domingo, 18 de agosto de 2019

Back from the brink: How I reversed my diabetes

Stuff writer John McCrone has beaten diabetes through a low carb diet and exercise.
Being diagnosed with out-of-control diabetes was a shock for Stuffwriter JOHN McCRONE. But is this how we can all fight back?
Whoa. Not just diabetes, but completely red-lining it. Fair to say that as a slimmish, fittish, 60-ish, white male, I wasn't expecting the diagnosis.
Perhaps skin or bowel cancer. Those would seem more my risks. Yet here I was.
My surprise was mixed with guilt and embarrassment. Somehow I had screwed up. But where exactly?
My doctor appeared lost for a ready answer. He was muttering something vague about a "decompensation" – a stressed body finally giving out – as he pushed a diabetes guide across his desk.
It's not the calories, it's our modern lifestyle that is killing us
Feeling high on a low-carb diet? The effect on your brain is similar to an illicit drug
Ketogenic diet could help us live longer, but could also lead to weight gain
The pre-diabetes tidal wave - harbinger of doom or symptom of an overdiagnosis epidemic?
Absorb the shock, he advised. Then come back for the pills and likely the insulin pump which could be my lifetime companion now I had succumbed to this nasty disease.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus. A sugary rot produced by an excess of blood glucose adhering to the body's proteins, gumming up its works in every direction.
Kidney failure, blindness, gangrenous sores, limb amputations. Possibly also the strokes, coronary artery disease, Alzheimer's, maybe Parkinson's, which are now all being linked to the condition.
I would be falling apart by stages for about the next 20 years – if a diabetes-prompted heart attack didn't carry me off rather sooner.
How could it have happened? In the mirror, I had to admit to about 5kg of middle-age spread. And in particular, there was a bulge, a distension, just under the rib-line.
Better informed, I can now read that as a fatty liver. However, nothing seemed that out of control. I could still stand up straight and mostly suck my gut out of sight.
And while I had always indulged freely with cake and chocolate, I believed I was compensating with healthy food too.
Lean cuts of meat, tons of vegetables, and enough of the good carbs – the recommended "food pyramid" foundation of potatoes, bread, rice and pasta – on my plate.
I had also exercised hard all my life. Given the calories in/calories out principle, my feeling was I would have been burning off the worst of any excess dietary sugar along the way.
Real food: Feature writer John McCrone showing what his LCHF diet is built around.
Real food: Feature writer John McCrone showing what his LCHF diet is built around.
So an unlikely candidate for diabetes. However confession time. My annual blood test had shown an HbA1c reading – the measure of your average blood glucose – that had crept up into the official pre-diabetic zone.
My last result had hit 46 millimoles per mole (mmol/mol). On the coloured "speedometer" chart doctors use, this was still in the green, but paling towards a cautionary yellow.
The warning had been easy enough to shrug off. I reasoned the change looked a gradual thing. There would be plenty of time to do something about it. Check back in another year.
Yet now, barely six months later, my HbA1c had rocketed to 99 mmol – straight into the screaming red zone.
I was broken. And the clue to how bad was that the diabetes speed dial actually topped out at 100. So off the road, down the ravine, tumbling into oblivion, I had to guess.
I was looking for a better explanation than just a decompensation – something snapping. But my 10-minute appointment was over. The doctor had his "time's up" face on. The essential news had been delivered.
Being a journalist and science writer – used to getting answers – I went straight home and got stuck into researching my diagnosis. Thank goodness for Google, YouTube and internet discussion forums.
Three months later I was back at the surgery for a follow-up HbA1c result. My blood glucose had dropped to 56. Down from panic stations to merely serious alarm.
Another three months and it was right down to 35. Not even pre-diabetic anymore. Normal range. To all intents and purposes, fixed.
I was disappointed that my doctor didn't fall off his chair in amazement, only furrowed his brow in mild curiosity.
Conventional wisdom says there is no cure for diabetes. You just use drugs to mask the worst of its symptoms.
However, I had been lucky with my timing. With diabetes reaching epidemic proportions across the world, it looks like our medical understanding of it is also being turned on its head.
John McCrone's focus on a low carbohydrate diet has helped to turn around his blood glucose levels.
John McCrone's focus on a low carbohydrate diet has helped to turn around his blood glucose levels.
As basically a lifestyle disease, a drastic lifestyle change can – if not fully cure it – put it into remission. Or at least that is what my own story appeared to prove.
What did I do? The short answer.
