How Modern Society's Disregard for Our InbornNatures is Destroying Human Happiness
(a work in progress)
We who live in the 21st century currently enjoy the greatest personal wealth, the most plentiful food, the most effective medical care, and the longest average life-spans in human history, yet a shockingly large number of us are desperately unhappy. Hundreds of studies by medical and social scientists confirm that happiness and satisfaction in today’s world is seriously undermined by an epidemic of chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness that is without precedent in human history.
Seeking relief from these psychological torments, we have tried to find solace in pleasure-giving foods, psychoactive drugs, and the artificial companionship of electronic devices. But our growing addiction to these panaceas has actually made things worse, because our overconsumption of foods, drugs, and electronic communications has itself created a host of new problems. These problems include dramatic increases in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and drug addiction—as well as a long list of physical and emotional disorders from which we are suffering in increasing numbers.
This book explains how the unnatural lifestyles made possible by modern technologies have led to the widespread destruction of human happiness. But first, in order to understand the origins and nature of this paradox, it is necessary to appreciate the degree to which humans had adapted to their natural environments throughout the long history of our species’ evolution.
Our prehistoric ancestors spent their lives hunting wild game and gathering plant foods, wandering endlessly in search of new supplies of food, sheltering in caves or in primitive huts, and staying warm and safe near their ever-burning campfires. Armed with simple tools and weapons and protected from the elements by little more than temporary dwellings made from vegetation and crude clothing made from animal hides, prehistoric humans pursued essentially the same nomadic hunting and gathering way of life for nearly a million years.
It was only a few thousand years ago that humanity developed an entirely new way of life based on agriculture and settled down to live in enduring houses and permanent communities. The abandonment of hunting and gathering eventually led to the emergence of cities—and ultimately to the rise of civilization and large-scale societies that have flourished throughout the inhabited world for most of the past 5,000 years. Finally, only a few hundred years ago, the industrial revolution catapulted the earth’s human population to more than a thousand times its original size.
Industrialization has not only destroyed most of the earth’s wilderness habitats but has so radically transformed human environments that the vast majority of us no longer live in the natural world. Instead, we now spend most of our lives living in the unnatural environments of concrete, steel, and glass. This book will explain how the disconnect between our inherited human natures and our artificial lifestyles and environments is destroying human happiness.
Hunters and Gatherers in the Natural World
Humanity's Natural Way of Life Has Gradually Disappeared
The Plentiful Evidence of a Universal Human Nature
The Disconnect Between Human Nature and Modern Life
Neural Adaptation: How the Brain Adjusts to Unnatural Conditions
Social Acceptance: The Power of Other People’s Perceptions
Many behaviors that are found in all human societies are unique to the human species, including the use of fire and the cooking of food, a complex spoken language, religious worship, singing and dancing, and our uniquely human expressions of emotion. These and other universal human behaviors show that we have all inherited a definable human nature that evolved during our species’ long history as hunters and gatherers, but our human natures never evolved to harmonize with the unnatural world of modern industrial society. Yet we go through life with little or no awareness of this disharmony, because the human brain naturally adapts to almost any condition as long as it is persistent—and accepts the perceptions of the people around us, even when they fly in the face of reality.
Stress, Anxiety, Loneliness, and Depression is the New Normal
The Loss of Freedom and Autonomy
The Loss of Human Companionship
The Shock of Change
The Culture Wars
Predictions of Apocalyptic Doom
The New Normal: Chronic Anxiety and Stress
While advanced technologies have bestowed numerous benefits on humankind, they have also created significant hazards to our psychological well-being, including the loss of personal freedom and autonomy, the loss of human companionship, a mental life drowning in information overload, the shock of rapid and continuous change, pervasive culture wars, and an environment poisoned by pollutants that affect our minds and emotions. The result is unprecedented levels of chronic anxiety and stress in the world’s most technologically advanced societies.
