Interview: Ran Prieur


45 Responses to “Interview: Ran Prieur”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Salient points abound, and clearly Prieur recognizes that the world he is dropping out of is not an accidental one, but one of political, sociological, economic and ultimately – - – Philosophical design. The 800 pound proverbial eleplhant that I see, could be gleaned by reading “Atlas Shrugged”. Prieur is a looter. He loots dumpsters and depends on the work of other individuals. If the commerce he despises but accepts as necessary didn’t exist, there would be no materials,no bicycle, no surpluses, and no food in the dumpster of Whole Foods for him to live from.

    He talks about freedom turning on the ability to say no. I would add to that, that the basis of intelligence is recognizing a weak argument. I’ll buy the ill’s of societal design he points towards, but I will never buy his lack of moral character, or his desultory excuse for a set of human values as worthwhile beyond a cursory examination. He may be bright, but his premises in large, are well, Stupid.

  2. dMc says:

    I wanted to like this guy so I went to his website. When I saw his 9/11 FAQ, that was the end for me.

  3. aelfscine says:

    How do you ‘drop out of society’ but have a ‘website’ and a fan base? Does he like come back once a week for attention whoring?

    Also, as someone whose parents went to college, I disagree that that alone makes you think ‘like an educated person.’ My parents are smart as hell, but having time away from them where I had to be independent, where I had to sort out (and accomplish) the tasks for 4-5 classes, and where I was exposed to people of races, beliefs, and genders I’d never encountered is what made me think like an educated person. My parents took it as a given that I’d go to college and strongly urged me NOT to go to school in my home town, precisely so I’d get the experiences I described.

    He also sounds like one of those guys that does something, reaps all the benefits, and then badmouths it later. “I went to college, and it’s how I met my beautiful wife and got the wherewithal to earn the skills I need to be an adult. But now that I’m an adult it doesn’t really help me much, so screw college, I never needed it.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    First off, Ran is not pompous. To those who are themselves pompous perhaps it comes off that he has the same motivations as you. Authority always has a problem with “insolence”. Ran is “pompous” and a “looter” because he does not recognize the authority you worship.

    Secondly, he bought his land because he is frugal and yeah, a “freegan” dumpster diver too. The dude simply has no need for just about anything. He has a bare bones PC running I believe Damn Small Linux. Dude has no addictions or habits. He’s simply an inquisitive man with a big heart and recognizes the vast, vast, vast amounts of waste and sadness this existence and society produce.

    Ran is not an “authority”, he’s an idea box who believes everything is free at its core existential level. He’s more law abiding probably than anyone posting comments here. He just doesn’t follow your rules. I’ve often disagreed with him. But the nice thing about Ran is disagreement is not a personal matter.

    Ran is not a guru. Ran is just a man with a lot of ideas many of us in the early 2000s here in Seattle and elsewhere (thanks to the Internet) pontificated on a more sane “lifestyle” in this post 9/11 world all at the same time and built off of each other’s ideas. Ran is legit and a simple idealist.


  5. greebo says:

    Some interesting thoughts there, but he seems to be missing the idea of building communities who approach this together rather than as individuals.

    The Walk Out movement seems more viable:
    As does the transition town movement in the UK:

    We’re going to need a lot more of this kind of work as we face the slow collapse, now that the era of cheap abundant energy is over.

  6. Wallenstein says:

    It still feels like a trendy hobby, rather than a serious commitment.

    Ran’s not dropped out of society, he’s just bought into the normal middle-class goal of having a weekend bolthole when life in the city gets a bit too much.

    Ran uses a truck like the rest of us, buys his building supplies in Home Depot, and had $12000 dollars to spend on a “place in the country” (I wish!)… he even wants to put satellite internet in his cob house!

    Having said that, his advice from the 2004 essay is good: basically, you can’t “drop out” completely, but you can find a mental space that gives you some freedom from the pressures of society.

    I can’t see how that links to the doomer scenario though… could be summarised as “there’s more to life than work, so find something interesting to do in your free time”.

  7. jsd says:

    This guy indulges in some of the most absurd 9/11 conspiracy theories. His argument is invalid.

  8. Samuel says:

    Most of these comments try to find one or two details to dismiss the entirety of his philosophies.

