Mac and Jack: Roughing it in the Sandwich Islands

I’m just back at the mud hut after a too-short trip to the big island of Hawaii, where I visited a former student from the University of Arizona honors program. James was visiting Zimbabwe when the economy there headed south in a hurry, as I described here and here. We discussed his interest in ramping up the durable set of living arrangements at the off-grid property he occupies in Hawaii’s vog zone (at 1,000 feet elevation, where fog mixes with volcanic steam and ejecta).

Before I boarded the plane for my Hawaiian adventure, James sent this line for my consideration (from Bruce Chatwin’s book, The Songlines): “Army, any professional army or war department, is, without knowing it, a tribe of the surrogate nomads, which has grown inside the State; which preys off the State; without whom the State would crumble; yet whose restlessness is, finally, destructive of the State in that, like gadflies, they are forever trying to goad it into action.”

We discussed the line, which is self-evident and particularly applicable to innumerable ongoing misadventures of the U.S. military, between bouts of consumption of macadamia nuts and several other foods growing on the property: mango, papaya, avocado, citrus. We also snorkeled each day, and hiked into a remote black-sand beach half the days. The proximity to the bounty of the sea, the moderate temperatures, and food that grows on trees are among the reasons I prefer Hawaii as a post-carbon landing pad. James is wise in many ways, including his location.

The other big event of the trip, besides mac nuts and exercise on land and sea: Jack Daniels. Just as Mark Twain describes in the book from which my subtitle is taken, there are worse habits than alcohol. I’m hardly in the habitual stage yet, but I did imbibe for the first time in 3 years (and the second time in 32 years, an acceleration approximating the ongoing economic collapse).

But I digress. Or perhaps consumption is the primary point, as it’s been in the industrialized world for decades.

Consistent with James’ thoughtfulness, a single sheet of paper greeted me as I entered the bungalow on the property that was to become my home for five beautiful days. Above the words, “Welcome to Hawaii,” was a hand-transcribed paragraph from Chatwin’s book: “As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less aggressive than sedentary ones. There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a leveler on which the fit survive and stragglers fall by the wayside. The journey pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The dictators of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the gentlemen of the road.

I greatly enjoyed the company of James and his main squeeze Vida because they readily mix discussion of important issues with light-hearted banter. They are among the few twenty-somethings I’ve met who understand the industrial economy is in the midst of its terminal decline, and who also recognize the coming post-industrial Stone Age as good news for the living planet, including our own species. They can laugh in a sea of plenty as well as in a tornado of chaotic contraction. They’ve both traveled widely enough to know there are ways of living unfamiliar to most Americans, and that wealth is measured not in fiat currency but in relationships rooted in life experiences. They aptly fit a line I use often when I speak or write: “If you cannot laugh at yourself, and you cannot laugh at the apocalypse, then you’ve got dark days ahead. If you can laugh at yourself, and you can laugh at the apocalypse, then you’ll never run out of material.”

Mac and Jack, shared with bright, articulate people willing and able to discuss important issues of the day and intermixed with daily physical activity. Is there a better way to live? If so, where can I find it?


This essay is permalinked at Counter Currents, Island Breath, and Energy Bulletin.

Comments 14

  • Sounds like your pals have got it down – if you’re gonna go back to the land, there’s a hell of a lot worse places to do it than Hawaii. Couple questions, if you can answer them:

    1) How’d they get hold of such prime Hawaiian real estate? Bought it? Inherited it? Rent it? Squat on it?

    2) What do they do for income, to keep it?

  • I love that line from Chatwin re: the anarchists as the gentlemen of the road. He’s always been one of my favorite writers and it’s true, assuming you haven’t invaded a country with an army, you tend to be more respectful of others and their cultures when you’re the new kid on the block;-)

  • Court, the property belongs to a small group of people who — like those of us at the mud hut — joined ranks. And, contrary to popular belief, property in Hawaii is really quite affordable if you avoid the cities and suburbs. The grove of mac nut trees produces some income, and the owners work relatively traditional jobs, too. Sorry to be vague, but I don’t want to infringe on anybody’s privacy.

    John, thanks for your occasional comment. I haven’t read anything by Chatwin except the few words I’ve posted here … one more author for the list.

  • Hmmm, Hawaii sounds good, still haven’t given up the US passport so who knows? I’m sure the winters there beat the ones up here in the icebox;-)

  • Huh. Didn’t know that about property in Hawaii, although it stands to reason. Good to know. Something to bear in mind, because I’m sure my wife who hails from the tropics would prefer Hawaii to Wyoming … if only it weren’t so damn far away from, well, everything.

  • Court,

    I agree about it being far away. Moving there prior to the collapse would certainly leave you stuck there after it. That probably has all kinds of attendant good things associated with it, but if you have people you care about on the mainland they might be as inaccessible to you as they would be if you had voyaged to Mars to start a colony; no re-supply ship coming any time soon.

    Michael Irving

  • Long before settling on the central highlands of Brazil, we actually considered Hawaii as our initial “escape” plan about 10 years ago. You are right, property off the grid (we looked on the Big Island mostly) is not nearly as expensive and no matter where you go it seems there are stunning ocean views. In spite of all the beauty and bounty of Hawaii, however, we just found it too claustrophobic and a little fragile sitting way out there in the middle of the big Pacific Ocean.

    Where we live in Brazil actually looks a lot like the Big Island, sans the ocean views of course. The advantage for us is the stable landscape (no earthquakes here), abundance of fresh water, and distance from the ocean (no tidal waves here either!). The biggest challenges have been language and customs, but this has made the “adventure” much more interesting too. We are still working on the community aspect, but the “ecological condominium” where we are currently living has some like minded people who are warm and loving, interesting and fun.

