So. I get it. I myself have suffered from a case of zealous Paleo dogmatism. It solved so many problems in such little time, how could it NOT be the answer to everything in the universe? Which then sends you down the path of nutritionism, because suddenly things like drinking a glass of water with dissolved magnesium powder before bedtime sounds like a good idea (this is not judgment, I’m laughing at myself because I am currently testing it out). Then Kurt Harris came along and crashed the Paleo party with the Old Friends hypothesis, making us all question the searching we’re doing (and if it didn’t make you question, perhaps you should revisit it). Then I threw the Buddhist non sequitor in there, but perhaps after today’s post it will all coalesce into one big messy pile of nonsense. Or something.
Lemme tell you a story. My Mom (Hi! Love you!) is one of those people with plenty of internal issues who went to grad school for psychology and has gone to work trying to help others via social work. All fine and dandy, but as George Carlin famously pointed out, few things are both fine AND dandy. The problem here is when psychology and the scads of diagnoses that come with it begin to get applied everywhere. It’s become part of her MO to identify everyone’s neuroses, both major and minor. A question I’m asking more and more is “When does the seeking become the suffering?” Well, when she started diagnosing my cat with depression, I figured that line had been crossed.
These systems of explanation (religion, philosophy, perception, worldview) are great and help us poor little human animals make sense of a complex and scary world. It can even go a long way to helping us feel less frustrated with others and find some compassion in the chasm between us: “Mercury is retrograde right now, so I understand why you threw the computer out the window.” But. It also puts people into a claustrophobic system and doesn’t leave room for surprise, amusement, spontaneity, and the unexpected: “You mean your computer is working just fine? But, I don’t understand. Mercury is retrograde!” A bit of a ridiculous example, but I think you get the gist. Lots of philosophies work just fine until we apply them to actual humans, not hypothetical, abstract humans.
And this is the brick wall we’re all going to run up against in our quest for human perfection, whatever that means for you. In a Paleo sense, all of us will be befuddled, flummoxed, and disappointed if we keep returning to Paleo for answers to everything. I’m sure we all know someone who didn’t get the results they wanted when they wanted them from Paleo and made the leap in logic that “Paleo just doesn’t work.”
The opposite trap is that Paleo, in my view, has so much in its favor. Aside from the real-time observations in indigenous cultures and hunter-gatherer groups who’ve aided our understanding, we have mf-ing EVOLUTION on our side, FFS! That’s hard to argue with. It’s like trying to argue with Oprah or something, too formidable of a task. In a real sense, Paleo is the study of what is intrinsically human. Anything that falls outside that framework is just silly garbage that we humans make up to amuse ourselves. The very rightness of it is what makes it hard to soften our hold on it. It doesn’t leave much room for anything else. So I say, if you find yourself bound and gagged with Paleo, let it go. Not Paleo—it’s the best we’ve got—but the idea of Paleo.
Harris’s worms made me realize something quite sad about humanity: We are the agents of our own frailty. We don’t even understand the repercussions of the sum of millions of decisions made on our behalf that have gotten us where we are today. In an effort to live free from filth and save our family and friends from scourges like the plague and polio, we’ve gone too far in the other direction and sanitized our bodies and environments, unleashing a whole other set of miseries with far more complicated results. Our modern lives, in their constant search for comfort and security, will be the end of us. This can be true on a personal level, family level, community level, and even global level (think of the environment). What really makes me sad about this development is the sheer number of folks out there wrestling with real disease and taking a huge hit in terms of quality of life, constantly wondering “Why?” and what they can do for one iota of relief. This is dukkha on a massive scale.
My in-laws have a good friend who is nearly crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. It has gotten progressively worse and she is now on some mega-drug that prohibits her from drinking alcohol, something she really enjoyed. So she takes this drug with other potential side effects and STILL can’t stroll in a quaint little town on vacation to get ice cream. And not once has her doctor suggested anti-inflammatory measures through diet or other means that might get to the root of the problem. Multiply that by several million (maybe billion), and there’s a sense of the scope of human misery caused by the issues that Paleo strives to address.
But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. As Harris points out, even if everyone in the world went Paleo today, it wouldn’t fix all the problems. And even if it did? I promise you, we’d find something else to get all fluffed-up about. Pretty soon, we’re probably going to start racking up folks whose conditions are improved but not cured, and that doesn’t speak highly of Paleo when everyone is screaming about how it’s the savior of us all. And when someone “fails”, we can’t just assume they did something wrong. It’s far too multifactorial for that.
These are not small ideas, because without the “healing” aspect, Paleo might be just another acceptable way of eating with far less passion and dogma attached to it. But let me assure you (please note this is a rare optimistic moment for me), WE’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK. We should be passionate about it and I find that most folks are and that’s why I enjoy being a part of this Paleo community so much. But I think it can only help to understand its limitations. And I suspect, in the years to come, we’ll see Paleo zoom out a bit more to include other pressing issues facing humans. I’m already seeing the focus shift away from the minutia of nutrition to more holistic goals like better sleep and less stress. Which is good, because nutrition gets boring after a while anyway. Am I right?! (Says the nutrition blogger who writes about nutrition all the time…)
If you made it through the whole series, you win a prize!!!1!!11! My undying gratitude. You’ve lived through the effluence of my mind all week, clue me into your state of mind. Thoughts?