by Mike Sliwa, who blogs at Chasing a Different Carrot with his wife Karen
We spent three months at the mud hut and lived to tell about it.
My wife Karen and I were fortunate enough to spend most of our summer with Guy on his doomstead and came away with an appreciation for how fragile life really is. As the days rolled along and the learning curve was fully realized it occurred to us that homesteading on our own was not in our near future. Don’t get me wrong, we loved working on the homestead but we really don’t have any desire at the moment to find a place and settle down. There are many factors that brought us to this realization but the important part is my wife and I agree. It could be that we’re soul mates but reality tells me it’s because we see the world in a similar light. We both come from a place of privilege and have come to realize how the world works for us.
According to Jared Diamond, geography played a major role in determining the haves and have nots. It’s a good starting point for understanding how privilege works and very telling on how it starts. Being born in the United States and never knowing hunger in our lives is important to recognize. We didn’t choose our nationality but it surely has shaped our existence. Geography was an important factor in forming our privileged life. It is the basis for the social groups to which Karen and I belong.
I am a white heterosexual male born in the United States and raised by a middle-class, college-educated family. More importantly, I was born into industrial civilization. I did not earn any of these distinctions but they have made all the difference. Because of my geography other social categories carry more weight. The wealth and power of my country have helped elevate my social standing. Membership has its privileges, as Louis C.K. knows.
During our time with Guy we realized the privilege of being able to pick up and leave our old life behind and venture out toward a new one. People living in refugee camps have no such luxuries. We live in a country where we get what children call do-overs. Just like when you’re a kid playing cops and robbers and suddenly you’re shot dead. You stay still on the ground and play dead for a few seconds and then jump back into the game. In a sense that’s what Karen and I have done and many U.S. citizens and corporations have done. Some call it a bail out, some call it bankruptcy, and others call it walking away. In essence it’s a do-over.
Growing up with these benefits leads to a sense of entitlement. We agree with those who argue that it’s not their fault they were born in this country or that they were born into a particular gender or race. What we find fascinating is that most of those same people still feel entitled to the perks that come along with their social groups. I see no sense of responsibility from the privileged. What we see are expectations. We expect food in our stores. We expect water to come out of our taps. We expect affordable gasoline. We expect kiwi fruits in December. We expect a do-over when we fuck up.
Like most of us, Karen and I have distorted boundaries. We live in the gated community of the world. Living this way has turned our perspectives into truth. Others have perspectives but here in the U.S. we have the truth. The actual truth is we have set the norm for the industrialized world. Breaking free from that norm will be very difficult for us.
On the homestead I started to wonder what I was really doing. Obviously my privilege gave me some opportunities to pursue this lifestyle and in a sense I certainly felt that I should have a chance to learn a new skill set. What I discovered was that it’s difficult to change gears when living in a country of great abundance. The truth is Karen and I have a huge safety net. Many of my friends think we’re taking a huge risk by giving up our jobs, our credit scores, and our many conveniences. That’s their “truth.” In actuality it’s their perspective. If one steps outside of the dominant group and looks at the situation for what it actually is, it’s plain to see that there is very little risk involved at all. When comparing our situation with many in the developing world the risk factor is laughable. Our worst-case scenario is our credit drops and we feel guilty about it. We have friends and family who would support us emotionally and financially if necessary. We will not go hungry or die because of our decision to leave it all behind. This is the actual truth which is very different from many perspectives we encounter. Privileged individuals live in a world of distortion and our experience thus far has reinforced this idea.
When I arrived at Guy’s place it was a little frightening for me personally. I had no connection to the land, animals, insects, or surrounding community for that matter. I had become an expert at ignoring the land, avoiding the animals, stepping on the insects, and tolerating my community. I would objectify what I was fearful of and compartmentalize what I was ignorant of. My wife on the other hand had no such fears and I began to wonder about my actions. She was in a place of wonderment. Like so many people in Guy’s community, she has peace within her. We met primitivists, artists, tramps, handy men/women, authors, and many living in voluntary poverty. All of these folks are dedicated to the simple wonderment of life.
While the summer months passed I began to reflect on my place is this mess called civilization. I benefit directly from the murder of the living planet but in the end it will cost me the planet. So is privilege worth the cost? The answer is simple but arriving at it is very difficult for most. It feels so good to have all this convenience but when you’re alone on a piece of land that you have no connection to, one quickly comes to realize how much of a fraud civilization actually is. I have been standing on the shoulders of others all of my life and I haven’t a clue to the oneness of life. Oh sure I know everything is connected, but I’m so disconnected that I’m afraid in my short time left in this world I may never come to feel it on a personal level. My whole life has been about objectifying and compartmentalizing. Without it industrial civilization is impossible.
Consequently I am a supremacist. I live in a white supremacist nation. I live in a patriarchal world. I live in a time period where we believe we have conquered nature, even though we all know who bats last. Ultimately being a supremacist leads to the violent destruction of the living planet and all who depend on it for life. So as we continue to emulate those who have more privilege the train keeps rolling towards the cliff. We are all passengers on this train, which is not news to those who read and contribute to NBL.
Karen and I have come to realize that privilege has created this mess and privilege will not get us out of it. It’s time to pay the price for this gravy train and that’s not just a perspective but more like truth. Settling down on a homestead would be an amazing education. I’m not sure I have the staying power when my disconnect from the living world is so blatant. I need to experience what’s out there before I can call any part of it home. So we will continue to seek work on various homesteads across the world and take it as it comes.
My wife and Guy are fearless … I wish I could say the same about myself.