Having tools does not make you an anarchist. It’s what you do with those tools that is the proof.
I want to warn you before you read another word, this blog entry is not specifically about woodworking. I hesitate to even write it. But I feel the need to explain myself a bit, and I promise to keep it brief. I also promise that I won’t stray into these waters much in the future.
There are many flavors of anarchists out there. My flavor is Individualistic Anarchism, specifically “aesthetic anarchism.” What does that mean to me?
I intensely dislike large institutions: governments, religious institutions and large corporations. But it would be an error to say I am not political, spiritual or capitalistic. It is my belief that institutions are the cause of most problems – not the solution.
I dislike many laws – gun laws, drug laws, sex laws to name a few. But mostly I dislike how laws are used to enslave us – they favor corporations over individuals, and the continual growth of government and its encroachment on our lives.
I don’t vote. I don’t go to church. I don’t employ people – and I never will. I view rent as theft. When I buy things, I always try to buy from individuals – the maker if possible. When I have to buy something manufactured, I buy from companies that aren’t exploiters. I buy Pointer jeans from Tennessee. My jacket was made by Schott in New Jersey. My wool sweater was knit in Ireland.
But most of all, I like to make the things I need. I do all our cooking, and every night (except pizza night) I cook dinner from scratch. We buy our meat from the butchers, the Finke family. The produce? The Finkes grow some of their own; the rest I try to buy from Findlay market or Loschavios. I like to keep everything very personal.
Making furniture for yourself and others is indeed a radical act. It removes that part of your life from the continuous cycle of purchasing, consuming and repurchasing. The Morris Chair I am sitting in will be the last easy chair I’ll ever need to build. And it was my hope when I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” that once you saw that this was true, it might seep into other areas of your life, like it has into mine. You might even quit your corporate job.
Which brings up money. Isn’t it difficult to walk away from a corporate job and a steady paycheck? Yeah, it’s like trying to force yourself to dive into Lake Michigan in February. But if Lucy and I can do it, I think many families can – if they are willing to eschew debt.
Lucy works only part-time as a writer, and I have just this silly little business – no trust fund here. How do we do it? We don’t have any debt. Zero dollars – zero cents. Once I realized how much I had to work to service our mortgage, student loans and car payments, we shifted every resource to pay off everything. In May 2008 I paid off our last debt – our mortgage. And that’s when anything became possible.
— Christopher Schwarz
108 thoughts on “Anarchy in the Schwarz Household”
Thanks for opening up and sharing. Ditto on the content of your post. Maybe, just maybe we can start a revolution.
You’re an inspiration. Taking that plunge is something I’ve heard a lot of people talk about but rarely do.
Oh the places this conversation could go! It’s one I’d love to have with you over a beer or two some time (some of my homebrew, natch). My wife and I have been drifting in this direction for some time, buying from the local butcher, produce from a local CSA, trying to be more self-sufficient. We can eliminate our modest debt, and I dream of no longer working for ‘the man’. I have one question though – what do you do for health insurance for your family? Doesn’t every third dollar you make go toward the premiums? Health care costs are the one thing for which I can’t figure out a good answer.
Very good question. My wife keeps just enough hours to maintain health insurance. As the son of a doctor, I dislike health insurance companies and would much rather return to fee-for-service. Call me unrealistic, but that’s anarchy.
One sharp chisel mishap, two hours at the ER, four stitches, no insurance. $1,000.
… which is why you should never learn to sharpen.
One major automobile accident. Five fractures. Three surgeries, Ten days in the hospital. $68,000. With insurance- $2000 deductible and 4 $20 followup copays.
As always… Well said!
My family lives a similar lifestyle, however we still have a mortgage. 🙁 We only buy what we have the cash for, and do our best to tout “Buy local, buy homemade, buy handmade.”
My line of thinking is very similar to yours. Alas, shall we reflect upon history? The Arts & Crafts movement started as a social movement then the style followed. I’d like to join you in your movement and perhaps a new like of furniture will follow once again.
I raise my wooden bowl to you!
Damn fine words – best post I’ve read for a while!
There is a lot of good in what you are doing, and the influence can’t only but help some people see there is a better way available to them if they are willing to make that choice, and are willing to make the required sacrifice (large for some, not so for others), as you have done.
Thanks for the insight, Chris. Now I know (for almost sure) that you haven’t gone completely insane! I’m also the son of a doctor, and I know *exactly* what you mean about health insurance companies.
Bravo, well said Chris. Iwish you all the best in the future. We also buy local when we can.
I too would like to have some of Dan D’s beers with you. you should write a book about the stuff you reference in this post. also thanks for the recommendation of “On Writing well”. I am about 1/4 way through and I can identify anarchy in your prose.
Chris, You know my story. Leaving the “corporate” world was a huge, scary decision. You jump in and start swimming as fast as you can. For now and maybe forever the money is not there. But being home when my kids come home from school and having a quick snack and talk before homework and shop work continues is hard to replace. Having my son and daughter learn about and contribute to the business is experience that cannot be taken away. Giving thanks for my blessings each and every day and knowing where they come from is humbling and good.
Thanks for sharing a part of your journey with us.
Blue Spruce Toolworks
Thanks Dave, at last an entry that I can relate wholeheartedly to! From the blind leap of faith to do your own thing to the daily thanksgiving (and teaching your kids those values).
Can we convince you to run for President???????
That is the attitude that is truly needed up there!!!!!!!
Truly an American Anarchist. Don’t meet many of those these days. So many of our cultural and commercial messages push us towards stupid consumption and the easy credit trap. I admire your walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Thank you for sharing this peek into your chosen
lifestyle. I think it relates fairly directly to your philosophy of woodworking and therefore is an
important piece of the puzzle for folks to understand what you are doing and why.
