A couple of recent lifestyle articles in The New York Times have me thinking about the limits of evolutionary logic. The first, on the "caveman lifestyle," details a trend by which young, healthy folk hew as closely as possible to a pre-agricultural diet. The second, in today's paper, spotlights people who live indoors, in the winter, in the north, with little to no heat. In both pieces, the subjects use arguments based on evolution: in the caveman article, this logic is in fact the basis for the lifestyle itself--from its promotion of subsistence on large sides of game to its practice of "Evolutionary Fitness," which as far as I can tell means a lot of long-distance running and jumping. I didn't see anything about wrestling boars, but maybe that's in there as well. In the cold article, the primary motivation seems to be aesthetic: these people don't want to muck up their loft/stone home/little school house with heating ducts. And yet the evolutionary logic creeps in: one woman is quoted as saying “we didn’t evolve to sit on a chair in a temperature-controlled environment staring at a screen all day.”
It strikes me that this is possibly a rare instance--though maybe people know of more--in which evolution is brought to bear not as an explanation of residual and enduring and otherwise inexplicable human behaviors, but as a prescription for weird human behavior. Call me a bourgeois wimp, but I find both of these lifestyles a little untenable. The odd thing, though, is that both lifestyles themselves seem to hinge on a kind of bourgeois-sponsored asceticism. The cold people probably wouldn't be so upbeat and cheerful if they didn't know they could move or return home or stay with a friend or otherwise access living quarters with heat. The cavepeople wouldn't have too much fun if they didn't equip their apartments with gigantic meat lockers or otherwise have their "paleolithic" food at the ready.
This isn't really an attempt to say "gotchya," because none of the subjects of the stories deny the incongruent mix of contemporary amenities with physical sacrifice, but it is rather a head-scratching response to the use of evolution as an argument for a return to extreme conditions. I rather wish that the next article on neanderthal lifestyles would include commentary by an evolutionary biologist. Because when I read the statement that "we haven't evolved to..." the Lamarckian in me wants to wonder just a little bit whether it's wholly true.