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Anthropology – wrestling life´s architecture of containment

ImageAs an anthropologist, life becomes embroiled in comparision. Everything must have an alternative context through which we can seek an empathetic or critical glance at a range of aspects relating to what it means to be human. In other words, things are not stable, but constantly in flux – our systems of thought, our political, religious, ideological processes of expansion or containment. We adhere to principles of non-adherance. We do this through a set of (fluid) methodologies which (we believe) enable us to contemplate humanity through holistic understandings. Long-term fieldwork, the sine qua non of the discipline, remains the tried and tested approach to the challenges of alterity, or what we can gauge by comparing the drastic or subtle nuances involved in fundamental human practices. We think, we move, we love, we fight, we create, we acquiesce, we are born, we die, we interact, we destroy, and we seek meaning through a variety of sources. This is what makes the human species so fascinating – different approaches to the mundane, different outcomes – or maybe not. Maybe the longue duree of evolution has become so daunting, that to us, this reflection and its acceptance, thrusts us into increasingly confined spaces where we seek solace in our fear of this awareness and the challenges life presents?

Yes, the anthropologist is the Leatherman philosopher. At once aware of diversity, applying a set of tools in order to unlock life´s mysteries, but always aware of the fragility of their construction, and the imminency of their potential reconstitution.

For most, reflection, and an openness to tackle such fundamental questions relating to ´what it means to be human?´ and ´how might things be different?` are challenges far greater than the confines of a sheltered life of fear or ´comfort´ provide. The great philosophers, stretching back to Plato and Aristotle, all knew this and most subsequent thinkers have sought (albeit in contrasting ways) to unravel these questions, and shed light on humanities´ desire to approach, but mostly avoid, their direct experiential appraisal through action (trial and error). In a contemporary setting, people shy away from questioning their beliefs, their choices, their actions out of fear for the apparent insecurities that will eventuate; What if s/he is not right for me? Is this career fulfilling? Do I believe in science and/or superstition? Is what I am putting in my mouth doing me more harm than good? Could a change in approach unlock certain anxieties that have prevented me from doing z, y or z? The list is endless – as are the possibilities we have for being more human.

People, again in a contemporary sense, reveal signs of what it means to be human, but from within the enclosed space of their anxieties. People are becoming caged animals, yet another tragic case of apes trapped in a sanctuary – made invisible by the ´freedom´of facebook profile updates telling ´the world´of their daring, their dexterity, their knowledge, and their visions through a photo of a plate of chicken and vegetables. People ´travel´ to the far corners of the globe (or the closest place with sun and cheap beer) for their ´experience´of diversity, unwittingly forging their further isolation through reinforcing unreflective dichotomies of ´difference´ – Oh, they we so poor, but all smiling. We helped them out by volunteering, showing them how they can escape poverty and now sponsor a family – it´s so great to be making a difference… etc. Yet back on safe ground, people climb back into their sanctuaries, slumping into their Ikea sofas, updating their profiles, filling themselves with sugar and HFCS, doing as the state tells them to do – reveling in the glory of wealth and hypermodernity.

ImageFreedom, as a fundamental instinct of the antropos, lies elsewhere. It is unbound. It lies not in a set of flow charts or indexes keeping us in a pseudo state of harmony – Oh how lucky we are!

Freedom exists outside any paradigms that cushion our increasingly flabby backsides and stress/diet-related illnesses. Freedom is a curiosity that leads to further awareness of our potentials as a species to live a life of co-existence in the vast glory of our global ecoscape. Freedom is not confined to those with the means to purchase a ticket to fly to the world´s ends. Nor is it limited for those severely inhibited by such structural constrains as war, and tyranny. It exists within a mindset and a moving body. Freedom is not an idealistic realm of the kombucha drinking yoga practitioner. Humans are but a minor aberration when seen from afar, at the mercy of our environments, garnished as we are, with this remarkable opportunity to participate in our stage in evolution. It makes acts of sloth, of adherence to commercialized ´wisdom´, to greed and ignorance of contrasting ways of life, to uncritical use of “better-worse”, “us-them”, or an early retirement of our exponential range of mental, physical and emotional capacities – all seem like such a slight on the winning lottery ticket we have been dealt to share in the vastness of our interconnected pathway. Our ancestors started to get things right, yet we´ve regressed.