After poring over the many contrasting opinions offered up by the internet, I arrived at the low carbohydrate/high fat (LCHF) diet. Or as some prefer to call it, the low carb and healthy fat diet.
Simply put, take away the fuel of diabetes. Get rid of all dietary sugar. Even your fruit intake needs to be limited.
And then restrict anything starchy as well. Potatoes, bread, flour, oats, rice, noodles, pasta – all the stuff which is one step away from being converted to sugar.
Even if standard dietary wisdom is that these are necessary staples, the message is starve the disease.
Yes, I found it a daunting thought too. As humans, we are our habits. I couldn't even imagine mealtimes with these basics missing.
However I got started. Out went marmalade and toast for breakfast, my morning routine for any number of years. In came a couple of eggs scrambled with a large knob of butter. Just that. It looked rather naked and alone on the plate.
Lunch became more eggs – usually fried with bacon or some other protein – laid on a crunchy bed of green veg and salad. At least on an LCHF diet, you can still eat all the broccoli and cabbage – low density carb – you could possibly want.
Dinner continued to be roasts and stir fries. Just reinvented to be without potatoes, rice or pasta.
Dessert was reduced to a single square of 90 per cent dark chocolate. Snacks were a handful of nuts or a cracker piled as high as I liked in peanut butter.
A blessing of the LCHF diet is that fat is back on the menu. It is how you fill up. And as the LCHF pundits promise, the diet is naturally satiating. So you shouldn't end up overeating.
Sugar only turns your appetite on. After one biscuit you are always ready for another. It is an evolutionary thing.
Our hunter/gatherer ancestors were hard-wired to gorge on fruits and berries when they became available during a brief few summer weeks – a once-a-year passing treat.
But protein turns our appetite off. We know when we have had enough. So once the habit of having sugar and starch at every meal is broken – that built-in expectation – there is no particular nagging craving.
In the dread zone: The blood glucose "speedometer" telling what HbA1c reading is out of control.
In the dread zone: The blood glucose "speedometer" telling what HbA1c reading is out of control.
I didn't believe it would be the case either. Yet I discovered it was true after I tried.
As well as seeing my blood sugar plummet back to safe levels, I found my waist band shrinking by whole sizes. I was having to punch new holes in my belts, cinch in my trousers, then eventually just go out and buy a new wardrobe.
Another unexpected bonus of joining the LCHF club was it appeared to put me in the middle of everything trendy.
Keto monitors, barbell training, intermittent fasting, bio-hacking, sleep tracking, even turmeric, coconut oil and apple cider vinegar. I was part of the cool crowd for a change.
Of course I was only what low-carbers call an n=1 experiment – a single patient clinical trial. Fair warning. My experience might not be your experience.
But how could I doubt the evidence it was working? And the more I looked into the theory behind low carb, the more it seemed to make perfect sense.
YouTube was a great resource. You get to look over the shoulders of scientists as they present their latest research findings in lectures and conference sessions.
And YouTube certainly seems flooded with low carb advocates. The likes of Professor Ben Bikman, Professor Tim Noakes, Dr Jason Fung, Dr Michael Eades, Dr Ted Naiman, and the "fat emperor", Ivor Cummins, stood out for me.
New Zealand has its own community, led by Professor Grant Schofield at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), along with others at his Human Potential Centre, like Dr Catherine Crofts and Dr Caryn Zinn.
Schofield helped host a Low Carb Down Under meeting in Auckland back in 2014. And the pace has picked up so much that Australia ran six Low Carb Down Under events last year.
It has also been moving from the medical fringes – a subject largely for physiologists, nutritionists, sports scientists and family doctors – to the mainstream.
In 2018, the reinsurance giant Swiss Re teamed up with the British Medical Journal to put on "Food for Thought" in Zurich. LCHF as an answer to diabetes is on the map.
I listened. And what I picked up about my own plight was that after years of silent abuse, I must have finally burnt out my pancreas.
That decompensation was an abrupt failure of the pancreatic beta cells which produce the body's insulin. And it could have been a collapse 20 years in the making.
My diagnosis actually came in August 2017. I was 60 and had just returned from a trip around Europe – a holiday dedicated to scone teas and cake stops at every museum cafe.
The only symptom coming home was a thirst. I couldn't wait to gulp down glasses of Christchurch's pure tap water. But also I was suddenly shedding weight. A kilo a week without trying.
A first hopeful thought was that it was the delayed effect of tramping hours a day around European capitals. The truth was my pancreas was shot and the insulin regulation of my blood glucose had just given out.
