A modern Stone Age fallacy

Yesterday’s Times science section had a really interesting article by biologist Marlene Zuk about caveman nostalgia:

Maybe our woes arise because our Stone Age genes are thrust into Space Age life. That beer gut? It comes from eating too many processed carbohydrates; our bodies evolved to eat only unrefined foods, mainly meat, and we get out of kilter veering from our ancestral diet.

Food allergies and digestive woes? We, like other mammals, aren’t meant to consume dairy products after weaning. When politicians fall from grace after committing adultery, some commentator will always point out that such behavior has evolutionary roots: weren’t the best procreators alpha males with roving eyes?

In short, we have what the anthropologist Leslie Aiello called “paleofantasies.” She was referring to stories about human evolution based on limited fossil evidence, but the term applies just as well to nostalgia for the very old days as a touchstone for the way life is supposed to be and why it sometimes feels so out of balance.

Zuk empathizes with these fantasies — it’s not irrational, after all, to feel wistful about an imaginary pastoral utopia free of aspartame or graffiti or mortgage payments, where we all ate whole local foods and got regular healthy exertion traipsing around the unspoiled wilderness. (One tends to elide the fact that it was also free of plumbing, shoes, and Barack Obama, and we all got regular healthy exertion running for our lives from giant fucking ground sloths.) But, she says, it is irrational to imagine that modern humans are still maximally adapted to that life. Evolution’s a slow process, but not so stubbornly slow that we haven’t adjusted at all in the last 55,000 years.

We just recently had a great time kicking apart a friendly soul who came by to tell us that we must all be unhealthy because there were no fat cavemen. And it’s not the first time we’ve taken down pseudo-Darwinian bullshit on the blog (evo psych being a particular bane, not because we see it more but because we hate it the mostest). But this article really helped crystallize for me what bugs me so much about the paleolithic model of healthy behavior: It’s actually opposed to human development. It relies on the idea that the species reached a state of perfect adaptation some millenia ago, and that any change from that state is a fall from grace. First of all, this is way too teleological to be scientific — the idea that there is no culmination of development, just a state of constant adaptation, is kind of fundamental to the theory of evolution. Second, and relatedly, this miscalculation assumes that we’ve fucked up somehow by availing ourselves of things like agriculture and leisure time. But when your environment changes and your species changes with it? That’s actually what evolution is.

This, of course, leaves open the possibility that we might be evolving to be a bit fat. Being in the “overweight” category is clearly adaptive, and our current environment privileges many things over the ability to outrun a ground sloth. Some fat people have parsimonious metabolisms or gut flora that can suck every bit of energy out of everything we eat — these are handy qualifications in lean times, not strictly necessary for many of us reading this but an excellent raft to buoy fat genes through history. It’s not impossible that the future of the human race looks less like Camilla Belle and more like… um, the past of the human race. (Don’t tell me a gorilla ain’t fat.)

Unsurprisingly, some people find this terrifying — which I think is partly to blame for this nostalgia for an illusory time when life was an exercise program and you couldn’t help but be thin (at least if you didn’t want to be sloth kibble). But evolution doesn’t really give a shit whether you think it’s pretty. And it certainly doesn’t give a shit if you think it was perfect 50,000 years ago and should have quit while it was ahead — evolution, by definition, does not work that way. It’s foolish to try to anticipate it or evaluate it except in retrospect (I certainly have no idea whether fatness will be the new thumbs, my point is just that it’s not impossible). And it’s dumb as balls to ask it to put the brakes on. Bemoaning modern foodstuffs, eating the “caveman diet” (mostly meat and berries, because grain sprang into existence with agriculture apparently), and waving your flint-knapped knives at bloggers because “there were no fat cavemen” is not only pointless, it’s retrogressive. Might as well fling poo at Rembrandt because he didn’t paint cows on a wall.

Folks, it’s all right to be modern. Some of us would be less fat without modern inventions like refined sugar, free-trade economies, automobiles, and diets. Some wouldn’t. But either way, we coexist with these inventions — that’s the environment we have and the one we adapt to. It’s fruitless to imagine yourself as a paleolithic creature in a hostile modern world — we’re not fucking Vogons, our species didn’t stop adapting as soon as it came into being. Imagine if some australopithecine had gotten all misty about the days when everyone lived in the trees and nobody tried to walk on two legs, which is clearly terrible for your knees and not what we apes are adapted for. Foolish monkey! An unpredictable future in response to a changing present is basically the point of evolution. We should embrace it — not pretend that it halted at some point in the hazy past.

187 thoughts on “A modern Stone Age fallacy

  1. I’m with you, but re the second paragraph you quoted:

    Food allergies and digestive woes? We, like other mammals, aren’t meant to consume dairy products after weaning.

    She seems to be lumping that in with the rest of the evopsch bullshit. Actually, humans and other mammals aren’t meant to consume milk after weaning. The allele that allows us to process lactose so that we can continue to drink milk into adulthood is a mutant that arose 6000-10,000 years old in European-derived populations — non-coincidentally, about the time those populations started domesticating dairy animals. Being able to ingest a nutritionally valuable, newly-abundant foodstuff obviously provided a selective advantage so the allele spread.

    Lactose intolerance is the wild-type state in humans; it’s being able to tolerate milk that’s the mutation. Classing a piece of actual science as a “paleofantasy” doesn’t do much for the rest of her argument (which I otherwise mostly agree with).

  2. Being able to ingest a nutritionally valuable, newly-abundant foodstuff obviously provided a selective advantage so the allele spread.

    Er, yes, that would be called adaptation. :)

    Pointing to lactose-intolerant cavemen and saying “we shouldn’t be able to drink lactose” would still be stone-cold bullshit for those populations and people who have adapted to be lactose drinkers. She addresses this in the article btw.

  3. Actually, what I’ve done there is talked about one specific allele in one specific population as if it’s the be-all and end-all in lactose tolerance/intolerance, and I should know better. There are lots of other alleles that arose in lots of other populations that, alone and in combination, give different levels of tolerance/intolerance/misdigestion in human populations today.

    My point is that these alleles and their effects are scientifically documented and real, and not in the same class as the e.g. “roving alpha male” bullshit or the claim we should all be eating our food raw because humans once didn’t have fire.

  4. Filly, will you marry me?

    You are the smartest smart person I know. I love this post. Love it.

    Also? “Sloth kibble” is my new favorite phrase.

  5. Caitlin, when you’ve had a nap and my headache has gone away, we’ll figure out which one of us is right and whether we’re even disagreeing. Personally I’m a little worried that after the headache lifts, I will look at this post and all it will say is “fffffffffffffffff.”

    I do agree that things about what food we can tolerate and how much exercise we need are NOT the same as evo psych, which is on a whole other level of bullshittery. But I’m not sure that I think lactose tolerance is functionally different from cooked-food eating, for those populations that are lactose tolerant. We had a way we used to be adapted to eat, things changed, and now we can eat new things or in a new way. That doesn’t mean the old way was better or somehow more authentically human.

  6. “Might as well fling poo at Rembrandt because he didn’t paint cows on a wall.”

    I am cackling with glee over this sentence (and wonderful visual image) and hoarding it for later use—may I?

    Add to this the Vogon mention (although you might want to read *my* sad poetry attempts before making blanket statements of species evolution), and you’ve made my day!

  7. Deborah, I think they’re really fucking scary (I still don’t go into the room where this guy lives at Natural History), so I use them where someone else might use the somehow more generic “sabre-tooth tigers.”

