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"Possum living"

No rents for Diogenes! I especially liked this:

We live this way for a very simple reason: It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.

There actually are people living somewhat similarly for ideological reasons, though. In fact, there’s a growing cult of this sort of thing going on, as you may know. Unfortunately, many of these people tie in all sorts of outlandish religious, mystic and/or nutritional theories with their possum living and give us all a reputation for weirdness. Many back-to-basics types also buy expensive and unnecessary equipment, clothing and health-nut food (and wind up back in the money economy because of it) and so give us all a reputation for phoniness.

So if you’re thinking spiritual or sociological thoughts, don’t waste your time with me, but if you just want to easy-up your life somewhat, why, then, you’re talking my language! We’ll get that Protestant Work Ethic monkey off your back!

Well, as Freud -- no Austrian, he MR SUBLIMINAL Take that, Ed Harrison! -- once said: "Love and work...work and love, that's all there is" (modulo play). So I'm a believer in work. However, in a society dominated by the brutality and fraud of a rent-seeking elite, there's little real work to be had. And it's important not to confuse work with "having a job."

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nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

This all seems to me like a paler, smugger version of the 60's counterculture, which believed that there would be a permanent move towards more communes. Except here, in line with the intervening takeover by neoliberal individualism, you don't even have the community, just the individuals.

In terms of living moneyless, I'm convinced that Ian Welch more accurately describes the joys or lack thereof, and that, for example, Arthur Silbur is not a status-obsessed participant in the rat race. Food, rent, access to medical care (eye doctors and dentists are not generally regarded as essential, but it is unpleasant not to be able to get their services when needed) -- which can you do without? I don't like paying the cable company rent, but I do like having the internet at home. And frequently you may hate the conditions of your job, but like the work and derive enough satisfaction from what you're able to accomplish to stay on, even if you can leave.

The political points: this lifestyle will attract too few people to have significant impact on many other people, so that it's really more of a travelogue kind of article than a political one. Society has value; we should address the perversion of the values rather than calling for the destruction of the values.

I'm for FDR's economic rights, rather than trying to live without an economy.

Hookfan's picture
Submitted by Hookfan on

as to:
Food, rent, access to medical care (eye doctors and dentists are not generally regarded as essential, but it is unpleasant not to be able to get their services when needed) -- which can you do without?
it may not matter what you want, no matter how you "address" the perversion of values. You seem to assume you (do you suffer from an enhanced sense of invincibility and importance?) won't be touched by the corporate malfeasance that more and more blights all our economic well being apart from the upper class.
Who controls the price for admission to health care? Note the corporations do. Who controls the price of actual health care? The corporations do. Who controls the price of the medications? The corporations do. I don't see anywhere in that where what you want or can afford is considered of much import-- especially when the corporations can now use the power of government to require by law the purchase of faulty products that will not do you much (if any) good in affording actual healthcare.
The question is: what will you do when the inevitable day arrives when you cannot afford the charges? Wages are not increasing. Prices continue to rise. The day will arrive unless you are investor class (mayhaps even then) when you cannot afford it. What then Kemosabe?
The second question is: why do you want to continue to feed the corporate monstrosity that now is firmly in control of our national government and is served by both our major parties? What pleasures are you willing to do without or replace so as to lessen our economic subjugation? Sounds like none. However, it is most prudent to be aware that the day is coming (and for many of already here) when that choice will be forced upon you. It will be very helpful to have those who've gone before that have established the community and the know how to manage it. Of course you can always choose to starve or die as you are cast aside as so much refuse-- not being able any longer to feed the corporate beast.
The third question is: how else do you propose to fight it? There aren't many effective options that aren't violent. And the violent ones, with El Presidente's neo-Bushian power to shoot without due process people who are deemed dangerous by him, or indefinitely detained, don't look to be on the short list of desirable options. Squeak all you want at either party-- they don't seem to care. You can try to establish a third party, but imo those candidates also can be put in the position of eminently corruptible due to the volume of money available or required to be successful. How do you limit the money available? The corporations control those who would vote. And so it goes. . .

Submitted by lambert on

1. I don't know where "in line with the intervening takeover by neoliberal individualism, you don't even have the community, just the individuals" comes from. The article says:

(Incidentally, the reason Thoreau quit Walden Pond was that he was lonely — I don’t care what he said. You need the support of a loved one.) ... I want my children to grow up with their grandfather. The idea of the extended family — the generations living together—appeals to me. The notion of kicking the kids out of the old nest and sticking the old folks into some “retirement village” is part and parcel of industrialized economics, which I also dislike on other grounds. Possum economics allows for everybody to be useful and contribute to the well-being of the family, regardless of age. Young and old alike can, say, feed rabbits or run a still.

Granted, that's family, not community. But I know from my own personal experience that community support is absolutely necessary, because not everybody has the same skills.

