Monday, December 26, 2005

The Concept of Comfort



"This is the best in the best of all possible worlds."
Carl Leibniz.

"What? Me worry?"
Alfred E. Neuman.

Those who don't have a concept of comfort won't likely attend to the needs of others. Another's discomfort is just so much "So what?" If your own discomfort is normal and unexamined, then the discomfort of others will not register meaningfully with you. Comfort as a concept is new to people. Very few people understand it, fewer still live it. What kind of world do they inhabit? They share the world with you. Should you be concerned?

Those who lack a concept of comfort still have a concept, some of them, of cruelty. Ah, but not all, and not many, over-all. The concept of cruelty is a rationalist concept, and most of the world is beyond that, for good or ill. All of the Islamic world is Irrationalist. All Islamic culture is primitive. It then varies between the psychopathic and the psychotic. How do we deal with that as members of the Modern West? What do, we do short of killing them, to restrain the primitive Irrationalists who haven't even a sense of comfort, let alone a concept of cruelty?

Must we, in self-defence, kill them all?

We begin this installment with pieces of a short review of a history of the concept of comfort. We who live in comfort must assume that all have always lived in comfort to the best of their means, but below we'll see that such is not the case. Comfort is a new concept in Human life. Few actually share it with the majority.

****
Home: A Short History of an Idea
by Witold Rybczynski


Exploration, June 6, 2004

Reviewer:Erika Mitchell (E. Calais, VT USA)

This book is an exploration into the meaning of the word "comfort" and its place in the home. Rybczynski begins the volume with an examination of the Sixteenth Century painting by Durer "Saint Jerome in His Study". He describes each of the objects and furnishings visible in the paining in turn, noting that they are not particularly conducive to comfort or reflective of individuality. Rybczynski goes on to describe how this painting may be representative of the era in which it was painted, how houses at the time had many occupants and were spaces where people lived communally, but not necessarily as a family in the present sense of the term. He argues that in the Sixteenth Century, the nuclear family as a residential unit was non-existent, since children were sent away to live and work with others at a young age, and households always included many unrelated servants or apprentices. It was only later, as the concept of the nuclear family became more established that the need for privacy came to the fore, and private and public spaces began to be differentiated within the house. Later developments in technology, especially plumbing, ventilation, and lighting also came to influence housing design. One of the themes of the book is how the field of interior design has often been faced with the conflict between what looks good and what feels good. Rybcynski stresses that often the style of a design wins out, leaving the residents with the very least in comfort (to the point of having to carry their toothbrushes to and from the bathroom for lack of proper storage there, for instance).

[....]

The book is academic in style, although quite accessible and engaging for the general reader. Sources are listed in the extensive endnotes, and there is an index. ****

Rybczynski, if I recall rightly nearly 20 years later, offers evidence that the Dutch were the first to consider the concept of personal comfort, it being part of the newly rich merchant class pose to have objets d'art and things useless in the home, keeping in mind the Roman sumptuary laws of roughly 1,000 years before. Most people lived lives that were literally hard. As a concept, comfort was lacking. Today in the Modern West the concept of comfort is so deeply ingrained in the culture and the mind of the average man that the idea of it being a recent custom, one that few grasp, is alien and alienating. We assume too much when we assume that everyone wishes for comfort. Most have no idea of what comfort is. If they don't understand that, and if we don't understand them, then we will have no understanding of our battle with Islam and our own dhimmi fascist Left.

We can dismiss the Utilitarian view that people act to increase pleasure and to decrease pain simply by looking at women's shoes. Comfort is not the big issue we might like to think it is. Knowing what comfort is we might opt for it, but that is not a universal assumption we can make. Muslims do not, as a rule, care about comfort. It is not part of their culture and world-view. Given that, you can be sure they do not care about your comfort.