    My favorite is this:

    “and had $12000 dollars to spend on a “place in the country” (I wish!)…”

    The man is extremely frugal. He didn’t get that land by buying every latest iPhone, spending a lifetime obsessing over finding opportunities to bring in more cash, buying the most expensive house said cash can barely support, and then finally, one day, purchasing land with dozens of times the income he has.

    I bet his land is the only thing he owns that is more expensive than what you own.

    Also, most of the commenters respond to his ideas about civilization and “going back to the land” by imagining a silly stereotype, like some fool running around in animal skins banging sticks together or something like that. People who live “outside of civilization” have been taking advantage of civilization’s byproducts for as long as they’ve existed. That’s entirely separate from the question of whether or not our form of civilization is a healthy thing that will last. And it fails on both counts.

  9. Anonymous says:

    To quote my brother
    “Ran Prieur is a boss, not in the sense of hierarchical employment in the sense of a boss.”

  10. Samuel says:

    (P.S. I like one-liners)

    “So drop out all you want. But a few folks from your parents (or grandparents) generation did that too. And a few folks from their parents or grandparents did too. And yet … here we are. Something to think about.”

    And if a few people jumped off the Titanic, that would have changed nothing at all.

  11. Anonymous says:

    He lost me when he essentially refused to answer anything. For example:

    “Well, I don’t know if I like to be a hero. I think it was Nietzsche who said that nobody who understands fame wants to be famous”
    “Well, I’m a little wary of the term “self sufficiency” if you take it in a strict sense, self sufficiency is a lie”
    “But the word “permaculture”, I always carefully define it as a brand. Permaculture is a brand like Nike or something.”

    He doesn’t really answer much. permaculture is, if anything, the practical side of the movement – it’s not about why you should be doing things, it’s about how to do them once you’ve decided to. You buy a book about permaculture, and it spends the entire time talking about how best to look after your vegetable garden in a three-season system, so the chickens have one third of the garden to roam at any given time.

  12. pauldavis says:

    I don’t actually care whether he is a farce or pretensious. All I care about is when people advocate things that have been done in generations that came before and did not lead to the predicted outcome. The hippies and more broadly the back-to-the-land and communitarian movements of the late 1960′s and early 1970′s definitely had some effects on US society. But did either of them in any way remotely accomplish what their advocates claimed was the point (even if the point was to have no point) ? And punk definitely has had an impact both on the US and the UK and possibly wider afield, but has it actually changed things in any ways that are remotely like the original chants, goals, tastes of the original punks?

    So drop out all you want. But a few folks from your parents (or grandparents) generation did that too. And a few folks from their parents or grandparents did too. And yet … here we are. Something to think about.

  13. arikol says:

    I have to agree with the above comments. Some of his stuff makes sense, then you get to the apparent doublethink, and finally you come to

    sorry, but no.

    greebo #6 also has a great point about community, and working together.

    Heck, all the above comments are sane, sensible, well thought out, and show this guy to be a nutter with a summerhouse in the woods.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The rash and pompous :) over-use of the word “pompous” in these comments sprouts from the dynamic between Ran’s personal and neurotic fixations and the similarly poised fixations of people sitting at the other end of the spectrum. People like the reformed hippies of the 70′s who’ve awoken from their stupor of idealism only to find solace in the realistic idea of industrial hard-ship, or, for example, the college graduates who rest the budding of their emotional intelligence on ADMISSION and COMPLETION of a student’ tenure. Does he not encourage thinking people to attend universities? I think he’s just saying that you can don’t HAVE to grind your way through years of a degree that makes you unhappy, whilst holding only the EXPECTATION that contentedness will come when your degree’s over. Sorry, when you get that first job. Sorry again, after that first promotion (Not that all students/graduates experience this).

    I don’t think there’s any need for anger or derision, I think he’s merely preaching HIS guide to spiritual balance.

    Or we could just burn him at the stake. After all, tolerance IS a boring farce.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Dear high school kids (all of them, not just the smart ones),
    Do everything possible to go to college. Seriously. Somehow this guy seems to think that the only thing you learn at college is how to “think and act like an educated person.” However, a “smart kid” or anyone who actually attends classes and puts forth effort into the academic side of their chosen major will absolutely learn more than an affected social manner. The value of what any honest person learns at college – socially, academically, emotionally, etc… – far exceeds the monetary cost incurred. Also, you end up with a degree, which has very real value in today’s world.

