On curing sadness with cold showers, excess with Cynicism, and madness with veganism. And if you can't go vegan, eat the rich.
Last october many modest manageable misfortunes happened all at once, of which one romantic setback was the last drop. One particularly despondent cold morning, not being able to think positive thoughts, I stood up and said “fuck it”. I donned some shorts and took my bare chest outside to be maximally exposed to the elements. After some dynamic warming up stretches I took to the road, ignoring my internal daemon's infinite capacity for excuses not to do so. Ten seconds in and any futile goosebump disappeared. Surprisingly, it wasn't uncomfortable at all. The anticipation of the cold was much worse than the cold itself*.
Alas, still dispirited, I doused myself with uncomfortably cold water, outside. Poof. Mind went blank. So that's what I've been doing ever since. Below you can see the ensuing 60 post-run cold “showers” at temperatures ranging between -3°C and 10°C. That's about 3 cold showers per week. When the occasion called for it I indulged in warm water, but only about once per week or less.
It turns out that cold showers are strikingly more satisfying than warm ones. From the moment the first droplets burst on your head you're alive, ready for all sorts of trouble. Not only that, cold showers save water for obvious reasons and they benefit recovery and resilience (). Conversely, warm showers are relaxing, but they make me feel sluggish and chillier afterwards. However, now that they are rare I appreciate them much more. Unless you live in perpetually ice-cold climates, warm showers truly are a luxury you could do less of. Try it, you'll be fine. No, you'll feel awesome!
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* One caveat if you're going to do this. Go beyond your limits but listen to your body as well. I thrive on the pain from pushing myself, not on the pain from hurting myself. Don't be a crybaby, but don't think you're cool by pushing through an injury. After all, I only run for 24 minutes because I'm hell-bent on speed—the magnitude, not the drug. If I suddenly were to run a marathon, or take a prolonged swim in an ice cold lake, I would risk unexpected adverse effects because I haven't trained for it (). That's why I do wear gloves when it's near freezing since I have Raynaud's syndrome—a relatively harmless condition that renders my fingers white instantly when exposed to the cold. Naturally I don't wish to exacerbate that problem.
What proved to be a successful tactic to get rid of negative thoughts became a habit, so I'm continuing the cold runs and showers even though there's no actual need to. Why? First and foremost, I'm inspired by the ancient Cynics:
Crates to Metrocles: “After you left us to go home, I went down to the young men's wresting-school, and after having oiled myself, began to run. On catching sight of me, the young men burst out laughing, but not wanting to break of my exercises too early, I urged myself on with the words, 'Come on, you are toiling for the good of your eyes, of your head, of your ears, of your feet'; and when the young men overheard what I was saying, they stopped laughing and followed my example, beginning to run in their turn. From that time onward, they did not merely rub themselves with oil, but actually started to take some exercise, and thus did not live lives that rendered them liable to illness as before. So they felt grateful to me, as being responsible for their improved health, and would not leave me, but followed me around wherever I went, listening to what I had to say, and imitating my words and actions. I have written this letter to you so that you too should not go running on your own, but rather in places that are frequented by young people, since we ought to devote some care to them, in view of the fact that hardiness can be taught more quickly through deeds than words, this being a feature peculiar to the philosophy of Diogenes.” —Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists by Robin Hard, §655 ().
Just as we appreciate stone sculptures of the dead, so should we value the flesh and bone sculptures of those alive, even more so. Mind you, not the photoshopped seemingly perfect Instagram dress up dolls, but the actual fitness and health that come in all shapes and sizes. Buying nice clothes is easy, sculpting a nice proportionate body isn't. Moreover, if you're in good shape you'll look dashing in whatever you're wearing*.
“On observing how a young man was priding himself on his expensive cloak, he said, 'Stop priding yourself on sharing in the good qualities of a sheep.'” —Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists by Robin Hard, §187.
So, am I showing off? Perhaps.
“Others claim that Diogenes said, 'I'm trampling on the vanity of Plato', to which Plato replied, 'Yes indeed, Diogenes, with vanity of another kind.'” —Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists by Robin Hard, §131b.
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* Although feeling good in your attire is fine—admittedly I too feel more confident in clothes that particularly suit me—it can definitely go without high velocity fashion. Fashion is fictional. As I've said before, revere clothing longevity, not price or brand. Not relenting to marketing hurts the rich who make you believe you need what they're selling. They're playing monopoly and I don't like that game. They're cheating anyway.
To coast off that end note, as a Cynic I find it extraordinarily satisfying to get by with less (). To me that means deliberately not indulging in something or refurbishing second-hand items. There's a serenity to it. Everything being where it's supposed to be. Nothing redundant. Nothing wasted. But before accusing me of being a Luddite (), I do appreciate science and technology, and I do not wish to go back to a time where surgery was still a gamble. No. All I wish for is time better spent. I wish for a world where the economy serves humanity and not the other way around. A world where life isn't a function of profit, a soul-rotting black hole in which I too got sucked in. Fortunately for Diogenes () and I, Stephen Hawking did not major in finance, escape is possible.
“The money is gone but his soul is healing.”
Instead of aiming to be financially rich, aim to be materially satisfied. If we can learn to share, if we can become sane at last, then every citizen on Earth could enjoy a fair shot at life. Equal opportunities, truly Cosmopolitan. Screw the rich and their “fuck you money” (), adopt a “fuck you lifestyle” and go climb a tree.—Film fragment: Captain Fantastic: “Everyone's so fat.” ()
Look. I'm not here to provide ground breaking insight or claim superiority. I don't have all the answers. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. My objective is merely to serve as a beacon towards others who might feel the same. And if you're anything like me, then occasionally you'll feel alone in this weird consumerist work-obsessed society. You don't have to be. It's okay to have different values.
