There are 3 types of people in the world: People who haven’t heard of the paleo diet, people who have tried the paleo diet, and people who can’t wait to tell you how stupid it is.
People in the last group want to tell you how we’re still evolving, how different groups evolved differently, how you couldn’t live like our ancestors even if you tried, how the paleo diet isn’t sustainable for the world’s growing population, how SCIENCE! can produce superior health and athleticism, and how all that meat and fat will make you obese and give you a heart attack.
None of these objections are very good responses to positions paleo advocates actually advocate.
Of course humans are still evolving. Of course different groups adapted to different environments and circumstances. (My 23andme profile — SCIENCE! — says I’m probably not lactose intolerant based on my ancestry, and I’m not, so I ignore the anti-dairy aspects of paleo that could be completely relevant for someone else.) No one is saying you should or could actually live exactly as our primitive ancestors did in the modern world. The world’s growing population is not sustainable, full-stop. And no, everything produced in a lab is not evil. Yes, some of it is very helpful. But, given the recent history of SCIENCE! telling us something is good for us — and then 20 years of deaths and side-effects later, DISCOVERING! that it is actually terrible for us –it makes sense to minimize one’s exposure to synthetic “nutrition.” (One could actually call this “dietary conservatism.”) Finally, over the next 10 years, look for Western nations and medical bureaucracies to begin revising what they’ve proclaimed, ex cathedra, about fat.
The paleo diet is an attempt to approximate a diet closer to the diet of our ancestors. Modern humans are partially domesticated animals with wild ancestors. Just as you’d try to feed a trained monkey what it would eat in the wild to improve it’s health and happiness in the zoo, it makes sense to feed people what they evolved to eat in the wild.
John Durant makes this point in his recent book, The Paleo Manifesto, and takes it a step further. The Paleo Manifesto covers the basic guidelines of the paleo diet in plain and sensible language, but it’s not another diet book and it’s not a cookbook. The Paleo Manifesto pushes a total lifestyle change. Durant isn’t just concerned with what you eat, but when you eat, how you exercise and how you work. The big idea is to bring all of this into better harmony with the lifeways we adapted to in our species’ first few million years on the planet.
However, John Durant is not the unabomber. He lives in New York City, and he’s not trying to get you to move to a cabin in the woods. He wants to help you live happier and healthier in the modern zoo. This is the mainstream appeal of The Paleo Manifesto, which is full of fun facts about fasting to beat jet lag, standing desks (I became a fast fan), the footwear industry, sunscreen, cancer, thermoregulation and sleep. It’s an easy, engaging read and a jumping off point for further thinking on how to use what is known about evolutionary biology to improve the way primal humans interact with modern technology and the demands of life in the 21st Century.
Durant is often called a caveman, but The Paleo Manifesto doesn’t argue for some ascetic retreat into ooga-booga primitivism. Durant looks forward with a reference to and some reverence for the past. In a recent presentation for Google, he called the paleo lifestyle “biohacking.”
The Paleo Manifesto is paleofuturism.
Durant’s paleofuturism complements Guillaume Faye’s subversive idea: archeofuturism.
Published in 1999 as a response to the conservatism and negative (anti-) tendencies of the Right. Faye wanted to create a positive vision of the future that corrected the foolishness of enforced egalitarianism and what is often called secular humanism — but isn’t truly human at all, because it rejects any realistic understanding of human nature in favor of feel-good blank slate fantasies.
Faye writes that “over the past 50,000 years, homo sapiens has changed very little, and archaic and pre-modern models of social organization have proven valid.” Instead of seeing man as an “asexual and isolated atom possessing universal and enduring pseudo-rights,” Faye believes that should see him holistically, as the Greeks did — as social animal who properly belongs to a human community.
Instead of rejecting technological development and yearning for a return to total primitivism, as many on the Right do, Faye wants us to embrace technological movement and human creativity, but balance it with a rational understanding of human nature and a respect for forms of social organization that have been natural to the human animal throughout its history.
According to Faye, when “egalitarian hallucinations [..] have been sunk by catastrophe, humanity will revert to its archaic forms, which are purely biological and human.” He lists the archaic forms as follows:
- the separation of gender roles
- transmission of ethnic and folk traditions
- visible and structuring social hierarchies
- the worship of ancestors
- rites and tests of initiation
- organic communities (family and folk)
- de-individualization of marriage (marriage as a concern of the community)
- prestige of the warrior caste
- inequality among social statuses (not implicit, but explicit and ideological)
- definitions of peoples and groups (tribalism vs. globalism)
While somewhat idiosyncratic in its preoccupations, this list overlaps with Donald Brown’s list of “human universals.”
Faye tells us we should dream of the future and plan for the future, but temper this futurism with archaism, which he defines not as backward-looking nostalgia, but an understanding of and respect for the “founding impulses” of human social organization.
Using what is known about evolutionary psychology and tried forms of human social organization to inform humanity’s march into the future corrects the built-in mistake of modern life — which is truly driven by greedy commercialism and merely rationalized and pseudo-sacralized by “progressive” neophilia. In what passes for “social science” today, there is a tendency to throw out any traditional idea about human nature which cannot immediately be explained by scientific inquiry — some quick “study,” or the current perception of the barely understood brain — in favor of some theoretical form of social organization completely untried and unknown to our species. It was from the abstract academic fancies of a few, not collective human experience or wisdom, that the disastrous and inhuman experiment of feminism and the absurdity of “diversity is strength” have been imposed.
Together, Faye’s Archeofuturism and Durant’s Paleo Manifesto offer a total, positive approach to the future that is informed and guided by what is known about the human animal, both physically and socially. The details of either book can be debated and elaborated on, but the big, combined idea of looking to human evolutionary and social history as we envision the future is a philosophical starting point that could be a useful for many different kinds of people who find themselves increasingly wary of the social, psychological and physiological costs of runaway global commercialism and commercially driven, abstract notions of human “progress.”