In Praise of Extremism and Collective Evolution

The longer I think about it, the more I'm convinced that health and fulfillment are found in the extremes, not in moderation.

The paleo/low-carb community makes a big deal out of the supposed health of the Masai and Inuit. Even if it were true (which is sort of is and sort of isn't, at least in terms of longevity vs vigor and physique and quality of life), it's a totally reductionist argument which misses the bigger point:

The Masai and Inuit live what we would consider extreme lifestyles, without the nest of creature comforts and controlled environments that we have constructed for ourselves in the developed world.

And although they're far from vegan, they don't eat junk food (at least traditionally).

To be truly healthy and human, I would argue, requires a combination of extreme diet, extreme movement, and extreme willingness to face physical, environmental, and emotional discomfort without flinching or avoiding these stimuli.

That's why just mimicking the animal-heavy diet of a traditional culture is a silly reductionist justification for meat eating. If someone tells you, “What about the Inuit?”, ask them if they spend 24/7 in subzero temperatures and support themselves through physical labor. Then they might be able to partly mitigate the effects of a bacon-based diet. (Although without the Inuit genetic adaptations, I doubt it.)

Extremism is Normal; Moderation Isn't

The point is, what has been normal human experience for millions of years — a whole food, plant-based diet (not vegan, but mostly plants); the need for movement and exertion to wrest sustenance, security, and shelter from nature; and intermittent exposure to environmental shocks (cold, heat, wind, water, hard surfaces) — is now considered “extreme” by a culture that has elevated comfort food, couch potato-dom, and 72 degrees and dry to biological imperatives.

And we're becoming increasingly sick and miserable as a result. What Nicholas Nassim Taleb would call “anti-fragile.”

And the whole thing is built upon two extremely non-sustainable systems: the winner-take-all capitalism that creates incentives to strip-mine, mono-crop, pollute the commons, and poison our own people with toxic products, and the petroleum reserves that allow us to temporarily exceed our daily allowance of solar energy.

When both come crashing down, whether in 5 years, 50 years, or 500 hundred years (all three mere blinks in the geological time scale), who among us will be able to withstand the world that we will have to inhabit? If indeed it is habitable at all.

No matter what we do individually, we're just plants in the ground. If, as my friend and teacher Tad Hargrave reminds us, the soil itself is toxic, there are severe limits on how healthy and fulfilled each of us can be.

Evolve or Die

What's needed now is a quantum leap in human evolution. Not something dramatic like growing wings or fins, but arguable more profound: to democratize the spiritual quest so it's not just the purview of yogis and monks and Western elites.

To make the care of our souls our top priority. To discover how to be loving. How to be Love.

How to metabolize all our past and present suffering and turn it into the compost in which our souls can grow.

How to surrender our domestication and get in touch with the healing wildness within.

And then to live like Avatars, like archetypal royalty, so that everyone around us is drawn to drink from the same well.

It's no longer enough to chase our own enlightenment and our own physical health and dismiss the rest of the world.

Learn.

Do.

Teach.

We're all in this together. And, to steal a beautiful line from Robert Moss, the time is GO.

2 Responses to “In Praise of Extremism and Collective Evolution”

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  1. Janet says:

    Love this piece. Thanks for posting it Howard. You’re the best.

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