My yoga teacher and friend Paige once told me a story about how she lost one of her favorite earrings. She looked all over for it, growing increasingly worried and frustrated. Then she paused for a moment, asking herself why she was so upset over such a simple, worldly item. So she unpeeled the layers. She missed it because she’d had them for a while and they were dear to her. She felt pretty in them. Why was she concerned about feeling pretty in them? Because she is single. Why was she worried about being single? Because she’s afraid of being alone. Why was she afraid of being alone? Because she’s afraid of death.
Okay, maybe I skipped a few steps in there, but her point was that every fear is ultimately the fear of death. Lately, in this same way, I’ve been mentally tracing all sorts of things in life back to evolutionary origins. If you’ve read anything by Robb Wolf, Nora Gedgaudas, or Catherine Shanahan, then you know how complex our bodies are and how eating the SAD can wreak havoc on many different systems of the body. And if we follow those threads of information out to some logical conclusions, it begins to explain a lot about our crazy culture.
Let’s take something as disconnected from Paleo as possible. Like…oh, say, plastic surgery. Anthropologists who have studied human populations have made some general observations about humans, one being that youth is prized and there are many markers of it like full lips, lack of wrinkles, lack of gray hair, and bright, open eyes. As we all know, these traits disappear with age. Our culture takes this to a new level with our ability to manipulate these traits in an attempt to stave off the ravages of time.
Lip injections, eyebrow lifts, blepharoplasty, facelifts, Botox, tooth whitening, breast implants, chemical peels, hair coloring…I can go on and on. All an attempt to recover lost ground. This is where my thought experiment kicks in: If we weren’t a nation of sugar addicts, would there be as much demand for these procedures? I’ve seen both Gedgaudas and Shanahan explain how sugar speeds aging via glycation, so would a nation of real foodies put most surgeons out of work? Would cosmetic and personal care companies have to shut down? Probably not, but there would be some considerable changes in the way they market their goods and services. (Let’s not even mention what would happen to the entire diet and exercise industries.)
The other day, I was at the playground with some other moms and one of them mentioned how the messages we give young girls tend toward their looks and meekness, while we praise boys for their capabilities and risk-taking. I immediately found myself wondering if there was a “natural” reason for that, because I find myself doing it with my own daughter (though I also encourage rough-and-tumble play and adventuresome exploring). In modern times, I feel like we tend to jump quickly to assumptions about human psychology while forgetting that there may very well be a damned good reason for it in the first place.
In the case of fulfilling gender roles, there has always been a division of labor. In hunter-gatherer cultures, this was tied to child-rearing, not an unimportant task. If we think about the switch to a more agricultural society, suddenly territory becomes important, which means property becomes important, which means making sure your kids are actually your kids becomes important, which makes monogamy important, which led to women being tied to the house and kids with less help from the community than ever before. It is through this lens that I viewed my friend’s statement. There’s no doubt in my mind that encouraging different traits in boys and girls had a survival advantage of some sort in the past which was so important, it’s caused us to be unaware that we’re doing it. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t be aware of it or that we don’t need to change it, just that these things don’t arise out of nowhere for no reason.
What amuses me about a lot of these instances is that we humans believe ourselves to be free of the same natural forces that have always shaped us and informed our decisions. We are not. Our motivations have changed little over the millenia while the scenery has changed a lot.
Do you find yourself applying Paleo principles to other seemingly-unrelated topics? Tell me how you’re getting interdisciplinary with your new education.