Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wait, who is the barbarian/kook/loon?

A few weeks ago I watched Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa, a documentary about a community living in the desert in New Mexico. The inhabitants, while diverse in many respects, all share the desire to get away from modern society. Specifically, their gripe was with the existence of government; they all just want to be left alone.

I sympathized with the predilection for freedom, but could not help feeling horrified and a bit disgusted with the conditions that these individuals live in. We are literally talking about people who did not appear to shower, who live in various enclosures (none of which qualify as a house by even the most primitive standards), and who spend their time simply trying to survive (which they do successfully if the word survive is defined in its absolute most basic sense of "continuing to be alive").

But there was one quote by a woman being interviewed that blew me away when I heard it. In fact, although the quote blew me away a few weeks ago when I heard it, only now do I realize how much more significant it really is.

To paraphrase, the woman stated that there aren't many rules on the "Mesa," other than that you are expected not to kill anyone or steal from anyone. Think about that. These individuals have figured out that a community of people could live by just two rules. They don't need rules about what to believe, how to spend their wealth, what to do in their free time, what not to do in their free time, who to help, who not to help, etc.

What impressed me about the quote a few weeks ago is that it essentially represents exactly what I think. That is, aside from individuals not causing each other physical harm or stealing from one another (the definition of actions that I consider to be wrong/immoral/unethical), what other rules could you possibly devise that wouldn't simultaneously infringe upon those first two rules?

What made me decide to post about this documentary now is that individuals who live under circumstances that would scare the daylights out of just about anybody, have managed to live under just two rules, while the rest of society with all of its advances and luxuries, can't seem to do the same.

I am sure there are objections to the above statement that all amount to "the reason why our society is so advanced is because of all the rules and the reason why their community is so primitive is because they lack rules." There is just one big problem with that belief. The concept of rules is that they exist to prevent something worse from happening that would happen were it not for the existence of the rules. The ideal is obviously to have no rules, assuming of course that everyone acted properly with no conflicts arising. So it seems to me that one of the most basic marks of a society that should call itself advanced and modern, is that it have as few rules as possible, to reflect the fact that it is... advanced and modern since conflict is minimal so rules aren't really necessary.

What it all comes down to is sort of an embarrassment. A bunch of dirty and unsophisticated individuals are living in New Mexico in a more advanced and modern manner than the rest of us. Take away the material differences and that's really what it comes down to.