10/03/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

You Will Die Itchy and a Little Fat

American! Are you bored? Jaded by the government shutdown and the squishy Tea Party imbeciles that caused it, but not quite yet completely paralyzed with fear that the world is closing in around you?

Worry not: There is a way to know almost everything. There is a way to add mountains of wonderfully specific, yet somehow insufferably vague data to your collection of paranoia, your secret bucket of looming gloom. It's a completely legal, scientifically-approved way to feel like you are suffering nothing but are just on the verge of getting slammed by nearly everything. What could be better?

There are metrics. There are services. There are increasingly popular companies that will scan, dissect and pick apart your very DNA and tell you, to the Nth degree, what you might or might not be prone to, which of a few hundred ailments, tendencies and afflictions are picking at the scabs of your deepest dread.


Also! Which colors suit you best, which foods and prescription meds and workouts, what kinds of dog, why you should never wear plaid or vote Republican or do push-ups, crane your neck, eat asparagus. I'm exaggerating. But only a little.

Because this is important, this is helpful, this is the level to which we are obsessed, curious, desperately needy. Knowledge is power! Disease is everywhere! You probably have about, say, 15 already, and don't even know it! Good job!

I am skimming this article in, wherever is was, Men's Journal I think, about how one guy was able to whip out his very own personal DNA map, an individualized genomic panel courtesy of one of those infamous, saliva-scrutinizing companies -- in this case, 23andMe, the company founded by Sergey Brin's wildly rich wife -- to tell him he was maybe prone to blood clots, info which he then gave to his doctor, who then properly diagnosed a formerly mysterious ailment, thus helping said man quite tremendously and perhaps even saving his life. Is that not fantastic? Sort of?

Have you heard of 23andMe? Or its brethren, Inherent Health or Pathway Genomics, et al? You might have. They are fascinating and terrifying and strange, all at once. They exist as hungry spinoffs of the Human Genome Project, wherein the entire DNA map of the human animal was laid bare just enough to help everyone get informed/freak the hell out.

Because we are Americans, is why. Because there are few cultures in the world as desperately obsessed as ours with trying to analyze every iota of existence and experience so as to quell our collective anxiety, all in a vain attempt to prove we have a clue to how it all works, when of course we have no such thing. Because no such thing actually exists.

But never mind that now, because we're currently caught in a mania over metrics, a collective fetish for manic self-improvement through measuring, tracking, scrutinizing every possible muscle twitch, drop of sweat and genetic marker to try and make ourselves better, more efficient, healthier, savvier, when the only things that ever truly achieve such goals are the same as they've always been: Eat well, not too much. Exercise every day. Meditate. Have lots of sex. Get outside. Love like you mean it. Quit whining. Read a book. Never vote Republican.

There now. All better.

Here is a question: How much do you want to know? Here is another: How much do you think you can know? About the body, this life, the planet, your tiny and infinite place in it, about how all of these are living, pulsing organisms, fluxive and biddable, never the same one breath to the next?

The degree to which this fact is a comfort or a nightmare is the degree to which you will love like candy or loathe like a genital rash the likes of 23andMe. And organized religion. And hardline politics. And sweat-tracking wristbands. And the DSM-V.

The DSM-V! Do you know it? The newly published update to the classic manual of misery that tells psychiatrists and psychologists just how many syndromes and phobias, obsessions and fetishes you have? I bet you do. It's the single greatest reference in existence to inform you that you're now a paranoid, obsessive schizophrenic as a result of believing everything 23andMe sends your way. See how that works?...

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and the creator of the new Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...