All Along the Watchtower…

(This went extremely long. Sorry.)

Go read Claire’s latest think piece…

The role of the Outlaw in the betterment of society

I’ve been sitting here contemplating it – Claire’s riffing off another writer who’s riffing off Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which I think of as a Hendrix song and so never really gave it any thought. He’s Hendrix, shit, you can’t understand half of what he’s saying. I went through a period in my teens when I affected to take Hendrix seriously but that was mostly just to offend my father; let’s face it, he couldn’t sing, only had one trick with a guitar, and wasn’t anybody’s idea of a role model. I may not get any obituary at all when I’m gone, but I’m working hard to ensure that if I ever do it does not contain the phrase “choked to death on his own vomit.” Point is, All Along the Watchtower never made any sense to me, I always thought of it as atmospheric word salad, and now that I have contemplated it I still do.


okay: Outlaws as saviors of future society. The currently accepted definition of outlaw is not encouraging…

a lawless person or habitual criminal, especially one who is a fugitive from the law.

Claire wastes no time distancing the freedom outlaw from that fellow…

As usual, when I talk about Outlaws, I don’t mean crooks. There’s no virtue in being your basic, garden-variety, meth-driven thief.

We knew that. “Outlaw” has an older meaning: Outside the protection of the law, such as it is. Such outlaws were occasionally not particularly bad guys, in the eyes of anyone but the established authorities, and sometimes – rarely – they ended up changing their world.

“Freedom Outlaw” is a title I loved from the moment I heard it, and I’m totally cool with filing off the serial numbers and applying it to myself in every way I possibly can. But I have been accused of retreating from the struggle, hiding in the desert rather than going to rallies and shouting slogans on street corners or whatever activists do. Preparing for La Revolución. What I find particularly galling about that recurring accusation is that part of me agrees.

I’ve said it before; this isn’t my first gig, and it wasn’t my first choice. I considered myself a revolutionary when I was young…

Hint: Not the pretty one.

Hint: Not the pretty one.

…trained for it, dreamed of it, and only became Mr. Suburban Man when it finally sank through my thick skull that nothing like that was ever going to happen, and that if it did it almost certainly would be a bad thing. I’d been working toward the wrong thing all my adult life, saw no other direction, and in despair I dropped in and became a regular tax payer.

Twenty years later that fell apart for me. I stopped playing the game as much in exhaustion as in disgust, I wish I could say it was some deeply principled decision. Soon the taxman (California AND federal) was on my trail and I ran to the only place left for me to go – outside the protection of the law. Rather to my shock, I found peace and joy of life for the first time. Ever.

And yeah, sometimes in the quiet I flatter myself that I am not just a freedom outlaw, I am freedom outlaw SUPREME.

But I know my own heart, and it really was another sort of surrender.

Claire gives this shit cake a thick, shiny layer of optimism…

…although Outlaws can be arrested (think Manning) or isolated (think Assange), discredited (think those who tried to show what really happened at Waco) or scorned, we can’t easily be controlled. And unlike the paid joker, there are millions of us. More every day.

We go on to threaten the princes’ illusion of respect.

Maybe. That’d be pretty. But I have no proof of it. There are millions of victims, that’s clear, but how many turn outlaw and how many keep struggling to remain ‘respectable’ or sink into the welfare swamp? How many ever really think?

And here’s the part that really frightens me, demographically, and which none of us seem to want to talk about: How many young freedomistas do you know? Of the principled freedom-lovers with whom I’m personally acquainted, most are older than me. Most of them couldn’t really be called outlaws, just good-hearted folks, smarter than most.

It would be shiny to believe that I’m a brick in the wall, a cog in the great freedom machine that will eventually produce that (never even hinted at by history) new world of self-respect, self-rule and self-ownership. I could sleep well with that belief, even if I don’t live to see it. But what I really believe is that the future belongs to the jackboot. The lying, self-serving demagogue. The empty-eyed bureaucrat.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine lines of gray citizens taking time off work at their own expense and marching into a DMV to get their permit renewed – forever. Be sure to have your papers in order, that’s where I always went wrong.

