The legendary Paskowtiz surfing family, circa 1976. All 9 childern were raised and homeschooled in this camper by parents Doc and Juliette (at left)
Family photo

The conditions of modern life — at least in the US, at least in San Francisco, at least for me — have become untenable. Or, to use a much used phrase, unsustainable: the demands of life are eliminating life. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the shortsighted consumption of fossil fuels — and the general pillaging of the planet — is not the primary resource that’s running dry: it’s human vitality.

But rather than enumerate the ills once again, I thought I’d give the question of resistance a shot.

So what are we to do? Or, more selfishly, what am I to do? Capitalism — and its police state — have become so smart and so fast, folding all modes of resistance into its spectacle at near infinite speed — John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” is in a Chase ad, for god’s sake. Corporations like Google, Apple, and Nike have made it seem cool to work endless days for enormous, soulless global beasts. It’s unnerving.

But we can’t just take off for the hills, anymore, as the hills have all been bought. Sure, there are remnants of this country where perhaps one can live inexpensively and enjoy the basic pleasures of life — slow food, slow sex, slow thinking, peace and health. But thanks to landgrabs and satellites, there is really no “off the grid” anymore.

My brother left NYC for Thailand 7 years ago. I don’t think he’s coming back.

Have y’all seen the film, Surfwise? This dude, back in the 50s, breeds like a madman and takes his whole enormous family off the grid, setting up camp on different beaches and surfing. No school, no house, working only when he needed to to have a little money. It’s inspiring. But all I kept thinking is: try that today and you’d be in jail and your kids taken away.

So if we can’t just head to the hills, what are we to do?

Well, first and foremost, I’d say: don’t breed. Having kids adds a complexity — financial, legal, and emotional — that makes slipping into the cracks of life difficult. Could I pack up my little beast, find some quiet spot in the middle of the desert, and home school him while living on rice and beans? Sure, I probably could. But I don’t have the courage for that. Nor do I have the appetite.

So, once again, what is one to do?

In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau talks about various kinds of ruses, most notably, one he calls la perruque (the wig): you work for the Man but use His resources for your own purposes. So you sit at your computer looking like you’re working but you’re really writing your novel and running your porn site. That is, you dissimulate and, behind your mask, you find your enjoyment, your vitality, your profits.

I believe there are little things one can do everyday, little ways to jam the bullshit circuit. These may seem trivial — and in many ways they are trivial — but they are the little things I do to foment a little revolution around me.

I try to drive generously. That is, I don’t assume I’m the only one on the road who matters, the only one in a rush. I let people into my lane who need in. I don’t floor it through yellow lights. And in this exceedingly small way, I try to make life a little better. For, jesus fucking christ, the utter lack of civility people show on the roads is unsettling. And I hope that by introducing a little civility, I may alter the flow of traffic, the flow of the day, the flow of life, even if only a little. Try it. Let’s start the civil driving revolution and see if it makes life in general more civil.

I try to jam the cliche circuits in conversations with whomever crosses my path — barristas, neighbors, fellow drunks at the bar. That is, the media creates a creepy uniformity of how we talk about things, a discourse that controls and limits our thinking. Was that movie good or bad? Are you a red state or a blue state? All that shit is built on stupidity and the violence of opposition. And so I actively refuse those terms and try to introduce different terms. Rather than saying whether I liked or didn’t like a movie, I’ll say what I thought was interesting or not about it, formally and emotively. Or I’ll introduce an aesthetic claim into a moral discussion — “I think so-and-so is cool looking.”

I know, I know: trivial, useless. And the fact is all this usually does is make people hate me. There’s a reason my phone never, ever, rings — except when my mother calls.

But my hope is that I can introduce slightly different ways of talking about things, at least in my own community, at least for the people I speak to. Because the fact is I find talking to people exhausting — I have to give so many caveats and qualifiers before I get to my point that I’ve lost my audience before I got there. Wouldn’t it be nice — wouldn’t it be revolutionary — if in everyday conversation people expected independent thought, new ways of approaching things rather than confirmation of the same old bullshit?

