The Modernity Mindset – Part 4: Water

I know what you’re thinking, ‘How the hell is Meta going to pull this off? A full length piece on water, he’s gone too far!’ Well actually, I haven’t. Water, specifically tap water is one the greatest tools in my toolbox to show you just how far modernity has come, how much it has mutated your mind. The way in which we think about water lays much of the groundwork for how we think about food, which will be an even bigger essay due to the various connotations in connected to it. Water, in comparison, seems relatively simple, but it can actually be used as a cornerstone for the presumptions regarding the life of the average modern man.

The more I think about writing this essay, the more I think it might be the one where I finally step into the realms of ‘Well yeah, no shit Meta!’, but that hasn’t happened yet, even though I believe I’ve been writing about some really clear stuff. This is why it’s always best to write by the way, your view may actually be more original than you think. With that said, a word of warning, this essay could de downright obvious.

The problem with water is that outside of shelter – which in most Western countries isn’t truly top priority – is that we absolutely need it to be able to exist. It’s not something which is negotiable, it can’t be replaced in any form and is always, perpetually needed, until the day you die. And yet, we take it for granted to such an extent that we generally forget we have supposedly unlimited access to it. You realize how utterly insane that is? There is something out there which, if we don’t have it for just 3 days, we will die. And what do we do? We forget that we access to that thing, we abuse our relationship to that thing and arguably, we even neglect that thing. Precious, precious water.

Though I’ve already written the short piece on schooling, I did miss something out, the fact that school does actually teach you some lessons, but there always the lessons they didn’t realize they had taught you. We had an assembly one day about being grateful etc. and one of the examples they gave to us was to understand that water coming out of the tap, day-in day-out, isn’t something that necessarily always happens, but is something which has been developed and engineered to do so. Yes, I learnt the lesson of being grateful for resources and lifelines, but I also learnt another lesson, the one they didn’t really want to teach me. ‘What the HELL are we all doing?’. This is the most important thing is all of our lives, and none of us are learning how it works, or why it happens, or who’s in control, or who to contact if it goes to pot, or how we find and develop a new fresh supply of water if the taps stop running. Maybe I’ve always had the collapse mindset, maybe my years of survival and woodland camping made me respect warmth, water and fresh food a lot more, I don’t know, what I did know is that we all had a serious chip on our shoulders.

So this is the point of this essay. Not water in itself, as some nourishing good. Though of course it would be easy to begin mentioning carbon water filters, privatization of water supplies and the health benefits of hydration, I’m not going to, because there’s a more important message at play. Once again, the one of presumptions. We all presume that water flows from the tap when we turn the tap on/off, we all presume that the water will continue to do so for as long as we live, we also presume that if the water stopped running from the tap that something is up, this would be not normal. Well, I have a cold message for you all, water not running from the tap is actually normal. Not having a mass network of filtered and sterilized pipes connected to each and every house is normal. Not having instant access to clean drinking water is normal. If you have running water, you’re privileged and disconnected from reality.

Arguably we’ve had ‘modern plumbing’ since the mid-1800’s, but in terms of the standards we’d expect today, the 1930s is the earliest era one could argue comes close to modern expectations. So, we’ve had modern plumbing and running water for just under 100 years. Let’s say humans have been around in their current evolutionary iteration for 200,000 years, that would mean we’ve had running water for 0.05% of our life time, and yet, it’s accepted as absolutely, 100% normal. It is and always will be the way things are. Anyone who says otherwise is a quack, doomsayer, madman, weird blogger who needs help, right? If it was any other resource it might not seem so mad, but the one and only (in many parts of the world, where climate is less formidable) resource we need to exist is taken for granted? And no one is being taught on a societal level how it’s processed? How to start it running again if it stops? Where to get it if it doesn’t come out of the tap? How to process it when drawn from an exterior source?

But here’s what modernity does in this situation. It creates something which is technically amazing, our contemporary plumbing systems, for instance. It disperses it in such a way that it becomes hegemonic, and anyone not abiding by it is seen as weird and odd. From its generalized societal acceptance as the absolute norm (and anyone who thinks otherwise is weird), it is accepted (along with progress) as absolutely always and forever, and there was never not a time we didn’t have it, and if there was the people of that time were weird.

This hegemonic coverup of course isn’t something modernity ever wants you to think about. To think about the fact that one needs and always will need water, to exist, to live…to not die, is not what modernity wants. Remember, under modernity you’re going to live forever (until you don’t), you’re going to having everything you want (it wont satisfy you) and there’s nothing to worry about (except all the old risks are still there). Modernity wants you to forget that you’re human, and you need very little so that it can maintain its productive control over you. If you’re reminded that you need water, you might also be reminded that you could live without other drinks, you could even go get your water from elsewhere. ‘Hmm, perhaps I don’t need all that stuff.’ Once water is turned into an a priori resource it is no longer revered for what it is, and is simply accepted, making it boring, almost untrustworthy. You drink water? How dull!

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2 thoughts on “The Modernity Mindset – Part 4: Water

  1. I humbly suggest that it’s not that modernity wants you to forget that you’re human, but rather that the infrastructural metasystem prevents you from realising that we’re a cyborg collective, via its spectacular amplification of the commodity fetish.

    (The self-effacement of infrastructure is basically my field of theoretical specialisation — which is not to say I don’t think you should have your own ideas about it, but rather that I think you might find some other thinking in the same space to be of interest. 🙂 )

    1. Nice talk, but I thought you dropped the ball at the end
      which was very abrupt and didn’t offer any signal besides vague wishful thinking typically encountered everywhere these days.

      Honest, well-meaning criticism follows:

      Should have focused on Cybernetics more. You mentioned it but you never really dived into the heart of the matter. I couldn’t help thinking that your {personal, professional} focus on sociology is misplaced. If you really want to understand what’s happening behind the curtain, why are you wasting your time studying the periphery? It’s all there, written down 50, 60, 70 years ago by Wiener, Ashby, von Foerster. You did mention Bateson which makes me assume you’ve read “Steps to an ecology of Mind” but this (great) work stands on its own and it’s not particularly focused on mechanics.

      To give you an example of how Cybernetics can improve your target acquisition and understanding, at some point in your talk you say “it’s only when we see through and realize it’s a bunch of people in the middle making an awful lot of money out of that, that’s when we start winning” which collapses your argument into one of political action with specks of conspiracy.

      This is where you lost me. If there are “people in the middle”, they’re nothing but well-connected information processing nodes (just like the rest of us except for degree of connectivity). There are notions of decentralized control and emergence that characterize any complex system-of-systems metasystem. To throw the spotlight on mere humans constituting centrality is to take the easy way out and ultimately entirely miss the point.

      Your talk would be a lot stronger and more accurate to territory if you raised issues of agency, distributed control, metasystem transitions that constitute the core of Cybernetics. Maybe next time.

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