The not-so-great indoors

March 19, 2022 Comments Off on The not-so-great indoors

Outdoors is where the mind and body want to be, whereas indoors is where capitalism wants them to be. Indoors, with regard to control, all is possible. Outdoors, subjects are susceptible to being free, or at least to feeling free. In order to counteract the threats to control posed by the outdoors, technology has broken through the “third wall” of reality such that, by continually fixing our attention on the screen, we remain emotionally and ideologically indoors even when we are physically outside. This little device on sale at REI describes perfectly the current state of things, and why it’s imperative that the protective cocoon, a/k/a the prison cell, be carried with us at all times, in all states.

The catalogue of ways that the indoors and its perpetual surveillance, discipline, and punishment have replaced the outdoors is almost endless. Everything that is invented fits within some framework of removing the human from the outdoors in which they evolved. Nor is the process new. Books in their time, requiring protection from the elements and requiring indoor lighting, were simply another step in the blockchain of removing subjects from the outdoors. So today it’s a matter of course that we are born indoors, live indoors, die indoors, and the only time we spend outside is during those brief moments of pause known as recreation, an exception to the general rule, and so wrapped up in countless layers of devices, gear, behavior, and ideologies that further restrict us from actually experiencing the rocks, the sand, the leaves, the sun, the water, the grit and grain of clumped, sodden, crumbling, earthworm-riddled earth, and of course Earth.

Since I am now greatly although far from perfectly unhitched from the blockchain of work, and spend most of my time each day out under the sky, often bicycling, often walking, often sitting with back propped against a stone, I have occasion to notice the myriad methods of severing humans from outside. My favorite is the recreational vehicle.

The recreational vehicle in its essence is neither, and is instead a rather perfect form of dominance and control. Inside it one almost never recreates, and it is only occasionally a vehicle. Let me explain.

The inside of the recreational vehicle is cramped even for short, thin, flexible people. For the normal denizen who is old, fat, often tall, never bendy, it is a prison cell. One exists in small spaces, hemmed in with hard plastic edges, tables that hold exactly not enough, stoves that cook exactly not enough, showers that wet exactly not enough, beds that accommodate exactly not enough, toilets that provide relaxation and privacy not at all, and a common living space in which you can neither jump, yell, sing, fuck gloriously, roll around, sit cross-legged, lie spread-eagled, or do anything else except sit.

Sitting, folks, isn’t recreation. It is the slow coagulation of life and life’s energy into your fat, swollen ankles as it speed rots every other functional metabolic system you own. The recreation inside the recreational vehicle, then, fits one of the key requirements of marketing, that is, the name is an utter, outrageous lie. But there’s more. Sure, it rolls down the road as it’s hauled by a car or truck, and sure, some models can actually be driven, but movement and transportation do not underlie or define the recreational vehicle.

The recreational vehicle exists primarily to sit, parked, just like the ever-widening-asses inside them. This vehicular sitting is the recreational vehicle’s more or less permanent state. It sits parked in the yard, most often for years, utterly unmoving, it sits in storage lots, it sits on city streets, and it only acts as a vehicle for those few short hours over a period of years when it is being towed to a new location—a campground, another roadside, a pull-out, a Wal-Mart parking lot, a new back yard. No wonder that the recreational vehicle is a non-recreational parked trailer, because the cost of moving it from place to place is wildly exorbitant, and was so long before gas cost eight dollars a gallon.

The recreational vehicle was never intended to be moved, much, for the simple reason that highway speeds literally tear it apart. Seams, seals, screws, epoxies, all of the things that hold together the functional interior of a recreational vehicle, especially its watertight roof and plumbing, are not engineered to handle the constant battering, rattling, wind, weather, and reverberations of 70 mph over America’s lousy roads. That’s why every “Should I buy an RV?” article insists that you carefully consider whether or not you want to be a constant handyman, a jack of all RV repair trades. Drive your house down the freeway for a day or two. Would you expect it to hold up?

Because that’s what the recreational vehicle is: it’s a highly modified mobile home made to trap you inside all of the physical controls of indoors and most crucially, to trap you inside all of the emotional, mental, and ideological controls of capitalism. It allows the subject to move, at least nominally, and to coordinate that motion with what are ostensibly indicia of the outdoors such as, say, trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, but it firmly locks the subject into the control modalities of the indoors, the modalities of surveillance, discipline, and punishment.