I wondered when I would see a post about what Anarchist meant to you. You are reviving a word in the American/British usage that was well known in the late 19th century. William Morris would have been comfortable with your usage and wouldn’t have blinked an eye. Glad to meet you through your blog.
Well written Chris. Large institutions look out for themselves, not the people they employ or claim to serve. Time and time again I have seen good people working for large institutions make decisions that reflect the interest of the insitution even when their own personal beliefs would dictate otherwise. We just went through black friday and cyber monday which have corrupted our national holiday of Thanksgiving, pulling people away from their families in the name of corporate greed and modern aqusitive consumerism. I would not identify myself as an anarchist but feel myself drifting that way more and more.
Keep up the great work and keep writing!
I totally agree with your sentiment.
In our case, we’ve arranged things so that my wife is able to stay home and raise our kids, and it’s hard to believe how much pressure we face to have her return to work and put the kids into daycare. We also hear alot about how lucky we are that we can do this. People are very dissapointed when told that luck had nothing ot do with it, and that it was the result of serious planning on our part and if they really wanted what we have they could.
You can continue to post these musings here – I for one, appreciate hearing it, although you may find yourself the subject of a grass roots write in campaign for some sort of public service once the word gets out.
Keep up the good work.
Another “Hear Hear!” here!
We’ve done a very similar thing: quit our corporate jobs and moved to a home on a small piece of land in the woods where we can have chickens, goats, fruit trees, a few gardens, and a modest workshop for myself. We’d been settling into this lifestyle for a few years when I started to become frustrated at the expense and noise of my woodworking. Through researching shop design, dust collection, etc, I started reading a lot of your work and then found Joiner and Cabinet Maker… the rest is the history of the future.
This “movement” is a move towards necessity, a return to the relatively sane. Homegrown foods, beekeeping, pickling, homebrewing, raising chickens, ukelele singalongs, and hand-tool woodworking seem like new trends lately, but this is actually just a shattering of the brittle veneer of the technological dystopia which has crept up on all of us and a revival of what should have been happening all along.
You’ve been an eloquent spokesperson for this phenomenon, and you have my admiration and respect for going public with your personal lifestyle choices. I hope that you will continue to inspire others, and that they will continue to get over their kneejerk rejections of the A word.
Regarding health insurance: this is a huge trick. Its a con game, and almost everyone knows it. Even when you have insurance, you still end up with unaffordable bills in the event that you “use” the insurance. The simplest health decisions are not up to the patient, only the doctor (who serves the insurance industry as much as the patients) can make decisions. Prescriptions are based on regulations, not need. We’ve been reluctantly paying out of pocket, as neither my self-run computer business nor my wife’s part-time job provide. That and property taxes are our main expenses.
At any rate, I always welcome these conversations. They are indeed about woodworking. I don’t mind the A word either, although its not strictly needed for these discussions.
Wow, this is very inspiring.
After reading this article I realize that many of these ideas already existed in my thoughts. But now I’m more aware of them… I think if a person has the ability and the determination to build their own furniture, then it is very likely to share these same ideas of anarchism. Included my self. And I am Included.
Thanks for sharing.
Spoken like a true Jeffersonian!
A book that might interest you is “Becoming Jefferson’s People: Re-Inventing the American Republic in the Twenty-First Century” which is all about calling people to follow our 3rd president’s ideals (exactly as you’ve described) and shun the current, corporate, Hamiltonian world in which we live.
My father was a priest ( Episcopal ). So I do not like the institution of the “Church”. My church is my place of worship to the God of my spiritual life. Sometimes I do not like it, but it is the best we humans can do.
No debt, except house ( I wish, but not there yet ).
We cook our meals from scratch. Local grass feed beef. Farmers market for everything else.
I think the most important thought you gave me, is what I am doing when making my own furniture.
THANKS for being who you are. I admire and honor what you are doing.
And I will purchase every book you write, because we have to support being here…
It’s good to read that there are other people out there that feel the way I do ! Made me happier today ! thanx – Joe
Wow good stuff. I for one would like to read mire like this.
I like the idea of buying locally whenever it is possible, and to make what one can make.
But another thing..
Compared to many other blog posts or debate forums, everyone here seems quite open minded and tolerant. That is indeed rare those days, and one of the reasons why these entries are so nice to read.
Chris……….I’m almost 66 years old and, by God, your my hero!
P.S. You’re damn books cost me a lot of money in hand tools by the way!
Thanks for this. And thanks for your writing, Anarchist’s Tool Chest most of all. Clearly there is a market for your non-woodworking prose.
Look into Dave Ramsey. That guy has it going on debt free. He show a lot about hidden charges an how to pay up front serves an about how to barter for items. But the way you go about it makes life less stressful than other ways. Sorry for riding my high horse. Have a good evening. By the way I think it’s great about being debt free.
Noble words and sentiments. And may I just say that, as the husband of a family practice physician I have utter disdain for the health insurance industry, but as the father of a son who required fifteen intracranial surgeries over a period of ten years, there is no way with the kind of money we earn that I could have paid the “fees for service” in ten lifetimes.
Been buyin my jeans from Pointers for years. As for the rest. Its my life and truth is where you find it. Outstanding.
Great Work Chris. Congratulations on being debt free!
Good for you, Chris. There is a growing band of people doing that sort of thing all over the place, and it’s very exciting. Maybe it’s anarchy. I don’t know. I see it as freedom, gained by hard work, talent and courage. I sense that for some readers anarchy comes with rather more complicated strings attached, but yours is certainly a movement of goodwill and I’m sure we’d all like more people to join so that it can become sustainable everywhere. Keep up the good work. Perhaps you can do what John Brown didn’t, and use woodwork as a stepping stone to influence a much wider audience.
Preach it brother. I am amazed by the responses.
Still want to get those chickens and ducks for eggs. I miss the beehives I had to sell when we moved.
I hate that life gets in the way of life. The book and this post just continue to call into question am I doing what is right chasing the American dream when I should be running after my dream.