I know there are more radical, systemic modes of resistance. There are communes. There are urban communities where people support each other, take turns bearing the financial duties. There are Mike Reynolds’ Earth Ships: self-sustainable homes, homes that are literally unplugged, using solar for its electricity and heat, rainwater for its water, a greenhouse for growing food. How do we take this “biotecture” to the city? Or do we have to leave the city?

I am not offering answers because, obviously, I just don’t have any. Do you? Tell me, please. TC mark


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  • Karina Briski

    A refreshing piece to see on this site,…I don't have any suggestions really, except maybe that your best mode of resistance is your writing itself. Leave the communes to the hippie architects. I hope I continue to see your work elsewhere.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Thank you, Karina: I really am quite moved these days by people such as yourself who take the time to write supportive, even kind, things. I truly believe it is in such gestures, however seemingly small, that the best in life propels itself.

      And I keep having the same thought: writing is the best way out. Burroughs always said that he wrote to get out of his possession by the dark forces — and out of life itself and into The Western Lands.


    Donate to WikiLeaks. (

    Join (or start) a radical/leftist/progressive group ( where you live and tolerate the sometimes very annoying people such a group attracts.

    Infiltrate something you want to bring down and then eventually bring it down from the inside at just the right moment (

  • Edward

    i think the advice dispensed is rather unintentionally ironic. the author points out that he's tired of all the caveats he has to give to get his point across, yet inserts just as many unnecessary caveats and self-deprecating humour so that we don't take him – too – seriously.

    furthermore, the link between capitalism/consumerism/whatever it seems to be and “fighting” against it in weird ways seems rather tenuous if you ask me. in the first place why is there a need to fight it? it is merely assumed that it is a bad thing. which gives the article an overly sanctimonious feel. after all, you could move to the desert. you just don't want to because you think the life there sucks.

    seems more of a case of having your cake and eating it. i highly doubt the green-houses mentioned are cheap, pleasant to live in and durable. we all have to make sacrifices – and the author seems only ready to make superficial ones.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Not really sure why I'm responding to you but here it goes:

      -The”fight” is for my own survival as a vital human being capable of enjoying life. I thought I made that obvious. Read it again, genius. Or not.

      -I could move to the desert but I think you missed the complication of having a kid — the emotional complication. I will not leave him. But thanks for your keen reading and understanding.

      -And, yes, I do want it all. Why not?

      -As for tone, irony is my resistance and the practical tool for how I suffer fools. And there is nothing more serious than irony.

  • AaronWB

    “there are little things one can do everyday, little ways to jam the bullshit circuit.”

    Like hiding chicken tikka masala under your soup!

  • savagegirl

    Like you, I feel the corporate hegemony pressing ever closer.
    I live in the northeast, just about halfwaybetween Boston and New York.
    I try the generous driving. I try the thoughtful language rather that the media driven lexicon of everything we get fed. I don't have children. I've worked in many groups hostile to the status quo. They always seem to implode, explode , disband or in the most promising instance, get crushed by local politicians who felt threatened by grassroots organizing.
    Like you I get nowhere.
    But that doesn't mean I stop leading by example. Sure some people think I'm nuts. That's okay.
    If I cared about that, I'd be stuck in my 12 year old self still trying to be the same as the other kids. Being different in some way will alway make other people uncomfortable.
    These are the things that my mate and I have done to at least mitigate our impact.
    -we buy almost everything used-undergarments, socks and usually shoes get exempted
    -no tv
    -we grow as big a garden as we have space for
    -we buy meat only from local farmers that let us see our animal and their process-we now have a source for pig, cow, lamb
    -we get eggs from our friends' daughters
    -our cars are older Toyotas-very well maintained and a beater truck for dump runs and hunting-all bought used
    -we are a hunting household, our only indulgence is great hunting dogs
    -our career choices -I'm a self employed jewelery designer/maker and my mate works for a union mostly he fights the good fight at work and I try to in the way I supply my studio with chemicals and metal and stones
    Now I understand that have access to farms might not be possible in a city, but you may be able to find meat co-ops or farmers markets
    Now here's my real advice to you: go ahead, be a cultural dropout, but by that I don't mean that you should live in an iso-tank, but feel free to remind people that they only care about some things because their TV tells them to. Feel free to be disgusted at wage disparity between the average Nike “contractor” and what that the CEO make in an hour, week, year. Feel free to raise a ruckus, get involved, in your community, in antiglobilization, in the arts. Feel free to keep speaking out about the everpresent homogenous voice that doesn't speak for you, and please keep writing

