What Are Freegans? Bums With Philosophy.

By Chris Warren.

As someone who likes to stay informed with off the news cycle trends, I had been somewhat familiar with the freegan “movement” but I didn’t realize it had taken root like a cult religion. I’m neither converted nor impressed nor fooled. Freegans are just bums with philosophy.

Freeganism is a lifestyle, economic system, political belief, protest movement…whatever you care to call it, plausibly all of the above. Freegans believe that participation in a traditional capitalist economy (ie, working a legitimate job and paying your own way) makes one complicit in causing the problems that go with such a system: Pollution, sweatshop labor, wasting of resources, income inequality, etc.

In what can be presumed as remedy to these problems, freegans participate in the economy to the smallest extent possible. This means buying little or nothing, not holding a steady job, and not owning homes or anything of significant value. Freegans often barter or trade with each other for things they need and will even “dumpster dive” for thrown away food and other items. Almost nothing they own, including the food they eat, was bought new or paid for in cash.

At first glance it seems almost idyllic: A tribe of counterculture freegans, shunning materialism, fending for themselves, and taking only what others rejected. It sounds so innocent, even noble. It’s not.

The first and most obvious fallacy freegans cling to is their disdain for overconsumption while at the same time being direct beneficiaries of it. All the free stuff they pull out of dumpsters would not be there if everyone followed freegan principles, or at least there would be a lot less free stuff to go around. It’s lost on me how someone whose lifestyle depends on society’s waste can criticize society for being wasteful, but the freegans are willing to give it a shot.

One argument states that, while freegans don’t contribute much to society, they don’t take much out of it, either. Or at least that’s what they want everyone to think. One of the tenets of freeganism is that it is ok to live in unoccupied or unused buildings. To them, squatting is acceptable because no one is using the place. In some freegan circles, they actually believe they are doing the property owners a favor by squatting in vacant buildings under the guise of “taking care of the place”. That’s quite a stretch to justify trespassing and using private property without compensation.

Twenty First Summer is a libertarian blog, and as such, I strongly favor giving as little money to the government as possible. But the other half of that equation is not to take any more from the government than you pay for. Freegans by definition embrace the former and reject the latter. Their system cannot work unless it’s a one-way street.

Like their lazy slob cousins over at the Occupy movement, freegans have plenty to say about what they are owed but not a lot about what they owe in return. Freeganism is really nothing more than trying to give virtue to being an unmotivated slacker. As we move closer to a culture of entitlement where everyone wants something without any personal sacrifice, is it unreasonable to think freeganism will move from the fringe into mainstream accepted behavior?

The answer is no. Only the freegans themselves think that all the idealistic youngsters eager to solve the world’s problems are going to give up their iPads and resort-like college dorms to live in abandoned buildings and eat out of the dumpster behind Burger King. Those of us with real jobs who pay our own way can be assured that the freegans will remain a fringe group. A lazy unemployed bum who spouts philosophy is still a lazy unemployed  bum.

7 thoughts on “What Are Freegans? Bums With Philosophy.

  1. ” Freegans are just bums with philosophy.” That right there will get you uninvited to all the best dinner parties out in my neck of the woods, a mantel I proudly claim. 😉

    It’s so ridiculous that “Freegans” is even a movement but such are the times we live in. The really sad part is that we let them live this way, leading uninspired and dependent lives and pat ourselves on on the back on how enlightened and compassionate we are for doing so.

    Well not you and me I don’t think but you know what I mean.

    1. To be fair, the freeegans do bring up a totally valid point that there is too much overconsumption and materialism, which leads to waste. Wasted resources and disrespect for the environment greatly bothers me, and as a regular reader you know that environmental issues are a regular topic on Twenty First Summer.. Still, that is not excuse not to have a legitimate job and support oneself. Thanks for stopping by, Tricia! It’s good to see you.

      1. Yeah, I don’t mind the rallying for more efficient use of our resources but I think a lot of people use it as an excuse to just unplug from society which you outlined well. 🙂

  2. Good post. Chris. People go by many monikers, but a freeloader is a freeloader. It’s easy to dismiss them, and that’s what’s usually done, except for those few that agree with them and think the freegan/weegan game is great and join-up. Alas, all these folks can vote if interested; it’s a pretty easy process… just sign on the dotted line, maybe have someone vouch for you (the process varies), and bingo you can go vote for the ever-popular ‘give-them-more-free-stuff’ candidate (s). It’s the ‘entitlement crowd’ and their ranks are growing… just as are all the government programs providing basically everything they could possibly want/need, including a smart phone. You can’t refuse them anything, because that would be discrimination of some sort or another. The ‘system’ is seriously broken, as can be seen in currently popular mainstream candidates. I’d gladly tell you more of what I really think, but it would be too hard for me to keep it civil on this public forum. I’m an informal member of ‘ranters anonymous’ struggling to not fall-off the wagon.’ Keep the faith, for we shall overcome! Without doubt!!

    1. As Mitt Romney once famously quipped, “There are too many people riding the wagon and not enough pulling it”. If freegans want to treat garbage cans as a dinner buffet…oh well I guess have at it. It doesn’t hurt me. But it never just stops there, as you explained in your “rant”. Nothing is ever enough and they are always looking for a way to game the system. And unfortunately, there are plenty of ways. Thanks for your great comment!

  3. Kind of follows that when you live off the labor someone of else and you are perfectly capable of working, you are a bum.

    Dumpster diving is by definition a health hazard. Supposedly, it is safe, but then these clowns top their websites with pictures of animals in the garbage. Frankly, even a package of bread is unopened, there is no telling what kind of fecal matter is on the packaging.

    If we want to fix the “system,” we have to do the hard work of reforming it. If we want to reduce the pollution and waste, we have to do the hard work of understanding how things work and making sensible changes. The Freegans just want an excuse for avoiding hard work.

    1. The freegans’ saying they are going to fix society by not participating in it is like saying you’re going to fix your car by going out and finding another junk car that no one wants and driving that. The solution “works” in the practical sense that you now have a way to get around, yet the original problem still goes unresolved. While I’m sure there are some well intentioned freegans out there who are genuinely not looking to game the system, the freegan way nonetheless would never work if everyone subscribed to it. As I mentioned in my post, freeganism can only function as a one way street. This concept is totally lost on Bernie Sanders supporters, but that’s another blog article.

      Thanks for your comment, Tom. I hope you’ll stop by Twenty First Summer again soon…and invite a few friends.

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