Panic at the CostCo
The United States has a storied history of panic buying, whether it was canned goods during the Cuban Missile Crisis, general food shortages leading up to Y2K, or runs on ammunition due to fears of gun control under the Obama administration. Whatever their differences, such panics are always driven by a sudden spike in fear of uncertainty, causing our lizard brains to kick into survival mode and stock up on the perceived necessities of life.
The growing COVID-19 pandemic and the cascade of actions to prevent its spread have once again caused a wave of panic buying, placing unbearable strain upon our critical supply chains. The result: rows upon rows of empty grocery store shelves. Some have abused the situation in an attempt to make a buck on hand sanitizer, acting in morally repugnant, myopic self-interest. Most are reacting somewhat rationally, given the calls for shelter-in-place. Many are simply seeking a sense of control over their lives, an equally understandable sentiment, even if it does lead to some irrational purchasing behavior. Case in point: puzzlingly, toilet paper had become a prized item, skyrocketing in price online weeks before reports began to confirm that diarrhea is a potential symptom of COVID-19. Even still, this doesn’t square with the reality that diarrhea shouldn’t dramatically increase the consumption of toilet paper, a product which is environmentally harmful and becoming even more so by the year.
The rush has been so sudden that toilet paper manufacturers have stated what they are dealing with is “uncharted.” Photos of police officers guarding stacks of toilet paper in grocery stores have circulated online. Toilet paper may seem like a distant concern amidst the reality that thousands are likely to die from a pandemic due to lack of universal healthcare. But there is a valuable metaphor here, even if it may be a bit shitty.
Compared to the alternative, sole reliance on toilet paper makes little sense. Instead of wiping our dirty asses with dry paper—something you wouldn’t do if you got shit on your hands—we could be washing our butts with bidets. Technological advances have allowed for the bidet to become more accessible via toilet attachments, but it is not some recent innovation. People have been spritzing their undersides for centuries, or at least since the bidet was invented in 17th-century France. Yet the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, with relatively younger housing stock, has failed to adopt the bidet in a widespread manner.
I’ve never lived in an apartment with a bidet. I’ve hesitated, until very recently, to purchase an attachment for my own toilet, partly due to moving around the country, and partly because I previously worked for a company which had them at the office (and also provided excellent health insurance, go figure). When I haven’t had a bidet, I’ve opted for the moist sanitary wipes, unsustainable products which are terrible for plumbing systems. Without them, things can get itchy. At least 1-5% of people struggle with that medical condition. Gross, I know; I hear readers screaming “TMI.” But settle down, folks. Everybody poops.
When I’ve been fortunate enough to have health insurance, I’ve visited the doctor at the first sign of illness. Other times, I’ve gotten mildly sick and been forced to carry on without a doctor’s visit. Adding self-insult to injury, I’ve often forgotten to purchase the cheapest of palliatives. We all know what it’s like to work with an itchy throat. In both cases, my mind shifts to structural critique, to the broad failure for the United States to adopt the bidet and universal healthcare—two of the many things it lacks compared to more civilized peer countries.
There are clearly parallels between bidets and healthcare in the United States, though the latter is a far more tragic failure of adoption. Americans walk around with a little shit on our asses, whether we know it or not. Some of us suffer itching. Without a bidet, we may be uncomfortable more often, but we won’t die or go bankrupt. But when we get sick and are not able to afford to get that itch in the back of our throats checked out, it can turn deadly. Some will allow that small itch to turn into something far worse before it’s too late. In these times of crisis, these dirty truths stand out in starker relief.
Something reeks in both cases. The systems in place are beyond inadequate. Downright shitty; they stink. The resistance to changing the shitty systems is senseless, anti-scientific, and rooted in outdated moral frameworks which should hold no place in our society.
In 2018 an article in The Atlantic breathlessly explained the lack of bidets in American culture, due to them recalling “all kinds of feminine failings: women’s sexuality, women’s unwanted pregnancies, and women’s biology. As such, they were shunned.” The New York Times ran a similar piece in 2007, citing soldiers seeing bidets in French brothels during WWII as the root of the “the idea that bidets were somehow associated with immorality.” Misogyny and anti-French sentiment linger to this day: domestic abusers love freedom fries.
Despite being overwhelmingly supported by the public, the prospect of universal healthcare is batted away by the majority of politicians, deemed too expensive to implement. In this argument lurks a specter, a moralizing of universal healthcare as incentivizing weakness and opening the door for all forms of immoral behavior. Certainly, it is not the only animating force, but it is implicit in the framing of “how” do “we” pay for universal healthcare, which hides the true question: why should the strong take care of the weak? In a system when the rich consider themselves morally justified, why should they support the hangers on, the immoral underclasses? Their moralization of wealth equally extends to the moralization of health. Let them eat ibuprofen.
UBA: Universal Bidet Attachments
In both cases—moving away from wasteful toilet paper toward efficient bidets, and away from barbaric private insurance and toward a universal, humane healthcare system—major structural change is needed. In both cases, a failure to change threatens us all. The former is environmentally problematic, the latter essential to preventing widespread death from preventable illness. Huge reductions in paper production and preventable deaths are possible. Moreover, the case for bidets and universal public health are directly connected: “almost 80 percent of all infectious diseases are passed on by human contact and that only about half of us actually wash our hands after using the facilities—making hands-free bidets a safer alternative all around.”
We all deserve a clean conscience, a clean ass, and a clean bill of health. To have all that, we need to add an additional demand to our calls for universal healthcare: universal bidet attachments, clean asses for all. The case for changing social behaviors and encouraging better hand washing practices is strong, certainly, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The case for bidets has never been more clear. ♦
Steven Monacelli is the publisher and editor of Protean Magazine.