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?


Anonymous Don said...

It is very difficult to define because the starting point can only be defined by an individual. It is easy to throw around quotes from various sources but few of those quotes will apply to an individual seeking to define their own dropping out.

A drop out from a $15M CEO position is in a vastly different position than the $15K clerk in the store. There are many more options for someone starting with $15M than for someone starting with $15K. The next question is what are you dropping out to? The CEO may drop out to a fully paid for organic farm but what can the clerk drop out to, a 10 year old mini van with oil leaks and bad tires? Each individual needs to find those two end points for themselves and make goals to make those points.

I am a drop out but from somewhere past the $15K. I started life on a farm where we grew a huge garden, butchered every fall, and fixed and repaired everything. Later I learned electronics and was a well paid software engineer for many years. During that time I was able to build up a supply of money, tools, and skills. I mostly liked what I was doing and did it for as long as I could, until I aged out of the business. Now I am living in a small travel trailer pulled by an eight year old pickup wandering about the country. A lot of tools and books in storage and looking for a place to park when I am tired of wandering.

Along the way I have meet several drop outs. Many are drop outs in their own imagination but several have truly dropped out. The first is my brother. He had a Diesel repair business, did metal fabrication, and ran trucks. Several years ago he got very sick from his alcoholism. He decided he needed a change and now lives on the island of Saipan in the CNMI. This little tropical island in some ways is a paradise. Year around night time temperatures at 76 and daytime at 86. Some of the best snorkeling in the Pacific and relatively cheap living. He found a low pressure job and is enjoying himself. He keeps trying to talk me into coming over.

Wandering around I have meet a few here. One I meet worked for a well known US company in sales for almost twenty years, until they decided to close the division. He was given one month severance per year worked and as his marriage also ended decided to go live somewhere else. He spend the next year or so in Portugal and wandering around Europe. Upon return he decided that he was done working so loaded an old camper on his even older pickup. That was about ten years ago, summers in Minnesota, winters in the south working on immigrant rights with some Red Cross relief work thrown in. He lives on odd jobs and temp work only when needed. He spends time in $2.50 a night camp grounds and truck stops, drinking cheap beer and in general enjoying himself.

Another drop out is Ron. Ron joined the Navy after high school and just drifted over the next twenty years. After retirement he did not want to work but wanted a small place to grow some food, play with his cats, and in general do little. To that end he meet Sandra who had built her own earth covered house and was very self sufficient. They pooled their resources and bought property in the Ozarks of Missouri. They have a large garden, chickens, and spend a lot of time just enjoying the world and reading.

Gene was a high powered real estate broker who put some money in rural Missouri property. He tried to live there as a salesman for a local company, real estate sales, etc but had to keep returning to the real estate market. Eventually he wrote a very successful book on homesteading and as sales were screaming along his publisher went bankrupt. Gene almost lost the property so went back into Real Estate at what could well have been the best possible time, the last several years. By good sales and making a good investment in a home he is able to move back to his homestead with enough money to live out his life as he wants.

Which brings it back around to me. I plan to continue to wander for a while until I find a place where I would like to park. I want a small piece of property where I can set up a shop, grow a garden, raise some chickens and bees. A place where I can be left totally alone.

December 10, 2006 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's perfectly acceptable to dumpster dive, b/c as you mentioned, the items have been discarded. They've abandoned ownership of them, so if someone wants to take it, great. It keeps something out of the landfill.
Anyone who thinks taking something from a dumpster is stealing needs to have his/her head examined.

December 11, 2006 12:43 AM  
Blogger Frank Black said...


Your comment rings true within me. No one can say for certain what "dropping out" means. I think we all crave the freedom we've lost over the years to an ever-intrusive government and ever-impersonal lifestyle. I envy many of the souls you mentioned. I spent a few years in Hawaii, so I do know the allure of the tropics (the prices were a bit too steep for me). It is certainly different for someone making large amounts of money. Dropping out is a hobby. For the rest of us working folks, dropping out is the only way we will survive. One day we wake up and find our lives are being wasted on the false promises of a heartless society. I wish I knew this sooner, but at least I know it. I'll likely be unable to drop out, but maybe my children will.

I'll put you in my bookmarks to keep up with your adventures.

Thank you for your experienced comments.

December 11, 2006 8:32 PM  
Blogger Frank Black said...


I agree. The only reason to make dumpster diving an issue is to control us even more. By "putting us in our place", those in power give us fewer and fewer opportunities to escape this wretched prison they've created for us. We will live their way, either in the world or in a prison, but we will live their way. Maybe someday we'll break out of this trap?

December 11, 2006 8:36 PM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...

Well, I'm gonna disagree with don. There is "dropping out" and then there is "retiring." I'm sorry but if you just want your own slice, you have not dropped out. If you just use the same supports that society says you can get while working then, no you are not dropping out, you are just retiring. The only way you could be "dropping out" on your own farm is if you are letting it become a commune for other drop-outs.

December 11, 2006 10:48 PM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...

