Monday, December 31, 2007

Food For Thought

"When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."
Saint Jerome

I've never known a hungry day in my life. I don't know what it is to suffer under the weight of concern regarding the source of my next meal. I don't worry about seeing tight skin pulled over bones when I look at my family. I have never gripped the stock of my gun with white knuckles as I anxiously wait for an animal to come into view or when a random sound in the dark could be that of a thief taking my last two pounds of chicken. I thought of this today when, for the first time in a long time, I was prepared something to eat that I didn't particularly like. As a grown-up, this doesn't happen as often as when one is a child. As a child, everything is new and novel and other-worldly. And, it is also out of your control: you get what you get and that is it. I recall my early reactions to such things as sweet potatoes, broccoli, beets, Brussels Sprouts and so much more. Today, I give them not a thought as I send them off to their appointed task: keeping me alive.

As I considered the meal, I wondered if I would eat it with more gusto if I had no ability to taste (like Bart Simpson's Aunt Selma, who lost her ability to smell and taste after a freak bottle rocket accident). But, I quickly remembered that the tongue/olfactory partnership also had a greater calling: to prevent my death. If it smelled bad to me, it was likely due to something wrong with the food. I often forget that fact even when I see the family dog gorging himself at the compost heap after chasing away a murder of crows for the privilege. The tongue is a wondrous thing. It can taste, feel textures and often act independent of and in spite of our brains. But few remember that it can save our lives as well. So, why the hell was I thinking this when sitting in front of a freshly created lunch? Was I that desperate for an excuse to pass on the repast? Hey, I'm the daddy... I do whatever the hell I want. I can just say, "No, thank you" and be done with it. So, what is the deal?

Do I have point and, if so, can I please get to it?

Imagine, if you will, what you will be doing tonight if you are the person charged with creating the meal. Even if you are not that person, try to imagine it anyway, for my sake. You likely come home, change into more relaxing clothes, open the refrigerator and take stock of what is illuminated by a 40 watt bulb. Some prefer lists and automatically know that there will be meatloaf tonight because it is Tuesday (shouldn't meatloaf be served on Monday just for the alliterative value?). Regardless, with Oprah in the background and a glass of Chablis by your side, you concoct your cuisine and manage the meal's multiple members with a deftness that inspires aloofness. Not, not all of you are like this and not all of the time, but I'd likely say many of you are and quite often. I say that because I venture to guess that a large percentage of us don't even bother with the fabrication of the meal beyond the time it takes to remove the polysomething skin from the vessel containing the Frankenstein's monster we call "dinner" and prepare to reanimate it through the infusion of radiation. "Give my Salisbury Steak LIFE!"

Have I gotten to the point yet? Ummm... no. I'm trying.

Imagine now that you are in a small, hand-built cabin in the middle of a cold and snowy plain. The temperature evokes stress analogous to a pack of sixteen year-old boys crossing over to your side of the dark, empty streets at 2:00 A.M.. You don't really have a refrigerator since you don't have electricity. You don't have Oprah to keep you company nor Chablis to dull the senses that scream at you after another day spent doing things that are dehumanizing or vapid. All you have are a few vegetables of questionable quality, a can with some oil, flour that you hope has not been raided by the furry, unwanted guest in your home and a small amount of meat left from a steer you raised from its birth. In this moment, you are not distracted by the plethora of provender possibilities. You don't linger over the cool air wafting from the top door of the Kenmore as you struggle to read through the slightly frosted boxes marked "Lean Cuisine". What you do is pray to god almighty that you don't fuck up this meal because there is no fallback plan. You will be totally present in those ensuing moments when the knife sinks into skins and husks and shells. You will estimate every micron of useful ingredient, carefully measure your steps and movements, check and recheck your temperatures and surfaces, observe progress with the eye of a mother of a newborn and ensure that all that needs to be done is, in fact, done at the appointed time. This isn't making diner. This is ensuring that your family will not die. This is loving them with the greatest give we can give. This is why people say blessings before a meal.

So, even when I sat down to the meal and gladly turned off the cheerful lady on the Food Network who just can't seem to stop shoving her cleavage into my face, I realized that food isn't just art and science and the reason for a 24 hour channel and book tours and celebrity cruises. No. It is life and should be taken seriously. No, I don't think for one moment that it shouldn't be enjoyed or cherished. I don't think that there should necessarily be a ritual. If you like Ben and Jerry's, you eat it. If you dig Hot Pockets, my blessing on you. But what I am saying is that when you take a bite and find it isn't to your liking, you may consider trying to eat it anyway. Short of it being stale, fetid, or moldy, I'd say practice eating something that you don't like simply because it might be a skill you'll need in the not-too-distant-future: A likely near future when the ships slow down over the winter and stop delivering Chilean grapes and Israeli oranges and Mexican kale. This will be the point at which food isn't a substitute for love or your drug of choice; it will again regain its position as that which stands between you and death.

So, as I looked down at the jazzed up chicken salad, all these thoughts flashed through my mind in less time than it took to spoon the goop onto a slice of toasted whole grain bread. And, as I saw the variety of cheeses and beautifully sliced apple that stood in the wings as understudies, I realized that I had the right not to like what I was eating, but I wasn't sure if I had the right not to eat it. I honestly did think of the starving children in whichever country today's moms use to heap on guilt at dinner time. I thought of all the people required to create this meal from around the globe. I thought of all the energy it took to plant, grow, maintain, harvest, prepare, ship, stock, purchase, deliver and cook. I thought that the last one hundred years of cheap oil hasn't only caused our population and average weights to increase exponentially, it also caused our souls to become smaller. And, I thought that I may not always have the luxury of voluntarily eating a meal that didn't appeal to me. In the interest of full disclosure, dear reader, this blog entry was created using the energy from an unappetizing chicken salad. I can't recall the last time I was so thankful.

So, my point is... I have no idea. I guess I'm still a bit logy from digestion.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Signs of Life

He's back.

No, it doesn't mean I am back, and that isn't the point. But my grandson has a father and my daughter has her husband. No, it won't make up for the fact that he missed his son's first words, his first steps, his first haircut, his first grown-up food or his first photo with Santa. But, he's back and that is all that matters now. As for me, I don't know. We'll see...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm Sick of Both

I've been a bit preoccupied the last couple weeks with two main issues: 1) The recent storm that kicked the Northeast in the nads and 2) My son-in-law was home on leave from King George's "war" in Iraq.

I've spent about 15 hours shoveling and still have another 3 or 4 to go. I hope I can finish before the next round of wintery water. I don't enjoy shoveling the way I once did. In the past, shoveling snow was a way for me to spend some quiet moments focusing only on the sounds of the shovel and the effect of gravity on the snow as it battered the ground. After a time you settle into a rhythm and all is right with the world. You gain a perspective and see what is important. Now, I'm just tired. I think I'm going to open the wallet and get a snowblower for the next season. I don't want to, but time has a way of forcing one's hand (and it beats moving to Florida).

More important than removing frozen precipitation is the fact that my son-in-law was home with us for a couple weeks and was able to spend time with his family. I can't tell you how wonderful it was for my daughter. But today, she is a shattered shell of a person. She has another set of months in which she must worry daily about his health and suffer under the weight which is life as a single parent, all thanks to our wonderful president. Being a parent is hard enough, but doing it alone while your husband is in harm's way is quite another. My grandson is the light of my life. I can't imagine what it must be like to be separated for so long from someone so marvelous. He is small, innocent, sweet natured and without a father. When he looks at you, his face lights up as if to say, "I'm so happy to see you." Each time he acknowledges my presence with his glowing visage I thank whomsoever created me that I am alive. I also remember that his father cannot see this every day and want to weep.

Even from the moment my son-in-law arrived, I couldn't help but fast forward to this day when I knew my daughter would have to let him go again. Since our commander-in-chief was spared combat, he doesn't know what it is like, so he has no motivation to end this sham. If he could see my daughter's face, he'd change his mind. I guess that is why they build ivory towers so high.

My mind has wandered from place to place over these last couple weeks. I've tried desperately to find a way out of this madness that is modern American life. But, like quicksand, the more I struggle, the deeper I find myself sinking. I have no way out right now. All I can do is hang on and wait this out. If only my anger would stop growing with each passing day. I've never hated my country before, and perhaps I don't now, but I can't help but wonder what is so wonderful about being in this place anymore? Where are the true Americans? Why has this insanity been allowed to go on for so long? God knows I've done what I can. I've marched and protested and called and written. Such words are wasted on the deaf and dumb (either definition will do).

