Suelo

Late one afternoon a couple of weeks ago I went for a casual bike ride along the San Francisco waterfront. During the ride I started thinking how I’d like to get back to this blog. I thought about different subjects I might write about and decided to do something on the economy. I’d already started a post called “Economics 98.6,” which was supposed to mean “economics as though humans mattered.” But someone told me it sounded like the title for a piece on health care. So I thought, “change the title and finish it.”

On my way  home I stopped at the Ferry Building and went into a bookstore, where I spotted a sign advertising a reading by the author of a new book The Man Who Quit Money. The subject of the book, Daniel Suelo, was going to speak as well. I first learned about Suelo (as he’s usually called) through a reader of this blog who thought I might be interested in what he’s doing. Suelo’s story is that he became so fed up with the materialism of this country that he decided to stop using money entirely, to see if it was possible. Twelve years later, he’s still doing it. He doesn’t even barter. He accepts only that which is offerred freely—food and goods, but no cash. Mostly he scavenges. His main residence is a cave hidden in the wilderness outside Moab, Utah, although he also house sits for friends in town. I’d read his web site and his blog (which he works on in the public library) and had found both of them interesting enough to bookmark. I wasn’t really in the mood to hang around for a book reading; but I’ve seen that there are people who do good things for flaky reasons, and I wanted to know whether Suelo was the real thing. So I stayed.

When I arrived, the bookstore had set out around 15 chairs, which I thought was optimistic considering the subject matter and how few people read nowadays. But over the next half-hour so many people came in that the store had to keep bringing out more chairs. By the time the reading began, there were at least 75 people in the audience, which, I know from experience, is remarkable. The presentation began with the author, Mark Sundeen, reading from the book and taking questions. Then Suelo joined him.

Suelo is a thin, graying man in his early fifties. He’s quite gentle and clearly intelligent. There’s nothing goofy about him. I doubt there were any questions he hadn’t heard many times before. His answers were immediate and strong. He’s thought a great deal about what he’s doing and he cuts some fine lines. Standing there listening, I felt as though I completely understood what he’s doing. It’s similar to the path that I took nearly forty years ago, the one I’m writing about in my book Street Song. It’s a spiritual path and all spiritual paths contain the same essential features. I often found myself hoping that he’d make a particular point when he was asked certain questions. Most of the points I was eager for him to make, he did end up making.

The great majority of people in the room were supportive of Suelo. But there were a few who nitpicked and looked for contradictions. One of the best points of the evening was made by the author, Mark Sundeen. He said that people often say that since not everybody could live like Suelo, it somehow invalidates what he’s doing. But, as Sundeen says, not everybody can live the way the average American does either. The planet wouldn’t be able to handle it. I was delighted that Sundeen pointed this out. I’ve long believed our standard of living is much too high and that eventually we’re going to have to lower it. That doesn’t mean living in abject poverty. But it does mean a simpler lifestyle. To the people who complain about what Suelo’s doing, I would say that when you have a system as extreme in it’s materialism as this one, you’re bound to get people like him. The system creates him as a reaction or, you might say, an antidote to something that is clearly a disease.

The book is a good one. You can find Suelo’s web page here and his blog here.

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7 Responses to “Suelo”

  1. Lynn B. Says:

    Thank you, Mark! This book sounds fascinating. Thank you for writing about it, as I had not heard about it until now. Just logged on to my library website and got on the wait list. My library has 41 people on the wait list, with 10 copies circulating. It’s obviously in demand!

  2. Margaret Benbow Says:

    I respect what Suelo is doing–he’s right that too many Americans have grossly greedy lifestyle and aspirations. And life is sweeter, closer to the bone. I admit I don’t understand his objections to bartering. Also, maybe the way he lives works better for someone who is stalwart, uncompromising, and alone. It’s hard to imagine raising young children in this way. (I thought that even of Thoreau, and he’s my god!)

    • markbittner Says:

      He doesn’t believe that everyone should live as he does. Someone in the audience asked him if he felt that this was an experiment or a permanent way of life. He said that he felt as though his entire life was an experiment. He’s worked at a lot of different jobs—Peace Corps volunteer, social worker, and cook among them. The refusal to barter is based on his belief that it reflects concern for credit and debit, which is the basis for his rejecting money. People should do things spontaneously and out of love, not out of some hope for gain. He has observed that this is how nature operates, and he wants to emulate it. My own belief is that the path itself is the essential thing, that it would be a mistake for him to become attached to being “the man who quit money.” If the path should ever lead him in a direction that requires the use of money, he should accept that. You have to be very careful with things like that, though. The capacity for self-deception in humans is enormous.

      There are others who have been doing this, by the way—some even longer than him.

  3. tz Says:

    to be brave enough to follow one’s heart… isn’t that what we all truly hope for? thank you for sharing his story…. looks like I have some fascinating reading to do!

  4. Debbie Says:

    Dan Price from moonlightchronicles.com is another person who lives an unconventional life. He does live a life with money, but very little.
    Check out his website and books.

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