How the conventional react to the radical fringePosted: 29 November 2012
Eustace Conway, the central figure in Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man, is in big trouble with the law for building structures with traditional techniques. He’s facing criminal charges and the very real prospect that his entire life’s work will be destroyed.
The one-sentence, oversimplified description of Eustace goes something like this:
Eustace Conway left his comfortable suburban home at the age of 17 to move into the Appalachian Mountains, where for more than 30 years he has lived off the land.
There’s a lot more to him than that, but that short description (a version of which you’ll see on the book jacket and in pretty much every review) offers a pretty decent introduction to his radicalism.
Before publishing her book about Eustace, Gilbert gave us a preview of the man in this great GQ article. In it, she shares one of the many reasons why Eustace is radical and important.
Briefly, the history of America goes like this: There was a frontier, and then there was no longer a frontier. It all happened rather quickly. There were Indians, then explorers, then settlers, then towns, then cities. Nobody was really paying attention until the moment the wilderness was officially tamed, at which point everybody suddenly wanted it back.
Well, Eustace is in trouble today because he took it back.
His treatment at the hands of the state is a typical example of how dominant convention treats the fringe. You can taste the regretful sympathy in the quotes of the gun toting bureaucrats, as they begin the process of dismantling Eustace’s Turtle Island Preserve. They know it’s wrong, but they are just doing their jobs. From Truth Out:
It was the careerists who made possible the genocides, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin’s liquidations. They were the ones who kept the trains running. They filled out the forms and presided over the property confiscations. They rationed the food while children starved. They manufactured the guns. They ran the prisons. They enforced travel bans, confiscated passports, seized bank accounts and carried out segregation. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.
Every day, a quiet army of bureaucrats fights a war against all of our Eustaces. They seek to cut off the fringes, to pound down the lumps, to reign in and tranquilize the unexpected. Their goal is sameness. They’re doing it — and they believe this in their hearts — for public safety, for the good of society, for the children.
Kevin Kelly argued, “To maximize innovation, maximize the fringes.” We need more Bud and Temple Abernathys, more Sam Gribleys, and more Zac and Abby Sunderlands. If we seek happiness, awareness, prosperity, health, innovation, and passion, we need more people who are willing to live differently. We need to celebrate these heroes. Today, we punish them.
I worry for Eustace and for us. If you think it might help, sign this petition urging the State of North Carolina to grant him a variance so that he may continue operating Turtle Island Preserve in the same manner he has for the last several decades.
Here’s a (lengthy) video of him speaking at TedX Asheville:
And here’s him describing his lifestyle.