Sunday, September 17, 2017

Modernity is Killing You 


An uncontacted tribe photographed from the air in the Brazilian Amazon.
“But at least dark chocolate is good for you. No it is not.”
Modernity is killing you, you know that right? I mean, let's go through the list:

Sitting too much is killing you, and not even exercise can stop it because our sedentary existence is taking up too much of our lives. It's shortening your life even while it pays for your lifestyle. It affects your circulation and breathing to a point where you may suffer from a condition referred to as "desk apnea" which can lead to serious heart conditions.

Standing too much is killing you. It's hurting your back, it's ruining your circulation, and even if you sit once in a while that's not enough because standing too much is killing you.

Looking at screens is killing you. It's damaging your eyesight, it's throwing off your circadian rhythm, which affects how you sleep. Coincidentally too much sunlight can damage your eyes. Also, not enough sunlight can damage your eyes and can also affect how your body creates vitamin D from exposure to ultraviolet light.

Artificial lighting is killing you. Artificial lighting disrupts our sleep patterns and lack of sleep may lead to heart conditions, hypertension, weight gain and depression.

Shiftwork is killing you. Shiftwork is also known to disrupt sleep. See above.

Your diet is killing you. Our modern diet, full of salt, sugar and fat can also lead to conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

Living in cities is killing you. People who live in densely populated areas have been discovered to suffer from higher stress, depression and schizophrenia. Living next to a busy roadway can lead to respiratory disease from the ingestion of pollutants and contaminates from automotive traffic.

Cars are killing you. In 2015, more people died in automobile and traffic collisions than in all the conflicts and terrorist acts combined. How many more? Five times more people died in traffic accidents than from war or terrorism. We really should be holding benefit concerts for victims of car accidents every week rather than for those who died from bomb blasts.

Air travel is killing you. The spread of disease via infected individuals travelling great distances very quickly has led to isolated diseases being transmitted much more easily over greater areas more quickly and leading some experts to fear for the next pandemic. The resurgence of bed bugs, once a historical quaintness has now become more than a mere nusance but a genuine health problem.

Climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is killing you. Well - obviously. Everything from increases in melanoma caused by our thinning ozone layer, to flooding, deaths caused from heat exhaustion, crop failures to the expansion of disease carrying insects such as parasites, tics and mosquitos are all killing you.

Did I mention modernity is also killing bees and countless other species?

But at least dark chocolate is good for you. No it is not. The lie that dark chocolate is high in “anti-oxidants” or “flavanols” or whatever was initiated by a study funded by Mars (the makers of the Mars Bar, M&Ms and Snickers) and perpetuated by almost every media outlet ever invented. There are thousands of online stories extolling dark chocolate’s virtues but only a handful correcting the myth. Dark chocolate contains slightly less sugar than milk chocolate so in some ways dark chocolate is slightly less bad than milk chocolate but, yes, I’m sorry, chocolate is candy and candy is killing you.
“Would it be better to not know about modern technology than to live in constant fear of Russian hackers…”
Perhaps it would be best to remove ourselves from modernity entirely and live like The Uncontacted. The Uncontacted refers to those one hundred or so indigenous groups known to be living so remotely as to have never had contact with the modern western world. In fact, if these people were to contact an outsider the ramifications from a biological, ecological and cultural point of view could be devastating. Would it be better to not know about modern medicine, science and technology than to live in constant fear that Russian hackers may take control of your Gmail account? I’m not sure. The Uncontacted peoples of the world still live as hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers. While they may not know of the wonders of running water and electricity they probably do know one wrong step could get you killed because their cousin died only one moon ago from wrongful stepping. They probably also haven’t realized that lunar calendars are rather messy so measuring your cousin’s death by how many moons ago it happened will eventually lead to some rather confusing time keeping.

Apparently wheat is the problem. Some experts contend if we had never cultivated the grain we never would have switched from hunter-gatherer-subsistence farming societies to agrarian societies which led to civilization which ultimately led to modernity which, of course, is killing you. But the idea of eschewing farming which led to labour specialization which led to trade, which led to storing food, which led to cities with temples and homes and banks and Starbucks, is ludicrous. Humanity could no more choose progress than a butterfly could choose its wings. This is who we are and who we evolved to be. Some goofball expert isn’t suggesting leopards should have chosen not to have spots. Leopards with spots survived, those without went hungry or moved to a less spot-friendly neighbourhood. And if everything about this modern world is giving us cancer or generally destroying the planet so badly we can’t go on much longer, then that’s how this is going to play out.

Or it might play out differently. This isn’t such a bad time. A lot of people die in conflict but more live peacefully than ever before. A lot of things in this world are killing us but a lot of it has worked out just swell. Humans are healthier and live longer than ever before. While some technology poisons the planet, another technology saves it. While one bit of modernity knocks us down, another helps us soar. On a planet 4.6 billion years old, we’ve only been here for 200,000 years, we’ve only been farming for 23,000 years so really the party has only just started. Maybe modernity is killing us but maybe, if we’re lucky it will be the thing that saves us.

Update, Monday September 18, 2017 - A day after writing this, I read this fascinating piece about exactly what is killing us (well, Britons specifically). Turns out that what is killing us has changed dramatically over the decades and we are living longer than ever. Yet with extended life comes increased risk in other diseases such as Alzheimer's and heart disease.

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