"Patricia: I wonder where we'll end up?
Joe Banks: Away from the things of man, my love. Away from the things of man."
A lot of art expresses our deep, tacit, disapproval of the modern world we live in. We feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. Yet we're so caught up in the whirlwind of life that we seldom take a step back to understand why. Maybe we're not supposed to live in isolated bubbles sitting in front of computer screens. Maybe we're supposed to live in a world a little closer to our ancestors'.
In this part of the interview, Naval tells me how we evolved to live and how the modern world deviates from that. He also tells me that if used wisely, the tools of the modern world can make us happier people.
I broke this interview into two halves because we covered so much in our conversation. This is the last part of the first half. Here are the other three:
"The modern world is a gift."
What hardships have caused you the most suffering?
I've had my own unique suffering, but breaking up is a common intense suffering that many of us have gone through.
I'm currently in an amazing relationship. Thanks to my wife, I've realized that whenever you go through a breakup, it's because there was something fundamentally wrong with that relationship to begin with.
Great relationships are easy because your value systems line up so perfectly that they make you happy being who they are, and you make them happy being who you are. You almost can't break up because it's too good of a match. Deep down a lot of bad relationships are power struggles. In a good relationship each person does what they want and does not try to control the other person.
Break ups are so hard because we evolved from a time where we lived in a tribe of a hundred to a hundred and twenty people. So if your relationship failed, then it's unlikely that there is someone else for you. Your odds of passing on your genes are very low. So you tell yourself to go get her back because she's the only one in this tribe.
In the age of Tinder, airplanes, and cities this is no longer true. There are literally millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people that you can date. Even though I found the love of my life, I don't think that there is only one of her on the planet. I think there are a few hundred thousand women that I could have married.
Instead, because of our genetic heritage, we spend years in relationships that we know aren't going to work. What you want to be is free and open while meeting a lot of people until you meet the right one. That's easier said than done.
You've said that you use evolution as your binding principle. Can you explain that in a bit more detail?
I use evolution as my binding principle in that it can explain a lot about how we behave towards each other and why we do certain things.
Ignoring that your genes want you to live in a certain way is a delusion that is going to hurt you.
I think a lot of modern society can be explained through evolution. One theory is that civilization exists to answer the question of who gets to mate. If you look around, from a purely sexual selection perspective, sperm is abundant and eggs are scarce. It's an allocation problem. How do you choose which sperm gets the egg?
Literally all of the works of mankind and womankind can be traced down to people trying to solve that problem.
What is it about the modern world that steers us away from the way humans are meant to live?
There are many, many things.
There are a number on the physical side. We have diets that we are not evolved to eat. A correct diet should probably look closer to a Paleo diet, mostly eating vegetables with small amount of meat and berries.
In terms of exercise, we're probably meant to play instead of running on a treadmill.
We're probably evolved to use all of our five senses equally as opposed to favouring the visual cortex. In modern society, almost all of our inputs and communication are visual.
We're not meant to walk in shoes. A lot of back and foot problems come from that.
We're not meant to have clothes that keep us warm all of the time. We're meant to have some cold exposure. It kickstarts your immune system.
We're not evolved to live in a perfectly sterile and clean environment. It leads to allergies and an untrained immune system. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis.
"We evolved for scarcity, but live in abundance."
We're evolved to live in much smaller tribes and to have more family around us. I partially grew up in India, and in India everybody is in your business. There's a cousin, an aunt, an uncle who is in your face, which makes it hard to be depressed because you are never alone. But on the other hand, you have no privacy, so you can't be free. There are trade offs. [Clarification from Naval: I'm not referring to people with chemical depression. I'm talking more about the existential angst and malaise that teenagers seem to go through].
We're not meant to be checking our phone every five minutes. The constant mood swings of getting a like then an angry comment makes us into anxious creatures.
My cousin has a game that I think is hilarious. When he goes out for dinner with his friends, the first one who pulls out their phone has to pay. There are people who pull out their phone subconsciously even though they are aware of the bet.
We evolved for scarcity, but live in abundance. There's a constant struggle to say no, when your genes always want to say yes. Yes to sugar. Yes to staying in this relationship. Yes to alcohol. Yes to drugs. Yes, yes, yes.
Our bodies don't know how to say no.
"By the time people realize that they have enough money, they've lost their time and their health."
What are the benefits to living in the modern world?
The modern world is a gift. It gives us tools and choices, but we need the self-discipline and wisdom to choose wisely.
The modern world gives us a lot more freedom, but it comes with loneliness. It gives us the ability to date more. But that comes with heart break.
Modern society is hard for young people to navigate because they're given all of this choice and they don't know how to make good decisions. As you get older, you start seeing the consequences of bad decisions, and you start making good ones.
As an older person the options you have are far better than you would have had in a much older society. Two thousand years ago, I would probably be dead at forty-two. In modern society, I get to accumulate wealth and wisdom. I get to have children later in life. I get to live in a safer society. I get to work with my mind, which continues to get stronger. I get to have a quality of food that I probably wouldn't obtain in an agrarian society. I can decide to be in a intellectually stimulating environment five days a week, and be in a natural environment two days a week. If I was single, I can go on Tinder and find somebody. I wouldn't be an outcast because of my age.
When you're young and healthy, you can do more. By doing more, you're actually taking on more and more desires. You don't realize that this is slowly destroying your happiness. I find that younger people are less happy, but more healthy. Older people are more happy, but less healthy.
When you're young, you have time, you have health, but you have no money. When you're middle aged, you have money, you have health, but you have no time. When you're old, you have money, you have time, but you have no health. So the trifecta is trying to get all three at once.
By the time people realize that they have enough money, they've lost their time and their health.