Escaping Society Peacefully Isn’t an Option

This essay has been translated to Spanish by Animus Delendi.

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.


  • 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!

    • Ari Paul says:

      “…nice, calm, unperturbed life by just flying under the radar.”

      Good luck with that. If you’re old, maybe it will work for you. You’ll soon be dead.

      But if you’re young… you’ll soon find that that life is impossible as the system expands.

      • Robert McGuinn says:

        The way I see it, you only have three distinct choices: 1) be a happy little cog in the big machine. 2) be a sad little cog in the big machine. 3) suicide. Ted chose #2. Those who think they have another choice are only pretending for their own amusement or delusion. In reality they are only making choice #1 or #2. I think choice #1 is the most prudent. Choice #3 is also viable, but no one really ever gets to enjoy the fruits of that choice, as far as anyone living can tell.

        • Robert McGuinn says:

          By the way, thanks John for the recommendation of ‘Tribe’ by Sebastian Junger. I will acquire this and read.

        • Hoot says:

          4) smash machine.

          • Robert McGuinn says:

            The machine is the whole universe, not just the goings-on of human society. We are in fact only tiny body parts of the big machine, along with all of the creatures and inanimate matter. The machine cannot be destroyed. It is with unbearable sadness that I realize this. You have no choice but to participate. You had no choice in your birth. This is bigger than humanity. No matter what we do, we must play along. Thrashing about in futility is not the answer.

          • Hoot says:

            I don’t appreciate your linking of “machine” to the whole universe, and to living creatures. Obviously we are not mad at universe or creatures. We are in a material world for now and that’s that. Evil is here though. The real machine that we are referring to is the product of the industrial revolution.( you knew this). It can, and will, be destroyed. Compared to the capabilities of humanity and nature, this machine is ultimately very weak. In the grand scheme of things, the machines and the system of control and domination are small mistakes. Thank god for people smart enough to realize that we can counter this successfully. While you’re wallowing in your “unbearable sadness” many of us are giddy. And wouldn’t you know it….making big steps right fucking now.

  • Hoot says:

    Escaping (and being content) puts you in the “sheep” category.

  • Hoot says:

    I like this article. It’s able to stir up much thought on observations.
    In my time off grid, in some of the most beautiful,wild, mountainous terrain in the N.east, I’ve noticed a few things about some of the people there. It looks like most,although not all (have to give credit to a few) camp owners up there are completely lacking in their efforts to sustain themselves in the wild. And I’m not talking just the “weekenders”. Many americans love the outdoors, and guess what, they love their “luxuries” even more. It’s not uncommon to see (and hear) generators that power TV’s for the “game” and fridges for the Bud Light. There’s a daily ritual for many to head to the nearest towns to round up food at a restaurant, and beer at the store. I’ve seen more propane ranges off grid than wood stoves. I’ve seen camp owners that don’t have running water drive to the nearest camp ground to shower. I guess the collecting and heating of water to bathe is a bit much. Even in the short growing season, the odds of successful gardening are good if you know what your doing. No efforts towards that, even from most year-rounders. Obesity and even morbid-obesity is very common up there and wouldn’t you know it, we are among an extremely low percentile to actually “hike” up one of the most scenic mountains in the region. It is always amazingly lonely, yet beautiful at the top.
    I think the fighting spirit might exist for many up there: Mess with their comforts and look out.
    What does this all mean ? It means that when the “shtf” there’ll be a lot of “escapers” heading OUT of the mountains to scoff up the last beer in the nearest towns. Ever seen daily,ritual alcoholics go without ? Take a look around, wherever you are. The lack of alcohol (not many practicing home-brew) will be creating a temporary, yet very unruly and shaky crowd.
    Maybe some of us dissidents will make it for the long haul. There will be great opportunities for wild communes. I’m open to the idea if anyone would like to chat.

