Why Swimming Pools Should Take A Relaxed And Tolerant Attitude To Nude Swimming In ‘Adults-Only’ Sessions

swimming_naked
My body not as hot as this lady’s – but we need to assert to right for fat sods like me too

I have taken to nude swimming in my local leisure centre and think that others, if they want to, shouldn’t be shy.  It creates a sense of freedom both bodily and mentally, and is an exhilarating experience.  Writing in the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts, who has a private pool, said, “There’s no greater joy than skinny dipping.”

 

There is no law in the lands of England of Wales that prohibit public nudity, although one can experience harassment from ignorant authorities who are unaware the law acknowledges that the human body, in and of itself, is not indecent or obscene, and they might try to ‘ASBO’ you, though it rarely stands up in court.  But when ‘the naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough travelled to Scotland to pursue his chosen lifestyle, he ended up spending 10 years in jail.  So too in Northern Ireland, where the winning of peace hasn’t meant the winning of liberty, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has threatened skinny dippers with 2 years in jail.

 

At least however, the PSNI use the argument that “children might be present.”  This is a valid argument not because children have inalienable natural rights never to see an adult nude, but because their parents may not wish it.  Parents who wish to steer their child in a certain direction – e.g. away from nudity – should be respected for their will and others should be sensitive to this aspect of parental autonomy.  But this blog is about challenging a climate of fear – not necessarily a legal enforcement, but a moralistic one – that prohibits the free expression of nudity in a situation where no child is allowed to be present, i.e. swimming sessions that are billed as ‘adults only.’

 

With butterflies in my stomach to the verge of feeling sick, the first time I tried this, I slipped my trunks off on the 32nd of 40 lengths and placed them under my towel by the side whilst still being in the water.  I swam the remaining 8 lengths totally naked.  I was highly nervous because of the social climate of repression nowadays, but perhaps I need not have been.  The pool’s policy has no section about nudity, no-one complained, although I did receive a look of disdain from a lifeguard accompanied by a knowing smile.  The truth is there was little they could do about it in an ‘adults-only’ session where everyone there has previously seen a naked body.  Furthermore, just doing breast stroke, only my buttocks could have been visibly exposed, and even then, only to the lifeguard sitting up high, not to the other swimmers whose eye level isn’t much higher than the water level.  Nevertheless, I was breaching a serious modern taboo, and for everyone to experience liberation which is just as much bodily as mental, the assumptions need to be questioned.

 

Firstly, it is not about sex.  Public masturbation can rightfully get you 14 days in jail in England because that really is an obscene act to present to others.  But simply being nude in a public place can just be seen as an act of free expression without the intention to shock or offend.  If you think the sight of a naked human body is inherently offensive, indecent, or obscene, then you might as well accept an alien invasion that would ban us for it.  To see things in this way, you are saying human beings should find the human body offensive, indecent, or obscene, a notion that expresses the height of alienation and repression.  It is also clearly not about sex because it is very difficult for a man to get an erection in chlorinated water and similarly for women: vaginal lubrication decreases in these circumstances.

 

Secondly, it is also not abnormal to desire the freedom to swim nude.  For most of history, including most of the 20th century, it was the norm, although sadly mostly only for men, not both sexes.  Swimming pools up to the 1970s often demanded it because swim-suit material was often woollen and unhygienic – threats to the pool itself.  But as clothing tech progressed, the arguments over hygiene and security of the pool waned.  What was left was a pretty paltry notion that ‘swimming nude is character building.’  The notion here was that the heavily militarised society required this as a kind of ‘team-building’ exercise right from the Army down to the Boy Scouts: kinship and bondsman ship was to be served by swimming nude together.  If only ‘character-building’ had meant ‘expressing freedom,’ ‘right to enjoy life,’ ‘to combat repression,’ then we might be in a better situation today.  Furthermore, even in Western countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada, nude swimming is acceptable if not obligatory.  So, the current situation of fear in England is certainly not ‘natural.’

 

Adults should be able to swim nude in adults-only sessions at a local swimming pool rather than have to face cold dirty rivers, lakes, or seas, as an article in The Guardian compromised.  If we have social tolerance over this issue, we will find that many other liberties and the dignity of mankind, partly based on the dignity of the human body, will fall into place.

 

Thirdly, it is worth stressing that contemporary taboos over public nudity co-exist with increasingly sexualised TV and internet porn.  This can mislead people into thinking we are freer today.  But observing something through the remoteness of an electronic medium is far from experiencing it in actual life.  The two trends – sexual TV in for example, ‘The Game of Thrones’, can co-exist with an increasing repression in society.  It is the latter trend that really is harmful to people.  If you consider the exponential rise of eating disorders and general dissatisfaction with one’s own body, you will see that modern body-shaming which is intensely expressed in the taboo over swimming nude has a lot to answer for causing real harm to individuals.

 

Finally, there may be a broadside against my position from a minority of some feminists.  They might say “we just don’t want to see men’s wibbly bits.”  However, we don’t normally expect to go through life not seeing things we might not like, be it homelessness or an immigration-enforcement riot van.  Moreover, the struggle against alienation ought to involve women just as much as men, if not more so, given their historically higher level of repression.  Women have fought tooth and nail to dress how they want without certain stereotype-ideas being applied by men, including the infamous ‘burning the bra’ protests.  This battle persists to this day.  An Ontario woman recently won the right to bare breasts in a swimming pool – Canadian law was already lax, but there were attempts to upset it.  Men and women should be able to admire each other’s bodies without that ever being necessarily a sexual thing, as it isn’t usually in a swimming pool, as discussed earlier.  Men or women who lack clothing in a swimming pool are not ‘asking for it’ just as much as a woman who dresses provocatively in the town isn’t ‘asking for it’ – that pathetic apology went out in the ‘80’s.  It is about human beauty and freedom, rather than a sexual fetish.  The real existent fetishes are on TV and on the internet, and perhaps to undermine those things, we need naked-equality in circumstances where no child is present.

