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Living Outside Society: Is It Possible?
Eddie Vedder's Noble Vision
How many people have dreamed to get off the grid: no boss, no professional or cultural costumes, no more pretend and play along to a world that lives in psychological prisons? To have a lifestyle and income, or just enough courage for that matter, to make do with less even if you have more, to trade in the possibility of riches and a future retirement for ownership of your own time? Some in the younger generation are already doing it, more than one could possibly realize. I myself have fantasized about being some sort of immortal super-hero, walking the earth, living free from the constraints of ordinary limitation. But is this realistic? Is Occupy Wallstreet realistic? How could so many occupiers show up to protests day after day, carry iPhones and laptops? People may have yelled, "get a job!" But what they were really saying is, "I'm jealous! How can you get by a not have a job?! How do you have the courage to do this when I've got to answer to real responsibilities?!"
The soundtrack of the movie Into The Wild by Eddie Vedder has the epic mantra for this mission. The fourth track on the album, Rise, talks about this conviction. Here, it is in reference to the Emory University grad who ventured to the Alaska wild after graduation. Written like prose, Vedder's opening verse reads like this: "It's a mystery to me: we have a greed, in which have agreed. When you think you have to want more than you need, until you have it all you won't be free. Society - you are a crazy breed. I hope you're not lonely without me." The grid, then, is the chess board of a socio-economic framework that caters to an endless slavery of time and sacrifice, but where does it lead? One is reminded of Albert Camus' The Myth Of Sysyphus, where man rolls the ball up the cliff only to have it roll back down again.
But this isn't a die-hard stubborn romantic talking. It's understandable why most people don't do this. And it's also many times the case that people who take the nomad, wanderlust ethos to the extreme end up getting sicker and weaker and more embittered. I remember a point in one of Charles Buckowski's books, where someone glorified poverty. Bukowski, who had lived as a drunk bum most of his life, often homeless in the skids, later began to earn a decent income through his writings and live better. An admirer of his work said, "I'll bet you miss being on the skids. Poor and barely making it. I'll bet there was something kind of beautiful about it, huh? Come on, admit you miss it." Bukowski, as the narrator, stated that this guy had obviously never been down-and-out before. Because when you have been and then you're not any more, every day with a decent roof over your head seems like a blessing from heaven.
And that's realistic. Often the people that romanticize poverty the most are the people from wealthier backgrounds. Of course, living outside the society, in terms of this song, does not mean wealth or poverty. It has more to do with "not playing the game of the world." During protests against the Vietnam war in California, Ken Kesey was asked to take the stage at a rally. Yet he dressed in military garb and told the folks at the rally, "yep, you're playing their game." Meaning that being against the war was playing the other side of the same coin as being pro-war. "You want to do something meaningful," he asked, "just walk away from this war. Walk away."
So perhaps it's more of a mentality that's important. Some may simply shun the beaten path while others live off their own land, eating only organic food and herbs. Or perhaps it's just more important to challenge the poison by first acknowledging it. Eddie Vedder goes on about this echoing enigma where the verbs "want," "have," "think," and "need," are so scrambled up that we lose the sense of our own humanity:
"When you want more than you have, you think you need
And when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed.
I think I need to find a bigger place,
Because when you have more than you think, you need more space."