I think that, within the barefooting community, we are all aware of the term “shoddie”. There are some who don’t like it, saying that it can be insulting to habitual shoe-wearers, but I do use it, and I think it aptly describes what’s going on.
I thought I’d start by tossing out a few definitions.
adjective, shod·di·er, shod·di·est.
1. of poor quality or inferior workmanship: a shoddy bookcase.
2. intentionally rude or inconsiderate: shoddy behavior.
adjective, shod·di·er, shod·di·est.
1. having the belief that the default state of humans is, or should
be, shod: shoddie thinking.
noun, plural shod·dies.
2. a person having that belief.
3. a person who exhibits shoddy behavior while denigrating going
Shoddie thinking doesn’t have to mean shoddy thinking. It is just that having the idea of shoe-wearing so ingrained in so many people that assumptions are made that not only don’t make sense, but those assumptions lead to other things that don’t make sense.
People cannot go through life questioning each and every assumption they make about everything (there’s not enough time), so they have to take shortcuts. And that applies to shoes, too.
On the other hand, shoddie thinking often really does include shoddy thinking. When barefooters point out how an assumption (or a derived conclusion) doesn’t make sense, instead of examining what they think, they automatically double-down.
Or, often, the experts have been taught something (e.g., the foot needs support) that really isn’t true, and the falsity of that just never comes up and remains unexamined.
I was reminded of just how much the shod assumption takes hold when I read a discussion of the International Space Station. Take a look at their typical conditions.
You always (almost) see them wearing socks in space.
How would things be different if, in our culture, the default on the ground was not to wear shoes, but to go barefoot. The solutions to being in space would automatically take a different form. But because the NASA design engineers are shoddies (and no way would I accuse them of being shoddy), the solutions they’ve come up in response to a shod world look, well, shoddie.
First of all, if they came from a world that normally went barefoot, you wouldn’t hear them say that the socks help keep their feet warm. That’s a shirt-sleeve environment.
Feet are like hands—if you don’t need gloves, you don’t need socks. However, if you keep your feet covered all the time, they don’t have the opportunity to adjust, and then you get a lot of people who easily get cold feet.
But we hear the major reason for the socks in this video from astronaut Chris Hadfield.
After about 2 months up, the bottoms of our feet tend to get really soft. But the tops of our feet start to get rough and super-sensitive. Why?
It’s because we don’t walk on the soles of our feet, and instead, the tops of our feet are used to hook around doorways and handrails and hold me up right now to keep me from bumping into things.
Now, in a world in which bare feet were the default, I’m sure they’d come up with a different solution than socks.
One of the problems with being in space for a long time is that our bones weaken from lack of stress (weight) on them. This is a big problem, so they try to solve it, with special exercise machines, like the COLBERT. You don’t want people coming back from the ISS crippled.
In a barefooting culture, if folks came back with soft soles, they’d be crippled too. So in a non-shod world, they’d have some sort of module (a gravel treadmill or kneader?) to exercise the soles, too. I bet they’d have one up there.
But the thing I really notice is that their hand and foot rails are designed by, well, shoddies. No wonder why they have problems with the tops of their feet?
How might we design them if shoes were not the default? How might we design them if everybody mostly went around barefoot? How might we design them if wearing socks felt really odd to everybody (as it does to barefooters) and they felt it important to keep their feet bare?
So I spent some time thinking about it.
I think the first thing a barefooter designed would do is pad the rails. They’d be coated with a (fairly thin) layer of foam. In the picture above you can see they hand added some huge duct tape pad, but in a barefooters world, the whole rail would have padding.
That would serve the same purpose as the socks, but without immobilizing the toes. (And in a barefooters world, people would still use their toes.)
And speaking of toes, barefooter designers would design the rails to use them. Why can’t they use the toes to grip?
Here’s a design change that would take advantage of that. (Note, I put this together quickly with materials available at foot, er, I mean at hand, so it is crude. Obviously, sizes, shapes, and materials in a production mode would be different.)
All you need is a little (extra-padded) knob that you can put between your big toe and the others. That keeps you in place and allows you to use your toes to grab on.
The new design would also have a thinner rail. With a thinner rail, you can start using your toes to wrap around it.
(Note that the rail in my picture is still probably not thin enough. But they can be pretty thin, since they are not weight-bearing.)
If toes are available, they can even be used to get a sort of a grip. In this picture, you can see using the smaller toes to grip while the big toe provides a counter.
Heck, if the rail is thin enough, you can even grab it between your toes.
Won’t the space between the toes get sore after a while? Well, don’t forget that the rail would be padded.
But there would be something else going on. When you have socks on, there one, and only one, way to attach yourself to the rail. With the tops of your toes. When that goes bad, you’re sunk.
But when the rails are designed from a barefooter’s perspective, there are multiple ways you can hold on. If one way gets tiring, you switch to another. But, also, since the different ways are all getting used, any one of them is not likely to be overstressed in the first place.
It’s actually rather similar to shoe-wearing. When wearing a shoe, there’s really only one way to put down your foot and put weight on it. The shoe restrains the foot and forces the foot into one configuration. But when you are barefoot, you can put your foot down in a myriad of ways, and you can easily shift weight from side to side or to a different part of the foot. (Shoddies probably don’t even know the experience.)
So, in the end, a lot of our designs and assumptions are driven by our shoddie world. Some of it is even shoddy.
But going barefoot regularly not only frees up our feet to explore new worlds, it could also free up our minds to examine and solve problems in a whole different fashion.