  8. Caitlin, wait, we adapted to do something advantageous, yet we’re not “supposed to” do it? What, because it’s impure to have an advantageous mutation?

    Having arms is also a mutation. And legs, and hair, and eyeballs. And, you know, living. Personally, I don’t consider the mutations to be counter to how I’m “meant” to be.

  9. But I’m not sure that I think lactose tolerance is functionally different from cooked-food eating, for those populations that are lactose tolerant. We had a way we used to be adapted to eat, things changed, and now we can eat new things or in a new way. That doesn’t mean the old way was better or somehow more authentically human.

    Yeah, and — I guess my godless heathen tendencies are showing themselves here — to speak of humans as “meant” to do anything seems to be a fallacy in scientific terms to me. Humans weren’t designed to be happy little savannah creatures, scurrying around hunting mammoths and gathering berries. But some populations of humans found that a useful way of life at one point. It doesn’t make it cosmically right or predestined or any of the rest of the language evo-psych often seems to use despite an ostensible rejection of intelligent design as a principle.

    Also, evo-psych bingo? Made my day.

  10. I’ve read many a time that being able to gain weight was a survival tool. Sure, maybe it doesn’t have a place in modern day society, but for ages storing fat was fairly important for survival. WHY would this survival mechanism suddenly disappear when the culture insists everyone be thin? Especially when we’re eating more bountiful and in many respects healthier meals?

    I think you said it above, evolution has been around longer than we have, it really doesn’t care whether or not men prefer thin thighs to fat ones.

    AND finally, another point to be made here is that romanticising the lifestyle lead by cavemen makes no sense. It wasn’t easy, and therefore people were likely thinner because they couldn’t walk down the block to by a hot dog. Do we really want to regress in the name of vanity? You’d like entire populations to starve strictly because you hate fat folks? It makes no sense to me.

  11. Oh, and if humans are really evolved to live back in caveman times, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to have one of those tiny little horses you see skeletons of next to the ground sloths and mammoths. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a tiny little horse playing with your dog?

  12. LilahMorgan, I am STILL waiting for my unicorn pony to arrive from the Obama administration. Maybe it got lost in the mail? I mean, I know they’re sending a lot of them, but get on it, Obama!

  13. YES. This is always my beef with “evo psych” – it is necessarily about conditioning, but it pretends to be about hard-wiring. The premise that because our species was once conditioned to meet certain circumstances (hunting and gathering, raping and procreating, etc.), we then became hard-wired to meet those same circumstances over and over? Is unbelievable and illogical. Partly because it presumes the species stopped evolving, or should have…
    …and partly because it presumes our species didn’t help bring about new circumstances. As though the entire human race was satisfied with the caveman existence, and modernity just happened. Evolution is partly brought about by mutation, yo.

  14. Most stone age stuff is crap for two reasons:

    stone age people were not monolothic. Just as today, maybe ever more so, people were different races and lived in different climates and ate different food. What works for a Russian won’t work for a Britain–they ate radically different foods.

    And, today, the results of wars and migration means that people who once lived in the mountains of Sweden are now camping out in humid Florida and mixed with people from the coast of Spain. The genetic predispositions to certain kinds of food is all mixed up with a new environment and a new racial mix.

    Cave men, my ass.

  15. Thank you for this. I must confess, years ago my mother convinced me that the reason I have so much trouble digesting meat (it’s not pretty y’all) is because human bodies were just not meant to have that much red meat and something about something chemicals being absorbed by the liver or something. I thought that must be it so I, in turn, spouted that shit off to anyone that would listen for years. Then all of a sudden, I was like, uh that actually makes no sense whatsoever. Now I’m ashamed and wish I knew who I told all that crap to so I can go back and apologize.

    Definitely bookmarking this page for future use against the “but cavemen”… argument.

  16. I LOVE this article, FJ!

    (And I remember being on a bus in Boston and a complete stranger going into a rant about how I (yes, someone they had never met before) shouldn’t drink milk because I’m human and not a baby cow. Gah. It’s a pity I didn’t think to say at the time that MY family has evolved to drink lots of milk, thankyouverymuch….)

  17. Also, I’ll be singing the Flintstones theme song for the remainder of the day and perhaps into tomorrow.

    I know, me too. Woe. It was too good to pass up but I kind of hate myself for it.

    anon, yeah, I started to address the “there is no one thing that ‘cave man’ means” thing but got distracted somehow… that’s in the article and I think in our kicking around of the caveman troll, though, and is totally right besides.

  18. I lerve this. None of these paleo-worshippers have been able to answer the question, “If the way cavemen lived was so freaktastic for everybody, then why didn’t we just keep on doing it?” (You could easily ask the same question about how people lived in the 1950s, or whatever era is being longed for.) Obviously, the fact that we needed to evolve from that meant somebody wasn’t getting what they needed. Probably a lot of somebodies. I’m sure all that cavemen stuff was great if you were actually the one who caught the mastodon and got to eat it, but an awful lot of your brethren starved to death (or got eaten or poisoned) in the meantime.

    And if you need to clear that Flintstones stuff out of your head, how ’bout “Apeman” by the Kinks? That’s what I’m earwormed with at the moment.

  19. Sloths: not scaring the pants off people since 10,000 BCE!

    The caveman fantasies, of course, are highly gendered as well, since Gruggina would be gathering berries and nursing infants while Grugg is out fighting mastodons. I’m not sure who would end up theoretically thinner in that situation.

    I am STILL waiting for my unicorn pony to arrive from the Obama administration. Maybe it got lost in the mail? I mean, I know they’re sending a lot of them, but get on it, Obama!

    Do you have any idea how many Forever stamps it takes to mail a unicorn pony? Where do you think all those campaign donations went?

  20. Good stuff. And actually, on a purely speculative level, that sort of thing would explain the “diets make you fat” phenomenon. If people went through periods of extended famine, it makes sense that our bodies would eventually learn to “learn” from the famine: every time we went through it, we’d get a little better at storing nutrients for next time.

    I have to admit that I’m still on the fence about super-refined food, though. That’s fairly recent, so one could argue that although we might evolve to accomodate it in the future, we probably haven’t evolved that far yet. (I just know it makes *me* sick, and of course everyone else in the world is JUST LIKE ME, right? ;D)

  21. FJ and volcanista, tired Caitlin will indeed be back when she’s had a nap and can be useful, but just to clarify: I absolutely was not saying that the old way was better or more human or that we’re not “supposed to” drink milk. I was poking at the idea of lactose intolerance being not real science, except, apparently the article covers what I said anyway so I don’t even know. But we are not disagreeing, as far as I can see.

    I should not post coming up to uni deadlines.

  22. For anyone who doesn’t think the ability to store fat has a biological advantage in this day and age, I challenge you to come up to Massachusetts with me and endure one of these lovely 10 degree days.

  23. You know, I’ve sort of noticed some general weight gain trends:
    we seem to often get heavier right after getting involved with someone, and although “cooking and eating together” is always the stated reason, I have a hypothesis that the hormonal intimate exposure to a new partner throws us into a physical mode that makes cooking and eating together look attractive as a pair bonding thing. (I’d be interested to see if couples with closer hormonal profiles gain less on average in a new relationship than do couples with different hormonal profiles – I think the hormone effect would happen with any couple, but it would likely be stronger with very different profiles.)

    So, it seems to me that fat shows up and sticks around for some group of us during and after pregnancy &/or in our thirties.