2. I don't think that living moneyless is necessary, nor does the article claim that it is -- not everyone wishes to be a possum! However, my take is that if you want to minimize the rent extracted from your own personal body, then you have to think about money, and reduce the rents paid to the absolute minimum. And I insist this is political, and that if millions do it, that's going to add up. And I think they will, if only because they're driven to it.

3. I don't see a rent-minimizing lifestyle and seeking "FDR's economic rights" as mutually exclusive -- and why are they? Seems to be it makes more sense to throw as much useless stuff away before battle, eh?

4. However, I'm also very, very skeptical of the idea that an FDR is even possible these days. There's certainly no FDR on offer from either legacy party -- nowhere near. Moreover, there's certainly a case to be made that the only thing that will stop our rentier elite from doubling down on FAIL is a collapse, a la Jared Diamond. In that case, it seems to me that the safe play is to make one's living situation as robust and free from non-local dependency as possible.

So, I think the article is interesting from a lifestyle and rhetorical perspective. I don't see any reason to use it as a political blueprint. And I'm betting that most of the possums of this world are off the grid in terms of both polling and voting. So, while it may be true that the ideas will "attract too few people," it's also hard to prove that proposition false. I'd also bet that the possums of this world are not evenly distributed geographically, at all. I bet they're in places that the elite has marked for abandonment, like Detroit, or NOLA, or at the margins in places like Zone 5b.

NOTE Incidentally, I've been in the same place Ian and Arthur are economically more than once (though without medical problems, may the God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, be thanked).

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

and this article annoyed me. I think there's a difference between a family and a community, but then I'm a little tired of hearing about the sanctity of the family, especially when families that are withdrawn from the larger society are so often seats of abuse. Anyone who believes that "Possum economics allows for everybody to be useful and contribute to the well-being of the family, regardless of age" is simply able to manage the mental and physical debilities that can accompany age better than anyone I've ever known. I don't see the nuclear family in the individual house is a good setting for addressing many issues of life. But then, I'd like to see more cohousing in the U.S.

I'm betting that most of the possums of this world are off the grid in terms of both polling and voting. . . . I'd also bet that the possums of this world are not evenly distributed geographically, at all. I bet they're in places that the elite has marked for abandonment, like Detroit, or NOLA, or at the margins in places like Zone 5b And I'm betting that most of the possums of this world are distributed geographically in third world countries. I just prefer the Scandinavian model of society to the Zambian one, since I don't think the average Zambian resident has improved his or her life through living off the grid.

My reaction is probably extreme. I think most Americans would be a lot better off shucking the consumerism that chains their lives to a treadmill of desire. But I don't like an article that claims merely to be presenting a personal choice that in fact sneers at people who lack sufficient admiration for the author's wonderfulness (the mother doesn't want to live in "squalor", the fishing acquaintance was happy to get an admission that the father would have a difficult old age -- did the author and her father ever have any good relations outside themselves?) And I don't like the characterization of Social Security as a "pyramid game", but then I tend to jump right in to defend Social Security from the elites' insistence that it can't fulfill its responsibilities. I do think there is a place for making decisions about the future, as apparently do you, Lambert, since part of your support for withdrawing from the grid is that a collapse is very possible, in which case, "the safe play is to make one's living situation as robust and free from non-local dependency as possible." That depends on how your local fares, as the Oklahomans of the 30's could have told you.

This all isn't a big deal, since different people will want to live their lives in different ways. I just found this presentation irritating.

Submitted by lambert on

On the other hand, the pressure to consume, consume, CONSUME!!!! (and rents, rents, RENTS!!!!) is all pervasive. So it's good to highlight other views. I agree with what you're irritated about, especially the pyramid scheme talking point, and people with no concept of neighborliness are probably not people I want as neighbors. That said, getting off the grid as much as possible, which will vary for each individual, is important, and these people are doing.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

I couldn't figure out what bugged me about the article even as I agreed with some parts of it, and you nailed it.

I suppose the author and her father are happy as they are, but I agree that one needs to be part of the larger community as well. And, yes, the...disdain, for lack of a better word, she has for those who don't like how they live is rather apparent.

The other thing was that, while I agree everyone has value, there are circumstances in which they are also a burden. I have to wonder what happened to the author as her father aged and was unable to fish, do chores, or even care for his personal needs? Or did she get "lucky" and he had a heart attack or stroke that killed him before that became an issue?

This is one of the areas our family is working on: planning for my parents' aging. My mom is 60, my stepdad is 55, and both are very healthy and active...right now. Where they'll be physically and/or mentally in 10 years or 20 -- or even next month -- we don't know. What happens if one or both need full-time -- or even part-time -- caring? My sister and my brother's fiancee have years of experience working with the aged in nursing homes and feel they would be able to care for them both, at home, without much (if any) outside assistance.