    Debt is only scary to people who are unwilling to do the work it takes to pay it off, and a college loan is the very best kind of monetary debt to carry into your chosen profession. Don’t ever let some pedantic wannabe hermit lecture you about an educational establishment he obviously didn’t pay attention to.

    Dear BoingBoing,
    Please don’t feed trolls, especially professional conspiracy theorists who can’t wait to tell us how wrong we all have it. At the very least, read the trolls’ websites and stick with people who have some kind of realistic grasp of the world the rest of us live in. Please?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Personally, I try to find insight where I can. It does not matter to me what else a person says if I can connect to any part of it.

    I found the parts about how much more difficult it is try to follow your own path, rather than to do what is expected of you moving.

    I also found learning of “Operation Northwoods” to be particularly chilling.

  17. ahmacrom says:

    I read the FAQ on (9/11). He reads Charles Fort ! Since there are gaping holes in the official 9/11 reports, he’s asking and trying to find the answers to questions a lot of people are asking. My straight laced science teacher thought Sagan was a loser cause he smoked pot and would not entertain any discussions of his books.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Wow…sounds like Ran really hit some nerves. Those who are ranting and raving against him are clearly firmly rooted in the messed up society Ran talks about dropping out of.

    Go Ran! Keep on writing. Love your stuff.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wow! I never expected two of my favorite blogs to cross pollinate like this! Thanks for the interview Ran!

    @jalmos : at the heart of anger lies fear

  20. Anonymous says:

    Here is a thought, maybe Ran is just a person, trying in his own way to do, and to be, what he believes?

    Just like you, just like me.

    If nothing else, he should get credit for openly sharing what he is, what he is doing, what he believes…knowing full well the wide range of responses he is likely to elicit.

    There is far too much work to do, for anyone to waste time Throwing the First Stone.

    One of Ran’s points with which I absolutely agree: do not go into massive debt for college, or for *anything* else…there is always another way. Debt will suck the life out of you, debt makes a free man into a slave. This should not be news to anyone with a brain.

    Is Dumpster Diving “looting”? Is the Perfect the Enemy of the Good?

    Debating beliefs or concepts is fair. Ad hominem quips are not. I don’t agree with everything he says on his site, but I respect him for speaking honestly and for making an effort to inspire dialogue.


  21. duncan says:

    It sounds to me like he’s just another part of the system he purports is going down.

  22. Glogin says:

    In terms of college, I think Ran is just trying to say you should pick institutions which fits your circumstances whether it be a traditional university, technical trade school, art school, an internship, a professional job, or etc. Also, since many colleges in the U.S. have become unaffordable it makes sense that he’d complain about debt forcing individuals to choose from a shrinking set of options which may or may not fit their educational needs and aspirations. I’ve also been told many times that college, life after high school, (and, trust me when I say this life does go on after high school), or what have you is a place in time when you get an opportunity to find then redefine yourself instead of letting today’s public school institutions, which may or may not provide for a student s full intellectual enrichment (especially due to recent budget shortfalls), do it for you. Of course, Ran does without a doubt ramble on a lot during improvisational interviews and like any of us is susceptible to error since, he’s just human. Overall though, his trials along with his errors, as this interview doubtlessly shows, have changed his viewpoints on many issues over time to the point where he’s had to revise or get rid of old perspectives. So, instead of just tearing down Ran’s ideas, I think its important to just take the strong points he makes then build from those while also making our own mistakes while doing so.

  23. wylkyn says:

    This guy’s philosophy strikes me as that of the teenage variety, but instead of ranting about screwed up “the parents” are, it is “society” that has serious problems. (I’m guessing that when he was in school, all his teachers just didn’t understand him!) How this guy makes being a parasite sound morally superior…amazing. We adults will continue to try to work together to try to make society better, a little at a time. You kids go ahead and run away from home…I’m sure you’ll show us! And after you’re done plucking those organic eggs (that we paid for) from the trash, be sure to put the lid back on the trash can. And be quiet about it, would you? Some of us have to work in the morning.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I think Ran’s work is in the same vein as Crass… it’s all about self-empowerment. “There is No Authority But Yourself”

    I wonder about anyone Ran’s writing manages to anger. If this interview makes you mad, ask yourself why. No well adjusted person should be upset by anything he writes.

