The Optimism of Ancestral Health
Humans break down. This is an accepted truth. Eventually (all too soon), we lose function. We become decrepit, slow, weak, riddled with pain, and ugly. Instead of crystallizing our wisdom as we age, our minds decay. Injuries do not heal, at least not without external intervention, and the greatest triumph of humankind is the medical and pharmaceutical industries that graciously prolong our lives.
That is the mainstream view on the human body. Athletes are exceptional (they get their own label, after all), a healthy lifestyle requires a specifying adjective, isn’t even that healthy, and sickness is the norm.
Contrast that with the view of the Ancestral Health communities. We believe that a human being, in its pristine state, is a force to be reckoned with, a marvel of biological engineering, ecological integrity, and spiritual subtlety. We heal ourselves, not via magic or superfoods, but because healing is what a healthy body does, and we’ve done everything in our power to remove the obstacles to being normal, which is to say, ridiculously, vibrantly, off-the-wall healthy. Fitness is not even a sufficient term to encompass what we meant by movement/play/physically expression.
Among those in the Ancestral Health communities–Paleo, MovNat, Primal, Weston A. Price, barefoot runners–there is a belief in the inherent durability and resilience of the human being. Not only can it move and survive without reliance on extensive protection, but it can actually thrive without such crutches.
I can’t speak for everyone; there is a fair amount of division, which led me to wander alone for a while. But it is safe to say there are many who see these ideas as a path to something greater than a simple advantage in the rat-race.
Industrial, capitalistic, zoo-human version of normalcy:
- Degeneration is the norm. You will get weak, slow, and stupid. So we will provide you will nursing homes, extensive medical care, and a massive drug industry. Rather than promote prevention, which is ultimately futile anyway, we will just profit on your loss.
- Disease is unavoidable. At some point, we all rely on a plethora of prescription drugs. Cancer is so common that we speak in terms of reducing risk, not promoting health.
- Serious injuries at any age will simply accumulate and can be ‘managed’ but never fully healed.
- The human being is a sad disappointment that dies, is weaker than all other animals, and only survives its own environment thanks to protective shoes, clothing, and unsustainable (but necessary) social and technological constructs. Humans (and other living things) are only as good as the (financial) value they produce for human society.
Paleo, MovNat, Primal, WAPF, barefoot version of normal humans:
- The human body is a force to be reckoned with and is NOT designed to fail (yes, we still die, but death is not failure).
- Chronic disease and dysfunction are not unavoidable and predetermined, but rather the result of poor environment or failure to adapt to that environment.
- “Permanent” injuries can be healed, or at least overcome.
- The human being is beautiful beyond its value as labor or capital, as are all living things. Humans can flourish in many environments and are capable of living in harmony with the world sustainably, in fact contributing to its environments.
Our view of normal is decidedly better than theirs.
But are we being realistic?
The Proponents of Progress call us dreamers. They say their views are more realistic, supported by real evidence. They say we are living in a dream-world only made possible by plenty of disposable income and free time.
Personally, I think these are the words of Eeyore, the pessimist calling himself a realist, the defeatist trying to justify things they way they are and not making a difference, in his or her own life or the state of the world. But let’s assume it’s just a matter of perspective.
What is more empowering?
- We believe in a world where all people are vibrantly health, free to be creative, and have an enriching, respectful relationship with the natural world.
- We believe vibrant health is reserved for the lucky few, creative freedom is the reward for financial and societal success, and nature is a resource, enjoyed as a curiosity only when it has been deemed otherwise useless.
The first view justifies encouraging people to appreciate their abilities. It justifies looking for ways to make healthy, local food socially viable. Within this view is the possibility for sustainable, modest, self-sufficient living. It creates possibilities for positive change.
The second view justifies the selfish attitude of profiting at the expense of others. It justifies destroying natural wonders in a constant drive for unrestrained progress. Within this view are the seeds of desperation that lead to unsustainable growth, violence, and environmental destruction.
Stick with the optimists. It’s going to be tough enough even if they’re right. —James Reston
The first view, whether based on fact or not, is an empowering perspective. It at least sets the stage for growth and positive change. Maybe all these dreams will not come to fruition, but we already know the other view hasn’t served us well. Believing in the possibility of great things, we can move the world a step closer towards them.
And what is so terrible about a world full of happy healthy people, eating amazing food without destroying the land, running and playing and creatively supporting one another, content to simply be a part of the adventure that is life on planet Earth?
(Photo credit: sara biljana on Flickr)