Urban Cavemen (Living Life out of Balance)

Balance: A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements

In early 2000, I was walking through Manhattan with three friends on our way to meet a fourth member of our party. This was well before cell phones had become so completely pervasive but still, I was the only one in our group without one. I sarcastically commented on this and was prompted mocked as a Luddite. Then it was on to the essential business of figuring out how to meet up with friend #4.

Out came a cell phone. A call was placed to another cell phone. A meeting place was agreed upon and we were on our way. Friend #1 hung up his phone and turned to me, declaring that this was “one of those times” when a cell phone was indispensable. To which I replied:

“If we didn’t have access to your cell phone or any cell phones at all, we would’ve been simply been more creative in order to come up with a plan that would’ve gotten all of us together without a major hassle. Instead, the phone made us lazy because we knew we could just wing it. Instead of problem-solving, we opted for reliance on consumer electronics.”

A similar rant, of course, could realistically be applied to calculators. Not to mention, the spell-check function on your computer, most software programs in general, and yeah…the computer itself. We no longer have to learn how to spell or remember phone numbers or do math in our heads or memorize directions or even walk up a single flight of stairs. Thanks to the marvels of industrial civilization, we happily delegate such tedious tasks to technology so we can have time to focus on the truly important stuff, like…um…well…uh…removing 90% of the large fish from the ocean, perhaps?

Harmony: Agreement in feeling or opinion

We each possess a physiology that evolved to negotiate the Stone Age. Unfortunately, we live in the Space Age. There’s the rub. We are urban cavemen — overmatched in our daily battle to navigate an artificial reality because we have lost contact with our instincts.

“Pediatricians nowadays see fewer kids with broken bones from climbing trees and more children with longer-lasting repetitive-stress injuries, which are related to playing video games and typing at keyboards,” writes Sally Deneen at The Daily Green. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, calls this “nature deficit disorder.” As a fourth-grader quoted in Louv’s book explains: “I like to play indoors better, because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Nature deficit disorder is obviously not a medical term; it’s more of a social trend, a trend that plays in factoids like this: American children between the ages of 8 to 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day indoors using computers, video games, television, and MP3 players.

The payoff for all this spectatorship is a lifestyle based on imitation, competition, materialism, and self-delusion. The dominant culture keeps us inactive while our biology desires movement. The dominant culture sells us junk food while our bodies crave nutrients. The dominant culture trains us to be obedient while our minds yearn for freedom. The dominant culture teaches conformity while our souls demand individuality. The dominant culture denies our biology and puts us out of balance with nature.

Among many others things, it can be posited that we did not evolve to experience artificial light after sundown, live inside four walls under that artificial light, eat processed and refined food products, ingest chemicals and pharmaceuticals, sleep during the day and stay up all night, drive cars, travel in an airplane across time zones with such rapidity, become obese, remain sedentary, consume animal flesh or mammary secretions, usurp our immune system with toxic vaccines, exist on a man-made time schedule, be surrounded by copious human-induced electromagnetic radiation, climb giant mountains, travel to space or underwater, wear shoes or eyeglasses, lift weights and develop hypertrophied muscles, exist without community, give birth lying down, live in a world devoid of top soil and nutrient-rich food, smoke cigarettes, be hyper-exposed to toxic pesticides, endure global warming and the greenhouse effect, use cosmetics, or manage the high level of stress and noise that is synonymous with our so-called progress.

Koyaanisqatsi…this is what the Kogi Indians of Colombia call “life out of balance” and this is what we have created as our culture. When I say “culture,” I am referring to what Jason Miller calls “the pitiless, soulless, murderous machine of capitalism and industrial civilization inculcates, indoctrinates, entices, bribes, and coerces nearly everyone to participate in its bloody, rapacious, and relentless assault on the Earth and its sentient inhabitants.” This culture has quickly fucked up the entire planet. So much so that the elusive Kogi have issued a warning to us, their Younger Brothers.

