Escaping Society Peacefully Isn’t an Option

Anti-modern ideas are actually quite popular among the masses of industrial societies, especially the U.S. But the most popular form of anti-modernism is almost entirely escapist in character, sapped of any political content beyond a rejection of the current order. The dreams represented in this strain of anti-modernism are certainly appealing: escape peacefully into the woods, or buy some land, or start a commune, and live out life peacefully while the rest of the world crumbles. People who do this will, because of their foresight, remain untouched by the worst of the conflict — or so the argument goes.

Unfortunately, even the escapist strain of anti-modernism cannot help but be political, for the following reasons:

First, the industrial mode of production represents an existential threat to non-industrial ways of life. No matter how much one tries to avoid conflict with the prevailing social order, any traditional, nomadic, or small-scale way of life will be eventually drawn into a tense stand-off with industrial society. Existing communes already have difficulty because of property laws, markets, and environmental degradation. The latter is particularly important: how can one escape the effects of climate change, global pollution, or mass extinction?

Second, the kinds of traditional communities that last are those that arise organically, out of circumstance, and are not rationally created. Much popular anti-modern sentiment in the U.S. is overly individualistic. It is assumed that, with enough preparation, an individual or small group could live just fine on their own. Hypothetically, of course, this is entirely possible, especially in abundant ecological conditions. But humans being social creatures, they require a social community, making the prospects of escape significantly less optimistic. Human social communities are delicate and intricate systems: they are devised to regulate rank-order behavior, to manage production and consumption of resources, to determine sexual norms, to resolve conflicts, etc. Each of these by themselves are immensely complex. To imagine that someone can solve them with a pencil by a desk is absurd. It is no wonder that most of the communes that came out of the 60s failed, and those that succeeded were usually either family-run or had a long-standing religious tradition to draw from. But even then, they did not so much escape society as become another institutional option for citizens within that society. The only true escape, after all, would have to be an economic one, and nearly all land projects are existentially dependent on the dominant economic system (despite the popularity of romantic media reports on them).

Third and finally, escape isn’t even an option for many who hold anti-modern sentiments. Their only option is to continue living according to the status quo, or to additionally engage in political struggle. Land, communes, and other such proposals are mere fantasies until the political landscape itself shifts. In other words, any attempt to live out anti-modern ideals is absolutely predicated on political struggle in order to gain land, in order to gain skills, in order to free up labor, etc.

Communes specifically remain an important aspect of this political struggle. They provide infrastructure with obvious benefits; they are sites for land restoration; they are schools for learning skills. But an anti-industrial call to action should rarely be “create a commune.” The resources required are immense, and since the resulting product will be brought into conflict with modern society anyway, a more fruitful path is to figure out how to win that conflict.

2 Comments

  • Robert McGuinn says:

    I see it as a personal choice between spending my (one?) life in a mental environment of constant struggle and conflict vs. just living a nice, calm, unperturbed life by just flying under the radar. That choice may not be feasible for some humans, but it is for me, and that is all that matters. I refuse to embrace conflict and struggle as a lifestyle choice, and for most people, it is simply a choice rather than any sort of existential necessity. Embracing the struggle-lifestyle seems to me a desperate attempt to shoehorn some ‘meaning’ into this absurdity. I also refuse to define my life as a soldier in anyone’s little Bullshit-Army. If you do join, you are far more likely to encounter actual suffering because of the actions of General Bullshit (read as any revolutionary leader) and his little Bullshit Army than you are at the hands of the thing they are supposedly fighting. I would recommend hanging up the ‘rise up’ narrative in favor of another philosophy which I call ‘go around the dumb fucks’! When (and IF) the time ever comes that this strategy stops working for me, then I will fight, but not until then, and not for you, or we, or some unknown ‘future generation’ of unlucky humans.

    • The Wild Will Project says:

      (1) Many people want conflict, or at least need it, and suffer severely from its lack in modern society. Conflict in modern society is mostly between large organizations, producing anxiety in the individual instead of excitement, fear, or a sense of danger. This applies especially to many males.

      (2) Many people want to belong to an “army” in the same sense that people want community. See Tribes by Sebastian Junger on the negative effects of veterans transitioning from close-knit wartime communities to fragmented modern industrial societies back home.

      (3) Your “escaped” life does not actually produce comfortable, conflict-free existence. It will still have the existential threats of modern society, the anxieties of technological, economic, and political forces, etc.

      Also, engaging in political activity does not preclude flying under the radar!

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