Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ruminations on cubicle primates

My life has changed dramatically the past six months. I moved back to Louisiana, moved into my own house, landed a cool (though relatively stress-inducing) job. I recognized a need to balance and find release from the 9-5, so I made the decision to get healthy. As part of this resolution, I aim to eat like a grown up and work out.

So, I joined a gym. I go regularly to a class called “Skinny Jeans,” where a mean lady makes me do things that make me unable to breathe. On other days, I go run on the treadmill or do the bike for a while. Because I am apparently incapable of remembering headphones, I usually wind up people watching while I do this.

I see big people, little people, short people, tall people, young people, old people, meat heads, normal folks, girls in full makeup, girls with no makeup- you name it. Some of them are peacocking, some of them are trying their hardest to go unnoticed. All kinds of people come to the gym.

As I’m watching all these people, it always occurs to me how strange the whole situation is. Here we have people- these super complicated, cognitive animals- draping their bodies in specific types of clothing and moving about in repetitive motions and engaging parts on these big machines, all of their own free will. The fact that these bipedal animals take time out of their day to make these movements in these specific clothes at this specific place at this specific time, in a specific order, is to me, utterly fascinating.

There is no immediate food reward as there is for a dog once it shakes your hand or rolls over. There is no immediate social reward (you may get checked out but you don’t become alpha dog for benching 100 pounds bro). So then, why do we do it?

We do it because we, as a species, have evolved away from a natural state. We used to have to chase down our meals, club them to death, and tear them apart with rudimentary tools. Then we developed agriculture, and went to working the land with our hands. That was hard work. This kind of manual labor was part of daily life for people up until just a couple generations ago.

Now, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and globalization, we drive to the store to buy our food. We sit all day on our pelvises that are in no way meant to be sat on for 8+ hours a day. Our metabolisms burn to fuel our eyes as they strain on computer screens instead of powering large skeletal muscles. Our circulatory systems are slow and degrading, never pumping blood with any speed or force as we sit still in our cubicles answering phones and making spreadsheets.

I read an article the other day about a local chimpanzee sanctuary that is dealing with obesity in their chimps, since the chimps are captive and do not have to hunt for their own food. It’s a similar situation. But you won’t catch a chimpanzee doing a Skinny Jeans class for the betterment of health and balance in its life.

It’s not a happy state of affairs for us captive primates in cubicles and sanctuaries, folks. As I jog on the treadmill, I am comforted by one silver lining in the whole “our species is doomed and everything is ruined” scenario.

All these people at the gym are there because they have the ability to comprehend long-term investment. They know that they won’t look any better or be in noticeably better shape when they leave the gym that night. But they do know that if they keep at it, they will look, feel, and be healthier over time. They don’t need a treat after rolling over- not tonight, at least.

And this means that we’re smart. We’re smart enough to figure out what our bodies need for balance and optimum health, and we’re smart enough to appreciate long-term investment. Chimps aren’t there yet, but we are.

At some point, we cubicle primates are going to have to use those smarts to figure out a better balance. How can we accomplish all the amazing things we do while sitting at a desk but not compromise our health?

Some folks say that in time, we may see selection for more adept thumbs for texting, or more resilient eyes for screen reading. But I’m not ready to jump on that train quite yet. Let’s take a poll of how emotionally fulfilled those able-thumbed bug-eyed mutants are in the future. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to Skinny Jeans.