Sweet revenge of the polar bear

Arun Kumar

My left hand sometimes does not know what the right hand is doing. Maybe this happens more often than I realize. Why else has the phrase become an idiom? To get a feel of its omnipresence, a few more examples are in order.

Jet-setting climate scientists run around the world to communicate their latest findings about global warming and forget that the contrails left behind and the fuel burned just raised the greenhouse gasses by a fraction. In the evening, they dine on a juicy steak forgetting that environmentally it is much better to be a vegetarian.

In a meeting at work someone will casually throw out the notion that we should not be working in silos and feel smug about the penetrating statement. Suddenly a day out of the wild blue yonder, matrix management becomes a tsunami that washes over us. I get matrixed and my one hour does not know what the next hour will be doing.

And my personal favorite — The time it takes to finish public projects in the United States (e.g., finishing a subway line) is so long that sometimes I wonder if one crew puts things together during the day while another crew tears down two thirds of it during the night. In the twilight of the evening, the two pass each other like ghosts.

There are plenty of other examples scattered around. This particular story of my left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing is about Coca-Cola, the Company, and their product, the Coke.

I myself do not drink Coke. The reason is that being health conscious, my left hand finds the nutritional content of Coke alarming. A 355 ml (or gram) can of Coke has 150 Calories, 14% of Daily Value (DV) of required carbs, all of them coming from 40 grams of sugar from high fructose corn syrup (which is a miracle of human ingenuity, in itself).

Sugar is not healthy for our metabolism. The genes we have inherited, and proteins, enzymes, amino acids that make us function, have been optimized through the slow precepts of natural selection. They get jolted by 17 teaspoons of sugar that is in a can of Coke. The 140 years since 1892 when Coke was invented is too short of a time for our metabolism to adjust to the new world reality where the availability of sugar is so much easier than picking berries while on a lookout for snakes.

The easy availability of sugar and our evolutionary conditioning is an explosive combination. The result is obesity and diabetes being epidemic, not to mention the sad history of sugar plantations (with their devastating influence on our history).

The World Health Organization has these cheering numbers to say: “About 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, the majority living in low-and middle-income countries, and 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year. Both the number of cases and the prevalence of diabetes have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.”

Sugars not only taste fantastic, they have also become a cheap source for required daily intake of calories.

Maybe our addiction to sugars will continue to shape the future trajectory of history and evolution. Can we anticipate 100 generations from now, which faction of humanity will have the upper hand (the hand again!)? The ones who do not have a sweet tooth and have better self-control or the ones stalking the cookie aisles in the grocery stores?

If natural selection has any lessons to offer, then it will favor those with less of a fatal attraction for sugars. But don’t tell Coca-Cola that by promoting their product and hiring the polar bear, they are accelerating their own demise.

What we do not know is that the polar bear has his own agenda.

The sneaky master plan of the polar bear is to ensure that we will drink enough sugar and will not be around for much longer to melt the ice caps and destroy their habitat. The plan is a bit far-fetched, but at least it is a plan for taming runaway global warming. So far, we have none.

Oh well. Back to the story of conflict between my left hand and my right hand.

The right hand! What is it up to?

The right hand wants to have a comfortable retirement, and to have that, it wishes financial stability.

The right hand wants to have a return of 10% on the savings so by compounding, it can double the money every 7 years. To get that kind of average returns, it cannot stuff the money in a pillowcase, and hope for a miracle. Instead, it has to embrace stocks.

Not being a big risk taker or having the wherewithal to spend time on researching individual stocks, the right hand takes the option of investing in the S&P 500 Index fund. Afterall, it has heard that consistently outperforming and timing the markets is highly improbable. The Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund (VFINX) had an average return of 11.5% since its inception in 1976, so why not?

Investing money in VFINX is a ticket to a comfortable retirement. It may not be enough for buying a yacht and being anchored off the shores of St. Croix, but it will be good enough to live in a house a mile away from the beach and taking walks in the sand every evening.

So, the right hand goes ahead and invests in the VFINX . On crisp fall afternoons, it gazes in the blue sky and daydreams of money growing. My right hand is just engaged in following its prime directive to ensure a 10% average return on investments.

But guess what, one of the stocks in VFINX, oops, is Coca-Cola.

The left hand, being health conscious, does not touch a can of Coke with a ten-foot pole, the right hand, by investing in VFINX, wants humanity to consume Coke as much, and as long as possible.

The right hand wants KO to thrive and prosper.

The right hand urges us to listen to the polar bear and enjoy a few bottles of the chilled Coke every day. Please do that, it says, so I can retire comfortably one day with a longer, and a healthier lifespan, while you, oh well, sugars may not be good for your health, they taste so good.

Right hand’s wish for a healthy growth in the KO is at the expense of fellow human beings. Meanwhile the left hand wishes for a longer, healthy lifespan. It is the battle between good and evil, and neither wants to sit down at the table and negotiate.

There may be a way out of my moral conundrum though. Happily, Coke also has many other uses — kill slugs and snails, clean burned pots and pans, remove rust, and so on. They could become its selling point, and even if people stop drinking coke, Coca-Cola could still be a profitable company.

If that happens, my left and right hands will shake hands together and live in harmony ever after. One of my many inner struggles will end.

Towards my wellbeing, let us raise our glasses, say a toast, and have a refreshing glass of Coke. Oh the irony…

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