Monday, May 23, 2011

Air conditioned alienation

This morning a guy came to do routine maintenance on the air conditioning. We wouldn't ever have sought out central air specifically, but it was installed already when we moved in here and the landlord pays for its maintenance, so there you go. I admit also that, if you're me, central air turns out to be one of those things that you insist you don't want but then when you have it you end up using it. In my meager defense, I don't use it nearly as much as most people. Because I'm better than them!

Uh, anyway, as the maintenance guy stomped around (nothing against him, he had to wear heavy boots), in and out of the house, up and down from the attic, thumping around with hammers, discovering a fault in the wiring, having trouble fixing it, thumping around more, going in and out, scaring the hell out of poor Boorman*, I found myself thinking about how the overarching system that is "my house" contains within it (at least) four major subsystems that I have absolutely no understanding of (and that's just the major housewide ones).

*Who is seriously going to start hating us, considering that all this trauma comes just two days after we took him to the vet for the first time** and because this week we have to shove glop in his eyes twice a day to treat his conjunctivitis.
**He was a surprisingly good boy, but man oh man did he hate it (of course).

Like, there was something wrong with the a/c. The guy who fixed it explained it to me. It didn't mean a thing to me. If it had gone wrong and there wasn't a guy to pay to come fix it (or, in this case, if there wasn't a guy to pay to come see if there's anything wrong on a semi-regular basis), it would have become a part of my house that didn't work. I wouldn't know how to take it out, either, so the systems that make it go would just be an enormous dead zone in the house, taking up space. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have air conditioning, of course, but still.

Or like, the plumbing. If something went wrong with that and there wasn't somebody to pay to come fix it, I'd be out of water. I wouldn't even know a good way of getting water without plumbing (particularly since I'm pretty sure the ground around here is toxic).

And I'm definitely not trying to say "Gosh, it sure is a good thing we have plumbing services and a/c repair!" I just think it's absurd how we've alienated ourselves so completely not only from our environment, but from our own homes--the very devices that we use to alienate ourselves from our environment. We've made the concept of "shelter" so complicated that we* don't even understand how it works--and that way there can be somebody who gets paid to understand it for us!

*I'm assuming I'm not the only one.

I feel like I should end this with some kind of a new insight, but I think that's all I've got.


Justin said...

Yo, Ethan, I think this is the key to understanding what is wrong with our societies. We have no clue what comes before us or where it goes.

Its amazing once you start picking at this.

A good friend of mine is a big aviation aficionado. We were talking about how aviation is going to die with peak oil. He told me about someone he knows who asked whether hybrid planes were a solution. Its that kind of thinking of not knowing where the shit comes from or where it goes, a fundamental inability to understand that batteries do not just appear out of thin air, that energy always comes from some process of conversion, that I think plagues our species.

Its the same thing with our waste streams, we all think of the trash as a bin in our garage, or a Goodwill store, or whatever. But that stuff goes somewhere, we just don't have to think about it.

This is what I meant awhile about the assembly line

We are all assembly line workers, essentially, we have no idea of what came before us, how it got here, or where it goes.

I hope you look into learning enough about the basic structures of your shelter to know how they work, even if you have to hire someone to do it. I say hope with some trepidation, just saying that I think that would be a very interesting personal project and a way of learning to think systemically. That sounds even more arrogant.

Let me start over, I am trying to learn how to think systemically, and by doing that for specifics, it easier to generalize for other topics and to start looking at more than just the specifics of a situation, but its context within a greater whole. I am finding that to be of value for considering my personal role within the big picture. To have other people doing the same thing makes me feel happy/hopeful that I am not doing this on my own.

Soj said...

This is exactly why I've been making my own cheese lately - not to save money, not to be "better than" someone else, but to close the alienation gap between the foods I put in my mouth and how they come into being.

Go down to your local charity bookshop (Goodwill, etc) and buy a book on A/C repair. It'll do your soul some good.

Ethan said...

Justin: I completely agree with everything you say, especially your opening about how it's the key to understanding what's wrong.

Soj: It's a big part of why I started baking my own bread rather than buying it. Making cheese sounds cool! I have no idea what goes into that. Churning, I've heard. If I can somehow work out an employment-free life on a permanent basis (not likely anytime soon, though who knows, I might have no choice) I would like to constantly expand the list of foods I learn to make for myself rather than buying.

And to respond to both of you: I think the solution with shelter isn't to learn how to work the complex systems we've got now but to learn to live without everything from A/C (relatively easy) to plumbing and petroleum-based heat (relatively difficult). In all honesty I'm not likely to do that anytime soon, but hopefully we all can before it becomes necessary.

almostinfamous said...

isn't this the sort of thinking that led Thoreau to live in walden?

Ethan said...

Heh, could be--Walden (Thoreau in general) is on the embarrassingly long list of books it's dumb I haven't read.

Justin said...

you know that I am not saying the solution is to become your own heating and air guy.

Ethan said...

Oh my god, yes, of course. I was just going off of things you said, not disagreeing with them.

almostinfamous said...

walden is so worth a read- i read it over the course of a few months, just a few morsels at a time. it's available for free at project gutenberg!

Ethan said...

Thanks--I've added it to my priority list. Even better than Gutenberg, I think it's available for free at my parents' house!