Freedom and Privilege

When I first started on my intensified low-footprint journey,* I was motivated by concern for the planet; specifically, for the survival of humans given that we seem to be on a fast self-destructive path to trashing our own life-support system.

Over time, though, I noticed I was also getting many intrinsic personal benefits from my low-footprint path. The main immediate ones were (are) time freedom and money freedom, which in turn allowed me the freedom to choose my own occupation and to engage in creative hobbies and volunteer community work.

As time went on, I realized that I had gained a measure of freedom and security for myself, but that I could never really be satisfied unless I was helping other people gain freedom and security too.

So, my eco quest became a roundabout path to trying to help as many people as possible get free of the relentless financial pressure and consumer treadmill that is so-called “modern, civilized” society.

The fact that so many of us in the wealthy industrialized nations are stuck on this treadmill is bad for the biosphere and all life forms. It is extremely bad for humans in the less-privileged nations.

But: People stuck on the treadmill don’t have the luxury of time to think for themselves and make better choices for the planet. It’s really true what I say in my book: It’s not our fault — BUT, we can do something about it. Those of us who have time to make a blog post, or even a few minutes to read and reflect on a blog post, have the power to help shift things.

In my profession, permaculture design, one of our core favorite ideas is “sharing surplus.” We aim to share our surplus time, money, skills, knowledge, and energy back into the land and into our communities.

Having surplus time, energy, or money is a privilege. But instead of beating myself up for having privilege, I can use my privilege for the good.

Being able to choose my profession is also a privilege, which I was graced with by growing up in a houseful of books, with parents who were extremely dedicated to making sure we kids had high-quality education. Even though the profession I chose has not been a high-income path, being able to have the choice is still a privilege. I used to feel guilty about this but now I just try to do what I can to help make a world in which everyone has access to books, education, economic opportunity, and various freedoms of choice. And after all, if a person who has the privilege to choose, chooses an occupation focused on restoring ecosystems and creating an equitable and sustainable society, that’s surely not a bad thing.

On the topic of using my freedom to help other people be free: A few weeks back, my horoscope from Rob Brezsny quoted several great writer/thinkers about how the ultimate purpose of freedom is to free someone else:

“‘Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else,’ counseled poet and activist Maya Angelou. Author Toni Morrison said, ‘The function of freedom is to free someone else.’ Author and activist Nikki Giovanni wrote, ‘Everybody that loves freedom loves Harriet Tubman because she was determined not only to be free, but to make free as many people as she could.’ I hope the wisdom of these women will be among your guiding thoughts in the coming weeks. As your own power and freedom grow, you can supercharge them — render them even more potent — by using them to help others.”

*(I’ve sort of naturally just been drawn to minimal-footprint choices for my whole life without thinking about it, but about 15 years ago I became more active/deliberate/intensified about it. That story is told in my book.)

One more thing: Even if you’re not into astrology, you might really enjoy Rob’s horoscopes for your sign, and find that what he has to say resonates with you.

Further Exploration:

• One thing that has been key to my creative and occupational freedom was minimizing my housing overhead cost. A roof over our heads is the highest item in most of our budgets. Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder for people to find low-budget housing options, as the housing ecosystem in most places has become stripped of the old standard options like SROs, boarding houses, cheap weekly hotels, and low-priced Mom & Pop RV park / mobile-home parks. I am blessed to have a house of my own since 2018, but will always continue to advocate for the re-addition of missing options to the housing menu. Some cities are starting to reintroduce/revive the old-fashioned options. One is Minneapolis. This article “Back When There Were Boardinghouses” (Southwest Journal) reports encouraging news and gives some good historic background also: “Boardinghouses and sleeping rooms are rare today, but as Minneapolis looks for more tools to battle a growing affordable housing crisis, they may become more common. Following a July request by the City Council, the city is now fleshing out the details of a plan to allow for new rooming houses, single-room occupancy units and congregate living facilities.”

• Also on the topic of housing: Back when I lived in Austin there was an SRO right downtown for $100 a week. Single-room-occupancy rooms with one shared bathroom down the hall on each floor. One of my friends, a writer and carpenter, lived there. I myself lived in an RV park where the monthly rent was only $220 when I moved in in 2000, and still only $375 a decade later when I gave up my sweet RV spot to move to Florida. The low rent in that park fueled a lot of people’s creative aspirations and enabled many of us to downsize and de-escalate from the rat race. It also just plain allowed a lot of us to survive financially despite not having high income.

• “The ‘struggle’ is not real: From tiny houses to my own lunch, poverty chic commodifies working-class life; The linguistic fetishization of hardship is one more way we appropriate from — and erase — people like my family” (Brooke Bolen; This article makes some really important points, and I am definitely not advocating “poverty chic.” As a tangent, I’ve gotta say, the author’s homemade lunch sounds really wholesome and delicious, I have often enjoyed similar lunches, and I feel sorry for her bougie co-worker who doesn’t get it!

“Life without Principle” (Henry David Thoreau; 1863 issue of the Atlantic — posted at Yes, Mr. Thoreau was surely very privileged to have had the freedom to make the choices he made. But, the fact remains that he writes a mean paragraph! He certainly has served up some deep and liberating truths. He could have chosen not to share the thoughts that both impelled and were the fruits of his experiences — writing is a lot of work, after all! — but I’m very grateful he chose to share them! This is a long and delicious essay; here’s just one of my favorite parts: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work. I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in; they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents. An Irishman, seeing me making a minute in the fields, took it for granted that I was calculating my wages. … I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business. There is a coarse and boisterous money-making fellow in the outskirts of our town, who is going to build a bank-wall under the hill along the edge of his meadow. The powers have put this into his head to keep him out of mischief, and he wishes me to spend three weeks digging there with him. The result will be that he will perhaps get some more money to hoard, and leave for his heirs to spend foolishly. If I do this, most will commend me as an industrious and hard-working man; but if I choose to devote myself to certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money, they may be inclined to look on me as an idler.” And this: “Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful. But I foresee, that, if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure, that, for me, there would be nothing left worth living for.”