Exercise helps: John McCrone mixes hard gym sessions and long easy walks for metabolic health.
Exercise helps: John McCrone mixes hard gym sessions and long easy walks for metabolic health.
I was peeing out excess glucose by the bucket-load. The kilos were simply calories overflowing the kidneys and splashing their way down the toilet.
Getting back from the doctor's, one of the other things I immediately did was invest $30 in a blood glucose monitor and test strips. I needed to know exactly what was going on.
The idea of pricking your finger for beads of blood was another psychological hurdle. But easy to brush aside. Realising why you see so many one-legged people in wheelchairs these days – it's the diabetes not the car crashes – served as encouragement enough.
HbA1c readings give you a three-month rolling average. With a glucose monitor, you can check what your levels are doing right at the moment, before and after each meal.
A healthy baseline number on this type of reading is between 4 and 6 mmol/l. My scores soon confirmed my red-lining status. I was tracking along all day at between 16 and 20.
Fellow diabetics I chatted with were almost impressed I had managed to achieve such catastrophic levels. The only good news was that I found out so soon after my insulin-producing collapse.
As I said, glucose does its damage by sticking to cellular tissues. That is how the HbA1c measurement itself works. It is a calculation of the percentage of your red blood cells that have haemoglobin molecules which have become glycated.
This glycation of proteins erodes delicate structures like capillaries, nerve endings, the filtering glomeruli in your kidneys.
It also turns cholesterol particles – the body's fat transporters – shrivelled and toxic. The body can no longer recognise the particles to recycle them, so they get lodged in the walls of your arteries, creating inflammation.
That is how diabetes becomes a cause of strokes and heart attacks too.
It does take a good few years of this syrupy marination for bits of you – your eyes, heart, feet, kidneys – to start to fall off.
But that was a disturbing thought too. Apart from a continual dry mouth, I had no particular symptoms telling me my blood sugar had got so high. I felt pretty fine overall. I had no fatigue, high blood pressure, itchy skin, or other of the signs that can be tell-tales of diabetes.
So what had happened inside of me to bring me to my sorry pass? And why did a drastic diet change make such a rapid difference?
Following the science, I learnt the key thing is that the human body is evolved to have a twin fuel system. It is like a hybrid car – energy-efficient and fuel-flexible – designed to alternate between glucose-burning and fat-burning.
The pancreas in fact secretes two different hormones – insulin and glucagon. While insulin is produced by groups of beta cells, glucagon is released by neighbouring islets of alpha cells.
When the level of one is high, the level of the other is low. That way there is binary control over which mode of metabolism is dominating at any time.
Insulin rules when the body is in energy surplus – when food is coming in and we are busy digesting. The pancreas senses this and pumps out an insulin signal telling the body to start using the freely available glucose.
Low carbing: Prof Grant Schofield, here with dietitian Dr Caryn Zinn, leads LCHF in New Zealand.
Low carbing: Prof Grant Schofield, here with dietitian Dr Caryn Zinn, leads LCHF in New Zealand.
Insulin molecules actually act like a key in a cell's door, binding to receptors on its membrane and letting blood-borne sugars flow in.
But most meals deliver more energy than we immediately require. The whole body only needs a teaspoon of circulating glucose at any moment. So insulin also acts to direct the excess into longer-term storage forms.
First, the muscles and liver are prompted to convert glucose into glycogen – the animal equivalent of plant starch. The body can hold enough of this as a local reserve to fuel itself for a few hours.
After that, the rest of the excess glucose has to be turned into fat for proper long-term storage. The liver processes it into triglyceride molecules which are taken up by our adipose tissue, our body's fat layers.
So insulin runs the body in a glucogenic state. We are concentrated on burning or storing glucose. But then we have to flip into our other fuel mode to begin burning the fat stores we have accumulated.
In nature – back when our ancestors were living by hunting and gathering – it would have been normal to be short of food for a day or two, and often even weeks. Switching into a ketogenic state was the way we survived.
Glucagon takes over as blood glucose drops. This is a signal to the liver to start breaking down fatty acids into ketone bodies – smaller acetone-like molecules like beta-hydroxybutyrate.
Our mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, can accept either these ketones or glucose molecules as their fuel. So it makes for an exquisitely balanced system.
Either we are generally building up our fat stores, or else we are generally breaking them down. And as long as we spend enough time in each distinct metabolic zone, everything should be fine.
