“Be the change”….but do it soon.

The quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”, was attributed to Mahatma Gandhi….some would say falsely. It appears that the closest he came to saying these words, or something along their lines, was: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”.

The actual phrase may have been said much later – in 1970 – well after Gandhi’s death, by New Age Teacher Arleen Lorrance, who taught at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. The concept of “be the change you wish to see in the world,” began in a report about The Love Project written by Ms. Lorrance, and published in an education reform text. But this doesn’t detract from the sentiment of the phrase, no matter who said it.

Henry David Thoreau, he of Walden fame, said something similar earlier still than Gandhi, when he said Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around. Actually, Thoreau had a great belief system and came up with some very worthy and notable quotations. He could certainly see through the veil of crap that that the political and the industrial systems put up between them and the public to keep the citizens in the dark, meekly following on as they are told. As follows…..

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.

There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.

Thoreau died in 1862, well before the Wright Brothers first flight, but even back then he could see the amount of destruction that mankind could inflict on the earth. Of course since the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s our rate of destruction has ramped up to a terrifying level. Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, which he wrote in a basic cabin beside Walden Pond in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. He is also known for his essay “Civil Disobedience”, an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. In which he encourages the people to stand up to the state machine, which has since morphed into our consumer driven system, that seems hell bent on destroying nature and our relationship with the earth and each other.

His banner….his writing legacy that is… about us being one with nature, of us protecting nature and ourselves as a part of nature, rather than being apart from nature…..has been taken up by other writers of the present day such as – Wendell Erdman Berry, an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer – Mark Boyle, a.k.a. The Moneyless Man, an Irish activist and writer best known for founding the online Freeconomy Community – Paul Kingsnorth, an English writer and thinker. Former deputy-editor of The Ecologist and a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project.

All of the above writers are inspirational in their regard for protecting nature….for natures sake, not just because someone has placed a monetary value on nature. Please read them, become inspired by them, and become part of the solution, not part of the problem that we face today, as we continue to allow “the system” to rape and pillage nature. Sometimes, “the Law” won’t protect that which needs to be protected, because the people who make the laws are the ones doing the plundering….or benefiting financially from those who do the plundering. I’ll leave you with one last quote. This time from Earth Liberation Front spokesperson Leslie James Pickering, who said:

…..the vast majority of efforts made in the name of environmentalism are done so through state-sanctioned means to social change. But when the system itself is precisely what is enabling and promoting oppression, how is it logical to expect that same system to provide avenues toward liberation?

In other words, the answer to our environmental/climate problem are not going to come from the same source as those who support the industries and ways of life that are causing the problem. Government and the corporate world are not going to make changes unless forced to do so.

Please look into what Paul Kingsnorth, Mark Boyle and the Earth Liberation Front think are the answers.

Walden on Wheels – by Ken Ilgunas

The basic outline of the book is that Ken Ilgunas has racked up $32,000 in debt thanks to a student loan. It’s really all he has to show for four years at the University of Buffalo where he graduated with his degree only to find that it wouldn’t get him more than a minimum wage job.


Inspired by the frugal lifestyle in the book Walden by his hero Henry David Thoreau – who takes a year or two off from the real world to live in a cabin in the woods and commune with nature – Ken sets out to eliminate his debt as quickly as possible, even if it means taking on some of the worst jobs on offer in the most inhospitable conditions. Oddly enough, he thrives in desperate circumstances in Alaska and after three years is debt free.

Although it had been the “cost of education” that got him into debt in the first place, he then enrolled in a Masters programme at Duke University, determined not to incur any more debt. He buys an old Econoline van in dubious condition which is to become not only his transport, but also his home. Hence the title of the book. The van is his “Walden on Wheels”.

I picked this book up at the local library thinking it may be interesting enough to read. It was more than that. I was completely hooked by Ken’s story and by his life changing social experiment. It all started with a whisper – seemingly from nowhere and from no-one – a whisper that simply said “Go for it”. And he certainly does go for it. He suffers hardship and solitude, but comes out of it all a better man – and works out what is most important in life. Read the book to find out. There is a spoiler at the end of this post – be warned.

