Friday, March 4, 2011

What Would Greenpa Do?

Gingeranne writes:
"I've been reading your blog for several years now and have a favor to ask: if your schedule permits, would you do a post on what you would advise young people if you could? If you were in your twenties/early thirties, knowing what you know, would you choose this life, in this country, all over again? Husband, baby and I are trying to quit the big-city rat race, buy some property cheap (no mortgage if possible) and transition to as self-sufficient a lifestyle as possible. But as my awareness has grown of the depth and breadth of the problems in the country, I truly wonder whether it is even worth trying to stay here to do so. I am appalled by the way we truly seem to be going to hell in a handbasket environmentally, economically, societally and otherwise, and disheartened that most people seem too zombiefied to care. Surely there are other places in the world where sanity and humanity and common sense hold more sway? Or is that just the idealism talking? Your wise insights much appreciated. Many thanks."

Ouch. Was my first thought. And "scary." Do I dare give advice? Do I have any I'd give? You'll be glad to know, Gingeranne, that you spooked me good with that one.


Particularly since I gleaned this following bit from J.R.R.Tolkien, decades ago. It struck me hard, the first time I ever read it, and still does with each re-reading. The reason we love Tolkien is because he speaks the truth; and his truth comes from genuine ancient wisdom, gleaned from ancient stories. (You know, of course, that he was a scholar of ancient language and myth, specializing for years in the academic dissection of Beowulf, in its original and successive languages.)

This is from The Fellowship Of The Ring; before Frodo has even left the Shire; Frodo speaks:
" 'I have been expecting Gandalf for many days. He was to have come to Hobbiton at the latest two nights ago: but he has never appeared. Now I am wondering what can have happened. Should I wait for him?'
Gildor was silent for a moment. 'I do not like this news,' he said at last. 'That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours; to go or to wait.'
'And it is also said,' answered Frodo: 'Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.'
'Is it indeed?' laughed Gildor. 'Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship's sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing.'

My italics. With one exception, I think I cannot do better. Every word of that tiny bit rings true for me.

The one exception comes from whether you should "go", and what that really might mean. Leave your country, to seek a more sane, safer one? Or find a way in the country and culture you know?

Sharon Astyk had a post on this topic just recently, I do recommend you take a look. And, I commented on it, with views others there found compelling.


My answer there was really oversimplified, for debate purposes. My true answer would be exactly Gildor's; the choice is yours, to go or stay. And while my own answer is "stay"; yours might very well be "go". It depends.

I'm staying because I have roots here, and family, and friends; here.

The case for going, sometimes, though, is very strong. If you were a Jew in 1929 Germany - you definitely should have decided to leave, if at all possible. That entire situation was utterly out of control.

There are places in the US at the moment, which have very high potential for getting out of control. And if you are possibly a target for such hatefulness - leaving might be by far the sanest thing you can do. Only you can know.

Changing cultures and countries is a non-trivial decision, though; and I do happen to personally know a very smart and highly educated couple who emigrated to Australia some decades ago, primarily in disgust at US political and social trends (Reagan, at the time). Five years later- it was clear to them that the social realities in Australia were truly no better; nasty people exist everywhere, always. And they did indeed regret making the move, though they have not moved back, either.

So. What if you have some roots here, and no good reason to leave?

It took me a full day, and sleeping on it overnight; but it finally dawned on me: I do have a bit of specific and useful advice to offer. I hope it helps.

Find a Transition Towns group, and start going to their meetings.

Find out if you fit that group. Not everyone fits everywhere, and Transition groups are not different from other human endeavors; some are wonderful, some suffer from abrasive egos- etc.

Find a fit. Find friends. Join that community.

The general consensus, among thinkers I respect, is that no one is going to make it through any of the serious collapse scenarios - alone. Only well-knit communities, well planned, well prepared, are likely to come out the other side.

And, in my serious opinion, the Transition movement is simply the best thing going; anywhere.

Take such friends as are trusty and willing. Hard to beat advice straight from an Eldar Lord.


I'm going to add one more thing to this post; and I don't know why.

All I know is; this particular song has been running through my mind for 2 days. Somehow; it seems relevant to this discussion. This is MacPherson's Rant (or Lament). There are many versions to the lyrics; and many versions of the legend. What seems clear though is; he was a real man; living in very bad times; who was eventually hanged, legally - for being - half Gypsy.


Don Plummer said...

For what it's worth, Greenpa, John Michael Greer generally advises against moving out of the USA. His rationale is that one doesn't want to be an American ex-patriot when the American empire seriously begins to unravel. It's a dangerous place to be.

This is what John wrote, in reply to a comment by Roboslob (

"First, I know this is an outdated and unfashionable thing to say, but the US is my country, and I don't see a good reason to bail out on it as we move into a time when, to be frank, it'll need all the help it can get. Second, it amazes me how many people haven't thought through the implications of being an American expat in a foreign country at a time when the US empire is coming unglued. Depending on how things turn out, the chance of doing time in an internment camp as an enemy alien, running for your life from an angry mob that doesn't care if you disagree with the President, or even facing a firing squad on trumped-up charges of espionage or subversion, are among the possibilities that have to be taken into account. I suspect it's the notorious American arrogance overseas that makes this hard to see, but that's hardly a guarantee of safety!"

gaias daughter said...

I agree with Greenpa -- giving advice is a dangerous thing to do! And he is right on the money when he says that community may well be the most important factor in the near future. So I offer the following as an option to consider, not as advice.