So all I try to do now is deal with each day's tasks. All I have is the structured necessities of life for each day. I am starting to get my seeds ready for planting. I am thinking of building an electric car over the summer. I'm always trying to find ways to cut back so as to feel a bit less of the grip this world has on my flesh. I am drafting ideas for a local sustainability group. I might take a permaculture course in April ( but only if my taxes don't kill me). I try to get through the day without letting anger gain more territory. I guess I am at war too.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Deerly Departed

In yet another moment of self-realization, I found myself both saddened and ashamed by an event that transpired this past week. As I pulled into the driveway after work one evening, I noticed something new near my mailbox. Sadly, this was not a package and it wasn't some stray trash, it was a dead deer; a doe, to be more precise (although not the one in the image above). I live in the midst of the wild kingdom. I have untold numbers of white-tail deer, turkeys, foxes, coyotes, and other varmints running roughshod over my small speck of land. My neighbors on the same side of the road are all fields. These are used extensively by the wildlife. My yard is often the trail used to move from one set of fields to those across the street. I can't tell you the times I've come home late in the evening to find a small herd moving across the road, just a few yards from my driveway. If I wake up early enough each day, I can enjoy a cup of something warm while looking at a herd of something grazing. I've never been much of a hunter, but I find it easy to eat the flesh of an animal. If I were of the right mindset, my first inclination upon seeing this venison victim of vehicular violence would have been to drag the carcass into my garage. But it seems that any primitive instinct toward survival and provision for my family was long since beaten down by flush toilets, frozen peas, surround sound and pride.

This point really didn't hit home until the next morning when I was cleaning off the driveway. As everyone knows we've had a very warm winter here in the Northeast. The only snow we've had which stayed more than one day fell two days ago. The day in question was only an inch of snow that didn't make it to dinner time the next day. But I was up early to clear off the driveway just in case more came or the temperature dropped to the point it welded itself to the blacktop. After finishing the chore, I looked at the deer and thought of what might happen. Here in New York, they are good about things like putting up guard rails and removing roadkill in a timely manner. For what we pay in taxes, it is the least they can do. With the snow that had fallen and the additional portion plowed onto the doe, I worried that she might not be seen from the road. I was also concerned that the longer she remained on the road the more likely she would begin to be picked over by the scavengers. I didn't want to begrudge them a meal, but I also didn't want to be running a dining room on my front lawn. So, I did what any civilized male would do: I swept off the carcass with a kitchen broom to ensure she was visible to those who deal with such things. I wanted to laugh at myself over this but my self-loathing wouldn't allow it. I thought that I should be using this animal's flesh for food so it wouldn't have died in vain. Not that her life was lived in vain, but this excuse made the running mental monologue less uncomfortable. As I wavered between possible courses of action, I mentally replayed two incidents that would influence my decision...

The first was a time when my dad and his friend had shot a deer and brought it home. I had just moved back to New York from the west and was staying with my parents until we got settled. Dad and his friend were going to butcher the deer in the basement and he was concerned how my daughter would react to the sight. It didn't take long for him to find out how exciting she thought it was. It took a few moments for her to change into a suitable covering and begin helping out. She was in her glory. She came upstairs to show me the deer's heart (hoping it would gross me out... it didn't). She later came up wielding two forelegs like batons. It seems she greatly enjoyed the part where those legs were sawed off. I also recall the term "dancing in the guts" being thrown about, but I don't recall the context. I will admit that I wasn't shocked by her interest in this sort of task. She always had an edge to her. This is still one of the moments I enjoy recalling if only to remind myself how little we know those closest to us.

The second event was only a year or two after the "basement butchering" incident. Here we had a member of our then landlord's family telling us that he hit a deer with his car. He was upset over the damage to his vehicle, but thought he would feel better if he could at least have the meat. But, he lacked the skills to do such a thing and was worried that he'd have to simply throw it away. I told him to hold tight and I called my dad. Before long he was there and we set to work turning a dead deer into a delicious dinner. The deer was hung and bled for the required time and we then moved onto the next phase. After cutting the deer open, dad discovered that the insides had burst during the impact. He was not a happy man. The stream of profanity that flowed from his mouth as the narrative was uncomfortable for even an old military guy like me. Add to that the fact that the person for whom we were cleaning the deer was an elderly minister... well, it just ensured that I'd never forget this incident either. It was a mess and it was eventually cleaned. I don't know what they decided to do after that since the deer was gone when I got home from work the next day. I never asked because I didn't care. I wanted to forget the whole thing. Fast forward fifteen or so years. ..

As I stood there with a broom in my hand I thought how pathetic I had become. This was enough meat for a year and I didn't care. I allowed myself to believe the meat was likely tainted by internal damage during the impact (although there was no evidence of that in my vision). It was just easier to sweep off the carcass and let someone else take care of it. This has been my mantra for most of my life: "Someone else will take care of that; I have more important things to do." I came home that night and the carcass was gone. I should have been happy, but I wasn't. I felt as if something inside of me was hauled off as well. It was just one more opportunity lost due to time pressure, fatigue, age and the curse of civilized living. Another test I have failed. I guess I still imagine myself to be too good to eat roadkill. Hell, if I did that, I guess it wouldn't be a big step to making moonshine, lye soap and laying by the cee-ment pond before vittles.

I am pathetic.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Precious Commodity Fluids

Last night I switched to a Japanese TV station since it was in the clear. They charge for the station as a rule, but they also open it up for anyone to see when the news is on. I have no idea why I enjoy watching it since I don't speak Japanese, but I guess I sometimes hope to see footage of Godzilla (or, more properly, Gojira) rampaging through Tokyo or something. Anyway, as I watched an avuncular man use an old-fashioned wooden pointer to note special sections of Japan and their upcoming weather while an obedient young woman stood by and semi-bowed on occasion during his presentation, I distracted myself by reading the "crawl" on the bottom of the screen which was, strangely, in English. A story that caught my eye stated that Russia was determined to increase its oil production and become the world's largest petroleum exporter, passing even the mighty Saudi Arabia. I remembered from my youth how the United States and Russia were the two largest oil producers in the world, but with all the issues facing the former Soviet Union, I had long since lost interest in them as an oil producing nation. I was more intrigued by their infamous mafia and the infighting between the now-free republics. But after reading this I tried a bit of Googling here and there and now find myself more confused than ever. Some stories say that Russia is already the largest oil producer in the world. Some make the distinction that they produce more but do not export the same amount as Saudi Arabia. Some talk about refined oil vs. crude. Some talk about all energy products (which includes natural gas, etc.). In sum, the statistics are confusing given the report. I don't recall the story as I read it, but I think Davos was mentioned in there as well. So, what we have here is a typical news story: long on hype and short on facts.

What are the ramifications of Russia becoming the world's largest oil producer/exporter? Does this speak more of Russia's desire to make hard currency or to Saudi Arabia's inability/unwillingness to raise its own production? Can they, in fact raise production? How does this tie in to Peak Oil? Was Russia's vast holdings taken into account by Dr. Hubbert? What are the geopolitical implications? Will this, yet again, stall us from doing what needs to be done: making it a national priority to get off of petroleum? Will Russia sell to our competitors? If this story is true, why did I only see it on a crawl screen on a Japanese news program? Why do I care? What is a "commodity fluid gap?" Why are you still reading this?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Who Is My Neighbor?

Just when you think you have something figured out the universe poses a question just to put you into your place...

While reading through Farmlet today, I noticed Kevin posted a small bit about the Path to Freedom site and how the weather has affected them. This struck me since I just finished writing up a piece for a local tabloid regarding the need for renewed localization and regionalism (plus the fact that the site has been in my bookmarks for a long time now). My reasoning was to offset dependence on foreign products such a energy and food (to name a few) and to renew the dying sense of community in our nation. In the midst of such an idea is the hope of becoming capable again. We have deferred so much of our lives to mechanization, technology and imports that we've become nothing but a nation of consumers, entertainers and soldiers.

So a good dose of self-reliance seemed, in my mind, to be just what the doctor ordered. As with all things, finding the balance is difficult. Americans have leaned so far toward self-reliance for so many years, it has become a defining trait. We idolize the cowboy who rides off on his own to face and master his environment. But we've long since left that reality behind and are now simply smelling its vapors. We are reliant on many for much. We don't like to talk about it and won't really acknowledge it, but it is a fact. This world is smaller now and when a rock falls in Japan we feel it over here.