Even if you knew nothing about the recreational vehicle, you could intuit its function by looking at the way it is marketed and then reverse-cloaking the marketing semantics to derive its true essence. Essentially, it is marketed with three categories of bold-faced lie: the money lie, the freedom lie, and the adventure lie. In order to understand why these three themes of lie are so effective in selling something that is so evidently not what it’s purported to be, you have to first understand the psyche of the buyer and his decision-making chain, the logic that underpins it, and more fundamentally, the terror that underpins the logic.

For the man who buys a recreational vehicle, and it is overwhelmingly a man, is of a certain age, a certain income, and possessed of a certain understanding about the way that life works. This average man is very white, between 48 and 65, has an income of about $62,000 and spends twenty days a year “camping,” i.e. “parking somewhere other than his driveway” in a recreational vehicle. By far and away the biggest psychosocial motivator for the man who buys a recreational vehicle is freedom. Here is how the recreational vehicle industry describes the freedoms afforded by its product:

  1. Freedom from stress: “Travel can be a real hassle. Driving with a car full of luggage and your family can be cramped and tedious. Flying can be costly, aggravating … with an RV you’ll save long term on plane tickets [and] get to see the country … [and] relax. Never worry about booking a hotel room or traveling to a constrained itinerary. Take control of your vacations.”
  2. Freedom to explore: “Most people have the dream to see the country and all the things they couldn’t while they were busy with their working lives … we represent the opportunity to explore the country, see everything: art, all the heritage and historical sites, all the natural wonders of the United States.” “You have more mobility.” “RV campgrounds are everywhere.” “…the most attractive part … is being able to travel where you want, when you want.” “Naturally, an RV makes the nomadic life easier.”
  3. Freedom from financial constraints: “No need to spend money on hotels and restaurants on top of those expensive plane tickets … typical RV trips remain the least expensive type of vacation … 27% to 61% cheaper than other types of vacations.” “By claiming your RV as your second home, you can get a significant tax break.”
  4. Freedom from physical discomfort: “Traveling by RV gives you plenty of space to move around and stretch your legs.”
  5. Freedom from other people’s hygiene: “You also get to use your own bathroom instead of that cramped bathroom on an airplane.”
  6. Freedom from isolation: “Owning an RV means your [sic] part of a larger community … you’re bound to run into people with a variety of interests.” “Everyone’s friendly.”

The broad contours of these freedoms are embodied by promises of comfort, economy, and adventure, and it’s worth noting at the outset that these are incompatible, and the industry knows it. Comfort is at one end of the spectrum, adventure is at the other; you cannot have both. If you are comfortable it is not an adventure. Perhaps it’s a day trip to the park, perhaps it’s a hike on a well-trodden trail, perhaps it’s a sail around a pond in a park. But the essence of adventure is risk, discomfort, and fear, and without it you are doing something other than adventure. Conversely, comfort’s partner is safety. When you are cozy and secure, you are not adventuring. And of course economy runs afoul of both comfort and adventure, because true comfort is blindingly expensive, and true adventure is costly, often in terms of travel and gear, but always in terms of time and risk. The difference between an adventure and tragedy is simply the outcome.

What’s important to note is that by the time the average 62-year-old white guy making $62k/year retires, he is not a risk taker, he is not an adventurer, he is not a discoverer, a seeker, a rock climber with callused hands and craggy, sun-lined face. He is almost always fat, beset by chronic health conditions that require medication, timid, physically weak, and unable to withstand the outdoors without significant equipment and without seeking out places where the “outdoors” is as mild as possible. The psyche of this weak, flabby, older man considering the purchase of a recreational vehicle has not caught up with his physical condition, and this is what the marketing relies upon to trigger the decision-making chain resulting in the sale.

