I watched a couple episodes of Naked and Afraid on Discovery channel today. It was a lot more interesting and less silly than I expected. It really makes me think about survival differently. I don’t think I would be too successful at a challenge like that. But I also have no desire to do such a thing.
I and others sometimes joke about how much simpler life might be if we didn’t have the complexities of modern society. What would it be like to live a life of only worrying about basic survival? Of providing yourself with your own food, clothing, shelter, and nothing more? Basically, what would life be like if humans lived like every other animal on this planet? It’s easy to fantasize about a life where no one needs to worry about money or jobs or car insurance.
Even in being overwhelmed with how I will balance things in my own life, I know my location on this Earth alone gives me a great amount of privilege. Through no work of my own, I live in the United States, at a time where I don’t have to worry about being treated like property as a woman, or being enslaved or dealing with segregation. I live in this country at the best possible time in history to be queer. My ancestors and people before me have overcome many obstacles so that I can live a better life than they did.
I also acknowledge that without living in a first world country, and without having access to modern medicine the way I do, I wouldn’t be here. Literally. I was born three months premature. I have asthma. If I were born into a hunter/gatherer type of society, or if I were born in poorer circumstances, I would not have made it this far. And that’s always a sobering thing to acknowledge.
Our modern world is complex. Everything we have now is a product of history. The human race has watched its technologies and ideas grow, evolve, and become more healing as well as more destructive. Our species has accomplished a lot, both terrible and great.
But all of this brings me back to the question of simplicity. Thanks to the way our economy functions, I can have a fairly easy time acquiring food, clothing, housing, and medicine. Provided, at least, that I can afford it and am able to work. I don’t have to grow my own food or make my own clothes. I can spend my time, not only acquiring basic necessities, but also enjoying things like movies, books, dinners, and vacations.
Even in our busy lives, we have so much time that doesn’t have to be spent searching for water or hunting or farming. But I think all of this time that isn’t spent focusing on the basics gets used focusing on things that we perhaps don’t even need. I am perpetually worried about living a life that genuinely satisfies me. Basic survival, having enough food and water and a place to sleep isn’t enough. I want to feel like I’m living a life of purpose.
On Naked and Afraid, the contestants often find themselves feeling a supreme sense of joy and satisfaction when they’re able to take a few sips of water, or when they take that first bite of food after days of hunger. They celebrate achieving basic survival. I’m fortunate enough to have everything I need in my life. But there are still other things I want, and those things lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy.
But having food, clothing, shelter, a place to sleep…maybe we don’t need to live in the wild to focus on the simple things. Maybe we just need to acknowledge that the simple things are in themselves measure of success.
Being a human can be hard work. And I’ve joked more than once that I wish I could be an elephant or another kind of animal. But other animals spend a great deal of time protecting themselves from the elements and predators, so even though they don’t have to pay taxes, their lives can still contain great struggle. Humans no longer live in the wild, but we’ve adopted new kinds of struggles all the same.
Thanks to the internet, I can talk to people all over the world. We have sent a man to the moon. Human ambition is transformative, and it is also exhausting. I want to be able to feel satisfied, the way a person is with a few drops of water after being thirsty for a few days. It’s so hard to feel happy with the basics, at least when you’re used to having them. It’s so hard to not want the moon.
This show reminds me that it’s okay if you don’t achieve everything. You can let go of society’s pressures. You can just be.
But of course, like surviving in the wild, everything is always easier said than done. Still, these journeys make me look at things a bit differently, which leads me to think this crazy show has done its job right.