Defooing everyone and everything, supposedly for your mental health, is bad for your mental health. And that’s aside from the moral angle, presuming you have a sense of morality beyond muh dick. But for those of you insist on defooing anyway, I’m going to spend the month of June demonstrating how to do it as best as possible.
I’ve identified three guiding principles that will be reinforced throughout the course of this exercise:
1. Positive engagement. Detaching from familial, social, and political concerns is a negative goal, and just as conservatism failed miserably you’re going to fail miserably if you don’t immerse yourself in some replacement. It has to be aesthetically pleasing and broad enough to still be interesting after 60 years. It’s not something you pursue mastery in so much as you just stop one day because you fell over dead from old age.
2. Hyperlocalism. I named this “Poplism” for two reasons. It’s a cheeky play on populism, and there are a ton of poplar trees within the half mile around me where I do most of my walking. I’m not just saying to immerse yourself in matters local to your city, I’m saying immerse yourself in the history, aesthetics, culture, and natural life of things within a hundred feet of your treestump. If I ask you what sort of plant life is in your area and in what proportions, and you can relay your opinions with enough detail to convince me you know what you’re talking about and think about it often, you’re doing it right.
3. Organic or cultural aestheticism. You may be thinking of taking up, as a replacement for human connection, a hobby like electronics, math, or music. Nuh-uh. First off, the happy treestump life comes from spending a lot of time outside around the treestump. But more importantly, music isn’t going to fill the hole because artificial things aren’t “inherently interesting stimuli”:
This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate. This theory, which was first proposed in the 1980s by the University of Michigan psychologists Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan (the latter of which coauthored the 2008 study discussed here, along with Marc Berman and John Jonides), is based on the concept of attention fatigue. To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate. (For our purposes, we can think of this resource as the same thing as Baumeister’s limited willpower reserves we discussed in the introduction to this rule.*) The 2008 study argues that walking on busy city streets requires you to use directed attention, as you must navigate complicated tasks like figuring out when to cross a street to not get run over, or when to maneuver around the slow group of tourists blocking the sidewalk. After just fifty minutes of this focused navigation, the subject’s store of directed attention was low.
Walking through nature, by contrast, exposes you to what lead author Marc Berman calls “inherently fascinating stimuli,” using sunsets as an example. These stimuli “invoke attention modestly, allowing focused-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish.” Put another way, when walking through nature, you’re freed from having to direct your attention, as there are few challenges to navigate (like crowded street crossings), and experience enough interesting stimuli to keep your mind sufficiently occupied to avoid the need to actively aim your attention. This state allows your directed attention resources time to replenish. After fifty minutes of such replenishment, the subjects enjoyed a boost in their concentration.
(You might, of course, argue that perhaps being outside watching a sunset puts people in a good mood, and being in a good mood is what really helps performance on these tasks. But in a sadistic twist, the researchers debunked that hypothesis by repeating the experiment in the harsh Ann Arbor winter. Walking outside in brutal cold conditions didn’t put the subjects in a good mood, but they still ended up doing better on concentration tasks.)-Cal Newport, “Deep Work”, Reason #2
The sorts of things you want to get deeply immersed in have to be either organic or cultural, and they have to be deeply intertwined with the aesthetics of your local haunt. Examples of this:
Hyperlocal photography/blogging/scrapbooking: Try to get a feel for the aesthetics of the things in your daily life and use all the tricks of artistic expression to try to capture this. If you’re surrounded by clown people and dumpsters overflowing with garbage, find the best possible filter for expressing the feeling of living amidst this as if you had to communicate it in a momentary establishing shot in a movie.
Hyperlocal myth-weaving: If there’s an area in your life that feels more Faerie-like, write a story about it or paint it with sunbeams and little fairies flying around.
Hyperlocal history: Study and document the history of your subdivision or apartment complex.
Hyperlocal anthropology: If you live around a bunch of strangers, study their ways of living like an anthropologist.
Hyperlocal architecture: Don’t just brush off everything as the product of money-grubbing capitalists, try to appreciate things for what they are. A Michigan road with grass growing through the cracks may be a sign of national decay but it’s also beautiful in its own way. Study the buildings around you and consider why they were made the way they were. Are they stylized or purely utilitarian? How could you improve the aesthetic, or improve the one it’s already going for, with very small investments? How long have they been there? What were the logistics of getting the various materials to this location?
Hyperlocal landscaping: This is more of a suburban thing, but it’s basically the same idea where you learn to appreciate nearby things for what they are. What do the things people do with their front yards say about them? What’s their attitude toward nature? Is it something to be ordered, fought, framed, or simply neglected?
Hyperlocal naturalism: I mentioned this before regarding local flora and you probably get the idea by now. But gardening is obviously a good tie-in.
4. Leave a beautiful corpus. The humans of today may not be up to your exacting standards, but there’s always tomorrow. And since you’re the autistically dedicated subject matter expert on everything within a hundred feet, you may as well leave an impression by creating 60 years’ worth of documentation. Accounts like this are more interesting to historians than you probably realize. E.g. Lucien Febvre’s The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century (H/T Borzoi’s Hyperpodcastism again).
Ultimately, this will be an exercise in engaging with and existing in the world around you that develops the sense of love, connection, and meaning which would ordinarily come from a healthy relationship with individual humans and humanity as an abstract aggregate.