Equilibrium: A condition in which all acting influences are canceled by others, resulting in a stable, balanced, or unchanging system

Even the eyes of veteran activists glaze over when I talk about 80% of the world’s forest being gone. They want to debate the latest political minutia while all life on this planet is under relentless assault. It’s cliché to declare that our problems cannot be solved by the same type of thinking that created them. Cliché but accurate. Elections, legislation, protests, petitions, and so on will not stop the flow of pesticides or the use of nuclear power or the glorification of war and its volunteer soldiers or our culture’s relentless march toward total destruction.

Life on Earth is out of balance. Corporations, politicians, judges, cops, and soldiers can’t fix this. In fact, most of them can’t even perceive the imbalance. The change has to come from somewhere else. The change will come from somewhere else, of that we can be sure. The details of outcome, however, are far less certain.

Symbiosis: A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence

One final note, on the medium by which I have shared these thoughts: The aforementioned Kogi have no written language. In part, this is to assure they remember. They talk, they pass down stories, and they remember. “The Kogi attach great importance to memory,” explain the editors of Ode Magazine. “The memory of events with which the community has been confronted, the memory of social regulations within the group and so forth. ‘Memory,’ they say, ‘is like eyes which were made to see. If they close, everything becomes darkness.’ For them, this memory cannot be written down, it must be spoken, passed down by members of the group. In writing, memories are separated from the people and lose their effectiveness.”

So, I ask: what memories are we creating and what are we doing to ensure there will be someone left to appreciate and remember them?

Synergy: Cooperative interaction among groups

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. George said on August 3rd, 2009 at 9:20am #

    What do you think your original caveman ate if not animal flesh?
    Broccoli with tofu?

  2. j.f. mamjja said on August 3rd, 2009 at 12:54pm #

    George, what would you eat if you no longer had access to cowflesh, pigflesh and chickenflesh? Think about it, don’t just whip out a pat answer.

  3. Raven Uchida said on August 3rd, 2009 at 5:25pm #

    The soil eats animals. The soil grows fruits and veggies. Everyone consumes animals. You don’t remove yourself from the circle just because you lie to yourself.

  4. Steve said on August 3rd, 2009 at 7:19pm #

    Another winner Mickey! I’m familiar with the Kogi and they’re absolutely right!

  5. lichen said on August 3rd, 2009 at 7:50pm #

    No, everyone does not “eat animals,” and you are at fault if you participate in killing animals for food, and killing the earth in the process. Plant-based diets are much more environmentally friendly and ethical. It is reactionary to idolize indigenous people, and suggest that not only do we have to become sustainable, but convert to Kogi fundamentalist religions and their right wing social structures in order to save the planet.

  6. Chris said on August 3rd, 2009 at 10:40pm #

    The author Mickey Z. has some interesting albeit unoriginal points. Societies of humans always have and always will embrace technology without question if it makes their lives easier. I personally don’t accept the theory that because of technology we are therefore dooming the planet. Dooming humankind very possibly but the planet Earth, no. That kind of thinking is way too egomaniacal. What will be the downfall of the human species, like any species, is over population. At best we will be able to limit the devastation.
    One would be led to believe that our current financial crisis is one born from greed and poor banking practices. In reality, it is nothing more than a resource crisis. Get used to it. Bankers are scarcely able to control nature any more than a biologist.
    And quit worrying about the planet. The one great and true thing about nature is “IT DOESN’T PLAY POLITICS!”
    Humans are pretty addaptable. When and if we get the chance, we can carry on the Kogi tradition; personally.

  7. Don Hawkins said on August 4th, 2009 at 9:32am #

    Sent this to CNBC today.

    The last book from Lovelock,

    Within “Vanishing” he posits the areas of the world that he expects to be the places where human settlement will continue to be viable. “The northern regions of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, where not inundated by the rising ocean, will remain habitable, and so will oases on the continents, mostly in mountain regions where rain or snow still fall. But the more important exceptions to this planet wide distress will be the island nations of Japan, Tasmania, New Zealand, the British Isles, and numerous smaller islands. Even in the tropics, global heating may not disable island communities such as those on the Hawaiian Islands, Taiwan, or the Philippines. The British Isles and New Zealand will be among the least affected by global heating. Their temperate oceanic position is likely to favor a climate able to sustain abundant agriculture. They will be among the lifeboats for humanity.”