Best of luck and maybe I’ll join you soon.
I’m glad you are a lamp and not just a mirror.
I’m happy to see so much positive feedback on this. I’m on the path, but I have miles to go before I sleep (and enjoy the debt-free life). Today, during a cube-side discussion at the office, I told them I plan to retire at 40 (8 yrs from now)…they all thought I was crazy, or independently wealthy. I’m certainly not the latter and only time will tell on the former, but this post hit at a good time for me…all those Black Friday ads and follow on stories had me fearing for the future of the country–this was reassuring. Curious to know why you were compelled to write it now…
I was hoping to find a light at the end of the tunnel, that may be the one you’re holding. We try to live simply, buy locally, grow as much as we can, but there are times we need as inspiration and you continue provide that. Thanks Chris.
Regarding a non woodworking post, it is my understanding that Lost Art Press is a publishing house, not a woodworking school. Post-on! And publish under water basket weaving tomes if you find an author and it makes you a buck. 🙂
You are dead on in that debt is modern slavery, or more precisely, indentured servitude.
Thank you for sharing. I too live by my wit and hands. Now I don’t feel so alone.
Hunting, fishing and foraging help bind me with Nature, the Mother, and supplement my store-bought necessities. An occasional expedition to the aforementioned Finke Brothers to acquire some goetta is also a good thing.
Wood is everywhere. Why buy it? I use old barnwood, sawmill scraps, used bourbon barrels, driftwood out of the Ohio and Licking rivers and forest findings that others would pass over. I’m particularly fond of pawpaw wood. I’ve been known to carry a scrap of it in my pocket just to confound other woodworkers. 🙂
Man, that pawpaw had me stumped.
I’ll have to look for some next time I’m at Home Depot.
Probably the best thing Ive read in a while. Agree wholeheartedly, except I do vote. Might not make any difference, but certainly cannot initiate any change if I don’t vote. Humbly suggest The Joy Of Not Working by Ernie J. Zelinski. Retired, some debt. Doesn’t pay as well as work, but the stress level is wonderful. Keep it up Chris!
Wonder if this couldn’t be a side road to take along with the rest. Seems there are a bunch of us! Sawdust makes great mulch and soil conditioner for clay LOL
Did the corporate thing and am now retired but admire you for the path you are taking. Some may view this as a risky path but in reality, juggling mortgage and credit card debts each month in the hopes that you can make the minimum payment is the risky path. Debt free and using cash is not such a new idea – our parents operated on this basis. If individuals and governments had used this concept, North America and Europe would not be in the current mess they find themselves.
I enjoy your books and your blog for the insight, instruction, humour, etc. I use hand tools whenever possible for a variety of reasons and we are indeed fortunate to have people like you who assist us in learning to use them properly.
All the best with your new adventure and keep them coming.
Interesting. I was thinking about this cultures idolatrous consumerism last week. Disgusted by newscast showing all them losers camping out outside department stores thursday night for a chance to get discounted gadgets.
Back in the 1970’s there was a book called the ‘Whole Earth Catalog’. Their motto seems appropriate to the current discussion, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”
Still got two copies LOL. Some of us never figured the other side out
While I admire Chris a great deal, I’m dissapointed to read an article focused almost soley on political belives. He has a right to extol his positions and I actually agree with some of them, but intensely disagree with others.
My point is that I read Chris for his woodworking accumen, not his political beliefs regardless of which side of the fence they rest. I feel the same way about Hollywood in that I’m perfectly capable of making my own determinations and am not “moved” by the opinions of a well known person. Granted, he didn’t try and sway anyone, but rather just stated his own belief, but I have to wonder why that is something he felt necessary in the name of “anarchy”.
I resisted writing this post for many weeks. The reason I did is that I had some people who were questioning whether I even knew what anarchy was. So I decided to just explain how I live and how I view the world.
I don’t plan on trodding this path again unless I have to. This will never turn into a political blog. Woodworking is my one true passion in life — not politics. And the people in the craft -– of all stripes –- are the finest group of people I’ve met.
I think it’s awesome that Chris shares his thinking and ideas on any subject he chooses. You didn’t purchase this blog under false pretenses. It’s necessary because a free and open exchange of ideas (and the tolerance to let this happen) is at the very bedrock of a free society, of which anarchy is a type. Since you agree he “has a right to extol his positions”, what good does your comment do if you don’t explain what you disagree with, and why, so that we can all learn from a dialogue?
Considering the justified praise for Chris’s approach to life, I too was a little frightened to mention that I don’t entirely agree with his definition of anarchy. But I wasn’t sure an essentially woodworking blog was the place to get bogged down in semantics. Perhaps we should open up a separate blog somewhere to discuss that!!!!
The best thing I can say is that you are not alone. I and I think many folks out there feel similar to you. They are not participating in the system just as you are. Now, if you really want to be serious about this anarchism, you will stop paying taxes…
You might be interested in the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher. I have not actually read it myself but I think it will be right up your alley. Suggested by Wendell Berry, another guy you should get to know, being a fellow Kentuckian and all. Cheers!
E.F. Schumacher’s book “A Guide for the Perplexed” is a master work. Also highly recommended!
Small is Beautiful is a remarkable book, though Fritz Schumacher said he felt his other famous book, A Guide for the Perplexed, was more important. Small is Beautiful spawned a remarkable organisation called Intermediate Technology, which aimed to provide simple tools for developing countries so that their workers weren’t tied into unsuitable machinery (tractors that soon needed parts from the developed world), and later became known as Appropriate Technology. I remember reporting on a remarkable course run by Don Weber in the late 1980s teaching volunteers on their way to Africa how to make chisels from car springs. Sadly the the organisations have declined, but I suspect we could do with a bit of that resourcefulness in the America and Europe these days, and people like Chris can help in spreading the word.
