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Finding your own freedom

By Claire Wolfe

 

Issue #93 • May/June, 2005

The letter to Backwoods Home pleaded:

I have long aspired to a simpler life in a quiet area where I may live as my forefathers did and support and sustain myself. I would like to buy a small farm where I could raise poultry and produce and network with like minded people for companionship and barter. The biggest question for me is the one I've never been able to glean an answer for from your publication: Where?

Where can a person go to escape the tyranny of overbearing government and brutal law enforcement? Where can a person experience the elusive liberty of days gone by? Where the hell is Hardyville anyway?

Where would someone begin researching "livability" of specific areas? I must get out of this vile, filthy, vermin ridden prison of a city within about 36 months. The farm is the ball and I have had my eye on it but the clock is ticking and I don't want to do this twice.

Signed, Miserable in Metropolis

This letter poses so many dilemmas that Dave and Company could devote multiple articles—maybe even entire issues—to finding answers.

Only one problem: After all those future issues of BHM had thundered off the presses, we'd still be waiting for a universally satisfactory solution to Miserable's puzzles.

As I interpret his letter, Miserable actually asks three very heavy questions. The answer to one is simple—but unsatisfying. The others we can ultimately only answer for ourselves.

The questions I hear are:


Dave Duffy began his simpler, more free life eight miles down a dirt road in Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains. (Issue #1) From there, he founded Backwoods Home Magazine. A freedom seeker with different needs might have said, "No thanks!" to the snow, the isolation, or Oregon's infamously strict environmental laws. But it worked for Dave and family.

1. How can I live as my forefathers did?

2. Where can I find the most livable geographic location?

3. Where can I live in freedom?

We can toss out question one right now. We can't live as our forefathers did. Even the Amish use cellphones and have to put up with the Internal Revenue Service. Even ardent backwoodsmen enjoy the benefits of power tools and suffer the nuisances of the welfare state.

We can recapture some of what we believe was pleasant about "the olden days." But the olden days were never as glorious as we imagine and we can't get them back.

The days of our forefathers imposed unimaginable work and hardship on most individuals. Those fondly imagined olden days had some very serious troubles: slavery and indentured servitude; the threat of terrible hunger after a bad harvest; war on the homefront; savage bosses, satanic factories, and seven-day work weeks; hellish penal colonies; malaria in the nation's capital; unwanted immigrants; poor sanitation and high infant mortality; women and children treated as chattel.

Gentlemen like Thomas Jefferson had leisure to ponder the great questions of life. The majority simply worked their tails off, hoped they'd have food on their tables, and died young.

For good or ill, our forefathers and their ways are dead. Try to resurrect the dead past and you know what you end up with? The cultural equivalent of a zombie flick.

Next question.

Where can I find the most livable geographic location?

This is a far more meaningful question and is in some ways right up BHM's alley. It's also a more challenging question.

I don't mean to sound glib, but you'll find the best answer to that question where you find it, not where anyone else may suggest you look.

As a perfect example of what I mean, take the Free State Project.

Please.

Seriously, the Free State Project (FSP) is the first place to turn if you're seeking a preassembled wealth of information about livable locations within the U.S. It's also the first place to turn for a vivid demonstration of why one person's heaven is another person's hellhole.

The FSP was born in 2001 in the mind of then-grad student Jason Sorens. His notion was that if 20,000 freedom activists moved to a single low-population state, those activists could change the state's culture and political climate.

Even if you have no interest in politics and no desire to relocate for political purposes, there's great information to be gleaned from the Free State Project's website. If you have no Internet access at home or work, book a computer at you local library. (See sidebar for more information on this and other relocation resources.)


Thermopolis, Wyoming, appeals to anyone who likes high, dry places, bubbling hot springs, and a blessedly laissez-faire attitude. (Issue number 85.) Wyoming is truly one of the nation's prime havens against high taxes and government brutality. Finding work can be tough, though. And when the cold wind howls, many newcomers want to run for "home."

