Escape the Gilded Cage

fending off the dark

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to build a fire near the beach. With darkness coming so early, I take a primal pleasure at fending off the dark and cold with a fire.

When is a cage not a cage? How nice does it have to be? How big does it have to be to stop being a prison? How many choices do you need to forget that the limited options of A, B, or C is merely the illusion of choice?

Long ago I developed my own concept of the ‘gilded cage’. That’s how I think of modern life. You think you’re free? Why don’t you go to the beach today? Think you own your home? Why don’t you stop paying taxes and the mortgage? Think you can manage your consumerism with self-discipline while being constantly bombarded by advertising? Good luck.

Somewhere down the line we made choices and now we have to live with the responsibility… That’s the existential response anyways. But why does virtually everyone pursue the same modern lifestyle even though most of them are clearly miserable? Could it be that we’re not playing on a level playing field? Doesn’t it feel to you like the game is rigged?

I realize that most people are willing and able to shove these thoughts into the back of their minds. I’ve never been able to do so. Like a canker sore that would heal if I could just stop tonguing it, these ponderings surface just when I think I’ve forgotten them. I convinced myself a long time ago that the game is rigged. I’ve pushed my way through a whole lot of social friction to achieve my simple lifestyle. I hate to think of the person I’d be if I hadn’t.

WWF-I am Nature (English Version) from Alex Eslam on Vimeo.

After living this boating lifestyle for so long, I’ve grown incredibly sensitive to the social stresses of modern life. I feel it acutely when I have to spend three days each week in town. Stresses that most people are blind to. The subtle coercive forces that get us out of bed each morning and make us go to a place we’d rather not be. When I think back on the kind of person I was when subjected to a never-ending stream of that stress, I can’t help but think, “God, what an asshole that guy was.”

Solace anchored in a wind storm.

Solace anchored off Saddle Bag island during a wind storm. My 27 foot boat lives up to her name.

The constant stress and coercion of modern life turns people into bad versions of themselves. I’m not the only one who thinks so. It was vindicating to read Bruce Levine’s piece on why anti-authoritarians are diagnosed as mentally ill. Sailing and vandwelling are tools to step outside of the authorized way of life. To step away from the part of you that is a neighbor, and an employee, and a tax payer, ‘responsible’ and ‘self-disciplined’, and has all the obligations and expectations that come along with those labels. I’m not talking about hedonism. I’m talking about freedom of choice. Every obligation is like a pebble of stress – individually almost weightless, but taken together, a heavy burden.

I can’t help but feel a sense of horror when I look at all the humans trapped in their gilded cages. That’s certainly how I felt when I looked in the mirror three years ago. I wanted to find a better way to live. I know there are many people out there like me. Awake, who want to get out, and are looking for the tools to do so. That’s going to be the focus of my upcoming book.

fixing not buying

When the mount on my depth finder broke, I fixed it by fabricating a new mount out of aluminum bar stock and a wooden block. Fixing things instead of replacing them is one of the key elements to True Wealth.

I can’t decide if I’m a throwback or a man before his time. I am unable (or unwilling?) to thrive in the stresses of the modern lifestyle. Instead, I’ve found a way to thrive outside the norm. This last weekend was a perfect example. My cost of living was a little gas and food to eat. I anchored, so no moorage or rent to pay. I collected Blewit mushrooms for dinner under the watchful eye of a bald eagle. The solitude of my little wind-swept paradise made me feel as though my soul had just taken a shower. I thank all the benevolent forces in the universe that I’ve found the one place on earth where I can achieve peace: aboard my boat in the San Juan Islands.

I’ve never fully identified with the label ‘prepper’ because it implies hording, particularly food and guns. I don’t do that. I don’t need to. I could meet my basic needs with what the wild provides. But thankfully I don’t have to, I can take advantage of all the 21st century technology and infrastructure. Not just computers and solar power, but food preservation, super thin but high-R value insulation, and composite building materials. I’ve combined the natural world and modern technology to form a low-impact, comfortable, and inexpensive way to live and travel. Am I ahead of my time or behind my time? Or have I arrived just in time?

I’m actively trying live on the hook as much as possible from now on. I want to show people what it takes: not much. It takes $5K to $10K to get a boat like mine. It takes a passionate pursuit of True Wealth to maintain the lifestyle.

I wish there were more people out here doing what I’m doing. I think it would make the world a better place.

