Rotting Walls

What does it mean to be a Consumerist?

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Flower mandala by Scott Okeefe

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This is an excerpt from my Appalachian Trail writings:

April 20 The Fetish of Wanderlust

The rain had cleared and we were back to hiking hard. This was a difficult day filled with more climbing than I had thought.  The day ambled along and Sam and I were struggling up hills. We crossed Fire Scald Knob and lucked out with amazing weather. It was strange to stand there with Sam after hiking this section just a year ago with my Dad and Alex. It was strange to be going North and so absolutely different from all the section and overnight hikes I had done in the past.  The style in which we hike, the duration, the intensity and certainly the ability to walk alone has some serious impacts on lifestyle. I realized here that this was something different from anything I had ever done, but there I was, retracing old footsteps.

There was a saying on trail “Smiles over miles.” It was often said to people as a criticism to someone who was hiking too fast, or seemingly not having enough fun due to their daily mileage goal. I was told this countless times and I always met it with laughter and smiles. I do not think it is right to criticize another hiker for wanting to push themselves to their limit or to assume that their overwhelming desire to hike erases their fun loving nature.  And I do see that the hike was more than just about walking a set distance.  A lot of the time the miles made me smile, especially when I was leaving town for intimate nights in the deep woods talking with strangers around bright fires. I love the woods, and I love walking. I only stopped in towns out of necessity or starvation. Those of you who had a brief moment to laugh with me, know that I did so in the depths of the Appalachian Mountains.

People also love the old cliché: “It’s the journey not the destination.”

I understand this because of that distinct feeling that came from re-walking portions of the trail. However I would say that it is not the journey or the destination.  I met so many people who were trying so hard to have their “dream journey” or seeking the party wherever it might appear next. These people seemed to be chasing rainbows. Maybe we were all chasing rainbows, but the difference that makes it enjoyable is when you realize that the act of chasing rainbows together is why we chase them, not the bragging rights of an epic party or finding the end.  When the journey becomes the goal it is no different than hiking to get to get to the end. To go without expectations is how we go with dreams because dreams live outside of reality and can surpass everything when allowed the freedom to ripen in the world, within the realm of synchronicity.  My previous hike on this section was rigidly controlled and now I was hiking without control, without any preconceptions of what I wanted or fear of what might happen next.  I received a lot of criticism from both hikers on trail and people watching us pass. Why do I hike? I hike to become strong. Why do I hike? I hike to be strong enough to endure the beauty of a complete destruction of will. Why do I hike? I hike to laugh with meaning, to replace forced smiles with real smiles. “Why would you want to walk across the country?” Because I can. “I don’t think I could do that.” Sure you can.

 

Capitalism and Consumerism

April 20 2016

The pen truly is mightier than the sword. The thoughts that emerged from my writing today offered me a uniquely reflexive view of cultural belief systems. I always knew I was raised with counter culture beliefs and a lot of anti-consumerist habits, but I never realized to what extent I could take my thoughts concerning consumerism as a culture promoted by a lifestyle and political belief system. It isn’t simply a lifestyle of consumption and waste (The politics and economy of capitalism), but it is supported by objectifying philosophies  and pragmatic assumptions (the religiosity of consumerism). The habit of consumption, as promoted by educational systems, popular western philosophy and of course, advertising creates a belief system that makes consumers incapable of having meaningful experiences that are not goal oriented. Even the attempt to have an experience and live in the moment is being idolized. Primarily this is done in an attempt to promote economy and exploit humans desires for full-fillment, but it is shaping the ways in which we can think, our expectations and our ability to appreciate the reality of beauty that exists in every single moment.

Beauty has lost its value. As consumerists we are left with a shell of beauty, a meaningless aesthetic that titillates our senses. In the place of compassion we fill the emptiness with sensationalism, furthering our descent into one way of thinking, into a numbness created with excessive stimulation.

Why are we depressed? Why are we self-loathing? Why is it that modern man is alienated?

It seems pretty clear and simple. We choose to be before we even realize we’ve made any decisions. The only way to break this way of thinking is to break the habits. I would largely describe consumerism as a mental illness, and the system would very much like that I should be labeled dysfunctional. My dysfunction is directly related to refusing to support a corrupt system that brainwashes people and exploits love. Why did I really go hiking? To re-train myself after being fed lies my entire life. To find out what I really wanted and if my dreams existed at all outside of this fake, constructed world I’ve come to call home.