Members of the FSP spent two years compiling their wealth of info. Then in the fall of 2003, they voted to select the one future State of the Free.

Prior to the vote, passionate advocates for each candidate state offered facts, figures, contacts, and the voice of experience to back their favorites.

They also argued endlessly and often acrimoniously.

The state eventually chosen was New Hampshire.

And today members and former members of the FSP are still arguing acrimoniously.

Let me give you an example of why the FSP couldn't determine the best "livable" spot for everybody, and why nobody else can do that, either.

It became obvious well before the vote that FSP partisanship was split between one eastern state (New Hampshire) and three western states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho).

The arguments on each side were varied. The following won't even try to do them justice. But ultimately the arguments could be summed up as a giant clash of values:

New Hampshire partisans: New Hampshire is near Boston where we can get jobs! There are too few jobs in the west!

Western partisans: Boston, with all its congestion, regulation, and taxation is a perfect example of what we want to get away from! Give us wide-open spaces and room to expand!

There was more, of course. Western partisans pointed to land as little as $500 per acre. Eastern partisans said $5,000 per acre and up was no big deal if the land was more fertile and had easier water sources.

Western partisans cried, "New Hampshire has lousy weather!" Eastern partisans rolled their eyes and groused, "Look at the pot calling the kettle black!"

So the arguments go to this very day.

No one can define "livability" for another person. But the facts others have discovered and the subjective reasons others have given for their choices can help you clarify—and move toward—your own goals.

For starters, I'll offer my own 10-Point Livability List by which I'd judge any small town or rural area. Your mileage will vary. My own mileage might vary, if I were to compose this list on another day. But here's what immediately rises to the top of my mind:

1. Low land cost

2. Low cost of living

3. Wide-open spaces with lots of room to roam

4. Beautiful surroundings

5. No huge metropolitan area that dominates the entire state's politics

6. A welcoming attitude toward polite strangers

7. Reasonable access to water for irrigation, animals, and drinking

8. A positive, laissez faire attitude toward guns and gun owners

9. Respect for privacy; lack of busybodies

10. The absolutely indefinable something that simply says, "You've found your home!"

It's perfectly possible that your list might not have a single element in common with mine.

It's perfectly possible that something as indefinable as a sense of "Home" could overrule every pragmatic consideration on your agenda.

That's life. It's an adventure.


Hearty adventurers like the Stram family find quiet, freedom, and opportunity in Thorne Bay, Alaska. (Issue number 84.) You might find your dreams in Alaska, too. But it's a sure bet that some BHM reader looks at a photo like this and says, "Give me sunshine!" or "Give me a shopping mall within driving distance!" Our concepts of livability are as varied as we are.

Of course, it's not always a pleasant adventure—which brings us to the next, and even more difficult, question.

Where can I live in freedom?

I realize that "Miserable's" three questions are ultimately bound up into one. Being free and living like his forefathers mean much the same thing to him. Therefore a livable location must also be one where freedom reigns.

Understandable.

Unfortunately, political freedom doesn't reign anywhere on earth. You can go to wide-open Wyoming and end up running afoul of bureaucrats. Randy and Vicki Weaver had one of the world's most horrible jackboot encounters high on a ridge in rural Idaho, in what they imagined to be splendid, self-sufficient isolation.

Given that all of us face limitations on our freedom, we have to choose the kind of freedoms that most matter to us (just as we must choose the elements that constitute "livability") and seek to maximize those freedoms in our lives.

Once again, one person's heaven may be another's hell.

Acquaintances of mine recently moved to a Central American country, praising it for being more free than the U.S. However, their report included a casual account of being stopped at a checkpoint in the middle of that nation and forced to show their "papers, please!"

To them it was no big deal. Me, I crossed that country straight off my list.

Other acquaintances have "gone ex-pat" on Caribbean islands, in Mexico, in other Central American countries, in Asia, and in Canada. They call out to their stateside friends, "Move here! Be free!"

I ask, "Can I bring my guns?"

And they respond, "Well, no."

