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Ya gotta be contrary

Well, no. You don’t gotta be contrary. You could declare your undying intent to be absolutely normal and conformist, adhering to whatever the dictates of popular opinion, government schools, or Parade Sunday supplement … er, dictate. But around here, even that would be a form of being contrary. So maybe ya gotta be contrary, after all.

And in a second, I’ll get to some wherefores. But here’s what sparked my thinking about this.

This comment by Roxy came up in Oliver Del Signore’s blog about Obama’s new birth certificate:

I am sorry to see Backwoods Home getting into political commentary. I used to love you, but I will no longer be subscribing.

I thought that the purpose of your magazine was to get great information about homesteading and other like topics.

Sorry, but I get enough political opinions on venues where they belong.

I’m surprised somebody hasn’t said something like it on this blog, too. The dead-tree edition of BHM occasionally prints Roxy-like letters, which is kind of ironic, since BHM is actually a bit less political than it was a decade ago. Back then I nearly got my sorry butt canned when I wrote a print article opining that George W. Bush was worse than Clinton — and the article appeared in the print ‘zine just as the neocons had everybody pumped up in patriotic war fervor. I forget exactly which war Our Boys were Heroically Marching Into at the time. Iraq 2, I think. (Getting hard to keep track; so many wars, so little difference.) Some readers hotly objected to my disloyal article and Dave decided it was time to dial the political slant of BHM way back.

I feel lucky and sometimes amazed that Dave later invited me onto this blog and gave me free rein to opinionize. The Duffys and their staff have been terrific to me. I even agree with the decision to keep politics as a quiet background feature in the print ‘zine (not that my opinion matters one way or another), and I think Dave and John Silveira do an excellent job with their “kinder, gentler” articles and opinion columns.

But whether I’m the one expressing it or not, I’m damn glad the political viewpoint is there. And is now also (and sometimes more vehemently) in Oliver’s and my blogs.

While one part of me understands people who believe a publication about backwoods living should just stick to the howtos and forget the politics, I think — no, I know — that political awareness (and the skepticism and contempt for Authority that goes with it) is as crucial to self-reliant/backwoods living as a good well or a reliable 4WD vehicle.

Obviously, if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know at some point I’m going to assert: “It’s all about capital-A Attitude.” So yes, it is. And let’s get that out of the way first thing.

If you’re going to “go back to the land” you’ll be headed in a contrarian direction, and either you already have Attitude or you’re going to need to develop it.

Attitude of persistence.

Attitude that says, “Screw what everybody else thinks; I’m going my own way.”

Attitude of creativity. Of frugality (probably). Attitude of … well, of many things.

One part of that Attitude is simply bound to be anti-authoritarian. Doesn’t matter if you come from “right” or “left” or libertarian or elsewhere on the vast and multidimensional political spectrum. Or if you have no politics at all. To do well in an independent life, you’ll either be or become contrarian. Which means you’ll learn that “established Authority” is 1) usually wrong, 2) unhelpful at best, and 3) downright likely to put roadblocks in your path.

We’re best prepared to deal with all that when we’re politically aware. And Attitudinal enough to push Authority aside.

Of course, it’s not just about Attitude. It’s also about information.

Pity the poor novice backwoodsperson who traipses blissfully off to Walden having no idea of things like this: that they can be raided by a SWAT team for selling raw milk; that they can go to federal prison for picking an eagle feather off the ground and using it for decoration; that ordinary activities around the homestead could be violations of the Environmental Protection Act; that they could be sued and ruined by a mega-agri-corp if patented seed from somebody else’s field cross-pollinates with their crops. And on and on and on.

Roxy’s comment was on a post about Barak Obama’s birth certificate. She might rightly object that that specific thing bears no direct relationship to a self-reliant backwoods life. (As I say, I’m not knocking Roxy or anybody else who’d rather not have the politics; I’m just disagreeing.) But the politics matter — as I suspect most readers here know — far beyond the specifics.

