Be The Outsider

Years ago I engaged in a long usenet discussion with another gentleman on immigration, life in the third world, etc. After some back-and-forths, the gentleman proposed a scenario:

What would happen if the two of us were dropped, naked and with absolutely no way of calling for help, into the poorest and most desperate spot in India?

Would we stay there, living the rest of our lives as the locals do? And if not, why should we be able to extract ourselves while they could not?

We decided, quite quickly, that the first day or days would be unpleasant, but that we’d make our ways out of the situation in short order. The question then became, “What was it that would empower our self-extraction?”

More discussions ensued but it wasn’t hard to see that is wasn’t our better education that would ultimately stand behind it. In the end, we agreed that it came down to two things:

  1. We believed that we could and should live better than that.
  2. We had zero belief that this situation was in any way “ours.”

After still more reflection it became clear to me that #2 was the crucial point, and that believing we could do better would follow it closely, based merely upon self-reference.

That is, once you believe that, “I am in no way beholden to this situation,” believing that you can do better follows naturally.

Kirk, Spock And The Bible

Outsider images come from various sources, but one of the most widely recognizable, and one of my favorites for decades, has been Kirk and Spock, from the original Star Trek series.

When Kirk and Spock beamed down to an Earth-like planet (as they did fairly often), they displayed the outsider mindset: They were considerate of the people they found on these planets, but were perfectly clear that the rules they lived by were retrograde at best. That the locals took them seriously was an unfortunate relic of their ignorant past.

And very interestingly, we see precisely the same sentiment in the New Testament, coming from Saul of Tarsus (aka, Saint Paul). In about 54 AD, he wrote this to a small group of proto-Christians:

I (we) use this world while not abusing it.

That is the same as Kirk and Spock’s view, and it is a consummate outsider view, as well as a highly productive view. And notice that this viewpoint does not drive people to political solutions, and in fact drove Paul’s readers to separate from such things. “We are not of this world,” they would say… just as my correspondent and I would be saying in our “most desperate India” scenario.

Where The Cool Things Happen

Please believe me that the coolest things happen outside, and not within the hierarchies of the status quo. Trudging along in the middle of the crowd is a recipe for a boring life. (That includes getting drunk with the crowd, going on political rants your parents will hate, and other forms of merely reactionary rebellion.)

Outside is where personal computers came from. It’s where the Internet came from. It’s where Bitcoin came from. It’s also where Abraham, Jesus, Tesla, Einstein and a dozen other crucial people came from. Nearly everything cool comes from outside.

Inside is where cool things are corrupted, ultimately either fading away or being turned into tools of conformity and abuse.

Those of us who have seriously separated from the world in some significant way know the liberation that came from it. Those who have not should give it some thought.


Paul Rosenberg

3 thoughts on “Be The Outsider”

  1. Posted by PH via contact form:

    Loved this article I received today. It reminded me of the “clarity and presence of mind”. To keep it in the for front of my interactions. Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you. Loved “Kirk and Spock and the Bible” reference, and thank you for sharing this.

  2. I have always viewed myself as the outsider you describe, and I trace that directly back to my Christian upbringing. It’s becoming more acute these days, as I am striving to sever ties with the financial system entirely, trying to find a realistic way to live unbanked in North America and still be able to acquire resources necessary to my work of researching and developing efficient and sustainable paradigms for living a good life completely self-sufficiently. I am working on building water pumps, electrical systems, a datacenter, businesses, and will hopefully in the next year or so begin work in earnest on building a home for my family that embodies the principles of sustainable self-sufficiency. I’m still not sure how I’m going to do that completely unbanked… but I’m going to figure it out.