    Both of these suggest to me that evolution – which likes us to have many babies – has no problem with fat and may even be selecting for it. Since all the OMG OBEESITY ‘diseases’ tend to show up after our most fertile years are over, anyway, I have a hard time seeing how even in this environment it’s an evolutionary disadvantage.

    IE: Whatevs, paleofantasists.

  24. I think that Caitlin and Fillyjonk are both right–many human populations selected for lactose tolerance over the millennia, while many other human populations did not. None of this has anything to do with “cavemen”.

  25. .. Uh, ah, I phrased that incorrectly, maybe making it look like I was saying ones thirties were less fertile years. Which is not what I meant at all.

    Also plus, obviously evolution doesn’t “like” us to have many babies. Simply those who have many babies who then successfully have many babies spread more of their genetics around.

    Which got me thinking of how awful the social prejudice is against fat that means so many of us question whether we “should” have babies. I mean, in any place where someone was hovering between yes and no and picks no because of the size of their butt, prejudice becomes an evolutionary force.

    And that makes me MAD. I’m perfectly supportive of anyone choosing a child-free lifestyle, but if there are people bullied into it by prejudice, then that’s a different thing.

  26. Sigh. Flinging poo at Rembrandt. Hilarity!

    I read in a hair magazine an article about why dudes love long hair. The nincompoop writing the article actually wrote “because cavemen used to drag their mates around by their hair.”

    So that’s where shitty journalists go! Hair magazines!

  27. qbertina, I think the fact that I totally love regular sloths is actually the reason I find ground sloths so terrifying. In fact I have a teddy bear named Sloth because it has long arms and legs and I thought it was a sloth when I was 4, and I think that made encountering a monstrous skeletal megatherium for the first time kind of extra terrifying. (“That… that’s a SLOTH? That thing?”) Childhood trauma etc.

  28. Oh, and Caitlin, I know you’re a scientist so I didn’t really think you were saying not drinking lactose was better… I was just saying that I don’t think it’s a special case. No worries!

  29. It always aggravates me no end when people argue for certain dietary restrictions “because our bodies aren’t designed/adapted for it” or “because chimpanzees/ cavemen/ etc. and whoever can’t or don’t eat that.”

    Isn’t a big part of the reason we’ve survived this long as a species because of our ADAPTABILITY?! People conveniently forget that adaptability applies not only to climate conditions but to other things, like, oh, available DIET as well. Trust me, it doesn’t matter if they’re weaned or not, a variety of animals will take advantage of a lovely meal of dairy, should such present itself. Rats and mice, among the most adaptable and successful creatures on the damn planet, will eat ANYTHING, and THRIVE on it. As one who has contended not only with pet mice but also with wild ones who make a living on destroying some of the damndest things, I will tell you that I have seen significant nibbles taken out of a bar of soap. I’ve never seen a bar of Dove growing out of a vine.

    But rats can’t read so I hope they’ll be forgiven that it wasn’t organic wheat soap or something, before the media makes fun of the fat fat fatty rats that are eating soap which is of course what only the fatties eat, so now let’s blame the fat rats and their fat soap, the damnable fatties. Or something.

    UGH I AM SICK TO THE STARS OF IT ALL! *dramatic flailing*

    Tonight when I cuddle my mice I will give them a lovely piece of an evilly unwholesome and probably overly processed cracker. They will hop with glee, and the adaptability of their little neo-cavedwelling bellies will engulf the evil cracker, and convert its evil into usable components, most likely omg FAT, which will shine with defiance from their glossy coats.

    And they will run on the wheel, a dance, no doubt, designed by mice to call fat the way the ancient tribes called the rain.

    And when the fat rains down I hope it hits scienterrific twits like that right on their stupid heads.

  30. I will never understand how that cavemen theory became so distorted. Of course it makes sense to be able to store fat – lots of it, ESPECIALLY for women. There’s a reason why anorexics/victims of starvation stop having periods at some point. During times of starvation, those with more effective metabolisms (i.e. the fatter ones) were still having kids, while those with less effective metabolisms just died or became infertile. Thus, the “fat genes” became more common in the general human population. So yeah, in times of plenty, there probably were chubby cavemen (I doubt they were very fat, though, as such periods probably didn’t come around frequently and never lasted for long).
    And yes, I do believe that those “fat genes” (if you want to call them that) are present today, why wouldn’t they? If you think about it, having those genes has ALWAYS been a good thing, until very recently (less than 100 years). Strictly biologically speaking, they still are, it’s just some weird social dogma that leads us to believe otherwise. It’s only natural that something that took so long to evolve would not be lost again in less than a century.
    Anyway, in that regard, things like “complex carbs/protein/certain fats/whatever-the-cavemen-ate will make you thin” are actually b.s., because our bodies evolved precisely to get fat from eating the foods that were available. Some bodies are just more effective in getting that job done.
    So if you are in possession of those genes that helped your ancestors survive, you will never be stick-thin, unless you starve yourself permanently and exercise like a caveman. Which would absolutely kill you by the time you are around 45, but hey, that’s another problem solved. No more aging.

  31. I googled giant ground sloths. Man, they were cool! I have a thing for megafauna, especially the Australian ones, but Mr Sloth is cool too.

    As for romanticising the past, well, my madly medievalist friend said she got a whole new perspective on the era she loved, when she had to have a caesarean with her huge baby. If she’d really been 12th C or whatever, she’d have died. Go go modern life!

    And if no cavemen were fat, how do they explain the Venus of Willendorf? (I hope this wasn’t mentioned in the other post you linked to). No-one could have imagined the way that fat sits on her so well without ever seeing a fat woman. She looks just like me! :)

  32. And seriously, it’s not like cavemen were superterrific OMG hunters either. Mastodon, meet twenty screaming hairy dudes with fire hardened pointy sticks. Rather like our closest living relatives, cavemen most likely chowed on a lot of gathered plant foods and bugs with an occasional bit of meat. Except that makes the caveMEN and their hunting less glamorous and necessary, so nevermind. I’m sure it was a freaking meat festival, and fire hardened sticks and sling-flung rocks were fully as effective as a modern rifle in taking down large prey. The whole tribe just rolled around in an Atkins style frenzy, wearing helmets made of ham.

  33. This is tangential (and perhaps better on the fat caveman thread), but I’ve never been convinced that cavemen (as a general rule) actually did exercise constantly and lack for food all the time. Apparently many modern hunter-gatherer societies in environments where food is generally pretty available can feed themselves more than adequately on 20 hours of work a week, giving them plenty of time to hang out and paint caves or whatnot. If this was accurate of places where early homo sapiens flourished, I’ve wondered if really backbreaking labor and constant exercise didn’t come into vogue until agriculture was invented – perhaps spurred by a desire to move into places where food wasn’t as abundant naturally.

    There’s my procrastination-induced made-up theorizing for the day. Anyway, the whole “But we were evolved to exercise constantly!” argument seems suspicious to me for more reason than one.

  34. (Umm, that “hung out and paint caves” was meant to refer to cavemen, not to modern-day hunter-gatherers who probably generally don’t paint caves.)

  35. Oh, and what SugarLeigh said. I have two cats and they love milk and can digest it well. In my anatomy class they told us that with lactose, it’s at least partly a use-it-or-lose-it thing. There is apparently a point in life when the body stops producing one kind of lactase and switches to producing the adult kind and if you hardly ever consume dairy products, you will be increasingly unable to digest larger quantities of lactose. Kind of made sense to me, seeing as in most non-European cultures, milk really does not play a role beyond childhood.

