Civilization: It’s Cause and Cure

….is the name of a paper written by the 19th century British transcendentalist Edward Carpenter. One of his main points was the concept that civilization, the modernization of man, can contribute to the demise of man, especially as it relates to issues of physical and mental health and well being.

Although having read this paper over ten years ago, my recent research pertaining to nutrition and disease compelled me to dig it back up. The current book on nutrition that I am reading, The China Study,  frequently mentions what it calls "Diseases of Civilization".  It seems the the two writers, although a century apart, have provoked me to think a little deeper about the subject matter.


One thing I found fascinating in Carpenter's paper is how he documents various English explorers accounts of how so called "primitive" people's that they encountered in their journeys seemed to always be in such great health. Carpenter states in his paper, he called quotes an explorer of the Amazon as calling the natives "a fine and healthy people". He makes mention of the famous explorer Capitan Cook's quote about the people of Tahiti "We say no critical disease during our stay on the island, and but few instances of sickness". Also, Cook mentions of the Native New Zealanders that "They all enjoy perfect uninterrupted health.". Carpenter mention a quote from J.G. Wood that "The Kaffir people have a state of health that enables them to survive injuries that would be almost instantly fatal to any civilized European".

It is obvious that diet and nutrition have always played a great part in the health of these so called native peoples. Countless fruits, vegetables, and herbs have been obtained from these far away lands and are currently being utilized in our modern day world. One interesting point that the book The China Study frequently makes is that there seems to be a correlation with wealthy nations and the fact that they consume more animal protein, and subsequently that causes more disease. I have much more research to do on this subject matter, because there is much evidence of meat eating cultures such as the Eskimos, the Aborigines, and Native Americans of the plains who consumed buffalo, who were "relatively" disease free, and in the case of  the Eskimos, cancer free. Could the issue pertain to animal proteins from animals that are raised and processed in ways that are different than the past, when cows fed on grass and chickens were free to roam?

Nonetheless, there does seem to be some validity to diseases of civilization, and conversely diseases of poverty, such as malaria, cholera, and malnutrition. In any case it becomes obvious even to the casual observer of the modern world that society is somewhat our of balance, and seems to be gravitating to becoming even more our of balance.

Carpenter makes the important point in his paper pertaining to health that "The modern concept of health seems to be a negative one". He goes on to say that "We come to look at health as the absence of disease". In reality, health is the natural state of man, and disease should in essence be looked at as a temporary imbalance within the body.


My belief system has always taught me that even in a world of chaos, we can positively affect our own existence and that of those around us, in spite of the negative trends that prevail in society. I think we can get to the point that we can no longer fear cancer and diabetes (as I have got to that point). Not saying I will never get those ailments, I just don't think I ever will based upon my understand that these are truly diseases of civilization. 

I share in Edward Carpenter's optimistic tone at the end of the paper where he makes the very upbeat comment that  "Man will once again feel unity with his fellows, he will feel unity 

with the animals, with the mountains and the streams, with the earth itself and the slow lapse of the constellations, not as an abstract dogma of Science or Technology, but as a living and ever present fact". ~dw~

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