Comfort, to a certain extent, is a social good. Those who concern themselves with their own comfort will often have a sense of empathy, and they will tend to your comfort if they can. A society of comfort won't as likely turn to torturing you. It won't be a culture of cruelty. But there is a problem with comfort. When comfort becomes a fetish it turns to self-indulgence and apathy. Some will not give up their comfort for anything, not even for their own comfort. Not even to save their own lives.

There are comforts of all sorts, ideologies being one. There is the comfort of terrible certainty, such as dhimmitude. There is the comfort of hatred. There is the comfort of self-annihilation.

We in the affluent West might find that once we are comfortable in our own lives that we suffer from pangs of guilt at the discomfort of others. We might feel the need to tend to their comfort by attending to their unmet needs. Some might tend to the needs of a friend, others might tend to the needs of their communities, and yet others still might tend to the needs of the whole of the world's populations. Some tend to the homeless, or animals, or birds, or forests, or the Earth Some tend to the needs of their families, some adopt, and some tend to the needs of the entire world and its people. Tending to the comfort of others turns to tending to the needs of others. The needs of others requires that the tender infantalize the tendee. Folks, welcome to the world as kindergarten. "We are the world; we are the children."

We become so sophisticated and comfortable in our lives that we extend our power to give comfort to all, whether they want it or not. Those who would say no are discomforting not only to the suffering of the Earth's peoples but to those who would save and comfort. They say no because they are: bigots, racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, Right wing religious bigots, American Republicans, evil people who care not for the comfort lacking in the lives of Others. The need of the one to comfort devolves into the need too punish those who would make suffer the children.

It's comforting to know in ones heart and mind that one is good, that one is not an evil person, unlike them, those who are indifferent to the suffering of others. And to know that one is good means one must be right and superior to the bigots. One cannot deal with them other than to hate them. The latter cause the suffering of the world's peoples. It's comforting to know that the good people of the West do what they can to extend comfort to the rest of the people. They do so by consuming less, by sharing, by caring. The more one cares and shares and comforts the less others do so. And since one can identify those who are evil and uncaring, one can sort them into a set one is against. One can even go so far as to say those are the people who are the cause of the suffering of others, and one would rightly hate them. Hatred is a lovely addition to the rooms of the the mind of the righteous. Hatred becomes a comfort in itself. But it must be organized, it must be aesthetically pleasing, it must be intelligent: it must be societal.

To help one homeless man is good, but to save all homeless men requires the understanding of homelessness itself, its causes, its cures. One must find those who cause homelessness, combat them, and make new homes for those who have none. One must hate homelessness and those who cause it. And the cause of so many homeless men is the very system of housing that excludes some from homes. One must hate the system itself for being as it is. It's quite comforting to know that greedy landlords in a capitalist system are the cause of homelessness. One can hate the landlord and the system itself. One can give comfort tot he homeless too, if not in ones own home, then in a group shelter where the homeless can be tended, can be comforted, can be medicated.

If one can be found who is oppressed for reasons of accident, through no personal flaw, only by virtue of birth or circumstance, then one must rightly tend to that victim. One must stop the oppression of a person tormented for nothing. And if one is of a group of victims, identifiable as a group member, then one finds comfort in the group, finds the power to increase ones physical comfort and ones societal value by being more than one but one of many. Comes then the comfort of belonging. One group of victims with another group is a movement with power to comfort them.

To comfort a group is better than to comfort merely the one. And from the confines of ones office writing reports is a comfort too. Comfort in hatred of discomfort of other, comfort in doing good for the many, comfort in knowing the causes of evil, these are major comforts. Comfort in the certainty. No more disturbing ambiguity. Now there is certainty that soothes.

Not all care to comfort others, nor do they care. Life is comfortable, and that it becomes circumscribed by the encroachments of others is something one accepts rather than discomfiture oneself by moving against its source. More pot, more beer, more television. That this will all come crashing down is a comfort to the mind too. Utter passivity is a comfort few could hope to achieve. Those who do are possibly blessed. Who'd know? They themselves likely do not know.

