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Some Wise Men Versus the False Prophets of the RV Blogosphere

On one of the tabs at the top of the screen I take issue with the False Prophets of the RV blogosphere. (Must I take the time to point out that many bloggers, including myself, have flirted with asceticism; and it is the Idea, not somebody in particular, that I'm planning on having some tongue-in-cheek fun with.)

The world is divided into three camps on the issue of  'How much crap does a person need to own?' But most people close their minds to the topic. When they hear any criticism of Insatiable Consumption, as promoted in TV commercials, they probably take it as criticism aimed at them

But that makes no sense; they, as individuals, did not invent the consumer culture that we have. They, as individuals, were merely swept along in the rising trends, brought on by advertising and tax policies. So there's nothing personal in merely going along with the prevailing consumer culture.

But there could be something that dignifies the Individual when they rebel against this consumer culture. The question is what form that rebellion takes.

A rebel gets off on the wrong foot by thinking purely in terms of negation, downsizing, and pseudo-holiness. You aren't going to prove anything by trying to out-gandhi Gandhi. Nor is Margaret Bourke-White (looking like Candace Bergen in the movie version) going to come and take iconic photographs of you at your spinning wheel, for Life magazine. The copyright on this type of moral posturing has already been taken out. And yet the RV blogosphere is full of such poseurs.

The Buddha finally came to the conclusion that the 'middle way' was best. Aristotle preached the Golden Mean in his Nicomachean Ethics. St. Benedict replaced the ostentatious asceticism of the Desert Monks with his moderate and balanced Rule. Such men were wise, but vague, because they lived before the principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility was widespread. Thus we have an enormous potential advantage over the Wise Men of old, if only we would cash in on that potential. 

Charles Hugh Smith writes about this topic from time to time, and he did so again today. It fired me up.
To those with no shoes at all (a common enough occurrence in the 1930s Great Depression), the utility of one pair of shoes is extremely high: the utility (i.e. the benefits) resulting from owning that one pair of shoes is enormous.
The retailer attempting to persuade this consumer to buy a 25th pair of shoes must overcome the diminishing utility (i.e. marginal utility) of yet another pair of shoes. This is accomplished by offering a "deal you can't pass up" or appealing to the always pressing need to jettison last year's style in favor of this year's "new thing."
Here's the critical point of this dynamic: to the consumer who already owns so much stuff that he has to rent a storage facility to store all the surplus goods, the utility of any additional purchase is low. In practical terms, the utility has declined to the thrill of the initial purchase and the initial wearing/use of the new item. Beyond that, it's just another pair of shoes in the closet.
The $3,000 I could spend on a replacement bike for the perfectly serviceable bicycle I bought used 15 years ago for $150 is of marginal utility; the better-quality parts and lighter frame, etc.--all the benefits that would flow from spending $3,000 for a "better, more modern" bike are extremely marginal to me, even though I put well over 1,000 miles a year on my bike. All those improvements are too modest to matter.
Here is the real benefit of the RV Lifestyle: you have a chance to rebel against the Consumer Culture, but in a way that is constructive and rational, rather than ostentatious and sophomoric. Nobody is less helpful than those "documentary makers" who want to film people living in their vans, without toilets or showers, and brag them up as the new Gandhis. These frauds are just taking advantage of people's desire for '15 minutes of fame.'

Of course Gandhi-on-Wheels gets his compensation by visualizing Mobility as a consumer good and a status symbol, and then falling in love with the insatiability of mobility.  So it really is just a re-incarnation of the very thing he thinks he is rebelling against.


The term " recreational spending" applies to most things I see purchased these days. It is a severe disease I fight all the time and usually successfully.
Michael said…
Good topic...

One of the "dirty little secrets" of the prophets of mobile simple living is that many of them, including some with popular blogs, are receiving disability benefits...and they live primarily on this money. In such cases, it is not a sustainable lifestyle--it's a parasitic lifestyle...yet they generally do not mention that the average person will not have the income that enables their lifestyle and blog. They either state or imply that just taking to the road is not only a fine choice, but in psychological and moral terms, a better choice.

And the moral part is hard for me not to wince at. They (the specific bloggers I have in mind) are "disabled," unable to do work, and that's why their fellow citizens are giving them a monthly check. And, lest I be misunderstood, I'll stress that those who are truly disabled should be cared for.

Yet these "disabled" prophets and "role models for a more sustainable and moral lifestyle" are, heroically, sufficiently able-bodied to do everything from vehicle remodeling, to carpentry and solar panel installation, to driving cross-country, to going to Mexico for shopping and services, to motorcycle riding, to walking and hiking miles a day, to hosting a busy blog, to setting up and maintaining e-commerce operations, to writing e-books...and a good deal more. Some disabled. I guess they couldn't think of even one way to earn a living, so that their fellow citizens wouldn't have to support them.

