top of page
At the Compassion Consortium, we celebrate diversity. We believe every being brings a unique view to the community that we co-create when we gather together. So, each month, we publish an essay which provides a view from our community, a slice of one human's journey of compassionate living. 

March 2024

The Myth of Normal
We must shatter the myth to restore our health.

by Jeffrey Spitz Cohan

Jeffry cohan spitz.jpg

If you read my post about Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, you might recall I loved the premise of the novel, which placed an honest, ethical character in an immoral, corrupt society. (You know that’s not going to end well.)

Dr. Gabor Mate’s “The Myth of Normal,” published last year and much acclaimed, is sort of a nonfiction version of “The Idiot,” with a focus on health rather than ethics.

While Dostoevsky lamented the moral decay of Russian society, Mate laments the public-health crisis in American society. Many things that are normalized in our country are actually causing disease and suffering, he writes.  

This message resonates with me. As a vegan advocate, I’ve long maintained that eating and drinking animal products might be considered normal, but they are sources of disease and suffering, for both human and non-human animals.

Every time I get my blood pressure or cholesterol checked, and every time I look an animal in the eye, I’m pleased as punch to be abnormal. 

Mate doesn’t write about our f*#ked-up food system, choosing instead to focus on the very nature of our go-go capitalist system, in which our health is regularly sacrificed on the altar of productivity.

I’ve seen this at play in my own life, when I look back at what I did to myself to get ahead and impress my employers as a newspaper journalist. 

For example, I was knocked unconscious and suffered a head injury (a subdural hematoma) while covering the Rodney King riots in suburban Los Angeles. The very next day, with my face bruised and my head misshapen, I was back at work, eager to display my level of commitment to my colleagues and bosses. 

How messed up is that? 

This might be an extreme example, but every day in America, tens of millions of people, or maybe more, are stressing themselves out and damaging their own health in order to maintain or improve their competitive position in our economy.

Women have it particularly bad. 

I suppose the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was a step forward. But wholly insufficient. 

You have a baby, and you get up to 12 weeks off. Unpaid. 

Let’s get this straight: Just when you have another mouth to feed, you’re expected to go three months without pay, and then return to the salt mine with a 3-month-old at home. 

What are we doing to ourselves?

The hegemony of materialism in our culture is nearly total, Mate points out. Everything is about money. Sports. Culture. Religion. The way we (mis) treat animals. The way we (mis)manage the environment. It’s all about the bottom line. (It’s not called the top line for a reason.)

I’m complicit. If you’re reading this on Substack, instead of on Medium, where I used to write, is mainly because it’s easier to monetize my writing on this platform.

The subtitle of Mate’s book is “Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture.” He places those words in that order intentionally. 

In his view, and mine, trauma in our society is pervasive, if not outright universal. There are degrees of trauma, to be sure. Some people’s experiences are much worse than others, through no fault of their own. But almost all of us are dealing with some s*%t from our past, if not our present. 

And if we don’t find a healthy way to process that stuff, it can lead to illness, or even death. 

For instance, take autoimmune diseases, which have become so much more widespread in the last few decades. Mate shows that autoimmune diseases often or usually stem from psychological-emotional trauma.

Healing begins, in Mate’s view, when we follow the lead of our heart. The heart, he states, should be our compass, while the mind is the terrain to be navigated.

I would broaden that view, if only slightly, to incorporate the body as a whole. Our body is very wise, if we will only listen to it. And listening to it requires quieting the mind.

When it comes down to it, “The Myth of Normal” is about our collective misalignment. The way our society is structured, and the way most of us live our lives, is out of alignment with our true nature as homo sapiens. Mate issues a clarion call to restructure our society and lives to bring ourselves into alignment.

Nothing less than our health, collectively and individually, depends on it.


Jeffrey Spitz Cohan is a former journalist who is now a professional vegan advocate. He is a Senior Philanthropic Specialist at the PETA Foundation.

Any and all views expressed in The Alignment are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of PETA or its affiliates.

To subscribe to The Alignment, visit

Previous Essays: 

The Interfaith Vegan Coalition: Its Values, Goals, and Mission

The Animal Interfaith Alliance

A Short History of Animal Advocacy in the Catholic Church

At the Graves of Craving

Animals and AI


Veganism, Yoga, and Me


Recognizing My Liberator in the Mirror Contextualizing Animal Chaplaincy through the Lens of an Activist for Collective Liberation

Who is Social Justice for? A Call for a De-Anthropocentric Social Justice


Buddhist Narrative Re-Weavings of Animal Liberation


Newsflash! Animal Chaplaincy Has Become a Growing Profession

Loving Animals, Hating Cruelty. Meeting in the Middle?

A Vegan in Kenya


Cod Skin Graft for my Surgical Wound?  I Chose to Say No

The Taboo Topic: Sickness and Vegans by Victoria Moran


Defining interfaith, interspiritual, and interspecies. (And why these words matter.) by Rev. Sarah Bowen

The Stages of Becoming a Compassionate Vegan by guest essayist Angela Crawford, PhD, VLCE

Are Birds Real? Feathered ones get appropriated by humans… again. (sigh) by Rev. Sarah Bowen


Animal Liberation, Atheism and Spirituality by guest essayist Jon Hochschartner

Is it Time for Alternative Animal Blessings by Rev. Sarah Bowen


My Life as an Animal Lawyer by guest essayist Ginny Mikita

Are You a Compassionate Person by Rev. William Melton

The Birth of a Go(o)d Idea by Rev. Carol Saunders

All Means All by Rev. Erika Allison


Vegan Yoga, Ahimsa Bliss by Victoria Moran


Was Jesus Vegetarian? by William Melton 

Why the Compassion Consortium? by Rev. Sarah Bowen

bottom of page