True, if you avoid politics in general, you might still pick up information about backwoods issues that directly affect you. A newsletter from the Farm Bureau might run a feature on the problems of selling raw milk, for instance. A speaker at the local Grange might alert you to Monsanto’s sue-happiness. But if you don’t look at politics in general, you’re not seeing the whole picture. It’s the blind men and the elephant again.

If all you hear is what directly affects you, it’s so easy to think of some terrible law or enforcement practice as an aberration. “My congressman must have made a mistake. Surely he didn’t mean to vote for something like that!” “Oh, it’s just a regulatory agency’s problem. Nobody really meant for things to turn out that way.”

Only when you see the pattern do you … well see the pattern. See the web, that is, that’s being politically woven to ensnare us all.

To live and think independently, it’s vital — absolutely essential — to perceive the pattern. To know the reality that surrounds you. To grok that “one bad law” isn’t just one bad law, isn’t just a mistake that can be corrected. You need to know that it is, on the contrary, part of an age-old pattern of Authority extending control — Authority invading every aspect of independent life like a noxious weed invades an untended field and chokes the life out of it.

You can’t fight weeds unless you understand their nature. You can’t build a house without knowing the structural properties of your materials. You can’t accurately shoot a marauding predator if you don’t know where its vital organs are. And you can’t be independent without perceiving and being prepared to deal with the kind of people and institutions who aim to control you.

So that’s why politics — IMNSHO — belongs in the BHM world and always will.

Once you’ve perceived the pattern, of course, the next challenge is how not to get overwhelmed by it — how to avoid giving up in hopeless despair — how not to get so fixated on political BS like Obama’s birth certificate or faux partisan arguments over which deck chairs would look best where on the Titanic that you forget to build a life. But we’ve addressed that here over and over and no doubt will do so again.

The main thing is that, only with the right combo of Attitude and information are you set to be effectively contrary. And ya gotta be contrary these days to live the backwoods life.


  1. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 28, 2011 1:29 pm

    I saw that (the Roxy meltdown), and either she hasn’t read BWH long enough, or missed alot of points that were always there running alongside all the “how to” knowledge….OR this time there were actual names attached to the message, rather than “generalizations” or “political party” kind of terms, and that didn’t sit to well with her….

    Reality is: political issues are part of how we get to live our lives, now a days; and usually someone else has forced that element into our lives, like it or not….it seems just about everyone is “an authority” on how we should be living lately – BWH let us know it was coming and to be prepared 😉

  2. Scott
    Scott April 28, 2011 1:49 pm

    You can’t make the world happy-probably shouldn’t try. I haven’t found Backwoods Home too political. It seems to be just enough to let you see the pattern,as Claire said,or at least how it affects you concerning a given subject(guns,cars,etc.),and maybe what to expect and how to deal with it. I pick up a dead-tree version every so often,and pass it along to friends of mine.

  3. Woody
    Woody April 28, 2011 2:48 pm

    A little politics in a Back To The Land magazine keeps things interesting. I started with Mother Earth News a looog time ago and have been here at BHM for quite a few years as well. After living in the backwoods for so long and reading TMEN and BHM for even longer, ‘how to’ articles start getting repetitive. Articles about raising animals, building houses, solar power, sewing, cooking, canning and gardening, etc seem to go in cycles and after a zillion cycles they start to lose their appeal. If it weren’t for the occasional bit of politics and controversy I’d have given up on Back To The Land zines a long time ago. Dial up the controversy Dave, your magazine needs it.

  4. Oliver
    Oliver April 28, 2011 3:22 pm

    That was so incredibly well-said, I think it should be expand into an article for the print issue – “Why politics is important in the backwoods.”

  5. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal April 28, 2011 4:02 pm

    As I said in a blog post to statist family members today:
    You stop making it necessary for me to defend my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness/property from your goverthugs and “laws” and I’ll shut up. I don’t want to think about The State or any other idiotic superstition, but I have no choice when you make it a constant threat. Keep your filthy government to yourself!
    The rest is posted here:

  6. Claire
    Claire April 28, 2011 4:19 pm

    Hey, I hope Dave and Annie reading these comments. 🙂 I’d love to expand this blog entry and/or write regular political articles in the print edition of BHM again. I’d even promise to be good. Well … relatively good. You know, for a Girl Born Bad.

