UNNATURAL:

 How Technology is Destroying Human Happiness


(a work in progress)



       Although the people of the contemporary world enjoy unprecedented personal wealth, abundant food, the most effective medical care in human history, and the longest average life-spans ever recorded, they remain surprisingly unhappy. Study after study by researchers from numerous scientific disciplines shows that the lives of contemporary people are filled with chronic stress, anxiety, depression,  and loneliness at levels that have rarely been reported for any human society.

Seeking relief from their psychological torments, modern people have turned for comfort to drugs, foods, and electronic communications. But their addictive consumption of these products has only compounded the problem. Now, in addition to their psychological suffering, their gross overconsumption of foods, drugs, and electronic communications has produced an epidemic of physical and mental health problems severe enough to become life-threatening.

This book is an attempt to explain the origins and nature of a strange paradox: that the triumphs of modern technology seem to have resulted in an actual reduction in human happiness. 

To begin to understand what has happened to us, we must go back to our earliest beginnings and trace the evolution of the human species. 

Throughout the millions of years of evolution, the human mind and bodylike the prehistoric apes from which we evolvedwas  adapted to living intimately within the natural environments of tropical Africa. Hunting game and gathering plant foods, wandering constantly in search of new supplies of natural foods, living in caves or in primitive huts and tents, armed with simple tools and weapons of stone, bone, and wood, and protected from the elements by little more than their crude and tiny dwellings, the skins of the animals they hunted, and the small campfires they built to keep themselves warm, prehistoric humans long ago adapted to the lifestyle of nomadic hunting and gathering that characterized all human societies until well after the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago.

Yet it was only a few thousand years later—and more than 100,000 years since the human species attained its modern form—that humanity developed an entirely new way of life based on agriculture and settled down to live in stationery houses and permanent communities. The technology of agriculture eventually led to the abandonment of the nomadic hunting and gathering way of life, the emergence of cities, and ultimately to the rise of the urban civilizations that have flourished all over the world for most of the past 5,000 years. And it was only a few hundred years ago that the invention of precision machinery, modern firearms, the steam engine, electricity, and the internal combustion engine completely transformed the world, and with it, the lives of its human inhabitants. 

This book explores the ways in which our modern lifestyle—based on the unnatural world that technology has created—no longer harmonizes with the human natures we inherited from our hunting and gathering ancestors. And it will explain why the clash between our natures and our technology-driven world has created a plague of unhappiness that is arguably both more widespread and more severe than has ever been recorded in human history.



 

 

Part One:

The Assault on Human Nature


       Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the ancient harmony that once existed between human nature and the natural environment has been swept away, replaced by the profound disconnect that now exists between our inherited natures and the technology-driven world we have created for ourselves. The result of this disconnect is the profound mental and physical unease that now afflicts most of the people living in the world’s most technologically advanced societies.

Technology has changed every aspect of human existence, but the highly adaptable human species has grown so accustomed to living an unnatural life that it no longer recognizes the disconnect between its inner nature and the technological world it inhabits from birth to the end of life.




Chapter 1

Human Nature in a Technological World

Living the Unnatural Life In a Technology-Driven Society

 

Hunters and Gatherers in the Natural World

How the Traditional Human Lifestyle Disappeared

The Evidence That Human Behavior is Inherited

The Nature of Human Nature

The Unnatural Life Began With the Invention of Agriculture

The Disconnect Between Human Nature and Modern Life

Neural Adaptation: How the Brain Adjusts to Unnatural Conditions

Social Acceptance: The Power of Other People’s Perceptions


      Many behaviors that are found in all human societies are unique to the human species, including fire and cooking, a complex spoken language, religious worship, singing and dancing, and our uniquely human expressions of emotion. These and other universal human behaviors show that we have all inherited a definable human nature that evolved during our species’ long history as hunters and gatherers, but our natures have become disconnected from the unnatural world of modern industrial society. Yet we go through life with little or no awareness of this disconnect, because the human brain naturally adapts to almost any condition as long as it is persistent—and accepts the perceptions of the people around us, even when they fly in the face of reality.



