Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clothing, Nudity, and the Internet

I wanted to look at Nudity. Under our clothes... we're all NAKED!! (Sam Eagle mode off) Before I do that, I have to recommend reading a sci-fi book by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter called The Light of Other Days.  There are books I want to buy and hand out to the public, as they are so essential to the way I think.  This is one of them. Sir Clarke's book, The Light of Other Days is essential in that it enables technology to change the very thought processes of Western Culture. When privacy and modesty go out the window, so too does quite a bit of prejudice and philosophies that surround them. Clarke and Baxter have demonstrated how it is possible to deconstruct whole sections of culture and then to rebuild it using different foundations. So let's do that now concerning nudity. Clothing is perhaps one of the most basic of requirements according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Because, when all psychological and sociological meanings are removed, clothing is needed for two things: warmth, and safety. To return to prehistoric times, take the naked male caveman. He hunts (and is hunted by) the various wild animals around, who will see any appendage as something to attack (just ask my brother's cats, who love pouncing on my fingers.) A predator, such as a Smilodon, would have very little qualms about biting off a testicle or two. Also, there's the question of warmth, where clothing would provide during colder seasons. Makes sense. 

(*The following blog should not be used for research purposes, as I am not taking time to thoroughly research the topics, but instead relying on knowledge stuck into the filing cabinets of my brain. That said, not all information may be correct. It is simply the flow of ideas from one to the next that is important, at least for a blog. )

Now, where the rest comes in. Clothing cannot be produced by every person, for not all cavemen had that skill. In post-Agricultural revolution times, when specialization had become a phenomenon, there were people who made clothing, others who made pottery...etc... Thus capitalism, in the form of barter, was formed. Clothing was purchased, and those who were successful in life could afford it, and those who couldn't were very cold. Thus clothing became part of the social power structure. Those who were strong had garments, and the weak went without. (I could develop this into some huge research paper with references and whatnot, but I'll leave that to sociology majors). So to remove this power structure, you either have to have free, magically appearing clothing, or you have to have a culture and climate where clothing isn't necessary. Thus we look at cultures that formed near the equator, on Pacific islands, perhaps. Initial reactions to Pacific natives by sailors like Captain Cook were ones of shock, desire (for most women had exposed breasts), and pity. They were looked upon as inferior, barbaric, Unchristian. It would be easy to research those initial observations, or even look at modern day tribes of isolated groups that still have no need for clothing, even with the western influences, the absurd massive conglomeration of clothes that have been mass produced in sweat shops, only to be discarded when a small hole appears in the side of the knee, or under the arms. Even in modern day societies, clothing is easier to get than food. Look at the starving people in Africa, or the isolated tribes in the Amazon river basin. They might be extremely difficult to get to, or withering away to nothingness due to overpopulation, lack of food...etc... (and that's another blog), but they are all dressed in something, with someone's old Nike shoes and Adidas shorts. They are donated by the tons from groups that get leftovers from Goodwill, and then sent to third-world countries, as you can be hungry, but naked?? That's just barbaric. Would that they send the food and not the clothing. But the leftover mountains of food destroyed at coffee shops, or shoveled off plates at IHOP, all that food is wasted, while clothing (which cannot go bad) is shipped off on barges. 

Clothing and Power

Follow the chain of command, up the political pyramid, and those that issue the most rules regarding clothes are the priests and the clergy. If we take clothing to be a symbol of power, going all the way back to specialization and the agricultural revolution, the clergy and the military are the most associated with garbs. For the military, it's obvious. They were armor and protective clothing to keep from being killed. It's safety, right from Maslow's hierarchy. For the clergy, it's about power. If the religious leaders, who are literate and can translate the will of the gods however they choose, want to make a clear, visible mark of their power over the whole of their followers, clothing is the easiest way. Let's take several examples in Christianity. 