    Any whispering on the street from this book?

    Don

  8. Don Hawkins said on August 4th, 2009 at 9:35am #

    Future Hope column, August 3, 2009

    James Lovelock and the End Times

    By Ted Glick

    British scientist and author James Lovelock has just had published a follow-up book to his 2006 book, “The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity.” This 2009 one is entitled, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning.” Throughout both books he presents scientific evidence to support his view that humankind has caused so much damage already to the Earth, burnt so much coal, oil and natural gas, cut down so many forests, and unthinkingly overdeveloped so many cities and towns in an environmentally destructive way that the chances are not good that we can avoid a worldwide climate catastrophe.

    Lovelock believes that the likely result of our historic, short-sighted disregard for what he calls Gaia, “a self-regulating Earth with the community of living organisms in control,” (1) is the mass die-off of 85% or more of the human population over the course of this century. Despite this severely depressing belief, he has used his considerable intellect in these two books to try to think through how we can make the best of a very bad situation.

    While generally supporting their work, he is critical of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-supported organization of 2,000 scientists who have been studying climate change since 1989. He is critical of them for underestimating the severity of climate change.

    One example he uses of this failing is the forecast by the IPCC of a range of possibilities as to how much sea level would rise up to 2007. The forecast for the most amount of rise was less than what actually occurred. Another major example is what has been happening to Arctic sea ice. Lovelock points out that “the discrepancy is huge” between what was predicted and what has actually happened; “if melting continues at this rate the summer Arctic Ocean will be almost ice-free within fifteen years. The IPCC prediction suggests that this is unlikely before 2050.” (2)

    I was glad to see Lovelock’s comparison of our situation today to that of the late ‘30s. “Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time [much like what just happened in the House of Representatives ]. . . Battle will soon be joined, and what we now face is far more deadly than any blitzkrieg. By changing the environment we have unknowingly declared war on Gaia.” (3)

    In both of his books Lovelock reviews the various major alternatives to a business-as-usual energy/economic scenario. Surprisingly, he is fiercely opposed to wind power, particularly on-land wind turbines (more on this later). He is a strong supporter of nuclear power, particularly more advanced plants that he says will produce very little radioactive waste. He believes that concentrated solar plants—what he calls solar thermal—have much potential as a replacement energy technology for fossil fuels. He has a full chapter in “Vanishing” about geoengineering; he doesn’t see the various proposals for this as “cures, since carbon dioxide would continue to increase and do damage in other ways than heating, but they could usefully provide a stay of execution while a more permanent treatment is developed.” (4)

    Surprisingly, there is virtually nothing in either book about the importance of serious energy efficiency initiatives and requirements. Given that, for the United States, estimates are that there is potential for a 30-35% or more reduction in energy use if we took conservation and efficiency seriously, this is a major failing.

    Similarly, there is little support in either book for the idea of “distributed power,” the decentralization of electrical power production via rooftop or backyard solar or small-scale wind power. Lovelock doesn’t see this approach as of value in the effort to slow our march toward climate catastrophe, and he doesn’t see it as of value to help local communities survive if that becomes our future.

    Lovelock takes his belief in Gaia to a questionable place: the belief that, as he puts it in “Vanishing,” “Independence allows me to consider the health of the Earth without the constraint that the welfare of humankind comes first.” (5) He criticizes green activists for their concern for people and asks them to “think again and see that their primary obligation is to the living Earth. Humankind comes second.” (6)

    What are his main ideas for what should be done? Nuclear power, some geoengineering to buy us some time, some carbon sequestration, a serious de-prioritization of the use of wind as an energy source, and non-wind renewables like concentrated solar plants. But “our greatest efforts should go into adaptation, to preparing those parts of the Earth least likely to be affected by adverse climate change as the safe haven for a civilized humanity.” (7)

    Early on in “Revenge” Lovelock reveals his opposition to wind power. Indeed, as he explains on pps. 150-151, it was a proposal to build a wind farm in the countryside close to his home in late 2003 that “awakened me to the dangers” of imminent environmental change due to global heating. Lovelock’s account of how this “awakened my fury” reminded me of the opposition by the Kennedy family and other upper-class residents of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to plans to build an ocean-based wind farm off the coast because it would supposedly spoil their views of the ocean.