Chapter 2

A Rising Tide of Unhappiness

Stress, Anxiety, Loneliness, and Depression is the New Normal

 

The Loss of Freedom and Autonomy

The Loss of Human Companionship

Information Overload

The Shock of Change

Culture Wars

Psychoactive Pollution

How Chronic Anxiety and Stress Can Kill You


     Advanced technologies have bestowed numerous benefits on humankind, but the unnatural lifestyles these technologies have created significant hazards to our psychological well-being. These include the loss of personal freedom and autonomy, the loss of human companionship, a mental life drowning in information overload, the shock of rapid and continuous change, pervasive culture wars, and an environment poisoned by pollutants that affect our minds and bodies. These hazards to mental and emotional health, which have become acute in modern times, have resulted in unprecedented levels of chronic anxiety and stress within the world’s most technologically advanced societies.



Chapter 3

Unnatural Work

Overworked, Undercompensated, and Insecure

 

The Part-Time Work of Hunters and Gatherers

The Full-Time Work of Farmers and Herders

How the Employment Society Dominates Human Life

Boredom, Alienation, Insecurity, and Anxiety in Contemporary Work


      When anthropologists began to study the working life of hunting and gathering societies, they were astonished to find that even in the harshest environment, people spent less than twenty hours per week hunting and foraging for the food they needed. Agricultural people, on the other hand, worked much longer and harder to accumulate the surplus wealth that allowed them to survive periods of famine and to create the complex, large-scale societies that grew into the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and the Americas.

Since the work that preindustrial people did was woven into the fabric of their daily lives, the concept of employment did not exist for most of human history. But with the coming of the industrial revolution, a new type of society arose, built on the premise of employment for wages. In this new contemporary society, the vast majority of people depend for their livelihoods on doing specific jobs for near-strangers, receiving in return neither food nor goods but rather symbolic wealth in the form of money that can be exchanged for food and goods. The result, for the majority of adults, is a working life characterized by boredom, alienation, insecurity, and anxiety.




Chapter 4

Unnatural Sleep

Artificial Light, Unnatural Schedules, and Chronic Insomnia


Sunrise, Sunset, and the Moon

Sleeping With Fire and Staying Up Late

Lamplight, Candlelight, and Electric Lights

Sleep in the Clockwork Society

The Health Risks of Inadequate Sleep


      When the industrial revolution replaced the dim, flickering light of fires, lamps, and candles with the artificial daylight of electric lighting, the human brain no longer took its cues from the rising and setting of the sun. Instead, humanity began to lose its connection to the rhythms of daylight and darkness that govern the behavior of all other forms of terrestrial life. No longer connected to these natural rhythms, human sleep has taken a back seat not only to the demands of work but also to the temptations of social life and electronic entertainment. As a result, sleep disorders have become commonplace and chronic, and the unnatural patterns of sleep in modern life have progressed to the point where they have become a serious risk to human health.


 

 

 

Part Two:

 An Unnatural Human Life-Cycle

 

     

      During the past century, generations of cultural anthropologists have studied the human life-cycle in a wide variety of societies and cultures. Time and again, they have found great similarities among societies with similar socioeconomic and technological conditions. Among hunters and gatherers, the experiences of childhood, adulthood, and old age all exhibited patterns that—while varying in detail from one society to the next—were surprisingly alike in their fundamental aspects. Likewise, although the human life cycle changed significantly after preindustrial societies adopted agriculture and a settled existence, it remained remarkably similar in its essentials across a wide range of cultures and natural environments.

      With the coming of high technology and the post-industrial society, however, the old patterns of the hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies have been swept away, and a new, alarmingly dysfunctional life cycle has appeared. From early childhood to the end of life, modern people progress through an unnatural life cycle that has stifled spontaneity and creativity, restricted interaction and communication, and stunted the normal process of human maturation.



