“Hey, I know a place. Let’s go.” – Russell Baker
I’ve always had a fascination with the truly remote places: the regions well separated from the main habitats of Mankind. Most such places are islands. If inhabited at all, their populations are small. The mode of life of the denizens is likely to be simple and monothematic. The one I’ve recently found most magnetic is the archipelago of Svalbard.
Svalbard, a Norwegian principality, is well within the Arctic Circle. Even so, its climate isn’t a terror of unbearable frigidity. A gentle current, the West Spitsbergen Current, keeps temperatures there averaging from 43 degrees Fahrenheit in Summer to -15 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Because of its latitude, it experiences both a 99-day period of midnight sun and an 84-day period of polar night. Clearly, it’s not the sort of place a surfer or beach bunny would choose to live.
The civilian population of Svalbard is concentrated in the town of Longyearben. Just now, the town has about three thousand residents. As the residents hail from many nations, many languages can be heard there, though nearly all the residents have some command of English as well.
According to Svalbard videographer Cecilia Blomdahl, the residents of Longyearben and the surrounding area are a cordial, convivial community. They coalesce strongly during the polar night, ensuring that solitude and sunlight deprivation won’t have deleterious effects on anyone. While the district does have a police force, it seems not to have a lot to do.
And just now, it looks to me like the most appealing place on Earth.
Imagine living in a community where there’s no politics, because there’s no one who feels strongly enough about anything to want to force his views on others. Imagine that community to be situated where none of the world’s governments care to assert themselves. Imagine, at last, that the district has nothing that anyone outside would want enough to try to take it by force.
According to the Book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden was idyllic: perpetually perfect conditions in which Adam and Eve, had they not been ejected, would have known no want and no impositions from any source. The remote places of the world aren’t like that. They require hardiness and a kind of ascetic’s attitude: I can live here, despite the harshness. What I can provide myself will suffice. The first settlers in such places had to possess that mindset.
They also had to find value in isolation. Their need for companionship and society had to be minimal.
But really, what value is there in isolation? Aren’t we humans socially inclined? Don’t we take pleasure and a sense of security in being surrounded by others of our species?
Well, yes. Most of us. But not all of us. Some of us desire above all else to be left alone. To have no one making demands on us for any reason. Back when there was a land frontier, many who chose to brave it sought exactly that.
It’s not an appealing prospect for the elderly, the infirm, or the incapable. But the man confident of his ability to thrive despite unforgiving conditions and a lack of society might venture to a place like South Georgia Island, or Tristan da Cunha, or Franz Josef Land, or Svalbard…if he yearns to be “far from the madding crowd” and the demands it puts upon one.
I have long held myself fortunate to have been born an American. Lately, that sense of good birth fortune has been wearing thin. It’s not for any reason but one: politics.
To be an American has been, for about a century now, to be the focus and envy of the world. We have led the world in science, technology, and economic progress. Those things, plus our having escaped the devastation of the World Wars, has raised us to military primacy as well. But such things carry a cost: everyone everywhere wants something from you. That includes your own countrymen.
Because of politics, it’s impossible for an American to fend off all the demands. Governments make sure of that. Besides governments, there are all the Cause People, arranged in their multitudinous interest groups. If those don’t drive you to distraction, add the victimists in their ever-expanding numbers. Finally, many of us have snoopy and annoying neighbors; the probability increases with the population density of one’s residence district.
What’s American life like for the man who mainly wants to be left alone? The short answer is Not what it used to be. And it’s been getting progressively (SWIDT) worse.
Ironically, North America was settled largely by men who mainly wanted to be left alone. If such persons still come to these shores, I doubt they stay for long.
I’ve seen the following graphic a number of times lately:
It tells an overpowering truth – especially so in these days when there is nowhere left to run. It would be well for the busybodies to reflect on it. They’ve got aged, unhealthy me thinking about packing up my family and moving us to Svalbard…or failing that, to load magazines and set out to express myself to the busybodies in a fashion too plain to be misinterpreted. Perhaps they might ask one another:
“How close are we to triggering the fury
Of the men who just want to be left alone?”