I'm sorry, but maybe I'm not a drop out then. I mean, Yea I would love to have a farm and garden and putter around and make babies...that is a beautiful vision of retirement to me. But I won't put in decades at a brain-numbin, body-destroying job to do it. So I'm going to find another way to live. This is not a hobby, it is fueled partly by desperation that I can't fit in on terms that aren't harmful to me. So I'm willing to risk what I have to find a new way. What kind of risk do you take when you have bought and paid your way within the system? Don't you realize you've bought and paid your way by taking it away from people like me? There is no comparison. If you're a "drop out to a fully paid for organic farm" then I am no drop out.

December 11, 2006 10:55 PM  
Blogger Frank Black said...

I think for someone who realized far too late in life (such as I) that we've been hoodwinked, "retirement" is the likely option. I'm in a nasty in-between time that allows me to neither drop-out or retire. Sure, I could drop-out, but it would mean causing too much pain for those around me. Trying to ease out rather than drop out is my only option. In the end, it will mean a radical change to my lifestyle. If I plan things well, perhaps I can convince those in my family that they should drop out and provide some means by which they will be able to make it happen? As I said in my last post, my idea of dropping out is called non-compliance. If I can comply less and live on my own terms more, I'll be happy.
I can't remember where I posted the comment, but somewhere I mentioned the word "retirement" as a better word for what I likely needed. I was sad to have to use it, but at the time it fit. I may still move beyond that as my vision is constantly being formed, but if going to a tropical island with your money isn't dropping out, then neither is going into the woods with your tent. Both are resources one has and nothing more. No, not as radical, but if the mindset is correct it is a damned fine start. If I were 25 and single, it would be a whole new game for me. I wish I knew all this when I was that age.

December 12, 2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...

Frank, I think you want it both ways. The fact is that going to the woods with "a" tent is not the same as going to a tropical island with "your" money. The spirit of taking from a dumpster is behind this. The tent, even a van can be discarded material these days, some thing one is able to take without depriving others, moreover going to the woods or living in a van is not "sanctioned" by the authority's. What you are talking about is basically "easy", and what is worse is that you and don can both ignore the plight of the world around you because you sheilded, by the state and authorities, from encroachment upon your "sanctuary."

Casemeau is not shielded Frank. He is not "fulfilling a dream". He is acting based on denial of options by a system that is obviously failing, and by his own failure to make himself work for the system. He has a choice: drop out (leave the "system" at risk to himself and his loved ones) or self destruct.

You and Don are implying that what he is doing is closely related to retiring on a tropical beach!?! Nope, I don't see that.

Now, I'm not saying what you are striving for is not "respectable", but it is not the same class of action as what Casemeau is doing. Moreover, I'm sorry to say, it is more selfish and less daring.

I think, however, that a real cooperation between these two avenues of action need to be taken. I alluded to it before, Your organic farms and tropical retreats must be shared with like minded, but materially deprived others. If they are not, then you show yourself to be just as "consumptive" as the Bushs (who just bought 100,000 acres of Paraguayian forests to "retire" on).

December 12, 2006 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

Here we are bouncing against a definition of dropping out, something that is only possible from ones own perspective. My brother lives on a tropical island, playing in the warm surf every day, snorkeling around the coral. He did not retire to a tropical beach with his money, he took what he could get his hands on and did what he wanted to do. In fact he has to work to bring in the money to buy food and beer. It is casual work to be sure but a connection to the economic system none the less.

I do not consider myself retired if you think in terms of having complete freedom with some sort of income, far from it, I have to put in some work to live cheaply. It will be a few years before I can pony up to the SS gravy train. It just so happens I own my 8 year old pickup, travel trailer, and load of tools which does give me significant freedom on the edge of the economic system and that is all we can hope for.

December 12, 2006 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

In many ways I have not really dropped out because I was only partially in. I am well educated and have skills that enabled me to do well within the existing economic system but I never became a real part of that system. I did have well paying jobs and had my own company but all the while I never attempted to fit in, I never had much use with going out drinking with the guys after work or sitting around discussing the latest sports topic as if it were really important and I do not waste time on the latest pot boiler fiction. I never liked religion because it is nothing more than a mechanism for mind numbing control and to give cover to governments that want to have war with someone.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my work. I was an embedded software engineer working on all sorts of interesting projects though my career took a stumble when I refused to work on defense projects. My first business involved contract software but my second was custom woodworking and home repair.

I was the one out in the parking lot fixing the U-Joint on a 20 year old van or driving a 30 year old Corvair that I had rebuilt the engine. I am the one who would cruise the trash cans looking for good things and the one who would take home the odd bits of iron and cable. I never really fit in and when I aged out of the business never looked back.

December 12, 2006 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

You do not have to go off to the wilderness with a sheet of plastic from a dumpster to be a dropout. Living on a small holding and growing all of ones food is a lot of work and well beyond the physical abilities and skills of many people. It is near impossible to totally escape the current economic system and has been for many years. The Mountain Men in the early 1800s needed yearly resupply and in more modern times Dick Proenneke and Ted Kaczynski both used the output of the industrial economy to survive. Even the original inhabitants of this country quickly came part of the industrial economy when they purchased iron tools and cooking pots even as they tried to retain an older way of life. Those large Tipis shown in many mid 19th century photos are are a product of that economy as canvas was much lighter than Buffalo hide.