    I was personally struck by the fact that it was in the fall of 2003 that this wind farm proposal galvanized Lovelock to seriously take up the global heating issue. It was in the summer of 2003 that something similar happened to me but for a different reason. For me, it was the death of 30,000 people during an unprecedented western European heat wave.

    Lovelock minces no words when it comes to his view of humankind, which may help to explain his “earth first, humans second” worldview. “The idea that humans are yet intelligent enough to serve as stewards of the Earth is among the most hubristic ever.” (8) He believes that “we are over six billion hungry and greedy individuals,” (9) not exactly a generous or objective perspective on humankind.

    This pessimistic view of human nature is consistent with his belief that the explosion of population across the globe—a “plague of people” (10) as he describes it—is a primary reason for our environmental plight. “It is not simply too much carbon dioxide in the air or the loss of bio-diversity as forests are cleared; the root cause is too many people, their pets, and their livestock—more than the Earth can carry.” (11)

    Nowhere in Lovelock’s books is there any hint that the climate crisis might have something to do with the huge profits and power that have come from corporate control of oil, as well as coal and natural gas. In his view, “we are all the demons,” (12) as if the poor peoples of Africa, Latin America and Asia, not to mention low-income people in the countries of the Global North, are as responsible for our plight as those Exxon executives who have funded think-tanks for years with the explicit purpose of trying to deny the reality of global heating.

    Lovelock sums up his view of the future toward the end of “Revenge:” “I think we have little option but to prepare for the worst and assume that we have already passed the threshold. Like paramedics, their first priority is to keep the patient, civilization, alive during the journey to a world that at least is no longer undergoing rapid change. We face unrestrained heat, and its consequences will be with us within no more than a few decades.” (13)

    The one place where he puts a number on future world population is in “Revenge:” “I think we would be wise to aim at a stabilized population of about half to one billion, and then we would be free to live in many different ways without harming Gaia.” (14)

    Within “Vanishing” he posits the areas of the world that he expects to be the places where human settlement will continue to be viable. “The northern regions of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, where not inundated by the rising ocean, will remain habitable, and so will oases on the continents, mostly in mountain regions where rain or snow still fall. But the more important exceptions to this planet wide distress will be the island nations of Japan, Tasmania, New Zealand, the British Isles, and numerous smaller islands. Even in the tropics, global heating may not disable island communities such as those on the Hawaiian Islands, Taiwan, or the Philippines. The British Isles and New Zealand will be among the least affected by global heating. Their temperate oceanic position is likely to favor a climate able to sustain abundant agriculture. They will be among the lifeboats for humanity.” (15)

    What will be our gravest dangers? “Not from climate change itself, but indirectly from starvation, competition for space and resources, and war.” (16)

    Warlords? Yes, of course. “Despite all our efforts to retreat sustainably, we may be unable to prevent a global decline into a chaotic world ruled by brutal war lords on a devastated Earth.” (17)

    As far as what we do now to prepare for, in Lovelock’s view, a likely Great Catastrophe [my phrase], he has some specific and a number of general ideas.

