July 24th, 2019
I stopped to talk to one of Hans’ neighbors yesterday. Actually, he wanted to talk with me. I’m not sure why. He was in his driveway, burning a cigarette, and he started telling me his life story. The narrative was intriguing, but some of the events he described seemed, well, unlikely. Whatever. I have also tales that sound improbable.
What interested me was when the guy started talking about the future. He got enthusiastic while speaking about it. He said,
“Yeah, you know, I’ve been thinking about getting with some like-minded people, and living off the land. I have a garden in the back. Talk about a green thumb! I can’t even kill a plant! I could grow the food, and other people could do different kinds of work. One guy could do carpentry. Maybe have a blacksmith.”
He went on, “We could get us some acres of land, and get away from all this government stuff.”
Please note that Hans’ neighbor is an IT guy for the City of Bryan, Texas. He works for the local government. Even he saw the irony in that. The man is also a huge fan of the military, despite the inconvenient fact the U.S. military is part of the federal government.
I considered his plan. Well, actually, it’s not a plan. It’s more like a fantasy at this point. I don’t believe that he has really thought this through, at all.
The basic idea is nothing new. Some people have always renounced the world, and tried to escape from a vile and corrupt society. There were the Essenes of Qumran (i.e. the folks with the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Hindu sannyasis. Sometimes these attempts went well. Benedict of Nursia started a monastic order that has lasted for fifteen centuries. On the end of the spectrum are the Charles Manson family, and the folks at Jonestown who drank the Kool-Aid. Things can go very badly.
I am always leery when a person says that he or she wants to be with “like-minded people”. That implies that they don’t want their opinions challenged. They just want their beliefs to be reinforced. Also, the desire to be with like-minded people never seems to work out. At some point a person learns that the “like-minded” acquaintance doesn’t agree on some issues, and life becomes unpleasant for everyone involved.
I have spent a little time at Catholic Worker farms, just a couple visits. The people living in those communities try to distance themselves from corporate America, with its consumerism and militarism. The Catholic Workers succeed to a certain extent. My impression from my very limited experience with these farms is that they require an immense amount of work. The members of these communities have to disciplined, selfless, and dedicated to the common good. I could never do what they do day in and day out. No way.
I am sure it is possible for a group of people to start a new life away from mainstream society. People live off the grid today, but there aren’t many of them. I suspect that this type of existence will become more difficult as time goes on. Centuries ago, people could more easily live in isolation. Most of the population had the same skill set, which was some sort of farming. Now people have very specialized skills that only have value in a complex urban setting. How hard would be for the IT tech to go back to subsistence farming? Close to impossible.
Will Hans’ neighbor eventually live off the land? Maybe he can. Maybe he’s right.
Maybe he’s just talking smack.