Friday, July 05, 2013

Fear is the key

Botulinum is the most lethal toxin in nature.  It is found in plenty - in soil, dust and in....gulp.. honey! It can kill at a dosage of 1.5 nanograms thats 0.015 mg. Food, if not cooked properly, can carry this.

Nobody really cares, do we?
a.   There is huge propagation of fresh, natural food. Cooking kills nutrition - apparently. Well, it also kills bacteria.
b.   Botulinum is the basis of BOTOX! Remember all those nice looking people? and the cosmetic surgery business? well......

There are several others candidates - arsenic being one of them. Its everywhere. Its also what's used by the clever villain to bump off her husband in an Agatha Christie story. The chances are you are breathing it right now and eating it...its pretty prevalent in rice.

Our bodies contain about 1 trillion bacteria - a large number of which we have no idea about.
Scientists don't have a proper handle on how body proteins behave. These are the blokes that go berserk and cause cancer.

The list is endless. And, in general, no one seems to be bothered and rightly so. In fact the only things we seem bothered about is when a group champions a fear and turns it into an industry. So "big fears" support zillion dollar industries - climate change, chemicals.

Fears of "but we don't know what could happen" have driven up the cost of developing medicines to about $ 1. 2 billion and upwards and around 10 years. The same holds for crops.  Roughly 200 years ago the guy credited with the small pox vaccine quiet simply injected a healthy guy with small pox, after he thought he'd cracked the vaccine. To check if it worked. Shocking? The individual was his kid. As vaccines go, this disease has virtually been wiped off the face of the planet. (extinct species? where are the Conservationists?!)

As is transpires, most of what we know doesn't bother us - since most of us are ignorant about these things. Its also true that we have a better realization of how much we don't know!  Let's examine an itemsof daily life:


Toothpaste is less than 100 years old. It started as a whitening agent - may not sound nice, but just like shoe polish.  Now, its routine for parents to berate their children for not brushing their teeth.

We also realize that many species routinely regrow their teeth - several times in a lifetime. Pushing research in this direction will kill the toothpaste business, dentistry on a number of counts and cosmetic surgeons. You think they'll just roll over and let this happen? Regrowing teeth would like a small pox vaccination for tooth decay.

Item 2 on this is "bad breath". Romeo and Juliet didn't use toothpaste - doesn't sound so romantic now does it? At least not intimate romantic? Most will tell you that diet and digestion affects this rather than the temporary fix.

So teeth care isn't about toothpaste but a range of habits.

How does the teeth business work?



As part of a market survey we did a few years ago, we chatted with about 100 or more newly graduated students in Delhi. Almost all the young men and women had at least 2 additional qualifications besides the university degree. Both qualifications were in some computer related field - web designing blah blah. The usual 3 month part time diploma course from a random place that cost upwards of Rs 10,000. Most agreed that it was pretty useless. In fact, most also agreed that their BA or some other such course had nothing to do with their work - and so, pretty useless as well.

Middle class homes in India (and I'd assume elsewhere in the world) are so frightened about their children's future...they want their kids educated as much as possible. Any Degree from anywhere helps assuage the fear. Families work extremely hard and make supreme sacrifices so enable the children to be educated. The children are, in turn, nervous about falling off the cliff in life...if they don't study.

Cashing in on this is a huge education industry. A typical "best school" in a city with world class teachers and infrastructure - parents spend about 1x to 1.5x of school fees on tuition fees besides the school fees. This is just study stuff. The piano class and tennis class are cater to the parents' image thing or their desire to have kids do what they couldn't!

The key driver to all this is FEAR. Some happy business persons profit from it. Its a business that booms during recessions.....its not just recession proof. There's an incentive for these guys to create recessions!

None of the knee jerk reactions to these fears attempt to resolve anything. A cadre of business persons develop profitable livelihoods around this....even if they parade as concerned socially conscious organizations  sometimes. Meanwhile, we are happy in our ignorance rather than put these things in a balance and a context of life.

Now the "seeking balance" and "context of life" thing is also a big business. We'll read one person's blockbusting book called "The Key To Happy Living" and all our fears will miraculously vanish. Earlier this magic book was called.......(forget it, I don't want to start a war)......some religious text.