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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Hunger, Bizarre Beliefs And Wealth Disparities Are Wellness Issues

Tuesday June 17, 2008

Introduction: Charles Darwin

In one year, the scientific community and most inhabitants of the world's educated societies will celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin. Next year will also be the 150th anniversary of his epic work, The Origin Of The Species. Is there any reason why wellness devotees might want to make a big deal out of these two occasions? I believe there is.

Consider that Darwin's influence on our world today is staggering. It boggles the mind to consider how one man had such far-into-the-future influence. Then again, being among the first (with Linnaeus) to describe the diversity of life as well as the phenomenon of natural selection can have that effect, especially considering that Darwin's work forms the basis of modern biology and evolutionary theory.

I find it odd and rather enjoyable in a schadenfreude sort of way to consider that Darwin is even more of a household word in non-scientific circles than might have been the case if not for creationists. Their demands for a god-driven explanation of evolution made Darwin a celebrity in his time and ever since. So, let's give the 6,000 year-old universe adherents a nod of recognition for calling attention to the great Charles Darwin when we celebrate these two milestones next year.

What Darwin Overlooked:

Was Darwin right about everything? Of course not. But, he sure did nail a few real biggies. One little known Darwinian error might have been his sense of evolution going forward. According to Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at University College in London, Darwin was almost entirely focused on looking back in time; he did little thinking ahead to what the future of the species might entail. One likely reason for this disinterest was his view of life as a stable phenomenon. Evolution was described as an extraordinarily slow process, one requiring tens of millions of years. Given this perspective, no great shifts were expected anytime soon. Yet, according to Professor Jones, "A glance forward on the 200th anniversary of his birth shows how wrong he was." (See "Darwin's Joyful Journey of Discovery," The Wall Street Journal, May 31-June 1, 2008, p. W12.)

How so, one might ask? Recent events give a clue.

Rising fuel prices, plus global warming and the usual mix of wars, toxic religions and natural disasters are leading some folks to wonder about the prospects for continued stability in the world, as well as to question the prospects for our species. Wellness promoters can go on about risk reduction and disease management, exercise and the like, but it would be helpful to boost awareness of these larger issues. Maybe we should attempt to think ahead as carefully as Darwin looked back.

Consider the obvious -- lots of people around the world are growing hungrier, crazier and angrier than usual. The above-noted rising fuel prices, global warming and wars, toxic religions and natural disasters interact and make things worse. It not only makes sense to try, every now and then, to put things into a wellness perspective -- it might be imperative to do so. Let us at least test to see if those who care about THRIVING can relate to the masses struggling at SURVIVING.

Let's review briefly the situation with regard to hunger, lunacy and anger as interrelated crises.


Always a problem in some regions (e.g., Sub-Sahara Africa, most parts of Asia), hunger problems are spreading due to fuel costs, climate change and many other factors.

A six-year drought in Australia has eliminated rice exports. Coal is the fuel of choice in booming, industrializing China and India; this dirty power blackens the skies, chokes the inhabitants and inhibits agricultural production as consumption demands increase exponentially. Humans meanwhile reproduce like rabbits, but with a much deeper carbon footprint. Price increases for food, oil and other critical commodities have led to rioting in Haiti, Turkey and elsewhere. Will there be rebellions in our own cities?

Toxic Religions::

National leaders in Iran and elsewhere are suspected of taking seriously end-of-the-world religious prophesies, and some have or are close to obtaining nuclear weapons. Leading contenders for president in the US, Senators Obama and McCain, have had to denounce their pastors, due to tirades that upset even the faithful.

Toxic religions that unleash terrorist fanatics raise a Darwinian-like question: Can we continue to adapt well to changing environments if we continue to suffer world leaders who truly believe in end-times prophesies, miracles, holy books, divine interventions and a wide variety of preposterous supernatural fables? What can we learn from Darwin and subsequent understandings about evolution that might enable us to transition from no-longer adaptive beliefs? Nearly all religious imprinting is passed along by intensive, continuous brainwashing and reinforcement throughout the formative years -- that is, from birth to the late teens. Religious dogmas would be less credible than the adventures of Indiana Jones were it not for this near-universal, ingrained reinforcement, which Darwin expert Richard Dawkins has labeled "mental child abuse."

What can wellness enthusiasts contribute to this dialogue? I recommend asking questions. Maybe a few deep thinkers can offer stimulating, thought-provoking replies for consideration. The Center for Inquiry in New York, for example, is sponsoring a review of many such questions. Their queries, all set to be addressed at an upcoming national conference, will probe the evolution of our reliance on religious beliefs and seek a shift toward reliance instead on evidence gained from scientific inquiry. (See "Editorial: Retake the Moral High Ground," Free Inquiry, June, 2008.)

Among such questions are the following:

Any suggestions?

Income Disparities:

A rich/poor divide surely existed before Homo Sapiens emerged on the human tree. No doubt it has always been a comfort to be on the privileged side of this divide. However, the extent of the gulf between the haves and have-nots has rarely if ever been as great as it is today. Rural populations in developing nations have not fared well. In China, India, Russia and elsewhere, pockets of poverty contrast sharply with urban prosperity. The increase in oil prices has increased costs and scarcity of nearly everything, disproportionately affecting the poor. The effects include a loss of social cohesion and poorer prospects for future growth.

Paul Kurtz of Free Inquiry suggests that, humanity must reshape its use of natural resources...nations (must) rethink their cultivation and distribution of food...(and) retake on the nation's behalf the moral high ground that the current administration has so shamefully surrendered. So far, that kind of focus has been in short supply.

Summing Up:

Rising fuel prices, global warming and the mix of wars, toxic religions and natural disasters will be even worse if we make it to 2050, when world population reaches nine billion. Think of it: At that time, half again the number of planetary inhabitants alive today will be seeking food, water and other resources. A lot of them are going to be really, really hungry, crazy and angry.

Everyone remembers or has become familiar with JFK's famous, Ask not... inauguration phrase, but that inspirational line was preceded by another comment that may be more consequential for our current challenge as wellness promoters. I refer to his request to join in "the struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself."

Be well. Always look on the bright side of life.

Domain: purpose
Subdomain: applied wellness

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