Yet, I remember my mom and aunts (all RNs) feeling the same way when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and how it became simply impossible for them to cope with her needs and issues after 5 years.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The caretakers -- your sister, your brother's fiancee, your mother, your aunts. Same thing in my family. Same thing in families I've observed. From my reading, I conclude that that's pretty worldwide where families perform social services themselves. Or rather perform services herselves. The women are expected to cope.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

Almost always, caring for the young or the old falls to the female members of the family or community, no matter where in the world they are.

Now, in my brother's defense, he was my brother-in-law's primary caregiver during my BIL's very brief fight with brain cancer (while our sister worked full-time in order to keep their health insurance), and he would more than likely become the main caregiver if our stepdad needed assistance -- but we all recognize that he's an exception.

Part of this is the cultural message that men are incompetent when it comes to care-giving (or dangerous, when it comes to childcare), and the other part is that care-giving is devalued by society so that only women and "not-manly" men do it while "real men" go off to do "important" things.

One of the points that's come up in our discussions is that I refuse to be guilted into joining the care-giving, if it becomes necessary. I know I don't have the competence or the personal skills necessary, and I won't agree to do it just to be seen as a good girl.

editor_u's picture
Submitted by editor_u on

I read "Possum Living" when it was new, thirty years ago, along with an even more (to me) influential book called "The Continuum Concept" (author Jean Liedloff), the title of which unfortunately sounds too much like that of a Robert Ludlum book.

I'm a city kid, though not born there, and my work depends on a level of technology or two, so I'm not going to go fishing or raise rabbits in my basement (can't kill a creature for food, myself). But the basic message of (author of "Possum Living") Dolly Freed's book appeals to me. Like Lambert (and Dolly Freed), I'm all for real work. But a "job" ain't it.

A favorite scene in Freed's narrative (as I recall it, now years later, however imperfectly) is one in which her father is out fishing one day, and he gets into a conversation with another fisherman. It soon comes out that Freed's father is actually out fishing not only to enjoy himself, but is there to catch fish for food and that he does not have a job. The other guy, who is retired, gets annoyed and says something like: "I EARNED the right to go fishing."

The Liedloff book I mention here is also worth a look. It fits in with a lot of what Arthur Silber (also Alice Miller, alas now the late Alice Miller) has to say.

Both of these writers (Freed and Liedloff) were either influences or happy-to-see-someone-else-thinks-the-same-way confirmations of our (my then wife and I) feelings about living with our children, only one of whom, I think, had been born when we bought the books.

Silber and Miller, I should add, are major current influences, though I knew of neither thirty years ago.

editor_u

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Submitted by PA_Lady on

You can't ever be totally moneyless, but you can reduce or eliminate your dependence on currency. The key to possum living is that it can be tailored to each group/individual -- you work only as much as is required to provide whatever you want/need. I have no interest in raising or eating rabbits, but that works for the author. However, I buy most of my clothes, shoes, and books second-hand, which wouldn't work for some, and I don't ever want to go without flush toilets, electric lighting or internet, so I'm willing to work (in some fashion) to provide them.

The thing is, people have been doing this for decades, just on a smaller scale. Maybe no one's noticed because it's been mostly the lower-income rural folks? I know plenty of women who trade their childcare services for some other service, and a lot of men trade one type of repair work for another or for some item/service. Even if you're paying $$, it's less than what a rentier would charge. ($200/mo for full-time childcare vs. $400 or more at a daycare center).

Right now, my family is working on a 5-year plan that will eventually see all of us moved to a 40-acre site in Tioga County NY. This is going to be a cooperative adventure with three generations: my mom and stepdad, one step-sister, one sister and her two kids (ages 14 and 8), myself, my 23yo son and 17yo daughter, and one of my brothers. My mom and step-dad bought the land outright and it's held in a trust. The rest of us are paying for our "shares" with labor -- everything from planting the gardens and fruit trees, to brush-hogging the overgrown fields where each household will put their homes, to insulating and remodeling the barn and outbuildings that will hold my mom's industrial salvage/recycling business and my stepdad's mechanic shop.

This is our first year, so we're working on the foundations right now: getting the gardens in, getting the buildings ready for use, and seeing how we work together (so far, so good). Next summer, my parents will be the first to move permanently onto the land. By summer 2015, the goal is to have all six homes on the site (probably trailers, possibly a couple straw-bale houses), plus an art studio (my step-sis), a seasonal tax prep office (me), a welding shop (my son), and my parents' businesses. We'll also have a fruit orchard and a 3-acre garden, and some "group" income from the gravel and timber lots as well as our veggie stand.

Will it work? Who knows? But, the alternative -- staying as we are, drowning under the weight of the rents we're paying individually -- is not acceptable.

ETA: Reading this, I realized what we're doing isn't possum'ing, so much as "planned self-employment."