    I know Ran won’t be reading these comments, but he knows how much his fans love him. Keep it up Ran!

  25. andyhavens says:

    I’m confused about what I don’t have the power to say “no” to that’s based on culture, technology, business or socialization. As a citizen, I can’t say “no” to stuff like, you know… laws… but the rest of it? I don’t have to shop, eat, watch or drive anything I don’t want to. Do I? I mean, as he says, it’s much harder to do for yourself… but, then again, it always has been.

    What I say “no” to *RIGHT NOW* is growing my own food, cooking my own medicine and performing my own dental surgery. I have the freedom to say “no” to writing my own novels, filming my own movies/tv, performing my own music and designing my own video games. I very much enjoy the work of others — both culturally and industrially — and say “no” to doing it myself.

    Could we do a better job environmentally, etc? Sure. All kinds of ways we could do better. But I don’t see that rejecting the whole shebang is helpful. Seems kind of over-simplistic and, well… douchey.

  26. LT says:

    Enjoyed the article. I am a “Ran Fan” having followed his web site for about 6 months. If you enjoy thinking outside the box, and are concerned with the way energy decline will play out or just want to head toward downshifting your economic footprint then I would highly recommend his web site. If you are into conformity …. it’s not likely to be your cup of tea. I also see 9-11 needs to be added to religion and politics as subjects to avoid if you don’t want to ruffle feathers ;-)

  27. jphilby says:

    Huh. I wanted to like this guy, but when I went to his 911 page, I did.

    “Anyone who challenges the dominant story is immediately reclassified as a conspiracy nut!”

    Which is exactly true for the same reason that most Americans ‘know’ that hippies were dirty, anarchist, regressive stoners. Most of us don’t like or know how to think for ourselves, so we wait for an authority to say something and that becomes our opinion.

    Good luck with that in your unchosen future.

  28. Gulliver says:

    Reiterating my earlier point, I disagree with a lot of his advice. Also, he does come off a little sanctimonious, but not in a mean-spirited way, just a bit full of himself. And evidently he buys into a dubious conspiracy theory that must not be named (thanks, dMc, for the heads up). But so what? He’s just offering his perspective on life. It hardly seems worthwhile to get upset over it, and the article and essay still make some reasonable points.

    I, for one, don’t buy the notion that holding one or more absurd or obtuse opinions automatically invalidates everything the speaker has to say. In fact, I think this is a real problem in our society that once someone decides they don’t like a person or a group, they stop listening to everything that person or group has to say. Or they ignore that person or group without ever listening to them at all because the clique the would-be listener identifies with has reached a general consensus that the person or group is bad mojo.

  29. Anonymous says:

    He has some interesting things to say, more thought-out than most people who advocate impossible back-to-nature ideals. The downside is that he balances his rationality here with batshit insane things on his web site like the world trade center was deliberately bombed from the inside because the buildings didn’t fall over like we exepcted, and other nonsense.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Urban density is not the solution to our problems… being more civil and maybe a little more proximal to each other is. Urban gentrification is not the key to that. In fact, the whole reason why we have suburbs in the first place is because people felt that city life wasn’t treating them well. That is a civility issue being suffered by rational adults who flee the situation, not merely a brainless reaction of irrational people being lured away by housing brochures. You could have the cutest, most walkable urban neighborhoods imaginable and if people still treat each other like crap, no one will stay there.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Where is Ran pompous? All his points are supported either here or on his website.

  32. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Back on topic, please. I’m just going to remove comments about 9/11.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Discuss: “My first advice would be: Whatever you do, don’t go into debt for college…My parents had some money saved up so I didn’t have to go on debt for college.”

  34. Anonymous says:

    I had dinner with Ran, and I can assure you, he is not pompous.
    Wait – he actually lived with us for a few days.
    He does, of course, rub people who are completely brainwashed by the dominant paradigm the wrong way.
    I guess we know who those people are here…
    Think before you react and comment. You don’t need a guru, but you (as in we) all need the ability to be open to new ideas and synthesize, if we are going to have a shot at surviving the ongoing collapse.

  35. Anonymous says:

    The reactions here confirm that Ran holds opinions, has habits and asks questions that make many feel uncomfortable. America still has many taboos. He’s not for everyone and that was to be expected.