December 12, 2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...

I'm not trying to say whether you or anyone is a drop out. I'm saying that I think I understand a guy like Casemeau who is not interested in working a job. You are plenty a drop out, it sounds like, and a reasonable, decent man on top of it.

Look, I guess I'm still too trapped in the system as it is to give this a real level-headed look. I mean some of your examples, like the 1800s and the Native Americans, these were primarily barter economy things, and moreover they were not restricted to four-lanes of traffic for their movements and camps.

I understand you have done a lot to be a self-made man. And good for you. You have every reason to have some pride.

I'm not there. I'm about to go off into the distance without much of a clue and no help and an empty bank account. But I could be working!! So sometimes I just think I should go back to working by day and playing on my computer by night while I pile pennies in the bank.

Its really my problem, and I misunderstood what you were saying.

December 12, 2006 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

Another thing to mull over during this discussion. There is a group of people living in homes of pallets and blue tarps. The homes are far up a treed canyon to escape notice as much as possible. These people depend on day labor and searching trash cans and dumpsters for things to sell or to improve their meager living conditions. Then using the might of local laws backed by guns and bulldozers the homes are scraped clear and many of the inhabitants arrested.

Are these drop outs? Have they done this to escape the tyranny of an uncaring industrial economy? Are they thumbing their collective noses at the system? No, they are migrant workers, mostly Hispanic near coastal San Diego County. They work the nurseries, cut flower farms, strawberry fields, tomato fields and pick up day labor in the surrounding million dollar plus homes.

Those homeowners pressured the county to destroy the makeshift homes in the canyon using zoning and health laws the residents of a thriving community were pushed onto the streets, some arrested and deported. The owners of the million dollar homes fight with lawyers and campaign contributions to keep any affordable housing out of the area while they buy those cut flowers, eat fresh strawberries in February,brag about the organic tomatoes, and hire cheap labor to mow their lawn, cook and bus meals, and prop up their unsustainable lifestyle.

December 12, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger Frank Black said...

Dropping out, in my mind, also contains the idea that you will not do as everyone else does just because it is expected of you. You are choosing not to comply with the standard. Instead of two cars, you may have one and a bicycle. Instead of a 3000 square foot home in the suburbs, you have a 1200 square foot home in the city. You buy your clothes second-hand. You buy an older vehicle when you need one and you pay cash or barter.

Jack, many of the points you make are valid and they do sting in a way. But as I've said, I'm not really in a position to just stop. While that may seem to be selfish from one perspective, it is more selfish, in my mind, to dropout to the detriment of my family. That would mean that my desire to leave this consumer-driven madhouse is more important than my responsibility to their well-being. Sure, it doesn't have to be an either/or situation, but in my case it would be. In time (short time at that) I hope to put that behind me.
I was mulling this over for my next post, but I really have not allowed things to gel. Everyone has a story and they are all moving. My hope is that we can learn from each other and help guide one another out of this mess and to a life of meaning and authenticity. Right now, I'm in the scratching my ass phase of the master plan. ;)

December 12, 2006 8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 13, 2006 12:14 AM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...


I have no doubt you are a good man. But I wonder if I am a good man. I mean, I'm willing to ask this question: Why is your family so important? Seriously.

Why should your family or the Bush family for that matter, have so much security/safety? Is your family worth the whole community?

Forget me and Casemeau for a sec, this is about what we dedicate ourselves to. This is not about me and mine. But if it is not about me and mine, then it is not about you and yours either.

What am I saying? I guess I'm saying that your immediate family may be saved by your actions, but if the future is not also helped by what you do, then the people in your family's future must clearly pay the price.

Are you borrowing from the future for today or are you putting back into today for the future?

Nevertheless. It is difficult to do as you do. I am not asking you, nor could I ask you, to do otherwise. What you are doing is an act of love and beauty to those near you, and the gods know, we need as much of that as we can create.

December 13, 2006 3:39 PM  
Blogger Jack Trace said...


Let me see if I understand your point about migrant mexican workers: They look like "drop-outs" as they live on the fringes and in "hiding" as it were, but yet their entire purpose is to make money...not some inner need to find a better way. I hope i have that right.

Its a great point.

There is a strong element of purpose, intent in this, I agree.

What I want to point out is very similar: We can't just save ourselves, we can and should save as many as much as possible.

I mean if you have a ticket to the "shadow government's" secret complex then you are set, forget about anything but what gets you off.

However, if not, then you and I are in the same boat. We are in the same boat.

The life boat has to be big.

You both are well aware of this.
I guess I am singing to the choir, and beating a dead horse!

December 13, 2006 3:54 PM  
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December 14, 2006 12:08 AM  
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December 14, 2006 2:22 AM  

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