The trouble with type 2 diabetes is that we don't. Instead, the modern diet leaves us stuck on the glucose half of the cycle and eventually this causes a collapse in our insulin regulation.
Type 2 diabetes used to be almost unknown. Now it is an epidemic. The Ministry of Health says 250,000 Kiwis suffer full-blown diabetes – double the number of 20 years ago.
A further quarter of the population is then pre-diabetic. So on their way to getting diabetes soon enough if they don't do something about it.
Diet is the issue. Anyone of my generation will have been witness to how much the way we eat has changed.
In the 1970s, junk food and sugary snacks went from being occasional treats to standard fare. The food industry had discovered it could make addictive products from dirt cheap ingredients.
Fructose – a variant of sugar – could be factory-produced for next to nothing by running a truckload of corn through a bath of acid and enzymes.
Likewise cheap fat – hydrogenated vegetable oil – could be churned out by the barrel by heat-cracking and solvent-treating a low-cost crop like soybean.
Two industrialised ingredients to then jazz up anything, including your "healthy" morning bowl of muesli, or the sweet and greasy Caesar dressing swamping a takeaway salad.
Medical devices: For too many, insulin pumps become their alternative.
Medical devices: For too many, insulin pumps become their alternative.
But also, official dietary advice changed too. Due to medical fears about saturated fat and heart disease, the public health emphasis went on cutting back on meat and dairy. People were urged to fill up their plates with "good carbs" instead.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, I was hearing this message like everyone else. So my wedges of butter became guilty smears. It became automatic to reach for the leanest cut at the supermarket, while just also reducing the amount of protein altogether.
The compensation was being liberal with the carbohydrates. When it came to starch like potatoes, rice and spaghetti, or sweetness in the form of apples, bananas, melons and other fruit, any amount seemed allowed. They were nature's bounty, packed with energy and nutrition.
Indeed if, like me, you were out running every evening, playing tennis all weekend long, then carb-loading was the thing to do. The way to train.
So apart from the cakes and biscuits, I thought my own diet was pretty much a model of the going Heart Foundation guidelines. And what a laugh that turned out to be.
It is at this point of the story that things get properly controversial. The old colliding with the new.
Current mainstream dietary advice – even for diabetics – remains "heart-healthy". A sensible diet is meant to have a balance of macronutrients where about 50 per cent of our daily calories come from carbohydrates, then some 30 per cent from fat and 20 per cent from protein.
The diabetes management booklet handed me by my doctor toed this line.
It said cut out the processed food, the sugary snacks and fatty treats, of course. Perhaps go easy on the starch and ramp up the greens. But breakfast could still be porridge, Weetbix, or baked beans on toast. Standard carbs.
An LCHF diet tilts the ratios the opposite way. Carbs become 20 per cent of the calories, protein 20 per cent, and fat 60 per cent.
The even more aggressive ketogenic diet – Keto to its advocates – reduces carbohydrate to 10 per cent and takes the fat level to 70 per cent.
With LCHF, you can still get in your healthy five fruit and veg a day. Starchy tubers and grains are carb dense. However, it takes an awful lot of kale, cauliflower, courgette and capsicum – the green and fibrous stuff – to reach the diet's 20 per cent goal.
Dr. Jason Fung - 'A New Paradigm of Insulin Resistance'
Prof. Grant Schofield - 'Low Carb - Where Is The Science At?'
Catherine Crofts PhD on Hyperinsulinemia and Kraft
A deep dive in to insulin resistance and personal fat threshold part 2
And the low carb argument is the modern diet is just wrong once viewed in an evolutionary light. We now eat sugar the whole year around. And starch of some kind with every meal. On top of this, we also graze continuously, snacking our way through the day.
It is a pleasant enough way of existing. But the result is we are always on the glucose side of the equation, never much on the ketone-based, fat-burning side.
This sets up an invisible war in our bodies. The beta cells of our pancreas have to be in constant overdrive to flush the excess glucose out of our bloodstream and into our glycogen and fat stores.
Yet that starts to provoke its own response of insulin resistance. Our muscles say they have already got enough. And our fat cells – even though they are designed so they can swell 8000 times in volume – eventually become completely full up too.
These tissues react by becoming deaf to the urgings of the pancreas. They reduce the number of insulin receptors on their membranes, making them insensitive.
This causes the pancreas only to shout even louder. Insulin levels soar as the beta cells redouble their efforts to clear the bloodstream of glucose. It becomes a vicious circle – a state called hyperinsulinemia.