The buyer remembers his youth and the time he spent outdoors. He may have hunted or fished, he may have hiked, biked, backpacked, and he most certainly camped, but not the indoor-camping-that-is-not-camping of a recreational vehicle, rather he camped in a tent or sometimes even under the open night sky. These memories of youth, strength, adventure, and discovery still remain and they are the lens through which the buyer views his current old, flabby, medicated, alcohol-dependent self. The seller sees a delusional sucker, the buyer sees Paul Bunyan just bustin’ to get out of this sagging, aging body, and to get out of it in the form not of a loaded pack, a pair of boots, a compass, and a walking stick, but through a 40-foot trailer that will forever make it impossible to know whether a bear really does shit in the woods.

In other words, the outdoors has its draw, still, and by cloaking the reality of a cheaply built, instantaneously depreciating home on wheels that one drags to paved, industrialized “camping-parking-lots” with the false images of the freedom, youth, and adventure of the outdoors, the ridiculous purchase begins to make sense. But only begins, because its completion requires a lot more gymnastics of the mental and emotional kind.

Lest you think I’m kidding, check out the names plastered to these clunky, ugly, plastic carriages: Cougar, Freedom, Hideaway, Four Winds, ForestRiver, Chateau, Rambler, Admiral, Adrenaline, Breeze, Aspen Trail, Attitude, Warrior, Bighorn, Basecamp … see?

One angle of reality that acts to deflate the prospective purchase is the wife. She has no delusions of her husband’s health, age, or fitness. She knows that however much he sees this as an avenue to outdoor freedom, it is in fact a severe constraint on her, and his, normal lifestyle. Less space, less comfort, uncertainty regarding where to park, the dangers of dragging a massive trailer, the nasty surprises of breakdowns and unexpected costs, the grim ugliness of paying $250 every few hundred miles to fill up with gas, and most of all decision fatigue are all angles of reality that the significant other sees, often long before the guy.

Sometimes gentle, sometimes direct, sometimes in the spirit of compromise and sometimes in the spirit of outright conflict, the man comes to acknowledge that even if they agree to the purchase, he’s not the man he once was, ergo the man he wishes he was. This acknowledgement is key because it achieves the ultimate goal of the recreational vehicle and the industry that sells it, which is to confine us, again, to the indoors.

So instead of Paul Bunyan in the outdoors, the sales pitch must pivot from the cramped, expensive, chintzy, unreliable trailer to what actually is adventurous and daring about recreational vehicles: the idea that older people with bad reflexes and marginal health can safely drag massive trailers down the freeway, along twisting back roads, through dense city traffic, and also park them into cramped, elbows-to-assholes parking slots. Driving these things is nasty, hard, stressful, and dangerous work, not to mention the labor involved in hitching, unhitching, stabilizing, and of course connecting water lines and handling raw sewage. One feature of people is that they will handle their turds in a nasty, leaky sewer line but think that wiping their butts in the backcountry with a bare hand is gross.

But back to the RV. There is adventure here, true adventure, because a bad outcome literally results in death or serious injury. It takes a huge measure of confidence and skill to negotiate these blundering piles of plastic and metal, so much that owners of recreational vehicles say, over and over again, that however skilled they are or how comfortable they are with their rig, driving it is stressful and parking moreso. Remember when U-Haul’s tag line was “Adventure in Moving”? Ever wonder what that meant? Ever wonder why they got rid of it? Because the last thing that anyone wants is adventure while driving down a highway, that’s why.

Why does any of this matter? Because the point behind the automobile is social control of the driver, and once the recreational vehicle buyer has dispensed with the fantasy that he’s ever going to hike off into the back country, he accepts that all of the skill, daring, bravery, and adventure he will ever face involve squeezing forty-feet of garbage into a narrow little parking slot.

Even so, the sale of an RV would never happen if the buyer hadn’t already accepted an extremely harsh and bizarre worldview, which is that our lot in life is to work hard when we are young, save as much money as we can, and then, when we are too weak and medicated and timid and overweight to do anything, then and only then will we embark on the freedom that is known as retirement. No one bothers to ask why in the world after being tired, you’d want to be re-tired. Wouldn’t you want to never get tired in the first place?

The logical arc of natural life has nothing in common with this worldview that is forced upon us by capitalism and its apologists. Life was supposed to go from childhood, which was wonderful and awe-inspiring, to young adulthood, which was filled with adventure, finding a mate, building a family, and was supposed to conclude with sedentary old age and death. In other words, youth was for the young, age was for the aged. But only by believing the false promise that at 65 you can enjoy life just as much as you could when you were 25 can people be made to work all their lives and then “live it up” in retirement, dragging a giant trailer behind them. “I’ve earned this,” “It’s time to have fun,” “I’m finally free” and like sentiments all underlie the passion for buying a recreational vehicle.

