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Reflections on Society: Slab City, California

Luke Holm is a freelance writer, traveler, and teacher. He writes creative short stories, informational articles, and memoirs.

Salvation Mountain at the entrance to Slab City, California.

Salvation Mountain at the entrance to Slab City, California.


I wrote these words after coming back from a summer adventure across the west coast of the United States. I had embraced life and felt freer than ever until I got back to the city and the skull drudgery of society took over once again. I think these reflections have a lot to say about our time and place in the world today. I hope you are able to glean some wisdom from my travels.

Back to Reality

OK. Finally, back to “reality,” although I’m not sure it’s the best place to be. Last night was the first time I missed the sunset in a week. Instead, I watched Netflix and ate cheese. As I use the toilet, bathe in a steamy shower, heat the teakettle for coffee, and scramble some eggs, I can’t help but reflect on the differences in day-to-day living between society and its counterpart—nature.

Balance and Counterbalance

Has life become too simple? On my adventure, I was able to understand and see clearly that the world is always balanced and in harmony. This is a fundamental law of reality. Creating simplicity means that we are creating complexity. When we create such ease in one aspect of life, the scales tip in another. It’s never-ending.

While this contrast may be more apparent in other parts of the world, it is important to understand that everything we have means the exact opposite for someone else. The world is balanced, but humanity exists on opposite sides of the spectrum. As this revelation unfolded, the universe led me to a hidden gem existing separate but within the United States. While this was a place that was far from perfect, it was a glimpse of how the middle of this spectrum might be found.

Slab City: Land of the Free

Slab City, the last lawless place in America, is literally without government control or authority. People live where they want and do what they want all the time. If you’re looking for land, then build a tin can perimeter and call it yours. If you want to teach or entertain others, then take the stage. If you want to do drugs openly, then do them and share. You can shoot guns, read a book, build a house, create art out of trash, or do nothing at all. It’s the Wild West, the sheriff has gone missing, and the people have taken over. The only thing you can’t do is encroach on another person’s property, not because it’s a rule, but because they might get revenge.

With no police or government control comes a sense of community that we don’t find in typical society. Everyone knows each other and each other’s business and works together to ensure some state of stability throughout the land. Most people who live there are retirees and Leary’s dropouts with no money, no one, and no desire to live in a typically functioning society. This, however, does not mean they are without ambition. Just because they live differently doesn’t mean they aren’t successful. Just because they don’t have much doesn’t mean they aren’t happy.

Art found in Slab City, CA.

Art found in Slab City, CA.

What's the Point?

We are told to go to school, get degrees, get a job, buy a car, buy a house, get married, have children, retire, enjoy retirement (if we can), and then have enough financial security to bury ourselves. Obviously, this is an extremely generalized thought, a bit pessimistic, and has a wide range of exceptions to each point and statement. Yet, there does seem to be a universal script we read from in the United States.

Although these sentiments have been spoken of before by many, the striking contrast between nature and society is currently at the forefront of my mind. How long will this understanding last? How quickly will I be brainwashed by media and lavish comforts and join the ranks of marching cogs in the machine? I fear this clarity will become muddied very soon, and when it happens, I probably will forget to care.

Life Beyond the Pale

There is something to be said about living simply and freely. Priorities shift, and the pace of the race slows down. Natural problems like where to defecate, where to sleep, how to bathe, and the search for food and water become more important than anything else. With no electricity or media outlets, the reality is what is in front of your face. No one has the energy to tell you what to think or how to feel, but if those kinds of topics do arise, it’s an actual conversation rather than a one-way stream of information pouring out of a screen. Everything is appreciated; from a shredded tire to free fruit, these are treasures of the triumphant each and every day.

People listen more than they speak. When they do talk, it’s less about the world and more about the moment. Even though healthy food is rare, no one is sick. They are like animals. Everyone is strong enough to endure the elements, strong enough to speak their mind, and strong enough to provide for themselves. If they need money, they trade stuff, recycle cans/scrap metal, or sell art. Everyone is happy and content. No one apologizes or regrets their choices. There is little to no desire for more of anything. And while many people may argue that the renegades are lost, it’s these defectors who have finally found peace.

Art found in Slab City, CA.

Art found in Slab City, CA.

The Burden of Society

Coming back, it feels like society is poison for the soul. Everyone seems drained of life and vibrancy. No one seems truly happy. People are blocked from each other, both physically and mentally. A crime happens, and people turn away (but then talk about how they could fix it later). People are scared of each other. People judge each other. There are few eyes that meet and smile with ease. There are a few hugs with laughter in the streets.

And when someone does help another person out, it is so rare that they feel great about themselves for days after. People are wasteful and unappreciative. We expect things from others whom we do not know or care to know. And while we are told which problems to focus on through the media, this poison burns deeper into our minds--dumbing us down--and deeper into our hearts--numbing us up.

I left San Jose in the wake of a terrible school shooting and have returned to news about arming teachers. At first, I thought it was a joke but quickly realized this is actually what people are talking about. I’m guessing that most people who are advocating this have no idea what it's like to be a teacher. Guns are not a solution but rather reveal the psychology of fear. And fear is not conducive to receiving a proper education.

Signs entering Slab City, California.

Signs entering Slab City, California.

A Nation Divided

Whatever. I’m not here to debate such spoon-fed topics. Instead, I’d like to point out the poison that is stifling society and true progress. We are being divided between each other and ourselves. Our innate sense of well-being and power are being stripped. Fear is forcing us inside, into artificial realities, instead of outside with other people and nature. Screens and iconic people are limiting our ability to think about topics other than those we are told to think about.

People support people who spread hatred and lies. People argue about things they don’t actually understand until they become too tired or bored to find a solution to the problem. People are working too hard for ends that they don’t understand or care about. We are living in hindsight and failing to act in the moment. When people are this disconnected from themselves, how can we expect them to connect with others?

We are turning our attention away from people in need so that we can focus on conversations about how to help people in need. We are on an ego trip, and our ego is wrecking the rest of the world. When will America slow down and solve the problems at hand before attempting true progress? Likely never. That’s why this issue needs to be tackled every single second by you and me. We need to marginalize the extremes of the spectrum and focus on what’s in front of our faces. There will always be a balance, but this doesn’t mean that all the weight can’t rest in the middle, together, and in harmony.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 JourneyHolm