Yesterday at the American Partisan blog, Kit Perez posted a piece on strategic relocation. She promises more on that topic.
I know she’s already got more because what she posted was part of a book she and I explored writing on personal freedom. We put together a chapter. Then, despite getting positive feedback from a couple of reality checkers, we decided not to pursue the project for now.
The conceit of the book was that we would write point-counterpoint. For instance, in the chapter on location, she’d write on the advantages, problems, and strategies of moving, and I’d write on staying put.
Though the book may never see the light of day, we thought you might like to see (and consider) our point-counterpoint via blog. She kicked things off yesterday. Now here’s my part.
(From the book chapter)
Kit writes about relocating in pursuit of personal freedom. For some people, that’s exactly the right thing to do. For others that’s a deal killer.
By all means relocate if you believe it will increase your freedom or make your life better in some other way that matters. Do it if you’re following a dream and if your budget and circumstances permit. That’s a personal decision.
The good news is that moving is merely one option. You can increase your personal freedom and independence wherever you are. While its true that some locations have vastly more political freedom than others, and that some areas are safer or more friendly to freedom than others, your freedom is also personal. It can be created and nurtured anywhere you are.
Why stay put?
Chances are, I don’t need to make a huge, original case for staying put. You already know your reasons:
- You have a job you can’t or don’t want to leave.
- You’re in a place where you have history, friends, and a sense of belonging.
- You’re bound by obligations to family members.
- You enjoy amenities, whether those be dive bars, opera houses, or parks.
- You realize every place has its problems and you don’t see the point of exchanging known problems for the unknown.
- You don’t buy doomsday scenarios that drive some other freedom-seekers into rural retreats and redoubts.
- You’re already in the ideal spot for your needs, whatever they may be.
For purposes of this chapter, I’m assuming that you’re most likely “in civilization” somewhere — that is, either city, suburb, or small town. So let’s look at the freedom advantages and disadvantages of civilized places.
How’s life in the city?
To those of us on the outside, a city might just look like one giant, hyper-expensive traffic jam, broken up only by homeless encampments. But life can be good there, too. And not only because of cultural attractions and 24-hour-a-day nightlife.
Years ago, on a visit to a friend who lived in Manhattan, I was struck by the small-townness of it. There were distinct tiny neighborhoods, each with its own character. You didn’t have to drive to a grocery store; a miniature market was right there on the corner. It was easy to get anywhere via subway, bus, or taxi (and now Uber and Lyft). Despite infamous urban anonymity, in these mini-neighborhoods, people often knew neighbors and shopkeepers.
You can see immediate advantages for community-building here. Never mind whether your urban neighbors share your politics. In fact, it might be best not to talk politics at all, but simply to talk common interests — including the growing nationwide interest in being prepared for natural and unnatural disasters.
Despite Hollywood visions of rioting and looting the moment anything goes wrong, urban people are just as inclined to help their neighbors as any others. We saw it after Superstorm Sandy, when restaurants hosted community meals, supermarkets passed out bottled water, and neighbors banded together to send one of their own on an out-of-town expedition to buy otherwise-unavailable gasoline. Good neighborhoods and good neighbors can exist anywhere.
At the same time, if your craving is for anonymity, so nobody knows about the freeze-dried foods you’ve stashed under the bed or the generator on your balcony, you can have that. Your solitude will likely be less remarked upon than it might elsewhere. Urbanites are experts at tuning out what they don’t want to perceive, so it’s easy to hide in plain sight if that’s your style. (At least from your fellow humans; hiding from omnipresent surveillance cameras and cellphones is a different matter.)
There are, however, at least four intractable problems to living in the city:
- Costs — especially of real estate.
- Growing homelessness — and all its attendant filth, crime, and disease.
- Crumbling infrastructure — and declining standards maintenance. All it takes is one strike to make life unlivable.
- No escape. Even if you laugh at zombie apocalypse scenarios, this is the #1 drawback — a potentially fatal drawback — of urban life. If you’re an urbanite, look around you. What are your escape routes in event of a catastrophic storm, terrorist attack, fire, explosion, or airplane crash? Chances are you’ve got damn few choices. With everybody else making those same choices in a moment of panic, you’ve got fewer yet. Now picture what happens if an earthquake, flood, chain-reaction vehicle accident, riot, protest, or something else damages an avenue of escape. You’re reduced to fleeing on foot or remaining in a dangerous situation. Unless you’ve got a helicopter handy, you’re screwed.
In a moment we’ll get to some of the many ways you can increase your freedom while living in an urban area. First let’s look at what small towns have to offer.
Small town dreams
If you polled Americans on where they’d most like to live, a small town would rank pretty high. Who wouldn’t want to live in River City, Iowa, ca. 1912 (setting for The Music Man) or some bucolic Vermont village untouched since Revolutionary times? Even a less distinguished community like the working-class berg I call home can be a great place.
Small towns offer close-knit neighborhoods, handy amenities (even if amenities are nothing more than a handful of grocery stores, banks, gas stations, and doctors’ offices), a sedate pace of life, and lower cost of living than most cities.
In a small town you’re likely to have easy access to rural pleasures and an outdoor lifestyle without being forced to live like a pioneer.
In or near a small town might be an ideal location for enduring hard times. You’re likely to have: helpful (and prepared) neighbors; nearby farms; nearby foraging, hunting, and fishing; the ability to reach most local services on foot or bicycle; general attitudes of self-sufficiency and independence; and businesses that are both locally owned and attuned to local needs. You can probably keep a flock of chickens, and possibly other small livestock. Lots are often large enough to accommodate a serious veggie garden.
On the other hand small towns present problems of their own. Notable among them:
- Insularity. Many small towns are open and friendly; others, not so much.
- Dying economies. Unless you lock in one of the rare good local jobs, you could end up having to commute a long way to work or create your own career.
- Unwelcome attention. It’s also very hard to be anonymous and invisible in small, independent communities. You may be able to keep to yourself, but people will notice. They may gossip. Or they might want to befriend you and poke around in your life more than you’d like.
- Lack of stimulation. Finally, if you simply must shop at chain stores or attend world-class sporting or cultural events, you may have to go a long way. Fortunately we now have Amazon, Netflix, and other companies that bring civilization to our door. But small towns aren’t made for a stimulating life.
See below for ways you can increase freedom while living in a small, independent community.
To be continued …