Chronic Case of Human

Something has been getting on my nerves recently, and it took a little while for me to work through it.

I don’t want people telling me being human is an illness.

Our species is about 200,000 years old.  It is hard for me to even imagine that length of time.   For most of that we were hunter/gatherers.  To make it simple, we walked around in a group, we hung out with our friends and family most of the time, and strangers sort of creeped us out.  We tried to go to the same sorts of places if we could, following our favorite hairy snack.  We took everything we owned with us every time we moved.  We did not move every day.  Sometimes we would set up a camp, and if we did, someone stayed and guarded it while others went to hunt and gather.   We touched each other a lot.  We had our kids without a hospital, and we used some strange primitive magic to make milk come out of our breasts.  We walked a lot.  When not walking we sat on the ground in some way (Jesus had not invented the chair yet).  In an average day, there was a whole lot of walking and lying down;  very little sitting in the upright position and staring at a computer.  In fact, I would say that might be a fundamental trait of the hunter/gatherer: they were not very computer savvy.  So we did this in some way or another for about 195,000 years or so.  There is lots of variation but I don’t want to get into it.  So 97% of our life as a species we did this.

Then for the next 3% or so, we keep this general idea but our camp stopped moving at all if we could help it.  We stayed with our group in one place and told the animals not to wander off, because we would rather not chase them.  There were contracts and agreements with the cows and chickens, but it all worked out.  We tried to protect them and keep them fed and they didn’t run around like fools when we decided to kill them.   We grew our own food in the ground, it was revolutionary.  We learned cool skills like baking bread, making beer, and writing.  We built stuff, developed complex and dangerous ideas.  We would travel around and kill our neighbors for sport if things got dull.  Overall it was a nice life.
About 300 years ago we changed a whole bunch again.  We stopped growing our own food, we got inside jobs, and we started sitting on our asses a lot.   Today I sit at least 13 hours on a weekday and sleep about 7.  So I stand or walk less than 4 hours a day.  This includes trips to the fridge and bathroom.   I leave my home early in the morning and get home in the late afternoon.

Think about these changes in a single person instead of as a species.  Let’s say we take a 50 year old man.  For the first 48.5 years of his life, he runs free in the woods with his friends.  He eats when he wants, sleeps when he wants.  He plays stupid games with a rock and stick.  He has a pet dog who he loves so much.  At 48.5 we catch him and put him in a nice sized pen with his friends and dog.  We tell him not to wander off, and teach him how to garden and shear sheep or something like that. About 4 days before his 50th birthday we go catch him again. We take him away from his friends and dog and strap him to a chair and make him stare at a screen all day.   We bring him weird food that he has never had before with all kinds of chemicals in it.  We don’t let him see daylight at all if it is winter.  We make him ride in a car 2 hours a day.  What do you think would happen to this poor man?  If he does not kill himself, I am surprised.

We all are sort of like this.   We eat strange things. We sit all day. We very seldom see our friends. There is little touching.  We are fat, angry and sad.  We have super high rates of depression and anxiety.  We have trouble relating to other people.   We have trouble sleeping.

Recently I have had a few people tell me things like “It is weird that you can’t get used to going to work every day” or “you should get on an anti-anxiety or depression drug”.  I am being told over and over again that the way I feel is not normal and that I need our modern science to “fix” me.  Sure. I will grant you that these drugs might make me calmer.  I sure hope they gave some to the man we just talked about.   So what is my point?   Our last 4 days as a species is what has been making me and everyone else sick.  Our culture is the bad guy, not my brain.   My brain is just fine.    How can I put this any other way that makes sense?  I am human.   I was born that way and I want to stay that way.  If I get sick, I will get help, but being human is not an illness.

If leaving my house all day freaks me out it is because for 99% of my species’ life we never left our homes. We either took them with us or we stayed put.   If sitting all day makes me nervous, hurts my legs and back, and makes my muscles tense, it is because we are not made to sit like this.   If driving scares me it is because your strange metal horses are scary.   If my tummy hurts all the time it is because of the stress and the crappy food.   If I cry in the mornings and whine at night, it is because I am a scared animal, and to be honest part of my brain has no idea what is going on.  If I feel lonely and yet afraid to reach out to people, it is because I don’t have a tribe and I likely never will.  We now know Hobbes was wrong about the life of ancient man.

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

– Leviathan XIII “Chapter XIII.: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind As Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery.”Leviathan


It is in fact our lives that this quote best fits.  In such condition, we are not connected to the product of our labor and get no benefit from it. Our culture is eroding away to be replaced by fascist dogma, we reached ourhigh pointa long time ago.  Our only travel is generally to and from work or shopping.  We have no power to change our lots in life.  We are slaves to a society that we have no power to influence. The days of our lives blur together with few points of freedom.  We live in continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and long.

I work for two reasons:  To support myself and my home now, and to save money to someday buy a piece of land big enough to support the life of myself and my family.   My biggest fantasy is to not have to leave my home in six months.  I don’t work because I like it. I don’t get any sense of self-worth from it, it is neither fun or satisfying.  I work because I have to. So that I can someday buy my freedom.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Issa @ LoveLiveGrow
    May 13, 2011 @ 08:26:16

    This is a fantastic post. The part of comparing the span of human history to the life span of one human is particularly brilliant.

    I think the question of medicating/mediating one’s unhappiness in some way is an interesting dilemma. While it’s true that much of our unhappiness is our unnatural circumstances, it’s also true that we have very little ability to opt out of those circumstances. You can’t opt out of your culture, and that’s even more true today, when 99% of the world is effectively one culture. So I hate to begrudge any individual whatever makes existing in this culture bearable, even if the “solution” is basically part of the problem. Eh, I’ve got no conclusions here, except to agree that it sucks.

    This post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Pump Up The Volume: “Feeling screwed up at a screwed up time in a screwed up place does not necessarily make you screwed up.”


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