Day 17: The Weather
I know you’re thinking, wow, Adriel’s run out of things to say in her 31-day blogging challenge and now we’re going to talk about the weather. Stay with me. I am going to talk about the weather, but not because I’ve run out of things to say. It actually turns out that I have become someone for whom weather is an interesting topic of conversation. You know that famous line from My Fair Lady when Mrs. Higgins tells Henry, “I suggest you stick to two topics, the weather and your health,” because Henry seems to be unable of speaking without offending Eliza. That’s the thing about talking about the weather, no one could be offended by it. Talking about the weather really seems to be talking about nothing at all.
For five years, I lived in a very warm place. We joked that there was the warm season and the windy season. The windy season was also warm. I trained myself to run outside in 95 degree weather. The wind was a relief. We talked about the weather a lot. It was remarkable. And the extremes affected the way we lived. We made decisions in light of the weather. What time of day to run, whether to stay in, that sort of thing.
Aristotle maintains in Politics VII.7 that cold weather makes one spirited but not intelligent, warm weather makes one intelligent, but lacking in spirt, and moderate temperatures makes people both spirited and intelligent, thus explaining why the Greeks were so special. (I always like to take the opportunity to point out that Aristotle thought the Europeans lacked intelligence.) That kind of thinking is dangerous, and we see it in the prejudices against the peoples from warm regions. But we do seem to share this collective sense that weather can affect our mood and even our personality. Consider seasonal affective disorder. And those reserved Minnesotans. It turns out that research doesn’t really bear up the notion that weather affects our mood — studies are conflicting and inconclusive.
Yet still, the weather. It’s something I think about. We are not supposed to think that the weather matters. That’s why we can speak about it polite conversation but not the things that do matter, religion and politics and so forth. This disregard for the significance of weather seems to follow from a sense that the natural world need have no effect on our day-to-day existence. Sure snow might shut down school, but we would all like to be able to find bigger and more efficient machines to make it possible for all things to continue regardless of the weather. At first glimpse, this looks like a rejection of materialism–the material circumstances will not influence our way of being in the world. That’s what I think Aristotle is pointing to–that the material circumstances need to be accounted for in our efforts to have flourishing communities. Hobbes maintained that only that human beings can only have control over that which we have made. So if you want to have control over your world, you need to make your world. The intervention of nature into that world would appear to be a leak in the world that humans have made. A leak that needs to be plugged up. Such a view supposes that the work of human making needs to be set against nature instead of in concert with nature. The view that nature is something we must oppose and overcome is a view accompanied by a long history of injustices against those whose lives seemed more affected by nature, women, workers, people from warm places, people from cold places. Such a view of nature is also what allows us to feel like it is civilization when we are destroying the earth.
I prefer to talk about the weather. And to think the weather matters.
This morning I woke up and there was snow on the ground.