  36. Rather like our closest living relatives, cavemen most likely chowed on a lot of gathered plant foods and bugs with an occasional bit of meat.

    The current thinking by paleoanthropologists is that the large-animal hunts were, in most groups, all male or almost all male, but that the majority of meat calories eaten by most groups came from small animals, which were just as likely to be snared or stoned by women.

  37. “I’ve wondered if really backbreaking labor and constant exercise didn’t come into vogue until agriculture was invented – perhaps spurred by a desire to move into places where food wasn’t as abundant naturally.”
    I think that’s a very good point, but it really doesn’t make a difference. Agriculture has been around for so long that it might have been a larger factor in the evolution of the human species than the period of hunters and gatherers. It does mess up the romantic idea, though.:-)

  38. For anyone who doesn’t think the ability to store fat has a biological advantage in this day and age, I challenge you to come up to Massachusetts with me and endure one of these lovely 10 degree days.

    See, I was just thinking, populations descended from ethnic groups that originated in bitterly cold climates do tend towards being larger of frame, if not fatter. If you look at the Midwest and Northwest of the US, mostly people of Scandinavian and Norwegian descent, you see a lot of chubby people (digging their cars out of the snow in -8 degree weather). Not only did we evolve to store more fat because our ancestors faced winters that were hella lean, our ancestors were shivering in their drafty caves and longhouses but surviving due to a nice thick layer of insulating fat.

    I’ll take being able to walk to the car without dying of hypothermia over eating raw meat and berries, thank you very much. Yeah sure, you betcha.

  39. Oh bekbek, ROLF :

    “Except that makes the caveMEN and their hunting less glamorous and necessary, so nevermind. I’m sure it was a freaking meat festival, and fire hardened sticks and sling-flung rocks were fully as effective as a modern rifle in taking down large prey. The whole tribe just rolled around in an Atkins style frenzy, wearing helmets made of ham.”

    I think you and A Sarah must be soul twins.

    To the person who wanted a tiny horse:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniature_horse

    Yes, you can have a horse to frolic with your doggies; and still have internet!

  40. I love this thread. It makes me appreciate the cold, dark place from which my ancestors hailed. YAY! milk.

    And I thought it was a rainbow unity pega-corn we were getting…

  41. I totally needed the laughs that this post (Giant sloths, omg) and the comments (helmets made of ham, tee hee) brought just now!

    Something I’d like to ask proponents of the “Duh, men are just evolutionarily bred to like skinny wimmins, it be scienmatific!” mantra is, “Uh, yeah but if that were true, you’d all be digging the fatties. Because, like, the fatties were the women that would (by that same logic) the ones getting the most food, be the most prosperous, and therefore the most desireable, no? Or is April D too tired now? Mayhaps I can call to the hubby and have him drag me off to bed…oh wait. My hair is short. Guess that won’t work….yeah I think I am tired.

    And I’m totally still waiting for my unicorn pony. I plan to mount it and defend Fillyjonk from the legions of giant cave sloths with my fire-hardened meat-pokin’ stick. Arg! (Chubby Uni-pony I wuvs you!)

  42. “fatness will be the new thumbs” needs to be the new tagline, stat.

    You made me laugh on what has been an entirely shitty night. And you’re awesome. Thanks.

  43. I’m discovering just how dangerous it is to read this blog at work.

    “Fatness will be the new thumbs” and cavemen “wearing helmets of ham” – that shit is FUNNY!

    So funny that one day I am liable to snort Coke all over my keyboard, and the boss will wonder why I find my job so amusing!

    You guys are the best.

  44. Hmmm I’ve just realised how it sounds when I wrote “snort Coke all over my keyboard”. LOL. I’m very naive that way!

    I of course mean that if I laugh while drinking Coke, it’ll come out of my nose, all over my keyboard!

    *blush*

  45. Oh man, I LOVE the phrase “our current environment privileges many things over the ability to outrun a ground sloth”; mostly because the word “privilege” triggered an amusing scenario of the typical rich, white, old guy, probably a CEO, attempting to outrun a ground sloth. This gives me a great deal of amusement. Hehehe. (And also because it’s SO effing true, and people seem willfully blind to the truth of it.)
    I love the whole post, of course, and the comments here at Shapely Prose continue to suck me in when I’d intended — I swear! – just to read the post and continue tab-closing, but that image is going to have me quietly snickering to myself at random intervals for days. Hehehe.

  46. this miscalculation assumes that we’ve fucked up somehow by availing ourselves of things like agriculture and leisure time.

    I wish you’d written this post six months ago, when I suffered through an entire semester of Evolutionary Psychology! That right there puts into words the niggling unease I’ve always had with evopsych. We may have been “adapted for” the Stone Age, but I bet it sucked to live back then.

    Nobody’d invented baby donuts, for one.

  47. I have a zookeeper’s word for it that sloths are tricksy buggers. You turn your back for fifteen to twenty minutes and they’ve got their claws in your leg.

  48. Every time I see the phrase “helmets made of ham”, I start laughing all over again. Thank you, bekbek, for making my day that little bit more surreal and more entertaining.

    Also, this post in general is a thing of beauty. (Ohnoes, primates trying to walk on two legs! We’re not adapted for that! DON’T YOU REALIZE BEING A BIPED IS UNHEALTHY?)

  49. (1) OMGZ No Obama – I am never going back to the Golden Age.

    (2) As well as meat and berries, cavepeople also invented tripping and oral sex (cf Jean M Auel). And partridges slow-cooked stuffed with their own eggs.

  50. I’m 1/4 Oglala. I recently took a trip to visit some of my family on the reservation and sat down to look at some family photos. In looking at my great grandmother, and my great-great grandmother along with other women related to me, they were women with big busts , bellies, and hips. Some were on the lean side, others big. And we know for fact that the mainstay of their diet was beef.

    I’m just not buying this bullcrap they keep shelling out about how the ancestors from the caveman days were ALL skinny or lean people.

  51. When someone uses evopsych crap as a serious argument for anything, I generally take it as a sign that I should write them off as a jackass. I do the same thing when somebody turns out to be a hardcore Ayn Rand fan, claims global warming is imaginary, or thinks “Alanis Morissette apparently doesn’t know what ironic means” is a fresh, original observation that no one has ever made before.

  52. Reposted because I suck at closing links:

    Fillyjonk – do NOT click on this link and then go to 2.42 minutes into the clip and watch it until 3.31. Giant sloth warning…

    I had to click on the link to miniature horses, and from there went to Thumbelina, the world’s smallest horse. She’s kind of cute, in a weird stumpy way…

    C. – “DON’T YOU REALIZE BEING A BIPED IS UNHEALTHY?”
    That’s brilliant!

  53. Everyone’s already said a lot of what I’m thinking, most of all that I LOVE YOU FILLYJONK! Ahem…

    But among the curses of the far past that I’m quite willing to trade for a little fat are uncorrected vision, lack of modern dentistry, and an absence of obstetricians and midwives. Also no water heaters. Mmm… water heaters…

    And on a related note, I keep getting pissed off by the Acai berry diet ads on Facebook not just for their ubiquity, but because they claim that this berry (or whatever the diet food fad of the month is) is a magical weight loss food! Well you know what? Thousands of years ago a “magical weight loss food” would have been considered poisonous, if it whittled away your body weight that you needed to get through a hard famine! That ain’t “food”! So I’m not buying the idea that our ancestors deliberately bred and cultivated something like that to pass on to us and KILL US. Uh-uh.

