Do Americans need air-conditioning?

Fire, the saying goes, made us human. Does air-conditioning make us less so? In “The Capital,” Robert Menasse’s satirical novel about European Union bureaucrats, published in June, one particularly fastidious character packs cold-weather gear for meetings set in desert nations, “where cold was viewed as a luxury, and luxury as a raison d’être.”

“Think about that term: air-conditioning,” said Mark Feeney, a culture critic at The Boston Globe who suffers at work and does without at home. “Do you want to condition your air? Your skin maybe, or your hair. I’m a vegetarian, but I didn’t become one for any specific reason. It just happened. But there are all sorts of ex post facto good reasons for not eating meat. Same with AC: If you modify your actions, it’s good for the planet, it’s good for everyone. Also, I’m a lapsed Catholic and I’m Irish so I need a certain degree of self-imposed suffering in my life and I guess this qualifies.”

Then he quoted the air-conditioning-averse title character in “Lancelot,” by Walker Percy: “I’d rather sweat and stink and drink ice water.”

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