Five people who are leading the way out of civilisation as we know it

All over the world, there are people who have come to the conclusion that modern industrial society is a bit shit, really. As we begin to understand the impact of modern society and the dangers that we inflict on ourselves, it could be tempting to dream of withdrawing entirely from the whole stinking game.

And there are people around who have done that. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Sue Woodcock, hermit in the Dales

In 2004 Sue Woodcock, a retired policewoman, spent her savings on a rayburn cooker and some rare sheep, and moved to the Yorkshire Dales. She referred to the world she’d left as “that England” and claimed to have no morals, because that’s something society enforces on you.

She’s more of a Hermit than a primitive, her lifestyle involves meeting very few people, she generated her own electricity and got water from her own well. In 2011 she was looking into selling up and her lifestyle now seems to involve trips to the shops to buy wine-racks.

2. Emma Orbach, mud hut dweller

orbachEmma Orbach was the daughter of a wealthy musician and got an education at Oxford. She left England with her husband, originally to set up a self-sufficient farming community, but then she split off from that to get even more back to nature. For the past thirteen years she’s been living in a mud hut in rural Wales.

She doesn’t allow tractors onto the land, grows what she needs and does all of her own repairs. It sounds like this isn’t just a withdrawal from society, she hopes that living simply will help humanity see what’s possible.

3. Tom Leppard, most tattooed man in the world

Tom Leppard, 'the Leopard Man of Skye'Tom Leppard, the former most tattooed man in the world, lived alone on the island of Skye, Scotland. He lived alone for twenty years, only travelling to the mainland by kayak once every week to collect his pension. In 2008, at the age of 73, he left the islands and moved to a one bedroom house, claiming that it was getting too dangerous to kayak into town when he needed to.

4. Will Lord, primitive skills teacher

Will Lord, of Beyond 2000 BC is not entirely primitive as such (I mean, he has a website and does TV work) but he’s one of the people in the UK that teach and retain old skills used by “primitive” people, such as flint knapping, constructing, bows, bushcraft, etc. These skills are interesting for people who want to be able to make and use their own tools.

The main argument for these skills is that, while lots of tools that even the people on this list use are cheap to get the industries that produce them aren’t sustainable. This has lead people to develop an interest in making their own tools.

5. John Zerzan, theorist of primitivism

John Zerzan is worth mentioning here as the main theorist of Anarcho-Primitivism. He has some followers in Britain. My main memory of them is seeing big piles of pamphlets they’d put together, and being told they’d formed a production line to make them.

Perhaps the problem with the anarcho-primitivists is that they have a difficult choice to make. The tools you need to spread an idea are the same tools you need to spread your message. So do you compromise your lifestyle to convince others, or do you live by your ideals even though one person doing it won’t save the world?

Leppard eventually had to give up his extreme lifestyle when he couldn’t support himself alone. Emma Orbach’s lifestyle is only possible because she was originally part of a commune that could defend their rights against outsiders. So it seems that people who want to withdraw from civilization may want to be a role-model for others, but they still need sympathetic allies who are still inside civilisation if they’re going to be successful.


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