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Friday, 30 December 2016

We Are the 99%

Some very smart people in our species have postured that we have entered the Age of the Anthropocene, coining a new geologic era in earth's history, marked by unprecedented human impact to our beautiful Earth.

While the human species has made incredible technological advances, it has performed great blunders along the way - ecological destruction, disintegration of our health and community, and hegemony of power, to name a few.
A <a href="">2013 art installation</a> at Edge Hill University near Liverpool, England, by <a href="">Robyn Woolston</a> included this mock sign, "Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era" (<a href="">enlarge</a>). The Anthropocene is a name some scientists have proposed for this era in which humans have become a dominant influence on the environment.
Photo "courtesy" of the NY Times
I can see the collective past generations of the human race turning in their graves, yelling "hey, look how we lived!" and "we are the 99%."

It is humbling to think that the modern era we live in has encompassed a fraction of 1% of our species existence. We take our present for granted, and naively believe that the way we live now is how it's always been.

History is a wonderful teacher, and we can't forget the past lessons from the more than 99% of our own history. After all, we have the same biological hard wiring as those ancestors of the past 99%. I'm not saying to go back to our hunter gatherer days. But some things about us never do change, and should not be compromised.

The good news is we don't need to look that far into the past for good advice.

99% Biology

Michael Pollan, an author on everything food, and one of my personal idols, says to eat what your grandparents ate, or what traditional cultures ate. The more I've personally researched food, the more I have confirmed this mantra.

For example, humans are not biologically adapted to eating unfermented soy (soy sauce and miso are fermented, tofu is coagulated). Yet many products made from this are flooding our marketplace in recent decades, along with conflicting science about its health value. The answer lies in our grandparents' generation: noone back then ever consumed unfermented soy products (edamame was a rarely indulged exception).

In other news on the health front, there is now conflicting science about hand sanitizers. Research is starting to show they can weaken our bodies by killing the good microorganisms on our skin, of which there reside 1,000+ species. Hand sanitizers are certainly useful in some situations but should not be overused.

It's pretty daunting to fathom how much bacteria is inside and on us - studies have provided a vast range of estimates, from 100 billion up to 50 trillion cells. By contrast, our bodies are made up of around 30 trillion cells. No matter how you look at it, these statistics make our fear of bacteria seem utterly irrational.

Bacteria are our allies. Fermented foods nourish our gut with beneficial bacteria. There is even research saying that beards contain beneficial bacteria that prevent its owners from getting sick.

Personally, I love germs, I say bring them on. I camped almost all summer, and lived isolated in the forest for one month in a "germy" environment, showering by jumping into lakes, and sleeping through some very cold nights. I haven't gotten sick this year and feel stronger than ever. It is arguable that I lived more like the past 99%.
I love getting a little dirty
99% Awake

One of the greatest achievements in our less than 1% slice of human history, is the screen. The advent of TVs, cell phones and virtual reality have given us the ability to escape our physical realities. We have been given a window through which a superficial world of infinite entertainment beckons us.

Elon Musk has brought attention to the fact that in the coming decades, virtual reality could so mimic real life that we may no longer distinguish which reality is the real one. Just imagine a dream life of living on a beach. Nice life, right? Now what if I told you you could achieve this dream from your living room couch? Welcome to the Matrix.

The evidence is already apparent in our young generation. Everywhere, they can be seen tuned in to their alternate reality through their screens. As a result, they are losing touch with the one that matters. Their attention spans, empathy, and physical health are all diminishing. Their values are shifting towards individualism and fame through social media.

Here, lessons from the past 99% are paramount.

Humans of our past lived in nature, connected with the land and the trees, tending to it and deriving their sustenance from it, building community and strong relationships around their shared struggle. Today's native and tribal populations are continuing examples of this connection.
The cure for all our ills lie in our tents
Again, I'm not saying that we all need to return to live in the forest. But perhaps we need to reconnect with reality by spending more time in nature. No amount of screen time can match the healing power of nature.

However, in our addicted society, screens join a host of other substances and habits that serve to dull and depress our minds, such as gambling and alcohol, to name a few. What we need is the opposite - to activate our minds and stimulate the imagination.

Again, our past 99% contains such lessons.

Visionary plants have been a part of indigenous cultures for centuries. Plants such as peyote, eboga, San Pedro and ayahuasca, which have psychedelic effects, are used in rites of passage for children and adults. They take the user on an internal journey, or a "trip", in which they experience hallucinations which transform their minds. In fact, our brains contain neuron receptors for DMT, the chemical present in ayahuasca. This can't be a coincidence.
No explanation needed
Today, studies are showing that responsible doses of the psychedelics magic mushrooms and LSD (acid) can cure addiction, depression and PTSD. From personal experience, these substances have helped me feel love, created healing, and activated my mind. At the end of these "trips" I hear music in my head, and feel more creative. I've become a better person for these experiences.

These are only a handful of lessons that our ancestors of the past 99% can offer. And for the last time, this doesn't mean we should all go back to being farmers or hunter-gatherers.

But in a rapidly modernizing society, changing faster than our bodies can adapt to, we must not forget lessons of the past, and be mindful of the need to find a balance between modern amenities and past traditional and cultural ways of life, particularly regarding the food and medicine we put into our bodies, and our brains.

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