The great outdoors

March 13, 2022 Comments Off on The great outdoors

If there is an alternative to living digitally, it is experience outdoors. We come into the world equipped for such experience and indeed we evolved in order to succeed without the confines of numbing digital fakery and control.

The attractive power of outside is so great that it is used as the wrapper for countless digital experiences and for an endless array of products and services, each of which sells the opposite of outdoor experience and therefore must cloak what is bad with the appearance of that which is good, what is controlling with what is freeing.

Few digital campaigns express this dishonesty more openly than a hashtag I once saw regularly, #outsideisfree. The marketer in question was a purveyor of bicycles and sought to cloak his purpose, selling outdoor gear, with the supposed freedom from cost and control that is the price of staying indoors or in a car. Well, the outdoors is many things. But free? No. Never.

Bicycle clothing, accessories, repair, and maintenance are costly and becoming more so every year, as designs, electrification, and product variety promise to eventually eliminate the bike as a DIY conveyance, capable of repair and upkeep in your garage or on your living room floor. A smaller and smaller number of bike owners will ever have the tools or the skills to replace worn brake discs or bleed a brake line, so they must turn to specialists who charge. Acquiring products and maintaining them is just one of numerous cost factors of being outdoors on a bike.

It’s difficult to get a clear idea of how expensive the outdoors is if you are bicycling, but at 15,000 miles per year you are looking at about $1,000/year in parts, tires, tubes, and maintenance. Include the cost of a $2,000 bike that you replace after five years and you’re looking at a per-mile cost of about $0.15. That’s less than half what it costs to own the cheapest car but it’s still over $2,200/year. For the avid hobbyist, with multiple bikes and gear and costumes for multiple road surfaces and events, the annual costs are much greater, equaling or exceeding the cost of car ownership, especially since few people ride 15,000 or even 5,000 miles/year, and especially since owning a car is an indispensable part of cycling for most. The cost of cycling further increases with monthly GPS subscriptions and, strangest of all, subscriptions like Zwift that extract a payment to do indoors what was originally designed to do out.

Nor is the outside an arena where, on a bicycle, you experience freedom from social control. First of all, you’re subjected to highly controlling and discriminatory traffic laws that limit where, what, when, and how you can ride. If you run afoul of those laws you will find that they are unfairly enforced to the detriment of the cyclist. Least freeing of all for most people in a car-centric society, cycling exposes you to the fear of being hit; this fear is so great that most people would rather be indoors or in their car than outdoors on a bike, even though the danger of sitting in a car is greater and the danger of sitting on a couch is exponentially more so, a death/illness/immobility guarantee of the highest order.

Outdoors becomes even costlier if you want to park your bike safely, transport it on another conveyance to get farther away, or camp with it. No, Mr. Bike Shop, outdoors isn’t free and you know it.

But beneath the obvious costs and restrictions on freedom of movement that riding a bicycle entails, #outsideisfree perpetuates a falsehood that is the same for everyone, whether cyclist or motorist or couchsitter, a falsehood upon which the entire social system is founded, namely the falsehood that the system wants us outdoors at all.

Because however limited, costly, and dangerous the outdoors is, that wild and unpredictable place where “something” might happen, it is infinitely cheaper, more freeing, safer, and spiritually fulfilling than indoors, which is the scene of the prison, the workplace, the hospital, the school, the retirement facility, all places built on the same model of surveil, discipline, and punish in order to control.

Capitalism, the antithesis of free, stands in opposition to outside because outside suggests diffusion, indiscipline, originality, hiding, independence, individualism, self-reliance, rest, and most crucially, divorce from the x-y axes of consumption and work. So outdoors must always be saddled with a maximum of control and cost and be distorted with the appearance of maximum danger in order to discourage its availability, reduce its utility, and maintain it as either a fringe space for the many failed who live under freeway overpasses or a Patagonian playground for the few who have succeeded. In any case it must not be the domain of the poor, the young, the old, the rebellious, the sick, or the great multitude of people who are in or capable of being in what is euphemistically called “the workforce.”