    We still have our “private” property tucked away in the woods where we’d eventually like to build our own community that is more akin to Guy’s model, and we are looking forward to having people come visit us to see what we are doing. In the meantime, we keep growing food, researching opportunities, and learning to speak Portuguese!

  • Cindy Winkelman,

    I never cease to be amazed at the power of the Internet to bring together like-minded people from around the planet. Adventure is exactly what you are doing.

    Michael Irving

  • Court:

    Where have you been ?? Had lunch with your uncle Guy not long ago,
    and we talked about you.Are you still in rural Thailand ?If you have
    been keeping up here,you’ll note I took Uncle Guy to task on January 1
    of this year by noting that the world was still extant–just as you had predicted.

    Guy: Congratulations on rediscovering the drop !! It is a necessary
    concomitant of intelligent discourse.I’ll have one myself this evening,
    and will think of you in the process.

    A neighbor just gave me a bottle of the Talisker,18 year old.If there is a God,he surely resides within it.

    Double D

  • Michael Irving ~

    Indeed ~ special thanks to people like Guy McPherson who provide an intelligent and meaningful online forum for discussions like this! I don’t have a website, but you can “meet” my husband Michael and find out about his academic accomplishments at his website:

    ~ Cindy

  • From the beloved wikipedia, here is a footnote about Tennessee Whiskey:

    The Whiskey Rebellion, less commonly known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a resistance movement in the western part of the United States in the 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington. The conflict was rooted in western dissatisfaction with various policies of the eastern-based national government. The name of the uprising comes from a 1791 excise tax on whiskey that was a central grievance of the westerners. The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton’s program to centralize and fund the national debt.

    Small farmers also protested that Hamilton’s excise effectively gave unfair tax breaks to large distillers, most of whom were based in the east. There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat fee or paying by the gallon. Large distillers produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. The more efficient they became, the less tax per gallon they would pay. Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them year-round at full capacity, and so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon, which made them less competitive.[13] Small distillers believed that Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business, a view endorsed by some historians.

    The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. The whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, however, having been largely unenforceable outside of western Pennsylvania, and even there never having been collected with much success. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway.[91] The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton’s Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.

  • Been in HI only once, in 1976 for naturalization when stationed at Camp Casey in Korea. A good thing, because thereafter I was no longer excluded by “No Forn” (for military security purposes). I read somewhere thai even Hawaii is past overshoot in terms of the population that cas be supperted sans fossil fuels. Because of its remoteness and its lack of some resources such as iron ores, it may have to revert closer to its original lifestyles.

    The primary purpose of the military is to be able to kill people and to do it faster than they can kill us. Which people is immaterial: one day it may be the krauts and yellow bastards, another day it may be short brown geeks and yet another day it may be ragheads: it depends on the mood of the momemt of the political leadership. Genghis Khan had all the Muslims of Baghdad beheaded.

    And the military has to be subordinate to the political overlords: the Bolsheviks “purged” all the officers in the Czarist Russian Army of the rank of Colonel and above (good that nothing of the sort happens in the uS Army – or didn’t while I was still on the rolls). The recent uS Army casualty had a much better time of it.

    The British learnt their lessons as noted by Rudyard Kipling in “Arithmetic on the Frontier” in 1886, after the Second Anglo-Afghan War:

    A great and glorious thing it is
    To learn, for seven years or so,
    The Lord knows what of that and this,
    Ere reckoned fit to face the foe—
    The flying bullet down the Pass,
    That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.”

    Three hundred pounds per annum spent
    On making brain and body meeter
    For all the murderous intent
    Comprised in “villanous saltpetre!”
    And after—ask the Yusufzaies
    What comes of all our ‘ologies.

    A scrimmage in a Border Station—
    A canter down some dark defile—
    Two thousand pounds of education
    Drops to a ten-rupee jezail—
    The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
    Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

    No proposition Euclid wrote,
    No formulae the text-books know,
    Will turn the bullet from your coat,
    Or ward the tulwar’s downward blow
    Strike hard who cares—shoot straight who can—
    The odds are on the cheaper man.

    One sword-knot stolen from the camp
    Will pay for all the school expenses
    Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
    Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
    But, being blessed with perfect sight,
    Picks off our messmates left and right.

    With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
    The troop-ships bring us one by one,
    At vast expense of time and steam,
    To slay Afridis where they run.
    The “captives of our bow and spear”
    Are cheap—alas! as we are dear.

    Later the Russians too graduated from the Afghan school with distinction.

    The uS civilian and military leadership is also working on graduation frem the Afghan school. Tuition fees however, are quite high: the recent payment was 30,000 uS troops (lower case “u” as in the Declaration of Independence). Let’s hope they graduate soon!

  • Frank,

    Nope, not in rural Thailand anymore, I’m in rural Wyoming. Where they’re currently prospecting for oil (click on my link to my blog to see).

    I do drop in here, and I did see that you pointed out to Guy how the world as we know it was still standing as of Jan 1, 2010. I rather thought reality proved my (our) point nicely. I rather suspect it will continue to do so long after 2012, which I see is the current presumed date of the apocalypse. I’ll continue to lurk around here just to see, although I’ve no plans to do much commenting.

  • I posted “The Risks of Fiddling” on my blog today and then started to go back in the history of your blog when I rolled into this post. I am living on the Big Island in the Puna district where it seems like you friend lives. I think, however, the Hawaiian Islands might not be a good place, and they may actually be a canary. The Islands are under a heavy drought right now and they are hoping the the newly formed La Nina will bring the rain they need. They are also having new and bad problems with soil bacteria.

    Anyway, I would love to speak with your friend. It is actually quite hard to find like minded people out here.

    Mahalo e aloha.