    In “Revenge” he calls upon the leaders of his country to “make decisions based on our national interest. . . We should not wait for international agreement or instruction. In our small country we have to act now as if we were about to be attacked by a powerful enemy. We have first to make sure our defences against climate change are in place before the attack begins.” (18)

    He reiterates and amplifies in disturbing ways this recommendation for the British elite in “Vanishing:” “There will be time enough for internationalism during the stability of the long hot age. We have no option but to make the best of national cohesion and accept that war and warlords are part of it. For island havens an effective defense force will be as important as our own immune systems. Like it or not we may have to increase the size of and spending on our armed forces.” (19)

    He calls for people to begin to prepare to “move where it is safe. . . Those who leave for the cooler, still fertile regions have a better chance of surviving, and if enough of us are saved this way it could benefit Gaia as well. . . Our greatest efforts therefore should go to learning how to live as well as is feasible on the soon-to-be-diminished hot Earth.” (20)

    He analogizes the situation he believes we will be facing with a lifeboat. And by “we” it is very clear that he is writing from the perspective of a member of the British elite. “Soon we face the appalling question of whom we can let aboard the lifeboats. And whom must we reject? There will be no ducking this question for before long there will be a great clamor from climate refugees seeking a safe haven in those few parts where the climate is tolerable and food is available. Make no mistake, the lifeboat simile is apt; the same problem has faced the shipwrecked: a lifeboat will sink or become impossible to sail if too laden. The old rules I grew up with were women and children first and the captain goes down with his ship. We will need a set of rules for climate oases.” (21)

    A new set of rules. Would those rules in a world going through the Great Catastrophe be much different than the current “rules” which have given us a world where the financial assets of about 400 people, 400 billionaires, is roughly equal to the annual income of almost half of the world’s people? “Rules” under which those most responsible for global heating, the owners and CEO’s of the world’s fossil fuel companies and related industries and the politicians who do their bidding, will continue to be among the small group who make the decisions about who lives and who dies?

    Or can we create for ourselves in enough time societies governed by a new set of “rules,” a new way of organizing ourselves, a new way of living with the earth and with one another? Can we create a new way that we live as individuals, day-to-day, that builds upon the life examples and teachings of history’s great spiritual leaders, or the life examples of the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, who have come before us who gave their lives struggling and sacrificing for a better world for their descendants?

    There are many of us all around the world who believe, unlike Lovelock, that we have it in us not just to try but to have a chance of succeeding. But it’s a race against time.

  9. Don Hawkins said on August 4th, 2009 at 10:47am #

    http://radar.weather.gov/ridge/radar.php?rid=lvx&product=N0R&overlay=11101111&loop=no

    That’s the radar out of Louisville, Kentucky and the cars are floating in the streets not to mention Churchill Downs is under water and more rain on the way 6 inches in 45 minutes, hello. The weather channel just had on the mayor of Louisville and he said after the ice storm this winter and a few other minor weather problems the only thing we haven’t seen yet is locus and frogs. Good one mayor. When James Lovelock was asked a few years ago the biggest problem with climate change he answered the surprise’s. Was this a surprise sort of unfortunately. A race against time if we try.

  10. lichen said on August 4th, 2009 at 1:28pm #

    Interesting, Don, that Lovelock says many tropical islands might still be able to sustain life…but I won’t be reading his book, as he wants to poison the earth with nuclear power. I found Alan Weisman’s ‘The World Without Us” profoundly inspiring, however. We do need a new way of living on, living with the planet, and we need it NOW.

  11. Don Hawkins said on August 4th, 2009 at 2:14pm #

    Well let’s see. Cap and trade in the Senate a joke on the human race that probably can’t even pass. Policy makers Worldwide for the most part tomorrow we will think about this after we get the economy going. I mean if in this country we can’t even pass this energy bill that does little to solve the problem how hard could it be to really try. It will take total focus and working together. What we see is far far from that. You have some who think tax’s are the problem and others big government and others are waiting for the second coming. What Lovelock didn’t write was those big bombs as the biosphere goes might be used. What do they call that a National security issue. I think Mulga put it well:

    I think the evil elites have simply reached their apotheosis. They can destroy everything, including the detested future generations, who will be alive when the current psychotics are dead, and they have decided that they can see no reason not to do so, particularly when money is involved. Either that or they are interplanetary lizards, finishing their takeover, after all.

    Is that true I guess so or just plain stupid. Probably some of both. Let’s read Sagan again

    Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
    Carl Sagan

    Always’ for somebody else to understand. Above my pay grade. I will keep trying and just maybe somebody can get that permit and a new way of thinking can start.