okay, over on goodreads i reviewed the book as a book. but here, since it’s my blog and i get to write whatever i want, i want to talk about the philosophy of Daniel Suelo.

to recap: the book is a biography of Daniel Suelo, who in 2000 made the radical decision to give up money altogether. since then, he hasn’t gotten any, spent any, or worked for any (altho he does work). he lives in a cave (literally) or on friendly couches or in houses he’s sitting. he does not buy food–it’s either given to him, or he forages, or dumpster-dives. similarly, he doesn’t buy clothes or eyeglasses or Martha Stewart sheets.

is he a loony-bag? no, not at all. should he be vacuumed up by The Powers and tossed in the slammer or the bin? nope, on both counts. is he a saint, a holy fool, a redeemer?

no and no and no.

let me say two things (to myself, since nobody else reads this and i can natter all i want): one, i am absolutely not a fan of the capitalist/consumer America that Suelo has opted out of; and two, while i believe that Suelo as a man has made the choice he must make, that doesn’t mean we should all line up behind him. i think there’s a lot he’s rather conveniently failing to take note of.

in my mind, there’s no arguing that the system we live with can be utterly dehumanizing, degrading, and occasionally abhorrent; that we live for many of the wrong things (particularly when those things are things); that for our physical, mental, and possibly spiritual health we need to find a saner way to live. as a nation, we seem to have forgotten what dignity is–it doesn’t come with a paycheck or a mansion or a healthy 401K, it comes with how we treat one another. and currently, we treat one another as commodities, often no better than that 24-pack of toilet paper on Target shelves.

i can practically hear Suelo’s screams when he confronts the working world, and ya, it can be scream-inducing. i don’t know why americans are so thoroughly dedicated to treating each other like shit. we can’t even wish good health care on each other.

and ya, something’s definitely gotta give, or we’re going to find ourselves eating our own young.

but i find Suelo’s solution to be rather too scorched-earth: he’s given it all up as a bad bet, taken his toys, and walked away. of course he has a perfect right to do so. and in some ways i admire very deeply his dedication to this difficult path. but i can’t help but think that more good can come of sticking around and fighting the good fight.

now, the women and men who made the unions in the 1920s and 30s, they have my total admiration. they went to jail, they got their heads bashed, they risked everything to fight for a better life for themselves and for future generations. and they succeeded, these lowest-level, bottom-of-the-totem-pole workers, who had no power except in the collective. and they rocked capitalist america to its fucking roots.

Daniel Suelo seems to think (if i am reading correctly) that the whole enterprise of money is fundamentally and inherently wrong, if not downright sinful. it’s kind of hard to argue with that, when you look at the 1% and know that they probably have less genuine sympathy for you than you do for your gut bacteria. and, boys and girls, this greed that powers so many americans is not healthy. we are sick, from our seas of antidepressants to our ever-expanding waistlines to our prayer that we will be quick enough to throw the other motherfucker off the boat.

is there something so twisted in money itself that we are poisoned by it?

i don’t know. but i am quite loathe to think that when faced with this particular serpent, we somehow lose all our free will. yes, money is an illusion, and the safety that money is supposed to buy is an illusion, and money will no more protect you from our upcoming global warming devastation than will a floppy hat and a gallon of sunscreen.but no, money is not some sort of demon that leeches onto our minds and makes us perforce be assholes to one another. we choose to be assholes to one another.

Suelo’s solution also turns a conveniently blind eye to an indisputable fact: we live in communities and our lives are intertwined far beyond our local organic food co-op. somebody in Ohio made the hoe that kills the weeds in California, and uncountable somebodies made the thyroid medication that keeps you upright to wield it. we can’t go back to some quasi-agrarian life; as individuals, yes, but not as a society. and there’s no reason we should.

humans have worked too hard and too long for things like informed medical care, travel that doesn’t involve frostbite and death, education for all, technology that despite its issues also has the potential to vastly improve our lives, a food supply system that mostly doesn’t kill us, and so on. our predecessors–like the union men and women–fought hard for these things. i really can’t see turning our backs on them en masse.

so there must be some middle way–some path between the siren song of Suelo’s extreme solution and doing nothing. i don’t know where it is. live lightly, save power, change your light bulbs, ya ya ya. it feel entirely inadequate. but i am not interested in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. i do think we can find a way to live both well and lightly, and like Suelo, i will continue to strive for a way to do it.

 

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