Thursday, January 6, 2011

Common Criticisms of "Parasitic Living"

This is a commentary by Ran Prieur regarding common criticisms to his essay: How to Drop Out  I strongly suggest checking out this guys blog (and reading his essays).  He posts links daily to really interesting current events, research, technology and "easy living."

Isn't it hypocritical to use the resources of a system you oppose?

No. Hypocrisy is when you say something is wrong for others to do, but you do it yourself. I've never said that it's morally wrong to participate in the present system. My position is that it's a tragic collective mistake that we need to work our way out of. I do think it's tactically wrong to participate in it more than you have to, but different people have different tactical opportunities. I understand that many people are more stuck in it than I am, and I'm using my relative freedom to try to help them.

Anyway, what's wrong with using the resources of something you oppose? If you were in a prison camp, wouldn't you look for ways to avoid forced labor but still eat? As I said in the essay: it's not about being pure or avoiding guilt -- it's about adapting and becoming more free. 

Isn't it a contradiction to preach independence while accepting help from others?

Certainly not. We have been confused by the many meanings of the word "dependence". I think it's good to be dependent on equals, on friends and family with whom you have a healthy relationship, and it's good for them to be dependent on you. The kind of dependence that I'm against, that I would like to wipe off the Earth forever, is where someone has you over a barrel, where you have to do what they say because if you don't, they will withhold something that you need. The essence of "dropping out" is to cut dependencies on a system of power-over, and replace them with dependencies on a system of power-with. 

But you use the internet!

Again, the reason to avoid connections to the system is to maintain autonomy. So I'll use any by-product or resource I can, as long as there few or no strings attached. I'll especially use a resource like the internet, a powerful tool to find allies and to transform human consciousness. As William Kötke said, not only is it acceptable to use the resources of the present system to build the next one, ideally all its resources would be used that way.

Dropping out is elitist because not everyone can do it.

But everyone can do it, just not right away. I figure it's going to take thousands of years, if humans don't go extinct first, before all of us can live in societies that are sustainable and non-coercive. In the mean time, we all have to do the best we can, and take any opportunity to get a little more free. The key is, when you get more freedom and autonomy, you have an ethical obligation to help others instead of exploiting them.

Isn't living with somebody without paying them anything called "mooching"?

Yes, it is called that, because we live in a slave culture with a slave language! Before the 20th century, it was normal for extended families to live in the same house, with most of them supporting the household in ways other than paying rent -- if rent was paid at all. The very idea that you have to pay to occupy space is radical, and it serves to concentrate power: if I already have power (represented as "property"), those with less power/property have to give me more. We have it backwards! It is the alleged "owner" who is mooching, benefiting from the legal right to deny someone their natural right to occupy space in this world, to build a shelter and gather food and live in a cooperative community. (Not that rent-chargers are bad people. Many of them have been forced into a situation where they have to charge rent so they can make payments to still more powerful people.) 

What if everybody dropped out? Who would you scavenge off of?

In practice, the problem is not too many people looking for different ways to live, but not enough. The dumpsters are still full of good stuff that is not scavenged but wasted in landfills. Too many people still buy pre-made junk food instead of making their own healthful meals, or drive cars instead of riding bicycles. This world is full of people with the skills and knowledge to build paradise, but they can't even begin, because they would lose their jobs shuffling data in the command structure, or manufacturing attention-wasting gadgets, or laboring to provide excess to the elite. As these roles are dropped, life will get easier, not harder. 

Health care is not a manufactured need but a necessity.

Good health care is a necessity, but the industrial medicine that we've been trained to call "health care" does more harm than good at enormous expense. A good book on the subject is Medical Nemesis by Ivan Illich. Another good book is The Health Of Nations by Leonard Sagan, which presents evidence that modern improvements in health and life expectancy have not been caused by "advanced" medicine or even by better sanitation, but by social and psychological factors.

What if you get hit by a car? I hope the doctors and nurses haven't dropped out.

I hope they have! I'm already excluded from the American medical system, because it's so expensive that only rich people can afford it. If I got hit by a car, I might try to hide from the ambulance and crawl home to splint my broken bones with sticks and rags, rather than go a hundred thousand dollars in debt and be effectively a slave for the rest of my life.

But if more doctors and nurses "dropped out", if they carried their interest in healing outside the money economy, then they would have room to be more helpful than they are now. The less money they needed, the more they would be free to treat people without asking for money. It's true that expensive industrial medicine is ideal if you get hit by a car, but other forms of medicine are adequate for acute injuries, and much better for chronic sickness... and if everybody tried to live the way I'm living, in a few decades there wouldn't even be cars!