This jabbering has all been a preface to my attempt at figuring out the balance between the tribe and the individual. I know there is a balance there somewhere, but our tribal experience is with more primitive surroundings and more simple needs. Like it or not, the world has changed. Modern tribes are likely quite different. Now I find myself asking, "Who is my tribe?" "Do we have to live in the same area?" "Do we have to speak the same language?" In days past my tribe would have been obvious. Today, this is not the case. Today, a member of your tribe in New Zealand can note the weather in California and pass the news on to New York in the blink of an eye. The man in New York recalls reading the California tribe member's words for a long time and finding them inspiring. Across those miles is a bond. When news of crop destruction reaches New Zealand and New York, hearts are awakened and compassion is felt.

I am, by nature, an introvert. I do well in crowds but it takes energy from me. If I could I'd probably try to make it on my own like those cowboys of yore. But I know that this game is not meant to be solitaire. We are in this together and we will succeed together or die together. I don't know who is in my tribe and I don't know how this will all work out. I do know that I can't do it alone. I think we sometimes search too hard for answers to "Who am I?" and "Who is my tribe?" when the answers are right under our noses. Right now, all I can think of is reading through Luke 10:25-37 and replacing the word "neighbor" with "tribe member".

Friday, January 12, 2007

Our Father

I will not lie when I tell you that all my stereotypical images of what a "drop-out" would look like were personified in the incarcerated visage of one Alan G. Como. The handful of you who read this blog likely know by now that I think myself to be pretty open-minded and a self-described progressive. That may lead some to believe I have rainbows arcing out of my ass, a peace-sign tan line permanently inscribed on my chest and a visible furrow plowed into my forehead from years of tie-dye bandannas. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I look like every other drone in the world who holds down a job to keep the cogs of the system well-lubricated with blood and to make enough money to keep my family in gruel. So it pains me when I must admit to holding such prejudices. I don't like admitting to such things because it makes me appear less-than superhuman. But I am just a man. I am fallible and made of flesh. I pray you seek my heart through my words and not just my moral weakness. But I have to admit, when I saw his face, I allowed all my prejudices about those who reject civilization to peek out, if only for just a moment.

When word of the arrest of Alan G. Como came to my ears, it piqued my interest. I live within a manageable driving distance from the beautiful and vastly underrated Adirondack State Park in New York. For those who are unfamiliar, the park is over six million acres of land in northern New York state that contains 3000 lakes, 2000 miles of hiking trails, 30,000 miles of streams and rivers and the entire Adirondack Mountain range. Fully half of the land is slated to be "forever wild" with the remainder being tightly managed. The park is the same size as the state of Vermont. I've spent some time up there and my uncle retired from being a local business owner in that region. It is remote, rugged and has volatile weather. It is also serene, verdant and awe-inspiring.

I am not waxing poetic to be maudlin or to educate those who think New York is nothing but concrete and taxi cabs. I am painting a picture that most of those who yearn to live a freer and more primitive life already hold in their heads. This is the sort of place one imagines when selecting a place to "drop out". This is a place where others have done such things. But this is also the place where police arrested Mr. Como under suspicion of 60 separate counts of burglary. Those burglaries were allegedly performed to secure supplies needed for survival. Mr. Como is not suspected of stealing expensive jewlery, electronics or anything other than items required for survival. This doesn't excuse the crimes, it just places him alongside Jean Valjean. His main crime was living alone, in the woods for over 20 years. His root crime was choosing to live apart from our society and within the confines of nature.

This is where I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I harbor such prejudices, yet I do. When I saw his grubby dwelling, I nodded to myself as if I'd built it myself. When I heard the stories, it was as if I'd written them. When I saw his mugshot, I thought, "There's the sort of man who lives in the woods." I am very interested in hearing what comes out of this.

It was just a couple days ago on Urban Scout's site that I commented how the desire to live a life outside of "civilization" will likely require one to live as a dependent or as a fugitive. This is exactly what I had in mind. This is the sad image I have in my head of those who wish to actually be free from the constraints of this, so-called, civilized world. These people are compelled to live on the edge and become fodder for "America's Most Wanted". It grieves me because it shouldn't have to be this way. One shouldn't have to be wealthy enough to afford hundreds of unspoiled acres or become a stereotypical "mountain man" in order to avoid the poison of the modern world. I don't know if Mr. Como was a person inclined to steal as a standard behavior or if he was forced to do so because he had no other way to survive. Given the facts as we know them, I assume it was the latter. I don't condone stealing, but I understand it in his case. Wouldn't it be better to simply allow people to live this way? I don't pretend to know the answers to all the nagging questions that are raised by such a statement, but I do know that we can never really call ourselves "the land of the free" when men such as Mr. Como are not allowed to actually be free unless it is defined as being shackled to a job, taxes, a mortgage, a car payment and a week's vacation in Amish country each year.

I don't feel sorry for the man, per se. I pity him because I pity all of us who are foolish enough to believe we are free. I weep for us because this man, for whatever reason, actually did what most of us only dream of doing. I mourn our world because we are foolish enough to think this man is the strange one rather than we who freely support this oppressive system (and I do, sadly, think him strange).

This is the face I see when I think of "going wild". This is the face I'm required to see because the system we live under won't have it any other way. God knows we couldn't have a happy, productive, prosperous, and close-knit community of neo-primitivists living in our park lands, could we? What sort of signal would that send? Why, we can't just have people quitting their jobs and running off to form tribes in the woods! Who would be here to watch our TV shows and buy our crap? No, we need to make it illegal. That way, the only ones who even try it will be the ones for whom it is as necessary as breathing. It will only be those who need it like the diabetic needs insulin and the drunkard needs a drink. And we all know what those types are like, right?

I'm so sad for him. But likely, Mr. Como would be sad for me. At least he got caught daring to live as he desired.

But, perhaps I have it all wrong? Maybe he's just another nut living in the woods like Theodore John Kaczynski or Randy Weaver? It may be wrong to try and made someone a symbol or a living martyr, especially when all the facts are still out there. But I really doubt all the facts will come in on this one. So, I'll just pretend that this man is a hero rather than an insane criminal. I'll pretend he is a man abused by the system when all he wanted was to be free. I'll sadly think about his captivity in a police cell when all he's known for 20 years is his six million acre room in Adirondack State Park or other wooded places. I'll be sad for him as I remember the line, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Professional Spectator

I'm always amazed by the number of people who insert the following phrases into their conversations: "I turned around one day and...", "I was so busy with...", "I never got around to...", "I always wanted to...", "I used to...", "I wish I was...", "I'd never be able to...", "...but I had to give it up.", and "At one time I loved to...".

All of those utterances are sounds of regret and passive abdication. We all, certainly, must see to responsibilities at various times in our lives. Some responsibilities are embraced voluntarily and happily (children, new job, etc.) while others are foisted upon us (anything done through guilt or manipulation, life-altering illness or injury, family crisis, etc.) There is certainly room for compromise on either side. At those very moments when our lives change it invariably brings a death. The death isn't physical but it is psychological or spiritual. I feel that we "grow up" when we become responsible for something. The extent of our growing up is related to our responsibility, but not directly. I think there is a point at which we can grow up no more and I don't think it takes too much to get us to that level. Upon growing up, we are often forced or believe we are required to, as the Apostle Paul encourages, "put aside childish things." We are told by society and civilization that a grown-up person acts in a certain way, so we must live up to those expectations. Since physics teaches us that no two pieces of matter can occupy the same space at the same time, the space now occupied by "childish things" must be vacated so "grown-up things" can take residence. This, far too often, is the tragedy of our modern world.

I am not giving advice either way here. I understand that the configuration of our civilization makes assumptions and requirements upon those who live therein. The doctor doesn't go out drinking hours before surgery. The expectant mother doesn't go rock climbing a week before delivery (does she?). The cable repairman doesn't go to the houses he feels like visiting. The fireman doesn't continue to play cards when the alarm goes off. The babysitter doesn't decide to leave the kids when she gets a better offer.

Modern life increasingly requires more and more specialization. The vast amount of data to be sorted and internalized requires more and more time. The pace of change is such that the ink isn't dry on a software manual before it has been updated. Techniques which once endured generations are swept away week to week for a modern spin or a more efficient adaptation. These requirements, added to the already overwhelming number of options, choices, varieties and possibilities has wrung us of much of our humanity. In a post made a couple weeks ago, I lamented our lack of time in the modern world. Another casualty of civilization has been the "amateur". No, the amateur is not gone or forgotten, but increasingly rare in the true sense of the word. The gist of the word amateur is "one who performs a task for the sheer love of the task." If I go to work and landscape for eight hours a day and get paid for it, I am a professional. If I go home and work on the lawn and gardens for eight hours a day, I am an amateur.

