The Popular Penchant for the Perverse

 

Male survivors of the Jewish Holocaust lived longer than peers of the same age who escaped Europe before the war.

The research, published by the U.S.-based Public Library of Science, compares the lives of 55,000 Polish Jews who emigrated to Israel before and after the war.

What it discovers is that men who lived through the Holocaust as boys or young men lived as much as 18 months longer than those who didn’t. (source)

The health of the survivors was worse than the health of those who evacuated, yet they lived longer. It is clear that the physical damage was real — but it seems that these men wanted to live longer, and so they did.

Why? I believe that Holocaust survivors live longer because they feel a deep and desperate need to make their lives worth something. Having a positive purpose to one’s existence literally gives one a reason to live.

Being reminded of our mortality should be a spur to positive action. But it isn’t, not necessarily. Faced with death, man is at least equally likely to choose to check out. All around us, people are forsaking marriage and children — even mutilating their bodies so that they can preclude any future in which they would even be able to create new life. This lost generation has Bucket Lists and seeks to have “fun,” while they “live in the moment,” enjoying “my best life,” looking out for Number One at all times.

The world has the feel of a satanic fairground, with laughter and fun only as a patina over loneliness, misery, and deep fear. Because, ultimately, death comes for us all. And what will we leave behind to show for having lived? People are so afraid of even hearing the question that they lock themselves away from it.

Life is fleeting. Every moment can be — should be — precious. We have a choice.

Mankind has enormous potential. We can create music and words that stir the soul, marriages that leave a mark far beyond a single lifetime, and create and foster a sense of hope that changes humanity from an intelligent but foolish animal into a holy people that walk in the ways of G-d.

Alas, man is perverse. This is not new.

The powerful men saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took them wives of all whom they chose.

Society accepted that power could do what it wanted. Might Made Right.

G-d’s reaction was to reduce man’s lifespan:

And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always contend within man forever, for that he also is flesh: and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.

G-d clearly thought that when faced with mortality, man would value women more (just as Adam only named Eve when he realized she was the path to his own perpetuation). He probably also reckoned that mortality might remind us that no dead person is mighty and that there are other things to do with one’s life besides seeking to dominate others. In other words, G-d acted to fix our behavior by trying to bring a sense of perspective to our existence.

If that is what G-d thought, He got it wrong. Don’t take it from me: take it from the Torah (Gen. 6).

Instead of being kind to women and abandoning brutality, mankind followed the same path we are heading down now: they chose more of the same, more violence and violation. More apex predator behavior, survival of the most murderous. The world passed beyond the point of being salvageable. G-d throws in the towel on tweaking the incentives. Instead, He brings the Flood, washing almost all life away, to start anew. Rinse and Repeat, with a different sourdough starter in Noah instead of Adam.

We are facing the same challenge today, and the same underlying question: If we do not invest in ourselves and others, seeking to grow and improve, then why do we think G-d should bother?

P.S. The Holocaust story has a twist:

… The authors of the study have struggled, however, to explain why the same phenomenon has not been witnessed in female Holocaust survivors, who lived as long as their non-Holocaust peers but no longer.

Is there a reasonable thesis for why this is so?

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  1. Terry Mott Member
    Terry Mott
    @TerryMott

    My first thought was that maybe the Holocaust survivors tended to be those who were more naturally robust, physically and/or mentally.  The weaker, more sickly, and less determined ones didn’t survive as often. It wouldn’t be surprising then for the surviving population to be better suited for long life than another population that didn’t face this sort of filtering trauma.

    But the fact that the women didn’t show this difference seems to argue against this hypothesis.  Maybe the lingering health problems of the women were worse than those of the men, enough to erase the effect?  Hormonal differences resulting in different physical responses to severe treatment and malnutrition?  Beats me.

    • #1
  2. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Maybe they were more cardio-vascularly-fit from having been under prolonged stress?

    • #2
  3. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Terry Mott (View Comment):

    My first thought was that maybe the Holocaust survivors tended to be those who were more naturally robust, physically and/or mentally. The weaker, more sickly, and less determined ones didn’t survive as often. It wouldn’t be surprising then for the surviving population to be better suited for long life than another population that didn’t face this sort of filtering trauma.

    That was my first thought – survivorship bias.   The survivors were pre-filtered. 

    But the fact that the women didn’t show this difference seems to argue against this hypothesis. Maybe the lingering health problems of the women were worse than those of the men, enough to erase the effect? Hormonal differences resulting in different physical responses to severe treatment and malnutrition? Beats me.

    I believe (but would have to verify) that the women were much more likely to be sent straight to the gas, while healthier/stronger men were kept for labor.

    So there would be less of a survivor filtering bias on the females than on the males.

    • #3
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    My first impression was the same as the first three comments.  This “survival of the fittest” explanation is discussed in the source linked in the OP.

    This theory appears consistent with the second fact, that female survivors of the Holocaust did not live longer.  If the thesis of the OP is correct, why did it apply only to male survivors?  On the other hand, the linked article explains that Jewish men in the camps would be spared if they were useful for labor, and women were less useful in this regard.

    • #4
  5. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    iWe: If that is what G-d thought, He got it wrong. Don’t take it from me: take it from the Torah (Gen. 6). 

    I was with you until this point.

    • #5
  6. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    iWe: If that is what G-d thought, He got it wrong. Don’t take it from me: take it from the Torah (Gen. 6).

    I was with you until this point.

    I hear you. Most people think G-d must be infallible. 

    But any honest reading of the Torah tells us that G-d does not know what man will do in advance. So He changes His mind based on our exercise of our free will.  Which makes G-d dynamic instead of static – just as one would expect from a true relationship.