  54. On the subject of metabolisms and so on, the BBC’s Horizon programme is doing a show on an experiment where thin people were fed twice their daily calorie intake and had limited movement, called Why Don’t Thin People Get Fat. One volunteer in the experiment actually put on muscle instead. It looks interesting – and the story about it has headless skinnies to go with the headless fatties

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7838668.stm

    Who wants to attract cavemen anyway ;)

  55. But among the curses of the far past that I’m quite willing to trade for a little fat are uncorrected vision,

    Oh no kidding. I would have been eaten by a ground sloth because I wouldn’t have seen it coming.

  56. buttercup thanks for the tip to o.c; I’m going to set myself to “no gender” asap because those freaking ads are making me nuts! Wonder if Myspace has a similar feature option that will stop me from seeing “New diet for 28 year olds!” all the time

  57. If you have firefox, you can install a great plugin called AdBlock that, well, blocks ads. It’s really nice.

  58. I am writing this from a position of almost total ignorance because in this case I prefer it.

    I’ve seen modern sloths, and they are S-L-O-W. Really slow. You can barely see them move, plus the ones I saw were up in some trees.

    If those prehistoric sloths were also that slow, then … (this is why I prefer ignorance to even googling) … it wouldn’t be very hard to get away. Like slow moving monsters in monster movies.

    Carry on. (Usually I don’t prefer ignorance, but when its all in the past anyway and its something scary that could show up in a nightmare, then maybe I do.)

  59. “I THOUGHT OBAMA WOULD BRING BACK ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

    That link is awesome, Fillyjonk.”

    YES on this. I’ve been watching Arrested Development on hulu (they have all 3 seasons) and it’s so ridiculously awesomely amazing.

  60. a serious psychological fear of giant sloths.

    Well that’s putting it a little strongly. They are also funnier than sabre-tooth tigers, and that figured to their use in the post in as well.

    I would have been eaten by a ground sloth because I wouldn’t have seen it coming.

    Totally! I’d’ve been like “How are you, Mr. Robbins?”

  61. Rae (SO) and I were talking about this type of reasoning the other night – that we “evolved for” certain purposes. And how one of the people in the class she’s teaching thinks it’s totally a valid way of reasoning, and that we (as in EVERYBODY OBVIOUSLY) evolved to be attracted to thin people.

    Rae posited that the reason that pandas are dying out is because there are no more purple pandas. Because purple pandas make regular pandas horny, and so they were necessary for the mating process, but they didn’t actually TAKE PART in the mating process, so the allele for purple pandas didn’t get passed on, and now there are no more purple pandas around to make other pandas horny. I feel like this line of reasoning actually makes MORE SENSE if you can believe it than the “cavemen did it so obviously it’s better” line.

  62. RE: Facebook diet ads…Buttercup, I prefer to retain my gender and click on the little “thumbs down” icon below each diet ad and mark it “offensive”. It’s actually cut down on the number of them that show up, I think.

  63. I’m sure someone mentioned this but I’m late for work so I’ll just chime in with my first thought whenever anyone tries to bring up the ancestor health argument.

    “Dudes, in those days we lived to 40 if we were lucky. Maybe we weren’t all that healthy?”

  64. Are you sure we aren’t Vogons? Because I craving some Scintillating Jeweled Scuttling Crabss like you would not believe.

    Not to compare humans to dogs but this also drives me nuts when people talk about dog behavior and compare it to a wolf pack. Most domestic breeds of dogs have NOTHING in common with wolves and assuming their behavior would be the same is just nutty. Dogs have been domesticated for way too long to assume that most of that behavior has not been bred out of them. (For once there IS an intelligent designer, if we are going to classify humans as intelligent.)

  65. Knithappy – the article you linked to is really interesting, but I find it kind of depressing that the “headless skinnies” are catwalk models while the “headless fatties” are people on the street (although they could be photo library images).

  66. People today are not even capable of understanding that the 1950’s were not actually made up of only perfect blissful altruistic families like in the old TV shows. If society can’t grasp that our cultural view of 60 years ago is wrong how do we ever expect them to understand that 55,000 years ago was not like in Movies.

  67. o.c., I did that for a while and got frustrated with/tired of it after a while.

    Re: Giant Ground Sloths, EEK. Not cute. Nothing like regular sloths. Even less like adorable baby sloths. Five tons? Holy crap. Wonder what their BMIs were and if cavepeople tried to put them on a diet “for their health”.

  68. Really, really good, interesting post. I honestly have never thought about it this way, although I can’t say I’ve put all that much thought into this idea. But it’s interesting, because I just watched Wall-E last night, which is, of course, a seeming commentary on our future evolutionary direction. And I turned to my roommate and said “Well I guess my people will survive and you skinny folk will die out”.

    Also, when seeing an obesity specialist years ago, he pointed out to me that my ancestors were designed to “survive the famine”. Which we are, totally. And then he prescribed me medication to fight against that. I didn’t see the stupidity in that at the time, but I certainly do now.

  69. I just had to stop down here before finishing this blogpost to say Leslie Aiello is wonderful (she’s one of my minor heroes), and so is the word “paleofantasies.”

  70. Weren’t those giant sloths herbivores? And don’t sloths by definition move kind of slow? I tend to imagine paleolithic man running toward the sloth, not away from it, while yelling for his friends to come help — he’s just found the steaks that evening’s barbecue.

  71. Weren’t those giant sloths herbivores?

    Not in my imagination.

    (Also, look at those guys! Even if they just wanted to hug you it’d be chilling.)

  72. Fillyjonk, by the second paragraph of this post I was formulating a Vogon joke in my head. I was gonna make SUCH a hilarious comment. And then you went and ruined it!

    I am so glad that, in addition to being full of intelligent, analytical thinkers, this blog is such a haven for geekery.

    More things I feel are preferable to being a skinny caveman: hot showers, Michael Franti & Spearhead, air conditioning, bagels, and television shows on DVD. Yay for evolution!

  73. I wiki-ed ground sloth, and one source says there might have been a few left as late as 1550 AD in Cuba.

    Anyone else have entertaining fantasies of a bunch of conquistadors hoofing it through Cuba in their armor and swords and crucifixes, followed by very large, perturbed ground sloths?

    Just me?

  74. o.c., removing the gender from your facebook profile makes the diet ads go away.

    Also if you make your birthday in the 1920s or so, while also stripping out your gender, it can have hilarious results on your FB ads.

    (I had a class do a whole study on this last semester. It was kind of awesome.)

    DRST

  75. Not to mention that the average height of the cave people was well under 5 ft, so next time you think about using your evolutionarily and nutritionally adaptive height to your advantage just think WWCPD (What would cave people do).

  76. Wow, that picture actually makes them look kinda benevolent (and more like a normal sloth, less like The Maxx). Maybe it’s only skeletons of giant ground sloths I find scary?

  77. I cannot believe so many people trumped us on meat hats.

    Also, Anita, I am picturing the Conquistadores in ham helmets. As they’re being pursued by large ground sloths with jars of honey mustard. And now I want a sandwich.

  78. FJ – But you cannot sit on them.

    True; I’ve never understood the attraction of the
    miniature horses. They’re cute, and eat less, but I want
    an animal I can ride (even if I don’t do it often).

    But everyone prefers different ‘toys’. I was just pointing
    out to Lilah Morgan that teeny-tiny horses are
    available, if she truly yearns for one.