But at this stage, the pancreas is still managing to force the glucose away. So your HbA1c readings might seem fairly normal. Or just a touch pre-diabetic.
The next stage comes when we hit our personal fat threshold. This is the bit that probably caught me out.
Diabetes is thought of as a disease of obesity. And while that is true, about 10 per cent of even severely obese people can remain metabolically healthy – at least in the insulin-resistance sense.
The reason is they can manufacture more fat cells. There is always more room for whatever their diets throw at them.
But other people have a strict fat limit. Once their available fat cells are filled, there are no more. And for slim body types like me – with a relatively thin layer of subcutaneous fat on the hips, trunk and back – it means maximum capacity may be reached that much more abruptly.
That does not mean the pancreas stops trying. Even when our subcutaneous fat cells are full – and now starting to burst and die, releasing their inflammatory contents – the insulin signal will continue, trying to drive fat into every other nook and cranny.
First we develop visceral fat – bloated deposits wrapped around our internal organs. Then the fat begins to invade our muscles and internal organs themselves.
We get the syndrome know as TOFI. Thin on the outside and fat on the inside. The state I was in.
It is like hitting a hard wall as the organ fat builds. The liver clogs. And even the pancreas clogs. Then it is end game.
The beta cells cease to function. Insulin regulation of blood glucose collapses. Nothing is left to hold the sugar back.
You wind up at the doctor's in a daze and find he is muttering something vague about a sudden metabolic decompensation.
So goes the simplified version of my diabetic disaster. The full story of the body's metabolic complexity could fill a book. I've read a few of those.
But the bodily mechanics explains how a dietary change can work – what you need to do. And there are in fact a number of fixes you can try.
Bariatric surgery – a gastric bypass – is one. For the seriously obese, a physical restriction on eating will cause fat levels to subside and ease the body back below its personal fat threshold.
Strict low calorie diets can be effective as well. Losing the fat clogging the pancreas can get the beta cells going again, so long as they aren't completely broken down.
Calorie restriction diets appeal to the medical establishment because carbs can still remain half of the daily diet. You just eat less of everything.
But the low carb claim is that it takes direct action. Carbs are the actual villain of the piece. Just cut them instead and get yourself into the ketogenic fat-burning zone.
It is about working with nature, working with your metabolism. Low carbers are big on other lifestyle changes like barbell exercises and high intensity training. Kicking your body up a gear.
I already was active. But I got busy at the gym. I broke out the weights, the rowing machine, the chin-ups. I also went for long glucose-burning walks directly after meals.
Intermittent fasting is another fashionable move. And one I liked more than I expected.
The goal is to give your insulin system as much rest as possible. And stretching out meals is as good as cutting way back on the carbs.
Now I often sleep my eight hours, skip breakfast and then have lunch around mid-afternoon, dinner thereafter. A fast of 14 hours or so. Sufficient time to shift into ketosis.
Again, it sounded like something I never could do, being apparently so addicted to food. And it was actually surprisingly easy when I tried.
If you get right into low carb it can start to become cult-like. The internet is full of buff Instagrammers promoting their highly restrictive keto lifestyle.
Even with the LCHF, I only limited my diet to the degree it made sense. I would tighten my regime and check the result on my glucose monitor. Did blood sugars head in the right direction? Test and repeat until I got where I had to be.
I did start taking metformin tablets, the standard drug for type 2 diabetes. They certainly shaved a few points off my HbA1c early on.
I got down to 35 mmol/mol with the help of those. Stopping saw a bounce back to 39. But that was good enough, I felt.
And as to the final outcome, it isn't fairytale perfect. For some, their pancreas does recover after it has been unclogged. As far as I can tell, my beta cells were burnt out by being red-lined. Even shrinking every last gram of visceral fat hasn't brought them back yet.
So I'm not actually cured. But being in remission for as long as I stick to an LCHF diet is a happy alternative. And I generally feel better in every way for doing so much about my metabolic health.
Once more, I am just only another n=1 experiment. Results may vary from individual case to individual case.
However, it is worth knowing about the insidious damage too many of us are doing to ourselves through our existing eating patterns. And that when we decide to make a radical change, it is perfectly possible to haul ourselves back from the brink.

