Humans Are Exceptional: A Business Premise
Premise 1: The Station of Humanity
Here at Easeness, we enquire within, wondering what might be left of society if Business weren't so busy. Eventually, these inquiries will have us spelunking the bottomless well of being in search of the heart of our desires, but as with any excavation, we must start on the surface. So we'll address the shallowest of our Busyness Premises first, that of the station of humanity in the grand, supposed pyramid of nature.
Business presumes that humans are exceptional.
In the business world, as humanists, we take it for granted that humans are exceptional, among animals, among lifeforms, astride the universe. We rule with an iron fork, seated, bloated, atop the food chain. Nature and all its savage denizens bend helplessly to our technological might.
But is it true? Are humans exceptional? Are we on top?
If so, why and how and how can we stay that way? If not, why do so many of us act like we are? Do we reign over the animal kingdom? Who says it's a kingdom? Some guy?
These Kicks Were Made for Landfills
And that's just where most of our discarded sneakers will spend the brunt of their thousand-year lifespans. In a blind rush to turn a profit selling cushioned steps to kids who want to look as cool as the cats on TV sportsball games, we've created millions of tons of shoe-shaped plastic trash in a flash, every two treads trod upon for maybe weeks or months, then outgrown or outmoded, tossed to the back of the closet, into the goodwill bin, over a power line, or sometimes flung straight into the ocean.
Busyness is booming for sneakers and kicks, and while the shelf life is short, the life span of these wonders of textile technology far surpasses anyone who touches them by a factor of twenty.
Yes, your sneakers may outlive you twenty times over.
See, the rubber sole may take 50 to 80 years to decompose, but if the upper is synthetic leather, it is likely to be made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which was discovered in 1872 (148 years ago, at the time of writing). Since then, no one has yet witnessed the natural decomposition of PVC. We know that it takes longer than 148 years, and the natural decomposition we have observed has been so incomplete that the estimated life span of PVC is more than 1000 years. In 2016 alone 61 million tons of PVC were produced.
What will they do in the centuries to come when plastic displaces the ocean? Will we seal the seabed in polymers so we can swim our VR drones from coast to coast, reef to barren reef, without encountering any gunky carbonoids? Le sigh…
And on the other side of the coin, the consumer side, we find just as much harmful busyness. Nike ushered in the padded-foam-soled running shoe in the 60s. In the earlier days, they cobbled and peddled sponge-rubber-soled Cortezes out of the backs of vans. Then, in the 70s, Nike and their pacing competitors began to layer EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate, which also lasts at least 1000 years) into the midsoles for support and cushioning and "shock absorption" and the market exploded. But why? What was behind this epidemic demand for shock absorption?
My intuition points at the pavement. If we were to extend our examination to the paving and flooring industries, I bet we'll find a boom in sidewalks, streets, and cement foundations that tracks the skyrocketing sneaker biz. And pavement is hard on the bones, especially for us upright apes to stomp around on all day. Our hips, ankles, knees, and toes were made for forest floors, not terrazzo mall tiles. These so-called sneakers must have felt like heaven, pillowy rescue boats for our parents' and their parents' barking dogs.
Fast forward to fifty years later, we've leveled and paved exponentially more of the surface area of fair Gaia, and we've pumped out tens of millions of tons of EVA and hundreds of millions of tons of PVC all of which will probably be around in the year 3030 (better keep 'em mint), long after the pavement has returned to dust. All in the name of what? Comfort? Style? Progress? Legacy? Happiness, or more accurately the futile and failing pursuit of happiness?
In all likelihood during this potentially irreparable plastic bonanza, we simply didn't ask "Why?"
This brings us to the premise in question: humans are exceptional. That's the reason we never stopped to wonder whether we ought to keep paving, or whether we ought to break ground on a new EVA or PVC production plant, or whether we ought to clad the kiddos in knockoff Jordans. We are the supreme beings. We do these things because we can. Those other apes can chew bamboo, check out my Sketchers Safari boots. Yup, 40% off on Black Friday.
That was rough. Before we end up neck-deep in acidic analyses like these, let me assure you, I am guilty of all of the crimes of consumerism mentioned above. This is not a criticism of the Other, it is an examination of the Self we share. I'm looking at my worn old sneaks now. They're too small, hurt to walk in, the foam is all but flattened, and the outsole has pretty well worn off. But they have more miles to go than I'll ever know. What do I do with these? How can I take it easy on the kicks?
A Tenet of Easeness: Humans are acceptable.
Meanwhile, in many parts of the world, there are folks who have walked a lifetime of steps with nary a mile in thousand-year shoes like mine. They operate on a different premise, one not nearly as hyperbolic as the exceptionalism that would dwarf the Andes with Air Jordan Mountains and pave the Amazon River to bring 2-day delivery to the last bastion of nature's chaotic wickedness. They will admit that humans are acceptable and sacred, and nothing more, just like every child of Gaia.
These of Earth's children also tend to their tender soles without forgetting to tend better still to our tender souls. Their brave young glide through the trees shod in the generous hide of a fallen four-footed friend, a joy we in the technocracy encounter in mangled echoes as we dart through traffic to slip into grippy Vibram at the rock gym.
While we are sitting in a national timeout, we continue to ease up on the gas, ease back on the kicks, and return to the Source for shoe tips. The Source would have us outlive our shoes. We would know their origin, care for them as they care for us, and when they have put in their paces, we would dedicate them as food for another being, another process.
So far only the most sovereign cobblers have begun to operate thusly and to encourage their shodden followers to trot along. Pioneers like Sole Rebels in Ethiopia ensure that all their cobbling materials come from sustainable sources: recycled tires for rubber soles, organic cotton liners, free-range leather uppers, integrated with plant-based fibers like jute and koba.
