This article first appeared in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #8
Toilets, at the very least those conceived by Western cultures, are a blindingly stupid idea. Civilization is full of incredibly stupid ideas, actually. But for the purposes of this article, I’ll stick to toilets.
Toilets a bad idea because flushing our sewage is stupid and because the sitting position is a stupid one to be in when you shit.
Toilet were an improvement at the time, don’t get me wrong. We do have to deal with our sewage. Ignoring it is poisonous, and any sedentary community of even a modest population density is going to have to do something with their shit. So yes, moving to toilets was a step in the right direction. But they were a half-revolution.
Squat The Toilets!
I was first introduced to the concept of toilet squatting when I walked in on my friend. We were living in a squatted tenement building, and the toilet in the basement had only a shower curtain to surround it. I opened up the curtain and there she was, feet planted on the toilet seat, squatting to crap. I backed out, apologized, and then asked what she was doing.
It was pretty simple, she explained. When you squat, you go more easily, more quickly, and more completely. She got used to it doing forest defense and never stopped. Made sense, I figured, but I still didn’t try.
Then I started to get hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are little swollen pouches of blood that form when the veins in your ass get out of whack. It’s pretty irritating… they don’t really go away very easily and they hurt like hell if you walk a lot. Being a traveler, it was quite inconvenient.
Anyhow, I stopped through Santa Cruz about a year later and saw a poster about toilet squatting in the bathroom at a forest-punk house. It had a diagram that compared a rectum when squatting and when sitting. From that day forth, not only was I a squatter, but I was a toilet squatter as well.
Health issues: Toilet squatting isn’t scientifically proven to cure hemorrhoids, but I’m pretty sure it helped me out. Squatting to crap straightens out the colon, allowing you to clear yourself out better. There’s this wonderful little muscle called the puborectalis muscle that keeps your rectum shut unless it’s relaxed, which it can’t do in a sitting position.
Then there’s the ileocecal valve, which connects your small intestine to your colon.
And, surprise surprise, it shuts itself completely when you squat, but not when you sit. The result of sitting? Minor leakage of fecal matter back up into your system. Oh and there’s a natural kink there, where the colon attaches to your intestines. It straightens itself out when your thighs, in the squatting position, are up against your abdomen.
Further, it’s been suggested that when your colon isn’t fully emptied your feces kind of rots inside you, causing any number of ill-effects, including an increased risk of colon cancer.
How to do it: In most of the world, there are squat toilets. Whether they flush or not, they’re set into the ground and ready to squat over. The Middle-East, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, even large parts of southern and western Europe all have squat toilets. But reportedly, some asshat in the 19th century decided that squatting was undignified and that a true person of worth would sit, as upon a throne, while they defecated.
If you’ve got your shoes on, you put the seat up and squat on the rim. In your socks or barefooted, squat on the seat. At first, yes, it’s hard to balance. Put your hand on the wall, or the toilet-paper dispenser, or the handicap bars, whatever, to support yourself. Within weeks you’ll be squatting like a pro, and you’ll never want to go back to sitting again.
The only downsides I’ve ever noticed are: it’s hard to explain to strangers, you have no telltale feet to be seen in a public restroom (when the locks don’t work) and there is a slightly increased risk of splash-back. And I used to do a lot of reading on the toilet, but now everything goes too smoothly and quickly to bother.
In my years proselytizing the virtues of toilet-squatting, I learned that it isn’t for everyone. It’s harder for some differently-abled people, sometimes due to age or size, to negotiate themselves into the precarious squatting position on a toilet. Some people have jury-rigged solutions by placing a near-toilet-height stool [no pun intended] or some-such in front of the toilet to put their feet, in a sort of compromise position with their legs raised.
I’m certain that the first industrialists thought that dumping smoke into the sky was harmless. There is just so much sky, how could they possibly be mucking it up? But muck it up they did.
There is a circle to life that we’ve broken: we take nutrients out of the soil, digest them, shit them out, then flush them into the river. (Yes, it’s often treated first, but it is still flushed into the river). This is mind-bogglingly stupid. We then spend an unforgivable amount of energy on fertilizers and other methods of providing nutrition to our plants. Composting our human “waste”, creating what is called “humanure”, is the only sane course of action available to us.
It’s like we’re cutting down the forest around our house for firewood and then heating our house with the front door open.
I can’t speak for too many parts of the world, but in many places I’ve been humanure is illegal, composting toilets are illegal. Doing anything other than flushing your shit into the river is illegal, more or less. This is as absurd to me as the laws that dictate I must be pumped full of chemicals after I die before I can be buried, and god forbid my friends do the burial somewhere in the woods where I can continue to feed the soil.
Fortunately, it’s not illegal everywhere. And of course, law influences but does not dictate behavior.
I just can’t take any environmentalist seriously who won’t question the flush toilet.
For Science To Live, Civilization Must Die
It’s not just the toilets.
I would argue (mostly for fun, I admit: there isn’t too much of a point in strongly holding one’s own definitions of words over the definitions that others use) that civilization can be described by its linear thinking. (To refer back to my dictionary, civilization is “the stage of human social development and organization that is considered most advanced.”—“Most advanced” strikes me as pretty linear thinking.)
Science is always equated with civilization, but I’d love to see the two concepts divorced. Science is a system with which to explore the natural laws of our world, to develop technologies with. And yet science has been held at the mercy of civilization. Civilization refuses to go back. It encourages us only to push forward, it argues that anything newly developed is more worthwhile than what came before. It does not let us question our fundaments.
And the world is in dire peril. We need to question our fundaments. In regards to toilets, we need to “revert” to the composting toilet and “revert” to the squat toilet before we can find our way forward again.
