Leaving the cave behind

2013-03-11

The other day I became fascinated with the idea that automobiles are the modern day cave. I wanted to explore this idea a little bit more so I discussed it with someone who I knew would bring me more ideas - be sure to check out Jessie's post Cars and The Cave where she takes a more abstract, philosophical approach to this topic.

Cars, trucks, buses, SUVs - all provide their inhabitants with everything humans have ever required of a cave:

  • shelter from the elements
  • protection from outside dangers
  • a place to feel safe and secure
  • a place to relax and consume calories with little risk of threat
  • a place to create the preferred environment for idle thoughts

We've improved the cave by making it mobile. Moving caves! Just think of what our ancestors would have wished for and look at what's been accomplished in the modern automobile. It's all in there.

We've understood that sharing experiences and stories in a community is important and have also solved for a way to include everyone who wants to participate from the comforts of their automobile. If you don't have any passengers you can still participate in some semblance of community by listening to the radio, or communicating with a CB radio or cell phone. No one has to feel alone in their automobile, even if they are driving alone in back country roads. There is a great comfort to be had in hearing someone's voice.

So, what is there for me to complain about? We've adapted one of the oldest, most cherished controlled environments which has allowed humans to safely live and propagate, and we've improved on it! What can I possibly say that goes against this accomplishment?

Caves are complicated. Caves are also traps. There is a cost to giving up the outside world to go hide in a cave all of the time.

Our distant ancestors survived to have their lineage (us) advance to societal and technological levels they would find incomprehensible. We have so dominated our environment large and small that our population levels at a single city dwarf that of the entire world had just a few centuries ago. Our societies today are filled with wonders, continuously invigorated by new and fresh examples of human creativity and spirit. Despite all of this progress and momentum, we still have an instinct to rely on the cave model for making us feel in control of our lives.

There was something that our ancestors had to do in order to prosper and spread. They could not stay in the cave forever. While caves provided early humans many benefits in safety and the chance to grow, caves could not provide the ability to sustain humans in the long term.

Game is hard to hunt from inside of a cave. Crops don't grow well in the dark of a cave. How about inter-community commerce and trade? Exchanging of ideas, bloodlines, and cultures?

What about conditioning the body and mind? Building a healthy body that can stave off an entire category of diseases associated with stagnation and lethargy?

All of these things need to take place outside the cave.

Humanity could not have risen to meet the challenges of the world, to grow in the important ways that were necessary for success of the species, and eventually evolve into the societies that exist today if they stayed in their caves.

Automobiles like cars are modern day caves. All the benefits, and nearly all of the same drawbacks. To shelter yourself is also to be trapped within a boundary that prevents you from improving your condition.

To me, this is the most disturbing part: we all recognize the benefits we gain from our modern day mobile caves, so much so that we've blinded ourselves to the most painful flaws that have no simple solutions. Quite sadly, we haven't figured out how to deal with living in caves that can move!

Accidents, deaths, and plenty of other tragedies are a daily reality that we have numbed ourselves to until it happens in a way we can't ignore. And this doesn't even scratch at the large-scale disruptions that come from burning tremendous amounts of toxic chemicals into the air and water - I'm just exploring the human aspect here, the human experience, and how it interrelates with this modern cave concept. We are all lured by the feeling of safety and convenience our modern caves offer, and for that feeling we have let our individual and collective guards down.

Please, leave the cave every once in a while. It's important that you do. You don't have to take my word for it, look to our ancestors and see that when they left their caves they had something to show for it. Us.

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