I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve taken to exercising every day by doing knee bends. I also mentioned that I’d combined this exercise with my regular cycle of activities by doing the knee bends each time I took a bottle of milk out of the bottom shelf in the door of my fridge, and put it back in. That way I don’t have to do the exercise as a separate scheduled activity. And since I make about 12 mugs of tea a day, that’s 24 knee bends.
However, I don’t actually have to bend my knees to get the milk from the fridge. I can just bend at the waist, and stoop down to reach it that way. So whenever I get the milk I have to consciously remind myself to bend my knees, and bend them quite a lot. And sometimes I don’t remember to remind myself.
But I also have to keep count of the knee bends, and that requires keeping a mental count through the day. And that’s not easy either. I usually find that I have to consciously count each knee bend, updating the count. Currently, fairly early in the morning, the count is at 5. But quite often I can’t remember what the count has got to. Although I usually can remember some number I’d reached earlier in the day.
I should be able to count other activities, but I can’t. I only know that I drink about 12 mugs of tea a day because for a week or so I counted the used tea bags that piled up in a bowl I put them in, emptying the bowl each morning.
I can’t count how many cigarettes I smoke every day the way I count the tea bags, because I have several ashtrays in different rooms, and I also smoke cigarettes while sat outside pubs or driving my car.
Counting is a conscious, deliberate activity. I don’t naturally count things. I don’t count anything, except when I pay cash for something. I don’t know how many cigarettes I smoked yesterday, or how many mugs of tea I drank, or how many peas and beans and potatoes I ate. I just eat and drink and smoke.
Maybe that’s why people (including me) aren’t very good at mathematics. Mathematics is a very conscious kind of activity in ways that art and speaking (and reading and writing?) aren’t. They are effortless. But then all those things had to be slowly learned and practised until they became effortless. Same with walking.
Maybe doing mathematics is something that becomes effortless for the great mathematicians. Richard Feynman once remarked that when he looked at equations, he saw the letters and numbers in them in different colours. I’ve never had such an experience, and for me doing any mathematics is far from effortless. It always takes a big effort, like going on cross-country run. Once you’re up and running, it’s okay. The big effort is at the beginning, when you accelerate up to speed.
Yesterday, I mentioned I’d been looking at a FitBit fitness tracker which can count heartbeats and footsteps and distance walked. I was thinking of reprogramming one to count other activities. Like knee bends, or cigarettes smoked, or mugs of tea drunk (Joe L had the same idea for a CigBit tracker). And if I had one of them, I’d have no need to consciously count anything. I could get a count of almost anything I wanted.
But it would also entail placing myself under surveillance. And since my CigBit tracker would be connected by WiFi to a computer, and the computer would be connected to the internet, it would be possible for GCHQ to keep me under surveillance as well.
We’re already living in a surveillance society, with webcams and smoke alarms and all the rest of the stuff. But I suspect that we’re really only living in the dawn of the surveillance era. One day soon we’re all going to be covered in accelerometers and microchips. And we’re all going to be individually surveilled from dawn to dusk. And we’ll probably all have earphones for Big Brother to send instructions to us.
“Frank, you’ve only done 29 knee bends today. You still have another 221 to do.”
It could be the most complete and absolute tyranny ever exercised in human history. No one would be able to smoke a cigarette, because your CigBit tracker would detect the first puff you took, and the voice in your ear would tell you: “Put that out!”
We’d all be slaves. And far more profoundly enslaved than any Greek or Roman or Southern plantation slave. None of them were ever under such close surveillance.
I say that it could be the most complete and absolute tyranny, because it doesn’t actually have to be. To be continually surveilled could be just as equally a liberating experience. What if, for example, your on-board accelerometers could detect when you lost balance and started falling, and inflated air bags on your hips and shoulders, preventing you from breaking a hip?
But it would probably be the most complete and absolute tyranny, because outfits like Tobacco Control are full of people – like Deborah Arnott – who want to control other people. The clue is in their name: Control. People like Deborah Arnott want to control everything that other people do. They want to enslave them. They want a society of slaves.
It’s not something I want. I want a society of free men and women. I’d even like one with free plants and animals. I want a free society rather than a slave society. In Idle Theory, idle time is free time in which free people can do whatever they want. I think that freedom is above all free time.
But the controllers – who are also the planners – have no place for freedom in their scheme of things. Any sort of planned society cannot be a free society. Because planned societies are ones in which plans are made for other people, and in which those people must be forced to comply with the plan, rather than do whatever they might want to do.
Tobacco Control must be destroyed. And I think it probably will be. But the urge to control other people seems to be a strong as the urge to be free. For every Deborah Are there is always a Deborah Arnott. For every Yes there is always a No. For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
But at least my knee bend regime seems to be working. Two or three years ago, I sat down on the grass outside a pub, and couldn’t stand back up again. But I can do that again now. Just.