A subdivision in the suburbs of Mount Pleasant may be an unusual place for a nationally known scholar and book author to settle, but it is where 75-year-old Kirkpatrick Sale has decided to call home in his golden years.
Books by Kirkpatrick Sale
“The Land and People of Ghana,” Lippincott, 1963, 1972.“SDS,” Random House, 1973. Vintage Books edition (paperback) 1974.“Power Shift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and Its Challenge to the Eastern Establishment.” New York: Random House, 1975. “Human Scale.” New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980.“Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision.” Sierra Club Books, 1985.“The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy,” Knopf, 1990.“The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 1962-1992,” Hill and Wang, 1993.“Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age,” Addison Wesley, 1995.“Why the Sea Is Salt: Poems of Love and Loss,” iuniverse, 2001.“The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream,” Free Press, 2001.“After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination,” Duke University Press, 2006.(Coming) “Emancipation Hell: The Terrible Tragedy Wrought by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago.” Self-published through CreateSpace.
But like many “from off,” Sale moved from a house in the deep woods of New York to the Lowcountry four years ago for two primary reasons: to get away from brutal, long winters and to be near family, namely the sons of his partner, Shirley Branchini.
For a man who has long advocated secession as a solution to political, financial and ecological problems, the move to Charleston turned out to be a suitable fit.
“South Carolina, of course, is known as the secession state,” says Sale. “As the director of a secession think tank (Middlebury Institute), it’s natural that I’d be drawn here.”
In a world that increasingly pigeonholes people politically — liberals and conservatives believing rigid platforms of ideas — Sale is refreshingly unconventional and original.
Viewing the world through an “ecological prism,” Sale describes himself as an “anarchical communalist,” meaning that the only form of government he thinks is wise or sustainable is based on the community.
“The great theme of my work is decentralism. I wish to see power devolve from the center and moved back to the community, as much as possible,” says Sale. “I still think that’s the way to go.”
Since the 1960s, Sale, a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society, has made a name for himself by advocating not only secession and “bioregionalism,” but by challenging the benefits of technology, largely in the name of living more harmoniously with nature and fellow humans.
Among his books, “Human Scale” (1980) and “Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision” (1985) argue for creating smaller, governed entities and living within bioregions, or more natural boundaries and surroundings that are more ecologically sustainable.
His 1996 book, “Rebels Against the Future,” traces the Luddites and their short-lived war in 1811 on the Industrial Revolution, which Sale pointed out has lessons for those living in the computer age. Sale sees technology as a fast track to destroying both livelihoods and the planet.
In addition to a dozen books, Sale also has contributed to an array of periodicals, including American Conservative, New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones and The Nation.
In 1995, he famously made a $1,000 bet in an interview with Wired magazine’s Kevin Kelly that the world would crash in 2020 in a convergence of three disasters: a global currency collapse, wars between rich and poor, and “environmental disasters of a significant size.”
The Post and Courier recently sat down to ask him about the events of the year and how they relate to his writings.
Q: As of this interview, some people in 49 states have filed petitions of secession on the White House website. Do you think this is a knee-jerk reaction by conservatives over losing the presidential election or do you think this is the beginning of serious conversation, or action, toward secession?
A: It’s difficult to say. I’m sure that it’s not simply Romney voters who are angry because, after all, if there are 49 states, some of those states would have been Obama states. But I think that there is a sense that, “Oh, my God, we’ve got Obama for these next four years. We know what kind of country he wants us to have. We don’t want that kind of country.” Now, probably Romney wouldn’t have done anything to change (much) because of the nature of our system, Republicans and Democrats don’t do a lot of changing. They are just two halves of the same coin.
The Romney loss isn’t so important, but it’s the fact that we have Obamastate for the next four years that has a lot of people upset. I don’t blame them. I think they should’ve started to get upset a long time ago.
I’m pleased to see that they have chosen secession as their means of resistance because when you think about how you fix this broken system, you begin to realize that elections don’t make a damn bit of difference ... and you begin to realize that Washington is a corrupt place and always will be.
Then you say what are the alternatives. Revolution is a hard row to expect anyone to go. In place of that, there’s peaceful secession. If secession is allowed to be peaceful, it will be.
It’s only when Lincoln invaded South Carolina that secession had to turn to war. It was Lincoln who provoked the war.
Q: If secession were viable, don’t you think that state boundaries, as drawn, are too large, cumbersome and don’t follow any natural logic? In an ideal world, wouldn’t new regions use topography?
A: In an ideal world, you’re absolutely right that people would organize along bioregional lines. The Lowcountry, for example, would be perfect because it has a common culture, a common attitude toward ocean, marsh and forest. It would make an excellent nation all by itself.
Q: To help people understand bioregions, how would the Carolinas be divided up, based on the concept?
A: They would naturally divide the way people, at least in North Carolina, feel about it. The folks I know in Appalachia don’t have anything in common with the people on the coast or in their state capital.
Clearly the coastal areas have more in common and that would be a natural way to divide. Throughout the country, you could find a combination of states doing better than one state going alone. ... The people in Vermont, who have been very successful in their secession efforts, talk about a New England secession, which might make sense. They could form an alliance with certain of the coastal provinces of Canada. That might make a viable kind of nation.
The only reason we think of states is that we have the ... governments there and we’ve had them there for a long time. So that seems a natural engine to use to build a new nation upon, but there’s nothing God-given about the boundaries of these states and, in fact, they are very arbitrary.
