On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 4

This is the final part in a 4 part series.

Progress is beginning to break down. The fuel that runs our society is getting too expensive and difficult to extract from the Earth. The climate is heating up, and everywhere we turn is pollution. Humans are overpopulated and underfed. It is getting more and more difficult to believe that the better future that Progress promises will ever come.

There are ways that Progress’ disembodiment is breaking down, too. There are ways that people are turning back to their bodies. Take this blog and modern paganism as an example–modern paganism tends to believe that embodiment is a virtue to strive for. People are meditating or practicing yoga. People are becoming interested in food production and composting. Urban gardens are popping up in every city. “Handmade” is becoming a good thing again, rather than being seen as shoddy. Many people would now prefer to buy handmade jewelry on Etsy rather than machine-made jewelry from a mall. Corporate clothing chains like Anthropologie are making a point to sell clothes that look a little imperfect so they will seem handmade. There is a huge resurgence in people wanting to DIY so that their things show the mark of their hand, in people seeing things they made themselves as indicative of their personalities because of the mark of their hands. People are brewing their own beer, pickling their own cucumbers, canning their own jam. People in huge numbers are taking up crafts like knitting that only a few decades ago were seen as backwards Grandma activities. People are intentionally forming communities, putting down their phones for the weekend, or leaving Facebook. People are converting to Paganism or just choosing to believe that their embodied selves have a place on this planet. People are demanding that magazines show unedited photographs so that we may have beauty ideals that reflect actual people, so that people might have a slightly less contentious relationships with their own bodies. Progress is breaking down a bit, and with it, its foundational belief that the body is the worse part of a two-part humanity is also breaking down, little by little.

It’s got a long way to go. But by embracing and cultivating our embodiment, we can bring back a central place for our bodies in our own lives. What if we called people instead of texting them, and visited instead of Facebook chatting? What if we danced more instead of watching movies? What if we built instead of bought, and felt along with thought?

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4 thoughts on “On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 4

  1. I disagree with most of your argument, as you point out, part of being an industrialized society, people are becoming more disembodied. However, people are also becoming more embodied as a result as well. What spurred the divide between mind/body/soul was not that people had enough things to live, but so that people had to be disciplined and reject immediate gratification for long term success. Modernity is allowing people to have that instant gratification without having to worry about their long term survival. And in that way, there is a greater embodiment, and “I desire” is replacing “I think”. This is probably more embodiment occurring with modernity than less. Sure, people are not necessarily using their bodies as much as they used to, but they’re more aware of the body’s pains and aches and more attentive to the body’s needs as a result. There is a greater sensitivity for discomfort, while before, aches and pains were just normal and one had to “suck it up” to survive. The greater awareness of what we eat and what we’re physically doing, I would argue, is an extension of this modernity, not a rejection against it. In fact, you should probably read up on your modern philosophers, most philosophy today rejects the mind/body duality, in favor of materialism (the belief that there is only physical objects, there is no such thing as immateriality), or at least, concede a very close relationship between the mind and the body. (Good examples of these are Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Foucault. [Analytic philosophers tend to perceive dualism as “spooky” or unscientifically ridiculous]) This is also due to the advent and strength of scientific thought. With modernity, we have a greater belief and confidence in science, which is mostly, if not all, materialist in nature. The desire to represent ourselves with what we physically have, comes from advertising agencies insisting that what you look like is synonymous to who you are in other people’s eyes. The examples you give are more a result of further rejection of dualism, and not a beginning rejection. This rejection started in the late 19th century, and continues to today, in various forms, to varying degrees.

    • What you describe as a greater sensitivity to pain I describe as the rejection of bodily experience and the act of using medicine as a means of being able to ignore the body. I see the medical technology as freeing us from our bodies, in that it allows us to keep our minds free from worrying about pain and allows us to keep our minds functioning for many years beyond what they would otherwise. While we may have many more options as far as readily-available food, I’m not sure that means that we’re more embodied. We have also separated food from survival because of our abundance.

      I am not a philosopher and don’t pretend to be, and this series of essays was very much not about the school of modern philosophy. It was just something I’ve been thinking about and researching for the last few months, and is a mindset that affects far more people than academics. Furthermore, I did not argue that modernity was a rejection of materialism. I argued that materialism comes at the expense of embodiment. The belief that this is a world full of objects that can all be studied objectively, rather than a collection of subjects is inherently a world where our bodies are not ourselves. The entire belief that we have to look good because our bodies are who we are in other people’s eyes is a rejection of embodiment because it is premised on the belief that the body is an object. A body is not an object, it is a person.

      I very much appreciate you reading this whole essay and taking the time to craft such a thoughtful response! Thank you.

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