Happy People is a four-hour documentary that chronicles a year of living in the Russian Siberian village of Bakhtia (population 300), a settlement with no permanent electricity, telephone, or land access. Its inhabitants principally live off the land from the dint of their near-constant labor. I was deeply affected watching what is essentially a window into the past, of how much of humanity used to live.
Part 1 of Happy People
The settlement does have modern amenities such as motorized boats, snowmobiles, and chainsaws, but the bulk of their work is done with basic tools and fishing gear. They have to hunt and labor constantly not only to provide for the present, but to ready themselves for the following season, especially winter, where deep snow cover and the freezing of the river may mean death for the unprepared. Men build boats out of logs, construct huts by hand, craft their own skis, and make custom animal traps. Fishing and harvesting of wood is endless, and though I wouldn’t say the people are suffering poverty, they don’t experience the constant daily comforts that we do.
The lives of the Siberians are determined by the weather and seasons; the clock of nature drives nearly their entire behavior. I compare that to my own life in which nature is absent. The sun has no bearing on my life, and my avoidance of it is easily compensated by taking vitamin D pills. I bathe myself in electric light, worshiping it as if it were my god. My labor consists of entirely mental effort while seated, and going to the gym is only a soft simulation of the labor that the Siberians perform. While I eat only according to my bodily needs, I surely don’t hunt for my food, and barely have to prepare it.
A warmer season may mean I can dip into a beach or pool, but mostly it just determines what clothing I wear and what type of mild discomfort I feel from the the heat or cold. The only time nature disturbs my life is the one or two times a year when I wait out a heavy rainstorm to pass before walking outside. It plays practically no effect on how I live.
Not long ago I shared the idea that we may be living in a computer simulation. Even if you take that to be false, city life is certainly a simulation when compared to Siberian life, one that removes human beings from nature and allows them to have a pleasant and comfortable existence away from hunting, farming, manual labor, and the struggle to survive. It places them in a fantastical cocoon.
Constructs within the city, such as office work, casual dating, fine dining, computers, and even money create an environment in which the seasons, the rivers and lakes, and the soil play no role. Millions of tons of concrete have been poured upon your city to aid in the simulation, and when you walk around its logical grid-like pattern, what other conclusion can we reach that we are nothing more than simulated beings in concrete palaces that serve ends which are completely severed from human needs? The work we do in a city is make-work to serve the simulation, that when stopped would not even threaten your own survival thanks to the welfare state and altruism of others. It’s useless work that has no life-or-death consequence.
The relationship between the Siberians and their land is symbiotic. They are careful never to exceed the productive output of the land, meaning they must live in harmony with it. The relationship in the cities, however, is one that mirrors the parasitic leech. We look to the city to extract the maximum amount of money, material possessions, or hedonistic pleasure units possible, without any consideration or evaluation of their earthly costs, which we do not see anyway because the simulation has perfected their concealment. In turn, the managers of our city leech off us, seeking to extract the most amount of labor, tax revenue, and acts of submission. Even the Bible knew that cities were multipliers of vice, a place where evil could easily flourish.
Every time you pause in front of a “Don’t Walk” sign, waiting for the light to turn, or when you pay a parking ticket that was stuck to your windshield, you agree to the rules of the simulation. Compare that to the Siberian village, where the natural order is based on survival. The pettiness and absurdity that is a daily occurrence in cities are absent in the village, where rules must be followed to obey nature, not a trivial bureaucrat who seeks to expand his wealth or power. Such natural law is just, while cosmopolitan law is often not.
Even city life is too strenuous for the feeble modern human, and so a new simulation called the internet has be layered on top of it. Interacting with other people or dealing with the normal emotional states of human existence is so difficult that a growing percentage of the population must withdraw into their virtual world of games and social networking, living a simulation within a simulation, and soon the virtual reality layer will be paved on top of that. We are so hopelessly removed from nature that we would crumble to pieces after just one week of what the Siberians have faced for centuries. If we cannot live with nature, how human are we?
I must ask myself if I want to continue living a simulated life in which I’m surrounded by comfort, concrete, and electronic screens, or live one closer to nature, where occasionally I must pick up an ax and strike it at a log to ensure I won’t freeze in the night, instead of merely simulating this strike by entering an air conditioned gym with top 40 music playing in the background. I look at how the Siberians live and can’t help but feel ashamed at my weakness, because for all the talk of masculinity, I perform it in only a simulated form, and would not be understood by the men who carry rifles on their backs in the middle of the tundra to protect themselves from real predators, who pray to survive the hunt and bring enough food for their families waiting at home. I lament how the entirely of my life has been a simulation that has manipulated my ideas of what is real and true.
Should we really be surprised at why modern Western people are so unhappy, so unfulfilled? We are living simulated lives, with rules and environments created by other men to control our output and behavior. Nearly everything we do is an unneeded construct to please the simulators while practically nothing of what the Siberians do is artificial. The smiles I saw in Happy People might have been few, but they were genuine, and I saw not a hint of men wondering what their life is for and what the meaning of it all was. They know the purpose of their life is to live according to the rules of nature and to survive from the gifts it gives them. I wonder if I’m brave or strong enough to live like that, too.
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