Once the buyer has his sense of freedom and adventure properly appealed to, and once he has accepted the swap of youth-for-money, he’s almost ready to sign on the dotted line. But there’s one more piece of chicanery that has to happen, and it’s the terror I alluded to earlier, the one that drives reasonable people to buy such obviously ridiculous things. If capitalism teaches us that we must work when young and play when it old, it also teaches us that once we’re old we must act quickly to avoid dying before we’ve “done all the things we want to do.” It’s the horrible bucket list, those things we really wanted to do but weren’t brave enough to.

Fear of dying before the list has been completed or significantly dented is real. And since the fear can’t be dispelled with the backpack, hiking boots, compass, and trail, it has to be dispelled with a purchase, which is all that capitalism really wants anyway. It wants to drain your labor when you have the most to give at the cheapest price, and it wants to take back what it paid in the form of purchases like the $150,000 recreational vehicle that you’ll use twenty days a year. The reformulated desire for adventure, the belief that retirement is a fair trade for wasting youth as a wage slave, and the fear of missing out are what complete the sale. Oh, and the thing loses 20% of its value the minute you drive it off the lot.

I hope you don’t think I’m bagging on people who own recreational vehicles. I’m simply selecting them because I know them so well. But what they represent, which is alienation from the outdoors, is even more extreme among urban and rural dwellers who never leave the cocoon of home, car, and office. This number is far greater than those who at least have to walk from the RV to the raw sewage dump and back again.

And however miserable it is to live inside a recreational vehicle, it’s just as miserable in a home, in a car, in an office, a hospital, a school, or staring at your screen. There may be degrees of misery but the markers on the ruler are fine indeed.

Cautionary Tales of the Great Outdoors

People evolved in the outdoors, not indoors. In order to make them stay inside, great measures were required, above all fear. It is extraordinary how many people fear what lies beyond their doorstep, as if the human race had neither skill nor biology to cope with it. For modern folk, there are a series of well-known methods used to keep them inside. In no particular order I’ll list a few of them and let you ponder who came up with that? And why?

The outdoors will estrange you from civilization and is dangerous. No better cautionary tale exists than Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.” The moral is simple: the wilderness and civilization can never coexist. The sub-moral is equally vivid: outdoors is violent and filled with danger and death. This basic premise, that wild spaces are incompatible with civilization, has its parallel in modern take-offs of the London theme, for example Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild.” Like London’s book, it traces the fate of a civilized being—a human rather than a dog—who goes to Alaska’s wilderness and finds death. Like London’s book, Krakauer’s message is that the outdoors has no redemptive value, nor does it exist as a space with which civilization can coexist. Krakauer’s popularity is explained by the way he exploits this theme, as he did subsequently in “Into Thin Air,” a cautionary tale about what awaits people who are foolish enough to climb Mt. Everest. This genre of cautionary tale finds its way into every news story about fatal encounters between people and bears, people and mountain lions, people who drown in rivers, people who fall from heights, people who get lost and freeze to death, cyclists killed by cars, and of course people who go outdoors and simply disappear.

There is rarely any counterpoint to these cautionary tales, such as Alaska’s safety (Krakauer’s protagonist was camping fifteen miles from a town), the health benefits to riding a bike or to hiking, and certainly no counterpoint in terms of statistics that show the frequency of cyclists killed by bears (two in a hundred years) versus people killed by cars and sitting (hundreds of millions and counting). Fear is an excellent control mechanism, and it is employed at all levels by capitalism to keep people inside and safe from cyclist-killing bears, but not so safe from diabetes, cancer, smoking, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, heart disease, depression, obesity, and premature death.

If there are rarely any counterpoints to the cautionary tales, there are a raft of publications designed exactly to encourage you to go outdoors but only if you understand the grave risks. This bleeds into another technique for keeping people inside, the technique of “outdoors is for experts,” but it also fits with the cautionary tale simply because these publications regularly spice up their work with tales of danger, risk, and misadventure. Consider “Me, My Sled Dogs, and a Nightmare Run-in with a Bull Moose” from Outside Magazine, or what Field & Stream tells you about itself: How to Hunt, Fish, Camp, and Survive … because when you leave your front door, it’s a fight for survival down there at the county duck pond with the kiddie playscape and those ferocious swans.