Chapter 3: Unnatural Work
Employment as a Form of Servitude
Hunter-Gatherers at Work and Play
Drudgery and the Agricultural Revolution
The Servitude of Industrial Employment
Boredom, Insecurity, Anxiety, Overwork, and Burnout
When anthropologists began to study the working life of hunting and gathering societies, they were astonished to find that even in the harshest environment, people spent less than twenty hours a week hunting and foraging for the food they needed—and spent the rest of their daylight hours socializing, making things, playing, relaxing, and partying. But with the coming of the industrial revolution, a new type of society arose, built on the premise of employment for wages. In industrial society, the vast majority of people depend for their livelihoods on doing specific jobs for near-strangers. As a result, the average wage-earner has no option other than employment, since the loss of employment ultimately means the loss of food, shelter, clothing, and status in society. Yet for the majority of adults, their working lives are characterized by chronic boredom, insecurity, anxiety, overwork, and burnout.
Chapter 4: Unnatural Sleep
Artificial Light, Unnatural Schedules,
Sleep Deprivation, and Chronic Insomnia
Sunrise, Sunset, and the Moon
Sleeping With Fire and Staying Up Late
Lamplight, Candlelight, and Electric Lights
Sleep and the Clockwork Society
Putting Sleep Last
The Risks of Inadequate Sleep
When the industrial revolution replaced the dim, flickering light of fires, lamps, and candles with the artificial daylight of electric lighting, the sleep centers in the human brain ceased to take their cues from the rising and setting of the sun. Instead, humanity quickly lost its ancient connection to the celestial rhythms of daylight and darkness that govern the behavior of all other forms of terrestrial life. No longer connected to these natural rhythms, human sleep has taken a back seat not only to the demands of work but also to the temptations of social life and electronic entertainment. As a result, sleep disorders have become commonplace and chronic, and the unnatural patterns of sleep in modern life have reached the point where they now pose a serious risk to human health.
Chapter 5: Unnatural Eating
Ruining Our Health by Finding Comfort in Food
Overfed Yet Malnourished
Chemical Additives and Food-Like Substances
Shunning Red Meat and Other Food Taboos
Sugar and Salt, Oil and Fat
The Wages of Obesity
Many of the foods that dominate the modern diet are eaten not so much to sustain life as to provide comfort in the midst of unhappiness. It is human nature to crave sweet and salty foods, as well as meats rich in fats and oils, because such foods, while essential to human health, existed in limited supply in our ancestors’ natural environments. But now that they are produced in massive quantities by industrial agriculture, these foods have become both plentiful and inexpensive.
Foods that are unnaturally rich
in sugar, salt, oil, and fat are marketed relentlessly and sold in prodigious
quantities—and the result is an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and
cardiovascular disease without precedent in human history. Since people are
aware that their dietary habits are both unnatural and unhealthy, modern societies
have embraced a bewildering variety of diets and food taboos—yet many of these
diets are actually depriving their adherents of foods that are essential to
proper health. Meanwhile, obesity and malnutrition continue to increase without
Chapter 6: Unnatural Medicine
Drugging the Mind and Enriching Big Pharma
Big Pharma and the Great Coronavirus Pandemic
Treating Normal Emotions With Psychoactive Drugs
Drug Addiction, Legal and Illegal
Drugging Children to Make Them Behave
Drugging Adults to Blunt the Pain of Their Unhappy Lives
Modern medicine has found cures for infectious diseases, developed effective treatments for wounds and infections that used to be fatal, and greatly extended the average human life span. But in recent decades the pharmaceutical industry—as well as large segments of medical practice—has become corrupted by the massive profits gained from the wholesale prescribing and sale of anti-viral vaccinations and psychoactive drugs to entire populations, while the demand for the more powerful intoxicants—such as opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamines—has spawned a multi-billion-dollar international criminal enterprise. Tens of thousands of Americans currently die every year by overdosing on both legal and illegal opioids and methamphetamines.
overmedication by psychiatric drugs is now commonplace in medical practice—not
only for a vast range of psychological problems but also for the feelings and behaviors
that are the natural reactions to the unnatural conditions of daily life. To a
degree that would have been unfathomable to earlier generations, modern
society’s use of psychoactive drugs to control emotions has become accepted as
normal. In fact, a large and growing segment of our population—including both
children and adults—have become not only legal drug users but are now, in every
sense of the word, the victims of medically-approved drug addiction.