Even the concept of outdoors must be carefully curated so that its true meaning escapes all but the closest observation. Outdoors must mean trees, nature, mountains, the ocean, spaces untouched or appearing to be untouched by man, rather than what outdoors simply means, which is unconfined by walls and roof. The street, the sidewalk, the yard, the park, the bench, the bus stop, the backyard, these things must not be called “the outdoors” because they are available to almost everyone and because in a small degree (at first) they impart the same disorder and independence generated by wilderness solitude. Like a true gateway drug, the person who experiences the spring buds of a scrawny sidewalk tree can eventually be drawn into the greater outdoors, spiraling beyond the control of merchandising, consumption, and work.

In the same way that outdoors is most often narrowly defined as some wide-open natural space on the order of an Australian outback, an Alaskan mountain range, a beach, a forest, a campground, in other words vacation destinations and therefore excluding the pedestrian outdoors of everyday life, indoors is similarly curated but in an exactly positive yet similarly misleading way. Whereas indoors is a great, generalized category of incarcerating spaces that includes virtually every place we are ever likely to go, and especially the closed “indoor” environment of the screen, we never speak of such spiritually claustrophobic spaces as such. The phone is never described as indoors, nor are the television, the car, the motorcycle, or the RV; even the hospital, the school, the office, and the prison are most often described by their names rather than by the word “indoors.” Instead of contradistinguishing everything that is not outside as indoors, “indoors” connotes a place of cover, protection, human warmth, and above all, comfort. Most typically, it refers to home.

Replacing human agency with algorithms

What is out there? How can we find out?

From the beginning we moved. On foot, through time and space, our senses encountered phenomena,  gathered data, and used the brain as an integrating organ to form a subjective view of reality. No two realities have ever been, or ever will be, the same.

Each person is born with the drive to discover, encounter, and learn; that drive is called curiosity and it remains in varying degrees until death.

What is out there? How can we find out?

Physically moving through time and space was once the only way that we could effect the drive to know, the drive to experience, the drive to find out. We developed senses that were superior to some organisms and inferior to others so that we could encounter and form a reality of our environment that would allow us to live, procreate, and then die, making way for the next generation to repeat the cycle.

The key to finding out was always the assumption of agency. The knowledge that you are the cause is what compels you to act. This sense of agency combined with memory creates human consciousness. A person cannot be conscious in the sense that they view themselves as an independent organism without also having the sense of agency, the knowledge that they are able to act, to initiate a sequence of events. Likewise, a person cannot be fully conscious without a memory, which is nothing more than the stored recognition of your past effected through agency and the acts of others that affected you.

It is of course possible to lose one’s memory and to still be conscious in the sense that a person is aware of his or her surroundings. But true human consciousness, the awareness of self, nonetheless requires memory. Even someone suffering from total amnesia still has memory of the things that happened after the amnesia-inducing event.

A person’s character has always been the sum of their actions and the memory of those actions. Thus when a person through dementia loses virtually all of their memory, they lose their character as well. In this way character, or rather individual personhood, depends upon appearance, appearance of the person to himself, and appearance of the person to other people. This is another way of saying that who we are is a function of how we appear, and how we appear is a function of agency, that is, the things that we cause to happen or the chain of events that we initiate through our actions. It is not possible to conceive of oneself without having some kind of image of the appearance of oneself. Likewise, others cannot conceive of you without some type of appearance that is created when you are seen and that image is stored in their memory, or when you appear to another person in digital, photographic, or some analog form. The appearance can of course be created through writing or speaking as well.

The great leap forward in creating appearance and therefore character, sense of agency, and human consciousness, appearance that has nothing to do with analog reality, is the algorithm. With the algorithm, each person can create, or rather can become created for purposes of sales, marketing, and capitalistic enslavement, into whatever shape that they desire–even though those desires that seem to be created by us are planted into our minds by overt and covert capitalist marketing techniques. These desires are expressed by appearances that indicate the instantaneous acquisition of external markers of success such as wealth, health, intelligence, and most crucially, living a perfect and trouble-free life.

