In-stinks. HA! Get it?
In-stinks. HA! Get it?
If you’ve ever gone camping it’s quite nice – fresh air and that but it soon becomes clear that nature doesn’t want you there. The ice in the cooler melts, you run out of food, the bugs are eating you alive, and so you turn around and go home. But for the past 300k years our caveman ancestors were camping their entire lifetimes. They didn’t have the luxury of going home. Back in the day, everything good was scarce: food, shelter, mates. This was the environment we grew up in. This is the environment our brains still think we are in. Cause you can take the caveman out of nature, but you can’t take the nature out of the caveman. Our modern skulls house stone aged minds. Back when we were cavemen, fruit used to be really rare, so if we found a bush of berries, we would kill anyone who got near it and stuff our bellies till they were busting. Its sweetness was a signal for our brains to pay attention cause we just scored a calorie dense food. Humans with a greater appreciation, a stronger desire to consume fruit, a more intense instinct for sweets, were able to capitalize on this rare energy source. This advantage let them better pass on their genes. But now – in the modern era, that instinct for sweets gets hijacked. We have candy that’s sweeter than any fruit. So our instincts that used to help us survive are making us fat nowadays. (Unfortunately, we don’t get so fat that we die until later on in life- after natural selection has stopped caring about us. After we’ve already passed on our genes. The voice in our head continues to scream THIS IS RICH AND RARE. And the knob for that volume has been ripped off.) It’s like the story of the Australian jewel beetle- a little brown dimpled fella. You see, the beetle has an instinct that says the BIGGER, the BROWNER, THE SHINIER the dimples of a female’s beetles butt, the MORE FIT the mate. It’s a short cut. A hack. An instinct. BUT Australia is full of drunks, and they’re throwing their beer bottles haphazardly on the road side. The jewel beetle sees the bottle, and sees the biggest brownest shiniest dimples it has ever seen, and so it goes to work. It doesn’t realize how empty its drive is. Its instincts betrayed him. And so it goes with junk food – our instincts are still primed for when we lived in caves, our genes and instincts haven’t caught up yet. Everything went and got itself in a big damn hurry- human innovation outpaced our genes. Our hunger betrays our place in the modern world. Our brains don’t know how plentiful and accessible food is. Our hunger instinct is similar to our instinct to worry – we don’t realize how good we have it. Human’s original niche had us at the middle of food pyramid. To help remind yourself of this fact, feel the teeth inside your mouth. The flat molars at the back are for grinding plants and fruits. These are not the teeth of someone at the top of the food chain. If you’re at the top, you have pointy meat eater teeth like lions and sharks. They’ve been at the top for millions of years so they’ve grown comfy there. A typical lion has sex for an hour, eats for an hour (a meal his wife brought him) and then sleeps for 18 hours. THATS what it looks like where you’re at the top. It’s a cush life. You’re comfy there. Now consider the life of the early human. When you’re hungry for something other than plants and fruit, you go out on the african savannah in search for a meal. But your lack of pointy teeth and hardwired anxiety mean you need a little help. So you wait for a lionesse to kill a gazelle. Ok good. But it’s not your turn yet. You have to let the hyenas fight over the scraps. And only THEN, do you go, tools in hand, cut open the bones suck that remaining rich fatty marrow from inside. With lions and hyenas sharing your turf, it was to your advantage to be always alert, looking over your shoulder, are the lions gone, are the hyenas gone, is it REALLY my turn??? Nowadays a lot of us suffer from anxiety. We are still looking for the lion. In just a few thousand years we went from the middle to the top. One thing evolution requires is time. Lions and sharks have been at the top for millions of years, which allowed plenty of time for them and their ecosystems to get comfy. There’s is no such thing as an anxious shark. But….. my anxious little larrikin, before you put on your snorkel and plastic fins, and join the sharks in their aquatic bliss, consider the fact that sharks have had NO TIME to realize they AREN’T at the top anymore. This has been very bad for them. Sharks have no clue that they’ve been surpassed by these odd two legged land apes. 2014 was an especially bad year for this fact. That year, sharks killed 7 humans. Probably by accident. We turned around and killed 63 million sharks. We brought harpoons to a beach party we weren’t invited to. That kill to death ratio makes call of duty players wet themselves, but all those shark carcasses point to another basic fact about humans – not only are we still full of fear and anxiety about our new position in the food chain, we also SUCK at calculating risk. We constantly overestimate rare threats especially if they evoke emotion (i.e. terrorism). Here’s why- if you’re a caveman running from a hungry pride of lions, if you stop running all of a sudden and think ‘hmmm let me appreciate all of the millions of lions who are not chasing me right now’ you’d get turned into lion feces pretty fast. So it’s in our best evolutionary interests if we hype up every little thing that even resembles a threat. A famous smart guy named Daniel Kahneman surveyed some people who were about to hop on a plane. He asked them how much they would pay for life insurance. One plan covered death in ANY case and payed out $100k. Another plan covered death ONLY in the event of a terrorist attack (it payed out the same amount- $100k). They were willing to pay MORE MONEY for the shittier life insurance plan that only covered terrorism because it was emotionally provocative. An emotional threat can easily bypass our mental defenses. We love to hype up rare threats. This is BAD for our mental health, but GREAT if you are in charge of a news corporation. Murder is great for ratings. If I told you that this is the most peaceful decade humans have ever experienced, you’d think I was full of shit. If I told you there’s not more murders, just more information ABOUT murders, you might bite. Or at least entertain the possibility. You’re a smart, compassionate larrikin after all. But even if some how you internalize that the murder rate when we were cavemen was 15%, and now in America it’s .05%, it’s still not easy to turn off the TV. It’s still not easy to pull your eyes from the car wreck. Because you only have 90 years to effectively undo 300k years of evolution. Thinking about your attention as a precious resource that you have to spend carefully is not easy. It’s hard trying to realize that notification on your phone that someone was murdered in a city you’ve never heard of is as meaningful as the beer bottle to the jewel beetle. I’m not trying to trivialize death and suffering. I’m just trying to point out that if you’re not personally invested- donating money to that family or that cause- there is NO SENSE in giving it some of the limited real estate in your brain. It FEELS so important. But if feels important cause we have stupid animal brains that grew up in a place where information was rare and precious. If you’re not going to go out and act on that notification on your phone, that makes it equivalent to inbox spam. AND good luck trying to separate the signal from the noise- it is a VERY HARD SKILL to acquire. (I’ll let you know if I ever find it). TLDR; Salad>cheetos. Books>news. Beetles love bottles, and so do we. Good luck spotting the bottle from the babes. Xoxo, Jamie