Jacobin: Against Chairs

Apparently, chairs are not for everyone.  Some people have stronger feelings on this issue than others:

I hate to piss on the party, but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad.  Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism. Worse still, we’ve become dependent on them and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free.

Um… wow.

Now this screed against the chair comes at a time when chairs in and of themselves have been the recent item of blame for poor health by the Centers for Disease Control among the seated class.

But it’s about more than that.  No no no… chairs are about power, and power in the hands of the many makes us all feel at repose, in place, and worst of all the most inhuman adaptation to the human species ever possibly invented:

It should be no surprise to readers of Jacobin that the answer lies in class politics. Chairs are about status, power, and control. That’s why we like them. Ask any furniture historian about the origins of the chair and they’ll gleefully tell you that it all started with the throne.

Some time in the Stone Age, probably between 6,000 and 12,000 years ago, high-status individuals in some cultures began to sit on small raised platforms, just large enough to hold a single person and with a backrest to support or frame the sitter. This was an effective way to designate elevated status among people who otherwise sat on the ground – much more so than stools, which lacked a back, and benches, which accommodated more than one person. The earliest evidence of these primitive thrones comes from figurines excavated in southeastern Europe, but single-person seats with a back were important status symbols in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well.

Obviously our chairs today are utterly different from ancient Egyptian thrones, but the throne-like properties of chairs and their resulting importance as class markers have been the key historical factors behind their rise. The general trend at most points in Western history has been that upper-class people sit in a certain type of chair – typically the crappiest, most damaging design available at the time – and everyone else tries to imitate them.

During the Middle Ages, chairs were not common in the Western world at all. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, their habits of squatting and sitting on the ground became the predominant ways for commoners to sit and until the Renaissance even wealthy feudal households had very little furniture because they had to keep moving around to avoid getting sacked themselves. The richest families would have had a single massive chair for the exclusive use of the master of the house; this chair was typically too heavy to move (to keep it from getting stolen when the house got sacked). Tables were boards on trestles, which were set up in front of the chair rather than the other way around, a practice that we still reference today in the phrase “chairman of the board.”

So there you have it — death to the chairs before our four-legged overlords subdue us all.

Makes my captain’s desk look that much more attractive.  Or my very comfortable ergonomic reading chair to be that much more comfortable… tempus fugit, memento mori, after all.

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