For those who haven’t read it, run don’t walk to the bookstore and get ‘Total Money Makeover’ by Dave Ramsey. I’m not out of debt yet, but I’m working on it.
Thanks for sharing this post, Chris! Everything in life is related. You’ll catch some flak from some, but you’ve given some really cool insight into what makes you tick, and how that relates to woodworking.
That’s great, Chris. Here’s hoping you get the hammer (and other tool-related) monkeys off your back. Then, you’ll be truly free.
Still hoping you’ll check out Bobos in Paradise.
Good post. It takes courage to express these ideas as they’re pretty far out of the mainstream. I think you’re heading down a really interesting path. You may really enjoy reading and studying the ideas of “natural law”, that is, those “laws” which arise from our humanity — not those “laws” created by governments. Andrew Napolitano’s new book “It’s Dangerous to be Right with the Government is Wrong” begins with a pretty good overview of the history and ideas of natural law and natural rights. Napolitano is another anarchist. 🙂
I’d be curious to hear why you “view rent as theft.” You must at some level agree that humans have a natural right to own property, that is, the creations of their labor, or you wouldn’t use the word “theft”. If we agree that you’ll let me use your dovetail saw for the weekend in exchange for some nice pieces of curly maple lumber I have (to compensate you for not being able to use it yourself, risking damage, and me creating sharpening work for you), then who is stealing from whom? That seems like a perfectly moral, voluntary exchange. I guess I don’t understand your position. I also don’t understand your (apparent) view that employment is immoral.
I think you’ll enjoy reading more ideas of natural law, and particular the ideas of property rights (and one’s own body as their sovereign property) and it will help you continue to refine these ideas. It’s not realistic to think that we can build *everything* for ourselves, and property rights, self-ownership, and voluntary exchange of property (or labor for property) is the foundation by which we can be even more creative as individuals. When you buy lumber, or have someone carve a piece for you, or turn something so you can focus on joinery, or even have someone else deliver your books to us, you are “employing” someone — exchanging your property for their effort. There’s nothing incompatible with the philosophy of anarchy in those behaviors.
All that said, I think it’s great you’re considering and writing about these things, and I mostly agree with you. I actually think that it is the lack of this kind of introspection that is the problem in our society — big faceless organizations are just a symptom of this philosophical (or spiritual, if you prefer) wasteland we live in.
Fascinating, Jim. Would love to talk more about this with you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This fascinating post has inspired me to look out all my old books on anarchism and individualism from my youth.
Great post Jim. I was going to try to write something similar but you said it so well I will settle for a +1.
It’s difficult to sum up all your beliefs in 535 words, so I had to leave nuance off the table in that post.
For me, almost everything is about scale. I see nothing wrong with one-on-one interactions between people — such as the examples you cite. Where I get uncomfortable is when it becomes exploitative. Massive rental companies cramming people into dehumanizing complexes. People and their very lives become a commodity. And the owner almost always has the upper hand with the laws and in the courts.
And the rental system can be a very difficult one to escape.
In any case, I hope this begins to explain the statement. The one last thing I wish I had added to the post is that my beliefs are not a call to action for others. I don’t like the idea of rent, so I avoid it. That’s all. I don’t like big companies, so I stay out of Walmart. Most politicians I know (and I knew a ton as a newspaper reporter) were all about amassing power. So I don’t participate in that system.
It all sounds so negative, which I hate. I’m very optimistic, and so I try to focus on creating.
Sorry this is so long.
A pessimist is one who says “Things can’t possibly get any worse.” An optimist is one who says “Oh yes they can.”
Nice post Chris. I aspire to the life you’re describing, maybe I’ll get there.
Maybe your post was political but I didn’t see it. You simply stated how you live your life in connection with what you do and how they are intertwined with woodworking.
I was afraid I was just some lone nutter. Glad to see there are others. I think this is the direction the “Disappearing Middle Class” is going to have go, albeit one individual at a time, until we hit that 100th Monkey. DC & WS will not solve any problems for us. We’re on our own, which I believe is where the strength of this country used to come from.
You may all be interested to learn about another remarkable woodworker, who says that he’s a ‘social anarchic individualist’. Barn the Spoon spends much of his time moving from town to town around Britain making and selling hand-carved wooden spoons as a licensed street salesman. He runs courses, and is now aiming to set up a Spoon Club in as many towns and villages as he can. You can find out more at http://barnthespoon.blogspot.com. There will be a feature about Barn’s spoons and odyssey in the next issue of my magazine, Living Woods (www.living-woods.com). He is a remarkable man, who has brought much light to many lives. We are also planning a competition of carved wooden spoons in the magazine next year, inviting entries from all over the world. We tend to share Barn’s philosophy that making your own utensils is good for the soul and the pocket, but he has shown rather more commitment to that endeavour than most of us!
Given your philosophy, and if you are willing to divulge this information, I am very interested to know the educational choices you have made for you children.
We live in a one-school building public district – K-12 all in one building. While I don’t agree with everything at the school, it’s small enough that we know all the teachers and administrators. So we feel we have a voice. Plus, my wife is a big supporter of the school, and I want to stay married.
For me, the most important education is here. The kids work every day for Lost Art Press — packing orders, controlling inventory and learning the publishing business. And Katy is learning woodworking.
I couldn’t agree more with your view that the most important education happens at home.
I do disagree with some of the specifics in your post, but I love the attitude of it.
Hell Yes! I 110% agree!
Thank you Chris, your words meant a lot to me.
I’m glad you wrote about your life philosophy. Too many people these days won’t because it’s immediately pegged as ‘Oh, he’s on his political high horse.’ Nope, this just follows naturally from all of the other things you’ve written the last few years. There was clearly a driving philosophy behind your writing choices, and now we have a good idea of what those ideas are.
