Man, When Perfected, is the Best of Animals

Ten points if you know where that quote comes from 😉

This is something I meant to post a few weeks ago, and I’ve lost all of it now but the fundamental point. Never mind. It’s still worth noting.

Society has spent millenia praising and revering the intellect. Man is a creature of reason, we are told; all that separates us from animals is our ability to plan, to think, to rationalise. The people accorded the highest honour in our culture are the ones whose professions require great intellect, feats of mental gymnastics: traditionally, doctors, lawyers, pilots, bankers. These are the steadfast pillars of our society, the trusty, the reliable, the people who can witness documents for you. Because everyone knows that artists are flighty, actors are liars, and writers – well, they could make anything up.

The right side of our brain, home of creativity, imagination and to some degree, emotion, is not prized so heavily. There is a video I show to my creative writing classes about a man whose epilepsy was so bad, the doctors decided the only feasible course of action was to sever his corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibres that connect the two halves of your brain (fascinating video, only ten minutes, go watch it). It concludes with the scientific researcher noting that they have a saying around their lab: don’t leave home without your left hemisphere.

Personally, I would like to reject this implication. This statement is, in essence, saying that the only worthwhile human is one who can think, reason and observe. The right hemisphere is superfluous; we can get on perfectly well without it.

Ridiculous. A human who does not feel, who cannot empathise, who cannot imagine or create – what on earth kind of human is that? Not human, obviously – a robot. I think it’s telling that one of the most difficult factors in creating artificial intelligence that can pass for human is not in making a computer reason, but in making it imagine. People, let us not fool ourselves: sympathy, empathy, feelings, creativity, intuition, imagination – we can’t live without these things either.

Reason alone does not set us apart from animals – and even that is a claim that grows more tenuous by the hour. Chims make spears. Crows solve logic puzzles. Elephants craft fly swats. Dolphins use sponges, otters make nutcrackers, degus (small rodents) use rakes, and octopuses make coconut-shell armour. Dude. COCONUT-SHELL ARMOUR.

Art, culture, creativity – our right hemisphere is JUST AS IMPORTANT in constructing our identity as humans as our left hemisphere. (And, intriugingly, creativity sets us apart from animals in much the same way that reason does – i.e., tenuously. Dolphins play with bubble rings. Elephants can paint portraits of other elephants. Apes use sign language to communicate feelings). Why does society value it so little (comparatively)?

Possibly, because it seems untrustworthy. Creativity occurs largely in the realm of the subconscious, making it appear somewhat like magic at worse, and unpredictable and finnicky at best. Still. That’s no reason to dismiss half of what makes us human. I mean seriously. Come on.

I’ve remembered what inspired this: an article by Elizabeth Esther where she talks about the way that society shuns ‘overly emotional’ people. Sure, ‘overly logical’ people aren’t exactly a bundle of fun sometimes, but there is nowhere near the stigma against them, against interpreting a situation through our physical senses, as there is against emotional people, against interpreting life through the lense of our emotions. Which is stupid, because as noted above, the depth of our emotions separates us from animals just as much (or, yes, just as little) as the heights of our logical reasoning.

Fundamentally, I suspect, it’s got to do with the fact that we seek an unalterable objective reality – ‘truth’. Which again does nothing more than reveal our bias; we only strive to be objective (in essays, research, debates, etc) because we subjectively believe it to be important. But that is probably another post altogether; I’ve rambled definitely enough.

Sidetrack: Do We Really NEED To Eat Faster??

**Random sidetrack while I am writing today’s real post** (for which I am WELL KNOWN in the classroom, especially ask my year 8 extension class this year :D)

Harry Potter 4 is on in the background and the ads just came on. KFC have a new product out, I can’t find the name of it, the internet does not seem to know, but it’s something on a stick, and the tagline is “Live Life on the Run” (oh look, Snax, here’s the ad). Is it just me, or does this strike you as a Really Bad Idea? I mean, superficially, sure – look! food is quicker and more portable! #FTW!

But REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Because, you know, we really NEED to rush through our meals even more than we already do, we NEED yet another excuse to be busy-busy-busy, we NEED another enabler in the clutter-making of our lives. Urgh. Just, urgh.

Flame Retardants (But Don’t Freak Out)

Look, in the interest of a) actually getting this post, which has been sitting in drafts for a week, posted and b) preserving the spirit of this blog, which is very much a place for me to just hang out, and not feel pressure to be official and all, I’m just going to fudge this a bit. If you’re interested, a quick google will bring heaps of hits, and read the links at the end of the post.
Basically, because of a whole bunch of legislation, a LOT of stuff in AU/US is required by law to have flame retardants in it. Now, I’m not against this idea, because I appreciate my laptop not blowing up on my lap or a plane exploding in midair as much as the next person – but things can go too far, which I think is where babies’/children’s clothing fits in. If you look at the stats, only a very small number of children die from burns each year (and each death is tragic, I fully acknowledge that). Also, the majority of ‘injuries’ from fire, esp house fires, are smoke-related, not flame-related.

