On fire and coolness
and „modern“ transformations in the soul household
We know that the cavemen could make fire. Slightly scary images come to mind in which hairy, half-naked cave-dwellers warm themselves by the fire, heat up their meagre food and dully illuminate their dark, sooty dwelling.
In the „Jungle Book“ the monkey king even kidnaps the young hero Mogli, only to learn from him the secret of making fire – that would make him „equal to man“. But his efforts are in vain: the jungle child does not master this civilization technique yet. Instead, a forest fire breaks out and it becomes clear how dangerous it would be if the monkey king had this power.
We know that the hearth fire played a central role for the ancient Greeks and Romans. They even worshipped a goddess, Vesta, whose priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, watched over the sacred fire that was not allowed to ever go out. These Vestals were very popular…This tradition lives on in the „Olympic Flame“, which is symbolically carried as a torch around the world time and time again with great effort.
But apart from that? In everyday life, we rather want to be „cool“, and far away from such myths. We have left the „fossil age“, or at least that is what we are telling ourselves and what we are aiming for. The stinking, somehow obsolete combustion engines that we want to replace as soon as possible; the ‚prehistoric‘ coal-fired power plants which have a bad reputation as being inefficient sling-blowers of enormous proportions. We have gotten rid of the yellow light of filament lamps (which, just like fire, produced 90% heat instead of light) and replaced them with modern, efficient and ‚cool‘ LED lights. We do not need a central, concentrated light anymore but rather want „ambient lights“ flooding rooms with an unobtrusive, dimmable glow or just illuminate the ceiling.
Modern people no longer need fire in their caves. On the contrary – we have smoke detectors installed everywhere, and the smokers who still cannot resist get forced to huddle outside buildings.
Modern life does not seem „yellowish and warm“ but blue. With blue LEDs that indicate operation, indicate „networking“ or, as a symbol for stand-by mode, never go out. Bluely lit interior stands for „future“ – that is how we imagine the space shuttles of the future – and Mercedes’s A-Class only made its breakthrough when the interior was bathed in a bluish ambient light coming from all sides. Dashboards, displays, and keyboards have blue backlights, power buttons everywhere have long changed from red to blue, and the list goes on. The blue light represents „e-mobility“, „clean energy“, networking, for an energy-saving and ’sustainable‘ world with low-voltage technology that has overcome the grimy age of fossil fuels and energy waste and left it far behind.
We are „cool“ and look to the future.
But what does our soul do with its inner hearth fire which must never go out? Have the blue stand-by icons at the bottom of the monitor replaced the fire? Has it become the virtual quotes like „Camp Fire“ online, or the crackling virtual campfire that you have been able to put on your iPhone screen for many years to warm the soul??
It is certainly not the stove that has taken this role – apart from the fact that no one wants to be a „housewife“ anymore, if anything we want to be cooking enthusiasts, we have induction cooktops that are not getting hot anymore. Their controllability and accuracy also render the gas flame superfluous, which used to reveal real „professionals“ mastering the perfect preparation only years ago.
But well – there is one exception.-The „barbecue“. For decades this has been a legitimate „time-out from coolness“ for the Germans. You can smell it everywhere on every more or less balmy summer evening: in big cities, people pilgrimage to the parks, lighting up their own fire in groups or families and gather around it happily, almost like the Stone Age people once did. Although even the legendary „Weber Grill“ comes only optional with gas today and is also available as an electric barbecue (and simple electric grills can be bought cheaply on any corner), 70% of Germans preferably use coal for their BBQ and are world champions in per capita consumption of barbecue charcoal. Consumption increased from around 150,000 tons in 2002 to over 250,000 in 2016.
Somehow, the fire sneaked back into our lives…
If you take a closer look, you suddenly see it everywhere – and also in increasingly „raw“ and virtually uncultivated forms. Candles conquered back the living rooms many years ago – after they had gone through a rough patch for decades in the 20th century, when they were used only „for Christmas, for older people and, worst case, for the cemetery“. Today, there are candles with button cells and LEDs but somehow it is the flammable and dripping version that wins. We have seen a boom of „lanterns“ in all facets, which stood at least in one corner of the houses of the female part of the population. They no longer fill the room with charring smell today but are „scented“ – but they are an integral part of our idea of a cozy home.
But there was more: after candles and flaming garden torches came the „terrace ovens“. Strangely shaped pots of burned clay, marketed as „Aztec ovens“, handmade, sort of quaint – and finally the „fire bowls“ and „fire baskets“, which are now ubiquitous on terraces. Large, coarse cast iron or forged steel containers, some of them quite martial, in which you can simply burn wood in a stone-age way to warm yourself. You no longer have to go into the forest to get your logs but can buy them at every corner – or every major gas station, every hardware store and even in the entrance area supermarkets. The fascination with the ‚fire in the center of hospitality‘ seems so great that the trend has also seized those who „actually“ do not want to use it – but put the fire bowl somewhere, at least as decoration.
And what does that tell us? … As psychologists?
At the very least that „the thing with the coolness“ does not seem to be so easy to implement in everyday life … Our common use of language also points to this: things which we appreciate are still not only „cool“ but also „hot“; we are „fired up“ for something and mean the opposite of cool detachment. It tells us that the fascination with ‚future viability‘ is immense and that we all have it, to some extent (more than our European neighbors, for example), but that a spark of the Stone Age still remains dormant in every civilized person, and that spark demands its right (and the appropriate manners and products), in one way or another
And that does not just apply to fire, as the psychology of the units of effect shows us time and time again. Because what is the “use” of the roaring, „reeking“ combustion engines, for example, which most people would like to hold on to for some reason, and that e-mobility cannot seem to replace?
For further information
Dr. Martin Schultze
Research Director Quantitative