January 12, 2005
This seems like a good slogan for bikers, canoeists, walkers and XC skiers.
I got it from Jack Saunders, who got it from the Mail Artist movement. I'm not positive but I think it means to get rid of the middlemen, the filters, and just do what you do right now, go live your life. Do it yourself, don't pay someone or watch someone do it, or ask permission to live. It's the original just do it. Of course it takes work and skill, like anything real.
When moving under your own steam---or when singing or playing an acoustic instrument---you're more yourself. There is less of someone else's idea or cashflow being inserted between you and your behavior. There's an objective difference between such activities and those you line up for, you pay for, or passively enjoy or tolerate without fleeing. They're freer. For one thing.
Everything is mediated, of course, by ideas. The idea is to evaluate the mediation and to work on improving it. Is it there to help you or fleece you? Ditch the fleecing kind and build up the kind that builds you.
Anyway, I'm trying to get a handle on why things like biking and XC skiing were so popular in the late 70's and then became unpopular. Does freedom go out of style? It baffles me.
I suppose there was a fad aspect. And there's less snow now. But still...something is fishy. I'm not sure that saying the public catching on to the benefits of health and fresh air is exactly a fad. It's a growing, more like. Why would it ever have to go away? Is it possible to realize the benefits of watching more TV? Of spending more money? Of waiting in lines? Of driving farther? No, to do these things more and fresh-air things less you would have to be forced, if you were a sane person. Or else persuaded, if you're a brainwashed person.
Unstructured outdoor activities are unmediated. They are direct. It's maybe a bit like using libraries. They're free and freeing. No one can say a thing about what you do with them or how. They're yours. For life. They give, and you can use them to give in turn.
Michigan is full of worldclass XC skiing right out our back doors. There are about 7 fine areas to XC ski in around my Lansing town. I'm about the only to use them lo these recent decades.
In the late 70's we had a spell where there were traffic jams to get onto the XC ski trails. That was a bit startling. But it's even weirder to be almost the only person out there just toodling along, smelling the roses, paying no fees, getting into great fitness. Oh, I do run into a few people from time to time, fine folks, we have nice chats. But many times I'm the only one.
The mt-biking boom never did seem to cross over to XC. Sure, it did in places, in the outdoor sport meccas. But I know there are a couple dozen hardcore mt-bikers around here yet none of them regularly ski. This is weird and unnatural. There are market forces doing this kind of segregation because by all reasonableness, a mt-biker living in snow country would likely appreciate XC.
Back in the 70's many regional road-bike racers and tourists loved XC: tho it was less intuitive why they fit together so well. Mt-bike and XC is a no-brainer. You use the same trails but with a completely fresh and different view of the world: the whole place opens up wide when the leaves come down. What a thrill for someone who likes nature. Close views suddenly become huge. The same trails take on ALL NEW LIFE. I'd think that any local mt-biker would really get off on such a head-trip.
I worry that it's the stupefaction that Karl Marx hints at as being the only thing that can make history turn another direction than the one he shows it going in, and which it has clearly gone in up until recently. Do Americans only feel free when they're enslaved? --To an identity, a demographic, a fad, a ray-tube, or a drug?
A Prime Minister of Canada once said "I'm not a Communist, I'm a canoeist."
Henry Miller said to travel the world as much as you like as long as it's by foot, canoe or bike. So that it's really you traveling in a real place instead of some zombie customer replacement for a self.
Sure there are exploitive and self-deluding aspects to outdoor activity, to independent DIY culture. There are structures you can get sucked into, things that will pull you in for a long ride and spit you out injured and broke. I suppose that's mainly when you get into the competitive aspect. But sheesh let's worry about that when more than a few get there.
I mean, I run into self-limiters for these activities already, where I can't make myself fly or drive to places to bike. Nor do I ride organized events hardly. I can't hardly make myself join the local bike club. I'd like to do some of the bike club events that everyone talks about, or to go ride the wine country of France or No-Cal, but I just can't make myself do it. There are always better things to do here and now.
Biking is not a club to me, it's what I do as a normal person. How else is a person to get some fresh air, see the sights and stay fit without hurting anyone but by riding your bike around? You don't need a club for that. In a club implies those who are out of it. Bicycling is WITH EVERYONE. No one is outside of it. You don't have to bike to be a great biker. The best bike ride might be a walk instead. It's only about people. So there's no need for a club.
And, I tell ya, my shopping-jones and my keep-up-with-Jones machines are WAY outta step with the times. Sure, I like nice things but the way I do is hilarious compared to a real American. I buy a garage sale bike every 5 years, an eBay jersey every 5 years. If every cyclist did that where would our economy be? It sure wouldn't be America. What would it be?