Where experience, or the combination of agency and memory, once formed our characters and therefore our appearance, the algorithm now forms it for us. It is the literal digitization of existence, and it is not an accident or a random occurrence. It was put in place by actual people with nothing in mind beyond control and the financial profit that comes therefrom. It is an ideology, one that extends quite naturally from the surveil, discipline, punish theory of knowledge and creation of the human soul put forth by Michel Foucault.

The algorithm is the new ideology, and therefore is the new tool of surveillance and discipline of the ruling class, and like all dominant ideas of the age created by and propagated for the benefit of the ruling class, it is built on a false promise of freedom through new modes of communication. As with all dominant ideologies of the last few centuries, the ideology of the algorithm allows capitalism to flourish and continue primitive accumulation while at the same time further reducing freedom of agency of the enslaved class. This underlies the newest wave of primitive accumulation, otherwise known as stealing the outdoors from the many for the profit of the few. It is a logical extension of the earliest form of primitive accumulation, which was the destruction of the commons.

Whether the new frontier is the algorithm, further theft of common spaces, or the revolution in industrial production, whatever it is called and in whatever age it occurs it will invariably pretend to expand the amount of agency that is afforded the enslaved class by virtue of adoption of the new ideology. This is simply because agency, or rather individual liberty as it is posited by capitalists, is the necessary emotional condition that the enslaved class must possess in order to voluntarily participate in their enslavement. In its basic form freedom under capitalism simply means freedom to work for someone else at a wage they set in order to receive food, clothing, shelter, and gewgaws in return.

It never means freedom not to work or freedom to work outside of the capitalist structure unless you are willing to experience starvation and homelessness, or unless you fall into one of the categories of people who are not work-ready: for the willful refuseniks there is prison; for those too young there is school; for those too sick there is the hospital; for those too old there is the retirement home, either brick-and-mortar or the RV.

As I wrote in a previous post, the things we do are driven by vanity. The desire to stand out and be noticed seems inherent and whether or not that is true, vanity is unquestionably the trigger for making the the vast majority of purchasing decisions. How will this affect the way I appear? Will it make me appear more successful? More beautiful? More healthy? More happy?

When the space for freedom outdoors closes, the digital frontier creates simulacra of freedom and agency in virtual reality, another form of indoors, because fewer and fewer opportunities to experience the outdoors and the contentment it brings remain.

In order to keep the false sense of autonomy and freedom needed for capitalism to function indoors, more sophistication is needed to fake the experience. And it’s an easy transition as long as people can be convinced to operate more and more on appearance rather than experience, because the task is simply to increase the number, quality, and variety of algorithms that augment appearance, making the experiential truths we encounter outdoors irrelevant to the images we encounter indoors via the algorithm and the appearances it engenders. However, the two competing states of outdoor experience and indoor algorithm create dissonance for those still operating on the human end of the spectrum, a dissonance that triggers unhappiness, discontent, anxiety, and has the tincture of nascent revolution. Since experience outdoors and digital appearance indoors cannot coexist, one must be eliminated, and the one on the chopping block is obvious as each new technological advance increases reliance on the algorithm and decreases opportunities to go outdoors in any capacity.

The whole point of the algorithm is to direct you by taking away your agency as it gives you the false sense that you have it and that you are therefore in control. The whole point of experience outdoors is to give you the ability to question the world with your senses and try to grasp what controls it through acts directed by your sense of agency. The two modes are incompatible, mortal enemies.

The diminishing utility of people and things

Capitalism so fears the outdoors that most subjects now access it while remaining indoors, of course while consuming outdoor “gear” and outdoor “services.” Moreover, capitalism used the algorithm to ensure that subjects are actively working/creating content while ostensibly recreating in the outdoors. But the overall goal is to remove the outdoors completely as an accessible venue for analog humans, and this overall goal is achieved by gradually reducing the utility of the outdoors goods/services being sold so that in effect they are useless, thereby discouraging subjects from trying to engage in outdoor experiences, and by gradually reducing the utility of the subjects themselves, such that they no longer have the capacity to engage in physical experience.

The diminishing utility of people and things is crucial for the ongoing effectiveness of capitalism through the algorithm if it is to make paramount the focus on appearance rather than the focus on actually doing, and thereby extract maximum productivity at minimum cost.

