I'm slowly making my way through Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's new book (he's the author of The Black Swan, which has nothing to do with kinky ballet).
Taleb's highly opinionated quasi-libertarian in-your-face writing style can be irritating at times, but in general I agree with most of his core theses, including: natural is more robust than artificial; stress is desirable when it strengthens us; things that last do so for good reasons.
A few days ago I came across Taleb's attitude toward shoes, which almost exactly mirrors mine. I've become a big fan of lightweight, barely-there shoes and sandals.
In this post from late 2011 I shared a photo of my favorite shoes at that time, Teva's Zilch and Nilch, saying:
Most people like to be insulated from reality. After all, it hurts sometimes. So everybody puts on physical and mental coverings of one sort or another. Clothes, shoes, gloves, beliefs, hopes, imaginings. I used to do this much more than I do now.
...Currently these are my favorite shoes, Teva's Zilch and Nilch. I Zilch in warm weather; I Nilch in cold weather (with wool blend socks). They're wonderfully light: 7 and 7.5 ounces per shoe, respectively. By comparison, a pair of Columbia shoes I'd been wearing weigh 14 ounces per shoe.
So I've reduced by half the weight of what I carry around on my feet most days.
...Along with lightness, I love how these shoes connect me with the earth in ways firmer, bigger, bulkier shoes can't. Walking across some rocks, like those in the photo, I really feel them through the soles.
So naturally I thought right on when I read Taleb's take on minimalist shoes.
Tonight I will be meeting friends in a restaurant (tavernas have existed for at least 25 centuries). I will be walking there wearing shoes hardly different from those worn 5,300 years ago by the mummified man discovered in a glacier in the Austrian Alps.
...Technology is at its best when it is invisible. I am convinced that technology is of greatest benefit when it displaces the deleterious, unnatural, alienating, and, most of all, inherently fragile preceding technology.
Recall my walk to the restaurant wearing shoes not too dissimilar to those worn by the ancient, preclassical person found in the Alps. The shoe industry, after spending decades “engineering” the perfect walking and running shoe, with all manner of “support” mechanisms and material for cushioning, is now selling us shoes that replicate being barefoot — they want to be so unobtrusive that their only claimed function is to protect our feet from the elements, not to dictate how we walk as the more modernistic mission was.
In a way they are selling us the calloused feet of a hunter-gatherer that we can put on, use, and then remove upon returning to civilization. It is quite exhilarating to wear these shoes when walking in nature as one wakes up to a new dimension while feeling the three dimensions of the terrain.
Regular shoes feel like casts that separate us from the environment. And they don’t have to be inelegant: the technology is in the sole, not the shoe, as the new soles can be both robust and very thin, thus allowing the foot to hug the ground as if one were barefoot — my best discovery is an Italian-looking moccasin made in Brazil that allows me to both run on stones and go to dinner in restaurants.
Then again, perhaps they should just sell us reinforced waterproof socks (in effect, what the Alpine fellow had), but it would not be very profitable for these firms.
Well, I have bought some waterproof socks, SealSkinz, feeling that these would allow me to wear sandals all year long here in often rainy-and-cold Oregon. However, I haven't used them much.
Mostly because my current minimalist shoe passion is the Teva Mush Frio Lace Canvas.
I have five pairs in different colors, including a nearly waterproof variant. The Must Frio is very lightweight, flexible, and comfortable. Amazingly, the Mush Frio weights only 6.5 ounces, less than the Zilch sandal shown at the beginning of this post.
I wear them year-round. They're stylish enough to wear in a nice restaurant (hey, I'm in Oregon) yet causal enough to look cool anywhere.
Most importantly, they feel natural to me. I hardly ever wear any other shoes, because I can't stand the heaviness and isolation from the surface I'm walking on. I used to put on rubber garden shoes to walk up our driveway and get the newspapers in the morning.
Now, I slip on my Teva Mush's, black, blue, and yellow version, as shown above. Big difference. The rubber shoes felt clunky, heavy, and artificial. The Mush's, flexible, light, and as natural as humanmade shoes can be.
With medium weight quarter-length wool socks, I've been totally comfortable wearing my minimalist shoes in sub-freezing weather. Seeing how many people wear shoes that strike me as hugely excessive -- heavy, clunky, uncomfortable -- I wish they would consider going a more natural footwear route.
It's made my walking around life a lot more pleasant. Go minimalist. I bet you'll like it.