Well, you have to start somewhere. Why not at the beginning? In the beginning there was earth and a whole load of evolution going on. Then, after millions and millions and millions of years, there was mankind. More millions of years later, or rather 200,000 years ago there was what seems to be our first common ancestor. Homo Sapiens had arrived at the scene. If you want to know all the evolutionary nitty gritty, please check out this timeline. In the grant scheme of things we have only been on earth for a hiccup in time. Genetically, we have not changed much since then. In fact, there are hardly any animals on this planet who still are so extremely similar to each other after all that time, as we are.
However, the circumstances in which most of live in the developed world have changed dramatically since that time.
I don’t know whether ‘developed’ is such a good denominator, since I most of the time see much evidence of underdeveloped ethics, but the ‘western’ doesn’t fit the bill either. Neither does ‘civilised’, not at all. Maybe ‘industrialised’ is the best world for it. You probably get the picture. Let’s move on.From being cave dwellers we came to live in houses, mansions sometimes. We rarely experience heat or cold stress anymore, because we have central heating and air conditioning. We changed our foraging habits from hunting and gathering via growing our own crops and raising our own cattle to gathering our food in supermarkets. Many people do not have a clue as to where their food is coming from. And often they prefer it that way. We went from not being sure when our next proper meal was going to be to not ever going hungry anymore. Some go further than that and chronically overeat. We have never had as many obese people around as there are nowadays. Originally we had to collect water as well. Today we just turn on the tap and, look at that, clean water! Not that we drink it. We often prefer beverages that contain all kinds of chemicals, both for flavour and colour, etcetera. It is a far stretch from what our earliest ancestors would call a proper drink. We as a race have never been as dehydrated as we are now.
Then there’s the matter of work. We used to do work that was directly related to our survival: looking for shelter, hunting animals and fish, gathering vegetables, fruit and eggs, preparing food. These sort of things. Modern man goes to work from nine to five or longer, gets money for that, which pays for his basic needs and all the other stuff he’d like to have. So that is a 40 hour work week (not counting any overtime), then all the work around the house that still needs to be done after you get home. If you’re lucky it will probably add up to, let’s say, 60 to 70 hours a week. What if I told you that early man had an estimated work week of 15 to 17 hours. How do we know? Well, there are still some tribes who live in the way we all used to, so their work week pretty much sums it up. So in fact, it seems that our ancestors had way more time off than we have. So, if you look at it that way, it seems we have paid heavily for all our luxuries.
Quantity or quality of life?
‘But early man didn’t really grow old either’, I hear you say. True, we have a way higher life expectancy these days. But does that really tell us anything? Knowing that many more babies died at or around birth and those that did survive often didn’t make it through infancy would bring average life expectancy down, while not saying anything about the age an early ancestral adult would reach. What is a fact that we, with our high life expectancy, do not have a high quality of life expectancy. Did you know that women may expect to live to 83 years of age, but they can only expect a bit over 40 years of health out of these? So in other words, they will experience chronic illness for about 43 years of lives. Men are a bit better off. On average, they live about 80 years, of which 48 years will be healthy and, as a result, 31 years will be marked by chronic disease. The cause of death between now and then also differs radically. Then you would die because your prey didn’t agree with being your dinner or you would die of an infection that we could nowadays cure with antibiotics. Things like that. Nowadays, you are most likely to die of an none infectious disease, like cancer, cardiovascular disorder, so more the kin of ailments that take a long while in developing and are very often lifestyle related.
I guess that you know what I’m getting at. To understand where a lot of our current issues are coming from, it is important to know where we came from. And that is from a whole different place than we live in now. Maybe a good and hard look will give us some insights that we can started working from. I am not saying that we should all go back to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. I don’t think that is even an option anymore. But what we can do is take the elements that are easily implementable and start changing our lifestyle from there.
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