What next?

I want to drop-out, but I feel an obligation to stay, to resist.

The arguments I made about Wanderlust can also be applied to activism. Be careful out there. Be careful with yourself.

 

 

Seeking Refuge in Nature: We love by Proxy

I posted this on my Appalachian Trail Blog, Two Hands Walking:

March 29 2015, 53 miles from Springer

The next morning I learned a valuable lesson. We woke to the rising sun blasting against a brown tarp. Lightning Bug was sitting on the table watching the sunrise and her shadow was cast against the tarp like a screen. The image is burned into my mind.

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Eventually we all reluctantly left out of our semi-warm cocoons and tried to make breakfast. We hadn’t slept with our water bottles and they had frozen solid overnight. I had to break the bad news to my mom that there would be no breakfast and no hot coffee. Our boots had frozen solid and we had to sit on them to make them pliable enough to get on our feet.

We started quickly with a nice downhill to greet our morning. Along the way we met a section hiker and his son. We must have looked hungry because he gave us a snickers bar. We opened it and tried to eat it with our frozen fingers and realized that the candy was also frozen solid. We gnawed at the frozen caramel and chocolate unthinkingly. The man watched us attempt to consume the food as rapidly as possible with a sort of horror. We spent five minutes half listening to his stories, distracted by the task of consuming the solid candy by quickly nibbling at it like paranoid squirrels.

As we wandered onward we sucked at the icy water in our bottles. We were both on the brink of going to town when we got to Unicoi Gap. The aroma of sizzling burgers floated up into the forest to greet us. We floated down to the road like characters in a cartoon that were lifted by a smell and carried along.

Trail magic couldn’t have come at a better time. A buffet of snacks was laid out for the hikers.A lady handed me a water bottle, which to my amazement felt warm in my swollen, frozen hands. I remember exclaiming “It’s warm!” and watching her face contort as if I were complaining. And I explained to her that my water was frozen and how thankful I was for warm water, turning her frown into laughter. I told the grill master that I didn’t eat meat with a sort of dismay and asked if I could just have a bun without a patty and he unexpectedly whipped out veggie burgers.

I removed my gloves to eat the burger, but my hands were so cold that they formed a sort of loose clamp around the burger as I crammed it towards my face. I felt so sloppy.

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Captain Planet, Ropeburn’s parents, Ropeburn, Moonbow, Lightning Bug

At Unicoi Gap Ropeburn’s parents gave us some snacks and the Choir boys found us freezing out there as they came back from town. They felt badly that we suffered the cold and fed us fruit. Moonbow and Lightning Bug invited us to go to town, but to my surprise mom stubbornly wanted to push on. We took a short day and climbed halfway up Tray Mountain to an old Cheese factory campsite. A rhododendron forest invited us to stay with lovely little campsites and a beautiful clear water source emerging from old stone ruins. I knew it was going to rain because we were hiking with T-storm (she got her name on the PCT due to her ability to bring forth thunderstorms). We decided a thunderstorm on Tray Mountain sounded too exciting so we made camp and took a nice rest accompanied by warm sunlit yoga on the dry leaves. A few section hikers joined us that night, and I built my first raging campfire. The first campfire was like tossing my bear bag: I was intimidated by the thought of failing to make a fire, but tried and found that it was an art that could be easily mastered with practice.

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That night the storm rolled in and thunder crashed off in the distance. The storm hit Tray Mountain peak dead on and we were about a mile from the intensity of lightning. My mom and I were squabbling about something perhaps inspired by the energy of the storm. She stopped and she said to me defensively “Well, I am your mother.” And I couldn’t help but laugh. I looked at her and said, “well then you are Mother Earth.” We both laughed a little too hard, the kind of loud passionate laughing that comes from having intense emotions. There we were in the pouring rain, tent lighting up every few seconds and thunder crashing, laughing until we cried. From that day on her name was Mother Earth.

