The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the Unversity community since 1893

Saturday December 5th

Column: The odd traditions of the Nacirema: Air conditioning

 The term Nacirema is American spelled backward. It was first introduced by Horace Miner in, "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema." Today, it is mainly used by anthropologists to distance themselves, and avoid personal bias, when writing about American culture, its rituals, and its customs.

I have lived in Nacirema country for a little more than three years now and I am yet to walk into a Nacireman building whose atmosphere is not being regulated by what the Naricema like to call “air-con.” And what a con it is. At some point in Nacireman history, someone convinced Naciremans that in order to be comfortable they must consistently control all aspects of nature, at all times, including the temperature. 

From offices to shops, to libraries, classrooms, cars, buses, restaurants — you name it — everything is conditioned in public spaces. Indeed, there is a need for air-con during extreme weather such as the very hot summers and cold winters. However, I do not understand the need to make buildings below freezing in the summer — what ever happened to room temperature? 

Even more, the Naciremans have air-con running throughout the autumn and spring. In these seasons, Naciremans are regulating the temperature by just a few degrees, which leads me to wonder - why not just wear an extra layer or open a window?    

Nacireman obsession with air-con may seem trivial, however, when you consider that refrigerants in air-cons have greater greenhouse effects than CO2 and that one-fifth of energy used in buildings is for air-con, you realize that in an effort to control the climate you are destroying the climate. 

Indeed, Nacirema country is the most addicted to air-con with only Japan and China somewhat at par with them. Nacireman homes use 30 times more air-con compared to European friends like Germany and the U.K.

So how did this con come about? My educated guesstimate is Nacireman separation of themselves and nature has led them to believe they can continuously dominate over all aspects of nature. It is not simply air-con. From pavements to city parks, to manicured lawns, to perfectly trimmed hedges and trees - nature in Nacirema country only exists where it is allowed to exist.

Nature is allowed in national parks, not in cities. This is why Naciremans like to escape to the mountains and be at one with nature. However, they don’t realize nature is always around them, that they are always within nature. Since humans are made up of nature and we cannot be separated from something that we are. 

Hence, what Nacireman tribesmen believe to be a magnificent feat of man dominating nature — a rite of passage if you will — is actually primitive technology that shows an incapacity to work with nature rather than fight it. Perhaps we Africans need to travel to Nacirema country and bring them our advanced ancient technology of how to keep their houses cool using only local resources by building huts.


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