jueves, 8 de agosto de 2019

"La economía basada en el trabajo de oficina está a punto de desaparecer"

La antropóloga Mary Gray analiza "los trabajos fantasma", aquellos asociados a la inteligencia artificial que recurren a personas para mejorar la automatización. Pero estos trabajadores trabajan de forma invisible y en malas condiciones, un modelo que parece extenderse cada vez más

por Karen Hao | traducido por Ana Milutinovic
05 Junio, 2019

La semana pasada, The Guardian publicó un artículo sobre el verdadero funcionamiento de Google Assistant. Detrás de la "magia" de su capacidad para traducir 26 idiomas, se esconde un gran equipo de lingüistas que trabajan como subcontratistas etiquetando los datos para entrenar el sistema para que funcione bien. Estos trabajadores suelen ganar salarios bajos y verse obligados a trabajar horas extras no remuneradas. Y sus intentos de mejorar sus condiciones de trabajo han sido repetidamente descartados.

Esta historia es solo una entre las docenas de casos que han comenzado a abrir el telón para mostrar cómo funciona la industria de la inteligencia artificial (IA). Los trabajadores no solo etiquetan los datos que hacen que la IA funcione. A veces esos trabajadores son la inteligencia artificial. Detrás de la IA de control de contenidos de Facebook, hay miles de humanos que controlan el contenido; detrás de Alexa de Amazon, hay un equipo de transcriptores de todo el mundo, y detrás de Google Duplex a veces hay personas que imitan a la IA que imita a los humanos. La inteligencia artificial no funciona con polvo mágico sino gracias a los trabajadores invisibles que entrenan algoritmos continuamente hasta que logran automatizar sus propios empleos.

La antropóloga Mary Gray y el científico informático Siddharth Suri sostienen Bottom of Formen su nuevo libro, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass, que todos nosotros podríamos acabar igual en un futuro próximo. Me reuní con Gray para hablar de por qué las personas recurren a esos trabajos fantasma, cómo su invisibilidad les hace más vulnerables a las pésimas condiciones de trabajo y cómo lograrque esta nueva forma de trabajo sea más sostenible.

¿Cómo definiría el trabajo fantasma?

Se trata de cualquier trabajo que podría ser, al menos en parte, creado, programado, gestionado, enviado y construido a través de una interfaz de programación de aplicaciones, internet y tal vez un poco de inteligencia artificial. Podría decirse que un trabajo se convierte en fantasma cuando no hay seres humanos involucrados en ese bucle, ya que solo se trata de que el software haga su magia.

Así que la definición realmente depende de la forma de etiquetar el producto o servicio final.

Sí. El trabajo o la producción, en sí mismo, no es inherentemente malo ni bueno. Son las condiciones de trabajo específicas las que lo hacen malo o bueno. Un empleo como los que describimos en el libro, ya sea realizando una traducción o etiquetando los datos de entrenamiento para poder entrenar a los algoritmos, a menudo se rechaza por monótono y rutinario. Por ejemplo, controlar el contenido sensacionalista es una tarea horrible. Desde la perspectiva de los trabajadores, se trata de un negocio. Y en realidad requiere bastante creatividad, conocimiento y criterio. El problema es que las condiciones de trabajo no reconocen lo importante que es una persona para ese proceso. No se aprecian sus tareas y realmente se crean unas condiciones laborales insostenibles.

Muchas empresas tienen un largo historial de explotación laboral hacia las comunidades menos privilegiadas. En su libro, destaca el ejemplo de la industria de la moda. ¿Hay algo particularmente distinto en el trabajo fantasma que genere aún más motivos de preocupación?

De alguna manera, el trabajo fantasma es, de hecho, una continuación del abuso de muchas personas trabajadoras. Para mí, el gran cambio reside en que nunca hemos tenido industrias que vendan tan fácilmente la mano de obra contratada como la automatizada, no solo para dificultar que un consumidor vea la cadena de suministro, como para con los textiles, alimentos y agricultura, sino también para decir que realmente no hay personas trabajando en absoluto. Me dan escalofríos solo de pensarlo: si eso se incorpora en todos los sectores que venden servicios de información de manera efectiva, habría mucha gente involucrada cuya participación en la economía desaparecería. Eso también dificulta que los trabajadores se organicen y recuperen el poder.

Se trata de un verdadero desmantelamiento del empleo.

En la industria textil, es posible organizarse porque las personas están en el mismo edificio. Puede que vean una causa común y digan: "Esto no me está sucediendo solo a mí". Pero el trabajo fantasma está distribuyendo la fuerza laboral a nivel global. Eso crea un desafío muy diferente para los trabajadores, tanto para llamar la atención sobre sus problemas como para darse cuenta de que no están solos.