This is the day the trail broke us in and we became long-distance hikers. The laughter and passion I experienced on trail has ingrained itself in my personality. I yearn for it off trail, as if a part of me is missing. Although this sort of happiness is born in moments, it never fades from my memory. I know that it can only exist in certain conditions, within a specific lifestyle (that probably involves a lot of discomfort). A trail lesson for me is to live a lifestyle that allows me be the person I love to be. When I move around I am not running from anything; I’m not searching for myself. I know who I am. I am trying to find a place in which my lifestyle is not demonized by a consumer culture based on instant gratification or distractions. Throughout the first half of trail I usually yelled when I summited a mountain.  I wasn’t yelling about climbing the mountain; I was trying to speak, outside of the realm of language, to the distance and say that there is a world out here that changes the conditions of human existence.

If I can’t find a sustainable place to take a stand, then I will make one.

-Captain Planet

 

Political and Social implications:

It reminds me of the screaming head project I did during the Occupy protests. The basic idea behind that work was the alienation or rather the disconnection we cultivate with culture. I was talking with a co-worker at the Liquor store I’m working at, about how the city is glorified as this place where people come together to share culture. As if in the city a person is never lonely. There is art, music, parties, work, numerous communities…but somehow I found my deepest connections to other people out there in the wilderness or out there on the streets. Our culture that we think unites us is numbing us to one another. We build beautiful walls together, in an attempt to connect, not realizing that we build them between ourselves. The social stigmas created by the modern lifestyle undo most, if not all, of the progress we are attempting to make.

A very good example of this is education. The educated do not mingle with the uneducated because we speak different languages. There are head trips and power games. So instead of coming up with new ideas that enrich human existence, we create social constructs to divide people.

This idea is also easily applied to technology, especially phones. Instead of making us more social, we are becoming socially awkward as a result of human interaction being primarily practiced in an arena that is removed from the physical body. We love in proxy.

To be clear I think that education and technology are great tools for communication. These tools are being abused and overused.

I’m currently writing a book; I am trying to compose my ideas about why certain lifestyle choices and certain groups of people in my life have come to organically form strong bonds of solidarity. I’m interested in the social norms and political constraints that keep people fearing one another, keep us all living lives we aren’t happy living in buildings we don’t want, keep us treating each other like objectified strangers. Alienation is a simple view of this thought. Our disconnection isn’t the common condition of modern man; it is an active state of being that we cultivate, even if we are unaware of the process. It is sold to us everyday and spoon fed to us from birth as the way we should act, should be, should think.

I’m not afraid to face this idea. I embrace it head on. I can sing its silence, but it will not live within me- consuming my spirit. I will live by example.

 

 

Four seasons

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I wanted to spend all four seasons outside this year. I spent March-October outside sleeping in a tent, living in the wilderness. I miss it dearly.

November I traveled West in a car.

December- February I’ve been living in Minneapolis, Mn. I am not outside, but it is so cold here that even being inside feels like winter.

In the spring I will head West until I hit the Pacific Ocean.

Desire

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It’s a funny thing, desire. I know many people who are searching for friendships, for love, to feel something real. They look in crowds and paint their faces. They know what they want: compassion, but so many of these people end up grasping at nothing because their desires give them away. If they could focus on what they enjoy doing rather than the idea of enjoyment, then I am convinced that they would find in every activity there is compassion. Compassion comes from within and is shared, it catches like a fire burning oxygen rich. Participation is knowing that what you do fulfills your desires and that your desires are not separate from everyone else’s. The only real desires are enacted as necessary to life. Your actions are life…there’s really no thought involved except deciding what to do then doing it. When you get out there I think you will find that there are other people doing it too, people who are amazing, people who are alive and want to live with you.

Bay Area Anarchist Magazine: Fireworks

fireworks

High Country News

Eco-activist themed magazine

High Country News

Gasland

Gasland

Eco-Documentary about fracking.

 

It’s a terrifying circle we’re in: A solution is to consume less and be aware of the impacts of modern “needs.”The more I look into needing less and moving back towards the land, the more clearly I see that we are eliminating the possibility of living simply with our industrial desires to produce energy; these lifestyles are incommensurable. It is often argued that nature constrains our freedom, but I feel like my decision to embrace the challenges of nature with my own two hands has been taken from me, destroying a much more important freedom.