Or they respond, "It's easy. All you have to do is a apply for a permit and fill out form XYZ ..."

Or they respond, "Just smuggle 'em in and bribe the customs officials. That's the way it's done around here!"

And I say, "No way. I ain't goin' from a place where I can own firearms in complete privacy to a place where gun owners are either permission-seekers or criminals."

Those offshore friends think I'm less free than they. And I think they're fooling themselves. And on it goes.

Although pure political freedom doesn't exist anywhere on the planet, there is one place where we can seek and find our personal maximum degree of freedom—in our own attitudes and actions.

And I hate to tell you, "Miserable in Metropolis," but I don't think you're going to find freedom.

"Miserable," this stab of the reality needle isn't just meant for you. Your plea is one I've heard before—a hundred times. Maybe a thousand. I expect that Dave has also received hundreds of letters like yours.

Most freedom lovers understand and share the anguish of your cry for liberty, a peaceful life, and simple values.

If I'm going to jab you now, it's a jab I've even had to administer to myself at times.

Go back to the top and look at "Miserable's" letter. When I do that, several huge "reality gaps" gape before my eyes.

  • "Miserable" wants desperately to be out of the city in 36 months and hasn't even begun researching yet.
  • Instead of going to the library or the Internet, he passively awaits answers from an outside party.
  • He believes freedom should be obtainable simply by going somewhere other than where his is now.
  • Even after reading BHM, he still has one very starry-eyed vision about country life. A few chickens, a little barter, guaranteed neighborly neighbors and—bingo!—you're a Jeffersonian yeoman farmer, living the self-sufficient life according to the values of yore.

The major reason we've lost freedom is that millions of people sit idly by, trusting others to provide or protect their freedom. Almost nobody admits to being against freedom. They just don't care enough to do anything about keeping it.

Then it's lost and even sincere, hard-working freedom lovers don't know where to turn.

But how hard has Miserable in Metropolis been working toward any of his desperately professed goals?

There's no clue in his letter. The desperation and passivity say he's probably envisioning himself to be in a deep hole. Instead of trying to climb out, he's sitting in the pit crying for someone else to lift him.

But freedom doesn't arrive like an ambulance or a firetruck to save us. It doesn't get delivered to our doors in pink ribbons. Nor can we find it simply by renting a moving van.

Same with self-sufficiency. It amazes me how many people claim a desire for self-sufficiency—when they don't seek to be sufficient within themselves.

Backwoods Home gives volumes of information on everything from honeybees to firearms. It can certainly offer both encouragement and tools to sad city dwellers wanting out. It can help country people be more happy and successful.

But—DUH!—self-sufficiency is a do-it-yourself project!

It's a lifelong do-it-yourself project. Ceaseless work from now until your personal doomsday.

And so is freedom.


Dorothy Ainsworth built her economic freedom, literally, with the incredible determination it took to design and build her vertical-log home—then built it all over again when it burned down. (Issue numbers 27, 38, 50, and 86.) Claire Wolfe admires Dorothy Ainsworth from afar—while finding her own freedom in a tiny cabin on which she did only the "lite" finishing work. Each woman made the decision that was right for her at her point in life; neither would say that her solution was the only one for everybody.

If you don't think and act like a free person, then you'll be unfree wherever you go.

If you do think and act like a free person, you'll always find a degree of personal empowerment even if your home is a prison cell.

Being free means not only taking responsibility for our own choices. It means taking initiative so that we have choices.

It means we figure out what we want in life, then begin actively heading in that direction.

It means when we run into an obstacle we figure a way around it or we change our course. But we don't just shrug and wait for a bailout.

Sure, ask for a helping hand along the way. But don't expect others' hands, or weary backs, to haul you the whole distance.

One familiar obstacle every freedom lover has smacked into at one time or another is that the life we desire is so far from the life we have. Worse, what we want is far from any life that even seems possible to attain. Our ideals glow on the horizon—but the horizon always remains distant.

