Saturday, May 14, 2011

Free Your Feet, and Your Mind Will Follow?

I was planning to post something on this next week, but since Ken Corder from posted this blog post on losing our soles yesterday, I thought I would like to reply to that blog post with comments of my own.

For several years, I've used the phrase in the title of this post "Free your feet and your mind will follow" as my internet signature. I've always agreed with the sentiment, even before I discovered that I was in fact an atheist. But it was only after becoming a freethinker that I actually understood exactly why I think that there's a deep connection between our soles and our mind. Although of course there is a physiological component that is obvious (it feels good!), I actually think it's the psychological or intellectual effect that is more important to explore.

In the blog linked above, the author talks about several points linking "naked feet and the sacred", and while I agree with many of the reasons given for these factors, I disagree with some of the author's conclusions. I want to respond to each of the points that he brought up, but from a different point of view. Since I'll be referencing the blog post, now might be a good time to read the original if you haven't already done so:

Connectedness - I have no doubt that for a believer, this is a tempting thought to subscribe to. However, it doesn't address the fact that most of us live in an artificial world, and most barefooters spend the majority of their time on manufactured surfaces - asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks, carpet, tile, engineered stone, and so on. The thing is, going barefoot still feels just as good on man-made surfaces as it does on dirt, grass, and other natural surfaces. It's my opinion that the connection you feel isn't to the earth or to a creator - it's to our NATURAL condition. It stimulates the reptilian core of our brains to hearken back to the way that we all used to live. Many people feel the same feeling of "connectedness" by being naked outdoors. Not because our skin is touching the air and soaking in the sun, but because the act of doing so reminds us that we are still animals - that clothing and footwear are an "unnatural" state for us, still. Why is that an important distinction to make? Because acknowledging that part of ourselves helps us to see that we are all the same. We might have different color skin, different body types, and different minds, but we're all one species. One tribe. One people. Connecting to that ancient past "self" can absolutely promote feelings of good will towards each other. That's a powerful feeling, and something that I think we should all take steps to remember now and then. 

Worth - I love this point, and the quote as well. The only thing I would add to this point is that this is very much a humanist argument. Most religions, including those the author cites in his article, instead begin by asserting that humans are inherently flawed and unworthy, and it is only through redemptive acts that we can be saved. The implication that this inherent worth can be derived from spiritual tradition or established religion seems flawed in most cases I can think of.

Humility - Humility and equality are normal human notions, and are not exclusive to religious or spiritual sources. But I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly that going unshod literally strips us of one of the barriers that makes us feel connected to one another (as I noted in the section above on Connectedness). I think the relevant point here is that shoes, like every other piece of clothing, have evolved from being something that once served a utilitarian purpose and instead are now objects of vanity and status. A willingness to shed one's shoes (or clothes for that matter) demonstrates a willingness to not lord over others with what you have and they don't. It is an important reminder of our equality.

Health - The claims by barefooters that it is healthier for our feet to be bare are, in almost every case, backed up by the medical community. Corns? Bunions? Althete's Foot? Back and knee pain? Almost all shoe-based ailments (back and knee pain are probably because we never really evolved a perfect anatomical solution for standing upright, but shoes certainly don't help the problem). Shoes cause innumerable conditions that going barefoot does not. And the conditions that one can get going barefoot are minor for most of us. There are countries where going barefoot does represent genuine dangers, but in those instances, generally there are larger public health concerns than just going barefoot. We were not born with shoes on. We did not evolve hard, inflexible feet. Those two facts alone tell us everything we need to know, in my opinion, about whether our feet are healthier bare or shod.

Freedom - Ahh, now we get to my favorite point, and why I find myself so enamored of the phrase "Free your feet and your mind will follow". Because to me, although it is "freeing" to lose my shoes, and let my skin breathe, and my toes wiggle, what we are really talking about here is freedom of thought. Barefooters are fledgling freethinkers. Freethinkers are those who do not simply accept the word of whoever they happen to be around. Freethinkers are people who want to know that the things that they believe are actually true. And the notion "shoes are good for you" is one that NEEDS to be challenged. Even something as simple as considering whether we need shoes or not can have long-term repercussions for your thought processes. Because after all, if in challenging such an idea you find out that this is untrue, what ELSE do you think or believe that can stand up to that same level of scrutiny? If you've taken the steps to challenge society's outlook on footwear, which is in many ways a trivial idea, why stop there? Many believers criticize atheists for appearing "strident" or "shrill" in our challenges to their beliefs. Are barefooters that much different when challenging the claims that shoes are both necessary and beneficial? Barefooters and atheists are both practicing a form of freethought. In the former case, I have confidence barefooters will win because that seems to be where the evidence lies. So for me, going barefoot is healthy skepticism put into practice, not subversiveness. 

In closing, I think it's important to point out that the words "Free your feet and your mind will follow" is not a direct causal argument, but rather a  metaphor for opening your mind. Thinking for ourselves is the greatest thing that we human animals have evolved, and I encourage people of all walks of life to practice it more in every way, barefoot or not. 

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