The outdoors take practice. Okay, so you’re going to insist on buying a gravel bike and going outdoors to ride it, but don’t think that makes you a gravel cyclist. In order to properly gravel you need to do a gravel fun ride, and in order to do the ride you need to practice, and in order to practice you need to do a training camp. Yes, that’s right. A training camp for a fun ride. If it sounds silly, rest assured that it has a profound logic, and that’s the logic of discipline. There was a time when people didn’t practice or exercise; they did something called “live.” Native Americans didn’t target practice, they hunted, daily, and became very good at it.

Practice is a form of control and it’s no accident that we are told today that whatever the outdoor activity is, before we do it in earnest we must practice it. Why must we practice? So we will be good. Why must we be good? Because if we suck we’ll look foolish, “Freds” in the bicycle parlance. And what’s wrong with looking like a Fred? It’s that you won’t appear properly on social media. As you might have suspected, all roads really do lead back to the algorithm.

But back to practice. Once people feel sufficiently intimidated by their inartful outdoors behavior they will focus their extremely limited outdoor time on practicing rather than on experiencing. What’s the difference? Well, imagine Chris Froome staring at his stem, or for that matter, virtually anyone nowadays who considers themselves a serious cyclist. Then imagine someone riding much more slowly, taking careful note of the scenery, and stopping from time to time to literally smell the flowers, take a picture, eat a sandwich, drink a cold draught of water.

When you return from the practice, if you’ve done it properly, you’ll be better at the activity but you certainly will not have any greater understanding or appreciation of the outdoors, and you will find eventually that being outdoors isn’t even necessary for the practice. Hence Zwift in cycling, treadmills in running, climbing walls, gyms, swimming pools … an ersatz for the outdoors seems fine when you’re chasing a number or a particular improvement in your crawl or a longer drive. Capitalism understands that since some people will insist on going outdoors, the only way to capture them is to turn their time there into exercise, practice, discipline, goals, and with those things a host of equipment that costs money and further reinforces the subject’s role as consumer and, upon completion of the practice and upload to Strava, a slave laborer for the owner of the social media app who harvests yet more data, literally from the sweat of the athlete’s brow.

Few things embody the marketing and the lies it is based on better than the training camp for the public bike ride on public roads. The promoter sets a date for his event, which is open to anyone who can pay the entry fee, and then in order to squeeze more money out of the subjects he hypes up the difficulty of the ride, intimating that the subjects can’t finish, won’t finish, or won’t be part of the “in” crowd unless they pay hundreds of more dollars to attend the training camp. The training camp is where the gurus will sell the inside tips, elucidate the particularly tricky “sectors,” and help nervous subjects select exactly the right equipment for the Direful Day with Destiny.

The training camp will conclude with a “recon” ride and invariably will become a contest to “win” the training camp. Bank accounts and beer steins will be drained, kudos awarded, and, hundreds if not a couple thousand dollars poorer, the subjects will now be prepared to go do a public bicycle ride for which every subject, win, lose, draw, or give up, will receive a participation t-shirt.

They may have spent hours outdoors, but no one will remember that aspect.

Discipline, when espoused by coaches and serious athletes, is spoken of as if it’s not the opposite of freedom, which it is. Yet how many of the people on Zwift or Strava have any need at all of discipline when it comes to riding their bikes? What they need is discipline to put down the fork and lay off the booze, and especially they need the discipline to get out of bed and go ride their bike, but practice in the sense that they are going to someday attain some level of athleticism that comports with some abstract achievement (new PR on the climb, new max watts, longest day ever, etc.) is only useful in conjunction with rationales and justifications for the purchase of new equipment. A bike from 1970, well-maintained with good tires, will suit 99.99% of all people who will ever ride a bicycle in terms of “performance.” But a bike from 1970 puts you off the back in terms of consumption and digital appearance.

