Part I of this series is about why I felt it necessary to become a nomad. Part II takes a look at the bigger picture, focusing on where our individual and societal values are leading us. It's a lot of difficult information to process and many people get discouraged at this stage. You can justify it to yourself that you’ll get involved later, once other people do—paramedics call that the bystander effect. Everyone stands around with their hands in their pockets, and nobody addresses the problem. If you’re convinced you can’t do anything, then you just need to break the problem down into more manageable pieces. That’s why Part III is about where we go next, what to do with this info.
Now that we’ve got the recommended daily allowance of backstory out of the way (just for the record, it’s not ‘glamping’, it’s not a roadtrip—it’s a way of life), let’s focus on the cool stuff. On to the good.
Why a new American dream? The old dream—Coca-Cola, apple pie, house in the suburbs—just isn’t doing us any favors, even if we are lucky enough to achieve it. It makes us fat, sick, and traps us in a cycle of debt. It’s not realistic to build our hopes and dreams on a treadmill.
It doesn’t have to be a competition
If we can’t buy everything the old dream entails, then we’re told that we’re just not working hard enough. No matter what the circumstances, there will always be something just out of reach that we can’t attain. We’re grinding down our health at a zero-sum game. Our system works in a state of resource allocation that economists term Pareto optimal—that it’s impossible to make one person better off without taking things away from others. It takes hard work and passion to reach our goals, but in a system that’s designed to keep you on the treadmill, why bother? We need something worth working towards. With the technology we have today, we’re closer than ever to the capability of turning this principle upside-down.
What if there is enough for everyone? What if you don’t need as much stuff as you think to be happy? What if you didn’t have to depend on your job (without winning the lottery)? What would you do with that freedom? What would you do if you had time to pursue the things you loved?
This message is not aimed at the pioneers already on the road, those of you finding the balance, those of you already on your way to living free and clear. I don’t need to tell you, the lionhearted, the ones wildly pulling together the threads of your dreams from thin air and making change with your own two hands. You are sharing these miracles every day. You know the way, even if there’s no explaining it. You are the natives, living in harmony with your surroundings. Most people don’t think they could ever be this way.
Different people, different dreams
I’ve said it before, but I feel the need to clarify again, the new American dream looks different for everyone. We’re all different, so why shouldn’t our goals reflect that? Imitating mine or anyone elses’s dream isn’t going to bring you happiness. That includes roadlife. Maybe it’s not your thing, but keep in mind how easy it is to dislike the unknown.
That’s why separate communities are not the answer. The shared cameraderie and support are great, but it’s so easy to face inwards and stay within your comfort zone of similar people. That’s too high of a common denominator for something like the new American dream. It’s got to be accessible for everyone. We can build all the visibility we want, but until we share with the average person how doable it is, it will not seem accessible. If our community is to be effective, it has to be outward facing, giving the curious an easy avenue for becoming involved.
A shortcut to simplicity
American culture doesn’t like to listen to its elders, but in most cultures it’s a time-tested way of passing on wisdom. By learning how the previous generations dealt with the same questions we now face, we can focus on adapting our own solutions and avoid a lengthy learning curve—unless you’ve got an extra lifetime to spare. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and see what their lifestyles visibly value: family, friends, travel, leisure.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the old snowbirds. Why would they choose to live mobile after a life of other experiences? It gives them the freedom to live without depending on work. Sure, they have things like pensions for their basic income, but we’re slowly getting there too, even without Social Security. Building self-sustaining systems with alternative energy cuts down on the need for income. So does the lack of a mortgage payment (or any of the assorted costs that come with home ownership. My repair and power bills, even including major mishaps, still cost far less than traditional rent. Also, more and more jobs can be done remotely through the web, and why not? Or if you’re not tech-savvy, there are still plenty of odd jobs to be found while traveling.
Simplicity is freedom, freedom from the necessity to trade all of our precious time (the one finite resource we cannot renew) for money. The freedom to slow down and become conscious of the effects of our choices. Simplicity reduces our needs and increases our impact on others. It changes the basis of social interaction from requirement to choice. Whoever needs money the least holds the power.
Living in the desert teaches some immediate and very real lessons, the most immediate of which is conservation. Don’t use more than you need, and have a plan for the future. This applies to both water and money, but the one asset that we cannot hoard is time. Spend your time wisely—it’s not a resource we can just print more of. We can’t even check our balance. The closest we get to that is terminal illness—look at the way people choose to live when they’re aware of how much life they have left.