Anthropology today works diligently at protecting this diversity, yet struggles to break free of its philosophical grounding in a world of Red Bull-fuelled instant gratification. The pregnancy of life´s meaning struggles to resonate when we turn to so-called scientific “truths” – uncritically rendered to us through multiple medias, states, and religious doctrines – each with their own projects of containment. You see, modern society is becoming constructed through an architecture of containment. We are being watched by big brother from all corners, whether we like it or not. Any attempts to stand outside the boundaries of “normality” will attract unwanted attention (and we´ll cease to get liked on facebook). This suits our further containment, despite our sanctuaries appearing in glossy magazines as expressions of our freedoms.

People need (a more public) anthropology. It remains stuck within itself however, an ironic isolation from the very tenants of the freedom and manifold it seeks to portray.

We can all be anthropologists. We don´t need an academic straightjacket. We are all indeed philosophers. There are no rules to this. We have it in us to seek knowledge, understanding and wisdom – but this only eventuates through an awareness and an openness to the fact that we are all unique, only as a species sharing the same planet, with similar desires for a “good life” – but lacking the tools to break free from our confined zoological warehouses.

Great people only become iconic figures because they dare to try (and fail) where others fear. Beautiful movement, creative thought, empathy, love, work, curiosity and our unique capacities to amaze lie alongside our ability to hate, our obesity, our prejudice and our constant social media updates.

It´s the process that separates the eventual outcomes.

We are all unique apes and we could all do with stopping our lazy-arse ways reflecting upon how things might and could be and getting stuck into the pathways that lead us ahead.

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Awareness as new paradigm for modern health

The way we move, think and eat is not detached, in a Cartesian sense, from who we are and how we experience our place in this world. We cannot be disconnected from our natural environment for it is that which literally keeps us alive. This interaction is a primordially intrinsic necessity that shapes our thoughts, movements and proprioceptive context in nature. To lose this interactive sense or become disconnected with our body is immediately endangering this crucial mind-body-nature equilibrium. The most important disruptive factor in society today I believe is our sense (or lack of) awareness.

This post is intended to dwell upon the need for a paradigm shift in modern thought practicalities through ideas about reinstalling a sense of awareness of our connection with nature through diet and physical movement, and the way our evolutionary path has almost perfectly laid before us a schema for health, happiness and longevity. This needn’t be a lofty concept beyond the realms of the common citizen, for it is based on integral components of our past that have sadly been usurped by corrupting interests and the subsequent watering down of common awareness.

Accepting the status quo

We need to (re) learn and (re) live our connection with our natural environment and we need to do this through a deeper awareness of the factors that both enable and contradict this linkage. Let me begin with some of the most encompassing contradictions in modern Western societies today. For many people, a cursory reflection upon their ideas of independent or collective choice in life will reveal tendencies to ´accept the status quo´ with regards to many seemingly self-directed scenarios. I´m thinking here of our choice of career, choice or meals, choice or activities, partners, dwellings and so on.

We are natural social animals and this is revealed through our desires to seek the company of fellow citizens, dwell, interact and procreate together with members of similar ethnic groups and secure identities that are framed within certain social and cultural norms and values. This, in order to feel secure about ourselves as individuals and as members of a certain society. From an evolutionary perspective, this is nothing new, but dangers are inherent in this pattern as well.

Practices of ´flock mentality´ have always made me cringe slightly, even if I have readily partaken in many, as it has always revealed a sense of vulnerability in the way people accept what others do or say as being either correct, or most sensible. Certain norms, practices and ´knowledges´ are usually appropriated by members of society for political, economic or other subversive gain. A quick glance at any number of corrupt or dictatorial regimes around the world reveals clearly how individual and collective choice and freedom is subjugated in coercive ways.  What about the way we are told in so-called democratic Western societies to eat?. This is indeed a great example.

20th Century dietary catastrophe

The nutritional guidelines presented in the latter half of the 20th Century by state health authorities are perhaps the most crass and damaging examples of how people are made to bare the cost of the influx of modern western diseases through being told it is down to the false choices we make when eating, moving or thinking.  Successive ´democratic´ regimes, or guardians of the health and welfare of millions of people, are now in an impossible position of having to cover up for generations of false claims about disease and illness and its relation to activity and nutrition. Let me explain some more.

We are told that we are obese because we are inactive.  Or that we eat too much. Or that we have bad genes.  We are told to practice moderate activity every now and then, preferably in the ´fat burning aerobic zone´. Intense activity is bad for us we are told. Even dangerous. We are told to fuel our bodies with 4-6 servings of sugar (carbohydrate) each day. We must avoid animal fat, and instead go for processed low-fat variants. We should eat wheat they say, and copious amounts of fruit. This list goes on.

