We’ve gone too far too fast, says the paleo crowd. Not only have we paved paradise for our parking lots, our laggard bodies (and blitzkreiged brains) aren’t even yet suited for driving–or any of the other “unnatural” rigors of modern life. We’re still cavemen inside, goes the thinking, barely removed (in evolution’s slow march) from our hunter-gatherer days. We’re designed to eat meat and berries. We’re not meant to run; we’re walkers. Even chairs are anathema to our geneological predisposition. We use them mostly for newfangled things like reading and computing and gaming. And we’re just not ready for those things.
Well, bullshit, says evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk, in her terrific article, Misguided Nostalgia, at chronicle.com. Just because evolution went slowly a million years ago doesn’t mean it hasn’t speeded up with the times. Zuk explores the attractive narratives that sew together the nostalgic blinders some of us like to wear. And she’s sympathetic to the deeply held desire for an explanation of our contemporary angst. But she won’t sit by (on her comfortable chair) and let us wallow in harmful fantasies about our oneness with the Pleistocene. After all, the truth has been painstakingly disinterred and Zuk (literally) gets to the marrow of it. She concludes (SPOILER ALERT) that, sure, “in a larger sense, we all sometimes feel like fish out of water, out of sync with the environment we were meant to live in. If gnawing on that rib or jogging barefoot through the mud is therapeutic, enjoy. But know that should you wish to join us, the scientific evidence will gladly welcome you to the 21st century, in all its inevitable anxious uncertainty.” It’s the anxious uncertainty she mentions that suggests why you reasonably might not be so eager to go.