In short, practice kills the outdoors even when you’re out in it. If the time outside is goal-oriented, it’s wasted time for purposes of what nature has to offer, although it’s perfect for the sales department at REI. No one wants to talk about the tools we evolved to live outdoors, about the innate senses and skills that we have adapted, after eons, to be outdoors with no other practice than the art of living.

The outdoors is for experts. This is the corollary to “the outdoors require practice,” and like all of the other methodologies for restricting the outdoors it imposes controls, surveillance, and cost. No matter what the outdoor activity is, it is populated with experts, people who’ve devoted their lives to this especial niche, and people without whose guidance you’re fundamentally lost. A particular favorite of mine in this regard is birdwatching. You’d think that with eyes, ears, and a memory, you’d be ready to go outdoors and, well, watch birds. You’d be wrong because simply watching birds isn’t, emphatically, birdwatching. In order to properly utilize the outdoors and the birds that populate it, you need to know how to identify the bird. Sounds reasonable, except for this nagging problem of “How do you ID the bird?”

Naturally, you turn to the experts, who have, in the case of North America, put together a book that includes over a thousand species, many of which are rarely if ever seen in North America, and many more of which have such thorny identification problems that even the experts are often confounded. Subspecies, “races,” hybrids, accidentals, and my favorite, the “introduced species” which somehow doesn’t count as a bird, are all specialties within a niche within a microfissure that, trust me, you can spend a lifetime studying and never learn. How removed is birdwatching from the outdoors? There is an entire class of birds, the gulls, whose identification is so fraught that many expert birders simply “don’t do gulls.” Not to worry, there’s an in-depth guide for that … This is the point: study, with a book, the Internet, and a birdcall app, indoors. You can go outside and watch the birds once you’re proficient, should only take a decade or five.

And if you do manage to go outside and actually watch a bird and identify it, just like cyclists use Strava, birders use eBird to record every speck of minutiae about what you saw and where you saw it. Better yet, there are leaderboards populated with experts who are so far ahead of you that you might as well stay home. The algorithm twists looking at wildlife into a competition which reflects back upon itself as how you appear, your social media image. All you saw was a few ravens, a robin, and some little brown thing you can’t identify? FRED.

Where is it written that you can’t self-identify? I call that bird a Spotted Backyarder, just like I call that plant a spider fern. You don’t know what I mean? So what? I do, and more importantly, I’m not hunched over a screen trying to identify the subspecies, I’m outside enjoying the antics, the appearance, the beauty of the actual bird. In fact, it’s written in the social norms that are imposed on any who would be naturalists—learn to follow the Latin rules laid down by Linnaeus, and follow the learned experts who have followed in his wake. Don’t name things yourself and make shit up, it’s not allowed.

Experts exist in all realms of the outdoors. Fishing guides, hunting guides, people who can show you the proper way to drive a dog sled, and in cycling, golf, and tennis the ubiquitous coach. These clerks of nostalgia, some of whom are knowledgeable, most of whom are not, serve a function much more important than teaching you how to ride a bike, the thing you thought you’d learned when you were five. They keep you in your place and they keep you focused on the activity, distracted from experiencing the outdoor world except through the lens of their pedagogy. One clown I knew advised all his clients to “learn to pedal with one leg” because it would “strengthen the weaker leg.”

No science existed for this, but there was a period of years when you’d see people randomly pedaling around the Palos Verdes Peninsula one-legged, looking foolish, improving not at all, but crucially, paying for something that should have been free and not paying attention to the cliffs, the ocean, the sky. This type of silly fad goes hand in glove with an entirely other type of expert, the appearance expert, also known as the diet. The diet, developed by experts, makes it clear that whatever you do, don’t show up outdoors with the wrong body. Surveil, practice, punish, repeat, until all the fat goes away and you have a Beach Body. Then, somehow, you will be able to accept what the outdoors has to offer, which is apparently nothing deeper than some stranger’s evaluation that you are “hot.”

The coach, the diet, the fitness trainer, all exist to keep you hooked up to the dopamine machine, which is fee-based. As soon as you have the perfect pedal stroke, the perfect six-pack, the Linda Hamilton arms, then and only then will you be allowed outdoors, i.e., never.

