Potlicker editorial: Differences disappear the closer you are to the land

My dad was from a truly different generation.  Born in 1914 in a small mining town in Arizona, he endured the great depression, the second world war and many other hardships.  He had a very strong pragmatism that developed from his upbringing, and so did most of his friends from the same era.  Through his later years, my dad returned to the cowboy life he loved so much throughout his youth, and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him on his ranch during the hot Arizona summers (my parents separated when I was very young).

When I was younger, I never really thought about my dad's political bent.  By today's standards, he was probably a staunch conservative, as he was fiscally restrained, believed in hard work over hand outs and owned more guns than you could count.  But, somehow, he didn't seem closed minded or judgmental about the way other people lived.  When he spoke with people, it was usually about his horses or cows, the weather, the past, or some thing that might have happened that day while he was out on the land.  He had some amazing stories, and I would listen to them with complete attention.  That was another thing about my dad -- when he spoke, you listened because it mattered.

As an adult, I have been steadily trying to build my life so that I may live much closer to the land, as my dad did, and even more as my ancestors did.  I have been learning and doing as much as I can to be self reliant, understand natural systems and the ways people made due when food or water was scarce.  This has in turn lead me to read all sorts of blogs, forums and magazines with information about primitive living, homesteading, native crafts and traditions, food preservation and so on.  A curious side effect of this effort was discovering that people of all walks of life are interested in going back to the land, and that the closer you get to actually doing it, the less things like conservative and liberal seem to matter.   Living a subsistence life means preoccupying yourself with things of substance like meals, conservation of money and natural resources, family, and learning.  The more primitive the life, the less room there is to think or even know about fads, celebrities and even politics.  The land becomes a unifying force for people and when you depend on it for your survival, it's hard to tell a hippie from a CEO.  In nature, all people are equal and nature always holds the winning hand.  Civilization gives us the impression that we are above this truth, that we can conquer nature through our science and innovation, but this fallacy is contradicted every time a natural "disaster" happens.  Nothing we have created can withstand these forces.  In antiquity, people knew this and respected its awesome power.

Now, we're at a critical juncture in human history where increasing resource scarcity coupled with high population density is straining the very complex systems we have put in place to hold ourselves above the ever-rising effluence we have created.   Once those systems break down in earnest, we will be thrust violently into the world we're trying to escape.  When the store shelves are empty and there's no gasoline, what are people going to eat?  At that desperate moment, a Monet painting becomes less valuable than a crust of bread, and celebrity is nothing but a reminder of the hubris we once had.  Politics evaporate as well, and what is left are human ethics forged in the moment.  Do you share your food with the starving person next to you, or not?  Do you teach those around you what wild edibles are available, or do you keep it to yourself so it is not consumed by everyone else?  In moments of crisis, ethics and ideals are not generalized in any way.  They are hyper-specific and based on circumstance.  The differences that divide our country now would disappear in a heartbeat if the systems we depend on stopped working, and those who would seek to control our behavior know this.  They depend on it.

Imagine what life would be like if people were simply living and focused on things of substance instead of what Brad and Angelina were wearing.  I believe our future may well hinge on this proposition.  If we don't take a step back and work intently to rejoin the land and work with it instead of against it, we are going to incur a level of human suffering that has never been seen before.  A homestead or natural living space is a gift to future generations.  A nuclear power plant or dammed river is a curse to them.  Will our legacy to our children's children be Swiffers or the knowledge necessary to make a broom from what wild things grow around them?  Will they be expert video gamers or have the self reliance to find food anywhere they go?  Which is the greater gift?

On the land, we are all united.  On the land, we are all one people trying to not only survive but thrive.  And, contrary to what civilization tells us, thriving is not owning a sports car or a swimming pool; it's knowing that no matter what -- you can provide for yourself and your loved ones, and that future generations will thank you instead of shaking their heads in disbelief at your shortsightedness.

The author of this Potlicker editorial is Jason DuMars, musician, writer, artist and activist.  He has been an active supporter and promoter of local, seasonal eating, community development and sustainable living.  In 2007 he was a leader in the groundbreaking "World Without Oil" alternate reality game and his contributions have been included in school curriculum associated with the project.   Jason is usually behind the camera for Potlicker posts.

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