In days past one would aspire to a level of facility in home repair, auto repair, gardening, etc. My dad always made me help work on the vehicles and around the house. My father-in-law would rather get a beating than call a repairman. Today, we commonly contract out those tasks. We bring the car down to the corner lube shop for an oil change. We have someone come to take care of the lawn and garden. We order out. We drop off the laundry. We watch the game. We rent a movie. We buy a music CD. We listen to a sermon. We read a book. We go to the museum and look at paintings. We watch "reality shows" on TV.

We have become the nation of the "compulsive abdicator" and the "professional spectator." Time, certainly, has much to do with this. We've allowed our lives to become so complex and harried, we have no time or energy for extra pursuits. And, since many of us were reared in a home with a family in similar circumstance, we were never taught how to do many of these things. Lack of time is one reason for our incompetence but our lack of role models and mentors is another. Many never learned to change the oil from their mechanically inclined parent. Children have never learned how to cook for a large group.

When skills are not handed down, accessible or valued, they tend to die off. We tend to defer to, so-called, "experts". An example of this is how my wife always says, "You are so much better at that than I am," when I'm doing the dishes (at least I think it is when I'm doing the dishes). I generally quip, "It is because I practice. Maybe you need to get some experience?" I say it half-jokingly, but there is a serious aspect to it. People who wish they were better or even basically competent at something often do little to change the circumstances. Again, there is a limited amount of time and energy, so we must make difficult choices. The sad part of this situation is that we have less and less time to give an ever-increasing number of tasks, options and responsibilities. Also, when you learn a skill, you often learn why that skill is important (the skill's place in the universe and its purpose), not just the rote performance of the task. It is just as important to know why you do something as it is to know how to do something.

Most of the following examples are nothing more than bitches and generalities, but I think some have merit. Some examples of our abdication:

- We defer to a professional class when it comes to the spiritual rather than seeing to our own needs.
- We are more likely to listen to a music CD than to write our own songs.
- We are more likely to buy a book than to write one.
- We prefer our elected officials handle all political issues rather than becoming involved ourselves.
- We hire someone to grow our food for us rather than grow it (or some of it) ourselves.
- We will go to a play before we write and act in one ourselves.
- We will participate in less sports than we watch.

All generalities, yet all likely true. Something I will wager, though, is that many of these items would be less true for younger people. A child would likely feel more inclined to play sports, write a book, write a song, write a play (and act in it, of course) than someone who is an adult. For children, living is a spiritual, participatory adventure and they look to one another for answers to many questions ("What do you think happens when we die, Skippy?"). Kids may beg off politics, but I think they'd be more into participating than observing. That is, until they are told they are not competent. "A bee isn't blue, honey!" "Oh, you colored outside the lines!" "That is nice dear, but those words are nonsense!" "That's not how you do it!" The child learns they are incompetent and that their parents are not willing or able to make them so. I guess it is easier not to not try, eh? Of course, their parents are qualified to teach them one thing: It is easier to denigrate than to educate.

Our civilization has evolved into the mess it is with our complicity. We've abdicated our spirits to priests and holy people. We've given over the running of our lives to politicians. We wouldn't know how to grow our own food even if we had the land upon which to do it. We've allowed ourselves to be commodified. We've allowed ourselves to become parts of the machine. We are cogs, not kings.

This is the world of the specialist, the expert, the holy, the annointed and the gifted. No one dares intrude on that sacred ground. Yet, there are a few who still have the audacity to ask questions, bang on tables, pluck a string, paint a picture and tell a story. I think those who have that spirit will do well in the days to come. They won't need to wait around to be told what to do by an expert. They don't need a priest. They are the true renaissance men and women who give our world hope. They know the joy of dancing without knowing the name of the steps. They dare to write a poem without understanding the intricacies of meter. They will repair their shoes before throwing them out. They play games they make up rather than watch people play games in a stadium. They can hear nature speak clearer than they can hear the TV. They prefer to have a meaningful conversation with friends over renting, "My Dinner with Andre." They draw strength from community rather than experts.

There is a place for experts and seers. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary skills. Everyone is made a better person by experiencing a performance by gifted musicians. Everyone marvels at the craftsmanship of a master builder. We are inspired by great writers and thinkers. But relying on them too much for too long has dulled our skills. Worse than that, by allowing technology and experts to perform these and other tasks, we become less human. We feel we are unable, unworthy and unwanted. We are step-children of the human condition and the human experience. We are helpless invalids in many aspects of life. We've abdicated the thrones of our own lives and given them over to strangers. We no longer pilot our ships. We make more "You Tube" videos showing us lip-syncing or covering a song than we do performing an original composition.

There is no way to recover all that was lost. We are not the same Americans we were in the 1700's when a man would walk behind a plow by day, read philosophy by candlelight and plan revolutions on the weekend. We are not the same people who could play multiple instruments, quote lengthy passages from key works, understand the rhythms and cycles of nature and fabricate our own tools. We do have modern skills that have some merit, but our souls are not modern. We are ancient souls in a modern world.

While we need such humans now, it won't be long before such humans are indispensable. Many of them read these sites. I pray that I live next to people like Comrade Simba or Kevin and Rebecca when the shit hits the fan. We need people that are not only competent, but human. Human in that we understand what makes us human and what nourishes our humanity. There is still time for many to turn their wheels just a bit and regain some of their sovereignty and humanity. For others, I fear it is too late. For them life is truly a spectator sport.

“Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the ground rules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and specialize, to accept uncritically the ground-rules of the environment. The ground-rules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly unaware. The 'expert' is the man who stays put”

Marshall McLuhan

Monday, January 01, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

Perhaps this is akin to sucking a lemon after a shot of tequila, but I thought I needed something to balance what I'm doing here. If you are interested, please click here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Love on the Rocks

I read an article a few days back outlining some of the reasons men cheat on their wives. I don't know if the reasons were applicable to women who cheat, but I found it interesting nonetheless. The article maintained that some men cheat because they cannot face the fact that their marriage is not working or even over. Rather than confront their wife with the problem, they cheat. This behavior is the acting out of their unconscious desire to be caught. When they are caught this will likely end the marriage and prevent them from having to deal with the real reasons for its failure in any way. I'm sure I'm not explaining this idea as well as I should, but I think we can get the gist of it. I don't know if this is true or a load of crap, but I won't discount the idea. I know the human mind is unfathomable in its complexity and that we've only scratched the surface of its workings. This idea of unconscious marriage sabotage intrigued me as it applies to the various conversations we've had of late on the topic of dropping out. While the topic is likely running its course and nothing substantially new will be added (short of someone actually trying it and blogging about the effort for the benefit of all), I felt like adding a bit more to the pile.

I honestly wasn't trying to arrive at any practical guidelines for "dropping out" in these posts, but that would sure be nice. I was more struggling with what the term means in the broader sense and in the personal sense. My dropping out began when I started losing faith in the, so-called, respected institutions of our world (religion, government, business, education, etc.). That is likely when yours began as well (Ran Prieur didn't experience this). I have not lost faith in them as a concept (perhaps I need more time to get to that point) but I have lost faith in them as they currently function. My reasoning must take me to the next step, which is that these institutions are run by people. If people were trustworthy then these institutions would be trustworthy. I am not a philosopher, so feel free to skewer my reasoning. I am only using the horse sense that anyone's grandma and grandpa would have used. Not all people are untrustworthy. Not all aspects of institutions are untrustworthy. But the overall concept of a trustworthy church, government or corporation is long since dead in my heart and in my mind. Unfortunately, the memes they fed me over my formative years are very hard to shake. Anyone who has ever tried to stop smoking, drinking, taking drugs or eating a certain way understands this. Addictions are addictions and civilization is one hell of an addiction. We are in a state of addiction that portends a certain end or, at least, a horrific detox. This isn't so much about educating the world about peak oil as it is organizing an intervention. Honestly, this is where we are in this portion of our timeline. We are trying to convince someone that they are drinking too much. We are telling someone we love that putting down the Twinkies is the only hope they have. Good luck. Years ago, I had a film idea that, I imagined, would star John Candy. It was about a man whose weight was bringing him to the point of incapacitation. He had tried everything from counseling, to medication, to diets, but nothing worked. He had given up and was living his life in oblivion. His wife, who loved him dearly, decided the only thing left was to show him that he could live a different way, so she arranged to have him kidnapped and kept locked away under medical supervision. It would have been a story about our addictions and how their strong bonds are nothing more than vapor shackles, yet they bind us tighter than steel. I imagined what it would have been like to drop the weight off of John over a period of time and what it would have looked like to the world. It was just a fantasy script, but it rings true of our world today. We are beyond the point of rolling up our sleeves and digging in for a the good fight. We need to be compelled to act in a reasonable way. We need to be locked in a room and forced to comply because it is the only way our lives will be saved. But once you get to that point, it is all over. I don't want to live in that place.