Como no se conocen entre sí, no pueden exigir buenas condiciones de trabajo. Y dado que la sociedad no sabe que existen, no hay responsabilidad, ¿correcto?

Exactamente. Y de muchas maneras, este es el futuro que nos espera. Varias industrias siempre han dependido de los trabajadores temporales. Pero ahora hemos construido una economía basada completamente en ellos. Ya no se da el: "Solo vamos cubrir los huecos con contratistas, mientras que los trabajadores de tiempo completo realizarán la mayor parte del trabajo". Eso es radical. Realmente deberíamos parar un poco. Gran parte de la corriente principal de nuestra economía estaba relacionada con el hecho de tener un trabajo de oficina, y eso está a punto de desaparecer. No hay una opción de regresar a tiempo completo, a un trabajo más estable y según la demanda. Si no lo aceptamos ahora, todo el trabajo se convertirá en trabajo fantasma. Se trata realmente del desmantelamiento del empleo.

Sí, lo que más me sorprendió en su libro es la cantidad de gente con estudios superiores que tiene un trabajo fantasma. El hecho de que tantas personas con maestrías estén recurriendo al trabajo fantasma realmente indica hasta qué punto hemos permitido que esta tendencia crezca.

La gran paradoja de los servicios de información a demanda es que no se pueden automatizar fácilmente. Cualquier trabajo que implique atender las necesidades de otra persona requiere un poco de inteligencia y atención, por lo que la educación universitaria se ha convertido en el nuevo nivel de educación universal, y las personas que participan en el ciclo se han vuelto fundamentalmente necesarias. Pero claramente no sabemos cómo valorar eso.

Entonces, ¿cuáles son los cambios a gran escala que deberían ocurrir para no acabar todos atrapados por el trabajo fantasma?

Depender del trabajo por contrato significa básicamente que dependemos de la disponibilidad de las personas. Por lo tanto, la intervención número uno que necesitan tanto los trabajadores como las empresas consiste en reconstruir nuestro contrato social de empleo en torno al valor de la disponibilidad. Esto supondría que todos los adultos en edad de trabajar tendrían la posibilidad de participar en nuestra economía y aportar valor, precisamente porque estarían dispuestos a brindar la capacidad claramente humana de responder a las solicitudes de ayuda para distintos proyectos.

En este momento, para asegurar los beneficios invertimos mucha energía en averiguar cómo lograr que las personas obtengan un empleo de tiempo completo, especialmente en Estados Unidos. Debemos dejar de intentar asegurar los beneficios a través del trabajo. En su lugar, deberíamos preguntarnos: "¿Qué beneficios necesitan las personas para poder participar en este tipo de economía?". Necesitan algunas cosas: acceso a la atención médica; tiempo libre pagado; acceso a espacios de trabajo saludables; colegas y redes de compañeros, y acceso a educación continúa para aprender cómo avanzar y ampliar sus capacidades.

Más allá de eso, lo que la mayoría necesita para conseguir un contrato apropiado es la capacidad de controlar tres cosas: su tiempo, sus oportunidades y las posibilidades de contribuir a diferentes redes de colaboradores que les enseñarán cosas nuevas que pueden aplicar al próximo proyecto. Si los equipamos para que controlen su participación en una economía: posibilitar las entradas y salidas del mercado según sea necesario en el caso de enfermedad, de formar familia, de aprender nuevas capacidades para aplicarlas a diferentes proyectos, estarán mejor capacitados para un trabajo contractual.

