Life in nature was nasty, brutish and short; why would we want to emulate it?

human skeleton

I’ve heard that the latest fashion look is a return to the 1970’s. I lived through those years and I can assure you the fashion had little to recommend it.

Polyester was the material of choice and bright colors were everywhere. Men and women alike were wearing very tight fitting pants and platform shoes. By 1973, most women were wearing high cut boots and low cut pants…

By the late 1970s the pant suit, leisure suit and track suit was what the average person was sporting…

Chest hair, medallions, polyester, butterfly collars, bell bottoms, skin-tight t-shirts, sandals, leisure suits, flower patterned dress shirts, sideburns and, yes, tennis headbands.

No harm comes from a shared delusion that 1970s fashion is worth emulating or from editing leisure suits and polyester out of our memories of the decade. Sadly, a lot of harm can come from a different shared delusion — that life in the state of nature is worth emulating.

The idea that natural is best and technology ruined everything is nothing short of ludicrous.

The idea that natural is best and technology ruined everything is nothing short of ludicrous.

Hobbes wrote that life in the state of nature was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ and he wasn’t far off the mark. Consider that the natural human lifespan is at least 70 years, but for most of human existence life expectancy was only 35 years.

What accounts for the dramatic difference? Nature.

For example:

One of the most famous hominid fossils is the skull of a 3-year-old child found in Taung, South Africa. The Taung child was a member of the Australopithecus africanus species, which lived in Africa from about three million to two million years ago. The skull has holes neatly punched into its eye sockets; they were made by the talons of a large bird akin to an African crowned eagle.

We may be at the top of the food chain now, but in nature we — especially our children — were prey. That’s what happens when you live in the state of nature.

But even if we weren’t eaten by other animals, there were tremendous dangers. Our vaunted “natural lifestyle” left us at the mercy of weather and climate and other natural phenomena. We could and did die of exposure, famine, drought, volcanos and earth quakes. Technology — in the form of fire, shelter and agriculture protect us, though even today people are killed natural disasters.

Our genetic history speaks to a bottleneck.

Around 70,000 years ago, humanity’s global population dropped down to only a few thousand individuals, and it had major effects on our species.

One theory claims that a massive supervolcano in Indonesia erupted, blackening the sky with ash, plunging earth into an ice age, and killing off all but the hardiest humans…

But archaeological evidence shows that human hunter-gatherer settlements in India weren’t too affected by the eruption and quickly recovered. Temperature data embedded in the geology of Lake Malawi, in East Africa, also suggests that the region didn’t cool off that drastically.

So what did cause that major bottleneck 70,000 years ago, if not a giant volcano and an ice age?

Scientists aren’t sure, but they have some new ideas. A catastrophic spread of disease, for example, may have played a role. Or perhaps the way we currently think humans dispersed out of Africa needs some adjustment.

That was hardly the last time that infectious disease killed large swathes of the population. As recently as the 1300’s nearly one third of the world population annihilated by plague. More recently still, the influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people than died in WWI that proceeded it.

Infectious disease has always killed millions. Technology — in the form of sanitation, water purification, antibiotics and vaccines — now routinely saves lives, often by preventing children and adults from getting sick in the first place.

But not all threats to humans come from the outside; many come from within. Childbirth is notably unsafe and more babies die as a result of birth than of any other factor in the entire 18 years of childhood. Women routinely died of hemorrhage, infection, eclampsia and obstructed labor and babies routinely died of prematurity, birth injuries, infections and obstructed labor. Babies also died of insufficient breastmilk. Technology —- modern obstetrics and neonatology and all the interventions they represent, as well as infant formula — saves countless mothers and babies every single day.

Human beings are also vulnerable to injury from broken bones and wounds sustained battling both predators and each other. They are vulnerable to non-infectious diseases like asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, and anything that compromises biological function like poor vision or hearing. Technology — casting broken bones, stitching wounds, eyeglasses and hearing aids — mean that previously life threatening injuries or deficits are easily addressed and often completely remedied.

The bottom line is that in nature there is very little connection between natural lifespan and actual life expectancy. Very few animals in nature die of old age; they are eaten, injured or sickened long before that. In contrast, in countries with easy access to technology, human beings routinely exceed natural lifespan. US life expectancy is 76 years for men and 81 years for women. Without technology it would still be 35.

Only the deluded or the ignorant would pretend otherwise. And who would want to emulate that?

