July 15, 2007

Neo Radical.

I don't really feel like a radical person. I my mind, the term "radical" is associated with the word "extreme," and I'm pretty sure that there is nothing in my life that can be labeled "extreme" (save the 10 years that I spent swimming competitively--30 hours per week, 5 a.m. practice, lifting weights, running stadiums...that was extreme). So, it has always been a little bit difficult for me when people insinuate that I am a radical...I just don't get it.

It first happened when my mom couldn't understand why I was so fired up about the 2004 Presidential election. I hated that Bush had gotten us into a war that was unwarranted, constantly spouted lies, and generally confused the role of President with that of a monarch. I didn't firebomb anything, I didn't attend any rallies, I didn't even have an anti-Bush sticker on my car, so I wasn't really sure what she meant when she called me radical. I just wanted a President who wouldn't lie to us and who would at least follow the law. Is that too much to ask?

I have been called radical for being sad about the destruction of our planet. For being vegetarian (when I choose not to eat meat). For wanting to grow my own food. For selling my car. For choosing not to shop at WalMart. How can using less gas, having less of an impact on the environment, refusing to buy goods that harm our environmental and social ecosystems be labelled as radical? To me, these are very conservative ideas. Use less. Save more. What can be more conservative than that?

This weekend, I had an ordinary experience that made me feel completely at-odds with the typical definitions of "radical" and "conservative," and it made me feel really, really sad for how far civilization has come. And, it made me feel a little bit crazy.

Since moving to Boston, I have been feeling a little bit suffocated, partly because I don't have a car anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love the city, but sometimes I miss being able to drive half an hour in any direction and be in the middle of nowhere, get away from people for a bit, and just spend some time to myself. I have been feeling this a little bit stronger since it has been warm outside, mostly because I am used to driving to Lake Tahoe every weekend and going swimming. I miss swimming.I crave it...I used to swim miles a day, and now, I'm dying for a bit of water to stretch my muscles in. So, when Joe and Nan invited Gabe and I to go with them to Houghton Pond, I totally jumped at the chance. What is better than good friends, a picnic, and swimming? Not much.

So, we get there, and the place is totally beautiful and green unlike anything in Nevada, and we walk up on this clear little pond just begging to be splashed in, the perfect length and width for swimming some serious laps, making a body feel good. I'm totally excited. My swimmer tail is totally wagging. We walk up to the beach, and there is this little area roped off in the water, maybe 200 ft. long by 20 ft. wide, policed by not one but three lifeguards and I'm thinking, "That's weird. There aren't any boats in this lake, why do they have an area roped off for swimming? It must be for kids." Suddenly though it is painfully obvious that a) the water in this little kiddie pool doesn't get deeper than about 3.5 feet and b) you are not allowed to swim anywhere other than the kiddie pool. Looks like I am going to be wading for the rest of the day.

Okay, so I have to apologize up front to Joe and Nan for being a total baby that day. I didn't mean to ruin any one's day, and I ended up having a really good time despite being made to feel like an incompetent child, but here is my beef with the situation at Houghton pond.

First, I realize that policing of nature happens all of the time, and that sometimes, its a good thing. Like trash, for example. I am a total fan of the "leave no trace" policy, and I have no problem with people getting in trouble for leaving their rubbish where it doesn't belong. The health of the environment depends on it. What I have a problem with, though, is someone telling me where I can and cannot swim for my own safety. (Again, I must mention that there are exceptions to this...of course, in the ocean, during a riptide, say, or in shark-infested water or something of which I would be ignorant beforehand. For example, I totally understand why certain parts of Lake Tahoe are roped off--because there are boats allowed on the lake, and it is really the only way to have boats and swimmers peacefully co-exist.) But this is a fucking lake, people. Nature. No boats allowed. If I drown, its my own fault. Whatever happened to being responsible for yourself (or your kids)? What kind of civilization are we breeding by telling people that they have to be policed like that, that they can't possibly be responsible for knowing, say, when they are a shitty swimmer and should stay close to shore? Surely not one where people are responsible.

Nan brought up a really good point, that the Reservation on which the lake sits is probably just trying to cover its ass in case someone sues them if their kid drowns. How fucked up is it that if someone's kid goes swimming and drowns, they want to sue someone for it? Accidents happen. If you kid doesn't know how to swim, or you don't feel like keeping your eye on him, maybe you shouldn't take him to a lake. There are swimming pools for that shit. Or sprinklers to run through. Or the shower. I think it is a really poor reflection of us as a society that we can't take responsibility for our own actions. That I have to be told that I can't swim in the deep end because I might drown (and you might get sued for it). What happens when we can't go anywhere, anymore, without being told that we can't swim in any water deeper than four feet? Okay, so I realize that that is a bit extreme, but it could happen.

Which brings me to my next point. Part of what really bothered me about the whole policing situation there was that everyone seemed to be okay with it. Like, we are so used to being told where we can and cannot walk, eat, sleep, talk, breathe, live, that no one even bats an eye when someone sets up shop and tells them where they are not allowed to swim (or even have fun...on a side note, I had to laugh when the life guards on the beach kept yelling over their loudspeakers that no balls were allowed in the water, and no one was allowed to sit on someone else's shoulders at the lake. No fun, indeed.). Every day we allow other people to have a little more control over us, in the name of doing it "for our own safety." I bet that if I asked any one person there whether they thought they themselves needed to be policed, they would probably say no. I used to teach swim lessons to kids, and I know first hand that most of the time, people have a pretty good handle on their abilities in the water. Most people who don't know how to swim won't go where they can't touch bottom. So, what gets me is the mentality of "I don't need to be policed, but I think other people do, therefore its a good thing." Why do we allow people to control us like this? Why do we think it is a good thing that someone can track our every move we make (like in London, where the average person is photographed by the government something like 400 times a day), in the name of safety? What ever happened to being organic beings that live and die just like every other animal, that learn how to be cautious in dangerous situations, that learn what they can and cannot do, that take responsibility for their own actions, rather than trying to sue someone else for their stupidity?

Okay, so this rant is getting long.

My point is, I was made to feel like I was being radical for thinking that it was bullshit that I had to be roped off in a kiddie pool at the lake when all I wanted to do was go swimming for a couple of hours. My mom laughed at me. I guess I would laugh at me too, if the roles were reversed. And, maybe I am radical. I think that it is more radical, though, to want to police everything all the time in the name of safety. I think it is more conservative to know your limitations and live according to those rather than have someone impose them on you. Maybe, though, being conservative (like using less gas, being cautious, not consuming everything you can just because you can, knowing the limitations of yourself and your environment) is the new radicalism. Neo Radicalism. If that is the case, then count me in.


Keren said...

here, here, erica! great fucking post, i couldn't agree more.

i asked my friends, and they're totally down for hanging out with you the weekend i'm in montreal (August 10-12)... are you in??

Ostentatious Transitioning Sophist said...

Erica, you are so awesome for this. A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to go camping and get back in touch with nature. I was aghast to find that every where that I wanted to sleep cost money. Also that there were certain areas that I COULD NOT GO! Now I could pseudo-understand the fire regulation, because there are many "pyrologically inept" people in this world that have started some serious life taking fires, but I have been trained in outdoor survival. I am not type of person to die in the woods, or burn down a national park. Needless to say I was not at all happy with the state of our society. That is my rant and I am sticking to it!