So, why did I mention the article on cheating husbands at the start of this entry? Because I think that most of the world is living in the same mindset as the philanderer. We know things are beyond repair, yet we choose not to confront the situation. In my own life I am trying very hard to confront the situation, yet there is so much to do. I comfort myself with the knowledge that "slow and steady wins the race." I also use other pithy maxims such as "look before you leap" and "measure twice, cut once." But as a planet, we are all mindlessly committing adultery because we can't face the fact that there is likely nothing we can about this world in which we live. We feel powerless and helpless. I don't think we really are powerless and helpless, but it is generally how most feel. So, it is easier to commit adultery with an SUV and a McMansion than it is to sit down across from our lifestyle and say, "We need to talk."

I am a very optimistic person and I can see (in my own mind) how easy it would be to fix many of the large issues facing us. These remedies would cause only modest impacts on our lives. They would certainly be far, far less inconvenient that what awaits us just around the bend. I honestly don't think anyone has the best answer for a collapse or severe upheaval scenario. If you strike out on your own in the country with livestock and weapons, you are still subject to accidents, weather, government and gangs. If you live in a rural commune you are still subject to accidents, weather, government, gangs and each other. If you live in the city you are still subject to accidents, weather, government, gangs, each other, disease, etc. I'm not saying one way is better than another, I'm just saying that all ways have weaknesses. Besides, I think the best solution for the collapse scenario is to avoid it completely by taking action now. It is incredibly frustrating to know that the road to the cure for our world's ills is right in front of us, but we won't take it. We won't sit down and say, "Honey, I think we need professional help." No, we can't fix it all, but we can make things much easier. Ignoring a problem never solves it.

This takes me back to where we started this conversation: To me, dropping out is in your mind. There are certainly practical steps in dropping out, but they all are subservient to the mental aspect. Once the mental work begins, the other solutions will make themselves known. I wish mine was as easy as a tent, a rifle and a backpack full of gear, but it isn't. Even if we found a way to make the current American lifestyle extend for another 100 years, I would want out. The modern lifestyle is intertwined with a philosophy that reeks of lies, greed and exploitation. I feel as if my soul must go on a fast to purge out the bad things that this civilization has used to build up my cells. At the same time, there are marvelous things about this world that I don't want to change or lose. Sometimes we need to be still long enough to take stock of what is important so we don't throw it away rashly in a fit of zealousness. I do know that we can't all buy land. We can't all just start growing our own food and making our own clothes. We can't all just decide to build a cob house. We can't pack three kids and the dog in a car and head for the mountains. Without planning and preparation there will be nothing but disaster. We can start to learn these skills if we feel we want to use them, but they are not something learned or implemented in a day. Sure, maybe you could buy land with some others, but you'd likely fight over who gets to build their house in the sunny spot. Our great weakness is our fear. Call it inspired selfishness, call it sin, call it survival instinct, call it whatever. Unless that aspect of ourselves is conquered we will just bring the worst part of ourselves into the next phase of civilization. I know there are many great people with whom I'd enjoy trying to make a go at a self-sufficient life, but most would be poison to me.

I think those who have foreseen the impending phase of our civilization may be feeling fatigued from the work of sounding the alarm. I also see the danger that the mainstream are beginning to peddle a homogenized version of this message for their own ends. Once that happens there is no telling how the message will be distorted and diluted. Dropping out isn't giving up, but it is giving up on your former, unrealistic view of this world. I'm working out my plan with a heavy heart rather than with excitement. It will be me committing adultery. I will be stepping out on my long-term commitment to faith in humanity and my Polyanna hope for the future. On second thought, I really won't be committing adultery, I'll be asking for a divorce. Maybe I'm not as cowardly as I believe myself to be? Time will tell.

More on this later...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Jesus

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare the Time?

This post is to simply state the obvious: there isn't enough time in this life. I wished to bewail and bemoan the fact that all I want to do and accomplish must be lived out within this reality that is constrained by time. The best definition of time I've ever heard is attributed to Einstein: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

But it isn't my goal to be philosophical here or to rant about dropping out. The holiday season is difficult for me. I am not against the holidays and I will admit to the occasional warm feeling within, but there is more jeer than cheer inside my heart, I must admit. I detest shopping to begin with, but holiday shopping mutates that already odious chore into a casting call for "Survivor" (no, I don't watch it, but the image seemd to make sense in this sentence). My normal routine is time-challenged these days. I'm sure others have it worse, but I've been feeling the pinch lately. Work needed attention before I took some time off for the holidays. My family situation makes visits geographically and emotionally challenging. I really just want to close the door, lay under the covers and hold out until January 2nd. But I don't live in a vacuum and I need to get over myself, so I do my best to pitch in and try to make this a happy time for everyone. I do wonder how much easier this would be if my life were more simple? Maybe it would be worse? If I didn't have a car I wouldn't be able to see my family as easily. Even though Jesus' birth was purportedly in a place many in our circle would approve, the modern celebration is more about large homes filled with people and things and massive expectations. Mary just wanted a place to lay down. How far we've come!

The next few days are the worst. I am lucky that most of my driving is relatively close to the relatively few relatives to whom I must relate. I clocked in about 120 miles today. That is fine. Tomorrow is better because I will be hosting. The day after is not too bad either: just a short drive. The hard part will be making that small-talk I detest for hours among 40 or so family members. I love them all, but I'm just not so good in these situations any more. Again, I'll do what I must. I can schmooze with the best of them, but it takes a lot more energy to do so.

This time of year whips up thoughts of changes that need to be made and methods that should be altered. All this holiday activity eats into the energy and time that I so dearly covet. Then I think of all the things we are told we should do and I cringe. How does anyone do it? I'm fortunate compared to many regarding my work commute and hours and such. Many I know either work multiple jobs or make a two hour commute each way. How can there be any energy left for life and loved ones, let alone leisure? When you add up all the things you must do the list is staggering. Add to that the things you feel you should do and you simply want to quit. No wonder so many dream of dropping out.

There is so much I want to do. There is so much that interests me. There is so much the needs to be done. Time doesn't just prevent everything from happening at once, it prevents us from being the one doing it. We only have so much of the stuff and we must treat it with great care. What do you wish you had time to do? How do you make more time? Are there times when you spend money rather than time?

Why are there so many things we are told we should do each day? Meditate, exercise, talk to our children, get involved in your children's schoolwork, volunteer in your community, cook things from scratch, comparison shop, slow down, learn a language, keep up your property, read more, keep up on current events, study the politics of your local area, learn about the world, improve your job skills, write a letter, keep a journal, pray, learn to use a computer, turn off your computer, make time for yourself, learn to be less selfish...

I'll squeeze that all in after my normal day.

I enjoy my time on the computer because it is quiet and it demands little of me. It lets me talk and think without having to intrude an anyone else if they don't have the time. It informs me and entertains. It helps me unwind and it inspires me. It is ready to go when I am ready to go. It doesn't get offended if I don't want to talk. Some of that sounds selfish when I type it out. It is all true, though. I've learned so much in front of this digital diversion. I hope to learn more. I've especially learned how fleeting and precious time can be.

There is so much I want to say. There is so little time to say what I want to say. Perhaps that is a good thing? Yeah, I think so.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Second Hand Information

If all goes well, this will be a blessedly brief post. My previous post mentioned "Voluntary Simplicity". Only a couple days later this item was posted on MSNBC. I don't read MSNBC, but I think I caught the link on Reddit.

We all live second-hand lives. We learn from others who have learned from others who have learned from others. The food we eat is fertilized by the dead matter of that (and those) which (who) preceded it. In our modern world, second-hand anything is unthinkable. But if we see second-hand knowledge as unappealing, Odin-forbid if you walk into school with second-hand clothes! The second-hand knowledge that we need so desperately has been lost like a pair of MC Hammer parachute pants at the bottom of the bargain bin at the Salvation Army store. We need to know that second-hard information on how to hunt and gather and reap and listen and commune and survive. We need that information that great-grandpa tried to share. Alas, we were too busy reading about the latest pop star to listen. I found the article interesting only because it reinforces what we already know: 1) People want more meaning in their lives and they know it doesn't come from buying things and 2) The world (especially the corporately controlled consumer world) will think you are nuts or worse when you don't comply. Back to my idea that dropping out means non-compliance. Yes, this isn't quite dropping out, but it is counter-culture. Even this relatively benign act by a group of friends was met with hostility. If people react this way towards these folks, how do you think they will treat those who really drop out? I could go on and on about this, but you already know what I'd likely say.