  • Eater of Worlds

    This 19 year old didn’t want to leave it up to nature. Her mother is sobbing over her getting vaccinated and posters are hoping she has a reaction so she can learn from her “mistake” Daily Fail with a possible Facebook link, I didn’t click it http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5451799/Anti-vax-mom-writes-Facebook-rant-daughter-getting-vaccines.html

    • maidmarian555

      Urgh. Of course the fact that her daughter is an adult and it’s *not her business to blast all over the internet* (after probably going through her stuff to find the paperwork) doesn’t even occur to her. That’s one totally out of order violation of privacy right there. These nuts often seem to have real difficulty understanding that their children are people and don’t belong to them.

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        She reminds me of a relative of mine, she’s a good mom but one thing she does that REALLY bugs me is ever since each of her pregnancies began, up to today, she Facebooks and Instagrams EVERY thing that happens in her and her children’s lives. Every fight she has with her husband, every mean though she has about her husband, every step of her children’s day including their bowel movements and how school is going. Every embarrassing detail. It was bad enough when they were babies but now they are almost 5 and 6. They are starting school. I am sure some of their friends have internet access. And all that stuff is right there for their friends to find.

        • maidmarian555

          Yeah I am reasonably cautious about how much I put out there. I always get a bit of an eye-twitch when people post bath pics and stuff of their toddlers. Sure your nudey baby is cute but that baby will be a teenager one day who will likely be mortified by that picture. See also parents of sons loudly and publicly shouting (especially on open FB pages) about what their views are re:circumcision. Just. Stop. That is way more info about your boy’s anatomy than he is going to want shared with the world.

          • StephanieJR

            You get in trouble for posting naked pictures of your ex online without their permission, and that’s (generally) when both of you are legal adults. We live in far too dangerous a world to make our children vulnerable online before their first words.

    • mabelcruet

      For all that it’s the daily mail, which I wouldn’t use to line my cats litter tray with, the overwhelming majority of the comments are supportive of the daughter and critical of the mother, both in relation to accessing her adult daughters medical details and publicising them, and for the anti-vaxx fuckwittery nonsense.

  • Ozlsn

    OT: Ok a friend just posted this article:

    https://www.mamamia.com.au/why-women-give-birth-lying-down/

    Call me unimaginative but I’m not seeing why a population would suddenly adopt this because their king thought it was a good idea. Let alone why it would spread to England, with their well known love of all things French (yes that was sarcasm). I haven’t gone to the original article yet (phone sucks) but it does feel like a bit of a stretch to imply that Louis XIV was mostly responsible for women switching from birthing stools to prone.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I suspect that’s an apocryphal story.

  • Zornorph

    Had I lived ‘in nature’ I would have been blind before my first birthday as I was born with infant glaucoma. I have no idea why people think doing things the ‘natural’ way is such a great thing.

    • sdsures

      “The grass is always greener on the other side”, perhaps?

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        No thanks, I like clean water, flush toilets, heating my house in New England in the winter, not dying of tetanus, dysentery or a burst appendix, and being able to get surgery for my crappy knees.

        • sdsures

          As do I. I posted the phrase as an explanation of the discussed behaviour, not directed at any commenters in particular.

  • Russell Jones

    As Dr. T herself has pointed out, few if any developments were more natural than humans using the brains they evolved to devise increasingly better forms of shelter, improve the quantity and quality of food and water sources, overcome geographical barriers, vastly increase lifepan/survival, and generally learn to shape the world to work for us instead of trying to kill us every minute of every day.

    Things would have been A-OK had the Illuminati not put autism in the vaccines and baby formula.

  • Who?

    A bit off topic but not really.

    In my state of leisure (and it’s been either raging hot or bucketing rain) I’ve been binge watching Netflix. Currently, I’m finishing Offspring, an Australian dramedy about a hospital obstetrician in her 30s, with the big job, a very unusual family and a pretty mixed up personal life. It’s set in beautiful inner Melbourne (where my daughter now lives) and I love it.

    Anyway, Nina has, in the last couple of episodes dealt with: a shoulder dystocia, a haemorage (sp, I’m lazy, sorry) and a prolapsed cord. In each case she has gone from apparently ditzy to full-on soft, calm and authoritative voice professional. They do kill people off occasionally, so it’s not clear at any given moment who, if anyone, will come out in one piece. I’ve no idea how medically real it is (though the actresses do the labour sounds to the point I curl up in the foetal position) but they were all scary moments when you would want someone who knows what to do, what help they need, and won’t panic, to deal with it.

