Appetite

Dunno about inanimate objects, like rocks, but it seems to me that living things had better have an appetite to stay that way.  I mean, without a desire to seek food, neither the individual, nor the species will stay animate very long.  And the desire to consume food is just one appetite; with a little thought, you can come up with many other appetites.

So, what makes us human beings different from, say, avocados?  Other than the lovely green color, of course.  Human beings have appetites, just like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s “wretched beasties” (bacteria), flora and fauna (and I don’t mean two of the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty), and Felix (The Cat?) and Fido.  Every living thing has appetites – gee, I guess that’s how we know they are living?  Fine, but are humans different?  And if so, how?

The purely secular answer (to a point, anyway), is that human beings, of all creatures, have the ability to control their appetites.  Not that you would know this from the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber.  But, if you look at the much more typical John and Jane Doe, you would have to quickly see that some degree of self-control exists.  Or not, I suppose:

A recent article in The Economist points out that “In 1980 no state had an obesity rate higher than 15%, with obesity defined as a body-mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher, 203 pounds for a 5’9” man.  Now every state has an obesity rate above 20% and 13 have rates of 30% or higher.”  So much for self-control, eh?

A talk on TED speaks of “set points” or “ranges” of weight.  That it was NATURE not nurture that was responsible!  The message I got was that there was nothing we could do about it – our obesity was beyond our control! But even at that, Sandra Aamodt’s thesis that the brain controls our weight only proves my point: what we desire comes from our brain, doesn’t it?  “You can use life-style choices to move up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.”  While I am not a neuroscientist (I can barely spell the word), I will not abdicate choice to the reptilian brain.  Last time I checked anyway, I wasn’t aware that very many crocodiles could type.

The most obvious, slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-fish example of lack of control – of being human –  is the obesity that confronts us everywhere, everyday.  I’ve heard it said that cats will eat only until they’re full, which is only one reason why you can leave them in the house while you are gone for the weekend.  And dogs, God bless ‘em, will empty and lick the bowl before you’re completely backed out of the driveway.  So, which are you: a dog or a cat?  Or, which would you rather be, capable of exercising some control over your appetites, over your life?  Or, eat it all, eat it now, and let tomorrow take care of itself?

As little use as I have for cats (the feeling is mutual), I’d rather be the captain of my own ship than be subject to purely animal – reptilian level – instincts.  Every day we make choices.  Every minute of every day.  Even avoiding choices is a choice.  That free-will thing is a two-edged sword (if that metaphor is too much of an anachronism for some, I still won’t apologize for not being an advocate of the nanny-state).  Choice, or free-will is what makes us human – at least to the secularists out there.

In other words, it’s pretty much pay-me-now, or-pay-me-later.  Your choices now do have ramifications.  Your desire to have another slice of lemon meringue pie, on top of the Biggie Size Fries you had yesterday adds up to someone who is trading today’s indulgence for tomorrow’s sorrow.  Your desire to “Let George Do it” instead of standing up on your hind legs and doing something as simple as voting, is a choice.  Doing as little as possible, rather than doing as much as you can, is a choice.

It is often said that it takes only 21 days to make some new behavior a habit.  Imagine, in less than a month, you can “program” your brain to decide that exercise is a completely wonderful and pleasant – let alone healthy – experience.  Or, maybe that you don’t need a triple-shot latte to get every day started (calories, health benefits, cost).  Or, you can be civil to others (“remember: children are watching you”).  Don’t cheat the red-lights, don’t drink and drive.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.

Or, you can be an avocado and just do whatever is easiest.  You can choose to be a slave to your basic, reptilian appetites.  Or, you can choose to be human.  The choice is yours.  Duh.

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