 

Addendum: the empire strikes back 😦 Tonight after doing 16 lengths in the buff in an ‘adults-only’ session, an angry female pool manager came out and said “We don’t allow naked swimming”. As far as I am aware none of the other pool users had complained – she’d probably spotted it on the CCTV as the lifeguard didn’t give much of a shit either. I said, “I wasn’t aware there was a policy – I’ve checked the internet.” She said “All the councils have agreed on this – NO NAKED SWIMMING!” I was about to say, “Isn’t that a bit Kafka-esque to not even tell us the policy exists and rely on social taboo for enforcement?” but I thought I’d better cool things down rather than be barred from my local pool. So I said, “Oh sorry – I’ve lived in Germany the past 2 years where it’s perfectly normal. OK, I won’t do it again, it’s not a problem.”

There we go, another little avenue of pleasure closes down. But the war has just begun.

Capitalism and The Borg

seven of nine
Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine: Being liberated from the Collective corresponds to making a theoretical break with the priorities of bourgeois society such that she can now explore her humanity

Star Trek’s ‘The Borg’ are a good metaphor for understanding some fundamental aspects of social relations under capitalism.  This does not mean people are like drones, quite the reverse.  Breakdowns in the metaphor occur because our limited existences created by the capitalist mode of production are distortions upon human nature rather than its total annulment.  And people’s massive discomfort with this state of affairs means they seek liberation from the Borg Collective which doesn’t happen with the Trek drones unless they are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind.  In reading this blog, you are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind (chiefly the opinion of authorities), and I will set out arguments through which you may come to achieve full humanity.

The Borg expand through assimilating humanoid life-forms in the galaxy and beyond, rather like the expansion of the world market gobbling everything up.  In the assimilation process, your individuality is crushed and you are made to serve the Collective (society).  The Borg are incredibly successful because they are efficient and constantly perfecting technology to further their programme of expanse.  What the Borg fail to assimilate, they physically destroy.  The Borg represent the ideal dream of how capitalism attempts to remould society, yet the ways in which the Borg are successful come at a terrible cost: the crushing of individuality and the end of the liberty of the individual.

In contrast, the humans in Star Trek are free, their internal conflicts are resolved usually through discussion rather than force.  The Borg on the other hand suffer no internal conflict, they are already ‘as one.’  But how do the humans in Trek become free?  Why do they volunteer to do things rather than nothing at all?  Because labour has become life’s prime want.

Under capitalism, labour is coerced out of the individual, disguised as a ‘free exchange.’  Yet the worker quickly comes to understand the selling of their labour power was anything but free.  They had nothing else to sell, nothing else to live from.  In work, there is an obsession with ‘increasing productivity,’ work is experienced as uncreative doldrums, it is unrewarding, undertaken under tight supervision (including by CCTV), the products of labour are owned by someone else (the capitalist), there are poor bonds with other workers, and there is no rational set of ideas why we are all doing this in the first place.  Work is reduced to the means to the end of survival in a dog-eat-dog world.  It is not something desired by the individual, no-one goes to work looking forward to it and with a whistle in their heart.

Labour becomes life’s prime want by removing all these inhibitions to its unleashing.  We shouldn’t have to ‘sell’ our capacity to work – means of production should be free to utilise by all.  The obsession with being ‘productive’ needs to be cancelled out – how productive you are ought to depend on your own will.  Rather than production seemingly for production’s own sake, the worker now chooses when and what to produce according to personal will, hence it becomes creative and rewarding, and there is no-one to take the product from you without your consent (e.g. as a part of consciously determined human relations).  There is no supervision, except perhaps in an advisory capacity.  The free worker now enjoys good quality bonds with his fellows, giving rise to coherent ideas why we do what we do.

With labour now as life’s prime want, capitalist society now looks shameful and embarrassing.  It was Borg-like because it prioritised efficiency and productivity over individual liberty and choice.  What’s worse the fake left-wing politicians of capitalist society must now feel incredibly embarrassed – all they did was to take capitalist slogans and suggest their programmes could do it better, as opposed to operating on the terrain of critique, thus developing a superior notion of human moral value.

Capitalism is Borg-like, but the individual worker even under this system is never quite like a drone.  Rather in a society where all sides have accepted ‘there is no alternative to the Borg,’ the individual worker’s aspirations become expressed through religious or fetishistic forms.  Thus 75% of Americans are still religious in the 21st century.  25% are also on some form of psychiatric medication or another.  These aspects are not the main problem, they are symptoms of the problem, like flowers growing on the chains.  They would be superseded with genuine humanised spirituality and a deeper sense of our social interconnections after we take action to remove the chains.  By contrast, the Borg regarded in this way are a poor metaphor for the human condition under capitalism because they have no delusions.  Ironically it seems it is the capacity to be delusional that is a big thing currently separating us from a race of advanced machines.  It is better to be a human with delusions than a robot without them.  Furthermore, unlike the Borg, we have strong interpersonal contacts such as a family life and enriching down-time.  It is only when considered in the sphere of work which takes up most of our waking lives that the human condition under capitalism can be considered Borg-like.  So, let’s widen the distinction between humanity and the Borg further in the interests of full liberation by changing the way we work.  We shouldn’t have to live as a poor advertisement of ourselves.