Oh, and one fellow can't restrain himself from railing against the evils of civilization--all while sucking dishonestly off civilization's too-compassionate teat, and basing his lifestyle on machines she has invented and his travels on roads she has built and maintains, and being protected in his taxpayer-funded travels by police and military who are also organized and funded by "evil" civilization.

It turns out, then, that in many cases, the lifestyle, spartan as it may seem to some, is neither self-sustaining nor morally admirable.

Of course, there are the "work-campers" and others who do earn their own way--and the retired who have legitimately earned pension or social security retirement benefts. I'm not speaking of everyone, but rather of some high-profile bloggers...who, I think it not unreasonable to suspect, may be representative of a good percentage of the latter-day rolling pseudo-saints or beard-flying-in-the-wind pseudo-independent-prophets.

But, as the saying goes, other than that I have no strong feelings on the matter. :)

(Also, I am not referring to you, the host of this blog. I know nothing of your finances, but have had the impression that you're not living off of disability benefits while maintaining your active lifestyle.)
"Recreational spending." I've never heard that phrase before. I think I'll plagiarize you on that one!
Go for it. I learned it years ago as a major trouble for RV folks both financially and pounds toted in the rig.
Allison said…
Good term! We refer to it as entertainment shopping. Having reached that state where nothing can come in unless something goes out, we've had to develop new hobbies.
Jim and Gayle said…
Boonie, my three laptops, two smartphones and ipad wanted to let you know that their feelings aren't hurt.

As to Mr. Smith's comment regarding bicycles I heartily disagree. There is a point of diminishing return as you move up the cost chain but it is doubtful that he would not notice a benefit if he moved up. While I don't think he needs a $3,000 dollar bike good used bikes can be had for much less. He would likely benefit from improved operation of the newer components and likely lighter frame.

Of course, upwrong bicycles are machines built solely for torturing the human body, generally, that includes butt, wrists, and neck. This makes long rides an exercise in stoicism. Recumbent bicycles put a smile on the face that hasn't existed since childhood and enables one to ride distances unimaginable.

Regrettably, they don't make a good recumbent mountain bike and thus we suffer for the fun of the trail and downhills. In that case the fun outweighs the pain or has so far.

But really, all of this is irrelevant. We are and have been for decades a consumer based economic engine. Given that most people lead "lives of quiet desperation" don't begrudge us the small amusements and entertainment that many of us indulge in until we assume room temperature.

The closest I get to asceticism is being forced to go without internet for a day.
Well, 'where bloggers get their money' isn't the theme of this post, but I had fun reading your incisive comment. Maybe it should be the theme of a later post.
Sounds like defeatism to me. And defeatists are just one more example of False Prophets. (grin)
edlfrey said…
Here is a picture of one of those beard-flying-in-the-wind pseudo-independent-prophets - with his dog.
Michael said…
Boonie: Agreed that I didn't focus on the precise points of the post, but I was jumping off some of the key concepts in the post and its title: Concepts such as false prophets of the RV blogosphere, their pseudo-sainthood, and their forms of protest against society that are often at best dubious in their consistency or legality.

Also, my original comment doesn't limit itself to prophets living in RVs, but rather includes those living in vehicle living of all sorts.

And by all means, it would be nice to see your take, in a fuure post, on the considerations I was pointing whatever way they strike your fancy to pursue--whether the philosophical inconsistency, the questionable morality and possible fraud, etc.
Michael said…
I think this previous commentary applies to this post:

Humans are tool users. When you can visualize the tip of the brush or screwdriver in your hand you are mastering that tool. Neuroscience has shown that our mind sees a tool in our hand exactly the same way we see our hand itself. The first order of influence is the human brain. Comparing the visual patterns using fMRI of how our brains operate is a more accurate guide than adding other layers of abstraction like cost benefit analysis, spoken words or words written on paper that must be interpreted by long dead lawmakers under unknown influences.

Private property is necessary to protect where you put your tools. When you wake up in the morning you expect to know where your hand is and likewise the tools you use. Any use of private property beyond the necessary tool use to realize your God given gifts or other potential I think is greed.
Neil said…
FWIW, I decided to go fulltime, stealth, in a Sprinter custom conversion after my divorce and the recession took me out financially in 2009. It turns out to be one of the most fortunate occurrences since it dovetails with my simplicity bent, conservative finance habits, and general disillusion with working for 'the man'. I don't plan to ever live on land again since being looked at as homeless and crazy allowed me to gain a different perspective on many previous experiences. Invaluable! I enjoy your blog and especially because you're well read.