Yesterday, a bunch of bodies showed up at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina (or so I’m told–I stayed away from downtown). In such a technologically-advanced age, it almost seems silly to waste one’s time dragging a bag of bones to a particular plot of land and planting it there (that is, attending a protest).
Before the flag came down, there were plenty of protests on those grounds, thousands of people gathering to use their bodies to show those in power what the people wanted. Millions in our country have engaged in protests over the last year for all kinds of minority rights–it’s been a big year (can you believe Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson still hasn’t reached the one-year mark?). Clearly, we believe that there’s something significant about our bodies; that when we show up, we say something louder than words.
If it was just about words–action purely oriented toward outcomes, we could stay locked up in our houses behind our computers. We’d focus completely on creating hashtags and social media campaigns–much more orderly events whose participants are easier to enumerate for interested law-making parties who might need to listen to their constituents. So, if using social media is not only easier for the masses, but also potent in effecting policy change, why do people still use their bodies by showing up?
We show up because we know down on the deepest level that our physical flesh matters. We aren’t just brains that happen to inhabit flesh, we aren’t just spirits who are trapped in animal bodies for a little while–our physical bodies are who we are. So when we take ourselves and plant our bodies on a patch of land (like, in front of the Statehouse), we’re making more than a collective political statement, we’re making a statement about what we understand our own selves to be.
In the age of birth control and plastic surgery and fad diets, it can be easy to forget that our bodies aren’t just tools to toss about and to rule. As society and science come up with more ways to control our physical bodies, we forget that our bodies have a claim on us–our bodies even comprise who each of us are, we bear determinations in our flesh and bones. There are limiting factors to these physical bodies of ours, rules (one might say) that we must adapt or work around. Physical bodies are made to need sleep; we’re evermore learning how important rest is for our flesh and bones and various systems. Our bodies have bones and muscles that resist movement in certain directions (unless something’s gone amiss)–our knees are only made to hinge, not twist (ouch!). Though humanity has accomplished amazing, limit-stretching things, we know that there are good rules put in place by whoever or whatever (God, evolution, chaos) to aid our flourishing. Exhaustion is used as torture, broken knees need surgery or full replacement.
A lot of our questions in society today are about the things for which our bodies are meant. Are our bodies meant to determine our gender (a la Caitlyn Jenner)? Are our physical bodies meant to determine how or whether we procreate–and therefore, do these bodies have a say in our relationships? How much do we cede to our bodies, and how much do we apply science and society to them? Society keeps us from walking around naked in 90-degree weather–the wisdom of which I’ve been questioning without AC the last weeks. Science created a medication that has stopped the degeneration of my joints through arthritis for 15 years–without this advance, I’d have been bedridden for more than a decade (and dead not long from now, probably).
We know our bodies matter–we keep showing them up to protests, we keep hugging people with them, we spend much time and money washing and clothing and feeding them. Is the body to be subordinated to the intellect’s power (clearly, we don’t think so because we still choose to use them instead of pure mind for the sake of policy change)? What right does the body have to dictate our own existence, the way our intellect more often does? Of course, eventually, our bodies all win the battle, exhaling our last breath, sending us to death. So in the meantime, do we ignore its wisdom, its claim on our lives? How much is the body to be our teacher in who we are created to be?