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.