27 March 2001
This is why I bother to read "Agnes" online. Go read it. It's funny.
And I'm sure you all know the one about the Buddhist and the hot dog vendor, so I don't need to repeat it here.
For what it's worth, I can't be one with nature all day, either. I like hiking. Then I require a hot shower and a bug-free meal. This, I feel, is why we made up civilization in the first place.
I am not Camping People.
I don't mind Camping People. I have some relatives and some friends who are Camping People, and they seem to enjoy it, which is lovely. What I can't stand is Camping Evangelists. These are the people who are convinced that I just have not had "the right" camping experience, and that I would love it as they do if only I had. The idea that tastes differ never seems to occur to them.
I think it's because most Camping Evangelists honestly don't see camping as a taste. They see it as a Life Skill. A survival issue. Some of them will try to talk to you about natural disasters or the fall of civilization, and Being Prepared. Let's see a vote: how many people think that the fall of civilization will leave you with a full gas tank in your SUV and a cooler full of beer?
Camping is not about survival. It's just not. It takes things that we've managed to make easier, over millenia of civilization, and makes them hard again. But that doesn't make them hard in a useful way. I think that some people just honestly don't think civilization was that great an idea. Which is fine, as long as they don't expect me to agree with them. As long as they know what they're saying.
Our society has not entirely gotten rid of the idea that if something is hard or unpleasant work, it must automatically be more noble and more worthwhile. Timprov and I were talking about this yesterday, how I knew families who made their teenagers work in food service or things like construction and landscaping, not because they needed the money, but because it would be "good for them." Working for what you need is a good idea, but there is nothing more inherently noble in working an unpleasant job than a pleasant one.
And listen. Making your middle-class suburban teenager work at a Taco Bell is not going to make the kid understand what it's like to have to work at Taco Bell to pay rent and buy groceries. Either you've taught the kid a measure of empathy, or you haven't. I doubt that Taco Bell would be any better than temping in an office for that particular quality.
Artificial difficulty -- have we seen any evidence at all that this prepares us well for real difficulty? Not in terms of skills. I can see where doing a few pages of algebra problems would prepare one for real-world problems (and yes, there are some!) that involve algebra. And so on. But most of the artificial difficulties people want to force younger people into don't teach specific skills. I doubt that they teach fortitude of character -- more likely they foster resentment and convince the people forced to do them that authority is an arbitrary and unreasonable thing. As for fun artificial difficulties, well, you don't have to force people into those!
And we're back to camping. Some people find it to be a pleasant artificial difficulty. More power to them, so long as they don't try to convince me that it gives them character. It no more gives them character than staying in the Motel 6 or the Hilton would. I don't need them to validate my vacation choices. Why should I have to claim that theirs are morally superior?
Ah well. It's morning, and I'm enjoying my thoroughly civilized surroundings. Billie Holiday on the CD player, convenient word processing and internet connectivity, indoor plumbing, and interesting hard work in front of me. Some people think that I "should" be working some grunt job at this point in my life. But I do appreciate what I have, which seems to be the entire point. I've gotten an e-mail survey forward a couple of times in the last fortnight that asks (among other things) my ideal job. And I'm doing it. Overcivilized or not. People want to pay for what I love to do. I want to do what I love and get money for it. What could possibly be wrong with that?
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