A few days ago I posted this article about a dude named Daniel Suelo who chooses to live in a cave in Utah with no money. Someone on Metafilter wrote a response to that same article.
Apologies to Mr. Suelo, but modern western civilization is the shit
I am by no means a rich man, but in comparison to most of the world and most humans who lived in any age preceding ours, I live like a king. By the mere accident of birth, I came to live in a country that bombards its citizens with comforts. I woke up this morning and put two cups of fresh, clean water into a metal pan and boiled it on my electric stove. I then stirred in some 7-grain porridge and some raisins and cooked up my breakfast. I didn’t have to grow the grains and process them and I didn’t have to grow the grapes and dry them into raisins – it all came from the store, packaged and ready to go! From the same store, I also obtained some butter without having to own a cow and some honey without having to put on an apiarist’s suit and squeeze it out of a hive. I put the porridge and honey and butter into a ceramic bowl that I did not cast and stirred it all together with a metal spoon that I did not forge.
Scarcely half an hour after climbing out of my bed – that is, a queen-sized mattress supported by a boxspring and a metal frame, covered with flannel sheets that I did not and could not weave – I had prepared myself a delicious, nutritious breakfast. And I know how long it took because of the digital alarm clock sitting on my bookshelf – a bookshelf that is packed out with volumes on a wide variety of subjects which were written by learned men and women from all over the planet. Were I to pick up one of these books, I would find pages filled with words in clear, uniform type on smooth, machine-pressed paper. Their spines are sturdily bound and some of the covers have absolutely beautiful art or photographs printed on them. I could read it on my sofa while an electric fan controlled the temperature in my apartment and better see the pages by way of an electric light if I found the sunlight streaming in through my double-paned windows wanting. Fucking. Awesome.
Instead, I decided to watch a DVD of Flight of the Conchords while I ate. A DVD player built in Taiwan streamed images of a sitcom filmed in New York, built around the act of a guitar-playing folk-satire duo from New Zealand into a cathode ray device built in China, all for my amusement. Once upon a time, only nobility got to be so entertained, and only then if they shipped in live performers. Today, a machine on a shelf above my television used a fucking laser to extract entertainment from a paper-thin disc, all because I pushed a few buttons on a small, infrared transmitter called a “remote control.” Wow! No Pharaoh ever had it so good!
I looked at Mr. Suelo’s site for as long as I could stomach the sanctimony and noticed a number of quotes from luminaries of ages long dead. These quotes make for good copy, but I don’t know how good a job they do of decrying our age and our currency, given that these people never saw it and never spent it. Is Suelo absolutely certain that Thoreau wouldn’t have loved microwave popcorn? That Lincoln wouldn’t have wanted the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? He did fancy a play from time to time, after all. St. Augustine’s piety was never, ever tested against central air conditioning or drive-thru burger joints.
The folks who lived without money and modern comforts in ages gone by did so largely for lack of any other choice. People crave comfort and safety – greed is naught but an extreme expression of these universal needs. The average Roman legionnaire would have gladly killed to know the comforts of a Victorian and a Victorian would have done the same to enjoy the leisurely life of a modern American, same as I would to vault into the 24th century, where waste-processing nanites keep my large intestine clean and translator microbes in my Broca’s region enable me to speak with anyone in the world as if we grew up with a common language. I’m aware that greed and sloth have us in a bit of a mess right now and I’m confident that greed will lead us back out. The energy problem won’t be cracked because we all come together and build non-profit solar power co-ops. It’ll happen when some greedy son of a bitch decides he wants in on the ground floor of The Industrial Revolution, Part Two – Green Electric Boogaloo.
The modern world absolutely teems with marvels. In a couple hours, I’m gonna hop on my bike, a miracle of a machine with a fiberglass frame and rubber tires, and ride on paved, light-controlled roads to a job where I help disabled folks manage their lives. These guys have disabilities that would doom them in a fortnight in Mr. Suelo’s ideal world. But thanks to modern medicine and machines, these men may live for much longer and in much more comfort than they ever could before. I know what a lucky bastard I am, living in the twenty-first century United States. I’m thankful to live in such a place, where a man with cerebral palsy can have orange juice whenever he pleases and even folks who elect to live in a goddamn cave get to wear sturdy boots and maintain a blog that the whole planet is welcome to read.
… umm, so good. I heart MeFi.