"It’s totalitarian because machines dictate your movements—it shrinks it, shapes it—you have no choice. You follow a very simplified pattern that’s imposed by the machine."
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
A Curation of Ideas on Movement and Conformity
If George Orwell and Henry David Thoreau wrote a book together, it would look much like our world today. We conform to our work schedule—our work does not conform to us, we conform to it. In fact, we eat and sleep around our work. We built light bulbs so that our day would no longer confined by the sun but defined by the work. We made breakfast foods and made coffee a ritual so that, as a 1944 marketing campaign convinced us, we can "Eat a good breakfast—Do a better job." Rather than work conforming to our goals and passions, we design our goals and passions around work. Rather than work adapting to the body and its natural movements, the body adapts to its confines. How you move defines your be-ing.
In "Walking," naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau writes:
The design of our world breaks our spirit and posture. Our hips and back conform to our chairs; our necks and shoulders to our desks, to our smartphones. Our feet ache, yet we do not wear shoes that conform to us, our feet conform to our shoes.
In Exuberant Animal, internationally recognized health and human adaptability expert Frank Forencich writes:
We want to be original, but when we try, we do it the same way as everyone else. When we take time for ourselves, to improve ourselves, to escape machine shackles—what do we do? Do we go outdoors? No. We exchange florescent lights and elevator music for florescent lights and bad pop music—and we think we have changed something.
Movement specialist (and trainer to several professional athletes and UFC fighters) Erwan Le Corre said in an interview with Joe Rogan:
We get excited when we can exercise within a small radius, smaller than a cubicle, the size of a yoga mat. We get excited when we don't have to go far. When we don't have to walk far from our car to the gym. When we don't have to be outside, exposed to the elements. (The sad irony of Southern California, where most of its inhabitants are vitamin D deficient, even though there is ample sunshine, because they don't like being outside.) It's become so easy to slouch into our Orwellian dystopia.
Farm animals have no freedom, they're trapped in coops. A farmer knows, if her animals were given a choice to go outside, they'll all escape. A human, however, is a curious animal who will voluntarily move from coop to coop to avoid freedom. If the option is free-range or a pen, an animal who values freedom will pick free-range. But what do we do? What do we value? In discussions over food, we value free-range animals because it is more humane. Yet why is there no discussion over free-range human beings? Why must we pay to be in a coop when we can go outside and play—for free? We believe we are superior to all other animals because we have enslaved all other animals, including ourselves. But is that what it means to be superior? When you become the arbiter of conformity? What about humanity or being humane to ourselves?
In Animal Farm, George Orwell uses the allegory of farm animals to show how conformity can change appearance while maintaining the same results:
We don't see exercise as an exercise in freedom; we see it as an extension of work, a method of toil to gain status in a society where everyone is doing the same. And when we can no longer bear the suffocation, we go from one indoor space to another, to sit with someone to talk about it (or to sit and be prescribed drugs). Or to sit at home and watch streaming television (or play video games or sit with our phones), while self-medicating with the drug of choice. (Perhaps sitting at home is the drug of choice.) All because we can't understand why we're so unhappy, when nothing in your life is designed for your happiness. (It's designed for the sake of design.) And when our brains can see through the delusions we have constructed for ourselves, we smash our brains and tell it to shut up by attaching ourselves to an exercise bike (to become part of the machine), in a confined and dark space with no natural light, with extremely loud unnatural music until we lose our senses, which also include our minds. Only to buy a hundred dollar t-shirt to say we sat in a pen to go through this experience—that, yes, we really did lose our minds. But so did everyone else... so... We are told this should make us happy. These are our new mantras: "Don't rage against the machine, go with it;" and "You're not selling out, you're buying in." Our original mantra was "No joy, no gain," then we got radicalized into "No pain, no gain." Which is more humane? If aliens were to design a farm to eat us, not for happy animals but for most meat production, this is what it would look like.
In a casual setting, while everyone else is sitting, we might see someone standing. When we ask why, they say it's because they've been sitting all day and feel like standing. What do we do? Usually it's, "Sit down, you're making me nervous."
