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.