What I’ve Learned

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

~ Neil Gaiman


I’ve learned a lot since I voluntarily left active service as a tenured professor at a major university. I was 49 years old when I cut the monetary cord in May of 2009. I’ll share some of the hard-earned knowledge I gained in this short essay. Perhaps doing so will prevent others from making some of the many mistakes I’ve made. Perhaps I can continue to encourage learning, creativity, and pushing beyond the shackles of culture into which we were born.

My goal in leaving active service from the privileged life of the academy was to lead by example. I wanted to prevent Earth from experiencing abrupt, irreversible climate change, the Sixth Mass Extinction, and other adverse outcomes from civilization. I failed in this most important of endeavors. I was probably at least two decades late getting started, and opting out of industrial civilization proved troublesome on several fronts.

Most importantly as a result of my decision, I continued to teach. Nearly as importantly, I continued to learn. The 2.7-acre homestead in the wilds of southern, rural New Mexico provided many teachable moments for me and my hundreds of visitors. So, too, does the 57-acre homestead I occupy in western Belize.

Image courtesy of Lesley Ash

At the homestead I call the mud hut in southern, rural New Mexico, I learned how to grow food. I learned how to design and build structures. I learned animal husbandry. I built structures to house non-human animals. I learned how to milk goats. I became adept, expert even, at making mozzarella, Feta, and Parmesan. Once I even made something closely resembling blue cheese, which would’ve been more impressive had I not been trying to make Monterey Jack.

I learned that attempting to live beyond the dominant, omnicidal paradigm will be punished. Such action is met with confusion, disdain, and hatred, all rooted in ignorance. According to most people, there is one way to live. Anything else is a mistake. Based on the reactions I’ve received, attempting to live beyond the omnicidal mainstream may well be a mistake.

I learned a lot about human behavior, and most of what I learned contradicted my prior idealism. I learned most people are neither particularly intelligent nor capable of critical thinking. They believe cultural lies without question. They believe what they want to believe, contrary to evidence. They promulgate lies without regard to evidence or the ensuing harm.

In other words, I learned that most people cannot be trusted. I learned most people are takers. And yet I still refuse to sacrifice love for cynicism, which would be among the greatest mistakes a person could commit.

I learned a little kindness goes a long way. I learned we can all use more kindness and less judgment to the benefit of all. As nearly as I can tell, very few people have learned any of these simple concepts. It’s no wonder, at least to me, we’re headed for human extinction very soon.

Most people, including at least 95% of the people I know, will gladly give away human habitat in exchange for a few fancy bills colored with ink. It’s therefore small wonder the looming ice-free Arctic spells the demise of habitat for humans on Earth.

Homo sapiens has conquered the globe, for now. As we’ll all soon learn, nature bats last. During the intervening time between now and my near-term expiration date, I intend to live fully, with intention. I’ll continue to pursue rationalism, too. I’ve no doubt it will continue to be a lonesome path characterized by insults. And I’d rather be alone than unprincipled. Please join me, and the slim minority, along a principled path.

Adhering to principle and acceptance of human extinction need not induce despair. Unlike most of my many detractors, I’m not miserable. Indeed, the ability to face the mirror without shame is a pleasant experience. And, as I’ve written recently, my life in the Belizean jungle is characterized by a desirable combination of solitude and joy.

I smile and laugh frequently every day. Absurdism, the unintentionally hilarious actions of my detractors, and the presence of supportive friends combine to bring me joy. May your final days be equally fine.