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The Paleo Movement and the New Naturalistic Fallacy
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Oh, how those words from Joni Mitchell touched me in the Woodstock days. Listening to her sweet voice and simple music, you couldn’t help but believe that you were “a cog in something turning” and that it was indeed a special "time of Man,” in which we were finally facing the reality that humans were despoiling the natural world. How badly we needed to get back to the garden, back to Eden, back to the pure, unspoiled, healthy world humans had fouled up, the world the way it was supposed to be, except for, well, us.
How sweet it was to be so passionately, black-and-white certain--and, looking back, so innocently naïve. We have indeed done despicable damage to the natural world. But nature is way more resilient than back-to-the-garden environmentalism gives it credit for and it operates on far grander time scales than our anthropocentric arrogance acknowledges. Long before we were here, nature was going about its inexorable business. And long after we’ve gone and left behind a world altered by the human animal, just as the biosphere has been altered by so many other natural forces over the last 4.5 billion years, it still will be.
Yet when we view the natural world through the lens of human time, it can be tempting to adopt the idea that nature before humans was better, that to save ourselves going forward we need to get back to an idealized past. It’s hard to say why we devote ourselves so ardently to this rescuing hope; perhaps it’s a way to deal with the guilt and powerlessness we feel about the profound ways we have harmed the environment, to pretend we can undo the mess. Whatever the reason, the appeal of back-to-the-garden thinking shows up in countless ways: in agriculture (organic food, small farms, eating locally), in medicine (homeopathy, natural and herbal remedies), in energy policy (the faith that wind and solar energy can power the modern world), and, most recently, the Paleo movement. As this recent New York Times piece sums up, Paleo purists believe that if we ate and lived as "naturally" as our ancestors did, we and our world would be better off. As one Paleo diet website puts it:
Just like any other animal, humans suffer when we stray from our natural diet, but when we return to it, everything changes.
Some refer to this concept as “Ancestral Health,” a phrase that brilliantly captures both the appeal of the idea and its dangerous naïveté. Consider this description from the website of the Ancestral Health Society:
Modern humans suffer from numerous diseases linked to the metabolic syndrome, such as diabetes, yet these health maladies were virtually nonexistent during most of our ancestry.
While this claim may be true, it is a stupendously simplistic view that ignores the brutal reality of human health in ages past. And not just the caveman past we so blithely idealize: as recently as 130 years ago, back when diets were closer to Paleo, life for most people was brutal, disease-ridden (with plague, smallpox, cholera), and marked by unavoidable health problems (decline in vision, hearing, and the number of teeth necessary to chew food). It was also way, way shorter than it is now. In 1880, average life expectancy around the world was around 30 years. It’s up to roughly 70 years now.
Much has been written about the pros and cons of the Paleo diet. I cannot judge those nutritional arguments, both for lack of expertise and because my own poor diet disqualifies me as an objective observer. (My five basic foods groups are solid, liquid, fatty, salty, and sweet.) I do judge, however, that there is a danger in what the Paleo movement essentially proposes: that rejecting modernity will improve human health and establish a way of life more in sync with, and less harmful to, nature.
This is back-to-the-garden naïveté. Industry and technology have brought immense benefits as well as harms. The Paleo movement, like all the other movements that worship a premodern past, ignore those benefits to our peril. The simplistic view that the past was cleaner (it was) and therefore better (not necessarily) and healthier (it definitely was not) breeds resistance to modern technologies and products, like:
---Biotechnological improvements in agriculture that can improve food security and make agriculture more sustainable, but which beloved environmental advocate Vendana Shiva has called genocide
---Carbon- and particulate-free power sources like nuclear energy, which classical environmental advocates just can’t bring themselves to support, even in the face of climate change
---Modern medicines, including childhood vaccines, which are rejected by a small group of parents who prefer "natural" (and potentially fatal) diseases to "unnatural" interventions
Joni Mitchell acknowledged this conundrum in her beautiful anthem “Woodstock,” writing in the last chorus that we are “caught in the devil's bargain”, the trade-offs between the costs and benefits of the modern world. The problem is that Mitchell, classical environmentalism, and a public concerned about the dreadful damage we’ve done to the natural world see only the costs.
That puts us at great risk. By ignoring the benefits of technology and focusing only its harms, modernity itself seems to be the problem and a return to an idealized past the solution. The sad irony is that the back-to-the-garden viewpoint makes it harder to realize how a careful application of modern tools could reduce some of the harm that our rush into modernity has caused.
Image credit: Wikimedia
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.