  79. Pretty much all I have to add to this conversation is that my friend’s backyard is adjacent to a miniature horse farm. You have no idea how envious I am.

  80. This post is like those sleepovers I used to have with my best friends a long time ago, where you talk and talk until anyone who might walk in would think you had gone nuts for good, except with input from more than 50 people.

    In other words, I wouldn’t exchange my internet connection for all the caves in the world!! (Not even if the ground sloths were friendly.)

    Also, I agree. With … everything. What was the post about again? The comments distracted me. ;)

  81. … the average height of the cave people was well under 5 ft …

    From what I recall of my phys anthro classes, both Neandertals and Cro-Magnon were within modern European and U.S. height ranges (the former at the low end, the latter in the middle) and it was in the lower Neolithic that average height declined … along with increases in skeletal pathologies associated with ill-health. The shift in markers for health is — or was, it’s been a bit more than a decade — thought to be primarily due to sedentism and population increases rather than agriculture per se, though loss of variety in the diet probably contributed too.

    Anyone else have entertaining fantasies of a bunch of conquistadors hoofing it through Cuba in their armor and swords and crucifixes, followed by very large, perturbed ground sloths?

    Yes! Also, it’s not sloths, but there are some descriptions of barely-glimpsed animals, animal tracks, spoor and cries in the early chronicles of Spanish exploration in California that are, well, evocative. Giant felines! Creatures with weird hooves! Things that screamed in the distance! Yikes!

  82. Giant felines! Creatures with weird hooves! Things that screamed in the distance! Yikes!

    This shit is why I don’t go in the woods. Dragons aren’t gone, man. They’re just hiding. *clutches torch*

  83. This shit is why I don’t go in the woods. Dragons aren’t gone, man. They’re just hiding. *clutches torch*

    No, no. It’s werewolves that are hiding out there in the woods. WEREWOLVES I SAY. Aaaaaaahhhh! *hides under the bed*

  84. Heh. My stepfather, who designs tents and the like, designed a pyramid tent with a pentagonal floor back in the 60s — to protect us from evil even as it protected us from the elements [g].

  85. My sister lives in fear of megalodons — as, now, do I. LOOK AT THAT SHIT.

    Her reasoning: sure, scientists tell me they’re all dead, but how the fuck do they know? The were wrong about the coelacanth.

    *twitches*

  86. In my most irrational moments, when it’s dark and I’m alone and the house is moving, moving, oh-so-slightly (creak, crack, sussurus of fire as the water-heater kicks on), I fear I will turn and see someone who’s not there:

    Yesterday upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today,
    Oh how I wish he’d go away.

    Now we’ve got a dog, though, I can hope he’d notice haunts before I did. It’s in all the folklore, after all!

  87. Now we’ve got a dog, though, I can hope he’d notice haunts before I did. It’s in all the folklore, after all!

    Our cat specialises in waiting til it’s just her and me in a room at night, then stopping dead and staring at a spot directly behind me with pulled-back ears and Giant Eyes of Terror (TM). Inevitably I turn round and there’s nothing there, and I look back at her and she’s just calmly licking her paw or whatever like she didn’t just FREAK me THE FUCK OUT. Bad animal!

  88. Bekbek — fire hardened sticks and sling-flung rocks
    were fully as effective as a modern rifle in taking down
    large prey.

    It just occurred to me… that’s always the trope put
    forward — caveMAN, the mighty hunter, always after the
    biggest animal. But sling-flung rocks would be very
    effective against rabbits, birds, squirrels, etc, and could
    just as easily be wielded by cavewoman. (And spell-
    checker accepts caveman, but has a meltdown
    at cavewoman. Bah!)

    Anyway, our cavepeople could also fish, and probably
    didn’t have our aversion to eating snakes, lizards, and
    other reptiles. In other words, I doubt that it was a case
    of mastodon + berries or starvation. As others have said,
    we are adaptable, and tend to eat anything that doesn’t
    eat us first.

  89. hm, got no laughs with that one. I take it no one else watched the Battlestar Galactica webisodes. Even Hodgman joked about it! OH WELL.

    (Spoiler warning on the link. To not-spoil you, Hodgman writes, “Hello friends. I am writing to you from the fabled lost colony of Park Slope, where I have been catching up on all the Gaeta-sodes, and it was a marvelous experience. I got to watch the movie “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” ten times! (At least, I presume it was the whole movie. There can’t be much more to it than that, can there?)” Later Ron Kutner says, “First off, I want to echo what John said about how – in addition to being a great yarn – the Webisodes gave us 10 exciting glimpses at “Underworld.” As it happens, I’d been wondering what we could be, instead of being slaves. I now know the answer: “LYCANS!!!!” “)

  90. StarWatcher, it’s also not usually mentioned that the likelihood is, based on historical evidence of hunter-fisher-gatherer societies, that divisions of labor were not by sex, but by gender, age, and ability. In other words, the folks doing the gleaning closer to base camp — the ‘gatherers’ — would’ve likely included not just the standard women-and-children, but also men who assumed women’s roles, those with significant physical impairments or injuries, and those too aged and infirm to participate in the hunt.

    You know, all the folks who tend to get left out of these Patriarchal histories.

  91. MAN ALIVE THAT IS BIG

    I KNOW RIGHT?

    My least favourite thing is that the artist has kindly illustrated how it could just look like a standard shark fin (not that I wouldn’t be FREAKING THE FUCK OUT at that point anyway), but underneath the water there is FIFTEEN FEET OF DEATH.

    *fans self* NOT. OKAY.

  92. Or! Or! What about the giant squid, and its completely unnecessary EVEN LARGER cousin the colossal squid. THE QUESTION MARKS ARE PARTICULARLY COMFORTING, I FIND.

    From Wikipedia: “Unlike the giant squid, whose arm and tentacles only have suckers lined with small teeth, the Colossal Squid’s arms and tentacles are also equipped with sharp hooks: some swiveling, others three-pointed.”

    OH. OH, THAT’S ALL RIGHT THEN.

  93. Caitlin, that’s not ‘fifteen feet of death’ — that’s FIFTEEN FUCKING METERS of death. Or, you know, close to *50* feet.

  94. … Yeah, I work in a museum and we’ve got a fossilized megalodon tooth on the “handling table” (which contains stuff for people to pick up and look at instead of just being in a glass case), along with some illustrative pictures of them and descriptions of their size, etc. I occasionally have to spend several minutes reassuring terrified children that there really aren’t any megalodons anymore, honestly, I promise, and they are absolutely definitely not going to come back to life and eat you. Really.

  95. I occasionally have to spend several minutes reassuring terrified children that there really aren’t any megalodons anymore, honestly, I promise, and they are absolutely definitely not going to come back to life and eat you. Really.

    Do you do home visits?

  96. I used to take my nephews to this museum every year:
    http://www.beringia.com/

    Word to the wise – don’t look up Scimitar Cats or Short-faced Bears. My nephews love that place, but the bears haunt my dreams.

    The ones that were always SO CUTE at the 4-H fair, dolled up and sometimes dyed and pulling little carts (small as a dog, strong as an ox! mini horses rock our sox!)

    I love those guys! I have a mini-greyhound, and one day we went for a walk in the park and there just happened to be a mini horse show going on. A bunch of really little kids kept running between my dog and the little horses. Surreal!

  97. going to come back to life and eat you.

    . . . what’s creepier than megalodons? Fucking zombie megalodons, and THANKS A LOT, CHILDREN.

