Is the Environment Broken, or are You?
adaptation agency blame
From one perspective, our world is broken. The ecosystem is collapsing, the majority of humans live isolated from nature, our society pushes unhealthy foods and inactivity, and it encourages immaturity while punishing us for impulsiveness.
Proponents of this belief think, "If only the world matched the one that was best for us, we would all be healthy, fit, happy, and productive. If only the world were set up to encourage human potential, we wouldn't be so frustrated. It seems like you need to be exceptionally talented or lucky to be healthy."
From another perspective, we're poorly adapted to our environment. We evolved our perceptual and analytical systems to deal with a small-group hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the plains of Africa, moving our bodies every day. So the fact that we are suffering in our large-group, capitalistic, urban world is more the result of a design flaw or a failure to adapt.
Believers in this perspective think, "We need to learn new habits and behaviors in order to thrive in this strange, modern ecosystem we've created. If we can understand how our systems were designed to work, we can compensate intelligently."
Neither perspective is wrong: it's certainly true that people are more likely to thrive in supportive environments, and intelligent habits can help us beat oppressive circumstances.
But only one of these perspectives is going to empower us and grant us a stronger sense of agency. The other one justifies inaction, opting out, or sets the bar so high (change the world) as to make it inapplicable in the short term.
What good does it do to worry about how messed up, how unfair, how broken our world is? Wouldn't it simply be better to focus on how we can be most effective within the world we're presented with? Or is it better to be rigid as we seek to change things?
It's true that life is full of toxic chemicals and social norms. I say, learn to avoid them, learn to thrive despite them, even learn to take advantage of them and create good out of the bad.
When I got my start in ancestral health, I dreamed of escaping all the negative influences, instead of learning to cope with and master or overcome them. Since then, I've started to feel that this was an escapist attitude. It meant putting my health ahead of everything else and it meant demonizing many things other people enjoyed and built their lives around. I started to lose touch with my friends, so what I was accomplishing in terms of health was not something anyone could relate to.
Finding a balance is important though. Great physical strength is not necessary to live in this world, but it makes it a lot easier and it spares us a lot of pain and degeneration. The abilities to learn new skills, to manage large quantities of data, and to navigate complex social systems are certainly invaluable.
And there's a difference between being reliant on modern society and being well-adapted to it. You can master something without needing it to survive.
I'm all for positive change in the world, but I know change must come from within first. Blaming "the way things are" for our problems seems defeatist, and if your goal is to be fulfilled and to offer as much as possible to others, then why wait for the world to change? Learn what you can and figure out how to take advantage of what's in front of you.
Those who have said they didn't like how the world was changing and so would not change themselves to keep up, they have faded into obscurity. Those who have accepted the new reality and found a way to make the best of it, they have in turn changed the world. Even if they simply realized that the world needed trees, and so set out to spend their lives planting trees.
A Warrior does what he or she can to choose the place of a battle, but when the time comes, a true Warrior makes the best of whatever terrain they have to work with. A poor environment is no excuse to surrender.
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