Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Longing For Primitive Life

I am certainly not the only one who has noticed that people seem to be anxiously awaiting the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse narrative has always been popular, present in nearly every religion and mythos, from the book of Revelation to Ragnarok.
(Image Source)

(Image Source)

              I totally understand where this comes from. In the world of today, the information overload can be overbearing. It's the epitome of "first world probs," but is indeed a real phenomenon. We feel like we need this vast trove of technology, and in many cases we do need it, at least if we want to accomplish certain things. Information Overload has been linked to depression and anxiety, which are two of the most common afflictions for Americans. (Along with obesity and Freedom overload.) The definition of Information Overload, according to my Computer Science textbook, is:

"Information overload refers to individuals and organizations’ inability to cope with the huge and growing amount of information being collected, stored, analyzed, and delivered."

        This article (George Foy, Psychology Today, 2013) points out that we are constantly taking in millions of bits of data, and we can't possibly process everything. Foy says: 

 "Look at the facts. We register, through our senses, 13 million bits of information every second. [1] Of those, we are consciously aware of one to three. Virtually every second of our waking life we take in a barrage of manmade information, mostly visual and aural: 34 gigabytes worth, [2] according to recent research at UC San Diego, equivalent to 100,000 words daily, or almost a quarter of Tolstoy's massive War and Peace."  

      We just aren't designed to take this much information all at once. However, our teachers, bosses, and clients all expect us to be able to recite the relevant bits of data to them when necessary, and we want to be able to do so.  We need to be able to do so. We usually are able to, but our responsibilities become our whole life in the process, and we end up stuck in a rut which often leads to depression and anxiety. 
For the first few million years of Hominid (Man and his ancestors) history, we were hunter gatherers. Anything even resembling modern life accounts for an unimaginably tiny period of time. Our bodies and minds are therefore still optimized for the natural world, that which is outside of "Civilization". Our sedentary lifestyle is literally killing us en-masse.  On "The Art of Manliness," there was recently an article about this topic, comparing sedentary life to being a zoo animal. That article says everything I would want to say on the topic better, and I suggest anyone reading this should read that instead. (Or also...) This is why the apocalypse narrative is so popular, it reminds us of our primal roots. This why having dogs is good for your mental health, and why primitive camping, hiking, and otherwise cultivating ancient, outdoorsy, "Manly"(1.) skills is so important. We are able to feel more self-sufficient when we have these skills and experiences, leading to confidence. 
          Skills tend to generalize; the same neural paths that allow us to make a working spit to roast food allow us to solve math problems. The same motivation techniques that we use to drag ourselves the last couple hundred feet over a mountain can get us through final exams. John Muir knew what he was talking about when he said:
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul. Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

So, I ask you reader, to develop a skill. Prepare for the apocalypse, if that is what gets you moving. Go hiking, cut some wood, hunt, fish or grow your own food. Reload ammo, restore a car, fix your leaky sink, just do something to challenge you, and prove to yourself, and only to yourself, that you don't need all the trappings of society to survive. The challenges of the natural world will teach you to solve, appreciate, and learn from the challenges of the technological world, where the world seems to revolve around us. Our grades, our jobs, the buildings we live in, all are centered around us. In nature, we are just part of the world, not the center of it. Go forth, and learn that you are a small part of a big picture, and be happy with that. 

1.) "Man" (and derivatives) is used at several points in this writing, it is used in the anthropological sense referring to "humans". Everything I said would apply to women equally. 

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