Those who do know, and who know with total certainty, they are comfortable. Those who have certainty are beyond all definition of comfort, and if they suffer the tortures of the damned, that is comfort from Heaven. There is no greater. That they will annihilate themselves with volition is a beauty of certainty that makes all other comforts weak and pale.

Those who would comfort the suffering meet the suffering in their glory. The West yawns and rolls over. Everybody's happy and comfortable.

Well, not all of us. Some of us are right nervous about the state of comfort around us. We're not happy with the comfort of others, it being a source of discomfort to us. Some of us recognise that comfort is a lost concept in much of the world, that comfort is not a thing of cushions and velvet. Some of us recognize comfort as a madness. Some even see comforting those who would kill us as wrong. Some even go so far as to argue that making the many uncomfortable is a good thing, even if their discomfort is hard.

Cushioning the circumstances of the psychotic does nothing for the good of the people at large. In fact, it brings on catastrophe. We might consider examining our approach to comforting others, those who have no modern sense of comfort to begin with. We might look at the world as something more than an upgradable homeless shelter. We might profitably give up our comfortable assumptions about the needs of others and examine their needs objectively. They might not require our comforts but our wrath.

To assume that all require material comfort is to dismiss the lives of the many who have no such immediate concern. Perhaps our better course of action in the tending to the comforts of others is to make them suffer. Perhaps we must relearn the concept of discomfort. In the process we might relearn the concept of the value of others as they are rather than as they should be were they like us. We might discover in the process that we hate them. We might even find that we will kill them. We might find that if we kill some they will come to realize that they must conform to us and our notions of Modernity and well-being, at which point we might live comfortably together.

4 comments:

Pastorius said...

Dag,
This is, I believe, the most excellent thing you have written thus far. I think the final part explodes through it's point a little too quickly, but other than that, this is a masterly piece of writing.

I wonder if you are familiar with the writing of Harold Brodkey. While he was a novelist, in the vein of Proust, and perhaps, an erudite and disciplined Henry Miller, he also had this kind of fascinating attention to the unfurling of Byzantine detail.

I beg of you, please post this on IBA tomorrow. You deserve to be read more widely. Let's try to promote what you do.

Jack said...

Yes sir ... Dag has hit his stride with this post. So many of the blogs today are simply ranting and ravings with no meat. This post is a 3" TBone. Will be linking to it soon.

callieischatty said...

The role of women in society is often left out of these books.
I can't imagine how family life can be so new.
What did people eat?
Who cooked and minded the children?
People must have had family life and love and all that even in Medieval times.

dag said...

If we start with love this post will go on forever. Still, I'll start there and keep it short: Love is a relatively modern invention, truly, it is a made-up thing. Men's love of women comes from the Medieval Courtly Love movement of desiring another man's gal, one a true knight would never sully with such a thing as lust. This movement happened in Western Europe among nobles. It didn't happen generally in the West until the past 60 years at best, and then only among the middle classes. For the upper classes, there were considerations of money and inheritances and status to tend. For the lower classes there was a matter of marrying well enough to survive. If one looks at the world generally, love is not an issue at any level outside the West and parts of the Islamic world. In the latter, love is reserved for men between men, habibis. Women are domestic labour and child factories. They are bought, sold, traded according to the needs of the males in the family. At the period of the "first shame" Moslem girls are bundled up and hidden from view because they are dirty, according to Islam. Only in the West and only recently and usually only among the middle classes is romantic love considered a good thing. Eslewhere the sentimentalisation of sex is a bad thing.

In the West, until the past fifty or so years, women were domestic labour regardless of class. Only inthe 1960s did it begin to be common for women to have the right to vote in the West, to have personal cridit, to be able to drive cars.

Now that this issue has arisen it seems like something I might spend osme time on. There is much to discuss, and it'll take months to do it even the slightest justice.