What can be done?
It is my conviction that the further we get away from a "pure human state" the less likely we are to survive (as individuals and a species) in the long run. I’ll look at what this "pure human state" is and how we (through effort and sacrifice) can best stay close to it in a world that is dragging us kicking and screaming away from ourselves.
The way I look at the “pure human state” is not in the “noble savage” sense as king of the jungle. I see it as the state humans have spent most time evolving in. It is impossible to define a precise time and place humans were at their “best”, but for my argument I’ll say it was when we thrived (relative to the circumstances) physically, mentally and socially, in a time before our own.
Life is hard, or it should be and that’s a very good thing for our health. The basic Darwinian "survival of the fittest" model is easy to understand, we can relate it to our own lives and directly to those that survived for us to live. But what is more crucial to understand and is lost on us today is this: We don’t only owe our existence to those before us, to our ancestors that faced danger and survived. We owe our existence to a biological system that uses hardships and the battle to survive to keep us alive.
You don’t have to look far to see examples of this, they are obvious and everywhere. Muscles and bones grow stronger in direct response to the stress exerted on them. The burning sun sets off biological signals for the production of melanin and the production of vitamin D that is indispensable for life. The body doesn’t know a lion attack from a hard spin class, but it will respond similarly by building mitochondria in cells that work to protect us from further stress by giving us increased energy and endurance. We have evolved to take advantage of an environment that for most of our time on earth was as Hobbes described it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It’s not just a matter of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” it’s an understanding that suffering effects us at a cellular level, that it keeps us alive.
I believe, in less than a Century there will be preventative measures to circumvent most of our present health and mental health issues. And these remedies will be direct manifestations of understanding what it means to be human. In the meantime we can help ourselves by taking part in sports and activities that put us in positions we are not sure we can extricate ourselves from. We need to make our bodies fight for us, not against us. Try it and watch as your body and mind show you what you’re made of.