Putting on your one clean pair of underwear

I am subbing in the Kodiak school system, and this week I was assigned to sub for a teacher’s aide. Rather than controlling the class, then, I had the privilege of watching others at this precarious task. This week, however, brought with it many delightful moments in high school civics and history classes. As the teacher talked through Napoleon’s ill fated quest to conquer Russia, he mentioned that the Russian soldiers put on their one pair of clean underwear and prepared to battle to the death.

Kids together in unison: Eeeewww. “Like, you mean, they only had one pair of underwear?”

The teacher then laughed and expounded on life before the industrial revolution was in full swing. “No,” the teacher responds to the students, “they could not go to Walmart and purchase more underwear.”

I found this exchange hilarious, but also intriguing. What happens when we can no longer purchase underwear at Walmart? How will we respond when the system we rely on is no longer sustainable?

The question that arises, of course, is whether our current system is sustainable. Personally, I have become more and more critical of the desirability of our transnational capitalistic economy, with the ways in which it is intensely individualistic and tends to disconnect us with the natural world and with other human beings. But beyond the desirability of the system, is it sustainable? When the oil runs out, what then? And what happens if the ecosystem responds to climate change with increased natural disasters, requiring more and more resources just to maintain our infrastructure? Will we all be back to one pair of clean underwear?

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

3 thoughts on “Putting on your one clean pair of underwear”

  1. I read somewhere that if everyone lived like average Americans, the earth could only sustain a population of less than 2 billion. In some ways it is good that the 1% is only 1%. 😉

    How has the relocate been?


  2. Yeah. It’s true that most Alaskans have a very high carbon footprint. That’s probably particularly true for the colder areas of AK, and I’m in one of the warmer areas. And its getting warmer. In this area, I think global warming has meant a six degree (Fahrenheit) avg. temperature increase in the last fifty or hundred years. Don’t quote me on that, though; but the temp. change is accelerated here.

    I will be a typical! No car will I own, for one thing.

    Otherwise, the relocation has been fantastic. I love it here.


  3. Hey Matt, sorry that my reply seemed so random. I read you comment too quickly and saw “Alaskan” when you said “American.” =)


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