We need to question why certain technologies prevailed and others languished in obscurity. It doesn’t necessarily reflect an innate superiority of the technology that won. The internal combustion engine won out over the electric engine over a hundred years ago not because it was objectively “better”, but because it was better suited for warfare. The fixed-wing aircraft is the same story. Most of the “fatal flaws” of airships are easily conquered by modern science, but our society has the damndest time pondering a reversion to “antiquated” technology, despite the amazing green-travel potential offered by lighter-than-air craft.
Capitalism has, of course, poisoned research motivation utterly. Technologies are not developed so as to be appropriate to a natural world (or even for their aesthetic values, which I would consider worthwhile and enriching as well), but instead to maximize profit. Even setting ethics aside, this makes for a profoundly uninteresting culture.
I call upon you to unfetter the sciences from the chains of the civilized world. Let us instead be free. Free to close the cycle of life and free to float above the world drinking cognac in our dirigibles.
13 thoughts on “Against Toilets”
Sir, in regards to the employment of humanure: what about the dangers of parasites/diseases that the use of nightsoil entails? I direct thee to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_soil#Sanitation_issues
There are two main ways of making humanure safe. The first one basically involves keeping it hot for about a year before it’s used, the second (and more interesting) is by use of vermaculture, in which worms eat the shit and then shit it out themselves. The vermaculture method can be utilized in such a way that only 3 days or so are necessary. Either method takes some research to do safely, of course.
I’m more concerned about reclaiming nutrients from our piss.
“Domestic wastewater is built up of several components. One of the smallest components in terms of volume is urine, making up for less than 1% of the total wastewater stream. Despite this small volume, urine is a significant contributor of nutrients: it contains 85–90% nitrogen, 50–80% phosphorus, and 80–90% potassium excreted by humans.”
Piss is the low hanging fruit of human waste recycling.
Just catching up on the Dodgem Logic essays – great work so far!
The biggest problem I have with humanure is the legal/social issue. I am already breaking a ton of social conventions by homesteading and living in a house that be an abandoned building a city with lower real estate prices. I know I have neighbors who would love an excuse to bring the law down on me. Barrels of composting poop in back of my house are just not a happening thing. I’m going to have to wait for the apocalypse to progress a little before I can feed the fruit trees that feed me. Urine on the other hand can be discreetly anded to one’s soil quite easily.
Yeah. I have some friends who have successfully fought to get humanure legalized in their area. Probably wouldn’t work most places. But this, as an article, is mostly about things-that-are-not-this-dumb-society.
Here is what I’m doing: Instead of flushing 1.6 gallons of water down the drain and into my septic tank every time I take a piss, I piss into a plastic bottle. When that is full I head outside and pour it into the soil. If you simply pour it “on” the soil, you’ll soon attract someone who wonders why it smells so bad. To avoid that I dug a hole into the ground, about four feet deep, pushed a 4″ PVC pipe all the way down with only a small section showing above grade. On that I put a lid. When I get ready to empty my pee-bottle, I remove the lid, pour the contents down the pipe and close the lid again. This being the desert, the nearby trees seem to enjoy the extra moisture supplied at their root-level (at least I think so). When you realize that I pour a bottle’s content about every day or so, that amounts to about 6 – 8 gallons of flush water saved.
It is so refreshingly nice to know that I am not the only one who recognizes this issue as well as the best solution to the problem. “There is a circle to life that we’ve broken: we take nutrients out of the soil, digest them, shit them out, then flush them into the river. (Yes, it’s often treated first, but it is still flushed into the river). This is mind-bogglingly stupid. We then spend an unforgivable amount of energy on fertilizers and other methods of providing nutrition to our plants. Composting our human “waste”, creating what is called “humanure”, is the only sane course of action available to us.” Love that you recognize this….and it drives me crazy that more people don’t.
The problem with America, or rather Americans, is that they are thought to be completely incapable of doing anything that requires a bit of thought. At least that seems to be what ‘authority’ thinks.
There are European countries who allow composting toilets in apartments. As we all know, composting toilets require that one turn ‘the goods’ from time to time. Hell, you couldn’t trust an American with that kind of responsibility. Also in Europe people have done just fine with the ‘Tetra’ type of milk containers i.e. where one needs to take a pair of scissors to cut one end of a container, pour the desired amount and then bend the cut part and keep it closed with a clothes pin or such. Not here. Here we ‘must have’ some sort of other method, like a screw-off cap with an additional seal beneath it, which needs pulling-off. Half the time the inner aluminum seals on Soy-milk cartons don’t come off cleanly, requiring that one take a knife and cut the appropriate hole. And I thought all this technology was to be a convenience.
My advice is, do all the things you do discretely and be proud of having an approach to life that is not only different, but better too.
And it’s not just squatting issue with the toilets, it’s also sanitation. Imagine you got some mud on your hands, would you wipe it with paper or would you wash it with water? And this practice of wiping using so much toilet papers to wipe butts is costing the environment hundreds of thousands of trees each year. See http://www.treehugger.com/bathroom-design/bidets-eliminate-toilet-paper-increase-your-hygiene.html or wikipedia.
And the stupidity in toilets doesn’t end here. The tank of water underneath you in which the poop drops and the piss and shitty water splashes back up on your ass … ah, gosh, does anybody care about this?
This site has the most complete, authoritative exposition of the health benefits of squatting: http://www.naturesplatform.com/health_benefits.html . I’ve been promoting this concept for the past 16 years, and so far 4 million people have visited the site. It’s been a taboo for a long time, but with the help of the Internet, the taboo is quickly dissolving. About 1% of the MDs I have contacted have confirmed that the benefits are valid. The other 99% refuse to discuss the subject, for obvious reasons. They are not keen to be exposed as incompetent and unethical. But they can’t “debunk” the claims, so they simply continue to stonewall. Thanks, Margaret, for helping to spread the word.