"Not all progress leads to a better future"

Nothing escapes change. Today's culture, upbringing, childhood, economy, health, food, sleep, sex, and even happiness, are nothing like what our parents, grandparents, and other more distant ancestors understood. were these subjects. Everything changes and evolves faster and faster. However, the human body has hardly changed in the last 200,000 years, which confronts us with challenges for which our mental and physiological structures are not prepared.

This is how Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, renowned evolutionary biologists and doctors from the University of Michigan, collect it. They believe that the main challenges of the modern world stem from the mismatch between our lifestyle and our evolutionary legacy. In their 'Hunter Gatherer's Guide for the 21st Century' (Editorial Planeta), they identify most of the large-scale problems of our time, through the lens of evolution, and reflect on the greatest dilemma of our time: the 'hypernovelty'. “The rate at which changes occur in today's society exceeds our ability to adapt. We are creating new problems at an ever-increasing speed, for which we are not prepared, which is affecting our physical, mental, social and environmental health. If we do not find a way to address the problem of unbridled novelty, humanity will perish a victim of its own success, "they warn.

It is not that they deny innovation and progress, nor do they bet on abandoning technology. On the contrary, both celebrate human intelligence, which they see as "the cause of many of our current problems, but also the solution." “We are explorers and innovators by nature. The same impulses that have forged the problematic modern condition are our only lifeline”, they say. What they advocate is that novelty be applied with common sense and caution, because "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."

Cover of the book 'Hunter Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century' (Planeta).

living short term

A major obstacle to 'hyper-novelty', according to them, is the economic structure on which the industrialized world is based. «Markets prioritize short-term decisions, which bring quick benefits, even if they have negative long-term consequences. Markets are valuable, important and necessary in modern societies, but they have intervened excessively, and in an unregulated way, in many areas of our lives that we should protect from these short-term impulses, such as childhood, love, music or science» .

They give the example of medicine. "The health system is reluctant to think in evolutionary terms and usually opts for pharmacological patches (more lucrative in the short term) that instead of correcting old problems, masks them and ends up generating new ones," they maintain. In fact, they consider that the pandemic itself is a symptom of the 'hypernovelty' to which the world today is doomed. “Whatever path it took to reach humans, Covid-19 is a product of technology. A virus so weak that it could have broken down with a little coordination and fresh air, it is a disease that is contracted in buildings, cars, ships, trains and planes, “they sentence.

In his opinion, what is happening is that “we are disregarding previous knowledge and embracing modern answers that do not work. The question is, do we prefer to preserve what already exists in our culture and keep things the same or do we prefer to imagine a future that we think could be better? We should prefer both, because there are certainly things that we have been doing for many years that still work. Progress is necessary and positive, but not all progress leads to a better future. In the 21st century we are losing sight of our values ​​and abandoning the wisdom of the past, which is a dangerous mistake and puts our species at greater risk.

«Human intelligence is the cause of many of our current problems, but also the solution»

Heather Heying y Bret Weinstein

evolutionary biologists

They explain it with another example: “Progress has significantly influenced the relationships between men and women, starting with birth control, which has completely changed the view of sex -from reproductive drive to cultural fun-. At the same time, the current view of sex as fun leads us to extreme behaviors (such as gang rape) and makes us very individualistic. Therefore, this is a clear case that, in terms of sexual relations, the traditional vision is no longer valid, but the current one is not the most appropriate either.

Children in the body of adults

Speaking of men and women, they also question the concept of gender equality currently promoted by some activists, politicians, journalists and experts. “Men and women should be equal before the law, which is something that has not historically been the case, but that does not mean that we are equal in evolutionary terms. We have 500 million years behind us that clearly show these gender differences. We should not assume that men and women will make exactly the same decisions, or that they will want to excel at the same things. To prevent prejudice or sexism from predicting who does what, we should remove as many barriers as possible that prevent everyone from freely choosing their way of life, "they declare.

Is that what feminism is achieving? Heying replies: “The current feminist movement is nothing like the feminism I grew up with, nor does it strike me as interested in women's rights. I think we should go back to a previous feminism and recognize all the possibilities that, between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, we women have achieved, with the ultimate goal of recognizing men and women equal before the law, but without pretending that we are between us”.

«Men and women should be equal before the law, but that does not mean that we are equal in evolutionary terms»

In terms of education, the authors also have a lot to say. “No other species, nor any other culture, except in industrialized countries, has outsourced the majority of learning to the school environment. It is clear that it is necessary to learn to read and write, to debate and to exercise memory, but if we do not learn to relate to the physical world and nature, and to receive lessons from people outside the limits of the school context (such as our parents and grandparents ), it will be much harder for children to grow up to be capable and thoughtful adults," the authors state.

unhappier than ever

This idea collides, at the same time, with education based on overprotection, so common today. “If we raise children without having to face risk at any time, we will end up with adults, with the body of an adult but the mind of a child, who will not know how to manage many situations in their lives and will not be able to learn from the mistakes they make. », regrets Heying.

As a consequence, modern youth are the ones with more mental health problems than in other times. «Paradoxically, we are unhappier than before although, in general, things are going better for us. The problem is that we are not adapted to the modern society in which we live and many times we do things that go against our own interest. For example, in industrialized countries we are obsessed with food and with a specific question: what is the best diet for humanity? The answer is that designing a universal diet is impossible, because different societies have adapted evolutionarily according to the diet their ancestors had. Therefore, taking into account the ethnic group and its gastronomic traditions is important when building a diet. Constantly generalizing and analyzing the ingredients we eat not only makes us insane, but also unhappy.

In addition, we are adrift in the loss of freedoms, fostered by the rise of nationalism, and characterized by tension and violence, which does not help achieve that state of happiness that human beings seek. "Unfortunately, the world we live in today seems predicted by a combination of George Orwell's '1984' novels and Adolf Huxley's 'Brave New World,' they lament. In his opinion, «the solution to this host of problems involves opening a dialogue on what ancient wisdom can still bring us when applied to certain current problems, and how we should modify or reinterpret it in those areas where it has become obsolete , but not to deny it completely».