Brain Fog and the Luddite
Have you ever met someone who eschews technology, who sees an impending evil in every new scientific advancement, and who wishes that civilization would go back thousands of years to a time when all was simple, peaceful, and fulfilling? In both philosophy and anthropology, the belief that early societies were blissful and superior to current times is often referred to as primitivism. The label is not necessarily negative, as the argument is complex and relies on archeological inferences about the presence or absence of war, social hierarchies, and the availability of resources. Those who currently view a simple life as preferable to the complex and hectic demands of modern civilization are simply expressing a preference. In contrast, primitivism refers to a set of philosophical beliefs about the past as a golden age.
Another term that goes along with this is Luddism. Luddism as a movement arose in the early 19th century from a group of English textile workers. The careers of the workers were being quickly replaced by increasing industrialization, mechanization, and outsourcing to lower-cost labor. In response and in an effort to preserve their trade, the Luddites vandalized factories, smashed machinery, and even attacked magistrates in an attempt to leverage their dwindling power. Over time, the term Luddite has slowly morphed into an adjective for someone who disdains technology and progress.
I’ve been called a Luddite and a Primitivist before, but not because I go on industrialization smashing rampages or believe that the past was a golden age. For about a year or so I lived in a tent in both Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree. I had some beef with society back then (and still do), but I was there mostly to rock climb and to walk high line slack lines, and not to eschew technology and progress in favor of something I viewed as superior. I have always preferred reading books to watching television and movies as well, which many see as some sort of statement, and not just my personal preference. I am a quiet person and I like my solitude and uninterrupted time with my thoughts. I also like science and technology.
That being said, I do like to occasionally rant about these dastardly little smart phone devices that seem to come flying out of my pocket before I have consciously made the decision to do so. Before I even know it, I am checking my email, social media, or favorite mountain bike websites. My ability to focus on a book without feeling the pull of my phone in my pocket seems to be ever increasing, and I often have to make mental efforts to keep my mind engaged.
It is not just this increasing world of immediate correspondence, access to information, and bombardment of visual and audible stimuli that are interfering with my reading habits, but also the horrific brain fog that comes with rheumatoid arthritis. Reading for me is often how I relax at night, and during stressful days I used to look forward to that late night quiet time when all was still and I could sit in my chair with a frothy beer or glass of whiskey and enjoy a good book. It was how I unwound from the day and transitioned to falling asleep. With rheumatoid arthritis, both the alcohol and the peacefully falling asleep are things of the past. I still try to read at night though, but it has become more difficult. A long and fatiguing day with RA leaves me so mentally blank that I often have to reread sentences numerous times, or flip back pages to try to remember something I just read. That is a big change for me, as I used to fly through books and battle whether or not to keep reading or go to bed.
The mental symptoms of the disease are very real. In our 2015 study of RA in America, of the 3,561 people who responded, 75% reported feeling daily fatigue with RA. That fatigue for many, myself included, is not just a bodily sensation of low energy, but also a sensation of a mental lack of clarity, focus, and attention. It affects more than just my reading habits. There are some days when I seem to be floating in a fog, and can’t keep track of things or stay with it. It is an awful aspect of the disease, and one that I find is very hard for others to understand. Some days I am on it, and am mentally quick and filled with ideas. On other days it is like my brain has turned into sludge, and I am prodding it along hoping it will pick up the pace.