Dream huts

The solitary’s comfort is the niche, the corner, the cell, the room — even when contained in a flat or house. Personal space is configured around the familiar, that which is assigned meaning. What is evoked here? The primordial womb? Or simply a projection of the inner self, the dream-self, the self in which we have necessarily invested so much time and energy, literally a lifetime? A vanity? This self we have nurtured like a small and fragile thing, separated from the world, an endangered species but not an egoism, is just a humble sentience. So should its dwelling be.

Historically, the hermit pursued a physical setting with great deliberation. A cave was just so, likewise the hut or the spot in the forest. The 13th-century Japanese writer Kamo no Chomei identified the ideal hut as a ten-foot square hut (article). And that remains an ideal for most solitaries, even if it is “contained” in a house.

In all possible hermit dwellings, it is simplicity — a creative simplicity actively reducing the conventions of the world to their essential solitude — that reigns in design, style, space, and functionality. The effort at making a dwelling is more conscious and deliberate than that of any commercial and worldly designer or architect motivated by wealth, pretension, security fears, or status. So many sources on small living or simple living nowadays disappoints the solitary because they concretizes — literally — the very soul of the aspirant for solitude, silence, simplicity, and naturalness with their monstrous boxes for a mindless mass intent on living for what is external to themselves. But, fortunately, many other sources today value the appropriateness of simple living and small dwellings.

Here are just a few dream-huts that I have come across to inspire eremitism. They actually exist and are made to order by their designers, usually small entrepreneurs. (BTW, the Jamaica is not from the Caribbean island but from Jamaica, Vermont! And the Better Barns cabin is supposed to be a barn!). There are many other hut designs out there, but these catch one’s attention because they are so deliberate in simplicity of design, and could easily accommodate a modern-day Kamo or hut-dreamer.

Arvesund: Hermits cabin
Arvesund: Hermit's cabin
Jalopy cabin
Jalopy cabin
Jamaica cabin
Jamaica cabin
Ranger cabin
Ranger cabin
Better Barns cabin
Better Barns cabin
Sheldon cabin
Sheldon cabin


Scientists say that immortality is a projection of the animal instinct for survival. This is a reductionism, inevitably more complex than this bald statement, for it does not account for consciousness and its mental products. A better approach might be that of Krishnamurti, although it, too, is brief and leaves out many things.

J. Krishnamurti argues that our relations with our environment, from early one, form the self. All of this data from environment, society, and culture, constitute the self, down to the symbols and language we use to think and communicate, to the externals of food, clothing, and beliefs. All of this data constitutes our consciousness, and everyone “tries to immortalize the product of environment; that thing which is the result of the environment we try to make eternal.”

This data is not consciousness but our consciousness of a self, an “I.” Krishnamurti elaborates:

You are continually seeking immortality for this “I.” In other words, falsehood tries to become the real, the eternal. When you understand the significance of the environment, there is no reaction and, therefore, no conflict between the reaction, that is, between what we call the “I” and the creator of the reaction, which is the environment. So this seeking for immortality, this craving to be certain, to be lasting, is called the process of evolution, the process of acquiring truth or God or the understanding of life.

Krishnamurti’s premise is that the “I” or self is a collection of impressions and reactions, but that directly examined it has no existence. Or, rather, nothing that we need assume would perpetuate itself. If we assume that this “I” must respond and react and engage its environment, the result is conflict, struggle, and inevitable suffering. On a larger scale, the elusive “I” creates institutions and collective bodies that will function as projections of the self to enshrine the symbols, rituals, and mores deemed necessary to the preservation of the self and its attachments.

Do not think this struggle between the self and the environment, which you call the true struggle, is true. Isn’t there a struggle taking place in each only of you between yourself and your environment, your surroundings, your husband, your wife, your child, your neighbor, your society, your political organizations? Is there not a constant battle going on? You consider that battle necessary in order to help you to realize happiness, truth, immortality, or ecstasy. To put it differently: “What you consider to be the truth is but self-consciousness, the “I,” which is all the time trying to become immortal, and the environment, which I say is the continual movement of the false. This movement of the false becomes your ever-changing environment, which is called progress, evolution.

