It’s our brain what done it

In: Uncategorized

12 Jan 2008

A new spin on growth scepticism from John Naish, a health journalist, in an extract from his book Enough in today’s Times (London). He takes two of the usual charges from the growth sceptic litany – humanity is destroying the environment and making it unhappy – and blames them on our primitive human brains.

The opening passage of the extract argues that: “Over the past decade, two facts have become increasingly obvious – that our ever-increasing consumption is wrecking the planet, and that continually chasing more stuff, more food and more entertainment no longer makes us any happier. Instead, levels of stress, obesity and dissatisfaction are spiralling.” Of course these may appear to be obvious “facts” to Naish but they are far from straightforward or beyond dispute.

However, Naish does not waste any time. The next passage gives his explanation for what he sees as our terrible social maladies: “So why is our culture still chasing, consuming, striving ever harder, even though we know in our sophisticated minds that it’s an unrewarding route to eco-geddon? New scientific studies are helping to reveal why. It’s our primitive brains. These marvellous machines got us down from the trees and around the world, through ice ages, famines, plagues and disasters, into our unprecedented era of abundance. But they never had to evolve an instinct that said, ‘enough’.”

By a few paragraphs down it is becoming pretty silly: “The desire-driven wiring of our primitive brains evolved in the Pleistocene era, between 130,000 and 200,000 years ago. It was moulded by half-starved hunter-gatherers and farmers whose crops frequently failed. Those who kept going survived to give us their yearning genes. That wanting instinct gets fixated on material goods. We evolved to desire possessions as no other creature does. Neolithic cave sites may partly explain why. Many contain millions of hand-axes – far more than cave-dwellers ever needed. Anthropologists believe that the best axes were not just prized tools, but precursors of Ferraris and Jimmy Choos. Owning Stone Age bling displayed your high reproductive value.”

So whereas the likes of Oliver James blame “selfish capitalism” for our alleged plight John Naish points to the primitive human brain as the culprit.

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