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VONU reborn: A little more of a book review this time, part II

VONU: A Strategy for Self-Liberation
By Shane Radliff
July 2018
Liberty Under Attack Publications
126 pages

This part is actually something like a book review. Mostly.

So there I was, idly seeking any good reference to long-ago disappeared Rayo and his writings on the VONU life. And while most of the ‘Net seemed to have forgotten that pioneer of modern liberty, one site — one shiny site called The Vonu Podcast — was entirely dedicated to reviving Rayo’s ideas and advancing and popularizing them for the 21st century.

Better yet, the site’s proprietors are young. Shane Radliff is twentysomething. I don’t know Kyle Rearden’s age, but there’s not a gray hair on him, that’s for sure. And look at what they’re up to!

At a time when hardcore freedomistas seem to be aging out of the game, that’s the best of good news. Better yet, these two seem to have either sparked or tapped into a whole free-life movement within their generation.

If you’ve never heard of VONU or you need a refresher course, either check out the guys’ site or read part I of this blog. Basically VONU is about being invisible to coercive governments, and therefore less vulnerable to tyranny and more free.

—–

One of the things Shane Radliff has been up to is writing a book, VONU: A Strategy for Self-Liberation. Like the website, the book gives full credit and honor to Rayo, while adapting and expanding his ideas for modern times.

The original VONU had both practical and philosophical aspects. Wisely, Radliff focuses on the former. (Rayo’s philosophical musings were highly original ca. 1970, but much of what he wrote has become standard libertarian/ancap doctrine and doesn’t bear a lot of repeating.)

There’s one chapter on the history of Rayo and VONU, one on their influence on the libertarian and anarchist realm, and one on the “why” of VONU. After that, Radliff gets right down to practicalities:

Chapter 4: Setting The Stage for Solutions
Chapter 5: Go “Gypsy” – NOW!
Chapter 6: Van Nomadism
Chapter 7: Wilderness Vonu
Chapter 8: Minimalist Sailboating
Chapter 9: Perpetual Traveling
Chapter 10: Stationary Intentional Communities
Chapter 11: Vonuing in Cities
Chapter 12: Far-Out Vonu Strategies
Chapter 13: Conclusion
Chapter 14: Bonus Content

The book is short and readable; you can easily get through it in an afternoon.

Radliff gives examples of people carrying out the various VONU lifestyles. It’s not always clear whether these are real-world examples or just “here’s how this might work” ideas from the author’s head. A mixture, I’m guessing, as Radliff is too young to have tried more than a few of these himself, and practicing VONUists probably aren’t talking much about the location of their wilderness hut or their favorite port for sailboating.

But over my years as I writer I’ve developed a pretty good BS detector for when an author is faking it, and I’d say that while Radliff isn’t always speaking from personal knowledge, he’s researched his subject well enough to have credibility.

He deliberately keeps each topic stripped down. Whereas I, back in the day, might have flooded You, The Poor Reader with options, physical addresses, URLs, and caveats, Radliff describes the basics of a particular course of action, gives an example, adds a helpful resource or two, then moves on. (Here’s one resource from the book: Your Best Address — a mail forwarding service that will also help wandering or stationary-but-privacy-seeking VONUans establish legal South Dakota residency. As always, no one can vouch for the suitability or long-term reliability of any outside resource (see, there’s one of my caveats, right there), but those Radliff’s included seem well-chosen.

Whereas Rayo lived before the explosion of modern tech, Radliff describes how to incorporate things like GPS (essential for sailboating VONUans) and remote Internet access into a VONUlife.

Does he tell you every, single thing you need to know? Nope. And why should he? If the VONU life is for you, you don’t need a step-by-step instruction book and you wouldn’t trust one if somebody put one in your hands. This is a book to give readers a general idea of the options, then step aside and let them run free.

This book was not written for people like me. The actions it recommends are probably only for a minority of freedom seekers — among them the youngest, most adventurous, or perhaps most desperate to escape Big Brother’s glare. But that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it or get something from it. I think every freedom seeker will.

—–

When I was that young kid I described the other day, I was fascinated with Rayo’s ideas. I fantasized about life on the road or in a hobbit hidey-hut in the woods. But I never hopped in a van and headed out for a mobile life. I never strung a tarp and tried to make a permanent encampment in the trees. I never boarded a sailboat and drifted out beyond national territory. Although I had acquaintances who did all of the above and more, I’m a nester. I’ve always been a nester.