    But I don’t think Dave or Annie would go for the idea.

    OTOH, if any of you would like to do some lobbying with the management …

  7. Mike
    Mike April 28, 2011 5:03 pm

    I to feel that BHM needs to have more political articles.I have had a subscription for the last year or so and its getting boring. I also have the anthologies and as far as I’m concerned they (older anthologies) have more interesting articles (one on Waco comes to mind).

  8. Pat
    Pat April 28, 2011 5:26 pm

    That was a great post, Claire.

    “OTOH, if any of you would like to do some lobbying with the management …”

    What do we have to do — send them a petition?

    I love reading the political viewpoint in BHM, all the more because the magazine is not afraid to put their position on the line, while keeping it separate from the homesteading, self-reliant emphasis which pays the bills. So many other magazines incorporate a subtle, sneaky (progressive, compromising, Republicrat) POV into their columns and articles, whereas BHM says what it believes and pulls no punches re: how politics affects its readership.

    I think the 21st Century has brought reality to many of us — including BHM; perhaps it now can better understand the need for a Bad Attitude after the past 10 years of creeping (well, make that *galloping*) tyranny from D.C.

  9. EN
    EN April 28, 2011 7:31 pm

    I specifically come here because of Claire’s politics. OTH, I’m not a back woods guy. Been there done that 30 plus years ago. As some have pointed out the articles in these zines get repetitive fast. Politics is good for the soul of any publication. A obersvation. When I first started getting interested in this stuff in the early 1970s it was pretty much the field of the left-wing. You could fill 50 lbs bags with all the left-wing BS you got. Now it’s moved to the other side, although it’s a lot more quiet then it was before. My point is that things change, including the nature of a magazine that wants to survive.

  10. Brogan
    Brogan April 28, 2011 8:36 pm


    (Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, whoo-hoo, clap, clap, clap, clap, Yeah, clap, clap, clap, clap Whistle!!!) That was so well said!! (Wipes a tear from cheek) Thank you for addressing this!! The world is not a hobby farm and if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on even your fun little venture will soon be under a jack booted foot. You can’t hide from the realities of life.

  11. PJ
    PJ April 28, 2011 9:13 pm

    Amen, Claire. Loved the blog and agree with you. BTW….just finished Hardyville Tales and loved it.

  12. Rusty Pirate
    Rusty Pirate April 29, 2011 12:03 am

    We all have to face politics, like it or not.

    I would think that if one were literate enough to write then they would also be literate enough to pass over an occasional article that didn’t fit their idea of content becoming the magazine.

    Aren’t the rest of the articles on homesteading and such in this issue of sufficient value to permit anyone’s reading enjoyment?

    If not, then perhaps they should begin their own ultra-narrowly focused blog/publication and control every character entered that way.

    Then again, if this magazine, or any other publication, only used articles that pleased every reader it could only contain blank pages and where would the value be in that?

  13. Terry
    Terry April 29, 2011 7:32 am

    Claire, thank you for political blogs, they are the very reason I visit BHM. I believe we have to have an interest in politics, if no other reason than watching what insane laws Big Brother may throw at us next. I wish that you would write even more Libertarian viewpoints. Once again thank you.

  14. Jake MacGregor
    Jake MacGregor April 29, 2011 11:27 am

    we move to the backwoods for freedom

    there is no more political expression of freedom than voting with one’s feet and moving thus

    it was our frontier culture, our pursuit of the horizon, the desire to free ourselves from petty Bureaucracy in 1775 and 2011, needless rules, homeowner associations,traffic cameras, some, all which we flee from in cities and suburbs and flee to freedom in the backwoods

    i consider ‘politics’ essential to my backwoods life, and as such, a highly valued topic for backwoods home to cover

    reasonable people can disagree … and i would pray they do so agreeably (Roxy)

    so, please, Claire, Oliver, Dave & Annie, et al … turn the volume up!

