Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two problems

One is over consumption

And another is overproduction.

Half the world eats too much

The other half has too many babies.

There is just too much human flesh for a healthy planet

Yet few have considered what this means for our future

And fewer still who have ever been brave enough to show the future as it really will be.

Instead the future is shown as an age where we live ever longer

Where we enjoy good health into old age

Yet around us more and more people are on medications

More are suffering from stress

And yes more and more are fat going on obese

No one mentions the problems caused by the fatness.

Or the babies.

The UN has predicted that half of all adults will be obese by 2050.

Meanwhile, the United Nations reckons that by then the world’s population will have risen by 40 per cent to 9.1 billion in the same year

That’s a lot of extra mouths to feed, even if they don't eat as we do in the West

So why do we keep on eating so much?

Birthing is declining in the Western world and as we know increasing in many poorer parts of the world

In the poorer parts of the world if women were better educated, or in some places educated at all, then birth rates would fall as we have seen over and over

Regarding the other problem so many are made utterly miserable by their inability to override their instinct to eat.

The answer is that our bodies are hardwired for life in an uncertain world, not the West in, 2009.

Our problem with babies and beer bellies is thanks to how ruthlessly our DNA was then honed for success.

Back in our native habitat, refusing food or refusing children would have been suicidal.

Both were, for various reasons, scarce.

Now both are overabundant.

Refusing them is the means to our survival.

But is it even possible for humans to override their instincts like that?

Of course, individuals have practised self-denial, but it’s not something we’ve ever undertaken as a collective project.

Until now.

The ONS report stated that one in five women in Britain is remaining childless — a trend repeated across the Western world.

What intrigued the authors was that current childlessness is different from the childlessness of the postwar years, when it was the poorest women, or those left single, who didn’t have children.

By contrast “present-day childlessness is occurring increasingly often among healthy females who are living within marriage or cohabiting”.

The more educated and wealthy a woman gets, the less likely she is to have children.

Although they could not ask directly, the statisticians were left wondering if increasing numbers of people are actively opting out of parenthood.

If so, they would be doing it for profoundly rational reasons.

Study after study on happiness levels shows that while marriage is excellent for mental well being, having children is not.

Happiness levels dip after the first born, and are not restored until the last child leaves home.

Sociologists accept this, but as Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, says, those findings are very hard for the public “to swallow because they fly in the face of our most compelling intuitions”.

Children do not make us happy, although surveys also show we believe very strongly that they will.

What accounts for this parenting paradox?

Well, we are enslaved to our instincts.

When you ask parents exactly what it is they get from their children, they often explain it in terms of “fulfilment” or “selflessness”.

I do not exactly enjoy kneeling on the bathroom floor as I act as midwife to my daughter’s toilet activities, but I think, in the scheme of things, I am doing something meaningful.

Yet “fulfilment” and “selflessness” — the feelings may be real, but it’s the kind of vocabulary that shows it’s the DNA talking.

We are fulfilling a drive for our genes to repeat themselves, rather than seeking enjoyment in any rational sense.

Some of the childless women in the ONS study may be the first generation to conquer that instinct en masse.

It is interesting that it is the more educated women who seem better inclined to fight biology with reason, for a “post-instinct” kind of life (it is also one with more relaxing holidays).

Is it a coincidence that the risk factors for getting big with child — lack of education, jobs and other ways of honing higher reason — are the same as those for getting big with food?

At the obesity clinic, I talked to people just after they had had their gastric bands inserted, or, as they liked to think of them, “willpower” in the form of an artificial plastic clamp.

Overflowing their hospital chairs, breathless just from standing up, these people were used to society judging them to be weak.

They felt the same way about themselves.

They hated their bodies and their cravings for food.

Their instincts were killing them.

Since medieval times, the idea of the mind ruling the body has been nothing more than a diversion for philosophers.

Now, it’s an emergency.

Will we manage to live against our genetic drives?

What will that world look like?


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