    One reason I fear the ocean is we really have no fucking idea what’s in there, and there’s constant unsettling surprises. And the stuff we know isn’t particularly settling – ever read about the hundreds and hundreds of sharks in season around Fallon (sp?) Bay? No? What about the genius that planned a triathalon, to begin on the tiny rocky island, swimming through shark infested waters? (And not the small, kindly sharks – we’re talking tigers and great whites and scary sharks.) Thankfully, the biologists vetoed that one, but the organizers were quite disappointed.

    I’m also afraid of sturgeon.

  98. Hey, at least there aren’t ten-foot, 400-pound, salmon with giant fangs in the ocean anymore.

    That we know of.

    (I’m pretty sure that’s because our Pleistocene forebears were genetically predisposed to light lunches with high omega-3 content and thus ate all the sabretoothed salmon. This would also account for the extinction of the Giant Wooly Radicchio, a fearsome and tasty critter with leaves eight feet wide.)

  99. This post and comments WIN THE INTERNET. I have been sitting here giggling through the whole thing.

    Although sadly, wrt to lactose digestion, I used it but lost it anyway. I miss non-yogurt dairy products (although whole-milk yogurt is delicious!). But really, if you can digest it, eat it.

  100. Mel, I used it and mostly lost it, too. Now and then I throw caution to the winds and have something milky anyway, but then I come of stubborn stock. I suffer for it, too.

    Since we’re all nominating our favorite scary critters, here’s mine: Dunkleosteus, which weighed in at about four tons and was roughly four meters long — small compared to Megalodon, but whoa, those jaws.

  101. Okay, yeah since we’re sharing (sorta) animal phobias; I wanted to raise a hand for the anglerfish. I know it might be small (that we KNOW of) but damn. How frightening to think that a blind fish with THAT MANY TEETH can still always find you, draw you in hypnotically and then freaking CHOMP! Eat choo!

    I mean come on, if the picture itself doesn’t give you pause, consider this: “In most species a wide mouth extends all around the anterior circumference of the head, and both jaws are armed with bands of long pointed teeth, which are inclined inwards, and can be depressed so as to offer no impediment to an object gliding towards the stomach, but to prevent its escape from the mouth. The anglerfish is able to distend both its jaw and its stomach (its bones are thin and flexible) to enormous size, allowing it to swallow prey up to twice as large as its entire body.”

    Holy frick! Who knows how large these things get in the REALLY deep and unexplored waters. *shudder* And now you know why I don’t like to swim ANYWHERE that I can’t see (not just feel, SEE) the bottom.

  102. Interesting article. I must say, I disagree with most of it, but well thought out and argued I felt. I don’t think the same of the comments though. I personally follow a diet which could be described as a ‘caveman diet’, and look and feel a lot better than I did on what one would describe perhaps as ‘normal’ Western diets. I think whatever your scientific beliefs, benefits can be achieved from experiencing with lifestyle changes, even if only for short timeframes.

    To the commentator who said that – if the caveman way was so good, why is nobody still doing it? – I’m sorry, but this is a totally spurious argument. We’ve made a lot of developments as the human race developed, many positive, but some negative. Changing our diet to include things we wouldn’t normally be able to eat could be be viewed as beneficial or negative (the former as it increases our adaptability, the latter as the possible side effects of consuming that food type may be very harmful).

    Needless to say that this debate will continue apace for many years, and both sides have some highly intelligent people supporting them, so it’ll be interesting. I personally however, will continue to follow my natural diet. I hope you all enjoy your own and it keeps you healthy.

    By the way – I just noticed I am the opposite of almost everything you are in your tagline (except I am pretty liberal and intellectual I hope). Lattes are awful!

  103. Out of all the embroiderable and/or tattoable hilarious phrases on this thread, it was “small, kindly sharks” that finally sent the tea up my nose. Thanks, Anita!

  104. Oh and the anglerfish you see pictures of are all female. The males are very small, and a few will latch onto the sides of a female like parasites, after which she just uses them as gonads. Ha!

  105. Chris, I’m letting your comment through because it’s civil and I’m feeling generous, but a couple of points: 1) Please read the comments policy, which covers talk about your “lifestyle change” and how we don’t want to hear it and 2) I guess I don’t understand why you feel the need to make your opinion heard on a site where you oppose us on every particular in the header (which means, for those of you following along at home, Chris considers himself the opposite of a feminist).

    In other words, you arouse my suspicions, so you don’t get the courtesy of another warning: If I see you being a jackass or a Man Who Explains Things, you’re banned.

    Also, this:

    Changing our diet to include things we wouldn’t normally be able to eat could be be viewed as beneficial or negative

    makes me think you didn’t really understand the post. Your definition of things that paleolithic humans didn’t eat as “things we wouldn’t normally be able to eat” is, in fact, predicated on the unfounded and unnecessarily teleological assumption that paleolithic humans represent the “normal,” final version of human digestion.

  106. Chris, it’s great that a “caveman diet” works for you. In case you haven’t noticed, though, other people aren’t you, and what works for you might not work for them.

  107. You’re a better woman than I am.

    Not usually. :) I’m just in a good mood because we’re all getting drunk on the company dime at lunch today. Also Chris seamlessly committed the very fallacy I’m talking about, which I thought was amusing.

  108. I’m not sure what’s creeping up my ass more: the latte-hating, er, “intellectual” who posted merely to make it known that he disagrees with everything in the original article, and even more so with all the comments….or all the pictures of giant motherfucking sharks. Dudes, like I don’t already have enough mental trauma from watching fucking “Jaws,” sheesh!!

  109. Sorry – I really didn’t intend to cause any offence. As I said, I liked the article. And I confess that I had not seen the comments policy. Please don’t think I am some woman-hating man – I’m not a feminist, nor a misogynist. I must say after reading the upset I caused in the follow up comments I think I will climb back into my shell and keep quiet!

  110. I think I will climb back into my shell and keep quiet!

    See, I knew I made the right call! We like people whose response to opposition is to say “hmm, maybe I should read/listen more before I start talking again.”

  111. Urm – no. I just don’t want to cause offence, as that benefits nobody. I don’t think my comments were wrong.

  112. I’m not a feminist

    Dudes, I could live to be 1000 and be thrilled to never hear this phrase again, from either gender, from any age group, just….ever again. I hate that the word feminist has such spin on it. Most people have no effing idea what it really means. I mean, why is it always presumed that “feminist” means man hater? Get a dictionary, planet earth. Don’t you want equality for the sexes? if not, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU.

    Srs.

  113. I don’t think my comments were wrong.

    Ah. This is more what I expected, honestly. “I recognize that I haven’t read much of the blog, didn’t look at the comments policy, don’t have a very nuanced understanding of what you do here hence my attitude towards feminism, and haven’t addressed the fact that you just pointed out that I didn’t understand the post and in fact made a comment perfectly demonstrating the fallacy in question, but I’m still TOTALLY RIGHT ME ME.” Depressingly conventional. How about I help you not offend anyone else.

    Melena, right on.

  114. (Chris, if he could make comments anymore: “That’s totally not what I was saying!” Yeah, actually. Yeah it is.)

  115. The claim that the peoples of the Paleolithic wouldn’t have been able to eat grains or legumes (the two most commonly mentioned back when I used to argue about this stuff on the old arthritis boards) is also probably false. The likelihood is that those plants which were brought into domestication during the Neolithic were also gathered and gleaned during the Upper Paleolithic, and probably before then. We can’t even be certain that the peoples of the Paleolithic didn’t practice some form of small-scale horticulture as more recent hunter-fisher-gatherer peoples have done — I think it likely, as the knowledge required for the transition to agriculture would not, I think, have sprung up overnight.

