Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shades of gray

There are a thousand ways that we have been fine-tuned by our evolutionary past, and even much of our individual uniqueness—the way we color our world, for example—may have its source in the adaptation to life in Paleolithic band society.

Around 8% of males are colorblind.  Why?

It turns out that a side-effect of the most common form of color weakness is an enhanced ability to see through camouflage.  So you are someone we want along on the hunt because you can more easily spot the deer hiding in the bushes.  And at an 8% population frequency, even relatively small groups are likely to have at least one guy with enhanced deer-spotting ability. 

Just keep him away from the berry bushes.

We are “hardwired” for lifestyles and community conditions quite unlike those we experience in 21st century urban society, and our lives are impoverished as a result of the mismatch.   In addition to living surrounded by people we don’t know, our daily activity is directed in ways that bear very little resemblance to the activities our ancestors’ lives were organized around.  Paleolithic humans would simply not be able to comprehend spending large portions of time working at a job in which we allow ourselves to be ordered to perform tasks that have no direct bearing on any of our human needs, many of which run directly counter to our larger human interests.  It would be inconceivable from the perspective of our Paleolithic ancestors that we would choose to spend a considerable proportion of our “free time” interacting with technology and material artifacts, and engaged in otherwise artificially constructed experiences that undermine our physical health and stunt our intellectual and emotional growth.  Most of our goals, both short-term and long-term goals, are not really our own in that we did not freely choose them and their pursuit serves our human needs and interests in only very indirect and superficial ways.  By coercing us to serve the “needs” and “interests” of the corporate political and economic system—the machine—modern civilization alienates us from our humanity, and forces us to live lives that are radically disconnected from our evolved natures. 

And there are consequences.  The alienation of modern civilization is reflected in numerous ways, including widespread discontent, angst, anomie, chronic anxiety, depression, obesity, heart disease, substance use and abuse, addiction of every sort, sexual dysfunction, sexual abuse, suicide, and homicide, just to list a few.

As for those 8%, colorblindness has little meaning because concrete and asphalt come in an unlimited variety of shades of gray.  

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