To Start from Scratch or To Stand on Shoulders?
It seems that I've been bitten by the DIY bug. As much as I enjoy those things which require a high degree of specialisation--like, you know . . . books . . . movies . . . TV shows . . . pop music . . . and well, blogging software--I am a bit bothered by the number of commercial products I buy because I take for granted that: a) they were good to have, and b) I could never make them myself. So now I'm getting more critical and more crafty. My "no poo" adventures really got exciting the day I realised that I didn't need to find someone else's perfect recipe if I could make one for myself.
In case you're wondering, I'm currently trying a version of the "rinse only method," with a deep conditioning treatment of honey and aloe vera gel once a week (or whenever I remember it). I've switched apple cider vinegar for distilled white vinegar, diluting it with a "tea" made from dried rosemary and dried sage. I'm also infusing a bottle of vinegar with those herbs, so that I can skip the "tea making" step, but it will take about two more weeks before that potion is ready for testing. And because my scalp has always been on the dry side, I may also start experimenting with lavender soon. But the real turning point was getting a boar bristle brush: that thing is my new BFF.
That's right: homemade rinses and hair masks, but a store-bought brush. The reasons are explained somewhere in the following Three-legged List.
about Things We Could Never Make Ourselves
How Crayons Are Made
This has always been one of my favourite Sesame Street videos! I think of it whenever I use a crayon or see a brand new box of them. Watching it again as an adult, I am tickled by the obvious staging of a real-life process in order to make it fit the director's vision. My favourite bit is the factory lady who is smiling as if she has the best dang job in the world! =D
Now, this video doesn't really fit my heading, as it is perfectly possible to make your own crayons at home; they'll just be a lot of trouble and won't be as good as something from a factory. But if you compare How Crayons Are Made to that other Sesame Street classic A Stool for Me, you'll see why it deserves its spot on my list. Here, crayons are presented as specialised products requiring really complicated machines. And a box of identical, mass-produced crayons becomes a kind of symbol of perfection. This isn't an educational video as much as it is an advertisement. As Alone (a.k.a., The Last Psychiatrist) would say, it doesn't teach you to want; it teaches you how to want.
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps there are children who can watch this and remain happy with homemade colouring materials, despite the humiliating thought that there are thousands of other children out there with "perfect" crayons from some factory. Sarcasm aside, it seems obvious to me that the industrial crayon is ideal primarily when you're also using commercial colouring books. And colouring within the lines may be a nice exercise, but it's not the summa of children's art.
Over ten years ago, a friend sent me a copy of Milton and Rose Friedman's book Free to Choose, which alluded to, but did not include, his essay "I, Pencil". The book is the only Friedman text I've ever read, but its impression on me has remained strong all that time.
When I brought his famous pencil up in a discussion from last October, Sheila left the link to the above video with this comment: "I got annoyed when it implied that we'd never be able to write a single word without the free market. HELLO? Quill pens on calfskin? Charcoal on birchbark? Chalk on a slate--two common ROCKS which require no artistry to use at all? Stick in the dirt? Come on, pencils are nice, but there are many writing utensils people can, and have, and do make all by themselves." Well, if you put it that way . . .
I have the entertaining habit of finding a dare in everything Sheila says, but my first answer to the question of how I would keep writing if I had to drop off the grid and use nothing but basic tools and raw materials was: "Use my own blood for ink." =P Well, it turns out that there are even more "recipes" for DIY ink than DIY haircare products, and that quills are embarrassingly easy to improvise. If I ever feel the need to rebel against either the office supplies industry or the free market, I'll just need to find some brightly coloured plants and a generous goose, and I'll be all set!
Luxury Advertising in China (Untitled Video)
This is the longest video of all, but it's the most interesting one on the list, if you like marketing. (And I do.) I found it on the Partial Objects blog, in the fascinating post Luxury Advertising Banned in China? Then Redefine Luxury as High Art.
To be clear, anyone can make a timepiece. I made my first (very crude) sundial before my age hit the double digits. And my favourite episode of the 90s educational cartoon Cro was the one in which the main character improvised all sorts of timers using sand, water and other really basic stuff. All of these have advantages which the most finely crafted watch does not, but my favourite is that which is offered by the sundial--a tool I've been impressed with ever since I read an essay explaining why it is a better invention than Daylight Savings Time. I would love to organise my life around actual daylight hours.
But now is the time to admit that we have made some reasonable tradeoffs. If we had stuck to sundials instead of switching to clocks (There's a Sliders FF in that premise!), we wouldn't have a lot of things which depend on measurement by the minute or by the hour--units of time which remain uniform no matter where the earth is in its orbit around the sun. Take radio serials and TV shows . . . reliable and regular long-distance transportation . . . video conference calls with loved ones on other continents . . . and more things than I will be able to think of if you gave me eight hours on the sundial in midsummer.
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To sum up, I like the creativity that comes from learning by doing, but I also enjoy the fruits of other people's learning by doing. And though this may shock some, I don't always want "to stick it to The Man." =P My "no poo" project is a pleasure in and of itself; the greater political implications are peripheral. But while I'm writing a whole post about the latter . . .
There is much to say about resisting assimilation by the Borg. It is so easy these days to adopt a lifestyle in which everything is easy because everything is done for us, and all we really have to do is to consume. Letting someone else do your thinking and make your decisions isn't real freedom, however much choosing you do among pre-selected alternatives. I don't think we should try to reinvent all wheels for ourselves, but I'm starting to wonder whether anyone can call himself capable and educated if he has no idea how, in a pinch, to improvise a wheel-like tool for a basic activity he does every day.