    • #6
  7. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Maybe they were more cardio-vascularly-fit from having been under prolonged stress?

    Except that the health of survivors was consistently worse than the health of non-survivors. They just fought it and lived longer anyway. Overall health, in this case at least, does not correlate to lifespan. Which is a strong argument for the non-physical components of what makes us who we are.

    The verse I cited tells us that G-d’s spirit is IN mankind, but at odds with our physical bodies. There is a tension between body and soul.

    • #7
  8. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    iWe (View Comment):

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    iWe: If that is what G-d thought, He got it wrong. Don’t take it from me: take it from the Torah (Gen. 6).

    I was with you until this point.

    I hear you. Most people think G-d must be infallible.

    But any honest reading of the Torah tells us that G-d does not know what man will do in advance. So He changes His mind based on our exercise of our free will. Which makes G-d dynamic instead of static – just as one would expect from a true relationship.

    So the God of the Torah is not omniscient?

    Meanwhile…

     

    • #8
  9. Annefy Coolidge
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    If you don’t think about it too hard, it makes perfect sense (at least to me).

    Even the male / female difference. The longevity of females seems to be somewhat predetermined; the lifespan of a wife is unaffected by the death of their spouse, while elderly men tend to die within 18 months of their wife’s death. If they don’t die within the 18-month window, they usually live as long as they would have had their wife remained alive.

    In my family, the lifespan of those who suffered through WWII (not as soldiers) in the UK is very impressive. Almost all my cousins and aunts and uncles made it well into their 80s and some into their 90s, despite pretty miserable lives prior to the war, and deprivation and stress throughout it.

    It makes sense to me that surviving traumas would give a person a extra lease on life.

    • #9
  10. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    kedavis (View Comment):

    So the God of the Torah is not omniscient?

    Not in the Torah, He is not. My understanding is that G-d had to withdraw Himself in order to allow the world (and especially humans) to exist. That withdrawal could certainly include choosing not to be omniscient so that we have true free will.

     

    • #10
  11. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    It’s not like being a Jew in Palestine from 1938-45 was stressless.

    Also, many of the healthiest there would have joined the fighting and either died or gone through more stress.

    • #11
  12. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    There is some evidence that starvation, per se, if not fatal, prolongs life.

    This might be something referred to in biology as “hormesis” in which adverse conditions induce a response in the organism that makes it more robust. There may be subtle metabolic changes that develop and persist with harsh conditions and starvation.

    Perhaps those exposed to starvation have less cholesterol deposition in arteries. And men are more prone to cardiovascular disease given their lower HDL levels, vs the cardio protective effect of Estrogen in women. In women, starvation would lower estrogen levels, and would tend to lessen the cardio protective effects of estrogen earlier in life, so that if they survived, they would have had less cumulative estrogen effect that would be cardio protective.

    Of course controlled studies to look at these possibilities cannot be done. . 

    Calorie limitation in lower species however seems to uniformly improve longevity across species (all things otherwise being “equal”). 

    Those who survive such conditions may start out with a stronger survival sense than those who don’t survive, and thus those with the strongest sense of self preservation may have been sorted out by these experiences. Rather than the experience creating a stronger desire to live in the survivors. 

    I would also take this research with a grain of salt. The study likely is deficient in data and what data it has is likely insufficiently detailed to draw any robust conclusions. Sorting out the physiological vs psychological effects, or, if you will, spiritual effects, is not possible in these sorts of studies. 

    Some studies in the last century indicated that people who lived among family members in their milieu of origin, had greater longevity than those who left their homes and moved away from family. 

    • #12
  13. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    My guess is that the women survivors were more likely to have been violated sexually, and experimented-on by the butchers.  All the survivors lived because they wanted (decided?) to live, perhaps more than those who did not survive. 

    • #13
  14. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    “It is good for a man that he bear a yoke in his youth.”

    Lamentations 3:27

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    iWe: I believe that Holocaust survivors live longer because they feel a deep and desperate need to make their lives worth something. Having a positive purpose to one’s existence literally gives one a reason to live.

    Hm.  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Even if the body is physically compromised, the will remains.

    In light of the many studies that show women generally outliving men by several years, I’m not sure what the fact that the  ordeals suffered by WWII Jewish women who survived the Holocaust in Europe had no effect on the their longevity when compared with their peers elsewhere actually means.  Unless it has something to do with the fact that women–generally–have a different coping mechanism for suffering than do men, and–traditionally–focus their survival efforts on what it takes to maintain stasis day-to-day in their lives, among their families, and in their communities.  Perhaps women are–traditionally–just less likely to emerge from their ordeals with an instinct to “change” themselves and acquire a different purpose in life from that with which they started out.

    • #15
  16. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    iWe (View Comment):

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    iWe: If that is what G-d thought, He got it wrong. Don’t take it from me: take it from the Torah (Gen. 6).

    I was with you until this point.

    I hear you. Most people think G-d must be infallible.

    But any honest reading of the Torah tells us that G-d does not know what man will do in advance. So He changes His mind based on our exercise of our free will. Which makes G-d dynamic instead of static – just as one would expect from a true relationship.

    God does not” reckon”-he doesn’t know things b/c they exist or happen (like we do)-things exist b/c he knows them. His thoughts are not mental apparitions/images-they are reality. In Augustine, that is the essence of  his trinitarian nature.

    God knows everything- even what we will do. He doesn’t have “foreknowledge” b/c there is no before or after for him. His knowledge of all things doesn’t eliminate our free will.

    God doesn’t change- his mind or anything else about him.

    • #16
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