Cycling is huger by far economically these days than in the 70's. And it's boomed in numbers of organized riders but it seems like the casual toodling/touring scene has gone to NEAR ZERO. People going off picnicking around nice areas...where's that? Cycling is largely organized into herds these days. It seems to have become an adjunct to gym-time, or church maybe. I see very, very few 20-somethings or teens just out riding. In the 70's it was wide open, big, loose. But, sure, it didn't have nearly the cashflow or product-development. There were only a few goodies to buy and yuppies weren't invented yet. : ) Bike tourists were tenting in stranger's backyards nationwide.
In XC skiing: it was not possible to spend $1000 on XC in the 70's---today there are hundreds of skiers in Michigan doing so. That's an advance in ways. Yet in the 70's there were thousands using their old bashers everywhere they could---and entering events in far greater hordes than today. Today the events are smaller but richer.
Cycling even has a solid cool now, what with Lance mopping up. Our local campus has a bike team. We also had one in the 70's---but we were more like bike bum racers. And we had more races (no can do, due to insurance today). And the prizelists were bigger! We even had a crazy indoor portable board track that hosted an official 6-day in the hockey rink. THAT was crazy. We had a *BIKE CO-OP* back then. There's no co-op today, but there's lots more money spent on bikes, true. Don't kids (or locals) need to save money anymore? Was thrift a fad? Why no more bike co-ops?
Sure, the bike and ski scenes are bigger in some ways but there seems to be losses as well. Maybe in the liberation sense I mentioned at first: does any old kid feel that getting a bike is his ticket to good times and hanging out with cool people, babes even? We had no extra cash as kids so we busted loose on bikes. Bikes seem to be used differently now.
Same with skis. We used them to have a great time RIGHT NOW in the snow. We raced em, we jumped em, we did tricks on them, we explored, we got into great shape. Snow and ice opened up the world for us FOR FREE. Forever! No one can touch an XC skier.
If your area lakes and rivers ever freeze, then why not get a pair of speedskates. They last forever. I got mine for $20 without looking hard. They're dandy. When the ice freezes, the real, actual world is my oyster. I can zoom to town on the river as fast as riding a bike. So many places have so much nicer ice than we do, too. Skates equal free, healthy fun. Forever. No rules, no fees. Hello?
Sure, outdoor sports are better off today. Man, think of what we have now! We have TONS more of everything and it's all tons better and dollar-for-dollar tons cheaper. Bikes, skis, boats, gun, fishing: you name it. So why are fewer people out there doing it all?
Some say these things are more intimidating as they get to be fancier. Maybe even fishing seems complicated to people. I say where there's a will there's a way. If you don't want to blow your cash and you want fun NOW and forever more, you just grab it and do it. No one can stop you. Oh...you might look funny to those driving by. Big deal. Is image really everything? What image does freedom have? I guess not a good one.
I think the thing is not to paint it black or white. It is all lots bigger. It's all very highly developed now. Even so, the FREEDOM aspect, the liberation, seems to be less. Maybe freedom just isn't valued as much, plain and simple. I'd think it was the essential value of all time.
OK, the 70's were counterculture and bikes were part of that. So maybe the fads of that kind of music, fashion, speech and mode of living and partying become less popular. But it's hard to imagine the freedom aspect of anything that the 60's and 70's were about, that it would go away. Freedom isn't "counter" to anything of value. Freedom requires responsibility. No cyclist says to be irresponsible. If you were, you'd get hurt or wreck your bike thru bad care. Freedom-lovers aren't the same as libertines, never have been. They aren't hedonists either: cycling takes work, planning, sobriety. However, cycling does work counterculture to illegitimate cultures of slavery. Liberation from responsibility might be bad, but liberation from being someone's stooge or from spending money on things you don't need: those are old Yankee virtues thru and thru. Couch-potatoes aren't big bikers but they are often big consumers. Maybe consumption has replaced freedom as an American value. And consumption can't be defended. It probably needs to be actively veiled. Thus the constant push for zombification by TV and postliteracy.
Basically I still can't see a real, honest reason why American's don't use cycling (and other unmediated activity) for liberation: especially the young and the poor. Kids NEED liberation. They need to individuate. They can't do it if they're being shuttled around by parents or if they're using cars their parents buy them. The ego resents the captivity of such "kept" activities so they start drinking/drugs to hide the pain. A kid tied to apron strings is going to have more inner turmoil. They'll already have plenty, but kids need to be free. Don't they? Maybe they don't.