Personally, I admire much of what you’ve written. I tend to think that government can be a force for good, and the Anarchist, Individualist, and Libertarian movements tend to forget how hard things were before all of this ‘evil government’ stuff happened. I don’t really want to live in the world that existed before food safety laws, the CDC, child labor laws, safe highways, and public libraries.
But thanks for pointing to Pointer jeans and the other ideas in this post. I’m moving in your direction, too, just maybe not quite as far.
This post would could perhaps be incorporated into a future printing of The AT. I’ve already printed it and stuffed the page amongst the leaves of my copy. They say an unexamined life is a life not worth living. I’ve personally found that to be true as it seems Chris and many others posting here have as well. Why pick up that rip saw with a perfectly good table saw sitting not five feet away? Why labor over hand tool techniques with so many readily available jigs and power tools to accomplish the task much faster?, or worse, with a similar item sitting on a shelf ready for purchase just a few miles away? I think part of the answer is here and it’s an important part. All we have to do is look around and see where the consumer mentality has taken us. Honing our skills and creating with our hands allows us, to borrow another old phrase, to become more than the sum of our parts. Individualism and independence to the end.
Thought provoking and poignant. Thank you, Chris. You inspire us.
I’m a childhood friend of your mothers. We grew up together in Naperville, IL and our dads both got transferred to Oklahoma City where we lived in the same block and went to the same HS. Now I live along the Rio Grande just north of your mom and Jerry. I love woodworking and wood carving but a rank amateur. Didn’t start until I retired.
I believe in your form of anarchy and my wife and I are working toward being independent of the “institutions” as much as we can. We grow our own veges and rise sheep that end up in the freezer. Independence and self-reliance have greatly diminished in my lifetime. Some of us still hold it as the high ideal it should be. Unfortunately, too many have allowed others to make decisions for us and abdicated our independence.
I just read a short pamphlet called “The Road to Serfdom” by Fredrich A. Hayek. Found it very interesting and applicable to today’s world. Thought you might be interested.
I believe genetics has a lot to do with this part of your life because I see similar buying and saving traits in your sister on a daily basis. Going to the local farmer’s market on a Sunday morning is one of my favorite things she has sold me on. I really hope our children are conditioned to follow this style (attitude) of living.
Ahhh, such charming naive romanticism.
Chris, I challenge you to truly live by your beliefs. Use a computer that doesn’t have the toxic taint of “large corporations”. Perhaps you will travel to Europe in a boat you purchased from the maker, rather than flying in one of those nasty jets built somewhere far away by a large multi-national corporation, and operated by another large corporation. Don’t buy any metal tools unless you know the maker mined and refined the ores themselves, or can document that no large corporations were involved in the production chain all the way back to the mine. Etc. etc…
Now, I don’t know exactly what qualifies as a “large” corporation in your book, but I do know that you rely on large corporations (and government) to make your living. Without UPS and USPS to deliver the books and magazines that spread the gospel of the “anarchist” (pick your non-destructive flavor) lifestyle to the buyers…. you’d have a mighty small market. Without large corporations (and gov’t) who have created the infrastructure and software of the Internet , you wouldn’t have nearly as fine a bully pulpit.
My point is that large corporations are necessary and not bad. Some things CAN’T be done otherwise, i.e. they SOLVE problems that nothing else can. (Designing, developing, building and operating an airliner is a very good example.) Doing some others things become so inefficient without large entities that they’re barely worth doing.
Simplifying one’s personal life is a worthy goal, as is living debt free, to be commended. Villifying the very human organizational technologies that enable one to live a comfortable, non-backbreaking “simple” life supported by a vast, indescribably complex economic system, not so commendable. Perhaps when you travel, or use the ‘Net, or ship out the next order, you will cast large corporations as a “necessary evil”, in which case, I just ask you to recall what Jerry Garcia said on the subject….
Yours is a pragmatist’s response. And I suppose by the same logic that hand-tool users should never use electricity, the Internet or floss.
The truth is that anarchism is a tendency. It is not a philosophy.
“Anarchism is not a cult, nor a party, nor an organization. Neither is it a new idea, nor a reform movement, nor a system of philosophy. It is not even a menace to the social order, nor yet a plotting for the destruction of kings and rulers. Indeed, the social order has often been in danger either from false alarms or from its own weight since the fabric first arose.
“Cults are common enough in these days: — they sprout and fade like the flowers of spring. Parties and organizations rise and fall with almost rhythmic regularity, running their course and becoming transformed with time like all things beneath the sun. Movements arise as occasion demands, and expire when their work is done. New ideas are rare enough, and seldom retain their novel character on close scrutiny. A philosophy is a scheme of life, an explanation of the universe, a concrete intellectual system.
“Anarchism is none of these things. It teaches not violence, nor does it inculcate insurrection. Neither is it an incipient revolution. None the less has it its place in the life of our times. Modern Anarchism, in a word, is primarily a tendency — moral, social, and intellectual. As a tendency it questions the supremacy of the State, the infallibility of Statute laws, and the divine right of all Authority, spiritual or temporal. It is, in truth, a product of Authority, the progeny of the State, a direct consequence of the inadequacy of law and government to fulfill their assumed functions. In short, the Anarchist tendency is a necessity of progress, a protest against usurpation, privilege, and injustice.”
— “Josiah Warren, the first American anarchist: a sociological study” (1906) by William Bailie
Thank your for your considered response Chris, although I fear I must take a few exceptions to it.
First, anarchism isn’t a tendency. “Bobby doesn’t work and play well with others” or “Kelly has issues with authority”, those are tendencies. Anarchism IS a political philosophy, although its certainly true that it comes in a variety of flavors, some of which DO teach violence, do advocate insurrection and incipient revolution. History makes this pretty clear, and it is disingenous to attempt to dodge the historical record.
Second, while I’m no fan of anarchism, I wasn’t challenging Anarchism per se. Heck, I think it’s handy to have a few of all different sorts of cranks, dreamers and visionaries around, for both amusement and the occasional necessity of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.
