Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen

From the Amazon book description:  In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings-all thirty dollars of it-in a phone booth. He has lived without money-and with a newfound sense of freedom and security-ever since.
The Man Who Quit Money is an account of how one man learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. Suelo doesn't pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, forages wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer even carries an I.D. Yet he manages to amply fulfill not only the basic human needs-for shelter, food, and warmth-but, to an enviable degree, the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement. In retracing the surprising path and guiding philosophy that led Suelo into this way of life, Sundeen raises provocative and riveting questions about the decisions we all make, by default or by design, about how we live-and how we might live better.

To say that I enjoyed this book would be an understatement.  I'd recommend it to anyone.  I will warn you, though, that it will challenge you.  So, if you're quite complacent with the way you view the world and its workings, you may just want to avoid this one.  So, if you don't run out and buy it, at least humor me and check out the excepts below.  These are from the final portion of the book wherein Sundeen ponders what it is we Americans have to learn from folks like Suelo.

The author is writing about his own journey and recalling when he began reusing baggies and carrying reusable bags with him to the grocery store . . .

But here was the problem:  although these actions made sense, they didn't make me feel any less anxious, or more free.  How many times have I stood at the kitchen sink paralyzed by a plastic baggie?  If it were clean, having held, say, a sandwich, I'd simply rinse and resuse it.  But this one is smeared with mustard and rancid cheese and even a bit of mold.  My instinct is to throw it away.  But as we have learned, there is not such place as "away."  This plastic bag, if it doesn't end up clogging the intestines of some albatross or dolphin, will swirl at sea for decades, and even after it breaks down into tiny pieces, it will never fully decompose:  its toxic petrochemicals will haunt us forever.

But then I think:  That's ridiculous.  It's just one baggie.  And the washing of it will not only be a singularly unpleasant use of my time, but won't I be using precious water to wash it?  And burning natural gas to heat that water.  Not to mention the resource depletion and damage represented by the soap.  And by now I've already wasted five rminutes thinking about this, time that could have been better spent picking up plastic bags along the river. 

So I chuck the thing in the trash, but the next day at breakfast it's still there, peering up at me accusingly.  And the gears of my mind spin. Eventually, one day in the future, I'm going to need a plastic sandwich baggie.  And when I do, I'm going to buy a box of them, thus giviny my hard-earned money to the Ziploc corporation, or whoever, who doubtlessly engages in all sorts of toxic practices to manufacture these things -- I imagine a factory spewing brown sludge into a river, somewhere in the Rust Belt, or maybe China.  And I'll also be enabling my box of baggies to be hauled across the nation on gas-guzzling trucks that grind up the taxpayer-funded highways, which carve through the habitat of grizzles and moose and antelope, driving them toward extinction, and so on. 

Finally, I had to ask a therapist about this, and he said, "Why don't you try going outside and growing something?"

I guess I love this excerpt so much because I've experienced this "baggie moment" myself.  In fact, in moments like this, I almost envy those who've never given a second-thought to the environment or the impact their choices make on it.  But, what I love here is how the therapist redirects that "guilt" and asks him to do something about it.  Because it's true, when I carry my reusable bags to the grocery store and see the bazillion plastic bags being loaded full of groceries in every other checkout lane, I wonder how much of a difference I can really be making.  But, when I plant my garden, I know I'm doing something positive.  And, it directly impacts me and my entirely family.

And for all of you who are engaging in the struggle:

This whole project of changing the world is hard work.  And as much as we seek a balance, straddling the line between individualism and community isn't a recipe for freedom.  It's the opposite.  When you try to balance the anxiety of maintaining wealth (savings, mortgages, insurance) with the anxiety of being an ethical person (eating local food, lunching with hobos, reusing baggies, withholding taxes), you don't free yourself from either.  You end up with twice the anxiety. It's sort of like going on a diet.  Unless you're willing to go all in -- run six miles a day and eat only fish and broccoli -- you'll never have those sculpted abs you see in magazines.  But neither will you have the unabashed joy of scarfing double-frosted chocolate cake.  Instead you nibble away at half a piece, your enjoyment negated by your guilt that you couldn't refuse it altogether.

1 comment:

  1. I read The Last American Man on your recommendation and I will definitely read this one too.