The book takes a look at the way we live and why we live the way we live and examines our apparent obsession with attracting debt. Our lives are more about wants than about needs and therefore we (gladly??) enslave ourselves to the system. Most people these days start their true adult lives with the weight of a student loan around their necks – so need to get a job. Then they want a car to get to the job and a nice house, so go into further debt….furnishings for the house, taxes, costs for power, internet, water, running costs for the car….more debt. If we have things to pay for we have debt and so need a job. Debt gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, but it also limits your options. Ken Ilgunas came to realise this very early on and went all out to give himself a good life without debt. It didn’t have to mean austerity. There was no need to go to the extremes that Thoreau did – refusing a gift of a mat for the door of his cabin to wipe his feet on – “It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil” – who equated even the most basic “comforts” as the evils of the modern world. Ilgunas looked upon this as “unflinching unreasonableness, a rigid ideology, a foolish dogma“.  He thought that it was OK to want things and to accept a true gift (as in one that is given and accepted with no strings attached). But, as far as the wants went,  to not get caught in the “it would be nice” trap….as in “it would be nice to have a new car….an inground pool etc”. Therefore getting sucked back into the world of debt. Buy only what you can afford to pay cash for – became his main rule in life.

He came to the conclusion that being out of debt gave him freedom. “Freedom didn’t have to be about tramping around or having adventures; freedom was simply being able to entertain the prospect of changing your circumstances”.

He also came to the conclusion that he wanted to be a better person, not just for himself, but to be a benefit to society and to the earth – not a burden – and to live a life worth living, which is why he decided to go back to full time education to get his Masters in the Liberal Arts. About which he said “…the nature of a liberal education – the lectures, the discussions, the writings – tends to bring far away subjects closer to home. Some call the liberal arts self-indulgent and impractical without realising that the classics, the social sciences, the humanities are fertilizers for democracy, and when the arts are scattered onto college campuses, they create a healthy soil into which students can plant themselves and grow into empathetic, introspective and conscientious citizens”. 

The main part of the book – the Walden on Wheels part – covers how he managed to get his education without falling into debt – and the trials and tribulations involved. So as not to be a complete spoiler – I’ll leave that for you to read.

Once he had his financial freedom, he didn’t want to get trapped into doing a job that had no soul and was of no real benefit to himself or to others – other than for the amassing of dollars. And he didn’t want to get turned into just another drone – someone who thinks that doing their job well is equal to living their life well. He uses the example of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi leader who organized the murders of millions of Jewish people – not because he was at his core an evil person who subscribed to the Nazi ideology – but because he was a man of little character, a bureaucrat who followed orders. He did his job well but not to the benefit of his inner self nor society as a whole.

After Ilgunas gained his Masters degree he was puzzling over what to do next. On the one hand the Walden experiment was over and had helped him to achieve the outcome that he wanted – further education without debt – but was he absolutely ready to give up that way of life? Even as he began to puzzle over the thought that despite his masters degree he may struggle to find employment that pays more than minumum wage, he is offered a job at a magazine publisher, on the strenght of his published article about van-dwelling, which has a very good wage and would allow him all the creature comforts – the apartment, the furnishings, health insurance…..the whole “cappuccino lifestyle”. BUT a condition of the job offer was that it tied him to the company for three years minimum.


He turns down the job, packs his backpack and heads back to Alaska where he lives frugally and writes his book.

So….the messages of the book are….if we fall into debt, we become a slave to the system…freedom is both a state of mind and being in a position to have options to make changes…..and finally…. if you are not passionate about your job – it’s the wrong job. Do something else. Life is short….life is for living and enjoying….not slavery / servitude.

I found it interesting that although he was educated by Duke University in the Liberal Arts – which encourages an open minded state, and that he was both encouraged by his professor to get an article published about his van dwelling lifestyle AND asked to make a speech to the masses on graduation day – the university faculty couldn’t get their heads around his “alternative lifestyle” and so offered him “guidance and counseling”. Giving the impression that if you don’t conform, you’re a freak and need help.

So who is mad and who is sane – the ones who conform and live humdrum lives amassing possessions that they don’t really need, attracting debt, doing unfulfilling jobs to pay for the things they don’t need and isolating themselves in ivory towers with all their gadgets – or the van dwelling freedom seekers who live life with a passion, are beholding to no one, yet understand the value of community?

I’d encourage anyone to read the book and I would love to know your opinions……