You Can’t Quit Capitalism

The book The Man Who Quit Money, by Mark Sundeen, was a pretty decent read. It was published in 2012 and is about Daniel Suelo, who decided to stop using money in 2000, at the age of 39. As Sundeen puts it, “The only way for him to live ethically in this corrupt world, he felt […] was to abandon money” (p. 217). Suelo had struggled with the idea previously, and made a similar attempt before, but this time it stuck.

Suelo, born Daniel Shellabarger, came from a fundamentalist household, and didn’t veer away from that until he went to college. Even after he made the break with fundamentalism, he remained deeply religious, searching for his own particular spirituality and morality in both more liberal Christianity and Eastern philosophies while also grappling with his homosexuality and the grind of the capitalist world. Eventually, after traveling on and off and working at various nonprofits and other jobs and trying to find himself, he put his last $30 in a phone booth at a truck stop in Pennsylvania and made his way back to Moab, Utah, which is apparently a pretty tolerant kind of place with a fair amount of people living lifestyles outside the mainstream.

And that is basically where he has been since, foraging and dumpster-diving for food, using his feet and bike to get around, camping on public and private land, and taking up residence in a cave. Sundeen is quick to dispel assumptions though: “Yet the man who sleeps under bridges and prospects in trash cans is not a typical hobo. He does not panhandle, and he often works – declining payment for his efforts. While he is driven by spiritual beliefs and longings, he is not a monk, nor is he associated with any church. And although he lives in a cave, he is not a hermit: he is relentlessly social, remains close with friends and family, and engages in discussions with strangers via the website he maintains from the public library” (p. 4).

Toward the end of the book, Sundeen makes the connection between Suelo and freeganism. He quotes (p. 227) a pamphlet called “Why Freegan?” written by “a punkrocker calling himself ‘koala’”: “If you are an anti-capitalist, what better way to protest the economy than withdrawing from it and never using money?” And here’s the basic problem. Freeganism is not a strategy for challenging capitalism. It is not “prefigurative,” even if some people claim it is. It is not something that can be taken up by everyone and used to change our economy. It is a fine example of moral indignation about a horrible way of organizing society, but beyond that there is no means by which it can be taken up en masse and used to do things differently. As Sundeen explains, “Suelo’s primary source of food […] is what others throw away” (p. 53). If tomorrow everyone started to dumpster dive, who would be throwing the food away? I do not think there is anything wrong with being freegan or living without money as Suelo does, but let’s not pretend that it is going to do much about the problems we face. In many ways, it is a reaction borne out of frustration. A good example of this comes from an early passage in the book, when Sundeen and Suelo are both squatting on public lands because they didn’t want to pay rent: “If we couldn’t overthrow the bastards, then at least we wouldn’t enter data in their cubicles and buy junk in their big boxes and make payments on their LandCrunchers.”

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One Response to You Can’t Quit Capitalism

  1. Daniel Suelo says:

    Mark Sundeen posted this on the “The Man Who Quit Money” facebook page, saying it is a thoughtful article. I then added this comment, & also posted it in my facebook:

    At first I thought this was thoughtful, but then realized how simplistically usual it is.

    The title tells all. Does it not say capitalism is Omnipotent God, and all who think otherwise are fools? It discounts everything anybody can do as an alternative.

    Anybody who has ever done anything is criticized so. It is doing-nothing cynicism, sounding smart about it. Rather than saying, “This person just might be taking a step in doing a part in solving the problem! At the very least we’re thinking about something we’d never before consider! Let’s not abandon this odd duck, but be inspired to take further steps!”

    No, its sole premise, while appearing open-minded, is this: “Since this person can’t do everything to bring down capitalism or create an alternative and hasn’t made the whole universe a perfect paradise in one fell swoop, what he’s doing is useless.”

    Some people drop out but are not activists. Some are spiritual, finding healing. Some are activists protesting. Some are builders of alternative systems. Some work within the system to make it tolerable while it stands. Why must so many be like little kids puffing their chests, criticizing the others? Nothing can work without each of them. This is certain.

    Be glad, be encouraged and encouraging to anybody anywhere who takes even a baby step in doing anything alternative in a horribly cynical society!


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