Where's my habitat?

TBZKQDAYX5JP In each weekly issue, Sports Illustrated runs a clip called “This week’s sign of the apocalypse.” It’s usually some outrageous gem of stupidity or incompetence, a sporting equivalent of the Darwin Awards. Of course, there’s plenty of material to choose from in today’s world, particularly in the world of “health and fitness.” For this week’s sign of the apocalypse, I nominate Newsweek’s July 28 issue, “The Science of Healthy Living.”

You’ll recognize the issue straight away on the news stand: plastic see-through bodies, entirely without background, context or life support. The cover imagery is ickky enough as it is, but it’s the content, or lack of content I should say, that really tells the story. The main feature, “Keys to a Healthy Life,” is pure boilerplate, a photocopied version of the techno-pharmaceutical model that permeates the world of modern medical “care.” According to Newsweek, the “keys to health” turn out to be tests and screening. It’s all about uncovering incipient disease and channeling people into the care of an expert class for control and treatment. Aside from recommendations that children brush and floss their teeth, there’s almost nothing on lifestyle, behavior or relationship on any level. If people would just submit to full-body scans on a regular basis, they would be “healthy.”

The exercise recommendation is spectacularly uninspiring: A pathetically bored doctor from Harvard Medical School writes of his treadmill-and-TV workout, as if this were some sort of solution to our physical malaise. Apparently, this is as much as he expects from his mind-body and its encounter with the world; just grind out the mileage and hope that the TV will distract you from the unpleasantness of a body in motion.

But the real story in this feature was complete and total absence of reference to earth, land and habitat. Not one word about the living world. Not one word about exposure to the elements. Not one word about forming a relationship with the land that gives life to the body. Not one word about community, tribe or human contact. These things, apparently, are too far removed from the anatomy chart to be taken seriously. According to Newsweek, the body can and should remain in a laboratory where it can be measured, tweaked and manipulated. Then, if we can repair its malfunctions, we can declare it “healthy.”

Newsweek’s take on health and the body is clearly pathological, even insane. No body can live in isolation. No animal can thrive without a life support system. Remove an organism from its grounding habitat–even symbolically, metaphorically and intellectually–and it will begin to feel unease, anxiety and ultimately, disease. The proof is only a few pages away from Newsweek's feature story itself: on page 36 we read about “Death on Our Shores,” the continuing creepy saga about the black hole at the bottom of the ocean.

So the question we must put to ourselves and the editors at Newsweek: How does your body feel when you hear about the devastation in the Gulf and other threats to the biosphere? If you’ve got a pulse and even a modest sense of context, you just might feel it deep down in your gut, in your mind and in your tissue. You can bet that you'll experience changes in your biochemistry, your neuroendocrine profile and your serotonin system. Your plastic brain will change the way it manages your body. Your disposition and attitude will change too, with ripple effects that cascade to the most remote outposts of your body.

This is not some sort of mystical, hippie-quantum physiology. This is a real cause-and-effect process that is backed up by hard-ass, evidence-based research. Mind, body, land and health are intimately connected. You can pretend that mind is separate from body or that body is separate from habitat, but if you do, you'll perpetuate a dangerous falsehood that is profoundly health-negative.

Newsweek has perpetrated a work of spectacular ignorance. The time has come to acknowledge the earth-body connection. The time has come to integrate ourselves back into the fabric of the land. We are of the land. This is where our health begins.