I have been immersed in Thoreau for the past week. I re-read Walden for the umpteenth time and once again found new inspiration and insight. He is one of my “Archetypes of Simplicity” but his Walden experiment is perhaps not the most important element of his legacy. The two years at Walden blends with his passionate resistance to slavery and to the unjust war against Mexico to form what I believe is his true legacy: that Simple living is the foundation of all political action. The two are inseparable.
His, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” essay has long been a touchstone for protest and activism. It arose from the heated and divisive time leading up to the Civil War. His home state, Massachusetts, was a “free” state but had passed the Fugitive Slave Act which required escaped slaves to be returned to their masters in the slave states. The United States was also involved in war with Mexico which Thoreau opposed as illegal and imperialistic. He was fed up with both state and federal governments and he wrote a compelling case for the moral necessity of disobedience. I highly recommend using this link to read his timeless essay.
I am always aware of the fact that my attempt to live a simple, authentic life rests upon all of the complexities of the current capitalist economy. There is no escape from this reality for, at the moment, the economy is what it is and I must navigate its territory to the best of my ability. Much of the time, like Thoreau, I adjust my needs to be those that truly satisfy me, live more simply and closer to the elements of the Earth, and hope that the insanity we call economics and government pass by without noticing me. But when the power of that economic/governmental machine grows to the point where it is literally destroying the Earth, I have to, again like Thoreau, make choices of resistance and refusal to cooperate. My deepest commitment is to the Earth which I love and of which I am an inseparable part. Politics and economics now emerge from that first love, that essential connection.
Make no mistake, simple living is more than a satisfying life-style choice. It is an act of political resistance and of civil disobedience. It is the foundational act out of which all other actions emerge. It is also extremely difficult because so many aspects of our psychological comfort and well-being are intertwined with cultural norms and expectations. Simplicity often equals poverty to our conditioned minds unless it has been prepared for over decades of learning and experience. Nancy and I jumped into the fray much later in life and that adds difficulties. It doesn’t matter. 2020 will be a year in which we will speak and write as clearly and honestly as we possibly can about freedom, simplicity, joy, and Earth-centered living.
Some of the ways I am working on my own “resist and refuse: practice:
Quite a while ago I deleted my FaceBook account (though I assume it is forever lodged somewhere in a data base) for many reasons. I refuse to support the mass gathering of data, the manipulation of opinion, and the tampering with elections that such a platform enables. But I also refuse to participate in any hate-driven social media ironically called, “discussion.” I never click to follow such threads. There are much better ways of communicating and conversing. Question: what might these better ways be?
I refuse to listen to ignorance masquerading as, “news.” I’m trying to make my primary sources be periodicals and books, reading only authors who have taken the time to fully research and digest events.
I refuse to vote unless there is a candidate who is truly committed to radical action. The, “lesser of two evils” is a ruse that keeps us heading for the cliff.
I’m trying not to indulge my own, “confirmation bias.” I don’t need to be constantly affirming the, “ain’t it awful!” mentality in my reading or conversation.
I am attempting to resist the pressure of advertising that creates artificial need.
I am trying to resist friends and family who tell me how to behave.
I regularly disobey the habitual thought patterns of my conditioned mind by practicing meditative awareness rather than impulsive action.
Thoreau disobeyed the law by refusing to pay his poll tax that supported an unjust war and slavery. I have friends who have gone to jail for refusing to pay income tax that supports injustice. I admit that, for the moment, I am not ready to risk imprisonment on this issue. Our approach, for now, is to keep our income below the level at which we would pay federal income tax. Income tax basically supports the military industrial complex, foreign “aid” which is actually a way of controlling other countries, and bailouts to financial institutions. An ever-decreasing tiny percentage goes to social programs. At the moment, flying under the taxation radar seems best. That may change. We are happy to pay state tax, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax that funds roads, and taxes that directly benefit the community.
As the year progresses I will be thinking more deeply about these issues.
Let me know what you are doing to resist, refuse, and disobey.