    Interestingly enough, years ago when I was younger, I considered exactly the question your friends did. If I were dropped naked and destitute in a “primitive” country, how would I fare? Would I assimilate or escape? I arrived at a similar conclusion, but since then I have also considered why people do not naturally do this? And the answer I always come up with is that they cannot — it isn’t solely a change of perspective that is necessary. People are “tied in” to their environments and circumstances. They cannot change perspectives to one who is free to leave without betraying their friends and families and dropping the many balls and spinning plates that we’re all so desperately trying to keep going so we and ours can cling on for one more day… and even if they were willing to cut all ties and walk away, leaving the social structures and relationships they had occupied to bleed out into the void they had left… that kind of change of perspective doesn’t happen in a day. People’s minds are so consumed with the trivial matters of survival, they don’t have the cognitive resources spare to look up and ahead, understand their environments and the causality of things, and chart a course to a better place. It takes time to do that, and most of the people I’ve lived alongside in my life don’t have the spare resources needed to be able to drop everything and coast on their savings long enough to do that. God arranged for me to be able to do that, and I did, and that is why I am doing what I am doing now, but nobody else I’ve ever met had that luxury.

    If I want to help these people, then, the only way I can do that is to engineer solutions to their problems. This world has “solutions” to people’s problems, the mundane matters and logistics of life… cleaning, eating, hydrating, washing, heating, cooling… but all of these “solutions” don’t actually take the problem away, they just recombine it into some other problem(s) somewhere else. I’m not convinced this is intentional, though in some instances I believe it is, but the simple reality that I see is, no one is willing to make and sell a solution that doesn’t make any new problem. Perhaps they just can’t figure out how.

    I am a software architect and engineer by training and by trade, but I’m also handy enough to make physical things, and I know how intractably complicated it gets to make even a simple new tool or machine. How expensive it gets, how discouraging it is, how hard it becomes to pick up that idea one more time and try to move it just a bit further when no matter what you try, nothing. ever. WORKS! I see the opportunities to compromise the design, to settle for less and make just another product that “works,” but not for long, and not that well, and makes a new problem rather than just finishing off the old one. Nevertheless, I believe it can be done, and I’m going to continue trying until it does work.

    And when that happens, I’ll give it away. The design, that is, and the instructions on how to make it. The source code. I’ll give it away. And for those who want a physical product, manufactured and assembled and ready to go (the binaries), I’ll charge a premium price in an honest money. And sadly, perhaps, most people will prefer to pay the premium price, but that’s fine by me; I’ll be quite pleased to charge them handily while I work out sustainable logistics for manufacturing and distribution.

    Meanwhile, if I am correct, these designs, carefully crafted and engineered to be reliable, durable, and complete so that they don’t create any new problems, but merely solve some old ones, will constitute a new class of better option for the world. An option that people will chose voluntarily, because it makes their difficult lives just a tiny bit easier. And that’ll be it. The end of it. Their life got a tiny bit easier. They get to the end of the month and have just a tiny bit left over. Except it never really ends there, does it? That tiny bit will accrete and accumulate over time, until they have enough to tackle one of those Problems that have been hanging over their heads for, oh, it’s probably been decades by now… We all have them. And if we could ever finally knock down one of those Problems, then maybe we’d finally have enough left over to be able to stop, to look up, to understand where we are and the causality of things, and chart ourselves a course to a better place.

    In this manner, I dream that I will one day succeed in building something, some product, maybe a water pump, or a coffee roaster… something mundane, something invisible. Maybe an app, or a decentralized software distribution network. But whatever, it is, it’ll solve someone’s problem without making a new one, so that over time, they’ll have just a little bit left over. I dream that as this effect spreads, it will become a creeping and pervasive wellness, an insinuating health that slowly but inexorably works its way deep underneath and through all of the corruption of our world and society and injects into it a seed of goodness that will grow and fester within that filth and rot it away from the inside out until the hollow husk of it collapses in on itself and all that is left is beauty and flourishing, everywhere we look.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep working on things that I think we all need, looking for ways to make them better, to complete them so that they give and do not take. I’ll do it because I want to see that world, where we do have enough, and not in some theoretical hypothetical sense, but in our hands and on our tables and throughout our cities and landscapes. I want to see what people make in a world like that.

    So when God gave me that opportunity, to stop, to look up, to understand the causality of things, and to decide where I wanted to go… I charted my course for there.

    Anchors aweigh.

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