3. A 500-lb World

Note: This is the next post in a book release called “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empires, and a Nation Bursting Forth. Newbies, you can start here or see the whole book in the Table of Contents.

 

I have to tell you a bunch of depressing stuff, and then it gets even worse.  I already warned you.

 

A century aboard this runaway train of consumption, we, the Human Collective, are now a 500-pound society.

7.8 Billion People probably actually weigh more than 500-lbs.

That’s us.

Imagine you are 500 pounds, 50 years old, and you are taking twelve different medications.  One is for cholesterol, one for blood pressure, one for depression, one for diabetes, and a handful to offset side effects of the others.  All your major vital signs are in check, and your symptoms are controlled.  

Healthy?

You get older, turn 50, and you keep developing new symptoms — high triglycerides, low thyroid, and on. For each one, the doc just hands you new prescriptions. 

This guy knows something is off.

Each time, you take your prescription home, jump online and read articles and comment threads about your medication options. The debates on these threads can get intense.  PEOPLE YELL AT EACH OTHER IN CAPS. 

You make the best choice possible, because either option seems better than high triglycerides.   


The Human Collective has its fair share of symptoms. 

Climate change.  School shootings.  Political polarization.  Systemic racism.    

For each one, a lot of great people work hard to soothe the issues, and come up with some great solutions. But their medication still can’t fix the entire organism.  We whip out our Twitter and get caught in debates about synthetic solutions.

School shooting fix A or B?  

Debate, polarize.

Racist policing?  Debate, polarize.

Opiod epidemic? Debate, polarize.

It’s easy to forget about the elephant-in-the-room Big Problem because we gave up hope long ago. It just seems too difficult to expect humans to love each other, listen to each other, and get along. But the universe is tapping us on the shoulder.

Homeostasis is the key marker of health.   We all need it, right down to our hormonal glands and temperature regulators.  It’s the total balance of all systems working together in order, and it scales far beyond our individual physicality.  A human only has true health if the human system he is connected to is also in balance. 

Homeostasis for the Human Collective looks like peace, justice, balance, and stability

From 40,000 feet, we may appear controlled to some.  But in case you need them, or are sadistic, here are the really depressing vital signs of the collective.

Vital Signs

Exhibit A:  The United States, the wealthiest nation on earth, where I live. 

Murica.

 

Let’s just posit that there’s a bit of dissonance between Ground Level and 40,000 feet.  It’s the wealthiest nation on earth, except for this:

So, a bit of an asterisk.  Maybe we should expect this; after all, we have the best university system in the world, matched by the highest student loan debt ratios. We have tons of total cash, but very little homeostasis. 

A deeper look at our Collective health:[1] 

Physical Health:

40,000 feet: Life expectancy is up 8 years since 1960. Tobacco use is down.  More people are exercising.

Ground Level:

  • Life expectancy hit a ceiling in 2015, dropping each year since, the first drops since the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak.[1]
  • Health care now costs us over $3 trillion, approaching 20% of GDP. 
  • Two-thirds of adults are overweight.  One-third are obese.  We spent $32 billion on sweets in 2018, and $60 billion on dieting programs. 

Financial Health:

40,000 feet: The stock market is near an all-time high, total wealth is busting records, even after the initial COVID outbreak of 2020.  Before COVID, unemployment was down to its lowest in 50 years, and America remained perched atop the global economy.

Ground level: 

  • 1% of the population owns 40% of the wealth and is raking in.
  • Each passing year lately, if you are in the bottom 90%, then roughly $17,000 of your money ultimately transfers to people who are already worth over $8.5 million.[2]
  • For the rest of us, forty percent of us have zero savings and revolving credit card debt averaging $16,000.  
  • One out of five of our children live in poverty.

Psychosocial Health:

40,000 feet:  Well, looked and I can’t find any cheery stats on relational or mental health.  Just keep flying.

Ground Level:

  • Even before COVID, 42% of us reported chronic loneliness- an all-time high.[3] 
  • Marriage rates are at an all-time low in the modern era. Three of my 21 students live with both of their biological parents.
  • One-fifth of us (29% of women) are on psychotropic medications. 
  • One-tenth of us are alcoholics who drink an average of 50-70 drinks per week.[4]
  • Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death in teens.   Over 1 million of us self-harmed last year.

 

It’s not that everything is wrong. Some humans are doing better than ever, and they are so fun to follow on Instagram. Other people are overcoming incredible odds with joy despite being dealt a bad hand. If you’re reading this, you and your friends[5] may be doing fine for yourselves.  After all, you:

  • Are literate.[6]
  • Are presumably in a safe place.
  • Are nerdy enough that you read in your spare time, which you have.

 

But the Collective body is suffering.

A lot of us are hurting, or just bored. On ground level, we’re trying to live up to the shiny exterior.  Occasionally, we get a strange spark of life when a natural disaster like a hurricane breaks out.  Amid the devastation, survivors bond together to find all this meaning and purpose schmazz, helping each other through the chaos. 

They weather the storm together hand in hand. Its like those first three weeks of January when we’re crushing it at the gym and life feels good. Later, many of us are inwardly weirdly jealous of those days where life was an adventure and people cared.[7]

The storm subsides, we rebuild and go back to our old lives of unhealthy routines and the extra pounds start creeping back.

Chaos makes us better people. It’s a paradox.  

 


 

 

 

 

[1] Sure, these are handpicked, and yes, I could have handpicked different stats to show off a good side.   But it would have been a bit like telling you all the good things about a 1972 Ford Pinto.  Yes, the top 10% of parts on a Ford Pinto are running great, but that’s about it.  The real point is –let them sink in, and they should blow your mind.  As if you woke up in the middle of some bad nightmare where Biff Tanner was president.  Oh wait. 

[2] Also sounds unrealistic, I get.  https://www.salon.com/2017/03/08/how-90-percent-of-american-households-lost-an-average-of-17000-in-wealth-to-the-plutocrats-in-2016_partner/

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/06/22/loneliness-is-a-modern-day-epidemic/

[4] https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/the-top-10-percent-drink-way-more-than-you-think.html; this one survey projected 73 drinks per week from the top decile (10%) of Americans.   I did some extra research and math, because honestly, that sounded like shady clickbait.  From the best I could find – too extensive and boring to list out – I was surprised to realize that it is probably accurate – and definitely at least 50 drinks.  Per week. 

[5] Check out cool maps of the interactions between different groups within a city.  https://www.ted.com/talks/dave_troy_social_maps_that_reveal_a_city_s_intersections_and_separations?language=en .  It happens online, too.  Social media algorithms have shoved us into filter bubbles. See https://www.rstreet.org/2018/07/17/everything-thats-wrong-with-social-media-companies-and-big-tech-platforms-part-3/  

[6] Around 60% of prisoners here are functionally illiterate.  So you’re probably not in prison. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2016/04/01/literacy/

[7] In my wife’s home state of Alabama, it was the 2011 tornadoes.  In our home state, it was Hurricane Harvey in 2017.  Houstonians bonded together like never before.  Everyone was magically nice and helpful all of a sudden.  My friends testified of how awesome neighbors were to one another.  Then, when life got back to normal.  Researchers have shown that crime trends downward after natural disasters due to altruism: https://www.chron.com/news/article/Crime-plummeted-during-Harvey-other-floods-So-12309705.php

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