I'm really beginning to think that this world is beyond hope.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I'm A Marked Man

As everyone is keenly aware, especially this time of year, businesses are pulling out all the stops in order to get you to part with your money. There is certainly a ploy, scam or manipulation that has been created for pretty much every potential consumer. But when you are a white, middle-aged, educated(?), professional male, there is a special place in the hearts of companies who like to sell shit. Kids may be a great audience for music and video games, but when it comes to big-ticket items, men are the holy grail. Because of that, I am a desired demographic. That means I have a target painted on me by business. I am targeted in specific ways in the hope that I will desire certain items. I am not a human, I am just a resource.

But in all this talk lately of dropping out, I am another demographic. Those who seek to follow what is popularly known as "Voluntary Simplicity" can be broadly labeled as "white" and "middle class". Men and women are about even in number within this group. Most who are interested in this path are well educated. I use the term "Voluntary Simplicity" only because it is a bit more accepted form of dropout. No, they don't really drop out, but they are sympathetic to the cause. I like to think of them as the sociological equal of marijuana: a gateway movement (yes, I know that a recent study debunks that theory, but I need it for that metaphor) to dropping out. Ted has been doing some writing on race and our culture that dovetails nicely into this idea of dropping out.

There have been some interesting conversations on this topic and I enjoy the give and take. My contention is that dropping out is quite serious and entails non-cooperation with the dominant consumer culture. But I also struggle with the difficulty faced by those who do not want to cooperate with this dominant culture but are unable to get out for various reasons. I will say that anyone who wants out can likely get out but the price is sometimes staggering. We've yet to discuss any concrete methods, but right now I am more concerned with the seeming hopelessness of dropping out.

I don't know why those who yearn for a simpler, freer life generally seem to be white, middle-class, educated "yuppie" types. I am certain that the desire for freedom and simplicity are not the sole domain of this socio-economic group, but the paradox within this little factoid is amusing. I think it is because white, middle-class, educated yuppies are the predominant consumer target in the nation that we even hear of "voluntary simplicity". When a noble idea is reduced down to a marketing term, we know we are in trouble. When the books, magazines, seminars, tapes and vacations that revolve around this idea become mainstream, the beginning of the end is near. I am not saying that books, etc. are bad things, but all these things are products. Products are created to be sold for a profit. When profit is involved a person's objectivity can often be called into question. Again, this is not an indictment of "voluntary simplicity" in any way. I am sure that most involved in the movement are genuine. I also do not fault anyone for trying to make a living. I hope we all know where I am coming from on this. It is analogous to creating a 12 hour mini-series on TV designed to educate Americans on the perils of watching too much TV. It could have a beneficial effect, but I would be suspicious.

Another aspect of this middle-class desire for a more meaningful existence is the fact that we are in a position to actually do something about it. One would think that the poor would lead the way in this lifestyle. But when you are poor, luxuries like movements and philosophies are often difficult to follow. You are generally too busy working several jobs and taking care of a family's needs to be spending your few moments of leisure figuring out how to "cut back". Again, the quotes here may smack of sarcasm, but they are asking a genuine question. There may be a few wealthy people who have sought a better life (John Robbins comes to mind), but I think that by and large the majority of the rich are quite happy with their lot. So if the poor have no opportunity and the rich have no desire, it leaves the middle class to struggle with this angst. Besides, the white middle-class does most the consuming, so who better to lead the way?

I don't know if it is our general white guilt that leads us to these ideas or if it is something else. Maybe it is the fact that we've come from something humbler and then tasted a "better life" but found it lacking? Maybe it is the stories of our ancestors and the romance of a more substantial life? Maybe it is our incessant working to achieve this life and finding that the pile of crap in the eight bedrooms in our homes is as useless as eating Twinkies? I really don't know what drives this behavior, but the fact that I fit into this category bothers me. Am I just doing this out of some sociological urge or am I interested because of a deeper spiritual need?

I am sure that the middle class is no more spiritual than the poor. It can't just be that. Is it that Christianity (at least the mainline branches that don't include the "Prosperity Gospel") seems to honor those who are poor? If so, why would the poor want to change their plight? And, if so, why wouldn't the middle-class want in on the action rather than face the potential difficulty of getting into heaven as one who would attempt to drive a camel through the "eye of a needle"?

I had a friend a few years ago who was brought up in rather beneficial circumstances. Her wealth allowed housekeepers and nannies and good schools. As fate would have it, she found love and religion and was willing to run away from all of her benefits. Her experiences remind me of what it will be like for those of us who are products of the modern world. She had no idea how to complete the simplest of tasks. Cooking, laundry and even cleaning a room were so foreign that the quest often brought her to tears. To anyone brought up to do their own work, it was sort of pathetic. But I saw her conviction. My wife spent time showing her the ropes and her common sense took over. Today, you'd never know it to look at her, but she has fully integrated into the mainstream of middle-class life from a life of ease. Four kids and several moves have toughened her up into an exemplary member of our stereotypical tribe. It gives me hope for the rest of us who need to learn how to milk goats, build fences and hunt game.

I don't know what it is that compels the white middle-class to look back. I do pray, though, that the same smugness that makes vegans and hybrid drivers crack jokes at the expense of meat eaters and SUV drivers will not bleed through to this movement. I hope that those who do actually drop out can look over their shoulders at those left behind and grieve rather than mock. It is easy to think about cutting back when you have enough. When you go from a three car family to a two car family it isn't a sacrifice, it is a start. Yet I won't be so quick to judge that step after seeing that even the well-off can suffer. Imagine what it would be like for you if you never had to lift a finger to do any sort of work around the house. What would it be like for you if you found yourself having to do all the mundane chores of life? Perhaps my sympathy isn't raised too high on that issue, but since I've seen the situation cause real tears, I can at least understand the struggle.

The poor don't have the luxury of cutting back. Maybe dropping out is an option? If I knew how to do it, I'd give advice. Voluntary Simplicity is often looked upon as the first step toward dropping out. I think we should encourage those who want out in any way we can. Even if they cannot actually make it, we shouldn't discourage them from trying. There was a saying used in the church in my circles: "Only the church shoots its own wounded." I hope that saying won't apply to those who foresee troubled times ahead. When you are 30, single and healthy it is easy to drop out. When you are 60, have four kids and are sickly, the potential isn't as great.

Who knows what is up with the white middle-class? I do know that I admire anyone who seeks to make life better for themselves and for their community. I, for one, will not discourage those who seek to slow down, cut back and, ultimately, drop-out. I will do my best to encourage them and support them on the trip. Yes, I will give constructive criticism and even challenge thinking I feel is faulty, but I'll do it in love as best I can. The stakes are so high that we don't have the luxury of alienation or degrading into further factions. I've been quite impressed by the people within this movement. I pray we can continue to learn from one another, share our experiences and support each other during the days ahead. As for me, I'm taking the targets off of myself and off of my brothers and sisters. I've got enough to worry about without adding to the pile.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Les Fourmis-dable

The second entry in the "dropping out" thread.

I do apologize if my writing has been disjointed and rambling (hehe... as if it isn't all rambling), but I feel like I'm trying to get a lot of thoughts out without the time to give them a spiffy framework. I see myself as a cook churing out plates full of food without worrying about arranging it artistically or concerned if the gravy has spilled over into the lima beans.

It is summer and I'm sitting under my favorite maple tree for shade and cool. I know that life is good because I'm eating a sandwich and drinking some iced tea. With each bite I realize how lucky I am to live where I live and at this time in history. Does an ant crawling under my chair stop and think about what he should do with the crumb of organic sourdough bread that he discovered? Does he have a spiritual struggle or a moment of conscience? After all, he didn't work to earn that bread, did he? He is nothing more than Jean Valjean with feelers and a metasoma. He is stealing bread to feed his family (the bastard!). What sort of example does he offer to society? What goes through his mind?

No, the human world isn't the ant world. The ant world isn't the anteater world. Yes, we are all interconnected, but we are also distinct and separate. How should we view the resources of the world if we drop out? Are they anathema or are they fair game? Are we "cheating" if we use the tools of the world? If you go into the woods to live free where no one will bother you, is it cheating if you bring a waterproof tent, sub-zero sleeping bag, survival knife, compass and boots? If you use a computer are you still part of the system and part of the problem? All are honest questions.

