"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Suburbia Makes Good Firewood
Suburbia makes good firewood. It has a rebellious, almost arrogant ring to it--and after all, we knew those box houses had to be good for something. I'm not advocating some EF! style "burn down the housing development" message or anything--rather I was thinking about fires in general, and that when everyone realizes that they want to be in on the "fire pit" craze they're going to need a source of firewood. Of course, not wanting to deforest what's left, I advocate using those treasure troves of flammable material--the suburban home. It's not an entirely bad idea, but before I get too far off on a tangent, let me back up a bit . . . .
It could be argued, not that I would be so brash as to do so, that gaining control of fire is what made humans "human." It happened so long ago that life with fire is actually engraved into our genetic makeup--we have evolved to function with it, socially, politically, physiologically. Fire is the place where people have traditionally gathered to share, talk, pass on knowledge, etc. It evolved right alongside the classic "human" traits as story-telling, folklore, and an economy based on sharing.
Fire literally created and limited the optimal human group size--about 8 to 15 depending on which management guru you listen to--and just about the right number to sit around one fire. Fire is a social and political tool that binds people to this group size--and it is this group size that we have evolved to function best at. Additionally, viewing different spectrums of light has been proven to result in the release of different mixtures of hormones and neurochemicals--and fire light has some of the most beneficial and needed effects. This only makes sense, given that we have evolved to associate fire with security, home, friends and family, food and warmth--fire light is the original anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug.
My latest attempt with social fire could be seen as an outright failure, but I prefer to look on it as a learning experience. As I live in an apartment, there are relatively few opportunities for me to make an open-pit fire and gather my friends around it. I decided that the only safe location to build a fire near my house was on our apartment complex's dock--after all, it is surrounded by water. The fact that the dock is wooden concerned me at first, but the concern passed. A large terra cotta pot and a pile of logs and we had a fire pit blazing. Friends gathered around, food was eaten and an honest good time was had by all. It was everything I thought it would be and more, until the pot exploded, the fire fell onto the dock and we scrambled to use a bowl of bean dip to scoop water onto it. Fortunately, no damage was done and an important semantic difference was understood--there's a reason why it's "fire pit" not "fire pot."
Despite the now infamous "fire pot incident," my faith in the value of fire has not been extinguished. The modern day replacement for the fire pit, the Television, is no substitute. Yes, both consist largely of looking at light, but the similarities end there. Unlike TV, fire is beneficial to mental health, fosters a close-knit group dynamic, strengthens communities, aids in interpersonal communication, is an instrument of democracy and sharing and builds a stronger bond with the natural world. These are also the main problems with fire--it diminishes or eliminates the need for a manufactured drug to make us feel better, a book or seminar to teach us to communicate, a bureaucracy to ensure an egalitarian democracy (and fail) and a television to instill new desires for commodities and technology--the consumer economy may never recover (damn). So I hereby launch a new movement, to the bane of terra cotta pot makers everywhere, to reorient our lives, our society, our economy and our architecture away from the television and toward the communal fire. And that is why I feel it necessary to point out that suburbia does, in fact, make good firewood.