No, what I object to, what prompted me to post, is this characterization:
“It is my belief that institutions are the cause of most problems – not the solution.”
Institutions aren’t the cause of ANY problems. People are. Institutions are simply collections of people working together. The may work for “The Good” or otherwise, but it’s still just people working together. Institutions are a TOOL for people to work together collectively, and it makes as much sense to blame “institutions” for the wrong done by people as it is to blame a hammer for hitting your thumb.
Third, along with my issue with the mischaracterization of the cause of most problems, is my frustration with the constant villification of corporations, to which your post makes a oblique and modest contribution. Corporations (or more accurately, people working together through the corporate organizational model (a “technology” aka “tool”) do a tremendous amount of good in the world, far outweighing the bad, and they very rarely ever get credit for it. And I’m not talking about the money they give to charity or the homes built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity or other such obvious do-goodism. No, I’m talking about the stuff that is their BUSINESS. About the “goods and services” that we pay them for. If millions (or billions) of people didn’t think that X was a good enough thing to spend their hard earned money on, then nobody would be able to build a large corporation making, delivering, marketing or selling X.
So, my real challenge isn’t that your bring your life in line with your anarchist tendencies, but rather, that your bring your rhetoric in line with your life tendencies. Give large institutions (and more importantly the people within them) the credit for the good that they do, both for you, and for the world at large, good that goes unremarked because we pretty much take it for granted. This isn’t meant as a plea to give them a pass for their faults (which are legion), perish the thought. Nor am I asking you to changeup and start endorsing/advocating the abomination known as crony capitalism, merely to give credit where credit is due.
(oh, and stay debt free! good on ya fer that one!)
OK you got me hanging on…what, what did Garcia say? Jerry sure could stir a pot, with just a few words in most cases…
“Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. – Jerry Garcia”
I don’t expect, or even want, I suppose, an answer to this here, because I think it should remain private. But I’d be fascinated to know how your daughters handle this philosophy. Getting teenagers to eschew the malls, consumption for consumption sake, and cheap shiny objects strikes me as being like Heinlein’s caution against teaching a pig to sing. Rampant consumerism is just so ingrained in our society that it may be impossible to keep our young people away from it. And if you have been fighting that fight, and maybe winning, you are a better man than I am.
“Getting teenagers to eschew…”
John, I’ll take a crack at this one – short answer is that if one waits until the children are teenagers to implement ‘Anarchy’, it is too late – (I really don’t like the ‘A’ word used as Chris does here as it tends to carry a lot of negative connotations – as a child of an older generation I prefer ‘right livelyhood’ or ‘voluntary simplicity’) – ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ etc.
Growing up having a full time parent, an interesting circle of friends, meaningful work in the family business, and leadership by example makes for decent odds of a young person recognizing the wasteland of consumerism as exemplified by ‘the mall’ – and it will have to be their decision –
not that the path will be smooth….
Chris, if you happen across this, keep doing the good work – I more or less (more, actually) have trod your path for the past 35+ years and have great wealth to show for it – not much money, but a small business doing what I aspire, a great circle of friends and acquaintances and artists and musicians and researchers and educators and young people and old people, and children now in their 20’s who not only achieve and excel at the highest level at their chosen aspirations but have also grown into fine human beings –
The ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ has already been mentioned regarding the ‘stay hungry – stay foolish’ mantra – there is another that came thru there that I hold onto – ‘do the right thing, the money will follow’ –
It’s nice that there are large corporations who create the infrastucture to transmit ideas freely, although not for free.
Not voting is NOT anarchy; it is submission to the will of others who care enough to cast their vote.
If you do not exercise your right to vote yet you benefit from the public services mandated by the laws proposed or managed by the lawmakers and/or townspeople, is that not then a selfish way of living? Others participate in the democratic process, often ill-formed and problematic as it is, for the good of the people yet you refuse to on the slim reasoning that you do not like politicians. Spend some time with people who have come from totalitarian countries, from countries destroyed by genocide, with people who think that the right to vote is one of the best things that has ever happened to them.
Live your life as you have on SSI, SSD or another form of fixed income and then say yours is the Right way to live. When you have the income to make the choices you propose, it all sounds nice. Pack up your Honda and spend some time doing some down and dirty social work amongst war refugees, amongst holocaust survivors, amongst hurricane survivors and then tell me what anarchistic living is. In my book, privilege and means infers giving to others.
To clarify for those who might wonder, this is person to person, not publisher to publisher.
Chris-great post,you seem to have the knack to push everybody’s buttons! I too believe that it’s time for everyone to start thinking outside the box and begin looking for alternative solutions to life
without the burden of debt. Very difficult to attain and use a degree of anarchy in everything you do but if everyone attempted to change and learn to live without so many possessions then the power of the ‘money’ men would be diminished and we could crawl out of this hole that they have created all around the world.
As I understand your version of anarchy is not accepting the way things are being run and swimming against the tide,we need to learn how to fix things for ourselves from furniture to cars to computers,it is now easier than ever to do this as we have the internet to educate us – one piece of very useful tech. Take all that’s good but firmly reject everything else,maybe it’s anarchy with a sweetener,but at least we are pushing the boundaries.
Time for a new 21st century hippie culture ,Wall street and other stock exchanges had better look out,the times they are a’changing! For more on alternative living check out Lloyd Khan’s blog and his books,for some really amazing timber homes and some more radical thoughts.
I agree with a lot, disagree with some. What I respect is this: you seem to be seeking truth and are bold enough to take the path it illuminates. Here’s to all of us doing the same.
Your writing continues to be thought provoking. While I’d need to read it a third time, I’m pretty sure I disagree with nearly everything you wrote. From religion to rent to corporations to the law, we are on different sides of the fence. Still, if it is woodworking that gives us common ground, then maybe there is hope for Congress. No wait, you don’t like government either…
I hope you’ll acknowledge that free thinkers will often disagree and that it is not anarchy that makes one a free thinker.