The human body is an incredible organism of adaptive capability, but is not metabolically adapted to the foodstuffs that it eats today based upon high carbohydrate/sugar intake, gluten and processed plant oils. We don´t get fat because we sit and don´t exercise, we get fat and develop diabetes and heart disease because the food we are told to eat, and don´t question, has deranged our metabolic pathways by confusing the appetite mechanisms that allow our bodies to regulate energy expenditure. This is not to mention the chaos caused by derailed insulin production and inflammation and stomach frailty exacerbated by excess linoleic acid.

Alternative ways of thinking

Ok, the point I am trying to illuminate here is that despite our options not to abide by social norms and the ´standard way of living´, the very guardians of our own welfare (politicians, teachers, doctors, scientists etc) have got so much wrong, and are indeed so far beyond the point where they can back track and admit that their advice has been responsibility for so much illness and death, that society needs to find its own health paradigm through new awareness of the factors behind what has gone wrong.

Back in the age of antiquities, it was the philosophers who held the hand of wisdom and to whom citizens turned to for advice and ´truths´ on general matters, including aggressors with insubordinate aims towards power, conquest and domination. Where does this leave us today, if the hand of wisdom coming from minority movements is labelled ´alternative´ simply because it questions the wisdom of those in control?.

We become trapped paradigmatically in a thought process that has alienated alternative ways of thinking that question the status quo and our place as members of a collective sociality.  Maintaining this, and quickly moving towards quelling any sign of incoherence to socio-political thought has been, and still is, a principle tactic of oppressive regimes in maintaining order and control over its citizens. Scary thought.

Movement and awareness

So back to movement and awareness, and how this paradigm shift needs to be enacted. Society needs to be reminded of processes of evolution and our place today as a condition of context and adaption, both towards and away from our natural tendencies. We eat, we procreate, we sleep and we fight in different ways to achieve these things. The way we eat has included hunting, collecting, fighting, starving, sharing and learning what is and isn’t toxic for our survival. This is basic evolutionary theory, although we are now being offered a get out of jail free card. We can manage to be locked up in life like battery chickens, and still live a linear path to longevity we are told.

Science and artificial production has enabled us to survive on non-natural and harmful foodstuffs like wheat, sugars and plant oils and take drugs that prolong survival rates of diseases such eating causes (heart disease, diabetes, cancers etc). Modern society has led us away from nature, from hunting and subsisting as our basis of survival, to an abundance of artificial ´foodstuffs´, and we are told to accumulate capital wealth and surround ourselves with material ´stuff´ that has little or no causal effect on our survival or happiness. The great outdoors, or natural experiences, have become seen as éscapes´ from daily life, a place where we can gain energy to fulfil our needs in ´reality´. Who is in charge of this reality?. When exactly did we decide that physical activity and a connection with nature should become a pastime?.

This is not to say that we should, as a true stoic would advocate, ditch modernity and crawl out from under a rock to eat sea birds and berries. We are part of the great evolutionary path which we should embrace, its just that we have lost touch with the realization that we are not yet adapted genetically or proprioceptively to being out of our natural surrounds, which is nature untouched by processed forms of modernity. Yes, I contend that we are ill adapted to modern ways, despite our best intentions. We need to adhere more closely to our primal tendencies in the way we think, eat and move and stop trying to rush the evolutionary process.

Embrace modernity….slowly

By being reacquainted with natural movement (literally smelling the flowers and getting down on the ground and dirty, all in gracefully efficient ways) we re-establish an AWARENESS of the past that allows us to take full advantage of our place in modern history and the benefits it provides. Think about cause and effect in an independent manner, and if something makes no sense, then don’t accept it, challenge that process. We can be happy, healthy, relaxed and feel a sense of ´being alive´, all whilst working away at our various professions, learning new skills, appreciating food, company, relationships and imported Brazilian espresso beans.

Illness, idleness, stress, depression, conflict, political ignorance and so on, all can be avoided to a large extent through awareness and being able to take action to break cycles of decay and stagnation. There is a super fine line between complexity and simplicity in the way we live, eat, move and think. Too often, people that make things appear complex have hidden agendas. Learn to be aware of what contributing factors lie behind your choices, don’t hide behind the mask of ignorance and let society become swamped by normality. Sleep well, get outside into the sun, rain and fresh air, think differently, move smoothly, learn to balance, love one another, eat natural food and start to enjoy your place in the great evolutionary trail.

 

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