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Gulching: Yes, You
Really Can Herd Cats

By Claire Wolfe

May 15, 2004

So here Nat and I sit by the side of the road. A delegation from the Chamber of Commerce just came out and asked us to quit shooting at the tourists. Besides, it got a little too interesting when some of the tourists started shooting back. But what else is there to do on the outskirts of Hardyville on a slow day?

Nat picks up a beer and tilts an eyebrow in my direction.

"No thanks," I say. "That stuff tastes like moose drool."

Nat shrugs and chugs.

Nat Lyons

"So Nat, you were saying something about gulches not having to be what everybody thinks gulches have to be. What do you mean?"

He sits, scratches his chin, thinks, spits. "Well now, why's anybody gulch?" he finally asks.

"To hide out. Stay safe. Stay free. Be reasonably self-sufficient as a community. Bring freedom back to the world when the world is ready for it."

"Yeah. Except you're all libbetarians."

"And constitutional conservatives. And anarchists. And classical liberals ..."

"Right. Meanin' none of yer gulchers can put up with each other for two minutes altogether."

I nod sadly. Individualists are famously unherdable cats.

"That's good," says Nat.

"Good? I've heard our inability to organize called a lot of things. Pain in the backside, mostly. But never good."

"Nope. It's good."

"Why?"

"Think on it yourself."

I think on it myself while Nat polishes off the can of beer.

"Because if you gather a lot of us all together in one community, we're likely to get Wacoized?" I venture.

Claire Wolfe

"There's that," Nat nods.

"And because trying to get everybody behind one big, central plan kinda misses the point of freedom, anyway."

"That, yeah." Nat plucked another beer and waited.

"And because no one community could really manage to be self-supporting. Or have enough work. Or enough services. Or could manage to hide from Big Brother in this day and age."

Nat nods.

"So what do we do instead?"

Nat pulls a grubby pencil stub out of the pocket of his Carhartts and draws a diagram on the wood of the shooting bench where we sit.

"This here's the Freedom-Bar-None Ranch," he says, pointing. "Over here... town. Call it Libertyville. Here ... big city. Govopolis."

He continues, pointing back at the ranch again. "Now, Les and Betsy Spooner own the Bar-None spread. But right near it ...." dot, dot, dot goes Nat's pencil stub, all around the borders of the ranch, "there's this recreation development. Forty acre 'ranchettes.' No utilities. Cheap. Middle of noplace. EZ terms. Real pretty. Good dirt."

"Every state in the west has something like that," I agree. "Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico, for sure."

"So next thing you know, Les' drinkin' buddy and Betsy's best friend and her cousin and his shootin' instructor each buy some of them ranchettes. For vacation, you know. Only costs 'em a thousand or two to get started buyin' in. Real good investment."

"And each one owns his own place. No communalism," I say. "And nobody trying to build a gulch for a profit, which makes people suspicious."

"Right. But there they are, maybe sharin' some wells, raisin' some food. More honey or goat milk or beef or rutabagas than they need. Ready to trade."

"Rutabagas?"

"Well, then popcorn. Growin' hemp. I don't care. Meantime, over here in Libertyville, the Paine family and the Henry clan and the Crocketts have all moved in and started up little businesses. Writin' software. Crackin' people's backs if one's a chiropractor. Sellin' homemade dried foods. You name it."

"And I'll bet," I add, "that they don't come crashing into town making a big stink about taking over the government or changing the local culture."

"Right. Nice quiet people. Mebbe one runs for city hall like a real civic-minded citizen, but mostly they're just there because they like small towns. Funny thing that they all happen to know each other. Or maybe even be related."

"So they've all gotten out of Govopolis ..." I suggest.

"Nope. Not everybody." Point, point. "There sits old Sam L. Adams, right in the middle of Govopolis. He's not the kind of guy wants to be out usin' an outhouse or havin' close encounters with bugs an' worms. He's the kind guy who's gotta be connected to a 'lectrical outlet 24 hours a day. He just stays home and lives the kind o' life he likes. Travels a bit, sometimes. Funny thing, though. His specialty is settin' up communications networks."

"But the good thing is," I say, getting it, "all these people are doing what they want. And at most they've found five or six or 10 other families who like the same places they like."

"Right."

"But ... then what? I mean, five or six here, two or three there. What can they accomplish?"

Point. "Ask Sam L. Adams. Or Bob-the-Nerd."

"You mean they network?"

"Bingo."

"Ohhh... So each little group has its own secure communications network. Out there at the ranchettes, maybe they've even got underground utility tunnels and shielded computer systems."

"Mebbe."

"And they gradually link with other groups, using stuff like Freenet and the old FidoNet. On FidoNet, you can just be a 'node' and nobody even has to know where you are."

"You're over my head," says Nat. "They can also drive. Or send letters. Or leave messages at drop points. And they can arrange to trade. But nobody outside the system even knows the gulches are there. And even the people in the gulches don't always have to know where all the other gulches are."

"Good security if they don't know. You just know that Gulch A has apples to trade. And Gulch B has a well driller for hire. And Gulch C has a webmaster who works real cheap if you pay him in gold."

"... And Gulch D has a doctor. And Gulch E's got a lawyer. And Gulch F's got an Indian chief who holds sacred ceremonies."

We sit and think about that a while. The highway stretches out before us, empty as the sky.

"Sometimes the gulches have to know where the others are," I finally say. "Some things can only be done in person, on site."

"Sometimes," Nat admitted. "Need to know basis."

"But mostly they can make connections anonymously. Or on neutral ground. And gradually, as the network gets big enough, they can start developing a whole alternative free-market society ... maybe even with its own metal-based money, banking, employment, medical care, shipping systems ... everything."

"Risky," observes Nat. "Gummint's don't like the competition."

"Risky," I agree. "But no Wacos. 'Cause there's nothing to Waco. No compounds. And no paper trail. Not even an e-trail if people are careful. Set up anonymous communications or a cells-of-three system ..."

"Leaderless resistance," Nat nods. "That old bigot Beam was right about one thing."

"Hey, we can resist without resisting," I grin.

"Hide in plain sight."

"Gulch without gulching. No timeline, no mass movement, no big project. Just individuals and small groups making natural connections - and setting up free institutions to replace all the corrupt, controlled Big Brother ones.

"Not perfect," concludes Nat.

"What community ever is?" I ask. "But somehow, though every sort of trouble and chaos, communities still survive ... as long as people need each other. Hey, maybe you really can herd cats - just as long as you let the cats go where they want and you're not too fussy about whether they all go in the same direction at the same time."

If you think gulching is a good idea, head on over to target="_blank">the gulching gathering at The Claire Files forums. The folks there won't shoot at you. They'll just share ideas and tips that go way beyond what I could cover in two short columns.




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