Chapter 5

Unnatural Childhood

Growing Up in Captivity

 

 

When Childhood Was a Time of Freedom

Starved for Play

Adult Supervision, Structured Routines, and Enforced Isolation

Mandatory Schooling and the Failure to Mature

Walled Off From the Adult World

Age Segregation

 

      Childhood in tribal societies was a time of freedom, exploration, daily exposure to adult life and adult role models, and intense interaction with other children. But in modern society children are raised in virtual captivity. They are typically isolated from children older or younger than themselves, and they have little or no contact with the adult world. Compared with the children of previous eras, the lives of children in modern times are both severely confined and highly structured, and they live under the constant supervision of teachers and caregivers. In school, children sit in an assigned seat for hours, prohibited from interacting with their peers. Modern children grow up without adequate opportunities to develop social skills and struggle, often without success, to develop meaningful adult roles and authentic adult personalities later in life.



Chapter 6

Unnatural Adulthood

The Failure to Mature Becomes Commonplace

 

Almost Endless Adolescence

The Decline of Lasting Sexual Partnerships

Choosing to Remain Childless


       Adulthood in contemporary society seems to arrive later and later in life. For the generations who came of age in the 21st century, living with their parents and remaining dependent on their financial support has become commonplace well into their thirties. Marriage—which was once considered a mandatory requirement for achieving adulthood—has become not only optional but has been declining in popularity for decades in the most technologically advanced nations. And even among the shrinking number of people who marry or establish permanent sexual relationships, having children has lost much of its appeal and is no longer regarded as either an inevitable or even necessary outcome of choosing a life partner.



Chapter 7

Unnatural Old Age

The Elderly Lose Their Relevance, Prestige, and Self-Esteem

 

The Obsolete Generation

Retired From Life and Out of the Family

Alone at the End of Life


     It was not long ago that men and women who lived to a ripe old de valued as vital sources of experience and wisdom, and they were treated with respect and deference. But in our fast-changing society, the elderly have become marginalized and—due to the rapidly-changing nature of modern society—much of their knowledge and experience has become obsolete and of little or no interest to the younger generations. Increasingly separated geographically and socially from their children and grandchildren, they often live in isolation and loneliness. And at the end of life, they pass out of this world less often in the bosom of loving families and more often in the sterile solitude of a nursing home or hospital room.



Chapter 8

The Disappearing Family

Weakened Roles and Broken Relationships

 

The Ancient Human Family

Clan, Kinfolk, and Extended Families

The Disappearance of Family Life

The Decline of the Family in Modern Society

How Women and the Elderly Lost Their Importance

Family Responsibilities and the Obligations of the State

Homeless Amid Plenty


      For nearly all of human history, the family has been a bedrock of human society, but in modern times this bedrock has been crumbling. Traditional family roles have fallen by the wayside, the sharing of work, wealth, and property among  family members has become increasingly obsolete, and a growing number of people live without homes, without families, and without a meaningful connection to society. In recent decades, the nation-state has assumed increasing responsibility for the welfare, protection, and support of the elderly, impoverished, and disabled members of society. Has the human family finally become obsolete?



 

 

 

Part Three:

Searching for Happiness

 

      As they experience the pain and frustration of their unnatural lives and broken life-cycles, it is inevitable that modern people have come to seek comfort and relief in activities that provided humans with biologically pleasurable rewards. Thus, human nature itself drives people to seek the things which, throughout human prehistory, have been able to ease the pain and sorrows of our ancestors. These include especially the pleasure of eating, the relief of medicine, and the comfort of human communication. 

      The problem for modern people is that modern food has become singularly abundant and unnaturally pleasing to the human palate, medicine has become a powerful and addictive source of emotional gratification, and human communication has become cheapened and diluted by being squeezed by the arbitrary limitations of electronic media. Thus, in seeking relief from chronic unhappiness, people have been ruining their bodies with excessive food, ruining their minds with excessive drugs, and losing the comfort of spontaneous human interaction by becoming addicted to the artificiality of digital communications.