    Offspring might well be doing its bit to limit homebirth in Australia.

    • BeatriceC

      I’ve been looking for a new series to watch. I think you just helped me find it.

      • Who?

        Can you get it in the US?

        • BeatriceC

          It popped up when I searched for it. I had the same thought, so I looked right away. I’m assuming it will play if it showed up in the search.

          • Who?

            Enjoy it! Pretty much everyone in it is ‘world famous in Australia’ and Melbourne is very much one of the stars.

      • Hannah

        Me too… fingers crossed I can get it in the UK

    • Heidi

      It donned on me that this whole time I could download something on Netflix and watch it at the gym. I was getting sick of my workout playlist and staring out at the parking lot. So last night at the Y, Offspring got me through fat-burning mode on the elliptical!

  • mabelcruet

    Bit OT-the UK charity Bliss which supports families of babies who are premature or who need admission to NICU after birth has turned down a large donation from a company specialising in preterm infant formula. They were going to use the funding to provide training for managing premie infants and research. They initially accepted the donation, but then the twitterati (lead by certain midwives) complained so much that they decided to decline it.

    • Steph858

      That makes me SO ANGRY. I would post Bliss a tweet in support (in the “Ignore those idiots” sense of ‘support’), but I’ve said some very anti-crunchy stuff on my twitter which I’m sure the anti-formula crowd would jump on as proof I’m a shill, so any such support from me might do more harm than good.

      I would like to formally invite those ‘certain midwives’ to exclusively breastfeed an uncooperative micropreemie themselves. Oh, you’re not lactating? Well, neither was I when my son was born. But I’m sure you’ll figure something out!

      • ukay

        And nvm those gloating monsters in the comments who are so happy a charity was deprived of funds because of their obsession with purity. Way to validate yourself.

  • yentavegan

    I am so grateful to be alive here and now. 70 thousand years ago if I survived giving birth, my oldest daughter, and my youngest son would both have succumbed to apendicitis.

  • namaste

    “I’ve heard that the latest fashion look is a return to the 1970’s“

    Arguably the most horrifying sentence ever to appear on this blog.

    • Heidi

      I agree. But fortunately I have a timeless classic style: sweatpants and t-shirts so I shall be unscathed by the trend.

    • AnnaPDE

      Maybe it’s just my age, but in comparison to the carrot-shaped jeans of the 80s, combined with the shoulder pads and mullet hairstyles, the classic 70s look seems downright excellent.

      • Heidi

        I think the carrot shaped/mom jeans are trying to make a comeback.

        • AnnaPDE

          Ikr? That’s why I stocked up on my favourite jeans last time I saw it – straight with a slight flare, low-ish rise. I don’t care how early 2000s that will look in hindsight. My teen years were devoted to finding non-mum jeans that kind of fit me – not going to repeat that decade.

          • Heidi

            I’ve just accepted the jeans trend. I refuse, however, to ever do the 80s hair. Due to somewhat neglectful parents, I could probably count on my hands (maybe even one hand) the number of times I got a haircut as a kid. I am so done with bad hair as an adult.

          • MaineJen

            The bangs! Dear lord, the bangs.

          • Roadstergal

            The teasing! OMG, the bangs were as tall as the heads, and were bulletproof.

            One comedian in the ’80s – “I think one of those girls tripped, fell, and invented the Garden Weasel.”

          • mabelcruet

            It was the hairspray-honestly, the army could use 1980s hairspray as some form of body armour-get your Farah Fawcett flicks done, make it bullet proof with half a can of hair spray.

          • Charybdis

            Final Net was like lacquer or shellac. I would have to wash my hair twice to get it all out, if I used it at all. I had short hair in the 80’s and thank God for mousse and gel as those were my main styling aids.

          • MaineJen

            I still have nightmares about the bright blue or pink cans of Aquanet.

          • Charybdis

            I was in high school in the 80’s and every school dance had girls in the bathroom in a fog of hairspray. If you were in the right place, you didn’t have to use yours; you could just catch the fallout from everybody else hogging the mirrors and spraying their hair. Ahh, aerosol hairspray!

          • Heidi

            The early 90s weren’t much better either! I always hated the bangs that almost went way past the natural bang line and were teased, but I went through a period in middle school and early high school where I had to curl my bangs under and hairspray them. I remember my curling iron had burnt on hairspray and I burnt my forehead a few times.

