Mac And Jack: Roughing It In The Sandwich Islands
By Guy R. McPherson
26 June, 2010
I’m just back at the mud hut after a too-short trip to the big island of Hawaii, where I visited a former student from the University of Arizona honors program. James was visiting Zimbabwe when the economy there headed south in a hurry, as I described here and here. We discussed his interest in ramping up the durable set of living arrangements at the off-grid property he occupies in Hawaii’s vog zone (at 1,000 feet elevation, where fog mixes with volcanic steam and ejecta).
Before I boarded the plane for my Hawaiian adventure, James sent this line for my consideration (from Bruce Chatwin’s book, The Songlines): “Army, any professional army or war department, is, without knowing it, a tribe of the surrogate nomads, which has grown inside the State; which preys off the State; without whom the State would crumble; yet whose restlessness is, finally, destructive of the State in that, like gadflies, they are forever trying to goad it into action.”
We discussed the line, which is self-evident and particularly applicable to innumerable ongoing misadventures of the U.S. military, between bouts of consumption of macadamia nuts and several other foods growing on the property: mango, papaya, avocado, citrus. We also snorkeled each day, and hiked into a remote black-sand beach half the days. The proximity to the bounty of the sea, the moderate temperatures, and food that grows on trees are among the reasons I prefer Hawaii as a post-carbon landing pad. James is wise in many ways, including his location.
The other big event of the trip, besides mac nuts and exercise on land and sea: Jack Daniels. Just as Mark Twain describes in the book from which my subtitle is taken, there are worse habits than alcohol. I’m hardly in the habitual stage yet, but I did imbibe for the first time in 3 years (and the second time in 32 years, an acceleration approximating the ongoing economic collapse).
But I digress. Or perhaps consumption is the primary point, as it’s been in the industrialized world for decades.
Consistent with James’ thoughtfulness, a single sheet of paper greeted me as I entered the bungalow on the property that was to become my home for five beautiful days. Above the words, “Welcome to Hawaii,” was a hand-transcribed paragraph from Chatwin’s book: “As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less aggressive than sedentary ones. There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a leveler on which the fit survive and stragglers fall by the wayside. The journey pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The dictators of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the gentlemen of the road.”
I greatly enjoyed the company of James and his main squeeze Vida because they readily mix discussion of important issues with light-hearted banter. They are among the few twenty-somethings I’ve met who understand the industrial economy is in the midst of its terminal decline, and who also recognize the coming post-industrial Stone Age as good news for the living planet, including our own species. They can laugh in a sea of plenty as well as in a tornado of chaotic contraction. They’ve both traveled widely enough to know there are ways of living unfamiliar to most Americans, and that wealth is measured not in fiat currency but in relationships rooted in life experiences. They aptly fit a line I use often when I speak or write: “If you cannot laugh at yourself, and you cannot laugh at the apocalypse, then you’ve got dark days ahead. If you can laugh at yourself, and you can laugh at the apocalypse, then you’ll never run out of material.”
Mac and Jack, shared with bright, articulate people willing and able to discuss important issues of the day and intermixed with daily physical activity. Is there a better way to live? If so, where can I find it?
Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona 85721