Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alaska the model

Ultimate Survival Alaska, a National Geographic channel show now in its second season, looks promising. Episodes and clips can be watched on the NatGeo youtube channel. So far (based on 10 minutes of the 1st episode of season one), the show doesn't appear to be tricked up with petty games and interpersonal conflicts for stupid drama. The deeper value of the show is showing, through the medium of survival experts banding together in wild Alaska, a varied social mixing of positive masculinity distilled from modern civilization. Update: In Episode 4, Sink or Swim, Marty hits a rock in a river while pack-rafting, gets dumped and loses his raft with his rucksack holding all his supplies. It's a reminder to always wear a buttpack or LBV with minimum emergency survival gear, just in case. For that matter, stash some survival items in jacket, shirt, pants, and shoes pockets, too. Remember the 5 Cs: cut, cordage, cover, container, combustion. Add whatever else, like a multi-tool (which should be on your belt, anyway), fishing gear, sat-phone, compass, 1st aid kit, eyeglasses, and whatever else you need or can help in an emergency that fits on your person. Cool (but bulky) Willi magical pack item: pressure-cooker for the campfire. Update2: Cool Willi magical pack item: survival candle in place of tinder. The show is like an eco-tourism advertisement for Alaska. It seems partially scripted and staged for effect, which is fine as long as it's educational on survival techniques and doesn't tip over into caricature. The matches limit is pointless given most, if not all, of the participants are equipped with magnesium flint-style, sparking firestarters. Update: Season 2 episodes have more of a staged feel that tips over into caricature. The show should copy the Amazing Race formula.

Life Below Zero is another National Geographic reality show set in Alaska. This series features 3 MGTOWs, 2 of whom are married, and 1 WGTOW. I'm undecided whether they're role models or cautionary tales; I'll accept that they're both, both sides of the MGTOW coin. I envy their lifestyle. Subsistence from living off the land is the constant theme for Chip and Erik, who turns into Glenn in the 2nd season. Sue's constant theme is her fight to the death with her environment, which contrasts with the rest of the cast who talk more about working with the environment, though Sue also hunts for meat to eat. Chip says everything in his life, including community and family relationships, revolves around acquiring food. Andy's wife Kate is good. Chip won the lottery with his wife Agnes.

Verb: To MacGyver. Definition: Adapt and overcome with an improvised mechanical solution with resources at hand, Alaska style. Gerund: MacGyvering. Etymology: The 1980s TV show. Synonyms: Jury-rig, Field expedient solution. It's a good word.

There's a fully integrated gun culture in Alaska. The NatGeo Alaska reality shows reminded me that my M16A2 was zeroed at 9 clicks down on the front sight post and the rear sight aperture centered. I think I could be a decent hunter as far as the shooting part. As a soldier, if I could aim at it, I could hit it. My relative weaknesses on the pop-up target range were rapid target acquisition and transitioning, which don't seem to be primary skills for hunting.

The trend of reality shows in Alaska plugs into alienation in modern culture and the aversion to the current insecurity and fraying of society. The Alaskan lifestyle represents an escape from modern social pathologies and a restoration of a simpler yet stronger traditional social culture. Or, for tribeless loners, Alaska offers a promise for an opportunity to realize the ideal of a Nietzschean hermitage. There, honor can be reclaimed from socially derived manipulation and restored to self-derived truth.

Subsistence living in Alaska is a logical destination for the unplugging from the Matrix and individual-conscious truth-seeking of MGTOW. The subsistence lifestyle depicted in Life Below Zero seems healthier environmentally, biologically, sociologically, and psychologically than the modern lifestyle. As Ray Mears warned with the Pemon matriarch's account of her tribe's exchange of traditional subsistence for modern convenience, assimilating into modern society is truly a Faustian bargain. The social culture of the Pemon is being steadily replaced because they accepted plastic baskets, tin pots, matches, and the government school.

Modern society offers to meet the urgent physiological and safety requirements at the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. With the vulnerabilities of self and loved ones in mind, it's a deal that can't be refused. The modern promise is that guaranteeing an individual's basic needs in a Hobbesian world will enable him to seek the self-actualization higher up on Maslow's pyramid. But it's not that simple. There are individual and social, psychological and biological costs hidden in the upfront price. Men discover their solidarity, masculine souls, and the souls of their heirs have been traded away along with their traditions, self-reliance, and independence. Anomie results.

Nonetheless, the Faustian bargain is a real exchange of vital considerations. In contrast, as depicted in Life Below Zero, the deterrents and risk/reward and cost/benefit trade-offs in subsistence living are stark. Like Cypher in The Matrix, making the Faustian bargain may well be the rational decision even when aware of the costs. Subsistence, which has roots in our hunter-gatherer past, is a constantly uncertain and risky life with a bare safety margin that requires physical and mental fitness, continual hard work, risk-taking, and a wide range of refined skills to maintain. The Chris "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless story is a cautionary tale about going to the Alaska wilderness to live as a Nietzschean hermit who is spiritually certain but technically unready.

Totally unplugging from the Matrix seems impossible. Even in the functioning subsistence portrayed in Life Below Zero by hardy people who have chosen to separate from modern society as much as they can, connections with modern society remain intact. They still need money for goods and services. They still need to make a living through some connection with modern society. The Hailstones have made a conscious choice to indoctrinate their children in a traditional tribal culture, a self-reliant ethos, and a subsistence lifestyle, yet they sell crafts made from what they catch, rely on modern tools, and send their children to school, albeit a local school that incorporates traditional practices. Sue, Erik, and the Bassiches run customer-based businesses. Except for Glenn and maybe Erik, the cast use computers and the internet in their daily lives. Glenn and Erik use computers and the internet at least part of the year.

Solitary homesteader Glenn comes closest to the ideal of a Nietzschean hermit. It's unclear how or if he makes money. He is described as a "purist" who eschews electrical modern conveniences. Yet Glenn is shown using a number of manufactured items. In the final episode of Season 2 and follow-up comments on Facebook, Glenn informed that in summertime, when subsisting in the bush is the most difficult, he usually lives with friends and family in Fairbanks, Alaska. Even the ultra-capable Dick Proenneke of Alone in the Wilderness relied on critical resources drawn from modern society. In Les Stroud's documentary, Snowshoes and Solitude, about his honeymoon with his ex-wife, Sue, he says they had planned to live primitively with no metals, plastics, or anything made with modern methods. Yet they eventually compromised and used a machined axe, saw, and even a field stove. In their year in the bush, they also received several visits that brought supplies and flew out for family and medical emergencies.

It seems the practical MGTOW solution cannot work as a categorical rejection of modern society. Rather, a MGTOW critically interrogates the social contract to suss out the Faustian pitfalls. A MGTOW then renegotiates the parameters of cost/benefit and risk/reward in the social contract so that basic physiological and safety needs are still met but met in a manner that fosters his masculine spirit rather than represses it.

And that manner is . . . I don't know yet. Can MGTOW be achieved while fully immersed and plugged into the Matrix or does MGTOW require a physical relocation to an environment like Alaska? I don't know yet.

Idealized MGTOW evokes a rejection of modern society, but practical MGTOW is a compromise. It's up to each man to renegotiate his own bargain with modern society. If and when he does so, he must be ready, by his own devices and/or by his tribe's devices, to compensate for the loss of those modern conveniences he will no longer purchase. At minimum, a MGTOW must become mentally and physically fit, self-aware, true, self-reliant, and independent. Therein lies the way to masculine spiritual fitness and freedom.

Good-bye, 2013.

Eric

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