Recently by Fred Reed: White Trash and the AmericanExperience
When a country works reasonably well – when the schools teach algebra and not governmentally mandated Appropriate Values, when the police are scarce and courteous, when government is remote and minds its business and works more for the benefit of the country than for looters and special interests, then pledging to it a degree of allegiance isn’t foolish. Decades back America was such a country, imperfect as all countries are, but good enough to cherish.
As decline begins, and government becomes oppressive, self-righteous, and ruthless yet incompetent, as official spying flourishes, as corruption sets in hard, and institutions rot, it is time to disengage. Loyalty to a country is a choice, not an obligation. In other times people have loved family, friends, common decency, tribe, regiment, or church instead of country. In an age of national collapse, this is wise.
A fruitful field of disengagement might be called domestic expatriation – the recognition that living in a country makes you a resident, not a subscriber. It is one thing to be loyal to a government that is loyal to you, another thing entirely to continue that loyalty when the Brown Shirts march and the government rejects everything that you believe in. While the phrase has become unbearably pretentious, it is possible to regard oneself as a citizen of the world rather than of the Reich.
Home schooling is an admirable form of disengagement for those who cannot physically expatriate. The primary schools once taught enough of reading and arithmetic, and little enough of medioccritizing propaganda, as to render them other than pernicious. Today, no. Here it is worth reflecting, contrary to governmental insistence, that schools are needless, at least for bright children. An intelligent child quickly reads several years ahead of his grade level, at which point school becomes only an obstacle. He will be savagely bored, regard his teachers as imbeciles, and learn nothing that justifies his being there but much that justifies being somewhere else. In the deepening twilight, home-schooling becomes almost a responsibility, a parallel to medieval monks copying Greek manuscripts.
Disengagement from the system of universities, or as I should say, “universities,” is also advisable. This is true, first, because if you seek cultivation, to gain a grasp of such matters as history, literature, the arts and the sciences, you can do it better on your own. Professors serve little purpose other than to ensure that the student does his homework. If the student wants to study, he can do it by himself, and if he doesn’t want to study, he has no business in a university.
Second, universities these days, with exceptions I hope, are citadels of intellectual darkness. They teach little, and chiefly serve to force the young to borrow backbreaking sums from colluding banks. The wasted time and phenomenal cost cannot be justified unless they provide some remarkable recompense, and they do not.
Universities largely prepare the student for a life of office work in some dismal institution, trapping him in the retirement system and making him a prisoner of the state. In a nation subsiding into the third world, institutions cannot be counted on.
It makes more sense to become, say, a commercial diver, or a master auto mechanic. The training costs less than piratical fifth-rate USOs (university-shaped objects). Both are interesting, challenging, and well-remunerated, which cannot be said of law for most who do not go into Wall Street. Crucially important, cars can be found everywhere, and such as oil companies the world over need divers. You are not tied to the United States, where the death rattle begins to be heard over the thump of the storm troopers’ boots.
Disengagement from the consumerist zeitgeist is essential. Yes, I know. Distaste for a life dedicated to buying the unnecessary can seem a pose: “I, I, am of such lofty character that I do not dirty my philosophical hands with mere…things.”
No. It is not a pose. In a time of economic retrogression, rejection of consumerism is utterly practical. And almost treasonous.
One might ask oneself, “What do I really need, and what things really matter to me? How much money do I really need, and how much am I willing to pay to get it?” Remember, you pay more for money than for anything else.
I once lived briefly in an old one-bedroom trailer set in a patch of pine woods near Farmville, Virginia. A brick barbecue came with it, and a large floppy pooch, apparently a mixture of Irish setter and whatever was around. The place was blessedly quiet. Birds and bugs aren’t noise. When it rained I delighted in being almost in the storm, but dry. I think the whole shebang cost the owner five thousand dollars, including a well and septic system.
If you are thinking, “Why…no…I couldn’t possibly live that way,” you are probably right. But if I were doing it now, I would have staggering amounts of pirated music on today’s monstrous memory sticks, a set of very decent speakers for a few hundred doomed green ones, a Kindle or the free computer version for reading books from Amazon if I had the money or Project Gutenberg if I didn’t, and a fairly large flat screen for watching movies donated by uTorrent. Net cost: Under a grand.
Circumstances differ, yes. But you get the idea: Comfort, quiet, music, books, barbecue, undefined dog, storms, friends, for practically nothing. Mutatis mutandis, the principle applies almost everywhere.
It also fits well with Fred’s Bifurcate Law of Economic Independence: If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it; and if you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Therein lie the seeds of the utter destruction of America, but I’m not Wall Street’s mother.
To labor the point a tad, where I live, near Guadalajara in Mexico, at least two friends are living quite comfortably on a thousand a month, to include beer, Internet, and in one case substances crucial to the bloated salaries of DEA. Each has a tired truck, but no granite countertops or riding mower.
Another step toward independence is to disengage to the extent possible from the maintenance cycle. You are much better off in bad times if you can do the kind of plumbing, wiring, and auto maintenance that used to be commonly understood. This is easy to say, I know. Yet, if done, it gets you farther off the grid.
Again, circumstances differ and details vary. The principle remains: Disengage, cut your expenses, seek the interstices, and don’t believe in anything unless you are sure it was your idea to believe in it. What is coming looks to be ugly. If so, it will be every man for himself, his family, his friends, and what principles he believes. The government doesn’t give a wan, eitolated damn about you.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.