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Comments
10 Responses to “Escape the Gilded Cage”
  1. Very inspiring post.
    Humans are genetically predisposed to live in a gilded cage (the tribe) as you say, otherwise society would crumble.
    Like in any predisposition, there are misfits, good and bad dysfunctions, so to speak – ranging from brave freedom seekers to down-and-out outcasts.
    Another interesting factor is what I call “Skinner’s Walden II Syndrome.” Skinner writes about an ideal commune-like society…the interesting fact is that his envisioned society is dependent on the larger-scale society (non-misfits).
    We can escape the cage and live in our sailboats, but the larger-scale society is necessary for the technology, logistics, infrastructures, etc., that we still depend on.
    This may sound like criticism, but it isn’t. I’ve been a misfit probably from the day I was born and was doing quite well at being one until my late 30s. A successful translation career screwed everything up, which is kind of ironic since at first I thought it was my ticket to freedom.
    Be wary, don’t screw it up like me.

    • Chris says:

      Good to hear from you, Horatio. It’s been a while.

      I think we see eye to eye. I’m not talking about changing society. I very much appreciate the 21st century infrastructure. I just don’t want to be any more a part of it than I have to. And thanks to the way I’ve harnessed technology, I can keep that 21st century society at arms length. I think more people are figuring out how to do that too; not necessarily in sailboats like me, but in their own ways.

  2. Pat O'Brien says:

    Chris…Well said. I congratulate you on discovering both yourself and your inner connections to the real world. I’m much older but have found my version in Tibetan Buddhism which revels in the real world. The dark times we see in the news/world are a direct result of consumerism, personal greed, and a lack of love for each other. You have found something wonderful ….be well..

  3. Brad T says:

    Beautifully said brother. So true. After almost 20 years as a merchant marine I am maxed out with chasing my tail and working for others. And I am missing precious moments with my wife and son. I am flying home tomorrow after 45 days of work, hopefully for the last time. When I’m at home, working on the ganja farm, even though it’s busy, I feel that is right where I am supposed to be. I just love it! Even though its hard work I feel no stress because it is ours! It is a fun and exciting creation of our own! No one to answer to and no deadlines to meet but my own. Quiet, clean air, eagles and hawks flying over head, and best of all I can have my wife and son there with me whenever we want. I think that is probably the hardest part of finding balance in life, when you have a family to support. They take priority over self. Easy to sail off on a sailboat or a 1000 foot ship when it’s just you. But add a couple kids into the equation and life usually cant be so simple as that. Not too many people can provide for their families and at the same time be stress free and care free, at least not in our modern times. Deep down, subconsciously, I think we all miss the village.

    • Chris says:

      I suppose that’s my curse: through a combination of love for the San Juans and a disgust with modern society, the idea of getting married, owning property, or having children makes my skin crawl. Not the act of doing those things, but the ties that bind you to society once you do them. I’m glad that’s not the case for you. I’m glad you’re finding a way to embrace it.

      For clarity though, having a family or kids is not a good reason to prevent someone from living a life like I do. I know two families with multiple children who live on a boat and sail full time. They have made it a priority and sought a career that let them pursue their passion with their family. There are even more families when you consider alternate versions of the life I live. I’m talking about vandwelling or non-stop RVing or non-stop road-tripping around the world.

  4. Chris says:

    I want to clarify something: my concept of the Gilded Cage is not a metaphor for society in general or the concept of ‘the village’. It’s a metaphor for *modern* society.

    Think of it this way: for thousands of years humans required slavery in order to run a productive society. The Egyptians did it. The Mayans did it. The Romans did it. The Americans did it. Within the last hundred years or so slavery has been abolished, and the productivity of society (in general) has skyrocketed compared to its historical norm.

    Now think about this: Did slavery really end, or did the chains simply become more subtle? Realize that there are teams of psychologists behind every presidential election, sitcom, and superbowl commercial. They know what makes you tick. They know exactly how many times you need to see something, in what context, and in which way to make it effective.

    The Gilded Cage is like the description of the Matrix:

    “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

    • Brad T says:

      Like I said, not too many people can do it, but there are a few that can. It’s great that they have found a way to do so. I wasn’t referring to your metaphor when I said I think we all miss the village. I was referring to to the simple life of village life where families all live and work together, in a small community, to have everything they need strait from nature. I know a lot of people who would love to live that life. One of my main goals in life, as you know, is to one day build something like that… to build a village of tiny homes, cabins, yurts, and teepees on a huge piece of land with a common farming area and community areas. That would be my gift to those who seek that lifestyle but cannot afford to by land or a home of there own. :o)

  5. Emily says:

    Ye ruleth doth kingdom with an iron fist, sir

  6. Jeremy says:

    Can you tell me more about your insulation? I’m currently looking for a better solution for the inside of my Sprinter cargo van/ home. I’ve heard about Low-E and want to know about how to affix it to steel and or other options.

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