Free Your Feet and the Rest Will Follow
by Simon Ahrens
Did y’all celebrate Earth Day? Had fun coloring flower pots and standing in line for vegan ice cream amidst a dazzling bunch of barefoot hippies? Earthing (walking barefoot everywhere at all times for a closer spiritual and physical connection to Mother Earth) is one of those trends that provokes either love or hatred. One might go as far as to say that nothing has incited as much Gaucho trash talk since the debate about the correct pronunciation of our favourite cafe. (“Is it ‘ca-chay’ or nah…?” “It’s ‘cache,’ dude!” Ever considered “cage?”)
Apart from the arguably subjective life-changing spiritual experience of getting back in touch with nature and one’s body and mind, there are health benefits to earthing as well. Everyone says bare feet are more prone to infections, but no one thinks about the detrimental health effects of shoes (unstable ankles and joints, blisters and deformed feet). Researchers are now saying that earthing may be just as good for your body as it is for your spirit. Yet, for most of our generation, shoes seem to be first and foremost about style rather than comfort, let alone orthopedic concerns.
So, even if it’s healthy, are there any educational or recreational benefits? This is not at all about what y’all are thinking: kinky sexual fetishes. At least not for all of us earthers. Instead, it is a search for universal human happiness. Ask yourselves: Have you recently spent a shoeless afternoon in the park with your loved ones? Have you ever driven a stick shift barefoot? Ever cracked open a cold one with your toes? Alright, alright, maybe not all of that, Mrs. Grundy. But at the end of the day we can agree that the best thing about shoes is taking them off once you get home. I was told it’s almost like the getting-rid-of-your-bra sensation: Freedom, comfort and protection by and through your bare body.
With no snow and little rain, there is no better place to bathe in the alleged acceptance of earthing.
It’s not only about liberation, though. Earthing is about the awareness of human waste, cigarette butts and broken beer bottles on the street. At the same time, we are all equal (or equally gross) without shoes as opposed to the luxury, high prices and social pressure associated with them. In many cases, there might be a pinch of arrogance involved with feeling alternative and good about yourself because no one else does it. But just imagine a world where we’d all do it. Without any artificial feet protection, we would naturally care more about hygiene and pollution and less about looks or material beauty because our health would be dependent on a clean environment.
As a study abroad student, my attitude towards dress, and particularly footwear, in I.V. is similar to performing at drunken Wednesday karaoke nights at Rockfire. There’s room for experimentation, openness and risk because in the end, no one cares. And this is not just due to favorable geographical conditions of beaches, fields and forests. It is because of UCSB’s liberal student body, the fact that there are surfboard racks in front of residence halls and people wearing flip-flops to class. With no snow and little rain, there is no better place to bathe in the alleged acceptance of earthing.
Earthing haters usually base their arguments around comfort, hygiene and looks. Granted, the library is a sacred space of learning and reflection for some of our fellow humans. But then, how is earthing different from unpacking your smelly Subway meatball marinara sub in the eighth floor quiet rooms? Once your interpretation of personal freedom infringes on someone else’s, asking politely for permission is in order, whether it’s fast food or your extremities.
And seriously, how are bare feet really that different from bare hands? Are we having a glove debate too? I doubt it. This hints at the importance of social constructivism regarding the norms and shared societal expectations of “civilized” behaviour. This is not to demand all-out nudity but to provide some impetus to think about the boundaries we have created. Essentially, we give behaviour and style meaning through our everyday discourse and the persistence of unquestioned traditional taboos. Let’s just forget about the whole shoe madness for a second and take off our fussy socks, both physically and mentally.
Simon Ahrens encourages students and staff to think beyond socially-constructed boundaries and choose nature over materialism.
No Such Thing as the Right to Bare Feet
by Kat Chen
My opponent Mr. Ahrens has given not only his opinion but has also slipped in gentle words of insidious guidance towards this Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile practice. Simon hails from Göttingen, Germany by way of England. His year of exchange in the U.S. gives him, in his own words, “room for experimentation, openness and risk because in the end, no one cares.”
I care, Simon.
Hobbesian ideals of human freedom locked so seamlessly into our revolutionary founding texts lure millions of hopeless romantics like Simon to see this country as a land of exploration. I am tired of white men frolicking through Isla Vista barefoot like the world is their backyard: it began with Columbus, with Lewis and Clark, with Neil Armstrong. The set of soil-crusted toenails perched next to my ear in Pollock Theater is new wave Manifest Destiny. But these “earthers” do not explore uncharted waters or unknown lands. They are not lunar heroes of the Cold War. They are only the disciples of a false gospel, victims to their own disgusting faith.
Much ink has been spilt lauding the joys of being barefoot. On a hot day in mid-July, I can imagine plunging my feet into the beachy banks of a quiet lake, my toes wiggling through the baked surface to reach the wet sand underneath. On an endless stretch of grass, I see myself prying off both shoes and socks, lying down and letting scratchy sprouts envelop me, head to toe. In the tenderness of my own home, I will sit, criss-cross applesauce, nothing between my soles and the green plush of my carpet. The simplicity of these pleasures must be the source of inspiration for earthing. My sympathies end there.
While I am supportive of Simon’s angsty nihilism and general call to arms for anarchy, let us lead the revolution shoed.
Simon argues that I have caved to the “norms and shared societal expectations of ‘civilized’ behaviour.” He has basically called me, and all of us who wear shoes, sheeple. While I am supportive of Simon’s angsty nihilism and general call to arms for anarchy, let us lead the revolution shoed. There’s a reason we cyberbully flat-earthers, climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers: for the good of the herd and for the safety of future generations, we must uphold truths that serve to propel progress. Shoes protect us from tetanus, I.V.’s balmy 42-degree weather and street vomit from last Thursday. They act as a buffer between the outside world and the inside, marking clear boundaries between where public spaces end and personal ones begin. The eschewing (eshoeing? Ha!) of these thresholds is a privilege exploited by the barefoot of Isla Vista. Most of the responses to my post on our Free & For Sale Facebook page seeking earthers were written by, you guessed it, white students. Remember: “No Shoes, No Service” does not apply equally to all who roam shoeless.
Earthing’s health claims, based on the alleged power of electrons from the ground to counteract the body’s free radicals (to treat anything from depression to cancer), cling to studies like this one from 2012, co-authored by Stephen Sinatra, a co-author of “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever!” by Clinton Ober, Sinatra and Martin Zucker. Despite the study’s complete ignorance of “correlation does not equal causation,” earthing is now a small empire, with a vast offering of official Earthing® products targeted towards its cult of believers. Yours for the hot deal of only $69.99, the Earthing Wearables Kit comes with, unbelievably, socks. For your feet. To wear.
The claim that earthing is “the most important health discovery ever” isn’t doing wonders for its reputation either. To prove their proclaimed faith to revert to a Paleolithic age, I invite earthers to renounce all modern medicine: the smallpox vaccine, the MRI, even their eyeglasses. If they can’t read the slides, maybe they’ll stop attending my lectures. Maybe then the calloused, punctured, reeking, selfish symbol of American liberty will finally stop encroaching on my minimal expectations of personal freedoms.
Also, I would never get into your car if you insisted on driving stick shift barefoot. Fin.
Katherine Chen hopes earthers are enjoying the floors of public restrooms.
Simon Ahrens is a second-year Global Studies study-abroad student. He enjoys pancakes, the colour bordeaux and nerdy discussions about political theory.