From Animal Farm:
We don't ask, we tell them to conform, because their act of freedom gives us anxiety. But they are not the cause of our anxiety, conformity is. We are crippled by the anxiety to conform, paralyzed we sit and drink.
Since we give each space a different name, we think they are different—work, gym, home. Yet attributing different names does not change their descriptions, which remain the same: confined spaces designed for conformity.
From Animal Farm:
In The Natural Method, physical instructor and theorist Georges Hébert writes:
We naturally resist resistance machines and prefer organic resistance. There are many ways to move but not all of them are free movements. Freedom to move isn't just a birthright, it's a matter of survival. Fitness is defined by a being's ability to save his or her own life. When we no longer train for fitness but rather aesthetics, we not only open the door for totalitarian exercise, but we also risk our safety. We misguidedly believe there is no purpose for fitness, since the industrial world has abundant safety nets. And with basic needs met, we assume beauty and reputation are our only unmet needs (if we can even call them needs).
In Animal Farm, Orwell illustrates this point and the illusion of superiority even further:
Yet without fitness (and all the benefits that come along with it), rather than the elements, self-harm has become our grim reaper. Suicides, overdoses, risky behaviors, harmful lifestyles, physical sickliness, preventable diseases, and poor mental and emotional health—the new dangers come from within.
In Beautiful Practice, Frank Forencich writes:
In 1926, Earle Liederman, with some foresight, wrote a book called Endurance. (Liederman also wrote several books on wrestling and self-defense. If fitness is a matter of survival, not only the elements, but one also needs knowledge in protecting oneself from others.) In Endurance, Liederman highlights the benchmarks for competence in fitness:
It is movement that stills the mind. The longer you are still, the more wild your mind becomes, like a weed infested garden. Maybe you go to a guru to sit indoors, but this time in a lotus position, to breathe more uncirculated air. Because everything in our lives—from our teachers, parents, bosses, to our gurus—have told us to sit still and be quiet and do what is expected, do what we are told, to conform to these poses, to these systems. As free-range animals, we naturally resist. But baffled by our behavior, we seek to quell our internal rebellion. Thus we sit again and plea for assistance from those who tell us to sit down and be quiet, so that we may cure ourselves of the disease known as the human condition.
Our daily expectations and environments are unnatural. We see messaging that tells us to eat cheesecake but be skinny. A doctor will tell you to exercise, but the irony is, she tells us as we are both seated in a small confined space where we're just supposed to nod our heads and listen. And what she means by exercise isn't free movement but anything that makes your heart pump. But reading emails at our desks does that as well. So why are we baffled? We are acting in ways we are supposed to under these conditions. Any reasonable animal would be unhappy and resist.
Being human is not something you are, it's something you do. You are be-ing. It's not a state, it's a continuous mindful movement.
In Beautiful Practice:
Yet what waits for us outside is light, air, breath, movement, and the rest of the day. In fact, free movement makes the day. You have a choice. Some animals can ride waves, some can climb mountains, yet we are the only animals with the ability to do both. But ability is not an automatic, it is a choice. You don't have to be impractical, you can balance machinery along with a natural life. It is not "either or." You can earn money, look good, and still remember to be a human being first. Start with a walk. Not on a treadmill. Just go outside and walk. Not for the exercise, not because it's moving meditation, but because you are a human being and it's what you're designed to do. If you don't, you'll feel it. You won't feel good, you won't feel happy, that's the human condition—that's our programming, to walk and move through space and time.
On walking, Henry David Thoreau concludes:
No joy, no gain. Movement shouldn't be work, it should be play. Exercise should be built into our living, not a separate category that you keep away from the rest of your living. Be free. Expand your range. Or don't.
Whatever you choose will be the totality of your life.
Useful Companions (Improve Your Education and This Site by Buying a Book):
- More on Erwan Le Corre
- The Natural Method - Georges Hébert
- Endurance – Earle Liederman
- For love letters to movement and play, read Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play and Joyful Movement and Beautiful Practice: A Whole-Life Approach to Health, Performance and the Human Predicament by Frank Forencich
- You can find "Walking" and other essays by Henry David Thoreau here
- Whenever I look at a commercial gym, I can't help but think about George Orwell's Animal Farm