  • Robert McGuinn says:

    Over time, I have grown to expand my concept of what is “natural” to encompass literally everything. I now believe that the idea that there are ways of living that are more natural than others, is a grave philosophical error and is based on a limited concept of our place in the universe and the unbelievable (inconceivable) nature of infinite time and space. The world-encasing mega-city that seems to be our evolutionary path, is no less natural (or correct) than our stone age lifestyles of old. In the realm of human moral reasoning, this philosophical error manifests in the overemphasis on the concept good vs. evil. It is tiresome to continue explaining this to people who are lost in the ‘righteous battle’. I do see how conceiving the world in this way might seem defeatist to some, but the more I have lived, the less I am caught up in defining right vs. wrong, and it is very freeing. If, for now and here, the world seems out of balance, it is only because of the false dualism that results from our limited concept of infinite time and infinite space.

  • Hoot says:

    We were given a natural ability to fight evil. The uncomfortable feeling of being controlled is a manifestation of evil. I’ll ad that unless you (we) are not in fact fighting the system of control/evil we are is a state of acceptance to being dominated. This is the goal of evil. Bottom line, as far as I can see, is to fight.

    • Robert McGuinn says:

      The fight that is in you is part of the nature of the machine. There is no difference between you and the person who wants to build a new technology. Both of you have a burning desire to solve a problem that you see in the world. The difference is that you have directed that desire into separate channels. On the one hand, the inventor of a new technology sees the external world as the challenge, and on the other, you see a human social group that you oppose as the challenge. In both cases the fighter (and inventor) defines his life by the challenge.

      This world operates on the principal of saying “Yes!”. Action is ‘yes’. Work is ‘yes’. Building something is ‘yes’. Having fun is ‘yes’! Planting a garden is ‘yes’! Going hunting is ‘yes’! ‘No’, is a much less powerful concept. You can’t work with ‘no’. You can’t build with ‘no’. You can’t have fun with ‘no’. No leaves you feeling low. This is why conservationists and environmentalists have such a hard time getting traction. They are operating mainly with ‘no’ and people do not like to hear or live with ‘no’. It is time we work with the energy of ‘yes’, which brings vitality and its comforting companion, gratitude.

    • Hoot says:

      Well Robert, that looks completely wrong,backwards,and twisted I might ad.
      Evil tricks. Evil betrays. Evil is disguised as a provider,when in fact it is a taker. An obvious example of this is ELECTRICITY. Evil doesn’t operate directly. It manifests itself through progressives. Ben Franklin was one. Thomas Edison another. Electricity has been viewed as a “provider”. It “gives” you light. It “gives” you heat. It “gives” you cold food storage. It “gives” you air conditioning. Evil finds its way in by disguising as a provider. The softening of humanity is the sacrificing of God given independence. Electricity (evil) has been TAKING independence (in the form of mostly lost skills) away from humanity. Like I said, evil IS the manifestation of humanity and nature being controlled and ACCEPTING control.
      Mother Nature works in funny ways too: Spent early am mushroom hunting. Found what I thought was a Reishi on a dead hemlock. It was 20 feet up the tree, which I thought was odd. Guess I’m going to have to work for this one. Couldn’t see the top of the shroom until I climbed up the tree. Come to find out was an old polypore shelf mushroom. All that for nothing is what many would think. Yet Mother Nature rewards in funny ways. It reminded me to keep up with climbing skills. Do more pull ups. This makes me stronger. I think nature rewards you when you love and protect her. I am looking to protect her.
      Rewilders are undoubtedly working in a positive light. Or “yes” attitude. Yes, we can counter evil. Yes we can return to more fulfilling ways of life,which are with nature,not against it. Something else that needs to be understood is that by destroying technology, we are removing tools used by those that transmit the illegitimate belief in “authority”. This belief in itself is another manifestation of evil. Evil is the mechanic. Evil is working on humanity. Technophiles, scientists, their products and manipulations,politicians,police, are its tools. We have everything we need to end its game,if not forever, at least for quite some time. This battle against evil could be our test to see if we’re worthy of being here…Yes, I think we are.

      • Robert McGuinn says:

        Fair enough. It really doesn’t matter in the end because good never truly conquers evil and evil never truly conquers good. It’s just a simply a grand dance that never ends. Find your power where you are today, for tomorrow is only a possibility. Good talking with you Hoot.

  • Hoot says:

    Hey John & crew,
    Hope things are going well. I’m sure you’re very busy. On a different note, have we thought about arming the Amish ?

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