“In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” —Akira Kurosawa
“[…] my choicest possession of all is, as you can observe, that I am always at my leisure, so that I can go off and see what is worth seeing, or hear what is worth hearing, and, what I value first and foremost, I can spend the whole day at leisure with Socrates here. And he likewise does not reserve his admiration for those who can come up with the most money, but spends his time in the company of those whom he finds pleasing.” —Antisthenes (445 – 365 BC), Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists by Robin Hard, §534.
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* To the person who discarded his 10-year-old Toshiba Satellite laptop which I resurrected using Linux, thanks, but best delete your nudes in the future.
“How do you recognize an engineer?” “Don't worry. He'll tell you.”
In the same vain I feel the need to mention veganism because its relevant to my running, and, of course, because it's a major contributor to climate change, water waste, and tons of other systemic problems ().
As a vegan skateboarder, runner, and climber, I can attest my athletic performance has never been better. Far too often veganism is falsely equated with weakness or unhealthiness. “Wrong wrong wrong wrong, wrong wrong wrong wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong.”—TV series fragment: Scrubs: “You're wrong.” —Dr. Cox ()
“People pray to the gods for good health, and yet most of them consistently act in such a way as to damage their health.” —Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists by Robin Hard, §196.
When I still ate meat a couple of years ago I introduced an acquaintance to running. Some years later we entered a running competition and he both beat me in distance and speed. He was glistening in the sun while I was beaten by the summer heat. After bumping into him at the local climbing gym I expressed my awe. He told me he had veganism to thank and recommended The Game Changers (), a documentary about vegan athletes. I was skeptical but it put me on the fence. Until I stumbled upon Dominion that same evening, a documentary exposing animal suffering using undercover footage. Turns out, among many other things, that “free range” is just another marketing term. Another tick in my thesaurus: greenwashing.
“Greenwashing is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.” —Wikipedia ()
Why was I even surprised. It just isn't possible to mass produce meat without torturing animals. In fact, raising animals specifically for consumption, i.e., “humane slaughter” is an oxymoron. Evidently, I became vegan then and there because doing otherwise would've been immoral. You should too. Or at least try to cut down. As always there are edge cases, but in aggregate privileged Westerners can live perfectly healthily without animal based foodstuff, provided a balanced diet*. Therefore, until lab-grown meat becomes ubiquitous, the only moral and simplest solution is to go vegan.—Documentary: Dominion (2018) ()
“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” —Pythagoras (570 – 496 BC)
“My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconveniency, and I was frequently chided for my singularity, but, with this lighter repast, I made the greater progress, for greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension. Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.” ―Benjamin Franklin
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn't enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?” —Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
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* Any diet, including a vegan one, is only healthy provided you get all the nutrients you need. E.g. eating only vegan chips, or fast food burgers, are both unhealthy. Therefore, do your own research and make sure your diet sufficiently nourishes your lifestyle. Especially for vegans: check your vitamin B12 intake. For instance, I take a vitamin B-complex (biover) and vitamin D supplement daily and my blood values are normal.
After mentioning saving water, reducing consumption, and not eating meat one might think I'm blaming all of societies ills on the populace. Not so! While economic supply and demand is real, the demand is manipulated through marketing, advertising, and absurd traditions. As if you truly need a stupid smart watch, or veal, or get drunk “responsibly” (). To add insult to injury: ideas like “personal carbon footprint” were invented by BP [British Petroleum] to “deflect responsibility for climate change away from the corporation and onto the individual consumer.” ()
This does not mean you should stop living frugally. Your individual contributions are statistically negligible on paper but not in reality. Collectively it matters. You probably know of the butterfly effect, however, the Thailand firefly effect might be more tangible. The following simulation will take only a minute or two, but you'll remember it for a lifetime: https://ncase.me/fireflies. Change starts with an idea and ideas need to spread. It follows that policy is not going to change if no one talks about it or if people are barely willing to change themselves. We need to hold corporations and flawed economic systems accountable collectively, while also changing ourselves collectively. Small drop, wide ripple.
I am aware that I'm speaking from a position of privilege since I'm a minimalist, vegan, and all of the above by volition, not necessity. Accordingly, not only my actions, but also my ideas can be tainted so.—Film fragment: The Matrix (1999): Agent Smith interrogation ()
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague. And we are… the cure.” —The Matrix (1999) ()
As previously mentioned, I've been wrong before. And arbitrarily categorizing all humans as a virus was a short-sighted thing to do. Despite realising the mere happenstance of being born in the right country which makes one financially rich compared to most humans, I didn't take that reasoning far enough. Thanks to Kenny for the patient refutations and nuance.
“I think when people say "humans are viruses who consume everything", I think they confuse the desires and actions of the capitalist class to consume the earth for their desires and actions of everyone else. I find it hard to accept the "all humans are overconsuming viruses" when most people, especially in exploited nations, are barely getting by.” —Kenny HCS, Philippines.
Most people have a low carbon footprint by necessity, not by choice. They do not have access to the multitude of vegan alternatives we have. While extolling the virtues of frugality is a good thing to do, the point is that it's easy to write yourself a narrative that seemingly solves all of the world's problems if only everyone was more like you. Fortunately they aren't. Everyone you meet knows something you don't. So find some common ground and start listening. Unless they're multimillionaires. The only thing they need extra of is taxation (), scrutiny, and in many cases unapologetic ridicule.—TV series fragment: Monty Python's Flying Circus: “An appeal on behalf of extremely rich people who have absolutely nothing wrong with them” ()