Cavemen didn’t need CrossFit. We need CrossFit because we are still biologically cavemen. This is a basic theory that underlies our need to spend most of the day on our feet, preferably doing low-level activities, and to make sure that a few times a week we lift heavy things and do insane workouts. But this raises a question: if we need to eat a certain way and live a certain way for optimal health, and if our modern way of living doesn’t allow for that, then why in the hell are we living this way? Wouldn’t it be better to order the world so that we could all focus mainly on CrossFit or things like it, and on eating healthy all the time, instead of working like crazy people? Why do we live in way that maximizes the stresses of making a living and paying the bills?
This may be a fleeting thought for most, something said over brunch to fellow CrossFitters in the form of a joke. Nobody seriously thinks such a thing is possible. We all know that we have to have jobs and that those jobs will take up most of our time. We know that we must squeeze our fitness into the few hours we can spare for it. But I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this work/fitness conundrum, and it has had a profound effect on my view of work and the modern world.
We are wired for the kind of nomadic, tribal, hunting and gathering life that humans lived for eons before civilization. We are also wired to find meaning in that life. A sense of meaning in this context is our brain chemistry telling us that we’re doing something similar to what our ancestors did every day in order to survive. Our modern economy is not designed to bring us meaning. Our modern jobs are not designed to simulate tribal life. They are designed to produce something of value to be sold in the economy. Very different, and by and large very unrewarding. People may love their jobs, but they wouldn’t be doing them if they weren’t getting paid. So we work all day, then spend our free time doing CrossFit, or watching or playing sports, or playing video games, or doing any number of things that trick our brains into thinking that we’re having a tribal experience.
Our economy is based on the profit motive. That is not a judgment, it’s a fact. (See John Adams, The Wealth of Nations, on this point). And for owners, that is a perfectly rational incentive. But that incentive does not apply to us. We workers are not making a profit, we’re earning a living. In economic terms we are, quite literally, resources used by someone else to make a profit.
When I scratched the surface of modern economics I learned that homelessness and hunger are necessary to make the system work, because we are not wired to do the jobs that we do. We have to have to do them, or face homelessness and hunger, otherwise we wouldn’t do them. (See Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation on this point). Don’t get me wrong – I believe that we are wired for hard work and we are wired to contribute. We just aren’t wired, by and large, to do the kind of jobs that exist in the economy in which we find ourselves.
I have a rewarding job: I sue insurers who wrongly deny people their long term disability benefits. But the context in which I do my job – sitting at a desk, writing against deadlines, worrying about making mistakes that will cost my clients their livelihood, running the office as a business, etc. – is not conducive to healthy living. I am often stressed, which compromises my sleep, my energy levels, the quality of my diet and so many other things. When I follow my fitness journey to its logical conclusion, I find that it provides a deep critique of the modern world and the way that I personally live my life. Like so many other people, I love that I am able to work, to help people, to contribute. But like so many people, the work that I do is killing me.
I am now trying to the bridge the gap between modern living and healthy living in my life. This is not easy. The world demands so much of us and is not designed with enough play in it to allow many opt outs. But to the extent that I can create my own life in this world – to the extent that I am free – I am trying to do so in a way that feeds the ancient spirit that lives within me. I am trying to live a CrossFitter’s creed.
If I am not strong; if I am not fit; if I cannot handle long, difficult physical work; if I cannot participate in vibrant community; if I cannot set out and achieve personal goals; if I cannot eat fresh, healthy food; if I cannot get enough quality sleep; if I am too tired from work and from stress; if I am too addicted to social media and sugar and television; if I do not arrange my life to the extent possible to allow for the things required for optimal health; if I do not challenge those who promote a diet and lifestyle that causes chronic disease; if I do not do my part to ensure that we can all live healthy, meaningful lives, then I am not embracing the wisdom of CrossFit as I have come to understand it.