But wait, isn’t modern eye-care one of those wonderful inventions that demonstrate why modern civilization is so much better than being a poor caveman? How many times have I heard: “You say you’re a primitivist, but you wear glasses! If you had to live in the stone age you’d be blind!”
Well, maybe there’s more to the story than that.
And yes, I’m being hyperbolic. I don’t mean it. Not really “evil” anyway, but maybe not the wonderful, unquestionable “good” that many of us think.
Anyway, it’s something to consider…stick with me for a moment while I make a case.
First of all, I need to be honest about the fact that I’ve been having a bad day. I had one of those “stuck in traffic” moments while going to get new glasses this morning that led to a minor “road rage” moment. Thankfully, I remembered to breathe and simply walked out of the clinic without even uttering a single unkind word. I mean, it’s not their fault. Somebody made a law.
By Federal law, eye prescriptions expire in just one year.
I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I had a perfectly good, hard won prescription in my pocket from three years ago. I say “hard won” because last time I went for an eye exam they took me to a darkened room, dilated my pupils, stuck my head in a vice, shined bright lights in my eyes and puffed air on my eyeballs. It was a miserable two hours. My eyes watered and hurt, and I had a headache the rest of the day. They did all this in order to tell me my vision was about the same as it was last time I got an eye exam…ten years earlier. I vowed I’d wait at least another ten years before I went through that again.
Then my glasses got so the world didn’t look so good through them. The little scratches built up and I switched to my backup pair. Then two days later, I accidentally broke those. Now there I was with two messed up sets of glasses, hoping to simply walk in and get new lenses, and I’m being told to shell out another $200 and go to the torture chamber again.
Ok, so maybe I have sensitive eyes. Call me a wus if you want to.
The voice inside my head was practically yelling: “I already have a perfectly good prescription!”
Doesn’t matter. Government says I need another eye exam. And the opticians — the experts who make the glasses — aren’t gonna disagree. They’re probably the ones who lobbied to have the law made in the first place. After all, it brings them more business.
Which might not bother me if I actually believed the central myth of our culture: that nature is broken. Including us.
Poor vision, we’re told, is genetic. And so most humans just naturally need glasses. If it weren’t for the wonders of modern eye-care, we’d be poor blind cavemen…until we starved to death, of course.
However, there is evidence to the contrary:
Dramatic proof that myopia is usually not inherited came from a 1968 investigation by Dr. Frances Young, who led a research team to Alaska to study Eskimo families that were being assimilated into the modern American lifestyle. This provided a unique opportunity to test the genetic theory because the parents were illiterate whereas their children were the first generation to go through school. According to the genetic theory, the parents and the children should have almost identical visual systems with little or no myopia.
What Dr. Young discovered stunned the eye care profession. Only 2 out of 130 parents were myopic and the amount of myopia was very small. This was expected because they were living the traditional Eskimo lifestyle of hunting and fishing. In contrast, more than 60% of the children had measurable amounts of myopia! The children obviously didn’t inherit the myopia so Dr. Young concluded that the myopia was caused by long periods of reading as the children went through school.
Francis A. Young et al, “The Transmission of Refractive Errors within Eskimo Fainilies”, American Journal of Optometry and Archives of the American Academy of Optometry 46, no.9 (September, 1969).
Think about it. Our ancestors were hunters. How long are half-blind hunters gonna survive? In other words, what could possibly be the evolutionary mechanism for a hunting population to develop high incidents of myopia? There is none. It’s an absurd hypothesis that poor vision is “just genetic”.
My view is that, generally speaking, poor vision is a disease of civilization. Mostly linked to living in boxes under artificial light and reading lots of written words. It’s probably also fostered by poor diet. And I have a hunch that it may even be linked to psychological factors — that perhaps cause some of us to loose interest in seeing the world.
If that’s true, then folks in the eye-care profession are making a living (and a good living at that) treating symptoms without addressing their causes. Of course, doing otherwise might put them out of business. And big money is never made treating causes — not when treating symptoms will keep us coming back for more.
The essential dynamic is the same as what Lakota philosopher John Fire Lame Deer says “bad” witch doctors do:
If such a conjuror is bad he himself will put sickness into you which only he can cure — for a price. (Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, pages 195-196)
But obviously it’s not the optician’s fault. I’m not blaming him personally. The whole thing is bigger than him. We’re talking about society and ecology here. Still, individuals play their part, and the experience of it all is pretty much the same as being under the power of an evil witch doctor. Our culture raises us to go blind, then tells us how lucky we are to have the privilege of paying someone to make us glasses.
Personally, I’d rather grow up seeing the world. And in more ways than one.
Maybe it’s not too late.