Maybe they have other freedom that makes up for it, like lack of curfew. 4 a.m. is the new bedtime I heard. On campus especially. Some kids do the drum circles: that's unmediated. Well, it usually involves a group, a tribal thing. Bikes go solo or in big and little groups.
Acoustic music seems better because it's less mediated than electric: you can take most of it with you. But a sound system? I wonder how acoustic guitar sales are doing among youth...
My town is home to the 5th largest bike club in the US. But you wouldn't know it. People don't just bike. They do discrete parking lot rides from a half dozen locales every day. Every now and then I spot a pod of these yuppies. And this is the majesty of US cycling, a big powerhouse club? The only folks we see out just toodling around are the DUI bikers. OK, I'll see one other fitness cyclist most days when I go for a ride. But doing an errand? Riding as a part of life in with life rather than as time set apart? It's not seen out here in the 'burbs.
Americans today seem to go for the totally filtered, mediated, controlled, diluted, warped stuff instead of the unmediated liberation stuff. They pay to watch and they pay to wear someone else's image or mask. Americans prefer to be "kept," in other words. It's voluntary and it's a large portion of slavery. It fits with Marx's "self-stupefaction" as a potential force that could derail history. Maybe we can't look ourselves in the mirror because of what we do so we put on masks that we buy...far more so than any other culture. (I wonder if any other of the top 10 all-time minds worked so hard at understanding the forces affecting stupefaction as Marx did.)
When our family travels we end up with the foreigners. Like, if there's a local attraction with a theme park then all the fat yahoos (Americans---we have to face up to who we are) go there, but if the local geography is best seen from the top of a trail, we'll end up there with a buncha furriners. I've even had Americans come up and ask me questions in an overloud voice thinking that I was a furriner. "HELLO! CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE THE FUDGE STORE IS?" --Just because I'm not wearing trash clothes. (I'm sorry, but we is what we is. Is there any better way to describe sweatsuits, pro-sports and corporate-machine-lust regalia and camo? I am getting close to being fed up with our national reality, image and priorities. They're going fast down the tubes.)
Modernity inevitably involves segregation and partitioning: I work at a desk, so to offset that I stretch and exercise every day. Seems fine. I suppose the risk we need to beware of is changing our STANDARDS as we change what we do. The "jerk at work, sweet daddy at home" phase-shift: this might be what corrodes relations at their root and ends up causing heart attacks and conflict. Watching people get killed on TV/movie to offset feelings of powerlessness in daily life also seems poisonous. Maybe watching a feel-good flick lets us tolerate continuing to actually do bad things to people! Maybe we need to work on actualities instead of feelings. --Deal with our powerlessness and our reality rather than with the feelings it provokes. We don't want to be symptom-patchers but disease-curers.
I'm not sure that TV is ever good for a kid. I think it's the passivity that does it. Sure, TV can deliver facts but is that what life needs? Of course certain news items can be essential ("Tornado down the street!").
I suppose MOTIVE for watching is vital---whether it's a conscious motive or not. Amusement means at its root "against the Muses" and this seems like a danger. If we let ourselves be changed by a movie then that seems possibly good. If we watch to escape then it's not that the TV/movie is bad but that there's a need to repair what we're escaping from.
Rest isn't the same as escape. We need reset. Nor is recreation like escape: we need recreation. But to re-create is active.
So much of what we do is ecstatic. Like wild dancing and just letting our energy out, being swept away into a dance beat. No one even really bothers calling them songs anymore. It's merely an energy absorption vehicle. Ecstasy: to stand outside yourself. It can be useful to get a different perspective then take that new view back into life with you as a change. But how often do we do this? Ecstasy today is debased into mere temporary escape from ourselves because we hate ourselves and our lives. Not good. Fix it. Grab ahold of it and do something real for a change. What's real? Or what's more real anyway? --Something that's less mediated.
I'm pretty alarmed at the prospect of our kids going to school. Our poor boy is already in it. Well...at least they get things done. Our community and its values are DEAD (consumerist, careerist) and these are expressed and enforced in its schools. But our options are limited. My plan is to take them out of class often for better things and to teach them resistance to slavery. But kids need adults all around them who show them what's worth living for. Not just people doing their jobs. A kid sees thru that in an instant---or finds himself quietly DEFLATED. Hard to imagine a sadder thing.
We really might have to do something about it all someday. But we're not the kind of people who move residence. We're here and have no time for fooling around. But this "here" is increasingly nowhere...and worse. But to move to some culture, some decent folk, a decent school...it might happen. We'll see.
In the meantime we have our yard and anyplace else that's not fenced in.
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