Binary School

Some people get the whole being smart and wearing a shirt and a tie thing and some people don’t. I am one of those who don’t. The best answer I was ever given was that on relevant occasions you should wear a collar and tie for the people who do get it and think it’s important and these people were family, so I learnt the times when it was expected, when you had to.

The other night I was listening to a radio discussion about the old chestnut of school uniforms. What was interesting was that instead of an advocate of no school uniform against  an advocate of school uniform, one of the protagonists argued for a balanced position, the other for strict uniform.

There is very much a middle position on this, a sensible compromise, so i was very much on the side of the gentlemen who argued for the  middle way. The most practical argument for school uniform is that it is cheap for parents to kit out their children in a school uniform. However there are educational arguments too. On the one hand it teaches that there are occasions when you represent an organisation other than yourself that you are required to dress in a particular way. On the other hand it helps children develop style, by which the child can make decisions on how to wear the uniform, which usually involves some rakish way of wearing the tie.

The gentlemen arguing for strict school uniform argued for no adornment, no jewelry, which seems overly harsh. When I was at school you were allowed one earring per ear, one neck adornment and one bracelet per wrist. Many children at my school wanted to wear more than this, but that there was a compromise, enabled compromise. It allows experimentation with style without the onus to take things to an extreme position.

I very rarely wear a suit, but I do see men who do wear suits stylishly. These gentlemen have a tendency to be Italian, it is indeed rare for me to see people in this country pull off a suit well, yet people seem to persist. I always imagined that this suit wearing thing was just old-fashioned and by the time my generation had grown up, the practice would have fallen by the wayside, but it hasn’t. Enough people still expect people to dress a certain way. Really it takes some effort to get away from these stereotypes. For example I have a bright yellow high-vis coat. Whenever I wear it, I can almost disappear in a crowd, I become unnoticed, I’m assumed to be working. rather than being myself.

Yet there continues to be a dark side to all of this. Particularly women for whom the rules are so much more complex, especially if they are in a public facing role. There have been cases of women being asked to go out and buy high heels for roles that involve traipsing up and down stairs. I have been in a situation where a female host was escorting me in high heels, which is daft and I just felt really uncomfortable.

I get the idea that when you are working you are not supposed to be stylish or express yourself. You are there to be the organisation you are working with, so you wear the uniform to blend into the background, so your personality doesn’t distract from what you are doing. However does this really have any meaning in most modern organisations, as surely we are usually trying to attract peoples interest, to be novel rather than bland?

The middle way is interesting, as those with a developed sense of style seem to have a lot of fun, like children with school uniform of doing just enough to blend in and just enough to stand out. These are the skills that a moderate school uniform helps develop. I at least get school uniform now. I am coming around to the idea that style in clothing and fashion in general is about this finding a reaction to recent past styles, to conform to where things are whilst expressing a difference in a new direction. After all being able to express yourself is important for your own well-being. The difficulty with style is that there are those few who are naturally really thoughtful about it and have a well developed sense of style , whilst people like me blunder around shops wondering how on earth to replace my tatty old garments. You have to wear clothes, it’s too cold most of the time, so having some sort of style is unavoidable and people will make judgements about how you look. So, it is really important that as a society we do what we can to help young people explore this and school uniform does seem the best way of doing it.

Food, Family and Fun

Last night I watched “How to live to a hundred” on the television. The argument put forth is that a traditionally based lifestyle helps keep people happy and healthy, that Food + Family + Fun [community] = Happiness. Whilst the ‘modern’  post-industrial economy of Western Europe is actually causing a range of modern diseases such as diabetes, cancer, food allergies and social diseases leading to mental health problems. I tend to agree, it backs my long held view that much of how modern society operates is really unhealthy and just seems loopy. It is why i have struggled to find my place in society. It is simply better to work with nature, rather than against it, the answer I believe lies in evolutionary biology.

Food

The modern western diet differs from the traditional diet in a number of ways: It consists of high quantities of meat,  often meat of poor quality produced industrially and intensively. Food is often processed and contains artificial compounds such as preservatives. This industrialisation of food means food is nutritionally poorer and lacks flavour, so often processed food contains high levels of salt and sugar to compensate for this lack of flavour, these high levels are beyond what the human body can cope with.

Family

I have wittered on previously about the importance of acceptance for humans in society, family provides that. I’m living with my father at the moment and it is simply nice to share meals together at the kitchen table. One of the reasons I was unhappy in Surrey was because I had to eat meals by myself in the bedroom, which is simply wrong, but many people are thrust into this position by the economy. Due to economic diversification, people often have to move away from their family to take on jobs and one person abodes are expensive. This modern way of working detracts from humans ability to take pleasure from eating and sharing food as part of the enjoyment of eating.

It does annoy me sometimes that i took decisions at quite a young age that led me to be ‘mostly vegetarian’, rather than conform to the mainstream diet, as sometimes my father and I have to cook separately to stick to our dietary choices. This phenomena is compounded by food allergies and different diets, I don’t think most people know how to provide a meal that will satisfy everyone at the table, yet I feel it is important that everyone should know how to put on a collective meal. Having a collective meal is fun

Fun / Community

Cooking together and sharing food at the dinner table is an enjoyable social event. When I was working in the forests of Madagascar, the whole team would sit together for dinner, the conversation flowed and it was a hugely enjoyable experience, even if only to see what those on cooking duty had managed to produce from our limited resources (rice and beans, supplemented with mangoes or breadfruit that had been gathered during the day, we had zebu (type of cow) once in two months and that was a real celebration). Human beings are social animals and interactions between the local community are fun. There is a special something about an event that draws the whole community in, which offers something to everyone, this has value in ensuring communication between generations and social groups. The example is of  summer fayres, where everyone comes to together to eat, play games, sing and dance together (and provide talking points about performances in the ladies over 40 sack race!), Fun and Community, where everyone is free and encouraged to make a fool of themselves is important. Sadly such community events are dying out as people retreat into only socialising in there own social circle.

Happiness

It isn’t possible to go back to a time when people physically lived off the land with their family, socialised in the village and the wider world was the ‘here be dragons’ of faerie tales. However human beings lived for millenia in such societies, it is what our species evolved to cope with. I think the problem is partly that we are living lifestyles that genetically we are unsuited for. It’s only a few generations since many people no longer had physical labour jobs, a few generations since we began eating industrialised processed food and very recently since we now spend parts of our lives not in family units.

Many of the elements of a traditional lifestyle are possible, but often difficult. People claim not to have time to cook properly as they have to work long hours and may spend hours every day simply traveling to and from their place of work. People often don’t have the time or space to maintain a kitchen garden or a similar physical project. People sometimes don’t put the time and effort into maintaining family units and consequently that may fall apart.

Processed foods are I believe to blame for the rise in food allergies. Humans tend to like salty food as humans lived for millenia with low Sodium diets and more Sodium was required for health. Now our diets contain too much Sodium salt, this has health consequences as the body struggled to metabolise  so much salt. Hence, processed foods are putting pressure on out metabolisms they haven’t had a chance to evolve with.

There is much talk of a establishing a work/life balance. In a traditional society, such an idea is absurd, as work involved your family and community, the family and community contributed to your work too. Post-industrial work is largely not like this so generating time for family, for social activities is paramount, however, the modern economy makes it harder and harder for people to find this time and hence people become unhealthy and less productive, it’s the crisis of the Western world in the 21st century.