    I enjoy reading his stuff. It breaks the monotony and I often find it insightful or thought-provoking.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I don’t go along with everything that Ran Prieur writes on his page; or as is the case lately, links on his page. He has demonstrated himself to me as being biased in a left wing preference. Not to take anything away from left wing ideology, but given a choice of a red or blue car; if you always trash talk the red car and critique the blue car for not being the way a good blue car should be, you got a bias. I don’t think Ran Prieur wants an audience that would go along with every thing he wrote; or happy because he wrote or linked to it.

    What I do like from his page is a poking of my thinking.

    I also find I have convergence on things I perceive as some of his core concepts.

    1) A deterministic mechanical universe of scientific proof is not the universe we live in. There is fairy dust in the mix.

    2) Your job should not be how you hang up your life 9-5 40 hours a week for 40 years. It is not good for our biological world, and it is not good for our psychological health. Other things should take the place this ends of money. Life and feelings matter more.

    His personality does come out. Some of it is cool, some of it may seem pompus. Yet there is much written by well respected authors, that make use of “the stupid masses” lament. Confucius comes to mind off the top of my head. The word Pagan use to have like meaning as used by early Christians.

    For me I do see Prieur having a heart for humanity and wishing them to stop destroying the world and themselves and live more gently and humanely. He gets thrown the same head lines the rest of the world gets and that can inspire bouts of scorn.

    Maybe people are hoping for a more tactful presentation of some of the ideas Prieur has to present. I consider if that to be the case, it is unfortunate that the package is more important than the substance for that person to consider subjects. Ran writes and if people are interested great. He has his own life and he expects others to have theirs.

  37. Gulliver says:

    Interesting fellow.

    I can’t say I agree with all his advice – at least I don’t think it applies to everyone’s circumstances – but he has some keen observations.

    I especially liked Of all the species on Earth, only humans are that stupid.

  38. Gulliver says:

    When I was a kid, we still had unstructured time, play time in the afternoons. And now, people have everything planned for them.

    Is this true? That’s horrible. Kids should structure their own playtime ad hoc. That’s why it’s playtime.

    There’s going to be, there will be local hard crashes, and globally, it’s just going to muddle along and decline. There are going to be some regions that do really bad, and other regions that thrive. I don’t think the human population can continue to be as high, and it’s going to get really ugly in a lot of places.

    I sometimes think this, but then I wonder if I’m being overly pessimistic because I see people coming up with ingenious solutions I never would have imagined. I’ve given up on seriously trying to guess at the future.

    You don’t need to go to college to learn that. If you come from a lower class family and your parents did not go to college, then college is much more beneficial to you.

    I don’t know about this. Different individuals learn in different ways. Some learn by listening to someone else explain and answer questions. I know as an engineering physics major, I never would have learned all the math I needed from books. I think it all depends on the person, what they’re interested in and how they absorb understanding.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I’ve had Ran’s website bookmarked for several years and I appreciate this interview. Very interesting to see the gradual shifts in his thinking over the years of trying different things. Originally his ideas meshed with my ideas that began forming in high school. I wish I would have read his college advice back then.

  40. jalmos says:

    Being a life-long ‘outsider’ type myself, I want to get on board with this guy, but I can’t shake the fact that what I’m reading is simply way too pompous to do so. I’m agreeing…then he says things like (paraphrased) “well, it’ll take you idiots another 10,000 years to figure out how to live properly like I do” or “college is only good for you poor kids, because none of you even sound like you’ve had an education.”

    Dude is just substituting one system for another, and the one he’s got now is worse, because it’s self-imposed.

    “Drop out” is just high-and-mighty code for “I’m too afraid to fight the system, so I’m going to run away.”

    • johan,karlskrona says:

      He said it’ll take 10 000 more years (probably not an exact number) for humanity and he didn’t exclude himself. And he never said that everybody should drop out. Or fight the system. And he kind of stressed the importance of finding or creating a community.
      And if someone can live of my thrash, I think that’s a good thing.
      Nothing is for everyone. Not one way of life is for everyone.
      I found him inspirational. Though I get inspired by a lot of people, a lot of ideas and a lot of things.
      And I don’t define people by their thoughts about that tragedy 10 years ago. There’s been so many tragedies before and since then.

      Avi Solomon, great interview, could you please interview Ken Wilber or Douglas Rushkoff aswell.

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