Although the reduction of human utility precedes the reduction of the utility of outdoor goods and services, the latter is more easily understood. No better example of the useless outdoor product exists than the off-road car or truck. Ostensibly these vehicles enhance one’s ability to explore places that are beyond the reach of standard passenger vehicles, leaving aside the ridiculous proposition that one explores inside a car. The labels 4×4, off-road, and four-wheel-drive were created to signify to subjects that with these speciaized vehicles they would have enhanced ability to experience remote places such as forests, deserts, mountains, rivers, and beaches. At the time of their invention, off-road vehicles drove much the same routes as 2-wheel drive vehicles. Their primary benefit was a “little extra” to traverse roads with poor traction. They were not mutually exclusive with 2WD vehicles, only somewhat better on bad roadways. And initially, in the form of the first Jeeps, they were cheaper than other cars and almost exotic. Later their greater cost was a reflection of the more complex transmission; indeed the only significant difference between 2WD and 4WD vehicles was the transmission.

In 2022, a Jeep Rubicon costs about $40,000, which is a drop in the bucket for a fully customized “outdoor” Jeep that runs just under $125k, and that’s before you’ve added on all the other extra gear to prove your outdoor bona fides: the high lift jack, the air compressor, recovery straps, snatch block, backup gas cans, fire extinguisher … all of which go to create a museum-piece vehicle that no one will ever drive in a challenging off-road environment. If they did, the thing might get dirty. The paint might get chipped. Something might break. And at $125k+, who in the world wants to damage their Jeep using it for the purpose it was intended?

This isn’t sarcasm. The finer and more expensive the gear, the less utility it has because of the cost resulting from use, and worse, damage. In cycling as well, riders are loathe to take nice bikes out on rough terrain, even when the bikes are marketed as “mountain” or “gravel.” You’re much more likely to see a $10k mountain bike on the back of a truck or on the bike path than you are to see it bombing down technical singletrack. Riders once did the Tour on unpaved roads for hundreds of miles on bikes that didn’t even have gears; nowadays few people will take an expensive road bike on unpaved terrain, much less race it on unpaved roads for a hundred miles. Part of that fear of damage is well-founded because a fragile, thin-tubed carbon road bike won’t withstand the off-road abuse of a 1960’s steel frame.

It bears asking what the point is of having such fancy, expensive outdoors equipment if you’re afraid to use it, or if it won’t withstand the actual outdoors? The answer is simple: you’re not supposed to use it outdoors, you’re supposed to use it as part of the digital appearance you are creating in lieu of having to go outdoors. Because equipment is fancier, more specialized, and more expensive, it has less utility, and this diminished utility discourages people from experiencing outside. One of my favorite examples is a very fancy Ford pickup with the clearance to roll over Mt. Everest. I see it every day, spotless, parked in a “reserved” parking spot … at the neighboring high school. This perfectly bears out the relationship between outdoors equipment and their actual utility outdoors, which for most subjects is zero. The outdoor product, service, or event enhances the appearance that you engage in experience outside, an appearance that is almost wholly fake.

Owning equipment that is too precious to use is one effective method of keeping people indoors, chained to the algorithm, but more effective and ongoing is the continual diminution of human utility itself. All of modern life is oriented around the chair and the couch. Offices, hospitals, libraries, parks–you name it, the posture we are forced to assume most of the time is sitting, and modern sitting, an unnatural posture that we have not adapted to, facilitates the rapid degradation of our ability to move and enhances our attraction to services and goods that, through sitting, additionally diminish our mobility.

Leaving aside the incompatibility of cars and RV’s with experiencing the outdoors, as they explicitly require you to remain contained, enclosed, indoors, they fundamentally oppose mobility by keeping the subject seated. Yet this is not being seated in the old way, where people sat on the ground and had to continually get up using an entire complex of leg, back, and abdominal muscles, and where the act of being seated required joint flexibility to sit for long periods cross-legged or on one’s knees, nor was it the true seated posture of people which is actually a squat. No, this form of sitting on a chair, couch, or bench is a form of reclining that wholesale demolishes the musculature, tendons, and ligaments required for mobility, and as research shows, degrades the entire body organism as well.