At this point, Kirshnamurti goes on to discuss the self, but an important point is made here, that immortality is not simply an instinct goine bad but is a reaction to the human struggle with environment, with the alienation or separation that we feel from our environment. That this environment is always changing, always in flux, is absorbed by our consciousness as a condition of self. This flux is manifested in anything dealing with our environment, with others, society, and culture. We are on a carousel of time, as the popular song puts it, but only because we insist on monitoring and being on top of the flux.

So, while human beings elaborate the sense of immortality primarily in religious terms, it is not exclusively so. Everyone, of every shade of belief, elaborates this sense by fight the stream of time and change, by seeking to grasp the environment and controlling it to one’s own profit.

The path suggested by Krishnamurti is a philosophical one, but many who are not philosophical attempt to resolve the dilemma of “I” through creativity. Creativity is at the heart of projection of self. We devise ways of distinguishing what we think is truly creative from the artificial, the synthetic, the contrived. This is the making of values.

Immortality can first be distinguished from survival. We know that we don’t need to be creative in order to survive, or do much more than engage in society’s assigned path for us, whatever that may seem to be. Survival is largely taken care of by society and others. We are inevitably and inextricably tied up with one another, so that we partake of whatever we need for physical survival and elect whatever we think we need for psychological survival. The latter category is when we intersect with the contrived aspects of society, especially entertainment, superfluous consumer desires, use of wealth to pursue success, profit, war.

Yet contrivances do not disturb but build the “I” or ego. Once we have failed to distinguish the contrived from the creative, the false path to immortality is etched upon us, except that the path is a finite and eartly one that merely perpetuates the self and maintains it from reflection.

Creativity must be something extra, therefore, supremely unnecessary to survival or socialization but a resolution, or at least a transcendence, of conflict, something sublime or extrapolated even beyond the guarantees of survival and immortality, certainly beyond the ethos of contrived social entertainments. Even the skeptical scientist pursues creativity.

We can catalog the methods by which human beings extrapolate the survival instinct, but soon see the instinct wane, and other factors of sociability enter and take a larger and more elective role. Ultimately, individuals can submerge themselves in the contrivances of others, in the social relations that even passive observation offers. A routine of labor, housing, eating, socializing, and entertainment is ostensibly the equivalent of animal survival, but it is so heavily dependent on social networks for its character that instinct is transformed into a pleasure principle. At that point, individuality is subsumed into the mass, manipulated by the few holding power or notoriety.

The word “notoriety” originally referred merely to the known, the talked about, but eventually came to have a negative connotation, as in “notorious.” Similarly, “celebrity” originally referred to the status of being known to the many. The transformation of these concepts in modern time points to the expansion of society and the presentation of the powerful and their victims to the public for moral lessons. The contriving of celebrities to be celebrated and the notorious to be execrated is as much a product of how culture empowers itself and perpetuates its power over individuals. What is more of a divergence to the individual than to monitor the doings of packaged issues and concerns that are here today and replaced with a new and equally distracting set tomorrow?

Krishnamurti extends the fabric of social immortality to religion as a social contrivance as much as to modern entertainment with its mind-numbing function of guaranteeing the passing to time without pain or suffering. The search for a savior is the search for a guarantor of immortality, but also the search for one who will celebrate and corroborate the self, the “I” and its contents. It is only a matter of degrees between the mechanisms society creates in order to oth affirm immortality (of a sort) and deny it as sufficient in this lifetime.

The characteristics of celebrity and notoriety are exactly the opposite of the hermit’s. It is not that the hermit lacks creativity. The celebrity and the notorious are not necessarily more creative than anyone else, only that they are made to channel that creativity to the interests of mass society. The truly creative are seldom noticed or outright anonymous, circumscribed by the time, place, and the extension of their egos. The hermit is not projecting himself or herself in order to fulfill an animal instinct. Indeed, the hermit dissipates instinct by reclusing from society and from the “being known in the world.” Regardless of how narrow the world of the hermit, it is, as the Japanese Zen poet put it, “a universe.”

The hermit’s response to the world is not self-denial. Calls to serve humanity or utilize one’s skills or reach one’s potential are siren calls from society to put the individual to work on its behalf. Working for the world is the opposite of creativity. Creativity is the opposite of instinct. Creativity transcends immortality.

The hermit experiences an unconscious recognition that the mind and heart are destined for other than instinct and survival, other than the flattery of self and ego. This otherness means other than the paths of the world, other than the expectations of society. This sublime realization is what comforts the hermit in knowing that the wild chase of humanity for survival, for perpetuation, for the assertion of “values” is vain at every level, doomed to be thwarted by the very products of society and culture.

