Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Memory of Victor Flanagan

“The true traveler has no destination and no fixed time of arrival” Laozi

Each of us has someone from the past we’d like to meet. We study the lives of the Buddha, Gandhi, or Jesus Christ for ideas on how to live a moral life. We study Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Thomas Edison for inspiration. I am no different than any of you. There are many people from the past that I would like to meet. One such person I would like to meet from the recent past is Victor Flanagan.

Who is Victor Flanagan you ask?

In early April 2008, the Supreme Court in the state of West Australia, declared Victor Flanagan to be “presumed dead.” His estate (estimated to be worth $4 million US dollars) went to his sister Violet Georgina Jenkins.

What makes Victor unique is that he literally walked away from the fortune he inherited. That’s right he chose to roam around the Australian outback naked for years. When he came into a town, he would put on a simple sarong. Occasionally he wore sandals when the terrain was forbidding. He was known as the “Naked Nomad.” Victor last spoke with his sister about 12 years go from Papua New Guinea (PNG). Ms Jenkins later tried to find her brother and tracked down some loggers in a remote area of PNG who reported finding a nearly-dead, Caucasian man who was naked in a canoe and later buried him in a mass grave for paupers (from www.news.com/au)

www.news.com/au also reports:

“In the March (08) newsletter from environmental awareness group, The Great Walk, Flanagan was described as a ‘gentle man who walked this earth with love and care for the environment around him’.

‘He walked barefoot from Perth to Papua New Guinea, becoming known as the Naked Nomad, making the news in his plight to share his truth with the outside world.’”

In 1995, Flanagan told a reporter that his naked adventures had attracted a lot of interest from travelers and police, but many were willing to give him and his dog food and water.

‘When I get hungry I hold out my plate and when I get thirsty I hold out my bottle for water for me and my dog,’ Flanagan said.

He said his goal was simply to be in touch with nature.”

Wow. What a message! It reminds me very much of the sentiment of Peace Pilgrim, the woman who walked over 25,000 miles in North American spreading the word of truth. And what a simple truth it is: peace and environmentalism.

The Daily Mail in the UK reported:

“…a curious figure with shoulder-length greying hair who had rejected civilisation. Everyone believed he was penniless…”

What would cause a man to literally walk away from an estate worth $4 million? For well over 4000 years, mystics in India known as “renunciates” have given up all material belongings and walked about from town to town. The Buddha, Gandhi, and Tolstoy were renunciates. Did Victor know something that the rest of us can’t understand? Did he see something in the examples of previous renunciates to make him walk away from all of his possessions? Was he just an “eccentric” as many news reports claim? Did he discover the essence of man by giving up all he owned? Henry David Thoreau constantly asked if we owned the thing or does the thing own us. This is an ever-more critical question to ask in this consumer age. Having never met Victor, I can only guess that he was not owned.
The same week that I learned of Victor’s death, I heard an interview by the energy tycoon T Boone Pickens (TBP) on C-SPAN. He was being interviewed at the Georgetown College of Business, and the topic was energy. He shared his thoughts on the energy crises, but not once did the word conservation cross his lips! In fairness, he did say he would talk about smaller cars later in the discussion, but the interview ended without him talking about it. He spoke of expanded energy needs and shortages. He gave what I felt was a very accurate view of the current crises, but he failed to mention that we have been living beyond our ability to sustain the corporatocracy (of which TBP is a part) since Columbus landed in 1492. In the words of Herb Stein, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.” Victor Flanagan seems to me to have a better grasp of reality than T. Boone Pickens.

A psychoanalyst or historian looking back on these two men in the year 2508 will surely view Victor as the saner. Pickens said history will not be kind to this generation of the corporatocracy.
Frankly, I think it will prove to be impossible for a billion people to drive around at 70 mph in a sustainable manner no matter what technology will be developed in the next 200 years. In the interest of full disclosure, I own a truck. Pickens said we had about 2 trillion barrels of oil in the ground 110 years ago and half that is gone. The next trillion barrels will be gone in a lot less than that unless we decrease consumption rapidly.
Jerry Mander in his book, “In the Absence of the Sacred” said that all technology should be viewed as guilty until proven innocent. Meaning that we should view all new technology with suspicion, and I can guarantee you with 99.9% certainty that the replacement for gasoline (energy) and cars (transportation) will be fraught with unforeseen ecological hazards that won’t manifest for some years down the road. The earth “wants” humankind to travel at 3 miles per hour and to consume 3000 calories a day. Anything more than that (except maybe a bicycle) is really going to run up against the earth’s ability to sustain it in short order.
Let’s look at Victor’s example. Ask yourself a simple question: “how many calories did Victor use to travel 15 miles everyday?” The answer is somewhere around 2500-3000 biodegradable calories I would think. Now that is efficiency (especially so if the food he ate is locally grown)! Anything TBP could have possibly said (had he bothered to mention smaller cars) would have fallen far short of the truth. Think of the energy it takes just to get the gallon of gas to the pump. Victor spoke and lived truth.
One of my favorite books is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He was properly calculating transportation costs back in the 1840’s. A neighbor/farmer asked how long it took to walk from Concord to Boston to visit his mother. Thoreau said 2 hours one way I believe. The farmer urged HDT to get a horse and cut down the travel time to something like 30 minutes. But then Thoreau calculated the time it took to feed and care for the animal and it was right at 30 hours a week. One can hardly say it is a time savings at all. The same calculation is true today. I spend about 25% of my time and income paying for a car. It is hardly worth it.

Will we look back at Victor Flanagan and say, “He was a real visionary?” Will we look back at the life of T Boone Pickens and say, “He was part of the problem?” There is an African proverb that says, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” Pickens has the historians…for now. Will Victor be a lion with a historian someday? What can we learn from this simple man named Victor Flanagan? That is up to each of us. One thing is for sure, he was a traveler with no fixed destination or arrival time.

by Joey King


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February 28, 2010 at 7:54 AM  
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