The Roots of Alienation

Test_(student_assessment).jpegWhy do we end up alienated from our bodies?

For one thing, we live in a civilization that runs on the power of mind and is less reliant on the strength of the body than any previous human culture.

The priority of mind relative to body is evident almost everywhere you look, but especially in our schools, which focus on cognitive abilities. Schools help kids develop verbal and analytical skills but devote few resources to teaching them how to regulate emotions or build other capacities vital to social cohesion (this is beginning to change, but most who are now adults were raised with little formal help building social or emotional strengths). Since verbal and analytical intelligence are almost entirely due brain activity, but emotional and social intelligence also depend bodily responses and sensations, the effect is that our schools don’t teach us to value the intelligence of our bodies.

Of course, schools have long promoted competitive sports, but athletic training does not automatically help people feel affection for their bodies. Success in sporting events demands aggressive training and pushing the body to its limits. It’s well known that athletes suffer high rates of injury and post-career legacies of back problems, joint disease, chronic pain, and other physical ailments. Athletic aggression leads to almost as much alienation from the body as academic focus on cognitive skills.

School is just the most formal locus of cultural conditioning. It’s a mirror for the way the larger society values thinking, scorns manual labor, and discounts the usefulness of feelings. The highest paid workers are corporate executives who scheme to maximize profits, perform no physical work, and are rewarded for ruthlessness and sociopathy. No wonder we learn to live in our skulls and feel alienated from our bodies.