          • Who?

            I was emotionally scarred for years by 80s hair products, but rejoice, twenty-first century hair products are amazing. Things to deal with humidity induced frizz, volume products that are light on the hair, and holding products that don’t feel/look like you are wearing a helmet.

            My issue now though is that I don’t know that the messy hair look-so hard to achieve-really works with the untidy face that comes with middle age.

            It’s entirely possible I need to be busier…

          • Heidi

            Oh yes. I have this volumizer spray that I love. It’s in an aerosol can like hairspray and holds like a light hairspray but it’s not funny* and my hair moves naturally while retaining it’s ummph. I have a lot of hair which you’d think would be a dream for volume but where it’s heavy, it weighs the top down which isn’t a good look for my face. Between getting my hair thinned out, layered and that awesome spray, I have the hair I always wanted.

            *Gunky, not funny

          • Who?

            I know right! I have really fine hair, but lots of it, and it grows more thickly on some parts of my head rather than others.

            So with the good cut, layers, thinning out, and the products, I have hair that looks great all day, and I love it. Having a balyage next week to help soften the twinklies, it’s not the grey I mind so much as the fact that they are wiry and horrible. I can’t bear the thought of a regular colour to cover them up.

          • Charybdis

            DEAR GOD, WHAT DID YOU FIND TO DEAL WITH HUMIDITY BASED FRIZZ?

            Sorry for shouting; humidity is the bane of my hair’s existence, even with proper conditioning, etc. Natural curls can be a stone bitch to deal with sometimes.

          • Who?

            This is it, online http://pureology.com.au/collections/smooth-perfection/smooth-perfection-lightweight-smoothing-lotion

            I got it from the hairdresser a while ago and fear I may have exchanged
            it for a kidney but it goes on forever as you only need a tiny bit. I
            smooth it through my wet hair (not the roots) and it is great. My hair wasn’t coloured when I bought it, nor is it dry to begin with. My daughter, whose naturally curly and coloured hair is quite dry, loves it.

          • Amy

            My go-to is a product called Shea Moisture coconut and hibiscus “Curl and Shine Conditioner.” Work into still-wet hair after your shower, leave in, let dry naturally. I love everything about it.

            (Super dry 3C curls here.)

          • kilda

            I’m hoping for the high waist jeans to come back so I can stock up on them. I have a weirdly high waist and no butt, so even non-low rise jeans are low rise on me and try to fall off. It’s been so hard in the last few years with low rise jeans in style to find any jeans that come even close to fitting my shape.

          • Heidi

            If you live in the States, I know Target had almost exclusively high-waisted jeggings a few months ago.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Meanwhile I kind of like mom jeans or guy’s relaxed fit ones. My problem these days is since I developed PMDD last year, I bloat so I can’t wear my favorite jeans half the month.

          • Heidi

            I have some jeans that are too big. I call them my sweatpant jeans. I can go out in them and not actually wear sweatpants but not worry about them being too tight if I overindulge or during that wonderful time of the month (which is also probably when I’m most likely to overindulge and not want to cook at home). Thankfully, my hip/butt area is big and even though they are too big around the waist, no fears about them falling off. It’s my lifehack.

          • kilda

            for some reason, high-waisted only seems to exist in jeggings though, not looser fit jeans. Jeggings are not kind to this 50 year old body.

          • Heidi

            Walmart had some by Faded Glory that were both high waisted and pretty relaxed. They were called Girlfriend jeans. Normally, I wouldn’t know all about the jeans out there but I’ve been losing a lot of weight and have to go buy new but cheap clothes every few weeks.

          • mabelcruet

            I think bootcut jeans are the work of the devil-for anyone with heavy thighs they make your legs look like egg timers.

          • swbarnes2

            The other thing you can do is “clone” your jeans; there are companies in India which you can send your jeans to, and they will make copies with the same measurements. And they remember those measurements if you want more later.

          • sdsures

            Oooh, that would be great!

      • Who?

        I’m late to the jeans party, but wanted to share that I have Given Up Wearing Jeans. Years ago.

        It’s difficult at first, but well worth the effort.

    • Who?

      Call me shallow and judge me all ways to Sunday, but I am mesmerised by the grooming standard in the seventies programs/ads.

