Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Hippie and Me

Walden Pond, MA, where Henry David Thoreau spent two years of his life living as naturally as possible. Work of QuarterCircleS, license: c.c.a.s.a 2.5 gen

One of the great joys of riding Greyhound is all the interesting people you meet along the way.

On my way from Atlanta to Seattle, I believe the Missouri portion of the route, I met a man who lives his principles every day. A radical environmentalist, not of the political sort but the real kind, he was on his way to a commune that his friend had set up in the mountains of Colorado. There they import nearly nothing, live almost totally off the land, and recycle every last thing they can.

They use no electricity and have no modern communications except a single old telegraph line to the ranger station reserved for emergencies. There are no roads near where they live, and they wake up every morning to a Rocky Mountain sunrise and a day of their own maintenance. He has been living this way for 40 years now, and is extremely satisfied with his life, where he eats the fruit of his own hands and sleeps under the roof of his own construction. He works FOR no employer, but rather works WITH his friends. He has little material wealth, but lots of heart, and a high quality of life.

As you probably know by now, I am not a radical environmentalist. Still, of this kind I can very much appreciate as I suspect anyone can who has an open mind. We talked of many things, about how you can catch rainwater on your roof, clean it, and drink it, about how vegetables made at home are better then the ones you buy at the store (which my family, many of whose members still grow their own vegetables, knows very much for certain to be true) and sensible policies towards hunting. We talked about business ideas, and how to bring recycling and good living to the people of the cities.

I brought up recycling human urine, a relatively easy process and one that can render high quality drinking water. He thought it was a great idea, for people like me. Unfortunately its greatest likely customer, California, probably wouldn't agree. They would think of it as icky, even if it makes sense and gives them cleaner, safer water then their own pipes, which it does, as there is not one ounce of open soil in a closed, above ground machine.

Here's another idea: theoretically, you can put nuclear waste in a highly shielded barrel, and then drop it in a large pool of seawater. The result will be that as the barrel absorbs the radiation, it will heat to a tremendous temperature, and then turn the seawater in to steam. The salt and impurities and all uncleanness will be left behind and you will have as close to pure water as can be acquired anywhere deposited in a pool by gravity, just like the earths own rain. This would provide a great practical use for nuclear waste, and lower the price of water throughout the world while saving the earths aquifers and ecosystems from drainage and tampering by urban water systems.

But California wouldn't do that either.

He thought it was interesting to meet someone on the opposite side of the spectrum from him, someone who works with society rather then removing oneself from it. Unlike the hypocritical SUV environmentalists of California, he had no anger, no venom, no dislike, and no insecurity. He knew he was doing what he was able to do, and he needn't do more. The peace he had inside of himself grew outward, and came to include anyone in his presence.

Perhaps the environmental advantages of environmental legislation are overwhelmed by the spiritual malaise they create. No law, no order, no head of state made my friend become a hippie, he did it out of his own heart, and he desired none, but the people of California grow old in a place where every aspect of economic action is dictated by government, where as a utilities company, I don't have the option of saving aquifers by using nuclear waste to desalinize seawater, because the government has a law against that. I don't have the option to recycle my own urine, because I don't have a license for that, and even if I did I couldn't mass produce the machine so I couldn't afford it. I don't have the option of creating a commune near San Simeon, because the land, though cheap, is off-limits to all development heavier then ranching. I can't collect my seawater, because that would be against zoning laws. I can't raise pigs and chickens in my backyard, because that would be uncivilized. Indeed, we are too civilized, far too civilized perhaps even to live.

One of the unsung virtues of the free market is that it actually creates hippies. This is something Jefferson understood as he confronted a form of big government far more minor then todays in the name of a peaceful agrarianism. Men in black ties and suits, unless they are volunteers, must be forced and manufactured, and business does not have the ability to do this by itself. Train systems only become irreparable when an AMTRAK takes over their routes.

The Amish built primitivist towns and small farms in the Midwest centuries before bureaucracy, but bureaucracy today creates Monsanto, Cargill, and other huge agricultural companies that have replaced the small family farmer with legions of Mexican, often illegal, immigrants, who do not even know the language of the land, have no real home or place to call their own, raise their children in a constant, hateful flux, and are entitled to almost none of the fruit of their labors. When they grow too old, they are illegal, so no one can take care of them, and they are illegal because the INS is too big. Monsanto also once patented a new biogenetically engineered seed, and when the wind carried it to a neighboring farm, sued the owner for copyright infringement. The name of that case was Monsanto vs. Schmeiser, a textbook example of the law being right, and the morality being wrong.

The reality is that no matter how we choose to live, like my hippie, we must take responsibility for our lives. If that means recycling our urine to support our urban resources and having factories by our houses, we must take this as the just price for living so well in other ways. The people of California had once seen their standard of living rise, and now that they have stifled their commerce, destroyed their car factories, ruined their peoples creativity, frozen their once dynamic cities and neighborhoods, and plundered their farmland, they demand to keep what they had when they were useful. Not only is this hypocrisy a damnable disgrace, and deserves the very wrath of God, but its consequences are seen in the spirit of the people, now a small, petty people of soft, worthless disagreements, judgmental notions of class, paranoia and hate. I suspect very strongly that these people don't live full lives, and their crime rate indicates a toxic level of personal brokenness. Just like my hippie, we must live with our cities maintained and our nation growing, or leave, with our way of living behind us, to somewhere we can live. Our tenacity is an illusion created by our prosperity, and our prosperity lasts only as long as we work to maintain it.


Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont said...

Very well put, Jeremy; lots to think about.

Jeremy Janson said...

Thanks for stopping by Ana! :-)

nothingprofound said...

Beautifully written, JJ. You're a deep thinker with an encyclopedic mind. You've put a lot of effort into understanding a broad range of topic. Your points are always challenging and well-informed.

Tricia said...

EXCELLENT post. Leaves me with a lot to think about. :)

JaneneMurphy said...

Wow, Jeremy. What a wonderful post. I don't know why, but my mind turned to a line in 'The Matrix' when human beings were equated with being a virus that multiplies until every resource is consumed. It saddens me when those who have knowledge and/or ways of life which combat this 'viral' nature no longer have voices people wish to hear.

Agit8r said...

I believe in free markets as well

"The successful use of competition does not preclude some types of government interference. For instance, to limit working hours, to require certain sanitary arrangements, to provide an extensive system of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. There are, too, certain fields where the system of competition is impracticable. For example, the harmful effects of deforestation or of the smoke of factories cannot be confined to the owner of the property in question. But the fact that we have to resort to direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function. To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible,to prevent fraud and deception, to break up monopolies, these tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity."

-- Friedrich Hayek; from 'Road to Serfdom'

Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont said...

Ah, yes, I remember! I need privacy and possessions. :-)