Last week, in a conversation about scheduling ourselves at our health club, I told my wife that I would not be using the weight machines anymore. She asked why. I informed her that I wanted to focus on exercise that has a mind, body, earth, and community connective focus as much as possible. I think weight machines, treadmills, cycling machines, etc. are among the least connective ways to exercise in this regard. We have been doing three yoga classes a week, and yoga is the epitome of mind, body, earth, and community connective practice as far as I am concerned. I will focus on yoga.
Also, last week, I began a transformation away from social media. I removed all my social media apps from my phone, except Facebook Messenger. I use FBM to communicate with a woman in town who is struggling and needs my occasional help getting to this or that because she doesn’t have a car. All social media activity from now forward will happen through browser portals, if at all. I am removing the constant urge to check and see if anyone responded to what I posted. This turned out to be a constant source of anxiety and disappointment for me, as it is for many people. Who needs that?
I have decided to focus on getting out of the house and going for walks (mind, body, earth, sometimes community) and winding up at local coffee shops, where I can have direct human-to-human contact (definitely community). Even if that contact is superficial banter with a barista whose name I know and who knows mine, it’s better than the social media app stand-ins we are plagued with. Even if I know no one, and talk to no-one, I am in a space alive with people interacting analog fashion. So that’s it, the coffee shops are my analog version of social media apps. They are way more satisfying.
Another analog social media app is my daily early morning walk and photograph practice. Often, they are strictly mind-body-earth affairs. Occasionally, they are community affairs, too. I meet people I know. I see people I don’t know, but know them as regulars on the street. Every so often, I learn their names.
A few weeks ago, on one of these morning walks, I encountered a young woman arriving for work at a local artisanal chocolatier. I watched a few moments of obvious frustration and bad-dayness unfold. It culminated with her smartphone crashing on the pavement as she juggled her too-many-to-manage things. “You’re not having a good day, are you?” I said to her. She shook her head no, and told me that the brakes on her car had failed, that she was having to spend $1000 on a rental car, and that any number of other little things were not going well. I listened with empathy, who among us hasn’t been there? When it seemed she’d gotten it all out, I told her I hoped her day would be better from this point forward, then continued on my walk.
For the next few weeks, I periodically ran into her and would ask if things had gotten any better. She would say not really, and I would encourage her to hang in there, these runs of frustration and struggle do, eventually, end. I always wished her a better rest of her day as I walked on.
A few days ago, I ran into her again and asked her if things had gotten better. She flashed me a big smile and said, “yes! Much better. I got my car back and I moved!” I gave her a big thumbs up and told her that was great, and I was happy for her. She thanked me for the support I had been giving her for the past few weeks. A great example of my walks being mind, body, earth, and community connective.
You might wonder what has precipitated this new fondness for analog interaction with the world.
I have been reading a lot this year. More than I did last year and most years before that. Two books are having a big impact on me. I began the year with Sylvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch. I mentioned this book last week in my somewhat disorganized and inconclusive post on Men, Women, and Capitalism.
What I learned from Ms. Federici is that capitalism is an organizing force of enormous consequence. Consequence that is brutal and harmful to the mind, body, earth, and community connections I began this post with. It has rearranged the relationships between men, and women, and the earth, in profoundly destructive ways. It has fragmented the world and its creatures into things that, in their thingness, are maximally exploitable. This includes you and me. Divided, everything and everyone is exploited and utility is the quality everything and everyone must have.
The second book that is having a considerable impact on me is The Matter with Things, by Iain McGilchrist. This book is most directly responsible for the shift I am making towards mind, body, earth, and community, and away from social media apps and exercise machines.
A basic thesis of The Matter with Things is that we have become the victims of left-hemisphere hypertrophy and right-hemisphere atrophy. That is, we depend much more on the left side of our brains than the right side to interact with the world. McGilchrist marshals a ton of evidence that suggests this is a bad trend. The left brain, he argues, is a brain of expediency to which a full understanding of the context (truth) of things is unimportant. What is important to the left brain is what’s in front of it in any given moment, and what needs or can be done with it. Self-preservation, utility, and utilization are the name of the game with the left brain. The ability to apprehend a situation quickly, and react to it, is an indispensable survival trait developed over millions of years. When fight-or-flight or basic survival is the issue, a full understanding of context is eschewed in favor of reaction in-the-moment. It is the right brain, McGilchrist tells us, that is capable of understanding context and developing a meaningful narrative about it. It is the right brain that can situate itself in space and time, and understand the narrative that is the mind and body interacting with the earth and the cosmos. It is the right brain that can grope towards truth and meaning through experience, and in league with a community of individuals.
Why it is bad to be over reliant on the left brain is explained through narratives about patients with right hemisphere damage, who depend, consequently, on the left hemisphere to navigate the world. It is also explained through narratives on patients suffering with schizophrenia, which expresses symptoms in line with patients suffering from right hemisphere damage. Autism, too, shares symptoms with right hemisphere damage. McGilchrist argues that this complex of symptoms is present in modern society, indicating the hypertrophy of left brain thinking. And right hemisphere atrophy means the loss of our connection to, and grounding in, the world, which leads to the loss of our tether to reality, and the ability to recognize truth. As a result, we are unable to find meaning in our existence.
McGilchrist has not, so far, pointed the finger at capitalism directly, but he does point it at what Federici has helped me see as the pernicious effects of a capitalist attitude towards the world.
I have begun making the changes described above in an effort to make sure my right hemisphere remains engaged and in charge. I want to live wholly in the world with other human beings. This, I think, is the antidote to the fragmentation of capitalism.