In Defense of Conditioned Air
One of the splendors of modernity, indeed a fixation from which we Millennials can’t seem to escape, is our ability to deprecate those things by which we’re most advantaged. Gratitude, unfortunately, has been gravely devalued in the minds of those of our age. Its diminution amongst an otherwise prosperous demographic (which, inarguably, we Millennials are; few generations prior to ours have had things so good, yet thought them so ill) remains a common and an imperishable theme. It’s one that seems only to heighten as we move toward this second decade of this second millennium after the ever so grateful and graceful Jesus Christ.
For the moment, our generation’s ingratitude has turned itself upon conditioned air—an apparently monstrous device that’s equal parts cold breath and harmful bane. A recent article that appeared in the New York Times—at the height of summer and on the eve of our nation’s Independence, no less—provocatively posed the question if it wasn’t yet time to re-think our attachment to air conditioning. Do Americans, the cleverly-wrought piece inquired, truly need air-conditioning? In a word, we do, but the very consideration of the question was enough to ignite the web. At least for the duration of a laggardly July day, discussions about the merits and detriments of conditioned air (and the sexual, hierarchical power struggles in which co-workers are engaged to control the thermostat) abounded every which way.
When first this question impressed itself upon me, my mind jumped to the brilliant father of all technophobes worthy of the name, the misanthropic and philosophic Jean-Jacques Rousseau. An eloquent Luddite in all but name (the movement began in England not long after the Frenchman’s death), Rousseau was very staunchly against the imposition of technological advancements made conveniently possible by science and the arts. Indeed, it was to this relatively unpopular and, as he might’ve expected, generally invidious position that he aligned himself when he submitted to the Academy of Dijon his first essay on the subject. Victory favoring controversy, Rousseau was awarded the Academy’s first prize.
It wasn’t his first essay, but rather his subsequent submission the Academy of Dijon that reminded me of the opinions that many of us hold in relation to air-conditioning today. In his exaltation of the bygone insouciance and liberty of primitive man, Rousseau, in his Discourse on Inequality, says the following:
“Nakedness…the want of houses, and of all these unnecessaries, which we consider as so very necessary, are not such mighty evils in respect to these primitive men, and much less still any obstacle to their preservation. Their skins, it is true, are destitute of hair, but then they have no occasion for any such covering in warm climates; and in cold climates they soon learn to apply to that use those of the animals they have conquered”.
The modern objection to conditioned air, written in Rousseauian terms, is clearly stated above. We’d do better, so says it, if we were to adjust ourselves to the climate in which we live, rather than to manipulate our climate all the better to suit us.
From the state of nature to the state of work, I then began to consider my own experience with conditioned air (specifically as it pertains to the workplace) where its raising or lowering rests tantalizingly beyond my control. I was also made to think of the sexes, for how could one neglect to do so in this or in any case? I considered the obvious, though not always generalizable disparities between their preferences for hot or cold.
The male colleagues around whom I work almost unanimously prefer the temperature in the office to be kept lower. Indeed, I think I’m the sole exception to that masculine unanimity when it comes to the frigidity of the room. Unlike me, however, they’re more generously disposed toward adipose—if I’m to put the physical gifts and girths by which they’re blessed in so harmless a manner of speech. The result of a fair bit of exertion on my own part, and certainly no lack of narcissism of which I’ll here shamelessly admit, I’ve maintained a physique that’s quite trim, and quite opposite of theirs.
But, having spent those long hours in the gym and those many minutes of the day abstemious of food, I’m not much benefitted when the thermostat embarks upon its daily descent. Those other guys, those beneficiaries of a slight excess of flesh, have an easier and warmer go at it—that much is for sure. I’m jealous, if only for this concealed moment away from the eye of the sun, of their superfluous storage of skin. I envy their impressive midsections; their spacious abdomens of which lipids play no small part. It provides for them a kind of human insulation through which the air conditioner, no matter its strength, has little hope of moving. While looking pregnant, their bodies have made themselves essentially impregnable to the blowing of the cold.
On the other hand, the female colleagues around whom I work overwhelmingly (and often quite vociferously) prefer the temperature to be kept at a higher level. In their thinking, seventy degrees is an impediment to work, sixty-eight an occupational hazard, and anything that dares to drop much further below that low threshold might as well be an invitation to unionization. If sufficiently cold, it might even lead to revolution or strike. Seventy-two, on the contrary, is merely acceptable while seventy-five, I’ve discovered, is the temperature of feminine bliss. That, for whatever reason, seems to me the temperature at which most women thrive.
Though no office environment would suffer so sweaty a degree, it’s a temperature toward which the workaday woman might strive. And so, continually outfitted with long sleeves and small jackets, the baring of arms is seldom a right to which the women in the office-world becomes privy. Hot tea, hot coffee, hot soup—these are the scalding broths and beverages by which she must be nourished from morning till noon and from goosebumps to hypothermia. That is, of course, if she has any hope of making it through the duration of another artificially cold summer day.
I too am made to trouble myself with the length of my sleeves and the heat of my drinks. Ultimately, in this occupational battle of the sexes between which so many degrees—surely more than we can measure or count—exist, I find myself landing among the ranks of the women. Always redoubtable and viciously subtle, this usually is the winning side on which one should hope to be. Indeed, theirs is a position, a veneration of warmth and a detestation of the baneful A.C., with which I’m fully aligned.
You might conceive of me as an epicene of an employee—talking sports with the boys but shivering (when not gossiping) with the ladies. The characterization wouldn’t be wrong (for it’s my own!), but it’s intention is to show that the woman’s plight is one with which I empathize rather intimately.
But, with all of that having been said and with my preference to perspiration as opposed to chattering and chilly teeth having been made clear, I must end this article as I failed to begin it; a staunch advocate of conditioned air. For all the discomfort of a summer afternoon’s chill, there’s perhaps nothing less salubrious than the prospect of laboring all day in an unconditioned room—one upon which the sweltering heat of the summer’s day can be imposed without resistance and without a fight. This is especially true for a resident whose proximity to the country’s southernmost point is distressingly near. Playing the role of said sweaty resident, I live and work in a town beneath which there’s little else but Everglades and ocean. The thought of an environment sans conditioned air is not only inconceivable, it’s incompatible with any reasonable thought of modern life.
To conclude, I say, permit the thermostat its precipitous drop. Allow the air conditioning its unchallenged reign. Acknowledge the technology, suffer its supremacy (reflect upon the potential disaster of its absence), and kneel before the vent that breathes you into life. As for the lamentation of the sun-worshippers in the office, I’ll hear none of their cries. Their heliolatry can turn to elegy, but not even the salt of their mournful words will thaw my icicle ears. Without contempt for the technology by which we’re so immensely advantaged in this climate-changing, climate-controlled age, I’ll quietly lengthen my sleeves and sip my tea.
With all humility, I’ll bury my dreams of eight-hours’ worth of warmth. I’ll shiver in silence and endure with endurance the cold that we’d do well not to combat. At lunch, I’ll exit the intolerably chilly building in order to bask in the sun, only to hasten back to its wintry embrace thirty minutes and two sweaty armpits hence. Forehead bedewed with an accumulation of droplets of sweat, whose intention, I’m sure, is to make a rivulet and then a stream, I’ll gladly step back into a world of conditioned air.