I’ve nested in different places. I’ve lived in a yurt, two trailers, a fifth-wheel, and (until it quickly blew away in the devil winds of the high desert) a three-room tent. But I’ve never craved harshly independent living. Give me a house with walls, windows, insulation, and heat. Give me a bathtub and hot running water to fill it with. Give me a pleasant vista, nice neighbors, refrigerated food, and a microwave oven — and yeah, I’ll trade some portion of my freedom for those, especially now that I’m of that “certain age.”

I did go off-grid in several senses of the word and stayed “out” for many years. Now, I’m simply too old. I don’t want the risks. I don’t want the discomforts. I made my compromises; I came back into the system. There are things I will never again do for the sake of living free (though there are still many things I would also never do to appease Big or Little Brother).

But even if you’re too old, too settled, too tied to job and family and place to crave the VONU life, there is one way in which VONU: A Strategy for Self-Liberation is for you, me, and everybody who holds that freedom is personal. If you believe freedom is about our own choices, not about politics, not primarily about what the state does or doesn’t do (though of course — another caveat! — we have to be eternally aware of what our would-be masters are planning for us), but about what we do with our own lives, then this book will speak to you.

When I read this book, I felt a thrill of re-discovery. Re-discovery of Rayo’s ideas, of course, but also re-discovery of the person I was when I first encountered VONU, when I first tumbled down the rabbit hole of the entire libertarian, anarchist, Outlaw, freedomista world.

It was a thrill, but followed by a sobering reality check. Have I done all I could to be free? Have I fulfilled my responsibility to help others on the exciting and perilous path of freedom in unfree times? Have I gotten complacent? Have I given in where I should have held strong? Have I learned from experience? More importantly, have I learned from experience without becoming jaded, cynical, or overly cautious?

These are hard questions, but I blessed this book and its author for prompting me to consider them. You might, too. He made me consider the results of my choices while there’s still time to break out of complacency. I’ll never live the VONU life, but today I’m more aware of the value and consequences of my choices.

OTOH, if you believe this book is totally not for you, then maybe give a thought to what it might mean to your children or grandchildren, that wild young nephew, or that brother or sister with the restless, independent soul.

Above all, I thank Shane Radliff (and his partner in podcasting, Kyle Rearden) for reviving a forgotten freedom philosophy and bringing it to a generation that has, until now, had too little opportunity for freedom and adventure.

Good going, Shane. Good going, guys. You give us all hope for the future.

8 Comments

  1. Comrade X
    Comrade X February 16, 2019 7:07 am

    Methinks I can say I lived the VONU life but not for long nor long enough.

    Can’t wait to read this book.

  2. libertyunderattack
    libertyunderattack February 16, 2019 1:07 pm

    Thank you, Claire. I really enjoyed your review. You also gave me some input on some details I should make sure to clarify for the next book – definitely valuable.

    I should also mention that if anyone would rather not use Amazon or purchase with bitcoin, you can do so here: http://www.libertyunderattack.com/vonubook.

    Thanks again, Claire.

  3. jed
    jed February 16, 2019 6:13 pm

    Any chance of an e-book release sometime?

  4. libertyunderattack
    libertyunderattack February 16, 2019 7:21 pm

    @Jed: I have someone working on a Kindle e-book as we speak. That’s outside of my skill set unfortunately. Just paperbacks right now.

  5. Joel
    Joel February 17, 2019 6:33 am

    Thank you! I vaguely heard of VONU at some time in the past but probably dismissed it with all the other libertarian pipe dreams like seasteading that come and go so promiscuously. This sounds more or less like the option that appealed to me, though possibly even more improvised. I so wanted to live in a van and travel around when I was young but I never figured out the economics of it. Finding a place where I could get stable landowner permission to build a shack that gradually became a comfortable cabin has so far worked better for me. I’m with Claire in that huddling under a tarp no longer has a lot of charm.

    I’ll be buying the book.

  6. brew
    brew February 17, 2019 10:38 am

    One of the RV newsletters I get runs an ad all the time for the South Dakota residency re-mailer service. Thought I’d mention it to back up that it is likely a legit service they provide.

  7. libertyunderattack
    libertyunderattack February 17, 2019 3:13 pm

    @Brew: I have a van nomad buddy who has been using YourBestAddress for 8 months. He also paid them to get his car registered in South Dakota. He’s had nothing but good things to say about them.

  8. Matt
    Matt April 10, 2019 5:33 pm

    One of the 1st Freedom books I bought. Clearance rack at a 1/2 price bookstore.

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