Chapter 7: Unnatural Communication
Seeking Human Companionship in Electronic Media
The Human Need for Communication
Communication in Small-Scale Societies
How Agriculture Limited Human Interaction
How the Industrial Revolution Stifled Human Interaction
Filling the Void With Electronic Communications
Addicted to Social Media
The innate human need for constant communication with others is part of our human DNA. Not surprisingly, anthropologists have consistently reported that people in tribal societies talk to each other constantly from morning to night. But the long hours and isolated homesteads of agricultural societies made interaction outside of the immediate family more difficult, and the advent of the industrial revolution stifled interaction even within the family. Men went to work, children went to school, and women stayed home. In our post-industrial world, loneliness and solitude have become endemic in modern societies. As a result, the natural human desire for companionship and communication has produced a series of technologies that have largely replaced the companionship and face-to-face communication that humanity enjoyed for all but the last hundred years of human history.
Chapter 8: Unnatural Childhood
Growing Up in Captivity
Childhood Was Once a Time of Freedom
Adult Supervision, Structured Routines, and Social Isolation
Excessively Schooled and Starved for Play
Walled Off From the Adult World
The Educational Establishment and the Failure to Mature
Almost Endless Adolescence
How Age Segregation Destroys Cultural Traditions
Childhood in tribal societies was a time of freedom, exploration, daily exposure to adult life and adult role models, and intense interaction with other children. But children in modern society are raised in virtual captivity. Their movements are confined, their interactions are limited, and their lives are highly structured from morning to night. In school, children sit for much of the day in their assigned seats, mostly prohibited from interacting with their peers and forbidden to engage in the play activities that are so essential for normal physical and social development. They are typically segregated from children older or younger than themselves—which chokes off the normal flow of values, attitudes, and traditions from one age group to another. They have limited contact with the adult world—so that, upon coming of age, they will enter adulthood ignorant of its dangers and unprepared for its temptations. For all of these reasons, children in our society typically struggle—often without success—to adopt meaningful adult roles and develop authentic adult personalities.
Chapter 9: Unnatural Old Age
The Loss of Relevance, Prestige, and Self-Esteem
The Obsolete Generation
Retired from Life and Marginalized in the Family
Living Longer, Enjoying it Less
Loneliness at the End of Life
It was not that long ago that the rare individuals who lived into old age were valued as vital sources of experience and wisdom, and they were generally treated with respect and deference. But in our fast-changing society, the elderly have become marginalized, because most of their knowledge and experience has become obsolete. In modern society, older people continue to pursue their traditional role as caretakers for their grandchildren, but their roles as teachers, guides, and repositories of cultural wisdom has withered almost to nonexistence. And far too often, their lives come to an end not in the bosom of loving families but instead in the sterile, lonely, and solitary confines of nursing homes and hospitals.
Chapter 10: The Disappearing Family
Weakened Roles and Broken Relationships
The Ancient Human Family
Clans, Kinfolk, and The Nuclear Family
The Disappearance of Family Life
How Mothers and Fathers Lost Their Traditional Roles
The Diaspora of the Family
Family Responsibilities Versus the Obligations of the Nation-State
Homeless Amid Plenty
For nearly all of human history, the family—especially the extended family of parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents—has been the bedrock of human society. But in modern times this bedrock has been crumbling. Traditional family roles have fallen by the wayside, and the sharing of work, wealth, and property among family members has become increasingly obsolete, Many modern people now live with only minimal contact with their families—and some live without even a meaningful connection to society at large. In recent decades, the nation-state has assumed the primary responsibility for the welfare, protection, and support of its citizens. Has the human family finally become obsolete?
Chapter 11: The Quest for a More Natural Life
Restoring Harmony Between Modern Society and Human Nature
Respecting the Need For Sleep
Liberating the Young
Reinventing the Family
Eating More Naturally
Reducing Dependence on Psychoactive Drugs
Rediscovering the Art of Human Communication
Reconnecting With Nature
Our technology-based world is here to stay. Civilization is not going to devolve back into some form of preindustrial way of life, because that is not what people want. Yet in a world where happiness, satisfaction, and the simple pleasures of life are in short supply, the thirst for change is strong. By carefully exploring, analyzing, and comprehending our human natures—and by understanding the changes in modern culture that have stifled and frustrated our natural human needs—modern society can chart a path to the creation of new cultural traditions. By doing so, we can restore much of the harmony that has been lost between our inherited human natures and the technological world that we have created and begin to restore the human happiness that we are tragically now in the process of losing.