Let's go all the way back to Eden. Clothing is only needed after the Fruit of Knowledge is picked. They become ashamed of their nakedness, which before they had no problem with. Their first lie to God is about clothing. In Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the main speaker (who is a large gorilla, but nevertheless, it's an amazing book.) argues that Genesis came from oral retellings of the original inhabitants of the area around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, those who probably were naked as the warm climates and the abundance of food from the rivers limited the need for clothing. But when the more aggressive people came from the north, from the Caucasian Mountains, they wore clothing to keep themselves warm and as armor against their foes. To the original inhabitants, they would have been ashamed of their nakedness, seeing the garments that their now conquerors had on. They were forced out of Paradise, and they had to live as slaves or as workers. 

Other examples from Christianity. The prophets and followers of God, when found to have disobeyed Him, would rip their clothes asunder and lie prostrate on the ground. Obviously the clothes which Jesus wore before being crucified were of importance, as the Bible tells about the people taking them and parading Jesus about Naked as a sign of humiliation. It is interesting then, how, when Jesus is depicted on the cross, he is usually wearing some form of loincloth or rag to cover genitalia. But that is certainly a detail added by future Christians to either cover up the humiliation he received or to make genitalia a sinful part of the body for future children/followers. For if Jesus had genitalia, then it certainly could not be sinful to have them and to use them as God had intended. But these thoughts would have been unthinkable to Puritans, for instance, or other Christian believers. And I could go into detail about Joshua and his coat, but that would be a total other blog, for another time. 

The Puritans are probably the most obvious of examples when looking at clothing, nudity, and power. Coming from the Protestant groups in mainland Europe, most Christian faiths had strict regulations on style of clothing, dress, hair, jewelry... etc. The Anabaptists and Mennonites in the 1600's had regulations on wearing wigs. It was done, they said, because any article that displayed ego, or pride, was sinful, and all Christians must have humility, modesty, and live without worldliness. 

Even up to the 20th century, different denominations in the US had beliefs as to length that men and/or women should wear their hair, and even friends I have spoken with today have said that wearing tennis shoes into the sanctuary would be looked at most distastefully. I always wore regular shoes to church, as when I was in Milledgeville going to college, I had no car, and had to walk to church. Also, there was just something so uncomfortable about wearing dress shoes. We always sing the song "Come Just As You Are," and I believe that is how God would prefer we come. Dressed plainly, as the people that we are during the week. So if I want to have Tennis shoes on, that is my business. 

But prior belief systems in the Christian church don't operate the way I do. And if you look at from a political and sociological standpoint, it makes sense. The church extended the power that they received from being able to read and interpret the Bible into a cultural and political power. They could require a certain mode of dress or behavior because that's what the Bible said must be done. And anything that can increase humility and loyalty to the church, instead of pride and individualism, that was something the church would have done. 

This can be seen better in other religions, namely Islam, where certain factions believe in covering a woman up from head to toe in fabric. I have never understood this, as the area in which most Muslims live is usually very hot, and wearing all that fabric is bound to make one hot and uncomfortable. I think, in addition, it is a way of practicing conservatism when it comes to clothing and sexual appeal. It also forbids women from having individual styles of clothing, but instead, relegates them to seeing only through narrow eye slits. The men are certainly in control, and no one can see the woman (wife) but them. There is a very interesting (if one sided) conversation of this on which talks about this very subject. 

Clothes, Capitalism, and Power

Back to Specialization. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs shows us the very birth of Capitalism. Those that could provide the very basics of living were the first to require some form of payment from those that couldn't. Food, clothing, shelter. And then other objects, such as pottery to store the food in, and weapons to defend the new town and to hunt with. You get the idea. Now fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, where, instead of one person making clothes, its some factory where many people make tons of clothing with dangerous machines, but the availability of goods is amazing, even affordable (almost) for the poorest of people. Now the ebb and flow of fashion, the need of people to have clothing is dictated by capitalism's need for continual profit. What makes Applebottom jeans popular? Why, the carefully marketing job done by the makers, and the obvious outlining of sexually attractive parts that females use to attract a mate. And at the same time, the conservative, uniform clothing is also valued (perhaps one because of the other) as something easy to make and required of people working or going to school. 