      Compared to today’s airbrushed look, they look positively human (well, mostly). Eyebrows, weird teeth, lumps and bumps. And seventies skinny isn’t skinny by noughties standards. Which is odd because pretty much every regular human then was slimmer than pretty much every regular human now.

      • Roadstergal

        Except for Twiggy. She was skinny by the standards of any era.

        • Who?

          The sixties-and yes she was. Still looks amazing.

      • Gæst

        I secretly love 70s nudity, with all the hair.

        • Who?

          I know right.

  • Cartman36

    My oldest got a tooth abscess when he was 3. The pediatric dentist said a tiny cavity was in just the right spot to cause the abscess. The pediatric dentist rearranged her schedule to see him and he started antibiotics right away. He is totally fine now other than a spacer in the spot until his adult tooth comes in.

    200 years ago (maybe even 100), this probably would have killed him. Dr. Amy is spot on that we forget how hard life was prior to the industrial revolution.

    • Who?

      Poor little fellow-so painful.

      Teeth will kill you. My son’s badly infected wisdom tooth in his early twenties might well have done for him. The dentist took it out on the spot when he saw him. He doesn’t have a single filling-tough teeth, and he’s a nut for dental hygiene, but that tooth was horrible.

      • Gæst

        I had a molar extraction for an abscess – I felt nothing at all, but it showed on a routine x-ray. When the surgeon pulled the tooth, it released a horrible smell of death. I was rotting away from the inside and had no idea. My insurance covered most of the extraction, but not an implant, so now I have an awkward gap.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      it happens today, in the U.S. mostly to people who can’t afford dental care or can’t afford antibiotics:
      https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/tragic-results-when-dental-care-is-out-of-reach/
      If you are poor life can still be nasty, brutish and short.

      • Cartman36

        That is so sad. I can see how it happens. His extraction cost us almost $400 because our dental insurance didn’t cover the sedation part.

        • Roadstergal

          OK, that is fuuuuuked up.

  • BeatriceC

    MrC disagrees that no harm is done by a shared delusion about 1970’s fashion. I should dig out his wedding pictures with his late wife. His outfit and his hair are something to behold, for sure.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      oooh! I must see this 😀

      • BeatriceC

        I’m am 100% positive that he would not approve of me posting them on a public website. I’ll pm you on FB. 😀

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          *grinning devilishly*

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Oh yes, he was quite the fashion plate!

          • BeatriceC

            He’s most certainly aged very, very well. His fashion taste also improved with time. His hair started getting shorter in the early 80’s, but didn’t get actually short (and therefore non-poofy) until the late 90’s. Even then it was still kinda poofy. The super short he keeps it today didn’t start until about ten years ago.

  • Roadstergal

    I do love this post. Reading it, all I can think of is Nostalgia, by Billy Collins:

    Remember the 1340’s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
    You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
    and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
    the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
    Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
    and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
    Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

    Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
    marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
    of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
    Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
    while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
    We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
    These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

    The 1790’s will never come again. Childhood was big.
    People would take walks to the very tops of hills
    and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
    Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
    We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
    It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

    I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
    Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
    And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
    time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
    or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
    recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
    berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

    Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
    I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
    and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
    flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
    and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

    As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
    letting my memory rush over them like water
    rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
    I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
    a dance whose name we can only guess.

    • sdsures

      Nostalgia, romanticising that which we don’t currently have.

    • StephanieA

      I enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing.

      • Roadstergal

        I evangelize Billy Collins whenever possible! He’s so sweet and funny and thought-provoking… man, I hope he’s never given anyone reason to #MeToo… :/ Searching his poems on YouTube is a pleasing evening. He was poet laureate for a while, and wrote a heartbreaking poem called The Names to commemorate the victims on September 11th. There’s a video of him reading it to some very bored congresspeople. :p

        • Emilie Bishop

          I love him too. This was my “gateway” Collins poem. Thanks for sharing!

        • MaineJen

          His “On Turning Ten” still moves me to tears:
          “…It seems only yesterday I used to believe
          there was nothing under my skin but light.
          If you cut me I could shine.
          But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
          I skin my knees. I bleed.”

          • Roadstergal

            That’s one of the poems I have hanging in my cubicle.

    • Or: “I’ve got a little list
      Of society offenders
      Who might well be underground
      And never would be missed
      They never would be missed…

      Then the idiot who praises,
      with enthusiastic tone,
      All centuries but this,
      and every country but his own”