Sitting is the requirement for most outdoors experience and the shortcut to rendering the body useless. Hence its ubiquity. Hence the presence of sitting devices as requisite for camping, watching outdoor events, existing.

Sitting shortens the hamstrings so that the subject can’t straighten the body without pulling on the lower back muscles, creating chronic back pain. As little as thirty minutes of sitting can cause inflammation in the knee joint that will make bearing weight on your knees extremely painful and over time can cause chronic joint issues. It causes loss of function of hip flexors resulting in a total loss of ability to get from a low position to a standing one.

Studies show that sitting is worse than smoking. Habitual inactivity raises risks for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, deep-vein thrombosis, and metabolic syndrome. There is significant evidence showing that certain cytokines/chemokines are involved in not only the initiation but also the persistence of pathologic pain by directly activating nociceptive sensory neurons. Certain inflammatory cytokines are also involved in nerve-injury/inflammation-induced central sensitization, and are related to the development of contralateral hyperalgesia/allodynia.

In contrast to inflammatory cytokines, the body also produces myokines; primarily, they are involved in exercise-associated metabolic changes, as well as in the metabolic changes following training adaptation. They also participate in tissue regeneration and repair, maintenance of healthy bodily functioning, immunomodulation, and cell signaling, expression and differentiation. Importantly, the receptors for myokines are primarily found in muscles, which we now know function as an endocrine system, part of whose function is to reduce inflammation. In other words, movement and muscular activity counteract the damage caused by sitting.

Sitting was instituted as the posture of capitalism long before scientists understood why sitting is so bad, because sitting demobilizes the body and therefore the mind and also because it allows for extreme control. When pulled over by the cops, they make you sit on the curb for a reason.

The diminished utility of the body is further effected by conditioning subjects to diets that complement the sitting lifestyle with obesity. Obesity, like sitting, is fundamentally incompatible with experiencing the outdoors, and like sitting it allows detailed control but over the mental sphere as well as the physical.

Obesity conditions subjects to remain in proximity to junk food and conditions them to require quantities and gustatory sensations unavailable outdoors. Obesity conditions subjects to have their meals prepared for them and conditions them to pay the highest possible price for cheap foodstuffs that can ordinarily be cooked at little expense. But most importantly, obesity degrades the body so that it cannot cope with the variety of movements and exertions that accompany outdoor experience, and even for those obese people who are able to experience the outdoors, most are conditioned to fear it and avoid it due to discomfort and risk of injury.

The diminished utility of the human body and the products that supposedly enhance outdoor experience result in a reduction of the difficulty of activities that are on offer to the public. No better example are the design standards for trails at national parks, which are geared to the specific and significant limitations of most people, resulting in viewing areas accessible only a few feet from the parking lot and that can be circumnavigated, like Disneyland, on flat, grippy surfaces safe for even the least mobile. It is control through deconditioning packaged as equal access.

Social media allows the subject to preserve the appearance of doing something hard even though the activity itself has been greatly eased. You see this easing of activity while the imagery and language of the activity falsely indicate more difficulty, not less, in many semantics as well as actual event offerings.

For example, it is rather common to take an event, signify it as difficult, then make the event easier while still retaining the semantics of the more difficult event. Recall “Everesting,” the act of climbing 35,000 feet on a single ride? This quickly gave way to doing a “half-Everest,” which suggests a difficulty not present in “I climbed 17,500 feet.”

Ditto for the half-marathon, the half-Ironman, the half-century, the metric century, and cycling events that “offer” any number of watered-down rides that still operate under the semantics of the original, difficult event. The Belgian Waffle Ride began as a single long, difficult event. Ten years later the majority of participants select the shorter, easier courses, the “B” ride as it were, one less than 30 miles, including a course for motorized bicycles as if that were even cycling, yet all participate under the semantic of the “Belgian Waffle Ride” and its rubric of difficulty, wear costumes that incorporate the semantics without defining the actual easier category that was ridden, and celebrate together, regardless of course selected, the accomplishment of paying money to ride a bicycle on public roads. The celebration of choice? A specially made beer called “Badass Ale,” available to all, badasses, goodasses, cupcake asses, and of course assess of the ever-widening variety.