My vision of life in that future – which is the same as the present – doesn’t involve any fictional glorious revolutionary like it did when I was young. No – my role model is Slippery Jim DiGriz, absent the gadgets and the larceny.

We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment.

Slippery Jim had no illusion of ever changing the world; All he wanted was to live without becoming part of the Blob. With a touch of panache. Frankly, when he became respectably employed he also became a lot less interesting.

So contra Claire, whom I love like a smarter sister, I don’t really believe I’m doing anything positive about ‘the betterment of society.’ I’m doing something positive about the betterment of me, because I was always most miserable when trying to fit in with society. Almost certainly most people aren’t that way at all, and so I have nothing much to teach most people.

But I can live my life in the best and most positive way I have found for me, even though I never prescribe it for others, and I can recount stories of the way it’s going*. And if people want to read that, and if they take something away from it they can apply to their own attempts to find their own way, then that’s great. Because the people who think that way, frankly, are the only part of ‘society’ I give a damn about. And if they think reading it advances their ‘betterment,’ then that’s cool too.

But bottom line: I don’t really think I’m affecting the future. The future will prove to have a lot more inertia than I can reverse.

Maybe if there really were millions of us.

*Healing slowly but steadily, BTW. 🙂

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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5 Responses to All Along the Watchtower…

  1. Claire says:

    Have no doubts, brother Joel. Living free, denying the beast its human meat, and writing so insouciantly about it is a truly bold Outlaw act. More than you may ever know.

    But admit it: On your better days you’re not just tempted to see yourself as Outlaw Extraordinaire; you know you’re achieving more than any 100 people waving protest signs in front of their state capitol.

  2. M Ryan says:

    Oh Joel, if you only knew what a role you (and Claire) play in the lives of a lot of folks. Take me, for a long time I was merely a cog in the machine being unhappy and never really knowing why. Thanks toy you two I’m out of that machine living life for me and my family as opposed to “them.”

    Reading Claire’s stuff pointed me to Ayn Rand which got me to thinking. Then I clicked on one of her links and presto I was at your blog where your writings gave me pause. A whole other way of looking at things, a real outlaw living the outlaw life which was something for me to think about too. The big difference for me between the two of you is where Claire’s blog is about the why (with a little bit of monkey wrench tossed in for good measure) we should be angry. Your blog is about how to deal with a broken system by not dealing with it at all.

    As a result of Claire”s influence, over the last four or five years I worked I was the biggest pain in the butt they had. I had seen (thanks to Claire) how to use the system they had created against them. As for your influence, watching you with your daily struggles* played a huge part in my walking away from a job that paid very well, was very secure yet was not satisfying. Now I’ve stopped playing their game. For a long time I’ve been playing my game by my rules and that’s all thanks to you and Ms. Wolfe…

    * I’m glad you are doing better.

  3. Howard says:

    You should reread the Heinlein quote that goes with his picture in the sidebar. Your posts mostly sound like you take it seriously so I would say you fit the freedom outlaw definition. Most of us with an outlaw’s bent keep under the radar and don’t flaunt our actions. We do what we have to do to survive including using the system when it helps us. Most of us have lines drawn in the sand which we will cross if bad things go down. If the world as we now know it collapses it will be the prepared outlaw types that will be the foundation of the future.

  4. Claire says:

    BTW, there are most definitely young freedomistas, or would-be freedomistas. Millennial v*ters, who’ve gotten the shaft from the current corrupt system, were big Ron Paul fans and are now, in some polls, giving Johnson more of their vote than they’re giving to Hillary. Yes, you and I know Johnson/Weld is hardly a libertarian ticket, but this is a good sign.

    If 30-45 qualifies as young, you’d be surprised how many members of Claire’s Cabal fall into that category. They just not often the most talkative members. Sure, older people have more time to talk and more experience to share. Sure, the oldest freedomistas tend to have the firmest grasp of basic principles.

    But don’t think there are no teens or twentysomethings coming up behind us. They’re out there. They’re just too poor or too busy with jobs or social life or schooling to make much noise.

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To the stake with the heretic!