Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has a theory: the structure of a country’s toilets reflects something about the ideology of that nation. In France, the hole is located in the back of the toilet, so excrement disappears immediately into the hole, n’er to be seen again. In older German toilets, the hole is in the front, so excrement is left sitting there on full display. Finally, in the United States, the bowl is full of water, so excrement floats innocuously before disappearing.
There is something to this. After growing up in America (well, Hawai’i, so America-ish), where my feces engaged in a gentle summer afternoon float about the bowl, it was strange to visit someplace like Budapest in Hungary, where the same feces sit in a steaming pile on bare porcelain, forcing me to confront them in their rawest form before they are shot down by the high-power flush.
Ernest Becker said that the very act of defecating is a threat to humanity, as it reminds us that we are nothing but animals, tied to animal functions. It is cruel for some unnamed creator to:
“fashion the sublime miracle of the human face…the veritable goddesses that beautiful women are; to bring this out of nothing, out of the void… to do all this, and to combine it with an anus that shits! It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live in torture.”
The dead human body often occupies a similar place as feces in the landscape of our first-world brains. Like feces (and her cousins vomit & saliva), the corpse reminds us we are but a self aware animal (emphasis on animal), something most humans spend a great deal of time trying to forget. The sights and smells produced by corpses and shit are shielded in the modern world by acts of collective culture. The corpse is shielded from us by funeral homes. Our shit is shielded from us by cistern water toilets. The theory behind designing a toilet so that shit floats harmlessly in water is really not so different from the embalmed and sanitizing the corpse behind closed doors. It is a meditated experience of the harsher truth.
What’s your poo telling you? It’s telling you that we doomed to death. It’s saying: hi there, remember the ying and yang of the world, for every beautiful moment of life there is the pain of death. For every designer cupcake you put in your body, there is shit out the other side.
But what if we didn’t poo? We’d be full of shit. The same thing would be true if no one ever died. Death is necessary to clean the slate, regenerate, so the world can eat again tomorrow.