Dumpster diving has been raised as an issue on several of your blogs. Is this any different than the ant who stumbles upon a crumb? Well, according to your reports, yes. That dumpster is the property of someone and if they don't want you there, you have no right to be there, right? Aren't you stealing if you take something from that dumpster? Aren't you taking food from the mouth of someone's family by being a parasite instead of contributing to our society? Aren't you? (Hey, you look at me when I'm talking to you!)

Please allow me the following rant. I do not claim it to be anything more than a rant. If I am not accurate in what I say, please straighten me out (I won't be offended). I don't claim to be either an accountant or an attorney, just angry...

Somewhere in the southern part of the United States, someone plants a cotton seed. That seed came from another cotton plant harvested last year. That seed crop was harvested, processed and sold. The sale of the cotton was taxed. The labor of the man harvesting that seed was taxed. The lunch he bought that afternoon was taxed. The man who picked up the seed in his truck (which was taxed upon sale) was paid a wage that was taxed. The cotton seeds were then sold in bulk to a seed distributor (and that transaction was, again, taxed). The distributor paid employees (who had their wages taxed) to sort, package and ship those seeds. Another truck (insert the taxes you feel apply in this space) picks up those seeds and sells them to our farmer mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph. This time, the farmer harvests the cotton and sells it in bales to another company (and they were charged tax on the transaction). This company sells it to a processing plant (who adds sales tax to the bill). The cotton is made into fabric and sold to a garment manufacturer (this transaction, oddly enough, is taxed). The garment manufacturer then creates a shirt from the material and sells it to a distributor (who pays a tax on the purchase, pays their employees who are taxed, etc.). The distributor packages and ships the shirt to your local store (involving a transaction that is most likely taxed on many levels). You then go into the store and grab that shirt since it goes perfectly with those jeans you just bought (which are made of cotton and have a story of their own). Are they taxed? Maybe. It depends on your local tax laws. But they could be. You wear that shirt a few times and like it, but you find it is a bit too tight (it must have shrunk, you couldn't have gained weight, right?). You "donate" the shirt to Goodwill, who will give you a receipt that can be used as a deduction when you itemize your taxes. Someone goes into Goodwill and buys the shirt. They love it. They pay a small price (and a small amount of tax) and go home. As time goes on, that shirt is worn and washed several times (in a washing machine that was taxed and with detergent that was taxed). It is still in good shape, but isn't so new anymore. Since it is spring, you start cleaning out your closets to make room for new, seasonal clothing. You look at the shirt and put it into the "donate" box. You drop it off at the Salvation Army, who gives you a receipt that can be used as a deduction for your taxes. The shirt sits on a rack for weeks and is marked down several times. Finally, the handwriting is on the wall; the shirt is discarded into the dumpster behind the store (by the labor of a hard-working, over-taxed employee). It is sad, but it is only taking up space from other items that might sell. That night, I go dumpster diving. Wow, look at all this stuff! A Rubik's Cube with a couple of the red stickers gone from the segments, a cassette tape of "America's Most Beloved Hymns", a Fischer-Price push toy that pops colored balls around a clear globe and... whoa... a shirt. Hey, it's my size! Sweet, I'll just grab that and be on my..."Freeze! Police! Put your hands up!" I go to jail (funded by taxpayers) and I am charged with burglary since I "broke into" private property to steal. That shirt was not mine and by stealing it I was harming the organization. The path from a seed to my greed is, indeed, storied. Can someone tell me how I am stealing?

My point in the above story isn't to say that I hate taxes or that stealing is permissible (I'll go off on taxes in another post). Rather, it is to show that when people dumpster dive they are only taking what others have discarded, so there is really no theft involved. These items have been sold and taxed repeatedly and have generated income on many, many levels before reaching that state. Yes, I took massive liberties with reasoning. No, stealing is not a value I cherish, but it is a few rungs above starvation and frostbite. In my previous post, I didn't want to imply that one should seek a life that allowed them to simply not pay taxes. Taxes in some form are often necessary and I gladly pay them. But we cannot ignore the fact that taxes fund the very institutions that enslave us. We all would smile if we knew our tax dollars went to feed and educate children or fund research into cancer treatment. But most of that money is used to buy weapons, train people to use those weapons and to fund ways and means to control us. I am not against defending our nation and its citizens from harm, but someone needs to tell me how we are currently doing that. I think we are causing more harm than we are preventing. You are certainly welcome to your opinion and I honor your right to hold it, but before you phrase it in a negative way towards me, please keep in mind I am a veteran and even have medal or two on my old uniform. These are not the rantings of someone with no experience in the real world. Alas, they are fueled by too much experience in the real world.

But, this isn't about dumpster diving, per se. It is about the rules of dropping out. Can you drop out and dumpster dive? You bet your ass. The ant won't pass up the crumb because it isn't theirs or they didn't create it. It is there and they need it. Yes, there are rules for living in civilized society, but I think some rules end where your hand reaches for the dumpster door. Part of the domination we are unders rests in "their" ability to locate, possess, allocate, control, create demand for, restrict access to, and qualify the rights to resources. Yes, nature has similar examples of such behavior, but it is no where near the detestibility that we've invented. When we even control access to that which no one wants, we've become reprehensible. In some work that my wife and I have done with the homeless, we've found that, generally, all fast food chains will throw perfectly good food out rather than give it to those who are hungry. When asked why they will not donate the food to those in need, the obviously frustrated managers of the restaurants obediently mouth the party line: "We are legally unable to allow that." In the end, we'll all be foragers anyway. Best to get with the program now, eh? That goes for walking into your local sporting goods store and purchasing all that high-tech camping gear. Fair game. It isn't about selling-out, it is about dropping out. It is about having the courage to live in a reality of your own creation while doing no harm. All the materials were stolen from the earth anyway. It is sometimes a narrow and difficult path, yet we must walk it out ourselves.

No one is sucking at the teat of the system. The system is sucking at the teat of the earth. The system is sucking at the teat of all those exploited to produce goods and services that are not essential to our survival and serve only to sate the greed of the powerful. When you take and take and take selfishly without giving back that is called parasitism. It is also the best description of modern civilization that I know. The system is sucking at the dry teat of an overworked mother and then selling the processed milk back to her so she can give it to her children.

Eventually, that shirt I "stole" from the dumpster was hauled away to a taxpayer-created landfill (the person who hauled it charged a fee which was taxed) and was buried. It eventually became compost and nurished a flower. I can see an ant crawling up its stem, looking for a meal. I wonder if he thinks about dropping out when he has lunch?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tune In, Turn On...

This theme is rolling around our little circle as well as in my head. I really don't know how to answer the question. I don't even know how to pose the question.

What makes someone a "dropout'? What is a better term for "dropout"? What are we (am I) trying to achieve anyway?

I think casemeau started this and it was continued at Patriot Earth and then it was spotted at Village Blog. I'm sure others have discussed this issue for quite a while, but I am only noting what prompted me to write about it at this time.

This is a tough subject because it reveals our weakness and compels us to put up or shut-up.
-Casemeau is living in a van and trying to work out his next steps. He took the first step.
-Ian is soon to leave us and head to Ecuador. He has taken the first step. And, I loved the photo he posted a while back that inspired me to post the image for this entry.
-Ran has taken the first step and then some.
-Deanna has learned so much about living in the wilderness and living off the land.
-Jack has his van and is shaping his vision.
-Kevin and Rebecca have taken a giant leap and are sharing their journey with us all.
-Ted has wrestled with his demons over his next step and has kindly shared those moments with us all.
-Jason and Giuli have researched and reported and reflected on how we got here, where we are likely to go, why we do what we do and what is likely in store.
-Juris: Doctor of Doom bangs the warning drum hard so others will hear.
-Comrade Simba unashamedly reveals his strengths and his weaknesses and his humanity on this path.
-Nigel seems to be at about the same place on this path as I, only on the other coast.
-He who is nameless at Survival Acres is providing resources and information for those on the path.
There is also Aaron and Devin and Marcy and all the others I've left out only due to my ignorance.

It shocks me how many of you I feel I know in some strange way due only to these entries. We all have friends, families, lives, dreams, difficulties and demands, yet we all make the time to share pieces of ourselves with one another. Thank you. I really, really appreciate it. I know that our little conversations give me hope and encouragement, even when they are contentious.

I have been a typical American boy my whole life. I was born in a city, raised in the country and live in the country now (by choice). I did well in school, was well-liked by my peers and believed what those in authority told me. I started to think outside the box while in college, but was urged by my patriotism to serve my country when I felt she needed me. Later, I found that my country wasn't always being straight with me. I found that all those others in authority were not being straight with me either. I lost faith, yet found it again. I work in a capacity that allows me to serve my community, do what I love to do and still have time for a life. In the midst of this, my family and I have been rethinking what "life" is. Typical story and I only tell that bit to let you know where I am coming from.

