All Natural: I Just Gotta Be Me

By Daniel van Voorhis

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As we become more synthetic, mechanical and homogenized, the cry of “all natural” is raised by the peddlers at grocery stores with “organic” food sections selling everything from chemical free cleaning and grooming products. The new enemies of all things natural are GMO’s, prepackaged foods, and food from an animal without the proper square footage to dwell before slaughter.

In style and manners we often hear the advice to “act natural” (often heard as “be yourself”). In a world increasingly dominated by virtual reality, technology and false pretenses, a “return to nature” might seem like the right antidote.

But when did “nature” become synonymous with authentic, serene, and healthy? Maybe it was the 19th century romantics or transcendentalists. Maybe it’s a predictable response to a sterilized and “modern” world of stainless steel appliances, electronic devices, and an increasingly statistically driven world.

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When I think of nature, my mind races to natural disasters and famine. I think of Lord Tennyson’s description of nature as “red in tooth and claw” and to Thomas Hobbes’ dictum that the nature of society is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

On the podcast we’ve discussed the philosophical and historical ideas of the “state of nature”, but as the Man About Town, I am thinking about the desire to be “natural” in response to an interesting string of criticism regarding my article on the hipster.

I received comments that it was a synthetic and unhelpful distinction of a group of people. I heard that these people (who may or may not be homogenous) are contrived and inauthentic (the desire to be “authentic” is a well meaning notion that I have NO IDEA what to do with).

People gladly tell me that my predilection for neckties and wingtips is stifling and old fashioned. What’s wrong with t-shirts and jeans?  Why can’t I just be comfortable? I am asked these questions and others with the common theme reminiscent of the Sammy Davis Jr. line of “I Gotta Be Me”. Please understand my love of utilitarian clothes, beachwear, and clothes for lounging.  But for everything there is a season and location. Learn the generally accepted rules, and please break them at will. I am simply a guide to what is modern, classic, and increasingly accepted by a generation rebelling against (some of) the Baby Boomers who place 1968 at the beginning of an “authentic” world.

But is there a natural aesthetic devoid of any conformity and commercialism? Can we avoid all distinctions and labels and just see the world one precious individual at a time? Should we eliminate all judgments and categories? Should societal norms and generally accepted manners that don’t feel “natural” be relaxed to make life more comfortable? I’m hopeful that those who are calling for some kind of “authentic” and natural lifestyle can develop an aesthetic and general worldview. But then we might label it. The youngsters might rebel against the corporatization of the “natural” and the wheel will keep spinning.

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Ultimately, man versus nature and the battle between the conformists and non-conformists will continue as long as we use technology beyond the wheel, and before we dress in the uniform utilitarian jump suits of Gene Roddenberry’s space age universe. In the meantime, I’ll continue to conform to the unnatural world of manners, antibiotics, and dyed cotton and silk body coverings. After all, I just gotta be me.

All the Best,

The Man About Town

Written while listening to Belle and Sebastian The BBC Sessions (2008)

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