Barefoot and pregnant?

Well, in prehistoric times we weren’t wearing shoes and we – women at least – were getting pregnant a lot, one suspects.  So…

So what?  Well, a new version of the argument that we should be bearfoot and pregnant is in the forthcoming Scientific American Mind.  You can see a free preview, but here are, as they say, the key concepts:

  • Rates of depression have risen in recent decades, at the same time that people are enjoying time-saving conveniences such as microwave ovens, e-mail, prepared meals, and machines for washing clothes and mowing lawns.
  • People of earlier generations, whose lives were characterized by greater efforts just to survive, para­dox­ically, were mentally healthier. Human ancestors also evolved in conditions where hard physical work was nece­ssary to thrive.
  • By denying our brains the rewards that come from ­anticipating and executing complex tasks with our hands, the author argues, we undercut our mental well-being.
  • The  examples make it clear that the article is best read as about affluent Western countries, and the US particularly. 

    We nuke prepared dishes rather than growing our own food and machine-wash ready-made clothes rather than sewing and scrubbing.

    Machines for cutting the lawn also among the culprits.  So the idea is that we evolved to wash clothes by hand and hand-mow our lawns?  Hmmmmmm.  That doesn’t sound right.  The species closest to us evolutionarily wash their clothes in streams and hand-mow their lawns?  That’s not quite right either.  Chimps are out there slaving away?  Well, maybe but not in the pictures I’ve seen.

    The authors offer as evidence that you can get really zippy rats by making them forage for treats. 

    And they look at brain circuits which seem to link physical exertion with feelings of pleasure  and well beings.  OK, I’m actually quite a fan of that stuff, fMRI and all that, you know.  But they seem to have to recognize that for us at least the exertion should be significant and meaningful, as presumably for rats also, at least in their terms.  And that makes all the difference.  And that may be why quite early on the things that machines now do were not generally done by those in a society with the power to avoid them. 

    I think the bottom line is that meaningful exercise can add to your sense of well being.  And if you find mowing your lawn meaningful, go for it!  Why I remember how my father used to come in on Saturdays feeling  so happy from mowing…O, wait, that didn’t happen.  

    Well, I’m going to get my bowling partner organized.  We now have brain science on our side, in addition to just about every health guru on TV.  Or maybe find a good old-fashioned washing machine, so I can spend a day a week storing up good feelings.  I can remember how my mother felt so happy after using hers… O wait.  That didn’t happen either.

    No to Kaine

    Apparently Obama is seriously considering Tim Kaine as VP. He is the Democratic Governor of Virginia, a key swing state. His views on abortion were said in 2005 to “roughly in line” with those of George W. Bush. He’s really into anti-gay dogwhistles. He has expressed rather Bushie views on the Iraq war.

    We really shouldn’t have to point out to Obama why Kaine is a seriously bad idea. But if the rumours are right, we do have to do it. Here’s where to go.

    UN recognises rape as weapon of war

    The UN has finally acknowledged that rape is used as a weapon of war by voting unanimously in favour of a resolution to classify it as such. Rape has long been used as a means of terrorising and humiliating one’s enemies. It affects not just the people who are raped (most often women and girls), but also the communities to which they belong. Hurting someone is always a means of hurting their family and the wider community of which they are a member. But rape is particularly effective due at least partly to the way in which women and their sexuality are viewed. The norms governing women’s sexual behaviour are typically more stringent or more strictly enforced than those governing the sexual behaviour of heterosexual men. More significantly, deviance from these norms is often held to bring dishonour upon the entire community of which the woman is a part. This Amnesty article has more information about the use of rape as a war tactic. Here also is an article analysing the Rape of Berlin in 1945 and its connection with constructed gender identities. And here is the BBC news report on the UN resolution.

    It’s also worth remembering that women in war zones are not just at risk of rape from the warring factions, but also the peacekeepers sent to protect them. Here is an old Guardian report on the issue.