Here’s to your continued happiness, and, as a wise man once said, “it takes all kinds…”
The people I like the most are the people who disagree with me the most and can think it through.
Disagreements don’t bother me. Blind obedience upsets me.
So disobey me.
So, the next step is to buy an old brewery, move the publishing business there, open up a woodworking and self-sufficency school, have a store for fine crafted tools and other items, and finally, but most importantly, return it to its functional glory producing fine ales to quench those who thirst for Anarchy as well as brewed spirits.
I saw this
the other evening, and chuckled because I like to think I’m doing well if I make a half decent box.
Me, I hope people can keep endeavoring on all different scales.
Wow – 81 replies to one post (in one day)! Interesting that many feel motivated to comment on political opinion, yet hold their fire on the usual topic of the blog – woodworking.
I will defend Chris a bit, without commenting on the content (except for one, at the end):
1) Many forget that a blog is, inherently, a personal possession that holds no responsibility to fairness, journalistic integrity, or even civility. That is not to say that Chris’ posts are not all of those aforementioned things, just that he isn’t required to abide by any/all of them.
2) Analyzing the validity of a position based on strictness of adherence or complete internal consistency is intellectual folly. No human being on this earth, nor any human being that was on this earth and is now in the earth, is 100% anything, nor without contradiction.
That said, being consumed with the desire to “get the best deal” is 100% evil and is the hallmark of the deadliest of the 7 deadly sins – greed. And that’s why shopping at WalMart is bad, and you’re of questionable moral character if you do it. 😉
Moral character? I think that is in aisle 73B.
Great post, Chris!
Have you see the documentary Charlotte: A Wooden Boat Story? It is available free to view on Snagfilms (http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/charlotte_a_wooden_boat_story). The film touches on some of the themes that you deal with in The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.
The maker of Charlotte has a blog as well. This heartfelt Lost Art post is the perfect bookend to filmmaker Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte’s last post, which I thought you might be interested in reading (http://www.charlottethefilm.com/blog).
Once again, great post, probably my favorite so far. And thank you for all that you have taught us, as well. I’m looking forward to the new material in January.
I certainly appreciate the post and your willingness to further explain your intent in the (extensive) comments, and appreciate your “tendency” towards trying to make the world a better place through your personal actions.
I’m not sure if this is really allowed in the comments for this post, but I would actually like to comment on an aspect of the woodworking content of the post! Ok, so this is more a bit of a long and rambling story than a comment, but I promise it will get to woodworking eventually:
My primary hobby is building things, whether electrical, mechanical, or wooden. As a result of my education and job, I have accumulated a fairly decent knowledge of metal working, circuit design, electronics fabrication, and software development, and I have always gotten a great kick out of being able to build something from start to finish as independently as possible. For example, when I wanted a new stereo, I built the speaker boxes myself, bought drivers from a small company, built the crossovers, designed and built an amplifier, and built a custom USB sound card.
Still, I have never been able to completely control all aspects of building a “thing” from start to finish–I have always had to purchase ready-made components of some sort. In the case of my stereo, I relied on someone else to supply the chips and components to go into the electronics and had the printed circuit boards built for me. It’s not that I mind buying these items, but part of the satisfaction that I get from building a “thing” is the process by which it is built and being able to understand and contribute to every aspect of its construction.
Despite how this may sound, I am actually not a control freak. I just have a “tendency” to want to independently understand and be able to perform all of the operations necessary to build something from raw materials. For example, even though I have etched circuit boards in my garage, I will readily concede that lots of other folks make much better boards than I! Like you, I don’t mind paying someone for performing services or providing me with goods.
I know this is an incredibly long and rambling (did I already mention that) introduction to how this all relates to woodworking, but my latest foray into learning “how to do everything” has involved me milling my own lumber from a few trees my neighbor recently cut down. In the process of gearing up for slabbing these logs into boards, I built my own chainsaw mill from angle iron, though I wasn’t quite awesome enough to build my own chainsaw nor refine my own iron ore, so I obviously have a bit of work to do on this project! 😉 Still, after a few days of wading in sawdust, I am now the proud owner of a few hundred BF of sopping wet maple and quartersawn oak. While I was working on milling those two trees, another neighbor approached me to ask if I would be interested in a 150 year old cherry tree that had recently fallen in their yard. I can only imagine how much lumber that will yield!
I typically buy lumber from a one-man local sawmill who sells fantastic local Indiana hardwoods for ridiculously reasonable prices. As I am sure you know, we have everything from walnut and cherry to poplar and sycamore locally available in Indiana, so I am not really saving a huge amount of money by milling my own lumber, nor am I getting any particularly exotic lumber for my efforts. The reason I milled the trees rather than simply cutting them for firewood was did was because I enjoy the process of being able create the things I need for myself. In this particular instance, my motivation for undertaking this project was not to avoid supporting institutions or organizations that I find objectionable (and trust me, I object to many of the institutions you mentioned!), rather it was due to my desire to be self-sufficient.
I guess that means the motivation for my personal form of woodworking Anarchy is based on how my individual choices make me happy rather than how they impact the socioeconomic system. Of course this isn’t meant as a criticism of your motivations, rather it is a “thank you” for putting out a ton of information that helps me be a happier and more independent person.
(PS I do heavily consider how my actions and purchases impact society, and I certainly try to buy local and from small business owners and individuals due to that consideration, but in this instance, what makes me happy and what is “good” for society overlap fairly well, IMHO)
Interesting post! May I offer the following response?
Many years ago, when I lived alone on a small farm, I learned an important lesson: Just because my thoughts seemed dead-on to me, that did not make them correct. It was not rare for me to find that I had overlooked important information when constructing my hypotheses.
