The Control Problem

Dislocated is rooted in the basic idea that our environment shapes who we are and how we feel. The food we eat changes our body chemistry. The things we see with our eyes changes our brain structure. Everything we consume has an effect on us, in a literal sense: our bodies get change and our brains get rewired. And this ultimately has an effect on our mental states and feelings of well-being.

Part of the challenge in researching specifically modern problems is finding a “control” against which to compare modern lifestyles. Modernity has so infiltrated the globe that we have few untouched societies.

In an ideal situation, to study the problem of dislocation we would have the following:

– significantly large but isolated population groups that were living more primitive lives without the influence of modern affluence and convenience

We would then hope to compare cancer rates, obesity rates, heart disease rates, autism rates, ADHD rates, etc. against these control groups.

The goal would be to discover what “normal” rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, etc. are and whether these issues are enhanced by our modern, affluent environment.

To a certain degree we have do have vast disparities in social wealth. But health data is sparse in poor societies, and increasingly it is the poor societies who are absorbing negative modern habits (reliance on cheap grains as a food source).

PTSD and Brain Rewiring

A good friend of mine served in Iraq. He saw bodies mutilated. Chunks of brain shot out of heads. Understandably his brain responded to this trauma by trying to block it out. Human beings were not made to see each other blown to bits. Our brains are not prepared for such events.

As a result, my friend lost a lot of his memory. He also is suffering from PTSD. To the point that his body tries to puke away the toxic effects of what he’s witnessed on a daily basis.

These are the sort of things I hope to explore in Dislocated.

Being Careful About Causation

It’s tempting to oversimplify issues and point to singular causes. Or to identify contributing factors as primary causes.

When exploring complex human problems like skin cancer, it is important to not overstate a single cause to the exclusion of other contributing factors. To not say “such and such causes skin cancer”. The better approach is to identify environmental factors that increase the chances of skin cancer or expedite its presence.

Still, in our attempt to be careful, we should not shy away from identifying real, clear, contributing factors.

The Zoo Metaphor

There are many species that will not breed in captivity. As organisms, they require a very specific set of environmental conditions to trigger the mating ritual and mating behaviors.

Some species require such specific environmental conditions that we cannot recreate them in captivity.

In some species, reproduction is affected by sunlight, temperature, seasons, the presence of specific vegetation, etc.

The zoo metaphor allows us to see how environment is critical to the proper functioning of an organism. And how changing the environment can cause an entire species to malfunction.

Dislocated is an attempt to explore the sort of environmental conditions that have similar detrimental effects on human beings.

The Dopamine Circuit and Stimulation Addiction

One of the primary themes of Dislocated is that as human organisms, we have a reward circuit in our brain which motivates us many of our actions. This reward circuit is fueled by dopamine and it is built for environments of scarcity, and part of the mechanism encourages us to take advantage during the rare times when resources are abundant. In other words, we are hard-wired to binge on resources because historically, most of the time, resources were scarce. Our reward circuit was not built for an environment of abundance.

Many of our modern problems, and all forms of addiction, are rooted in the dopamine reward circuit. Because we live in a society of abundance, we are literally like fish out of water. Our dopamine reward circuit continues to tell us to binge when resources are present. And so we binge on convenient, calorie-rich (but nutritionally empty) food. And relationships. And digital stimulation. And flattery.

With every click of the mouse, mindless snack, watching of a TV show, visit to Facebook, attempt at flirtation, trip to McDonalds and even every shopping experience we are engaging our dopamine circuit. We seek out stimulation and experience a positive feeling as a reward. We are addicted to stimulation, because we are built to seek out stimulation.

There’s only one problem: this mechanism for seeking out stimulation worked great in contexts of scarcity or moderation. But in a society of abundance, left unchecked and uregulated, it causes problems. Obesity. Drug addiction. Internet addiction. Relationship dysfunction. The list goes on and on.

It seems then that one of the keys to dealing with our modern problems is not in more conspicuous consumption. Not more options for distraction and stimulation. But more options for restraint. And control. What people need more than ever is to be empowered to overcome the binge mechanism. A mechanism that is forceful and powerful and often leaves us feeling powerless. A mechanism that was built for a different world.

What’s Dislocated About?

Dislocated is an attempt to document the basic idea that the things we consume through our environment, shape who we become.

It is the idea that there is are common threads to many modern diseases and problems (from PTSD to heart disease to poor education to cancers to Alzheimers to obesity).

And that while the human organism is highly adaptive, it is not infinitely adaptable.

And that some environmental factors are harmful to our well being.

And that our bodies and brains change, in significant ways, as a result of what we consume, and where we live.

It is the idea that food matters: the further removed we get from a natural diet of real foods, the more our food harms us.

And that many features of our modern environment are harmful to our well being.

And that for optimal health, we need to be selective about consumption.

And that that while affluence has solved many problems (like the deadliness of infectious diseases) it has also magnified or created many problems (diseases related to over-consumption).

And that we have the ability to shape our society for better physical and mental health. A better foundation for human life.

It is ultimately the idea that we find ourselves in a time of abundance, like a fish out of water. And that part of the key to future progress in human happiness and well-being is the intentional, smart, re-introduction of water (the fish’s natural environment) without sacrificing all the miracles of modern life.

A little less of the blind-market forces. A little more intentional engineering.