Miserable's dilemma seems to be a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

If you'll settle for nothing less than total gloriousness, delivered to you wrapped in the aforementioned pink ribbons, you're already lost. Enjoy those city vermin. Because either you'll never get out of the slums or you'll dash out to the country unprepared and end up running back to the comforts of shopping malls and cable TV within six months, disillusioned and probably broke.

If you must have total freedom or nothing...you'll end up with nothing.

Here's a plan for achieving our own best possible degree of both freedom and country livability. It's not a plan for achieving perfection, but it is a plan that can help us pull ourselves out of a pit of despair and into a better, freer life.

  • Read Harry Browne's book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Although written approximately 30 years ago, there is still no better resource to help you begin your journey. Browne helps us recognize the many false assumptions that keep us from moving toward a better life. Get it. Study it. Make its attitude your own.
  • Know what you want.
  • Set realistic priorities and deadlines for moving toward your dream, recognizing your limited amount of time, money, skills, and the restrictions of the outside world.
  • Research. Consider the costs, the benefits, and drawbacks of every backwoods or small town location that interests you.
  • Adjust your goal if necessary.
  • Visit the places that interest you and talk with people there. Spend as much time as you can in your chosen locations.
  • And again, adjust your goal if need be as new data and new impressions come in.
  • Don't reject a location because it doesn't have perfect freedom; no place has perfect freedom. Find a place that's got the best laws and least oppressive law enforcement you can. A place where you can reasonably expect people to mind their business as long as you mind yours.

On the other hand, don't ignore your "spidey-sense." If you perceive anything importantly wrong about a place you visit, you'll really, really, really perceive that wrongness after you move there.

  • Once you've chosen your location, then choose your specific land or home with equal care. (See sidebar.)
  • Then when you run into problems—as you absolutely, guaranteed, 100 percent will—be prepared to adjust again. And keep on keeping on.

Finally, as rural freedom seekers have already figured, one of our jobs in a free, self-sufficient life is to give as much assistance to others as we get.

Read BHM and glean what you can from its pages. But what you find here is a friendly hand to help you along your own chosen—and hard-earned—way.

Find data for planning a move—on and off the Internet

The Internet is the best place to begin any search for relocation information. You'll have easy access to an abundance of statistical data. But even better, a few clicks of a mouse will also take you to photographs, discussion forums, real-estate agencies, state law codes, local business directories, and online visitor centers. It's really the way to go.

If you have no Net access, your local library almost certainly has Net-capable computers you can use.

One of the best sources of data for people who are specifically seeking freedom in their new home is the Free State Project.

Go to www.freestateproject.org/. Click on "Site Index." Then head for "Archives—State Data" and "Archives—State Reports." You'll be busy for many days and you might just get a lead to your dream haven.

This data focuses specifically on a double handful of low-population states. But even if you're not interested in those states, the data can lead you to other sources of information and can help you set your own priorities for selecting a future location.

If you're uneasy on the Net, then your library is still the place to begin. Ask the librarian to show you publications like these:

  • The Statistical Abstract of the United States—A very dry, but comprehensive publication that describes the population, education, geography, economy, job picture, and other detailed characteristics of every region of the country. The Abstract also contains a list of other useful sources of information. (The complete Abstract is also online at http://www.census.gov/statab/www/)
  • USA Counties—Another Census Bureau publication focusing on county data. This is available in both book and CD-ROM form. The CD will let you easily compare counties.
  • "Best places" publications. Several magazines and organizations periodically name "best places" to live in the United States. Keep in mind that these usually focus on cities. Also remember that what's "best" for your neighbor might be pure awfulness to you. Nevertheless, these surveys can give you factual data that might lead you to the best rural area or small town near one of these "bests."
  • Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country by Les and Carol Scher. BHM has called this the "bible" of locating and buying rural land. What more can anyone say?
  • And finally, don't forget How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. Every freedom seeker should have it nearby at the beginning of the journey.



Read More by Claire Wolfe

Read Claire Wolfe's Blog

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