Saturday, June 05, 2010

The revolution will not be motorized

There are some interesting things going on right about now. There are a lot of folks going in a lot of directions, but there are a number of things going on that seem to be happening from the bottom-up. They are united in a distrust of expert advice, and a willingness to tackle a problem with something of a fundamentalist, or old fashioned, ways of doing things. These movements are across a wide variety of disciplines, but that might mean that there is something deeper going on in the culture.

Crossfit: In the workout world, there is a group of folks who are trying to adopt an approach to fitness with a broad, functional, balanced approach. And the basics are free. Instead of scientifically training to be super-triathletes, these guys are weightlifting, balancing, sprinting, exploding their way to a balanced fitness. The kind of fitness that is useful in daily life, and which prepares one for the vagaries of life. It can be done with old fashioned barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, pullups, and running shoes. It focuses on compound lifts and movements, to create useful strength, rather than isolation movements to create big muscles. This movement is "go" over "show" which is way different than most gyms I have been to. Further it echoes earlier full-body natural movement fitness ideas. Like LeCarr's (sp?) MovNat, which he built off and older french model. Like those that got the running paths/exercise stations put up all over the country which are now molding in decay. And the basic workouts are put up for free at I take it most of the money is made in certifying people to open franchises or something.

Primal/Paleo: Nutrition is full of fad diets and sucker books. But amid the fuzzy science and quasi-religious there is something of an interesting contrarian movement here as well. The Primal (Mark' approach tries to emulate caveman eating -lots of meat, fat, wide variety of veggies - and importantly - no grain, as agriculture is only 10,000 years old. These characters posit that our bodies have not had time to evolve to the grain based agricultural diet we westerners live on, and especially not the industrial-agribusiness diet of the last 75 years or so. Thing is, they have a fair bit of science to back it up, and it goes back quite a ways. From Anthropological studies illustrating the decay in health when a population goes from hunter gatherer to agricultural, to Westin Price's dental studies of aboriginal cultures around the world, to Vilhelmjur Steffanson's (sp?) extended blubber eating stays with the Eskimo, and on and on and on. The contrarian point of view accepts none of the conventional wisdom and starts deconstructing the basic science facts we take for granted. We know cholesterol is bad for you? Where did we get that information, on which studies does this rely, how were they designed, what were the politics of the scientific community at the time, what were the politics outside of the scientific community? See the metabolic discussion in Protein Power, and basically the whole book Good Calories, Bad Calories for a suggestion. As it turns out the science might not be as good as we think, and a chunk of public health is based on doing something rather than nothing, even if we are only sort of sure what we're doing.

And I've read plenty of these things. Most (the Paleo Diet book and a favorite for it's kitchy awfulness Gutbusters from the 80s or 90s, and even the macrobiotics book my friend lent me) diet and nutrition books simply state what they mean to state with little explanation as to the underlying mechanisms or science. 'Eating fat will make you fat, so stay under 20grams a day,' versus "Eating fat has no metabolic effect (citation), but eating carbohydrates triggers your insulin system (cite), which is itself implicated in diabetes (whole chapter cite)." This ends up being a deep rabbit hole where not only do you find out conventional wisdom doesn't have the whole story, but that there are whole battling ideologies. Hell, it might as well be religions duking it out. Anyway it's a lot of fun to read, but the takeaway for this is that the people here have given up hope on the experts giving them solid advice, or even the whole truth as to the available science. The grassroots part is trying to figure out how what non-westerners everywhere and cavemen ate and how that's different than what our diabetes riddled, obesity epidemic culture is eating. There's a fair amount of wierdness there, don't get me wrong, but there are a lot of success stories as well, and most importantly, this anti-expert bottom up solve-it-yourself approach that I'm talking about today.

These are two lengthy examples, but there are other examples as well:

Agriculture: Monsanto and Agri-industry vs. permaculture, CSAs, farmer's markets and backyard gardens. People figuring out to do it themselves and with their networks

Finance: Too Big To Fail vs. Dave Ramsey cash financing, browncycling, curb shopping

Barefoot/VFFs: Barefoot Ted and Vibram Five Fingers vs. Nike et al.

There's a theme to all of these: Maybe the experts aren't helping the situation at best, and maybe they're making it worse at worst. Chronic running might not be making me healthier. Healthy whole grain lowfat products might not be helping me lose weight and live longer. Family farms, the depopulation of the countryside, and turning us all into feedlot cattle for pioneer corn is not in my best interest. The real estate agent will sell me more home than I want and the bank will write me waaaaaaay more loan than is really financially smart for me. And finally, maybe it is the expensive injury-preventing shoes that are causing me injuries!

At every level, confidence is falling out of the big system, and people are trying to figure out how to accomplish these things on their own. This is not a huge movement, it is a few people paying off all their debt on the dave ramsey show. It is a few people sourcing out CSAs, a few growing heirloom varieties for farmer's markets, a few people walking into the gym to bang out four olympic lifts and walking back out. Without the treadmill, the machines, the ipods, the tvs. It is a few people living closer to work and riding their bikes. But they are united by their distrust of experts (we're americans after all!) and their willingness to just do it the old fashioned way. Whatever it is.

And this is where any environmental solution will have to be. We need to cut through whether Priuii are the environment's savior or another vehicle of tremendous embodied energy promoting sprawl and slavery to a financial system, to cut through whether manhattan (David Owen) or boulder (I hope that's obvious) is more environmentally appropriate, to cut through whether we can force people onto public transit, or whether tightening CAFE standards is better than cap and trade.

It's possible that the environmental change needed will not come from the holier than thou greenies, but from individuals who are sick of spending their gas money and their lifetime stuck in traffic will make the change. People who want to spend less money on their home utility bills and stop blowing up mountains in the Appalachians. People who want decent food that is not a factory product.


Tommy said...

"Maybe the experts aren't helping the situation at best, and maybe they're making it worse at worst."

Yeah, I think you got it right there, Mike. The zeitgeist allows experts to do the fucking off while real people who actually give a shit re-emerge.

I like your blog. I'll add it to later tonight.

Mike said...

Thanks Tommy. It's your blog and discussions with Mr Pax that got me rolling again here.