  116. Huh. I tried to post a scary picture of a Paleolithic giant beaver and it disappeared. Dang. Seriously, beavers five feet tall.

  117. The claim that the peoples of the Paleolithic wouldn’t have been able to eat grains or legumes (the two most commonly mentioned back when I used to argue about this stuff on the old arthritis boards) is also probably false.

    Pre-contact native people in Southern California, who lived with what was essentially a Neolithic technology without agriculture, ate wild-collected grain. They didn’t farm grasses or, so far as I know, plant gardens, but they DID use wildland land management techniques to promote growth, select for larger seed size, and so forth.

    Further, given that many of our current crop plants originated from plants that colonize disturbed soils, it’s likely that people collected and ate, say, proto-wheat that sprung up on their local trash heap.

    Also, at the risk of adding to the squick factor in the thread, it occurs to me: anyone claiming a “caveman diet” who doesn’t derive a double-digit percentage of their daily protein and fat intake from insects? They probably learned anthropology by reading Little Green Footballs. Just saying.

  118. Chris, good point! After all, we’re “clearly” designed to eat loads of insects – we can safely ingest/digest most insects, for instance. And things like snakes, and sheep hearts, and blubber. (Yes, I watched Man vs. Wild last night. What of it?)

    Considering how little we really know about how ancient peoples lived, making specious guesses and then claiming that that’s the way to good living is suspicious. But since it’s so much fun:
    I’d encourage people to drink beer rather than water, as that was how it was done for thousands of years (to avoid a contaminated water supply.) There’s evidence that even pre-agricultural peoples fermented drinks. (Make your own, because wild yeasts are much more authentic than modern ones, and remember, at least 8 glasses a day.) And why bother with sewers? Just wander through the countryside, burying your excrement in construction sites and parks, and then returning later to see what might be sprouting. Don’t forget to not eat fruits/vegetables/meats that have been genetically altered or selected by people – modern corn bears no resemblance to its ancestors, and modern pigs are a poor substitute for wild boars, who are leaner, meaner, faster, and have giant tusks – in short, none of the pesky so-called “improvements” of the modern animal.

    And if you need help adjusting to this lifestyle, you can come be on my reality show.

  119. Anita, out here in Sonoma Co. there’s a thriving population of feral boars. I don’t think any have ever been reported up to Hogzilla size, but I reckon some of them could give any would-be Retro-Magnon a run for his or her money.

  120. I think it likely, as the knowledge required for the transition to agriculture would not, I think, have sprung up overnight.

    And, i’m hardly an expert in agriculture or anything, but why would people make the effort to domesticate plants they weren’t already eating, right? Like, presumably whoever was all “Let’s try to grow this” did so because they already ate it. It’s not like they were going to be all “Let’s breed this plant for many generations to breed something that we will hopefully then start being able to eat.”

  121. Pleistocene feminists were 12 feet tall, weighed a half ton, had four-inch claws and bony armor, and they tasted like giant ground sloth.

  122. I love the nitwits who think everything was wonderful back when we lived in caves. Of course it was. Forty was old age then; you had children dying off young as a result of disease (particularly nice little things like septicaemia, or opportunistic illnesses like pneumonia); women had a much higher chance of dying in childbirth; warfare still existed, and was messier and bloodier and more likely to kill you off than the type we have now. Just think, we’re all descended from people who *survived* all of that. It’s worth noting that in most of the planet, agriculture became pretty much a universal cultural tool (the only places where it didn’t develop were places like Australia, where the ecosystem just didn’t have the correct ingredients – and even here, a number of the tribes practiced varieties of selective procedures on the native heathland).

    If the palaeofantasists think the world was a better place then, they’re welcome to take up the lifestyle themselves. For myself, I figure that at least part of the reason my most *recent* ancestors had such long lifespans (three out of my four grandparents were over 90 when they died) is because they used the brains they had to avoid doing things the hard way.

  123. On Ev. Psych: Please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. It gets a bad rap for being sexist, deterministic, etc., but the latest literature and research is quite nuanced and very much takes into consideration the feedback loop of evolved psychological/physiological mechanisms and cultural preferences/constraints. I teach the subject at a very liberal school in NYC, and am a feminist myself.
    Thanks! Love the site!

  124. akosia, your field has some damage control to do. You should be even more pissed off about these morons than I am!

  125. Chris Clarke: Pleistocene feminists were 12 feet tall, weighed a half ton, had four-inch claws and bony armor, and they tasted like giant ground sloth.

    Tricia: :::mind in gutter:::

    *laughs enough to get strange looks in the library*

    Oh, SP. I could not love yous more.

  126. It’s kind of funny to me to read some people talk about stuff like this, and they talk about what a messed-up world we live in, and how the horrible racists and the horrible sexists and the horrible free-marketers and the horrible earth-rapers are ruining everything. And then someone comes along and goes, “Because our ingenuity got ahead of our evolution, we’re suffering from all kinds of problems that we really didn’t need to suffer,” and the naysayers start pelting them with monkey shit. “SHUT UP! Things are GREAT now!”

    Orly?

    Evolution is a response to environmental pressure as applied by Nature. As human beings are a PART of Nature and not the entirety thereto, just because we invent something doesn’t make it De Facto Natural. This is how we can be “going the wrong way” evolutionarily even if all we’re doing is adapting to an environment that we ourselves have created. The adaptation part is supposed to happen, but it’s to the wrong kind of stressors.

    You tell the people who didn’t develop adult lactase production and the ones for whom diabetes occurs in over 50 percent of their ethnic population and the ones who have chronic diseases that we don’t even have a name for yet, that everything’s peachy now.

    Talk about fat people being accepted as human beings and treated with respect and I am RIGHT THERE with you and completely agree with you. But some of the other things you talk about are insane. It IS natural for a human being to adapt and to use available tools; this plus cultural pressures from infancy onward are why I’m not living in a fucking cave. (Not that we always did. Paleolithic humanity, as with modern, lived in a variety of dwellings.) But that doesn’t mean I think grain agriculture was the best thing that ever happened to us; in fact I think it’s the reason we’re at six billion strong now, going on seven billion, and about to choke out the rest of the biosphere. Not to mention all the health problems it’s causing. And I don’t mean fat either–that’s just a symptom, where it is connected to bad health at all.

    I don’t like feeling sick or getting wild mood swings when I eat too much grain food or other starch. I don’t like not getting enough sleep because it is never fucking DARK around here thanks to the street lights. I don’t like my caffeine addiction. I don’t like not having an extended family to help me with my child. I don’t like it that too many people’s extended families are lunatic because this culture makes us pathological more often than not. I can’t blame anyone at all who wants to back out of the modern way of things to any degree and try to find something simpler and saner.

    It’s not like we didn’t live just fine without late-night TV.

  127. One minor quibble: free-trade is not a recent invention, nor has it even existed for quite some time. Without some outside force, like a government, preventing it, free trade would have come into existance about 10 seconds after the concept of ownership. Latter, numerous restrictions were placed on trade, which is what we have now. Just look at the present US tariffs, or consider the fact that one cannot legally cut someone elses hair for money without getting permission from the government. What allows our highly restricted economy to appear more free than trade of old is the superior transportation and communication technology we have.

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