I've been looking for a place to relocate myself -- there are too many negatives where we now live and very few positives. After scouring the internet for a place that meets the criteria I set for myself, I've become quite intrigued with the Big Island in Hawai'i -- in part because of the year-round growing season, and in part because property prices have come way down in recent years. There are serious considerations, of course, including the relative isolation of the island. Cost of living is high, especially for utilities, which is why so many are opting for alternatives now. And there is the live volcano, earthquakes and tsunami potential to consider, depending on where on the island one chooses to settle. But what has impressed me most is the spreading concern on the island for becoming more self-sufficient just in case the ships stop coming. There seems to be a strong and growing community of people who get it and are doing something about it.

So . . . an option with the advantages of still being in the US but of living in a culture that is returning to its roots, to a way of life that honors the land, and to a place that might fare quite well in the times to come.

dandelionlady said...

I remember that post you suggested of Sharon's. It's a good one, with lots of interesting comments.

For a while my husband and I though about trying to go north to Canada, but really, this is our home. I've lived in Michigan my whole life. I don't really want to move. I feel like everybody moving around all the time does a lot of damage. No one takes the time to clean up their messes, no one feels responsible for a place. This is my place, maybe it's sort of run down, but I still want to take care of it.

So my answer is to stay. But I do have community here, I've been building it for years now. it's not a transition community, but more and more people are starting to think that what I'm doing is interesting instead of bizarre. And really, I care about these people and this place and that's enough for me.

I might mention that if you plan to buy land and stay there for a while, you might want to take a look at some of the drought and weather projections for the next 50 years and take that into account. It's easy enough to google.

belinda said...

As an Aussie basically my thoughts on this come down to "unless there is a really compelling reason to move overseas.. stay put".

By compelling I am talking you are of an ethnic minority that will significantly increase your chances of being targeted when things get tough and you have somewhere to land that is likely to be softer.. or you have large amounts of family overseas who will be overjoyed to ease your way.

Every now and again when our government does yet another thing that I find ludicrously short sighted or morally offensive I flirt with the idea of moving to NZ. The reality is the likelihood of me actually pulling up sticks and moving o/s is basically non existent.


Because moving overseas would be a huge drain on our personal resources and a huge wrench on my support systems. My friends and family are spread out too far (I have inner circle family in Victoria, NSW, Qld and Western Australia) as it is.. moving overseas with full knowledge of the implications of peak oil requires acceptance that after a time by moving I will be forced to say good bye to these people and probably never see them in real life again (I have never been rich, I am even less likely to be in a peak oil world).

I understand the cultural biases, I was born to it. Although I may agree to disagree with many people I do have some insight into how our shared culture may have shaped their thoughts. In a tough situation I have knowledge and understanding that MAY allow me to talk my out of trouble. I know where the cultural "big red buttons" are as well as the potential "get out of jail free cards".

I understand the natural disasters that I am likely to be caught up in and the knowledge to help me assist risk for any particular area on the continent. This one can be mitigated with thorough research but very few people really think about looking for information about natural disasters that they don't experience in their own country.

As everyone else has said what people choose to do is very much a personal decision.. but make sure you right that pro and con list as you like me may find that although walking away looks good from a distance.. close up and personal you have an awful lot to loose.

Kind Regards

tickmeister said...

Old story;

A traveler asks a man sitting beside the road "What manner of people live in the next town?"

Old man: What manner of people lived in your last town?

Traveler: Horrible people, greedy, mean, short sighted, and gross.

Old man: You will find them the same in this town.

Later a second traveler asks the same question and again the old man asks. "What manner of people did you last live with?"

2nd traveler: Wonderful people, kind, generous, and wise.

Old man: You will find them the same in this town.

Anonymous said...

Gaia's daughter -- I wouldn't be so sure you'll find the Big Island to your liking. You're not native to the place. And that means you'll NEVER fit in. My husband used to work over there, 15 days on and 14 days home. We looked for property there as well but ultimately decided against it for the simple reason that we would never truly be part of the community. They don't take kindly to haoli's there. And the Hawaiian natives can be downright hostile; my husband was basically assaulted in a grocery store, while I watched, by two very large Hawaiian girls. Everyone else simply looked away and pretended it never happened. Make no mistake, you're an ex-pat there as surely as you would be in another country.

Anonymous said...

Really sage response to the lady who thought of emigrating. But I would also add this from Helen Nearing: "Do the best you can, in the place where you are."

I like Eckhart Tolle's teaching as well as Gangaji. There are some youtube videos available on their teachings.

gaias daughter said...

Anonymous, I appreciate the spiritual tack you are taking, but as someone who has been the recipient of such advice in the past, I'd like to offer a second perspective. To quote another song, "Know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away; know when to run." There are times when the wisest thing to do is to stay in place and make it work. And there are times when the best thing is to cut your loses and move on. In the end, Gingeranne is the only one who knows what is best for her and all the advice from all the wisest sages (Tolle included)is only food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Yes, advice can be both a hard thing to give and a hard thing to take. Here's a few words from a Grandma - way back when I was married with small children, we bought a small piece of land, cleared it by hand, and camped on the land while we built a log house. We hauled water, split wood, grew vegetables, heated with wood and lived close to the land. It was at times the hardest and most fulfilling time in my life and if I was in my twenties or thirties with young children, I would do it all again.