I hadn’t even realized that I was reading an article by the subject author, also used as a source in this hit & run piece on Atossa Araxia Abrahamian I did a while back, Myopia: Viewing Paleo-Libertarianism Through a Statist-Collectivist Lens.
This article—Misguided Nostalgia for Our Paleo Past—does make some good points, but for how long have many in the paleosphere been saying it’s not about reenactment? I feel as though I’m reading arguments that might have made some sense in 2010. Sure, there’s still lots of bright eyes out there, but they’re not the same bright eyes. Bright eyedness is a revolving door. It’s how people get involved in the first place, before they learn a few things and mature in a mode of thought whereby Paleo is an evolutionary framework for making decisions about food and other elements of a life way.
In the article, Ms. Zuk uses lactase persistence as an example of current evolution happening.
But in some groups of humans, particularly those from Northern Europe and parts of Africa, lactase—the enzyme that breaks down lactose—lingers throughout life, allowing them to take advantage of a previously unusable food source. Sverrisdóttir and her Ph.D. supervisor, Anders Götherström, study how and when this development occurred, and how it is related to the domestication of cows for their meat and milk.
And I made the same point (mentioning lactase persistence) in my post yesterday that “there’s no Paleo diet, but millions of them.” We migrated to all corners of the globe with a massive variety of food sources, fucking Hot Pockets not being one of them for anyone ever.
Then she sets up a strawman to knock down.
Given this whiplash-inducing rate of recent change, it’s reasonable to conclude that we aren’t suited to our modern lives, and that our health, our family lives, and perhaps our sanity would all be improved if we could live the way early humans did. Our bodies and minds evolved under a particular set of circumstances, the reasoning goes, and in changing those circumstances without allowing our bodies time to evolve in response, we have wreaked the havoc that is modern life.
In short, we have what the anthropologist Leslie Aiello, president of the renowned Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, called “paleofantasies.”
How many people really want to “live the way early humans did?” None that I know of, and I know one hell of a lot more paleofans than Ms. Zuk does.
Here’s the deal. While no, nobody wants reenactment, there are lots of things where a knowledge of evolutionary biology might give us pause, at least enough to slow down and think: For. Ourselves. In general: eat Real Food you usually prepare yourself; get outside and get some nature and sunshine; move around; engage yourself and others in play; develop and nurture deeper social bonds with smaller circles of friends/family; and other perfectly human things that, even until quite recently, many people have always been admonishing to some degree or another—even religious institutions. The difference is, with human evolutionary biology, anthropology and social anthropology, we now have better reasons to persuade and admonish people.
This is a very fucking good thing, Ms. Zuk! What, you’d rather have people going around saying eat real food because it’s what God created for us? And take care of your body because it’s God’s temple? And develop deep and lasting social bonds because God commanded us to fellowship and minister to others? And do right by your children because God said to train them up in the way they should go? …Or, “hey man, study biology, evolution and hunter gather societies and it all makes really good sense?”
…Huh, Ms. “evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota?”
And then there’s the other thing that gets my boxers in a bunch: implicit collectivism. That is, the notion that because we’re still evolving (lactase persistence, varied tolerance for legumes & grains, etc.), that the whole Paleo Diet thing is just nostalgic hoopla because we need to be evolving, or whatever.
In the Paleolithic, people didn’t have the scientific or medical knowledge to understand why some new adaptation was an advantage for some, a death sentence for others (eventually). They probably didn’t even notice it, because it’s the advantage that tends to reproduce itself over time and those without it just fade away. It becomes the new norm over far longer timescales than a human life—or even many generations, and so nobody really notices.
But because we’re all collectivists, now, agitating to design a specific diet, social structure and human life for one and all that scales to 7 billion individuals (from HG tribes of 30-60 in various regions all over the globe), we yell “STOP! don’t go there!” when someone suggests that maybe those of us with an inkling of scientific knowledge into human evolution and biology might just not want to throw ourselves on the sword of human evolution for the good of societal and biological evolution.
Here’s the deal: you’re either lactose tolerant or you’re not. If you’re not it will give you anything from an upset tummy to raging, life threatening diarrhea. You’re either coeliac or you’re not and if you’re not, you may tolerate gluten and other grains just fine so far as you know, you may have a slight sensitivity where if you eliminate them you feel better, or grains may cause undetected systemic inflammation and hyperphagy that only becomes apparent when you eliminate them and lose the red puffy itchy face and begin dropping weight spontaneously…as many of Dr. William Davis’ patients and readers of his book have found: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.
I can’t help but read an article like that and come away with the impression: ‘STOP! I’m just getting into this field and it was all predicated upon me being your authority! You’re really fucking ruining it for me!’
And in the end, isn’t it really always about authority and who has the upper hand in that scheme? Being an authority is an effective way to earn a living because even in the vaunted paleosphere, there are still plenty of people looking only to be told what to do, all of what to do and nothing but what to do. That’s why I always have my work cut out for me. To the extent I’m any authority at all for anyone, it’s the valid, necessary authority of telling you that you’re OK, that you can figure this stuff out. …That it’s simple as it should be, that you can do it just like any animal in the wild, and you will do it with just a bit of attention to the generalities and details. All the information is at your fingertips. So, onward.