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Fantastic and with you on all fronts — and I do many of these things (including driving a 20 year old Toyota). I will say there are some nice movements in SF — local, communal farms and the like. (There's a joke here somewhere about you getting “eggs from your friends' daughters.”) And I freelance so I try to maximize my time I can spend with my kid, spend enjoying life, spend writing.

      But when I hit, say, 50 or 60 — assuming I live that long — I am fucked. As are most from my generation. We have no savings — not in any real way.And because I choose to work less in order to maintain my, uh, soul and raise my child, I don't have much social security coming my way. Assuming there will even be social security — which is not a smart assumption.

      So, yes, there are ways to get by and live better — cracks in the edifice, if you will. But is it sustainable? Or do I just eat a bullet at 60?

      • savagegirl

        Don't assume we're in such different boats. I can't hold a “normal” job and the economy has made fine art jewelry a commissioned only work scenario and people are not splurging. As for social security, I have not enough “work credits” to collect retirement and not enough in the last 10 years to collect disability although I am unable to work at a regular job because of my health, and yes I've had my doubts about social securitysince I was paying in at my first job at 16-more than 20 years ago.
        We have a house we hate that's worth less that we paid for it nevermind the 30+ grand we've had to put into it. We have no savings, crushing debt- We're fucked. Having the 3 dogs is as expensive as a kid except no college. All of my people live into their 80s or 90s, his not so long. In a household that hunts one lives with guns every day. They lose a little of their power most of the time. To be honest, I expect to be widowed before I'm ready, left with a paltry life insurance policy- maybe it would buy me six months, but I think that's wishful thinking, no savings, the debt is revolving ,it seems. I am mostly estranged from my family, so no help from them.
        So is my life sustainable? No. But I haven't offed myself either. In the real struggle, I have to not think to hard about my own personal isses and try to shake other people out of the collective slumber put over them by empires of bagged snacks and celebrity. Retrain them from the redacted history of schoolbook history that were spoonfed in school. These things are our responsibility and our right. I doubt I've answered your question adequately, but I'm slow with a keyboard, and reticent to say too much too public.

  • Repaulsive

    I liked this piece quite a bit, partly because I’ve been having similar thoughts on my joyless, jam-packed subway ride to work every morning. I can no longer fathom any way for us to have substantial and positive change through government without first suffering from an eye-opening disaster or slowly sinking into such awful conditions that people finally start to think about working together to better themselves. Unfortunately it seems like most people are still prefer to blame each other and compensate for our receding general welfare by stealing and cheating whoever they can for a leg up. It’s sad and I’m a part of it. I’d get away if that seemed remotely feasible but can’t for reasons you mention, and because if there really was somewhere to go there would already be a lot of people there. I don’t have any solutions.

    Like you with your generous driving behavior I’ve been trying to be a better person out there in the world, I try to see the good in people, I try to maintain a positive outlook and think constructively. It’s hard. Resistance is a way to fight back but it’s not a solution, if there is one I don’t think it will be written about on the internet until well after it has proved itself as a pathway forward. The only thing I can think to do is encourage and help people who I think are doing the right thing, who at least seem to be doing something to better our world and aren’t driven by money or personal gain. I hope you keep writing articles like this one because the more people think about these things the better.