    Yaak, MT

  15. winston
    winston April 29, 2011 12:31 pm

    Homesteading, animal raising, etc. is just a mild interest of mine; something I plan on maybe tackling later in life…though a lot of that stuff is totally relevant to day-to-day life as it is.

    That said I think BHM has a pretty good way of doing politics. It doesn’t interfere at all with the main subject here at all and I think that you and all the other folks who write the politcal colulmns do a good job. The main thing I think is that you stick to real subjects…I HATE editorials that are just podiums for somebody’s run of the mill opinion on divisive ‘social’ issues such as gay marraige or abortion, plus weekly rants on how the president is a socialist and/or stupid. I never see that sort of thing here.

  16. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson April 29, 2011 8:36 pm

    I don’t know how anyone can avoid commenting on politics. If the state was some tiny vestigal organ, then talking about it would seem a bit silly. But the State is in our faces everyday…it’s one of the motivations to move away and become less reliant on ‘civilization,’ which is saturated in politics.

  17. Arctic Patriot
    Arctic Patriot April 29, 2011 9:59 pm

    Well written, Claire, and if I might add a line of my own,

    To be independent, you have to be, well, independent.

    Living a simple life is an inherently defiant act these days, and blasphemy to the state. I would go a bit further to say that a person wishing to live independently is a threat to the state, and the reverse is likely true.

    Thanks for your thoughts.



  18. Golem
    Golem April 30, 2011 4:21 am

    Claire, I don’t disagree, though I share Kent McManigal’s apolitical views.

    I disagree with your use of the word “Authority” to describe people who are in positions of power. Authority is the ::moral:: power of command. Power, on the other hand, entails the use of influence, threats or force, whether or not the user has authority.

    Politicians have power. They do not have authority. Pontius Pilate said to Jesus “Do you not know I have the power to put you to death, or the power to set you free?” Some bad translations say “Do you not know I have the ‘authority’ to set you free, etc.” Pilate did not have the authority to kill Jesus, or the moral power to kill Jesus. He had the power to kill Jesus.

    It is not my intent to be picky. But as a bright 6-year old once said, “words mean stuff.” And “authority” is a word that implies that those badge-bedecked, tax-feeding thugs have a moral right to inflict violence against non-aggressors. It implies legitimacy. And what does the State require to exist? Legitimacy. We mustn’t give legitimacy to the State.

  19. Desertrat
    Desertrat April 30, 2011 7:41 am

    I have no problem with any magazine having articles outside its main interests. Political articles can be quite interesting as long as the conclusions are rational and based upon “true facts”. And, as said, they can show patterns of governmental behavior which affect the reader.

    You get right down to the nitty-gritty, were not for politics and governmental decisions, there would be no real impetus for movements which in turn create a demand for information sources such as BHM.

  20. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 30, 2011 11:56 pm

    There’s probably a common misconception out there that people who “run off” and live rurally or off the grid or any of those self sufficient lifestyles disconnect from being political….the total avoidance hermit perception….but that doesn’t mean they don’t keep up with current events and aren’t interested in getting involved, or have no interests in seeing things change everywhere…..

    There’s probably a million new political info sources now than ever before, it’s not like we can’t find something somewhere already….I don’t see why BHM shouldn’t address the political (specific) issues along with all the self reliance, too…..

    The other thing that I think should be considered, is that blogs (written anywhere) are generally the writer’s opinions and facts gathered in order to support the point of the blog…..publications not only include articles that support their intentions, they also can include other related issues as well….In other words, Oliver and Claire (and others) who have supporting blogs or articles, are contributing to BHM in ways that can still get their points thru to people and BHM per se doesn’t have to change it’s tone or style……

  21. Woody
    Woody May 1, 2011 5:49 am

    Naturegirl said

    …..Oliver and Claire (and others) who have supporting blogs or articles, are contributing to BHM in ways that can still get their points thru to people and BHM per se doesn’t have to change it’s tone or style……

    Yes, but that doesn’t encourage those who are becoming bored by the repetition of the hard copy magazine to resubscribe, and subscriptions are what keep the magazine in business. I can read the blogs without paying for the magazine and I’d likely not pay for the privilege of reading the blogs.

