Extremely colorful sunsets are rare in this part of Colorado. The mountains begin about ten miles to the West, and the sun usually slips down behind them without doing much to set the clouds on fire. A little color is typical, a lot of color is not. Yet, the other day, we had one of our rare truly colorful sunsets.
It was a riot of color just as I was entering a neighborhood store for a quick purchase. No one but myself and the cashier was in the store at the time, and I mentioned it to her. Her eyes lit up, she got a huge grin on her face, and she started towards the door. But at that moment, two customers arrived, so she retreated behind her register. I went on my way.
It would be easy to make too much of that one incident, but it seems to illustrate — albeit in a very small way — a problem many of us have with “modern” life. That is, in some ways our lifestyle conflicts with our simply enjoying life. On the most trivial level, we might wish to see a fleeting sunset, but we cannot take the time for it. On a perhaps more meaningful level, we might wish to spend more time with our children, but we have to dedicate our days — and perhaps even many of our evenings or weekends — to work.
Of course, it would be absurd to suggest our species has ever been absolutely free of such conflicts. But it is not absurd to suggest that such conflicts might have dramatically increased about 6,500 to 5,500 years ago. That’s when “modern” life got its start on the plains of Sumer. And — apparently — modern life meant for most of us a longer working day.
Before the rise of civilization, we lived in small groups and made our living by hunting animals and gathering plants. According to some scientists, those groups fortunate enough to live in the richer territories where there was a lot of available food had to work as few as two hours a day to sustain themselves. Yet, after agriculture and hierarchical civilization replaced hunting/gathering and its relatively egalitarian social order, most people found themselves working dawn to dusk on the farm.
Now, I do not wish to look at this in black and white terms. After all, none of us, so far as I know, are TV pundits. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to any lifestyle, whether hunting/gathering, early farming, or one of today’s lifestyles. But the thought occurs to me that our species of super-ape evolved to live in a much different world than we now live in. That is, we are — psychologically, biologically, sociologically, and so forth — out of our element today. At least in some ways and to various extents. It might be interesting, then, to understand all the consequences of being “out of our element”.