My point relates to one aspect of Chris’s statement, namely that of religion. Every person’s theology leads them somewhere, even if they do not think they have one. Religion is one area where freedom and responsibility meet most profoundly. Homespun may not be the best way to go in that arena. (Absolutely no ill will intended.)
Difficult to express myself and I hope this doesn’t come out wrong! The problem with many “religious institutions” these days is that is that the Lord is not occupying the centre spot anymore and had been sidelined (truly not meant as blasphemous) to make way for individuals and their personal (often modern) agendas, but we shouldn’t be misled by that (“don’t be blindly obedient”). The onus and responsibility is always on us to thoroughly study His Word and familiarize us with His requirements and wishes for us and our families. If your church is not anymore the church that the Lord intended it to be, it’s your responsibility as family head to look for a church which still belongs to Him (Belgic Confession Art 29) because He wants you and your family there. He wants and insists to be the centre point of your life.
Sorry, I love all you guys and read this blog daily but this had to be said! Let’s not beat about the bush!
Kind woodworking regards
I enjoy reading all of your various outlets whether I agree with everything you say or not. It seems unfortunate to me that the powers that be place their limitations on words rather than ideas or subjects. If you are staying on topic I don’t think the word count should be a limiting factor in what you have to say. I would much rather read a stream of contiguous, well crafted thoughts on a subject than disjoint, staccato pot shots at an idea. Maybe I’m just showing my age …
Much of what you’ve said on this topic strikes a similar chord to many of Emmerson’s essays, especially Self Reliance, at least in my mind (I can just imagine his frustration with word count limitations). I think if he were alive today he would be cheering you on and congratulating you on what you have achieved so far.
Another book that has nothing to do with woodworking but everything to do with choosing how to live your life is “Your Money Or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and co-author Joe Dominguez. Being independently wealthy is more about a state of mind than a bank account balance. Debt is killing all of us whether we know it or not. Being debt free is not just anarchistic it is common sense, another thing that is sorely lacking in our society today. Being self reliant, making stuff that you can actually use every day, and living within your means keeps your mind healthy and shores up the foundation for your morals and your principles. And it sends the best message to the people you care about.
I hope you continue to write about this stuff ocassionally because it is a conversation that needs to be kept alive. If allowed to coexist our diversity will keep it honest and free. Keep up the good work and thanks for the opportunity to spout off a little.
More woodwork, less philosophy please. These kind of posts, however well intended, put me off reading blogs that I otherwise like.
No point talking about woodwork if the only game in town is mass-produced chipboard wardrobes.
If you want to read about makers who have personable relationships with their suppliers, their craft and their customers then you need to be able to be able to argue for those values. Wardrobes ‘R’ Us won’t do it for you.
I’ve been a big fan of your writings for a while now. This is my first post. Yes, this philosophy post is the one that finally got me to post a question. 🙂
In the original post you said “I don’t employ people – and I never will. ”
Can you explain that?
When I first read that, I thought “Huh.. Chris is vowing never to provide someone with a job and a means to support themselves? That seems odd. I must be missing something here.”
Am I missing something or reading too much into that statement?
Here at Lost Art Press we work with a lot of people on a contract basis. I have job. You have a skill. You do the job. I give you a check. But I don’t want an employee.
The reason I don’t want employees is because managing people takes me away from building, writing and publishing. It takes a lot of time and effort to manage even one person. And I stink at managing people. Just ask the staff at the magazine. They’ll agree.
And I don’t want to *be* an employee because I spend a lot of my time and energy convincing people around me to do smart things and to not do stupid things.
In other words, I’m a digital hermit. I’m difficult to work with or for at times. And this is what I do best.
Wow. That makes me sound like a nutjob.
I wouldn’t say that makes you sound like a nutjob! It sounds like you know what you’re good at, and more importantly, what you’re not good at. I once got a promotion from programmer to supervisor and discovered the ladder I was climbing was leaning against the wrong wall. Made a career change to go back to programming and I’m in my perfect job now.
Being free of the corporate thing means not having to be PC. People either want to do business with you or they don’t. Everyone is difficult to work and/or live with from time to time.
Just one caution on the employee thing, if you haven’t already, see a lawyer to get that set up correctly. Otherwise in certain circumstances folks you thought you were contracting with become de facto employees with ramifications you probably don’t want.
Keep up the good work! You’re one of my all-time favorite woodworking authors, both in the magazine, and in your books. I love what you’re doing with Lost Art Press. I have a couple of your books on my Christmas list (again).
One cannot be truly free until they are debt free.
I also have zero debt.
Well said Chris – thanks!
I have only one diagreement with your post, which overall I think is terrific. I feel that people’s attitudes towards debt has moved too far to the other side, likely a result of the economic issues faced by the country in the last few years. In my opinion, debt is not inherently bad. Debt is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used to create or destroy. The user of the tool needs to understand how to use it effecively and how not to abuse it. I worry that this black/white view of debt may limit people’s options in the future. Running up credit card balances to buy the latest gizmo is completely different from taking out a student loan if you cannot afford to educate yourself out of pocket. Even mortgage debt, when undertaken responsibly, can be (and has been) a positive over the long term. Granted, fear of debt is definitely better than an overwhelming embrace of it, but I think that there is a healthy balance that warrants consideration.
Keep up the great work! As an aside, your philosophy seems similar to other philosophies that I have interest in, libertarianism on the political/economic side and Unitarian Universalism on the spiritual side. I am curious to hear your thoughts on these topics if you looked at them?
I was told by a Lutheran minister that I would go to hell if I ever married a Catholic, I was told that I needed to fill out the mandatory Communion cards before taking Communion, I was told to take a government sanction aptitude test by a professor, I was told never to pay off my mortgage and to stay in debt.
Well, I married a Catholic, I refused to fill out the Communion cards, I refused to take the government test, and I payed off my mortgage and got out of debt. I’ve been tagged a rebel and a nonconformist.
I too despise being controlled by others and it really ticks them off.
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