Last year, I read two books by author Laurence Gonzales. The first is a book titled “Deep Survival”. The basic premise of that book suggests there are innate characteristics in people that either a) predispose them to be survivors, or b) predispose them to be destroyed by their environment. The book is much more complex than those simple statements, though, and much of the research is based on extreme circumstances that often could have been avoided with proper preparation and some forethought.
The second book is titled “Everyday Survival”. The tag line for this book is “why smart people do stupid things”. This book takes a more general view of how human beings have survived to become the most dominant species on this planet. In this book, Gonzales also questions the physical and psychological systems that have evolved to sustain life on this planet, and he investigates the role human beings play in the functioning of the universe. The main premise of this book is that human beings have evolved to believe we can control the environment around us, and that we are somehow separate from and superior to the other inhabitants and processes that make up our “known, physical reality”.
Gonzales uses this book to caution against what he calls a “vacation state of mind”. At some point in our evolution, human beings forgot how to exist symbiotically with the environment around us, and adopted the mindset that we are in control of “our” environment and can bend the forces of nature to our will whenever we desire. “Everday Survival” explains how terribly wrong we are.
As I worked my way through this book, more and more questions came to mind, and I became more and more frustrated with the evidence Gonzales presented. As a species, are we really re-programming ourselves to on such a grand scale? Are we truly forgetting how to interact positively and effectively with the natural environment? Have we really convinced ourselves of the foolish notion that we are the literal and metaphorical center of the universe, despite all the contradictory evidence? How did we get so confused, and how did we get this far off-track?
In modern, industrial society, we have constructed a series of boxes that now exist as our “natural environment”. You wake up in your boxy bed, in your boxy house. You find your food in an artificially cooled box, then you cook your food on another box using flame-less fire. Then you drive your boxy car to your boxy office, and spend the next eight hours staring at a your boxy computer on top of your boxy desk. Then the whole process reverses itself, and you end your day staring at another flashing box for a few hours before you fall back into your boxy bed in your boxy bedroom. Like a vast majority of modern humans, you never experienced hunger or danger or pain. You are essentially numb to the world around you, because every day, life unfolds “the way it is supposed to”, and you are never presented with the opportunity to question that fact or challenge that fact or deviate from the simple, stepwise processes we have created for ourselves. Seriously, what are we doing to ourselves?
Not only is the lifestyle causing our brains to devolve, it is slowly diminishing the value of anything that could be called our “soul”, as well as conditioning human beings to exist without consciously and mindfully interacting with the world around them. Our bodies are wasting away from eating nutrient-deficient foods, not engaging in enough physical activity, and lack of stimulation from (and interaction with) our environment. All out little boxes keep us well-protected, and so we are never provided the opportunity to question our mortality, or test the limits of our physical bodies, or employ our mind to work our way through complex intellectual problems.
What does it mean for our species if the premise of this book is true? What will happen if we continue down the path we are currently on? The picture looks a bit dim, but we still have the opportunity to change our course. How do you stay connected with the natural world, and what are some benefits that you derive from spending time away from the hustle and bustle of modern life? What do you do to get that jolt of epinephrine that let’s you know you are alive? How do you remind yourself of your place in the Universe? Drop a comment, and tell me how you keep your mind right in the modern world. Until next time…