 

 


Chapter 9

Unnatural Eating

Ruining Our Bodies by Seeking Comfort in Food

 

Eating for Pleasure

Overfed Yet Malnourished

The Wages of Obesity

Sugar and Salt, Oil and Fat

The Diet as Cure-All


      The foods that now dominate the modern diet are eaten not so much to sustain life as to provide solace in the midst of unhappiness. The human body is programmed to crave sweet and salty food as well as meats rich in fats and oils—all of which were in limited supply as long as people had to hunt and gather wild foods. But the foods produced by industrial agriculture are plentiful and inexpensive, and the foods that sell best are often rich in calories, deficient in vital nutrients, loaded with chemical additives, and marketed relentlessly for profit. The result is an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease without precedent in human history. Understanding that modern dietary habits are not only unnatural but often unhealthy, modern people have embraced a bewildering variety of diets and food taboos. But since unnatural eating is only one part of the puzzle, all of the other problems remain.



Chapter 10

Unnatural Medicine

Fighting Unhappiness by Drugging the Mind

 

Treating Normal Emotions With Psychoactive Drugs

Drug Addiction, Legal and Illegal

Psychiatry Corrupted

Drugging Children to Make Them Behave

Drugging Adults to Make Them Accept Their Unhappy Lives


      Modern medicine has found cures for infectious diseases, developed effective treatments for wounds and infections that used to be fatal, and greatly extended the average human life span.  But in recent decades the pharmaceutical industry—as well as  the practice of psychiatry—has been corrupted by the massive profits it has reaped from the prescribing and sale of psychoactive drugs. Excessive overmedication is now commonplace—not only for a vast range of psychological problems, but also for behaviors that result from the unnatural conditions of daily life. To a degree that would have been unfathomable to earlier generations, the use of psychoactive drugs in modern society has become accepted as normal, and—incredibly—a large part of the population—including both children and adults—are not only legal drug users but—in every sense of the word—the victims of medically-induced drug addiction.



Chapter 11

Unnatural Communication

Seeking Companionship in Electronic Media

 

The Human Need for Communication

Communication in Small-Scale Societies

How Agriculture Limited Human Interaction

How the Industrial Revolution Stifled Human Interaction

Electronic Media Fill the Void

Addicted to Digital Devices


     Cultural anthropologists have long observed that people in tribal societies talk to each other constantly from morning to night. In fact, the innate human need for constant communication with others is part of our human DNA. But as technology has played an increasingly greater role in society, face-to-face interaction has been increasingly suppressed. The long hours and isolated homesteads of agricultural societies made interaction outside of the immediate family more difficult, and the industrial revolution stifled interaction even within the family. Men went to work, children went to school, and women stayed home. As loneliness and solitude became widespread in modern society, the frustrated human need for companionship and communication was replaced by new devices of electronic communication.

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Chapter 12

The Quest For a More Natural Life

Restoring Harmony Between Technology and Human Nature

 

Humanizing Work

Respecting the Need For Sleep

Liberating the Young

Reinventing the Family

Eating Naturally

Reducing Dependence on Psychoactive Drugs

Rediscovering the Art of Human Communication

Reconnecting With Nature


     Our technology-based world is here to stay. Civilization is not going to devolve back into some form of preindustrial way of life, because that is not what people want. Yet in a world where happiness, satisfaction, and the simple pleasures of life are in short supply, the thirst for change is strong. By carefully exploring, analyzing, and comprehending our human natures—and by understanding the changes in modern culture that have stifled and frustrated our natural human needs—modern society can chart a path to the creation of new cultural traditions. In that way, will we can begin to restore the harmony that has been lost between our inherited human natures and the technological world that humanity has created for the present and the future.


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Copyright © 2019 Richard L. Currier, PhD. All Rights Reserved.