As I continue to read up on the evolution of human mating, a theme that keeps recurring is how complex people are in what they want from their erotic pursuits. Many books, journal articles, and even popular magazines compile lists about the physical features we consider attractive, the traits we look for in a mate, etc. In those lists, we can find patterns, but none can ever be perfect because we are complex, individually and culturally variable, and always in flux, trying to balance an array of wants and needs that shift over time along with our circumstances. No single variable will ever be sufficient to explain what people want. Sometimes it’s Arthur Miller; sometimes it’s Joe DiMaggio.
“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright (comedian)
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” – S.A. (neuroscientist, friend)
Lately, I keep seeing a recurrent theme in a number of widely different sources. It’s a concept taught in Economics 101, that of tradeoff and opportunity costs – money or time invested in one object or activity cannot be spent on another. A related concept, foundational to biology, is life history theory (LHT). In his book “Patterns of Human Growth,” the biological anthropologist Barry Bogin defined LHT as:
“the study of the strategy an organism uses to allocate its energy toward growth, maintenance, reproduction, raising offspring to independence, and avoiding death. For a mammal, it is the strategy of when to be born, when to be weaned, how many and what types of pre-reproductive stages to pass through, when to reproduce, and when to die.” (1999: 154)
An October poll of 1,000 likely voters found that Americans are increasingly concerned about income inequality. When asked: “How Big a Problem is Income Inequality in the US?,” the majority (74%) replied that it was either a big problem or somewhat of a problem. Predictably, there were differences in opinion by political ideology, but a majority of liberals (94%), moderates (81%), and conservatives (55%) answered that inequality was at least somewhat problematic. However, as is true of many polls, it was not specified exactly what people found unsettling about it. I suppose there are many reasons that people might find increasing inequality (and climbing rates of poverty) to be troubling, but I wanted to focus here on inequality and health, particularly on obesity.
First, what do we mean by poverty? I remember watching aninterview on PBS with the economist Jeffrey Sachs years ago (transcript here– thank you, Google), where he distinguished between two types of poverty. The first was an extreme form, which he called the type of “poverty that kills.” The other type was more of a poverty of inconvenience or jealousy. I don’t want to over-interpret Sachs’ meaning. It was a passing phrase in an interview from ten years ago, and his primary focus was on alleviating the extreme poverty faced by more than a billion people in the world living on $1 per day (see Sachs 2005). Elsewhere, Sachs has lamented that the media have ignored poverty in the United States at a time when “the U.S. has the greatest income inequality, highest per capita prison population and worst health conditions of all high-income countries.” His credentials in fighting poverty are unassailable. But I cite the old interview here because I think his descriptions (‘poverty that kills’ vs. ‘poverty of jealousy’) might resonate with many people today, and not necessarily in a good way.
Extreme poverty: scavenging at a garbage dump in Phnom Penh (abcnews)
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
Direct ancestor/ descendants holding hands (my sons and I)
Digging a bit deeper, I was able to find that the quote came from acommencement speechJobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, about a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By now, most people probably know that Mr. Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple last week, and there has been speculation that this may tie into his past health issues. Such a close encounter with mortality would likely make any person pause and reflect on the big picture, and why it is that we ultimately share the same destination. I empathize deeply with Mr. Jobs,Christopher Hitchens, the people ofSomaliaand, well, everyone, since we must all one day confront the fact that our time here is finite. Death is the ultimate equalizer.