Money versus time
Money is no longer a level playing field due to the nature of our economy, but time is. Simplicity gives us back a greater percentage of that time. There’s room for pursuing your interests, even without the luxury of abundant finances, but even better is the depth to be cultivated in relationships formed over shared passions. Time is necessary to connect with people, to experience a high quality of life. Simplifying allows more time for the important things, the passions and people that give meaning to your time on earth. We’re all given an unknown amount of time, and without knowing the balance, we spend so much of it pursuing money or posessions—the very things that weigh us down. There’s a latent awareness within us of our ability to rise to meet this challenge, but everything in society conspires to distract us. Too much interference. It’s why we need to help each other with this goal.
“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget. In the mysterious way in which life is given to us in evolution on this planet, it pushes in the direction of its own expansion.” —Ernest Becker
This isn’t a problem we can solve individually without a strong movement. In the 1960’s a lot of people tried that, and it just resulted in them being reduced to a marginalized caricature of their values. Hippies anyone? Not the best way to get taken seriously. That’s why the solution must be as inclusive as the behavior that caused the problem in the first place. We need to become aware of what’s making us miserable. In the words of David Graeber, the root of the problem is that ”We have an economic system that, by its very nature, will always reward people who make other people’s lives worse and punish those who make them better.” It’s time to bypass this system and focus on better things.
Hope for the future
This is our message to share, our hope for the future: the New American Dream is within reach. It may be a gradual awakening, but that makes it all the more inevitable. The power of personal change and a rethinking of what we say with our money can force our market to re-evaluate the consumer paradigm for profitability’s sake, if nothing else. It’s a much more difficult to talk a person into following their dreams than it is to sell them a new pair of Nikes. We need to change that, starting with the only thing we can control: ourselves. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said:
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
It’s not immediate. Many small steps are required to start the journey. There are websites out there for how to reduce your work week that go into far more detail than I'd ever care to. There are guides out there to reduce your dependence on currency for your daily needs. There are people out there sharing how they live well in RVs and non-traditional structures that they own outright. Plenty of people simplify even further, traveling and earning their living from their vans.
There are how-to’s online for solar, automotive, DIY , college courses—everything you need to build a self-sustaining life. There are always good, knowledgable people out there willing to help, and I suggest seeking them out when you learn something new. There’s no replacement for the experience and support of a community. The internet connects us like never before, and we have the opportunity to capitalize on a magnificent opportunity.
All the pieces are in place, but with our fast paced lives and fractured attention spans, it's difficult to put them together. That's why Tricia and I run this site. We struggled for years making the transition from desks to dream chasing, and it's time there was a roadmap. Every situation is different, but that simply means adjustment—not abandonment—of your goals. The old dream doesn’t make sense, but that just means finding a new one. Instead of running ourselves into a wall trying to follow the conventional career path (unless, of course, you want to), let’s find other ways to earn financial security. Rethink the destination, and the journey changes with it.
The name of the fighting style jiu-jitsu, translated from Japanese, means the gentle art. Jiu-jitsu is based on techniques that allow a smaller person to gain victory over the strong, snatching triumph from the jaws of defeat by diverting their opponent’s attacks and using their energy against them. Graceful victory with the minimum expenditure of energy is the goal, pragmatically using the flow of your situation to win. This same principle applies to using the weight of the system.
If you have a good salary, use it to build up sustainable resources so you aren't dependent on a check. If you have time instead, use it to learn skills that reduce your need for money. We have no excuse for boredom. There is so much knowledge, so much technology, so much potential, all misdirected and going to waste. We can gently reshape our course, but it requires determination and creativity.
It’s difficult to change our ways, especially if you’ve spent your whole life following the old path. There’s lot of inertia generated by our ingrained expectations. The old American dream is so commercialized it’s like traveling in a loop on a walled four-lane highway. You’re safe and comfortable, but where are you heading? We think we’re getting somewhere at high speed, but we have nothing to orient by other than the billboards.
It’s the journey, too
The road may derive meaning from its destination, but there’s much to gain from the journey itself. For example, the native Americans also included in their maps the time it took to complete the trip, important places to remember, and what happened along the way. The experiences of the journey are given equal importance, but how are these experiences gained unless we step out from behind our desks, crawl out of our commutes, and go live them?
That's why it's so important the new American dream becomes visible, becomes native. The pioneers have put everything in place, the trails are already blazed. It's ready to enter the contemporary consciousness as a possibility. Examine it, living in balance will make sense. The trick is learning to listen to your voice and make peace with it, not drowning it out with spending. Debt fosters the illusion of success, but real success is measured by freedom, not a pricetag. Freedom from fear and freedom from want—the freedom to pursue your new American dream. We’ve done a good job protecting freedom of speech and freedom of religion—half of FDR’s four freedoms. It’s time that we remember the other two.
In the meantime, I can write, I can wait, I can dream.
To the new natives.
Be, in this immensity of night,
the magic force at your sense’s crossroad;
the purpose of their mysterious plan.
And though you fade from earthly sight,
declare to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water say: I am.