Commentary – Slowing things down a bit

Joe McWilliams

Here’s a dilemma for you: our modern economy relies rather heavily on consumer spending. Buying things we don’t really need keeps millions employed, shareholders happy and so on.

Good jobs, a decent standard of living, growth, prosperity, etc. all depend on continued spending. The great fear of those who run the economy is of people, en masse, deciding they don’t need the stuff anymore.

If that happens, the system collapses. An awful lot of brainpower – not to mention cash – goes into making sure that never happens. That includes – as just one example – the zillions spent on seductive advertising. Seductive or otherwise, advertising is also what enables me to be writing this and you to be reading it.

So say you don’t want to play the game anymore. You want to get off grid, raise your own food, walk instead of driving (when you can) and decide what’s ‘necessary’ for life is about a tenth of what the powers-that-be would like you to believe you ‘need.’

You could do that. A very few do it. Some go all in. Some go half way. Some go too far and end up realizing it’s too damned hard to live like that. One of those was the late J.D. Szezepaniak of Sandy Lake.

He had been part of a back-to-the-land commune in B.C. whose members were committed to doing everything themselves and relying on nothing manufactured. Imagine that catching on!

But the purity of that particular vision (‘Simple living; high thinking’ was the motto) was tough to maintain, J.D. told me once, in a long session of reminiscing at the Slave Lake Tim Hortons. Take the simple matter of collecting enough firewood to get a family through the winter. He was going at it all gung-ho without the aid of a chainsaw. An oldtimer in the valley saw this and advised him if he really wanted to live like that he’d better have a lot of kids; there was no way one or two people could handle the workload otherwise. Over time, J.D. was forced to accept it.

Years earlier I was acquainted with another crew of purists, who lived in several isolated agricultural colonies in the B.C. Peace Country. They were true believers in cutting all dependence on ‘worldly’ conveniences and supplies. In their case it was religious: they believed the world ‘system’ was going to collapse. They probably even had a date in mind. What they also had in mind was that everybody who depended on grocery stores, gas stations and the like would be done for. But they wouldn’t, because they had figured out (or were in the process of figuring out) how to do without. So they left their comfortable homes down east, bought land in the middle of nowhere and got at it, using nothing they couldn’t build or fix or produce on their own. By the time I came on the scene, they’d already started to compromise, sending their young folks out to work in tree-planting camps (money came in handy after all), and admitting that the odd tractor sure helped in the farming end of things.

So as much as we may like the notion of not participating in the ‘rat race,’ we pretty much are whether we like it or not. Pick your poison. Do what you are comfortable with and let the chips fall where they may.

Where am I going with this? Somewhere that would require more space than there is on this page. To be continued, I guess.


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