  22. Asparagus Time « View from Bippus
    Asparagus Time « View from Bippus May 1, 2011 6:37 am

    […] brings me to this:Ya Gotta Be Contraryarticle from Claire Wolfe over at this awesome self reliance site: […]

  23. Pat
    Pat May 1, 2011 6:45 am

    So, Woody: are you saying that the magazine shouldn’t have political content at all? Or that the blogs are not helping the magazine? Or both? (Or that the magazine should add some other kind of content related to homesteading, in order to encourage renewals from those who might be getting “bored by the repetition”?)

    Just asking…

  24. EN
    EN May 1, 2011 9:41 am

    The blogs may be free but there is advertising on the site which I go to frequently when I’m looking for particularly types of items like water filters, stoves and the like.

  25. Woody
    Woody May 1, 2011 12:19 pm

    I’m sorry I wasn’t very clear. I think the hard copy magazine needs a little political content to keep subscribers interested. They also need a little more diversity in the ‘how to’ content. Maybe the occasional article about maintaining your 50 year old tractors and farm equipment or perhaps an article on how to use a welder to fabricate useful items for the farmstead. Most farmsteads have a fair amount of mechanical stuff but you seldom see articles about maintaining or fixing it. How about what to look for when buying older used equipment. Maybe some basic gunsmithing articles.

    I think that restricting political or controversial commentary to the blogs doesn’t encourage people to buy the hard copy magazine and it doesn’t generate much in the way of revenue.

  26. naturegirl
    naturegirl May 1, 2011 6:18 pm


    I like the ideas for the fixing and maintaining and learning the old school basics…..if those things can be taught easily in print (vs YouTube)….

    I think there’s one thing you miss, and that’s the large percentage of people that subscribe because they believe in BHM and want to support it’s existence….I don’t know this for a fact, but assume that a good chunk of their subscribers are long timers, people who not only read it for content but also want to keep it up and running – I picked up on that vibe during the Silver & Subscribing promotion BHM had announced not long ago…(I remember openly asking Dave, at that time, if the magazine would be able to last that long, and he has it covered)……BHM’s backstory, how they’ve persevered over the years, still has value to those rooting for it…..

    As for blogs, so much is done over the internet now….I bet the people who have looked into the online blogs/website features were inspired to look into the magazine because of them (and otherwise may not have even noticed, I know it’s no longer as easy to find BHM in stores anymore)….But who knows, there may come a time when we no longer get an internet so easily, so a magazine is a priceless reference source “just in case”….

    I know alot of BHM is repetitious, but then, peoples’ lives take interesting turns and you never know when that same topic discussed for the 14th time over a decade hits that person who suddenly has a need for that in their life…..:)

  27. Latigo Morgan
    Latigo Morgan May 2, 2011 9:27 am

    I’m constantly amazed at how much trouble I can get into by minding my own business.

    Keep out of politics? Not if you live in America. No matter how far into the Backwoods you go.

  28. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit May 2, 2011 4:06 pm

    Claire? Independent and contrary? Say it ain’t so!!!

    All my illusions are shattered now….

    Much like a homesteader needs to be aware of any other possible predator, he should be aware of politicians and politics. Should it be the main focus of BHM? Nah. Should interesting bits show up from time to time? You bet.

    Maybe Annie and Dave could alternate a Claire Politics column with my traffic court columns – that’d get us through the first year and a half, easy…..

  29. Heather
    Heather May 2, 2011 8:24 pm

    BHM’s unique combination of homesteading and politics are what hooked me on the magazine almost 20 years ago now! I can think of articles of yours, and some of John Silveira’s that Corey and I fully intend to use as teaching materials in homeschooling our kids, when they get a little older (John’s series on the First Ladies and your Hardyville stories, come to mind, among others). Anyone who thinks BHM being political is a new thing MUST be a new reader!

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