A Society Deprived of Holistic Physicality

I define ‘physicality’ as bodily engagement (listening to the body, expressing oneself physically, etc.)

For most of human history, people were bodily engaged by default. People relied on physical labor to meet their basic needs. Take transportation for example. Before the fossil-fuel age, most people’s transport options were walking, or if there was a convenient waterway, a boat. Walking obviously entails using many parts of the body (legs for force, arms for balance, eyes for navigation, etc.) even on well-maintained paved surfaces. However, people often had to rely on rougher paths, which, among other things, meant people had to listen closer to their feet. For example, as a hiker, ‘the ground doesn’t feel right’ is often the earliest sign that I am going the wrong way (and many of the trails I hike were originally established before the widespread use of cars/buses/trains so that ordinary people could get around to take care of their business).

However, cheap energy has replaced so much of physical labor that many people now hardly ever walk, have sit-down jobs, sit down for most of their social encounters and entertainment, and get food delivered to them instead of, say, maintaining their own garden without power tools.

Hey, am I sitting down at my computer writing a blog entry, or am I talking loudly at the town square to whoever will listen to me?

I, personally, cannot be happy with a sedentary life. I need my regular dose of stress hormones, and my muscles need to be able to burn them off and get the exercise-endorphins flowing. If I am just sitting or lying down most of the time, then I’m not living to the fullest. This is why I hope I will never have an 8-4 or 9-5 sit-down job.

I also think the sedentary lifestyle might contribute to the over-emphasis society puts on sex. In many people’s lives, it’s one of the few kinds, if not the only kind, of deep bodily engagement which has not be substituted by cheap energy (i.e. fossil fuels). With so, so, so many people I’ve met, when bodily engagement comes up, their minds immediately turn to sex. I bet in the minds of farmers who don’t use electricity or fossil fuels, ‘bodily engagement’ and ‘sex’ are not so closely coupled.

Ace-spectrum people often highlight the value of sensuality. I love sensuality too, but I think it goes way beyond that. We should, as a culture, stop privileging sex over other forms of bodily engagement, but I am not sure that’s possible without restoring a more holistic physicality to daily life.


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5 thoughts on “A Society Deprived of Holistic Physicality

  1. Pingback: Touch is a Touchy Topic: Do I Crave Physical Touch? | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  2. “I also think the sedentary lifestyle might contribute to the over-emphasis society puts on sex. In many people’s lives, it’s one of the few kinds, if not the only kind, of deep bodily engagement which has not be substituted by cheap energy (i.e. fossil fuels). With so, so, so many people I’ve met, when bodily engagement comes up, their minds immediately turn to sex. I bet in the minds of farmers who don’t use electricity or fossil fuels, ‘bodily engagement’ and ‘sex’ are not so closely coupled.”

    There are not many of those farmers anymore. Unless you’re thinking about some christian groups like the Amish.

    • Certainly not in industrialized countries, and even in many less industrialized areas some farmers use electricity and/or fossil fuels. However, there are still many forms of farming which require a lot of human labor. For example, premium tea is still picked by experienced tea-pickers, since mechanical tea-pickers damage the tea leaves and reduce the quality of the tea, whereas a human who is skilled in tea-picking will not damage the tea leaves. I’ve seen professional tea pickers at work, and while it does not require lifting heavy weights or moving long distances, it is quite a workout for the hands and arms.

  3. “Hey, am I sitting down at my computer writing a blog entry, or am I talking loudly at the town square to whoever will listen to me?”

    How would be that? Would you just go to the square and start reading your post to other people?

    • While my neighborhood does not exactly have a ‘town square’ there is an intersection which is understood to be the ‘center’ of the neighborhood. People who are advocating particular causes (for example, gathering signatures for petitions or persuading citizens to vote a particular way) will often set up a table at that intersection, and ask people passing by for their attention. Occasionally other things are set up at that intersection, such as astronomers bringing out a solar telescope so they can teach passerbys about the sun.

      Reading aloud a blog post would be a little different from advocacy, or educating people about solar astronomy, but I think it could have a similar setup. I admit I would probably prefer to read aloud my blog posts during an open mic event at a cafe.

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