  • Steven Fiveoseveniam Lazaroff

    “Because the fact is I find talking to people exhausting — I have to give so many caveats and qualifiers before I get to my point that I’ve lost my audience before I got there. Wouldn’t it be nice — wouldn’t it be revolutionary — if in everyday conversation people expected independent thought, new ways of approaching things rather than confirmation of the same old bullshit?”

    this is the largest difficulty for me in everyday life because i think conversation, the free exchange of ideas, is essential to revolution.

    my approach to the myriad options faced is to get out, as much as possible. the wig is romantic and certainly a step, certainly meaningful, but it isnt going to reach transcendence unless the particular practice of being a wig is about, or leads to, community organization. i dont think we can live the lives we want to live 'within' the society we wish to break from or surmount, two entirely different prerogatives. also, i'm not quite sure how to define 'within' yet. i'm not sure how toxic the surrounding hegemony is, how clear and distinct the break needs to be geographically. the intellectual and emotional aspects are of course more clear.

    i dont think it's enough to merely remove oneself and live as a hermit. i dont think this will satisfy us as human beings believing, as i do, that we are innately social. but, unfortunately, i guess im just leaving us with the problem you stated in the last paragraph. do we have to leave the city? i dont know. haha. this has plagued me for quite a while now. i want to believe that the only thing required is an intellectual and emotional break from the hegemony, but there seem to be factors inherent to status quo city living that necessitate betraying our values which is how we marginalize ourselves.

    a key distinction seems to be whether or not a person's scope of revolution is their world or the world. you could go off and live in a communitarian setup and hope that in a cloud atlas-ian fashion, these are major drops of rain that lead to oceans. or you could be persistent, stick it out in the city, form this community, perhaps squatting and refurbishing, simply not leaving, and hoping it spreads like osmosis?

    like you, daniel, i am left feeling like i have not offered any viable solutions, but maybe there is a nugget in here that someone can build on. or something. i feel almost palpable dread at having produced such an inane seeming response. it is so intensely difficult to think outside the current paradigm. but it's about conversation at this level; it's about organization. i hope i have contributed to the conversation.

    nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

  • PINA


  • notryshibui

    i don't have any answers either, or really much to contribute, but i do want to thank you for articulating the sources of a dread i think a lot of people feel. i'm still young and relatively unburdened (excepting student loan debts) and since i'm almost done with school i've been thinking a lot about how to live without feeling like i'm wasting time and energy. like you, i've considered the commune thing, half-thought about the wig (but am almost certainly against it) and am (i think) nearing the conclusion that the best resisting i can do is along the lines of what you've described: refusing to let my thoughts be boxed in by paradigms, being conscious of others, etc.

    i do think that the most important thing might be expression- of thoughts and feelings and what can't accurately be described as either. by doing this i think i we make ourselves happier and we encourage everyone to do the same. maybe if our numbers swell enough, by the time your kid grows up and has to deal with these questions, the people who prefer not to be caged by convention will outnumber the willing sheep, and the world won't be such a dubious place to live.

    anyway, maybe that made sense and maybe it didn't but either way thank you for instigating this kind of thought. it's about damn time i saw something like this on the internet.

  • T.O.

    This is an interesting well written topic that I think many people A. Don't think about or B. Succumb to Groupthink ideologies…It's hard to break away frrom the ills of society when everybody around you seems to be programmed to work and consume. I try to buck this trend through writing and creating music and it helps to cope with the day to day grind, but there's no real answer. What I got from your aricle is this not only hinders creativity but our logic as well. The way you put it into words is affirming and you should keep posting articles on topics such as this. Important social discourse.

  • to

    I connect with this piece so much more than Tao Lin and company's post-everything, ironic and detached writing. Thank you for this.

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