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01/29/2004 Archived Entry: "Scenarios of radical living"
WE NEED TO LIVE RADICALLY. Five or six years ago, I wrote I Am Not A Number: Freeing America from the ID State. I updated it recently. But it still feels to me like a book that's before its time. Or maybe a book out of its time. Almost no one can relate to its message.
I Am Not a Number projects that the U.S. is going to become a total surveillance state no matter what we privacy lovers and privacy activists do about it. That's a no-brainer. It's already happening. Nothing controversial about that. But the book also proposes that those who truly value self-ownership will be driven to establish alternative underground communities.
Not just cybercommunities on the Net. Not just the libertarian equivalent of isolated communes. But full-scale, real-world communities that perform the functions that communities always have. People who truly want to preserve their freedom will eventually need to establish alternate, free-market, underground systems of transportation, communications, medical care, employment, insurance, and of course self-defense. And we'd better be starting those systems soon, because if we wait, Big Brother will already have us permanently locked in his gaze.
Some of these communities will be actual, physical "compounds" or towns that quietly exist outside the law. (Think of the polygamist communities that existed quietly, if illegally, for decades in Utah and Arizona. Until they stupidly brought attention upon themselves with forced, underage, and incestuous marriages, everybody knew they were there and nobody wanted to mess with them.) Other communities will be more like loose networks, providing services but not having any physical center.
Obviously, establishing full-scale communities will be difficult and risky. But the alternatives -- either giving in (after fighting like hell "within the system") or living as a lone Freedom Outlaw, forever roaming through and monkeywrenching a hostile society without support -- are worse. Are intolerable to some of us.
I often want to apologize for Number. I fear that buyers (who may just want some guide to living without government ID in the "normal" world) will find the book's ideas to be far-fetched, crackpot, extreme, and impractical. One reason I let it go out of print for a couple of years (before updating it and letting Loompanics reissue it late in 2002) was that I, myself, came to believe that nobody would ever actually use the information.
But as the bars of our electronic-biometric-state-corporate-thug-enforced cage close around us, I keep coming back to this idea. If we can't work, travel, bank, or go to our own doctors in unhindered privacy, then we need true, free-market alternatives to existing employment, transportation, banking, and medical systems, however difficult and risky it may be to achieve them.
The "advances" in surveillance and control are coming so fast that activists are having virtually no impact in their attempts to halt them. So-called "privacy protection" laws and regulations are actually written in such a way as to make things worse (example: HIPAA). And for every corporation or government agency that momentarily backs off from some privacy-invasion scheme after activists howl, dozens more launch truly hideous (and often covert) surveillance initiatives (example: TIA being "replaced" with MATRIX. Example: Everything Applied Digital Systems has ever done).
Short of total collapse of "the sytem," we cannot beat the looming surveillance culture. (And even some catastrophic collapse of government might in the end only result in tighter, and more brutal control.)
When the Free State Project came along a couple of years ago, it was an answer to a prayer. Granted, the FSP seeks only to reduce government influence in one state, and can make no promises about what can be achieved. But one state full of independent stubborn cusses can accomplish a lot. Think of a whole state as a free, liberty-loving community ... wow.
That's why I'm a Porcupine. And why, shortly before last fall's vote, I opted to become a "glasseater" -- saying I'd move to any state, despite my passionate western biases. And that's why I will move to New Hampshire if the FSP gets its 20,000 supporters.
Alas, it doesn't look as if thousands are rushing to find freedom gold with the FSP. Four months after the state vote, and despite some really sterling efforts, the project has gained only a few hundred members.
Let's still root for the FSP. Or for the western free-state efforts still quietly underway. But lets look at other options for community, too -- options that could fit with a free state or exist apart from any state.
This morning, two members of the Claire Files forums opened up new discussion threads that got me thinking about this again. A regular (but mostly lurker), "Jack Harrison," wrote to vent about how hard it is simply to live an ordinary, peaceful life amid unfreedom. A newbie with the nic of "nutkin" wrote to introduce herself and also provided a link to an essay she wrote that goes right along with my theme in Number.
Intriguingly, both nutkin and "Jack" talked about carving wood or making art objects with wood -- which to me is much more than an interesting little aside. I wrote last summer about the sanity-inducing effect of creating things using "earthy" materials. And -- without implying any New Age foolishness about the illusory beneficence of "Gaia" or any Luddite notions against industry or technology -- I do think that part of what a lot of us are missing is a sort of "in-touchness" with the physical world.
When we can produce basic needs of life for ourself -- or trade for them among members of a community whose members share our "don't tread on me" values -- we're far less inclined to fall for the seductiveness of government "benefits." We are independent not only in fact, but in mind.
No, we cannot produce our own silicon chips or built our own CT scanners in primitive little community workshops. We can't do neurosurgery on our kitchen tables. I know that. And I'm not advocating that we retreat from technology or attempt to live out some agrarian fantasy. We need technology and complexity and specialization. We just don't need to become slaves to them.
Communities that enabled us to live our everyday lives grounded in freedom basics -- but still trade for advanced products and services -- would be ideal. But we've got to ask ourselves: If the only way we can take full advantage of technology and the conveniences of modern society is by giving up our privacy, our self-ownership, our integrity ... are the "goodies" we cherish truly worth the price?
Anyway, this is a bit of a rambling way of saying that, no matter how wacko or extreme or impractical the idea is, I still think we're going to have to create underground freedom communities if we wish to survive as independent individuals in a world where we're expected to function more like bees in a hive.
I think it will be extremely hard -- particularly for libertarians, who simply aren't good cooperators. I think it's terribly risky and there might be some future incidents that make Waco look like a Saturday-afternoon barbecue. But I'm convinced it's absolutely necessary to create communities where ordinary, peaceable people once again can deal with each other in privacy and by free choice, rather than by state diktat, enforced by jackbooted goons.
I don't envision some River City, Iowa, of the 21st Century. Nor some fanciful vision of agricultural paradise. I simply envision masses of cranky, stubborn, imperfect, self-interested individuals finally saying "F**k the state," and building associations with like-minded people -- people who don't believe in achieving their goals through force, fraud, whines about entitlement, or by never letting others move without observation.
Yes, I know this vision is too radical for some (and "radical" is exactly the right word -- going back to the roots of freedom). That's fine. "Everybody" doesn't have to do it. Just a determined minority -- a minority large enough and wily enough and stubborn enough to be hard to control. (And -- as Scarmig just posted as I was wrapping up this entry -- here's some inspiration from a guy named Mark Gillespie.
And finally, here's a thought for those of you who have excellent reason for remaining within the system. You aren't necessarily a quisling if you keep your corporate job, use your SSN, pay your taxes, and obey the ever-mulitiplying laws. You can become a mole. You can become a patron and supporter of the communities of the free. You can trade (or donate) your expertise, your financial support, and your moral support to communities you may have reason not to join. You can fight from within the system and have the grand, Cheshire-cat satisfaction of knowing you're covertly striking back at those who believe they're your masters.
There is a role for everybody. But as much as I still cringe when I hand a copy of Number to somebody, I remain absolutely convinced: We must have communities of the free if freedom is to survive the dark days of the surveillance state that lie ahead.
Posted by Claire @ 10:40 AM CST