I aspire to drop out. My presence in this community of ours is primarily because I wanted to get out of this thing we call civilization. One site led me to another which led me to Ran's site which led me to yours. So Peak Oil and collapse and anti-civilization and conspiracy is all well and good, but I am here because I don't want to be here. I want to be somewhere else. At the time I started looking around, I had no idea what I wanted (I still don't) in a practical sense or what "dropping out" meant, but I know I wanted to do it. As time has passed, I've learned much from all of you and had my ideas shaped in different ways. Your fingerprints are all over this little lump of clay. I really don't feel the need to define it or feel approved in order to know that I am actually doing it (rather than pretending to do it). It doesn't matter to me if you feel I am a poseur or the real deal. But I do think it is important that we at least talk about it, so I'm glad the subject has been moving around. I am, for whatever reason, somehow invested in your successes and your failures.

I'm sure my take on this is not yours. That doesn't make me right or wrong, just different. I am comfortable and relatively happy in all this civilization. Yet, I have been granted the gift of seeing it differently, just as most of you have. I've been able to see things as they are rather than as I'm told they are. My experiences and yours have shown me that there can be another way. I want to take the red pill. But it is hard to take the red pill unless someone like Morpheus is there to explain it to you and tell you that, yeah, it will be tough, but we'll make it.

I have no desire to codify, categorize, define, describe, encapsulate or explain what "dropping out" might be. It doesn't matter. They are only words. Words are not the thing, they are only a written or vocal symbol of the thing. They are a tool to allow us to make our thoughts known to others. You all know what "drop out" means to our circle.

Sure, perhaps there is a better term or phrase that could be used to describe this little cult to those who are not members. We could use less negative words or words without the baggage. In the end, we each know what we mean. And even if we don't all mean the same thing, I think we understand one another.

All I want to do is make sure that we all know one thing: dropping out is serious shit.

As Devin said, "Dropping out is NOT a fucking club. Dropping out has no fucking criteria." This reminds me of what Tyler Durden said, " Hitting bottom isn't a weekend retreat! It's not a seminar!"

My point is only to make clear that "dropping out" or whatever term we use to describe it is so much more than just dropping out. Sometimes we become so enmeshed in the mechanics of the immediate task we lose sight of the bigger picture: Dropping out is treason.

I like to call it "non-compliance". Again, it is just a word. Different heroes have shown their displeasure with the world by various forms of protest. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were not violent, but they were "in your face". They needed to show their displeasure by public protest. Those who drop out are an even heartier lot. We can simply vanish from the pubic eye and still make a great impact on the world. There is no need for publicity, attention or notoriety. In fact, that could work against us. In the end, it is most effective to simply disappear.

“I choose not to comply.”

Dropping out is the single most radical and dangerous thing we can do. It says that the American dream is really a nightmare. It says that Miss America is a whore. It says that the job, mortgage, 2.3 children, dog, station wagon and two-week vacation is tweaked Kool-aid we are forced to drink. It is saying that the Emperor has no clothes. It says that everyone is wrong. We can't have that now, can we?

It isn’t a full frontal assault on the “the man” or the “the system”. Doing that would make us terrorists or rebels or malcontents. That would let them imprison or shoot us.

It isn’t sitting in a peaceful circle holding hands and singing songs. Sure, that is nice and may even have some effect, but in the end we pick up our guitars, start up our cars, drive home to our HDTVs and lawns and go to work the next day.

Opting out is so hard because it is the one thing the “man” has made certain we cannot do! That must mean it is the most dangerous thing we can do and the most damaging to "him." You can protest all you want and it is fine. You can even go too far and cause trouble. Fine, we'll just send you to jail. We can deal with that. Even when you are in prison you are still part of the system. Your name is on a list. You have people who earn their living by watching you. Your name is still spoken. You have a role. But you can't just disappear. It isn't allowed. You can't live in the woods. Those woods are owned by the "man". They will force you to come back or put you in prison (back into the system). You need to contribute in some way. You can work and pay taxes, or you can be detained and have taxes spent on you so your presence justifies the system. You can't have it any other way. You are not allowed to live under any other reality.

-When you drop out, you don't pay taxes. No taxes means you're not funding the system that controls us.
-When you drop out, we don't know where to forward your mail, ask you questions, see what you are doing or use you in any way.
-When you drop out, you don't work so you can make money to buy things. No consumption doesn't help the corporations or the government that run this system.
-When you drop out, you are saying that the system doesn't matter. The system hates that most of all.

It reminds me of the most painful thing you can do to someone after a breakup: forget them. Some folks weep and grieve and suffer after a break-up. Some become bitter, resentful and angry. You talk about your past love behind their back. It may seem like a negative, but it is your way of keeping them in your life. But when you really break it off, you don't care who they are seeing or sleeping with or what they are saying about you. It doesn't matter. It is over. It has no meaning. It is irrelevant. This is what dropping out should be like.

Dropping out is, in essence, ignoring this world and fashioning your own. That is too dangerous to be allowed by civilization. Even if you rebel in the traditional sense, you will often get assistance by being offered "rehabilitation". Or, sometimes you will find those who sympathize with you and offer you support in some fashion. When you drop-out, you are on your own (or at least in the company of a small band who look out for one another). Sure, there may be others who know about you, but that doesn't matter. You are doing this because YOU must, not to please or impress or research a book. If others agree and are along for the ride, that is fine. But if they go off the path, you stay on the path.

Dropping out takes time. It may not happen all at once. It may unfold in stages. It may reveal itself in strange ways. Regardless, it is too radical to be allowed.

Again, this is my definition, so if you don't agree I won't argue. You are as correct as I. But dropping out, to me, isn't scaling back or tightening your belt or doing more with less. Dropping out is dropping out. It is the single greatest thing we can do. It is the single most difficult thing we can do. It is a weapon greater than all the bullets the man has. Unfortunately, it scares me even more than all the man's bullets.

To all those who are currently on the path, I am praying for you and looking for your footsteps to guide me. Good luck.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I may be out of line with this quick rant, so please, gentle reader, do the right thing and let me know if I'm full of it...

Am I the only one who is confused regarding the case of Demetrius Van Crocker? I mean, given the issue, I would have imagined that every news agency would have been running constant stories about this guy. Granted, I don't watch mainstream media, but there is no way you'd miss this if it were given the airtime it deserved. This guy wanted to blow up Congress with C4 and fly a helicopter full of Sarin over African-American neighborhoods (we'll not go into the concentration camps he wants to set up for Jews).

Imagine you are with the office of Homeland Security. Imagine how you feel since you've been getting a lot of bad press and the public is starting to feel a bit oppressed? If you have a big victory to crow about, wouldn't you make sure the world knew?

Imagine you are the President. Imagine how you feel since your numbers are down, your party blames you for their staggering election losses, you have turned your nation into an Orwellian nightmare and no one really likes you. Do you think you'd try to win back some points and credibility by making it front page news that a potential terrorist was captured in a sting attempting to acquire Sarin and explosives? Would you like to try and justify the Draconian measures you've taken in some small way?

I guess the only thing stopping the above scenarios from happening is that Demetrius Crocker isn't brown or Muslim. Alas, he is white, right-wing and a racist. Mr. Crocker was convicted in April 2006 and just sentenced to 30 years last week. In the few things I've read, I didn't see the word "terrorist" anywhere. Of course, the fact that illegal wiretaps, waterboarding or "dissapearing" didn't have anything to do with the capture of this guy doesn't help either. This was done the old fashioned way: a stool pigeon.

How is it that I didn't know about this? I think of myself as reasonably informed, but this came out of left field. I hate displaying my ignorance this way, but my outrage is overriding my ego. I don't think I am the only one who didn't hear about this. Why wasn't this guy dragged around the Capital building behind a Texas pickup truck, horns blaring, lights flashing and flags waving? If this guy's name was Muhammad or Hakeem, Fox News, CNN and the rest would be heralding the victory of the administration's Homeland Security department and current hard line on this so-called war on terror. I guess attempting to destroy the legislative body of a nation isn't considered terrorism (but carrying nail clippers onto an aircraft is). Of course when all those safeguards we've put into place for our own safety didn't really produce, you are likely a bit hesitant to toot your own horn.

We have folks rotting away in Gitmo for nothing. I guess if your particular brand of carnage is right-wing and you are white, then you are not a terrorist. It sucks when you are brown or foreign or an environmentalist.

"I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns."
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)