This reduction in difficulty while maintaining the semantics of difficulty is everywhere made possible by the algorithm, which provides venues to showcase things that never happened and that never will. Weaker, less mobile people can adopt postures of achievement that are impossible to replicate in actual outdoors experience, further weakening them, further discouraging them from difficult events, and incentivizing event organizers to offer more easier categories.

It is a death spiral of health and utility, and as utility decreases, more money is spent on more specialized equipment that will never be used for the purpose it was ostensibly made. The net effect is further restriction of access to the outdoors, delivered by people whose events supposedly promote … being outdoors.

Before and after marketing

This nonstop cycle of individual promotion in order to create appearances that don’t align with experience has a paradoxical effect on marketing and promotion, i.e. the systematic untruths told to sell the activity or event.

Before, promotion was almost wholly a kind of drum-beating that occurred before the purchase or the event. Marketing and its untruths were used to hype, exaggerate, excite, and to stimulate the purchase of superfluous things. Once the event or the purchase occurred, marketing became silent because there was nothing further it could do or that it wanted to do. The money had been pocketed and now the focus was on selling to those who hadn’t yet purchased or participated, or the focus was on spreading untruths about a new product or service. On to the next one.

The post-purchase or post-event promotion was left largely to the news and the journalists, industry hacks, and professional reviewers who stamped something as failure or success.

Now, the algorithm has transformed marketing into a continuous loop of untruths that are far more effective than the old concatenation of lies. Post-purchase or post-event marketing is actually as important or more important than the pre-marketing, and even better, much of it is done by the consumer/participant at no cost to the capitalist. This post-marketing occurs as “day-after” posts on social media, where each consumer details their personal experience with the purchase. This is the entire business model of Yelp and Tripadvisor, post-marketing in the form of reviews that seem to be authentic because there is no overt scripting of the review by the provider of the good/service.

Of course nothing could be further from the truth because even though an individual seller cannot control the review, Yelp/Amazon etc. do. They apply strict policies to reviews, rank the reviewers, employ all manner of editing policies that, for example, disallow profanity, in order to create a marketing sandbox that in the aggregate is happy, positive, and that encourages consumption. And most limiting and prejudicial of all, they and only they are arbiters of which goods, services, or events are allowed in the sandbox.

Post-purchase marketing is aggressively pushed by events that have drone video footage, extensive “How the race was won” write-ups by various participants, and professionally produced photo galleries that show everyone who wasn’t there what they missed, and that show everyone who was there how much more amazing they were than they even knew.

The constant selling and the intentional easing of difficulty while pretending that everyone did the “hard” thing has the effect of further increasing the fakery so that people can augment their appearance far beyond what they actually experienced. But it has the drawback of cognitive dissonance–the actual human knows they didn’t complete the event, couldn’t do the most difficult task, failed to utilize their body or their specialized equipment properly, while claiming/pretending/suggesting that they did. And the psyche does not well tolerate such deceptions when they are occurring all the time about everything the subject does.

Your amazing bike. Your amazing camping trip. Your amazing friends. Your amazing makeup. Your amazing everything. Yet in some kind of objective or absolute sense it doesn’t matter at all whether you did the hard ride or the easy one, whether you finished or quit, whether you took that badass Jeep up that badass trail or, like everyone else, sat it in a parking lot. What matters is that you, through the algorithm, made your actual experience appear more impressive, difficult, amazing than you know that it was, and it’s this, the element of fakery, that depresses, stresses, and induces anxiety in the psyche because the mind knows those things didn’t happen, and therefore doubles down as follows: it increases the fakery through the algorithm and it further avoids those outdoor, real world experiences that would result in exposing the fakery and the lie.

Increasing the fakery results in more stress and anxiety: how many people liked it? Who reposted it? And avoiding the real world experiences that would expose the fakery further locks the subject into an ever-smaller incarcerating space, the space of the screen, the house, the office, the madhouse.

The process of continual marketing locks everyone into the eternal prison of appearance and locks the subject out of the only place that could possibly free them: our birthright, the inheritance of our entire genome, our community, or very humanity, a/k/a the great outdoors.

END

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