Before I would ask people to divide up into bioregions, which seems like a great leap, I’d simply say let’s divide up into the state governments that we already have, take them over and make them democratic and efficient, and see how that goes.
Q: As I read in the Wired magazine interview in 1995, you had suggested to your two daughters that they don’t have children and they obviously didn’t listen to you. Is that the way you still feel and, if so, why?
A: I do. In fact, do you realize that there is a whole dystopian young adult genre (i.e. “Hunger Games”) that kids between 10 and 20 are reading this stuff. It’s all about apocalyptic futures. When I mentioned that to my 14-year-old daughter, she said, “Yeah, I know that. ... I guess they figure this is going to happen.”
These kids know beyond the fact that there’s not going to be any money in Social Security or Medicare. They know that. They also know that the accumulating problems in the world are not getting solved. They are not getting solved here, or in Europe, and certainly not in China. That’s where the problems are accumulating.
You hear politicians often enough that we are stealing from our children and grandchildren. ... They hear that and understand what that means. They under- stand the system is broken and can’t be fixed and that it’s going to do them in as we go laughing to our graves.
Q: If the Western world is going to collapse, what’s your argument for individual people to do anything to stop it?
A: I’ve spent most of my life as an activist — democracy, peace, one cause or another — and I gave that all up a few years ago, maybe 10 years or longer ago, as completely worthless. You could see that nothing was getting changed or would get changed because the way the system is rigged because of corporate power and political corruptions.
With all this talk about global warming and what we should do about it is just spinning wheels. Nobody has any good idea what to do about it because the answer to it is stopping growth. You can’t keep growing. Nobody wants to talk about that: not politicians and not economists.
The fiscal cliff would make a big dent in the way we are going because consumers would not be purchasing at anywhere near the level that they are purchasing. And that’s the only way to have any glimpse of salvation.
I don’t think there’s anything we can do as individuals that is going to help, but there are certain moral things we can do.
We can recycle, which I do. We can be careful of our use of resources. You try to live as lightly as you can on the Earth. You try to buy local, eat local. But in totality, it’s not going to change the world ... but it’s simply the right thing to do. I don’t do it to save the world, but that it’s the right thing to do. That’s good enough.
Q: Does your book “Rebels Against the Future” still have a worthwhile lesson for living in the computer age? Even if you, or others, sympathize with Luddites, what can people do to follow their example when so much of life, work and personal interaction takes place via cellphone and the Internet?
A: It’s not individual use of this high technology that’s distressing. It is the corporate and big government use of this technology. It was invented, after all, by the Defense Department and big government, and warmly embraced by all kinds of corporations that have made billions of dollars from it.
They are the ones who have no regard for the concept of limit. ... That’s the problem with this technology. It’s too powerful and too fast and it’s out of control, as the ’08 crash of the market will tell. It was done by machines operating essentially without human control.
Q: Your next book is an e-book on the Emancipation Proclamation, which seems to be outside of your general realm. What’s the gist of the book and how does it fit into the greater body of your work?
A: I think you’re right that this is not in the same theme as the other books and it is certainly not environmental as many of my books have been, or partly have been, but it is talking about liberty, which I have concerned myself with.
One of the reasons I get into bioregionalism and, before that, scale, is because I feel that there is a way for people to have liberty, but it has to be a fairly limited scale. In the case of emancipation, it had to be done with immense care and consideration.
But the North and the hotheads in Congress cared nothing about emancipation. The Emancipation Proclamation, begun in 1862, was according to Lincoln a war measure. It had nothing to do with freeing the slave. And in fact, it did not free a single slave. It had a provision that slaves in the rebellion states would be free, but he had no power to do anything about that and in the border states he had nothing to do with freeing the slaves.
It was a war measure with the idea that blacks would rise up on the plantations and take them over so that the owners of the plantations would rush home and leave the army in order to protect, even though they couldn’t protect it because the slaves would outnumber them.
That was in Lincoln’s mind. That’s all he was thinking about. He knew well enough that it was a terrible bargain that he was making there.
... Lincoln did not spend his time on the 13th Amendment. It was not his baby at all.
He gave a speech to Congress ... that there should be compensation to the slave owners, provisions to integrate blacks into the economy to teach them trades and provide ways to do something other than farming and to get into the national economy, and there should be colonization because Lincoln knew that many would not be able to fit into a new society and that they’d be happier going back to some place either in Africa or the West Indies and South America.
Lincoln knew there was a right way to go about doing this, but it didn’t stop him. A month later, he issued the proclamation having no provisions to take care of blacks at all, whatsoever, just to throw them out into the world with predictable results: chaos, racial wars and ultimately a long-term, black-white hatred established by this process.
We got black-white hatred for easily a hundred years. Don’t forget in 1963 that (Dr. Martin Luther) King, in his “I have a Dream Speech,” said that we are not free. That was 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, so obviously it was an utter failure as a document.
We haven’t eliminated racism in either black or white, but we have ameliorated it in many places. We have allowed for the progress of blacks in many ways, although at the same time, we have permitted the enslavement in our prison system of millions of these people. We have permitted the disintegration of the black family, largely because we didn’t know what we were doing in welfare.
We didn’t plan for the proper integration of blacks into the society and I blame the Emancipation Proclamation.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.