These are nascent days for the conscious footwear movement. Pioneers like Vivo Barefoot who offer an array of vegan shoes strive to convert reclaimed and recycled materials into fashionable, functional shoes. But the path to responsible footwear is fraught with the pitfalls of capitalism and shrouded in the mists of
marketing advertising deception. How might we avoid the ethical quicksand when vegan leather is often polyurethane (which has upwards of a 700-year life span)?
When you see this logo, you know we kind of tried.
Even Nike offers a glamourless afterthought in this direction with their Reuse-a-Shoe program and the Move to Zero greenwashing campaign. At least they impliedly (but not culpably) admit just how far there is to go. Peep this brag: "Made out of 50% recycled materials, Nike's new VaporMax sneakers are the brand's most sustainable shoe to date and are leading the way forward to the brands [sic] Move to Zero journey."
Dam(n) the Plastic Flood
There must be a way out of this downward spiral. Before plastic lines the ocean floor. Before we wrap the skies in cellophane. Before cell towers outnumber the trees.
Before the recent pandemic, before we inhabited the Coronation, before "lockdown" was a word, I was certain we were irrevocably circling the drain, stuck in this vicious maelstrom of technology as magic, capitalism as order, power as control, science as religion, ideology as faith, and identity as self. Now though we have had a glimpse of hope. Last spring we saw the skies clear and nature resume after only a few weeks of stillness. We can steer the ship up and out of this cataclysmic whirlpool. The question left is "Will we?"
If we scan the quote-unquote leaders of quote-unquote civilization for clues as to whether we are likely to crash and burn or sail and soar, we may find ourselves discouraged. The techno-plutocrats would have us automate everything we can until a handful of oligarchs own the world's resources. Following their lead, we'll grow faceless meat in Ziploc bags and stock every town in the world with Oreos that taste like anything. They would have us cataloging, categorizing, commoditizing, controlling, and consuming every last speck of nature, converting Chaos to Order wholesale.
And we're buying it
Amazon Priming a hot iPhone case we saw on Insta while our Tesla Model 3 drives us to Costco. Meanwhile, as the techno-plutocrats amass fortunes, they pour their resources into spaceships, colonies on Mars, and refuges on Aotearoa (New Zealand), in Alaska, and even in abandoned missile silos. Their silicon server farms running on cheap wind power replace carbon food farms, crunching data for the AIs that already can predict our decisions before we even become aware of them. How exceptional can we be if we are also mechanically predictable?
How much plastic wrap is enough?
In January of 2020, before the intense condensation of wealth that occurred during the pandemic (or what those in Davos referred to as the Great Reset), only twenty-six billionaires possessed the wealth of the poorer half of humanity. The distribution of wealth is likely to be more polarized by now, the summer solstice of 2021. Do these twenty-six, or these 2,153 billionaires who could outspend sixty percent of humanity, do they represent us?
Can the wealthiest few channel what we need, what we want, what we know, and what we love well enough to warrant the resounding economic trust we place in them? Surely not. Then why do we go on allowing them such outsized votes? How might we balance the scales?
Our hearts don't pump money
The poorer half of humanity numbers nearly four billion. Privation like theirs hardly leaves room for idealism, for dreams. But with a tiny, subtle shift in many, many minds and hearts, we may be able to make space for dreams. We may be able to begin to balance the scales.
The trick is not to attempt to take money from the ultra-rich and give it to the poor, but to give them something more valuable than money, or rather to remind ourselves that we will receive all we need when we share our gifts freely. The gift I refer to is an old story, an ancient way of life, one we have all but forgotten in these modern times. When we set ourselves apart as exceptions to nature—when we see humans as exceptional—we forget that life is a gift, that the sun freely gives us nearly all the energy we experience or wield, that the food we eat is a gift, that the air we breathe is a gift.
Instead, to validate our separate, exceptional human status, we must justify ourselves as deserving of these gifts, as having somehow earned them. To this fallacious end, we commoditize and quantify the gifts of nature in a vain attempt to settle the score.
Ceteris paribus, my contributions to society last week were valued at more than 666 meat-free cheeseburgers. I'm not sure what this means for my self-esteem or my career trajectory.
To have any hope of escaping the maelstrom, we need a critical mass of the passengers on the H.M.S. Monetization to realize that we can find shelter and abundance as we return to live in the gift of Nature into which we were all born. This is a major shift for any one of us, and a profound, epochal shift for civilization. In my short lifetime, I have seen us transition from information scarcity to information abundance, the impact of which has been gargantuan. Extending this transition from scarcity to abundance to our economic systems will reshape society from the inside outward and the outside inward all at once.
I live in a petri dish of iconoclastic ease and quasi-frugality
In 2015 I made a dramatic commitment to this shift in my own life. I quit my salaried career, gave up my urban apartment, gave away my furniture and belongings, and hit the road with three bags on a motorcycle to reboot myself on abundant firmware. Six years later I am still stabilizing my new operating system and establishing a reliable, low-latency, high-trust network. I'm still wrapping my head around what my heart knows wordlessly, innately, and completely.
And as I struggle to interface with the tribes of civilization that still cling tightly to the story of separation and scarcity, I realize even more fundamentally that we are all doing our best to understand who we are and how we got here. We are ignorant by nature and hopelessly fallible, but we mean well, I mean, we love Love. Yes, even me, trotting hypocritically around town in my new sneakers while writing this piece. (They're for research. That's why I have so many.) Yes, humans are acceptable. And acceptance is the first step on the path to Easeness.