I Don’t Wear Shoes.
I don’t wear shoes first and foremost because my older brothers didn’t wear shoes when we were growing up, and we all continue to not wear shoes. This practice has been slowly transformed from childish playfulness into conscious lifestyle choice, and now I’m prepared to tell you why I am a barefoot man, and how this relates to the singularity.
Shoes are gloves for feet. They are extremely useful inventions, allowing us to walk over all sorts of sharp things, and generally not worry about what we’re stepping on. Shoes protect us and make us more productive, and therefore sound exactly like something I would like. But there are certain disadvantages to this technology for our spiritual well-being that I am not prepared to accept.
Most of the time our only physical contact with the ground beneath us is through our feet. It is through our feet that we directly feel our connection to the earth, by actually feeling the earth. Everything we step on is a load of experience, information that most have deprived themselves of with shoes. As we’ve taken up this technology of shoes, like any technology, we have come to rely on them. Our protected and coddled feet are to tender to walk on rocks or hot sand, and so we continue to wear shoes, worsening our state and driving us further from the earth we came from.
By now I sound like a pessimist, talking about how dehumanizing technology is. Well, I admit it, technology is dehumanizing, but as I’ve said before it doesn’t have to be. If I could extend my nerves into my shoes so that I could be protected and also feel the earth beneath me, I would wear shoes. When the singularity roles around and we begin to transcend our bodies, we’ll likely see people replacing entire limbs with stronger, better ones. I think that I would love to have a much stronger arm, but if it isn’t as sensitive or more sensitive than my previous arm, if it doesn’t feel, then it’s worthless to me. I already have tools that are much more powerful than my arm that I can’t feel, but I wouldn’t trade my arm for a hydraulic lift, so why should I trade it for a prosthetic that can’t feel?
These values are fragile, of course, and I have no idea how feelings will survive after the singularity. I also know that if shoes were invented today, I would probably get them because they would improve my productivity, and I really am just desperately holding onto one aspect of primitive humanity in a world of modernity.
This desperation has occurred to me, and I have often wondered if our drive for efficiency and perfection will inevitably lead us to stop feeling, to fade ourselves out of existence. This is a question that I simply have to think more about.
But moving on, being barefoot is a consciousness expanding experience for more reasons than the added sensory information and personal connection to the earth. The choice not to wear shoes is an odd one in this society, and therefore puts me in situations which are challenging and, as a result, also mind expanding. People are genuinely surprised to see me barefoot, and often inquire about it, wondering how I manage to go without shoes. Mostly I just remind them that humans lived for millions of years before inventing shoes, so it’s obviously possible. Other people get downright angry about my expression of difference (or indifference). Last year I was eating at a chipotle for lunch and a middle aged lady walked up to me and told me it was illegal for me to not wear shoes in a place which serves food, and that “my husband is a cop and he could give you a ticket for that.” I had no idea how to respond, between saying “fuck off” and laughing at her.
What I have learned through this interaction and other similar ones is how confused most people are about hygiene (and this is something I will definitely write about later). Somehow people believe that a lack of shoes is unhealthy, and I’m not entirely sure why. After all, everything that I have on my feet would be on my shoes and therefore the floor if I was wearing shoes, so there’s no conceivable harm I can cause to others unless I somehow have a communicable foot-disease. I understand when I get kicked out of a store because they are afraid I might get harmed by a piece of glass on the floor or something (though In all my years I have never been cut by glass on my feet), but I’d rather take that responsibility unto myself.
And yes, I do get foot injuries. I get an average of one bee sting on my feet every two years, I step on thorns almost every day, I cut myself on sharp rocks, and people step on my feet because they have shoes and therefore don’t need to care about what they step on. Suffering is a part of life, and you cannot separate it from existence, it serves to remind us of how wonderful it is to not be suffering. I take the bee stings and am thankful for every day I don’t get one.
As for restaurants, I’ve learned to pick my battles and wear shoes where they are required by law (at least where it will probably be enforced). After all, it is unfair of me to put workers in the awkward situation of having to enforce a rule against someone that they might not even agree with. The rest of the time I try to change those rules by making people more aware that not wearing shoes is OK. I’d like to finish with a pertinent quote from Gandhi, a man who I, like most people, admire greatly. It comes from his autobiography, where he recounts the experience of gaining admittance into a law court in South Africa. Lawyers usually were required to remove their turbans to enforce a dress code which was discriminatory toward Indians:
“You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. You must submit to the rules of the Court with regard to the dress to be worn by practicing barristers.”
I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate’s Court I took off I obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that, if I had resisted the order, the resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of a better cause.
Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my submission (or was it weakness?). They felt that I should have stood by my right to wear the turban while practicing in the court. I tried to reason with them. I tried to press home the maxim, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” “it would be right,” I said, “to refuse to obey, if In India an English officer or judge ordered you to take off your turban; but as an officer of the Court, it would have ill become me to disregard a custom of the Court I the province of Natal.”