Outdoor time is active time. Getting outside is well-nigh impossible for most given the hurdles that capitalism places in the way. Not least of the hurdles is the idea that if you’re outside you should be doing something, that something always being an approved activity. “I walked around the park spitting in the grass and farting, then after a while I laid down, looked at the sky, and fell asleep,” is not an outdoor-approved activity. If you are outdoors you’d better be hiking at a minimum if it’s a “wilderness” area, and if it’s not you’d better be doing something that is a sport, mimics a sport, or implies some kind of strenuous activity that will improve your health.

The whole sports thing is perhaps the dumbest of all because sport originally meant fox hunting, dueling, drinking, gambling, and whoring. A “sport” was a man about town, and it was a term that applied to the upper class, exactly not what you think of when you see two tatted up, illiterate men trying to kill each other in a cage fight.

In any event, sports are now more than honorable, they are a holy grail for all, either as something to watch on t.v. or to do on the rare occasions that people go outdoors. The cult of sport is so perverse that old, chubby, sloth-like white guys on $5,000 bicycles are called “athletes.” And what’s harder to understand, these “athletes” actually compete as “masters” for cycling, tennis, golf, swimming, and a host of other events. I say it’s hard to understand, but it’s not, because the point is to make sure that when you are outdoors you are doing something other than experiencing the outdoors. Since few people actually play a sport, the assumption that if you’re outside you’d better be doing something productive acts to keep you indoors, where you can watch other people engage in sports. On the t.v., while sitting on the couch.

The outdoors are dirty. The crowning terror that drives what I call FOTO, Fear Of The Outdoors, is the fear of getting dirty. One of the standard pieces of equipment that most recreational vehicle owners have is a carpet or swatch of fake lawn to roll out in front. This is done at campgrounds and parks where the main ground covering is dirt. If there’s something weirder than a dirt-free natural area, I don’t know what it is.

Dirt and hygiene are in many ways the driving force behind civilization; all cities are built on their sewage systems, literally and figuratively. It’s only by restricting where, when, and how you defecate that people can live together in large numbers, and the extreme commitment to cleanliness, made even more of a neurosis by covid, is an unbeatable way to keep people indoors. Forget for a moment that for all of history people wiped their asses with their hands, and that in India and many other places, millions of people still do. Shake with the left hand at your peril …

Hatred of dirt, fear of sweat, and paranoia about what’s been on the toilet seat, in my opinion, are the single biggest practical drivers behind RV purchases, that is, the guarantee that the syphilis you get from the toilet seat will be your own. Add to that the fact that many people cannot urinate or defecate near others or in public toilets, and the outdoors literally becomes limited by how far away you are from your own private pooper.

Nervous much?

You’d think that “How to Shit in the Woods” by Kathleen Meyer, now in its 4th edition, might serve to encourage people to get farther away from their camper or from the park potty, but you’d be wrong. In order to properly shit you need several things that the vast majority of people, unless there’s a nuclear apocalypse, are never going to have. First is flexibility. It’s news to all recreational vehicle owners, but humans didn’t evolve sitting on toilets, they evolved squatting. This position, feet flat on the ground, asshole squarely lined up between your ankles, is a physical impossibility for all but advanced yoga practitioners, no matter that it’s the natural position in which small children can squat and play all day long.

Vitiated by sitting and rendered useless by the sit-toilet, modern man in rich countries cannot squat to shit, and if you can’t do that, your outdoor experience is going to be messy. Even people who can manage to squat, or who can manage some of the other techniques such as holding onto a tree or sitting on a log (works great in the desert), are still flummoxed because after they’ve shit they need toilet paper of some kind. Environmentalism requires that you can leave your turds in a hole but you have to bring back the wipes, unless of course you use what people have been using since time began, the hand. Social control, by limiting where and how you can shit, and how you can clean your asshole, keeps people chained to the toilet. How many toilets are you really going to find in the back country, or even a couple of miles up a trail? The issue of hygiene for women is even more of a barrier. Menstruation and all that stuff? Out in the woods? Lugging around used kotex? Nah, but thanks. We’ll just hang in the Sprinter van.

All roads lead indoors. You want to go outside without a sport, without the right gear, without a coach, without having practiced, without an app, without a toilet, without an RV, just go outside to see what’s there?

You are crazy.


*Many of the ideas in this blog are my brilliant girlfriend’s, who is smart af.


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