Nature is the only guide, not society and culture, for even when civilization carries, like a vessel, the creative efforts of sages past, it also carries the malevolent elements of human consciousness made social. The biblical parable of the wheat and tares (weeds), wherein it is impossible to separate the two because removing the weeds will damage the wheat, is certainly the experience of any gardener or farmer who understands natural methods. Yet the parable only makes more obvious the need to begin the process early and methodically, for it is a necessary process to safeguard the fruit of the field, the fruit of the heart and mind. The weeds flourish because they, too, have similar needs as the wheat for nourishment, sun, water, soil. So does everyone. But the great mass of humanity will hoard the nutrients and choke out the good fruit — such is society and the individual who knows the ways of the world and would pursue another way. The mass of people will choke out the intuitive and creativty within them to chase after the world and its profeered immortality, its mechanism of transference with regard to celebrities and the notorious.

The hermit must dissemble to get along in society, but once within his or her cell, room, flat, house — within the privacy of the self not shaped by the world — creativity, conviviality with nature and the universe, the quest for virtual identity with both flux and transcendencecan begin.

The solitary’s way is of humility not hubris, disengagement not contention, self-effacement not celebrity or notoriety. The hermit rushes to nature and the pattern of the universe, not the contrivances of society and culture ready-made to dull the individual, to fill the individual with illusions, to distract self from introspection. Noise, pleasure, false creativity, the desire to perpetuate the debris of environment, as Krishnamurti might call it, have always been shunned by solitaries. The hermit’s way is modest, reclusive, with barely a footprint as to where the hermit has tread.

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcern`dly find
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix`d, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Solitude, by Alexander Pope


Primitivism is a political and social theory that proposes a human nature and a best-case scenario for social viability. As the name suggests, primitivism advocates a return to what it posits as human society in a primitive setting. This setting is sometimes derived from that of existing indigenous peoples (Latin America, Africa or Pacific Island), but is really to be found only in the past, the pre- and proto-historical past: Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon times, the era of the hunter-gatherer. Even then, of course, it is only a projection, an idealization, without support from any science — which, in turn, primitivism rejects as a product of what it opposes.

The argument of primitivism is that modern civilization, indeed, any civilization, is inimical to the nature of human beings. All institutions and technologies represented by civilization are judged to be oppressive. Since the evolution of civilization is largely the evolution of institutions and technology, the primitivist advocates the setting of the hunter-gatherer to be the ideal, if not best, scenario.

One could dismiss these notions as morally plausible but hopelessly Rousseauean and abstract. Primitivism is sometimes described as a form of anarchism, but because anarchism wants to address a social setting for everybody that is viable here and now, anarchism rejects primitivism as retrograde and utopian. Anarchism is more viable because it begins constructively and without forms or ideals that are historical impossibilities.

Unlike a formal theory of anarchism, which is based on a societal model, primitivism has no interest in mass society, or, more precisely, accepts no accountability for the logic of implementing primitivist ideas on a scale larger than the individual. The result is a vague package of theory and speculation presented as viable — but not viable beyond the individual, and it is questionable for the individual as well. The scenario of hunter-gatherer holds more misleading premises and conclusions that are as inimical to others as they are potentially to the line of logic of its advocates.

The first dubious argument is that the hunter-gatherer was morally superior to a person in civilization. While the latter would be largely the product of socialization and hold values second-hand, the hunter-gather derived values (presumably) only from life experience, which would have been, as Hobbes put it (in a different context), “nasty, brutish, and short.” Violence and aggression were more fundamental to early human beings than the primitivist is willing to admit, holding instead to the image of an idealized post-simian society of leisure and plenty. But an individual could not easily survive alone in pre-historic times, and society itself developed from individual cooperation, from individuals working on behalf of the tribe in collective enterprises, not merely individuals on the hunt dragging back prey to be divided up in egalitarian fashion to each according to his need.

Hunting and fishing are intrinsically violent actions. They differ from the violence in food habits of carnivores (simians are not carnivores), which lack an equivalent of the human level of self-consciousness. Animals follow instincts and capacities, and their food-procurement methods are direct and necessary. However, once human beings evolved consciousness, acts of violence such as hunting became an exacerbation of the primordial remnants of the animal brain as much as imitations of animal necessity.

