge about others so that we can treat them with understanding and encourage them to live the best way possible.

Yet the aspect of the chemical management of our moods and behaviors is not merely an aspect of individual responsibility, but is also a matter of context. If it is necessary to wind up with chemical stimulation to be able to work at the levels expected of us, is it not possible that the expectations of that work are unreasonable and unnatural? If it is necessary to drug bright and energetic children into a stupor in order for them to behave acceptably within the parameters of contemporary education, how much of the problem is with the adorably if frustratingly hyper children themselves and how much is the problem with a dysfunctional and unnatural educational system that expects children to sit still and be quiet, contrary to nature, rather than providing them with the skills in how to find their own mental stimulation so as to manage their behavior and turn that energy and curiosity into useful and productive and morally uplifting ends? We do not need only to be people who are flexible at handling the situations and environments we deal with, but we also need environments that are flexible at handling the people involved with them, that do not attempt to treat people as interchangeable parts and that recognize the full range of what is gloriously human, created in the image of our Heavenly Father above and worthy of respect and honor accordingly. Much work remains to be done in this, and much work has not even begun. Let us therefore get to it.

[1] I have remarked on this before, but seldom in a systematic way. See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Chemicals Between Us

  1. Pingback: The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of The Feet | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Oh Lord When I Am Weary, When I Feel The Days I’m Living Are In Vain | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: On The Hazards Of Manspreading | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Easter At The Oregon Jewish Center | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Hobble On | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: The Quest For Indomethacin | Edge Induced Cohesion

  7. Pingback: The Gift Of Listening | Edge Induced Cohesion

  8. Pingback: Hmmm…. | Edge Induced Cohesion

  9. Pingback: Book Review: Beating Gout | Edge Induced Cohesion

  10. Pingback: Last Of The Mohicans | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s