Despite this, governments like ot be seen to be doing things, and it’s now a legal requirement that children’s and babies’ sleepwear be doused in flame retardant chemicals – which is all well and good until you do the research and see that these chemicals are increasingly being found to be detrimental to human health generally, implicated in delayed development and developmental disorders, and potentially carcinogenic – especially brominated FRs. Wanna know why we’re seeing so many more cancers in our modern age? I’m betting our longer life spans are not actually the only reason, and that the increasing useage of chemicals and plastics in our everyday lives are related. Do the research (hi, google scholar) – I’m not the only one who thinks so. Obvs, because I had to read about all this SOMEWHERE 😛

Flame retardants aren’t just in kids’ clothing – they’re in aeroplanes, electronics, drapery, carpets, and upholstered furniture. So, growing people, who have a higher surface to mass ratio and a higher food-ingested to mass ratio than adults, and are comparative fragile and susceptible, spend the majority of their lives surrounded by these lovely flame retardants (FRs). Mm, sounds like a sensible plan to me.

So, I was kind of freaking out about this, after having spent about a month ignoring it since I first stumbled acorss it, because really, what can I do? Stop buying upholstered furniture, toss our new lounge (oh yeah, THAT would go down well), buy only organic clothing, rip up all the carpet… Shelve that in the ‘too hard’ basket!!!

But, instead of freaking out I told myself to put on my mature, responsible adult hat and FIGURE OUT WHAT I ACTUALLY COULD DO. So, here’s what you can do if you’re interested in minimising exposure to all sorts of fun-time chemicals.

  • In the US, items manufactured post-2005 are not as likely to have the FRs in them, so if you’re up for new furniture, #win.
  • Wash clothes with soap rather than detergent and soak overnight in either 50/50 vinegar/water or 4 litres (1 gallon) water with 1 cup lemon juice.
  • For clothing, buy secondhand (FR lose their effectiveness after a year or so) or buy organic.
  • Wash hands regularly to prevent ingestion of chemicals picked up in handling everyday items.
  • Vacuum regularly, esp with a HEPA filter. (Yeah, need to work on that one. Vacuuming is the household chore most likely to induce perfectionism-paralysis in me, so I tend to avoid it until absolutely necessary :S)
  • Try to avoid buying furniture with foam – opt for wood, or furniture stuffed with polyester, down, wool or cotton.
  • For upholstered furniture, try to buy furniture that is tightly upholstered and where the foam is wrapped inside the seat cushions – extra layers mean extra barriers to FR seepage/gassing off. For other foam products (car seats etc), try to ensure the foam is completely wrapped, and for all foam products, replace as soon as the foam starts wearing out/breaking down. Don’t reupholster foam furniture. (Urgh, the feeding chair in small person’s room – totes need to make an internal cover for the seat cushion.)
  • Avoid letting children/babies mouth electronics. (Presumably avoid letting anyone mouth electronics :P) (Also urgh, because he was totes doing this at the parental’s house today)
  • Minimise use of carpetting and drapery (not always practical, but I guess at least try to avoid letting the kids eating these? Soak drapes in 50/50 vinegar/water where possible? And vacuum regularly…)
  • Be careful when removing old carpet underlay – try to contain the area and vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly to prevent particles spreading.
  • When purchasing new, opt for naturally fire-retardant fibres (eg leather – #win; the lounge we bought last December is leather), or, if you can’t avoid FRs altogether, try to at least opt for fabrics that are ‘inherently’ FR, which means the FR has been bonded to the fabric fibers and is less likely to transfer.
  • When buying electronics, try to buy from brands that are aware of the issue and are taking steps to address it. Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba Panasonic have all agreed to completely phase out brominated FRs from their phones and computers by 2011, so any new devices by these companies should be at least comparatively safe.
  • The following companies are phasing out Deca, the most common brominated culprit, but may or may not be using other brominated FRs as replacements: Canon, Daikin, Intel, IBM, HP (Hewlett Packard), Minolta, Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Xerox.

So. There are some things to do that are practical and not at all freak-out ish. See me be adult. #win. Linkies below to get you started if you’re interested in the issue.

http://www.ewg.org/pbdefree

http://www.ucsfchildcarehealth.org/pdfs/factsheets/ToxicFlameRetardants_en0710.pdf (this is a PDF! download warning!)

http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca/index.asp?fetch=babycare#cloth

http://www.couriermail.com.au/spike/columnists/our-kids-silent-threat/story-e6frerex-1225859036341

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/pbdes_are_flame_retardants_safe_growing_evidence_says_no/2446/

A Random Collection of Things

Part of the reason I wanted to start this blog is because I wanted a place to discuss and ponder my newly-emerging attitude towards life i.e. the decluttering thereof, physically, mentally and emotionally. There are many things that have been flittering around in my head the last week or so, and I need to note them all before I forget, and come back and blog in more detail about them later. Maybe I’ll make this a monthly feature, and blogging to-do, if you will. Who knows. Whatever works, which is another new motto of mine O:) 🙂

But anyway, stuff to consider:

* First trip to the farmers markets tomorrow morning

* The amount of money we currently spend on food

* My first declutter experience on FB (ohmigosh, AWESOME)

* Meal planning, food waste, batch cooking and freezing

* Consuming less refined sugar, because 9/10 whenever I do it makes me feel like crap. Relatedly, trying to figure out how to legitimately replace it in baking, because I really, really, really like baking…

* Baking bread

* Organising the daily dumpables (handbag etc)

* MAKING ICECREAM! :d

* Poison furniture

* Plastic

* What is saving me

* One declutter thing each week

* The little things matter