The psychological and social cycle of violence was experienced by humans at a deeper level of consciousness than that of an animal. The experience would have plunged into the psyche and manifested itself in other social ways. Hence, the latent potential for violence and aggression in every human being today is only barely contained, through displacement and ritual, by complex society, by “civilization.” Was violence as containable in hunter-gatherer society lacking institutions, symbols, and rituals — until these, too, evolved?

Of course, civilization reserves for itself forms of aggression and violence not unique to itself but having its origins in human nature, which include human experience in the primitive era. Civilization regularly calls upon these baser instincts. We have only to look around us to see these sublimated but real channels for aggression artfully — but sometimes not so deceptively — played out.

Furthermore, aggression and violence would extend from survival instinct to include not only food but reproduction, territoriality, and physical comfort. Here is the core of human troubles, already established long before the ills of civilization.

This point leads directly to the second dubious premise of primitivism concerning the origins of civilization. In order to explain the shift from the idealized hunter-gatherer setting to corrupting civilization, a leap of faith in an Eden-like fall is necessary. Somewhere, somehow — goes the explanation — strong individuals cowed weaker ones into obedience, and set themselves up as leaders, authorities, and alphas. Such runs the primitivist explanation.

This explanation is derived by analogy to simian behavior, except, again, no mechanism explains the transition from simian domination behavior to primitive human ideal and its corruption to the equivalent of simian domination. This transition, as with Darwinian evolution, has a missing link, except that with evolution environmental pressures can account for disruptions to the group, while primitivism has no independent factors to present other than a corruption of human nature itself. Hence the analogy to origin and fall mythologies.

The solution is ironic because it argues that human nature is not purely benign as the original Rouseauean premise argued. Instead, suddenly, human nature turns against itself to create civilization, which primitivism posits as the moral and psychological opposite of the hunter-gather state. As with biblical Eden, we have no clue as to how the devil got into the garden if he wasn’t suppose to exist at all.

It may be speculated, in turn, that primitivism excoriates civilization in a fundamental revolt against authority — hence, the generic label of anarchism, which has, by the way, been applied to most hermits in history. But existential and psychological theories, too, offer a serious critique of civilization in moral terms without a primitivist solution. Granted, the primitivist critique is often useful, but imitative and with nowhere to turn for explanation or solace. Ultimately, the argument for a hunter-gather model must needs be both a psychological and an ethical one, but cannot be an anthropological or scientific one.

Primitivism cannot escape the necessity of presenting a body of ethics. To do so from a prehistoric stage, however, is going to be deliberate evasion. Who knows so much about that stage, that consciousness? The posited primitive scenario may have no ethics, or an ethic of license, or an ethic of power, or an ethic of altruism — it all depends on what particular behavior is taken to be representative of human nature. But all evidence points to a continuity of human nature from then to today.

Eliminating civilization, too, avoids the ethical issue of means. Today, climate change, peak energy, and the devolution of globalization strongly suggest a collapse scenario in the near future (decades, not centuries). The state of post-collapse humanity is an unknown. But Nietzsche, writing in the late 19th century, had already given the Western world two centuries of viability — and one has already passed. Many persuasive voices from philosophical to literary, not to mention scientists from around the world, have already pronounced on the same schedule, but in their own styles, never triumphalist, always conscious of the underlying mechanisms in the human heart.

Is primitivism not conscious of its implied nihilism in cheering on the collapse of civilization because of institutionalized violence? If the death of God was received by Dostoyevsky with lament not for religion but for human behavior, then cheering on the death of civilization is nearly the same end. In Freudian terms, some can cheer on the death of the Father (Thanatos) but must own the impossibility of taking the father’s place. Who has faith that human consciousness can transcend these deaths?

Civilization is not the sum of its parts. Civilization is the vehicle, not the content. Civilization is the vessel of centuries of thought, wisdom, and creativity — as much as the carrier of stillborn demons. The demons are stirring in the womb, and the death of Gaia (to use scientist James Lovelock’s imagery) will kill both the demons and the womb.

But this, too, was foreseen by the philosophers as a situation of modernity. The death impulse can be traced all the way back — not to the origins of civilization as the work of Cain but to the moment of consciousness when a human being lifted a tool, killed an animal, and (unlike other animals), remembered how compelling was the experience.