domingo, 28 de julio de 2019

Byung-Chul Han y el budismo zen como arma anticapitalista

Byung-Chul Han y el budismo zen como arma anticapitalista

Patricio Corona
26 JUL 2019
"Bello es el ser sin apetito", escribe Byung-Chul Han en Filosofía del budismo zen, y en un mundo obeso, que exige ambición a todos sus individuos, con un ejército de ciclistas inmigrantes para saciar el hambre infinita, esa frase suena revolucionaria. ¿Qué sería del capitalismo tardío si se nos acaba el apetito, si nos conformamos con lo que somos? ¿Será posible atentar contra el sistema desde el no-hacer?
El filósofo surcoreano Byung–Chul Han, famoso entre quienes tienen resueltas sus necesidades básicas pero no sus angustias, lo es justamente porque describe con certeza y sencillez los motivos que nos tienen en esta desazón generalizada. Sus diagnósticos y sus libros son como agujas, breves pero agudas, que pinchan en las heridas que hoy nos hacen sangrar sin dolor: el declive del deseo, el flagelo de la transparencia o el auge de la autoexplotación.
Pero hace diecisiete años, antes de convertirse en una estrella de la crítica cultural –que no usa celular y cultiva flores en un jardín–, Han escribió un ensayo que si bien no buscaba identificar otro trastorno más de la sociedad neoliberal, leído desde ahora sí consigue entregar una respuesta al malestar posmoderno: el budismo zen.
Filosofía del budismo zen (2002, editado en español por Herder el 2015) no es, por supuesto, un libro de autoayuda, pero en la desesperación de estos tiempos desoladores, donde Carmen Tuitera es guía espiritual y no hay más referentes intelectuales que el Profe Maza, funciona sin quererlo como tal.
Lo que Han pretendía era dilucidar los conceptos que definen y diferencian al budismo zen comparándolos con la filosofía occidental de Platón, Leibniz, Hegel y Heidegger, y aunque lo consigue, el resultado además es una especie de receta involuntaria contra el tedio, la depresión y el narcisismo que predominan actualmente.
No se trata de volver a una retórica new age, de disfrazarse de Sting ni de colgar banderitas en la terraza. Tampoco de ir a un taller de meditación para obtener más rendimiento laboral. Es justamente lo contrario: intentar vaciarse de esa lógica occidental que pretende encontrarle una recompensa o beneficio a cada acción o decisión que tomamos, y simplemente liberarnos de la economía detrás de nuestros movimientos.
“Bello es el ser sin apetito”, escribe Byung-Chul Han, y en un mundo obeso, que exige ambición a todos sus individuos, con un ejército de ciclistas inmigrantes para saciar el hambre infinita, esa frase suena revolucionaria. ¿Qué sería del capitalismo tardío si se nos acaba el apetito, si nos conformamos con lo que somos? ¿Será posible atentar contra el sistema desde el no-hacer? ¿La inacción puede ser una amenaza?
Eso no se responde en Filosofía del budismo zen, pero de forma indirecta queda sugerido. Han opone el apetito de trascendencia, quizá el peor legado del cristianismo —esta incapacidad de soportar la idea de la muerte y querer sobrevivir a la propia existencia a como dé lugar—, con la inmanencia, el vivir aquí, experimentando la cotidianeidad, ese mundo de “hombres y mujeres, de anciano y joven, sartén y olla, gato y cuchara”.
Algo radical en este frenesí de notificaciones, todos adictos al último meme, paranoides de los spoilers y nunca satisfechos con el final de ninguna serie. El budismo zen, en cambio, “se trata de ver lo inusitado en la repetición de lo acostumbrado”.
La dificultad de asumir este espíritu vacío de apetito, entregado al aquí y al ahora, es que exige liberarse de lo sagrado, ya sea Cristo en la cruz, una foto de Felipe Camiroaga o la confianza en el mercado. Incluso al mismo buda. “Si encontráis a buda, matad a buda”, dijo el maestro Linji. “La nada del budismo zen”, se lee de mano de Han, “no ofrece cosa alguna que pueda retenerse, ningún fundamento firme del que podamos cerciorarnos, nada a lo que pudiéramos agarrarnos. El mundo carece de fundamento”.
Pero el vacío, por otro lado, permite que el sujeto no sólo esté “en” el mundo, sino que en el fondo “es” el mundo. Como anota Han: “El mundo está enteramente ahí, en una flor de ciruelo”.
También se sospecha de la idea del hogar, lo que en el léxico subdesarrollado se conoce como el sueño de la casa propia, y que últimamente ha perdido todo relato llamándose solamente inversión inmobiliaria. Un budista zen no echa raíces —ni bienes raíces— porque eso sería llamar a la trascendencia, proyectarse a un futuro que no existe. “Un monje zen ha de ser como las nubes, sin morada fija, y como el agua, sin apoyo firme”, dice el coreano-alemán. “Ni huésped ni anfitrión; huésped y anfitrión, sin duda”.
Habiendo fallado las revoluciones, y sin alternativas a la vista que reemplacen o se opongan a la metástasis imparable del neoliberalismo, quizá este momento poshistórico, como lo describió Fukuyama, o de no-historia, pueda ser combatido con el no-ser del budismo zen.