It is the same idea that is usually practiced in the school systems today. Baldwin County (Milledgeville) has just recently required all of their students to have school uniforms. This is to promote equality among the students and reduce the distractions caused by the many styles of clothing made nowadays to promote sexual attractiveness. It is also done to give the Administration more power over the students (and teachers) in their buildings. This is done even to the point, as one of my friends had done to him, to be admonished because the shirt he was wearing was not white, but an off-tan color. It is an exercise of power and control. And it provides endless profit for clothing manufacturers that have a captive audience for their product. 

If you've walked through a mall and seen the fashions hanging out the store windows, you've seen the provocative (and expensive) junk that they want women to wear, as well as the multi-layered, cloth-laden (and expensive) clothes for men, most of which hide any sexual attributes. Some of the clothes produced (high-heel shoes, ultra baggy jeans) have no practical use; rather, it is highly uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy. Yet women wear those shoes proudly, showing off legs in short dresses. As I said in the prior blogs, it's odd how men's clothing is long and hides as much as possible, while girls wear shorts as high as possible. See the clothing that even little girls wear, and it's no wonder they get abducted. It makes little sense to me. When men work as hard as they do on their bodies and developing the muscles that are aesthetically attractive, they hide them under layers of fabric. A layer of control, while at the same time, requiring that women wear as little as possible. With the loss of power by the church, capitalism and masculine-driven sexuality have taken over, with just as ridiculous a set of rules as the church. 


Let's propose, then, a culture where clothing is not needed. Here, in this real world. How would it happen? Because the rules of society, of the Church, of the Dollar, are too strong to overcome. Along with the feelings of modesty, aesthetics, guilt, sexual discomfort, all these things, which are either put upon us by one of the powers listed above, or are derivatives of the way we've thought for generations. The rules have to be blocked or changed. Both happen in today's society. 

There are isolated communities where clothing is not required. Places where like minded inhabitants are able to show off their bodies and feel pride in them, unashamed of how God might view them (as He has seen us naked, so how would we be ashamed??). These are nudist colonies, of course. You might also find historical references to accepted nudity in Utopian societies or communes in the 1960's and the 1860's. Woodstock, of course, was famous for large groups of naked twentysomethings (of course, one way of releasing inhibitions imposed upon us by society is by the use of drugs, but I won't get into that.) Ancient Greece is probably most known for their acceptance of nudity. They lived in isolated peninsulas in a mountainous region where few armies could come by land, and the infertile soil made it so few wanted to. Also, the many islands, such as Crete, also made havens for nude living, especially since the Mediterranean has a warm climate for most of the year. 

The second way of creating nudity as naturally received by society is through changing the rules. This would most easily be done by the technology that Clarke and Baxter talked about in their book. It provides the one item needed to wipe away modesty, humility, and shame. Proof. Empirical proof about everything. The answers to all secrets, all mysteries, from the beginning of time forward. And since anyone could see anything at any time, there is no need to have privacy or modesty. They no longer exist. 

The last way of creating a nudity accepted environment is through the use of the Internet. Of course, this is not actual nudity, But the Internet creates communities of like minded people without actually having to live in the same town. The only small problem with this is, since the Internet and all its taboo subjects are constant hiding places for the hormones in our lives that can go nowhere, nudity and sex are often one and the same. And since they are both natural states, it is understandable that they might be merged together. The social media realms that have popped up (thanks to Myspace and Facebook) are quite a step forward from the outdated chat rooms and MIRC programs of old.  The Internet has certainly made this world a conglomeration of microcosms, each existing outside of normal rules and expectations. It shrinks the world even as it expands our knowledge of it. 

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