So, I’ve been reading a lot lately and Carolyn has just been through an emergency appendectomy. Not that the two things are related. I don’t think my reading has brought on Carolyn’s appendix woes, but her woes are real and are making her very uncomfortable and in disEASE. I often read in bed. I’ll go to bed around 9 in the evening or so and read for a couple of hours, if my brain will let me. I sometimes wake up with my head in my book, drooling. It’s 2 in the morning and my reading light is still on. At that point I make the sensible decision to shut the light, put my book away and snuggle into my blankets with the hope of a good sleep. It doesn’t always end up that way, but sometimes it does.
I like my bed. It’s comfortable. It never disappoints me. It’s a steady friend unless the surgery I had 50 years ago on my lower back decides it’s time to mess with me and I toss and turn just hoping to find a position that will allow me to drift off to sleep. Well, if my back co-operates my wrecked rotator cuffs sometimes take up the challenge of keeping me awake. They’re often quite successful. In fact they’re always successful. My arms and hands go numb, tingle and hurt like hell. Damn. That’s when I give up and take a T3 (that’s Tylenol with codeine). Now, I know that’s a narcotic, but, damn it, at least after I take it I get some sleep. Problem is when I wake up in the morning I have the equivalent of a hangover and it takes a while for my arms to respond reasonably to a little movement without making me nauseous. It’s distinctly unpleasant but a T3 eases my pain, dammit! I find it hard to admit that a narcotic can give me comfort, but there you have it. It just does. I have a bigger, tougher, narcotic, hydromorphone that I can always use when I get into dire pain straights. That hasn’t happened in a long time and that’s a good thing because I don’t want to feel stoned all the time. I can’t get anything done when I’m ripped and I thrive on getting things done. Still, I know that if I need them, I have the little white pills. It’s a comfort to know that they will be there to ease my pain if I need them. They never fail me.
So, I think that comfort and ease for me reside in the familiar, the predictable, the physically pleasant sensation of benign homeostasis. I like that. Business has long realized that people seem to seek comfort and ease so we are constantly bombarded with ads trying to sell us products that are designed to make us more comfortable or to make life easier for us. The big luxury car with all the automatic gadgets you can conceive of at our fingertips makes life easier, doesn’t it? The automatic dishwasher, the coffee maker, the vacuum cleaner, the tons of shop tools I have, they’re all designed to make life easier for me and thus bring me more comfort.
We love comfort and ease when we travel too. Some people pay a lot of extra money to fly first class. Well, there are the prestige and showoffy aspects to that, but comfort and ease are a huge draw too. Ah, room to stretch out, lots of leg room, complimentary drinks. Sometimes our travel destination is a tropical island. We long to lay on the beach in comfort baking our bodies to a darker shade of white (depending where you are on the spectrum to start with). We love luxury hotels too because they’re so comfortable and people do everything for us.
So, I hope I’ve sort of established that we love comfort and ease in our lives. The problem is, that comfort and ease are certainly not the only goals to which we aspire. In fact, discomfort and pain can just as easily attract us. We are such fickle beings. Take golf for example. I don’t play the game because I don’t want to endanger people’s lives in the vicinity of the golf course. If I hit a ball, I have no idea where it’s going to go. But why bother in the first place? I would play golf if I were allowed to carry the ball around and drop it into the holes as I walk the course. Perfect score every time! Doesn’t that make much more sense? It would be a lot easier. Well, of course, it doesn’t make more sense. No challenge in that! No chance of experiencing the pain of defeat! But no chance either of being a sub-par hero. So, no, we don’t always seek comfort and ease. If we did, we would never climb mountains nor would we compete in any sport or game. As a species we seem to need a good measure of both comfort and discomfort, ease and unease. Marketing firms are masters at finding under what circumstances we seek comfort or discomfort. Sometimes both values are pitched in a single ad.
Now, my point. It seems like a truism to suggest that homeless people are also drug addicts and lazy slugs. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but just by simple observation it strikes me that most people feel that the poor, but especially the homeless, are hopeless addicts and moral degenerates. I just want to suggest to you that if I were homeless, I would try to find some way to find a reasonable balance between comfort and discomfort, ease and unease. That’s just what we all seem to want. However, because my options as a homeless person would be so limited, the only way I could experience even a few moments of comfort and ease is by getting as stoned as I could. Passing out would be a blessing.
If I were homeless, I’d be wrecked as often and as completely as I could be. Good thing I’m retired with a decent pension. This way I can stay reasonably clear headed although I won’t turn down a good single malt scotch if it’s offered to me. If nothing else it helps with the pain!
Homelessness has deep roots in economic, social and psychological dimensions. However, if we are to do anything about homelessness as some of us are keen to, we have to set up our world to provide people a reasonable shot at achieving a balance between comfort and discomfort without them resorting to consuming excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs to get there. For a homeless person, it’s reasonable and rational to get as drunk or as stoned as possible. It always amazes me that no where near the number of homeless people resort to booze and drugs as some people think. Part of the reason, methinks, is because people create community on the street. There is comfort in community. Community is an antidote to drug and alcohol abuse for the homeless and a piece of the road to balance between comfort and discomfort for the rest of us.
An early 20th Century sociologist made the same argument as I have in this post only using different analogies and a different focus. I’ll write about his work soon in another post.