Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Miscellaneous Thoughts About Clothing, Sex, Food, and Capitalism

As regular readers know, there is a health problem in my family (mom, congestive heart failure, in a rehab place trying to regain her strength to go home. Stressful and time-consuming!). I didn't have the mental energy for a regular post. But here are some things that are on my mind this week:

1. Free love and politics

I just finished reading the Oryx and Crake trilogy by Margaret Atwood and I thought it was really good and full of interesting things. In case you don't know, it tells the story of a dystopian future where biotech has run amok, much of the environment is ruined, and society is divided into safe and bland "compounds," where wealthy educated people live and work, and the "pleeblands" where people are poor are things are violent and shady and unpredictable.

One of my favorite things in this book is the way Atwood depicts the "God's Gardeners," who are a gang of animal-loving, anti-materialistic, anti-technologist zealots. The Gods Gardeners are basically the heroes of the story, and there's no question they are "right" about things in some deep and important way. But Atwood also goes out of her way to say how they're also kind of dull and moralizing, insisting on drab clothing and low-key social life.

I was glad to have this pointed out. Contrary to the "harmony myth of human nature," things like making your own soap can be both really boring and the right thing to do.

At one point there's a discussion of why Katrina, who runs a fancy pleebland sex club, can't escape trouble by going to live with the God's Gardeners. The answer is that "it wouldn't have worked out" because "wrong wardrobe preferences."

I never highlight things in novels, but I highlighted that -- because it captures something deep and real and sometimes very puzzling, namely, that "free love" rebels and other kinds of political rebels often can't get along. Really: why can't you be pro-environment and pro-equality in a miniskirt and heels?

2. The cultural and personal aspects of meal skipping

After I read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung I put into practice some of its recommendations, and I started skipping breakfast and avoiding snacks. Not only did I lose weight and start to feel better physically, I also experienced other surprising positives.

Though I think of myself as someone who isn't easily seduced by nutrition orthodoxy, I had somehow really bought into the commandment to "eat frequent small meals." Only now do I realize how ridiculously and pointlessly stressful this made my life. Being out and about all day and trying to find healthy food to eat four or five times a day? It's impossible. The standard advice -- to prepare and carry food around -- was unworkable for me.

I can't believe how liberating it is to just ... not eat when it's not convenient. My god. Yes, you get a bit hungry. But honestly, once I started separating the feeling of "hungry" from the anxiety of "not eating! unhealthy!" I found being hungry is not really a big deal.

On top of everything else, it saves money, it's consistent with environmentally friendly eating, and it requires no consumer products. Dr. Fung points out in his book how much standard nutrition advice is influenced by corporations need to make money. Skipping meals is like the opposite of that - it's like the food equivalent of buy-nothing-day.

3. How is late capitalism so strange?

It's fascinating to me how many of the things that we need most for happiness and well-being are things late capitalism is proving terrible at providing. Job security, time to care for children and others, time to cook food, opportunities for moving around and being outside, basic health care -- all things we need most, all things late capitalism seems to be eroding.

Sometimes it seems like the aspects of life that other societies are most focused on providing are just the ones we somehow expect people to deal with in the corners of their lives, as things they'll have to find a way to work out. Things like who is going to watch the kids when a parent gets sick -- it's like such a basic, basic thing, and yet somehow in late capitalism it gets treated like some kind of personal problem that everyone has to solve on their own.

I'd like to say I saw this coming, but I didn't. I was young during the days of middle-capitalism, when it really looked like with a bit of planning you could have it all kind of work. You could have the pleasures of technology and fashion without rampant inequality and with environmental protections and with structures in place to make all the difficult things work the way they should. Somehow, though, that's not how it all seems to be going.

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