The State Within: A Year in the Free State Project

In August of 2016 I moved to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, and the year I spent there destroyed me, I was anihilated and reborn many times. In this experience I saw the transmutation and meditation practices I’d commited to for 6 months had profoundly impacted my intrinsic strength in response to what became the worst situation of my adult life. It is in this transformation that I came to a fundamental understanding of the kinds of skills, priorities and values that freestaters absolutely need for this movement to be successful.

My Story (The TL;DR)

In the fall of 2016 I lived and worked on a really bizarre farm isolated from society. Then I lived, by choice, homeless in a town I’d never been to, and confronted myself with challenges that broke through and pushed me to the absolute edge of my personal limits. I was really involved and exploring constantly and stepping up time and again.

All of this being thrown at me all at once led to the most transparent recognition of truth that I’d ever experienced. In mid-December of 2016 I had a Dissolution experience, that some people might call “an ego-death”. If you want to understand this more, keep watching this video. Also, read the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.

For most of Spring and a little bit of summer I got into selling high-quality kratom, having discovered the opioid epidemic in Manchester. I volunteered at a local recovery community center and started gaining a lot of traction through word of mouth. It was the first potentially highly successful business endeavor I’d had out there, because it was a noble goal that met a huge untapped demand.

Unfortunately, everything came to a halt then because the shit hit the fan for all of us in a freestater house right after I moved, in June. I was basically targeted as the main cause of the conflict, and ended up being literally outcasted from my home- ultimately based on lies, rumors and an incomplete story. I was verbally harassed and just cut off my interaction from the entire situation. I recognized at that point that I was powerless, that my boundaries for respect and safety had been crossed with no consideration of recourse.

My now ex-girlfriend left the movement. I moved back to my home in Minneapolis and here I am today, making this video after a brutally tough recovery. This disaster is entirely preventable, and it is my hope to share valuable advice to potential movers and participants to make you aware of what you can do to prevent and end unnecessary suffering and conflict.­

The Established FSP and Politics
The current FSP as I see it is a small sprouted plant, incredibly fragile to the elements around it. For the most part, the FSP doesn’t really exist yet. What does exist is a lot of volatility, newly forming communities, chaos, and lack of direction. One area that emanates consistency and therefore stability is in the core group of early movers who either live in or frequent Manchester, participate in a few key meeting spaces and share common goals.

In this core group, a majority of the time the focus is on political involvement in local New Hampshire politics. The amount of political focus is one of the most disappointing facets of my time in the FSP. I do not believe the only or best way to achieve my goals is through the government- I consider this belief to be a core statist belief. Unfortunately, I saw this underlying belief in political freestaters more pervasively and strongly than anywhere else.

When you get into the FSP, these ideals get incredibly muddy because so many people seem to represent themselves as staunch anarchists, but turn around and become politicians. To me it just looks like a bunch of people who have no idea how to become independent of the state and are trying to figure it out. And this is ultimately a really good thing if you can recognize the Free State Project is an experiment. If only more people were consciously directing themselves instead of getting hooked into the state.

Natural Weirdness and Suffering from “Separateness”
The other rift in the FSP is the spectrum of normalcy to weirdness in the movement. The banning of Ian Freeman exemplifies some of the conflict that can happen in dealing with normalcy and weirdness on different parts of this scale. The “normies” organizing in the official FSP didn’t want the controversial publicity that Ian brought, while at the same time I would argue his weirdness is integral to his leadership. I relate to this personally. As a longterm natural outcast myself, I believe that outcasts must be leaders to make sense of their outlier nature and transform it into something useful.

A weird person who is supported and given the space and resources necessary to thrive can become a profound leader for innovation and societal improvement. If this kind of outlier is rejected, outcasted and people don’t learn how to respond better to their differences, this outcast could easily become a deeply suffering, tortured person and in tragic cases, become a threat to themselves or others.

The FSP movement doesn’t know how to handle outliers, which is a huge problem- because the fundamental libertarian values of the FSP are outlier values in greater society. The people attracted to the FSP feel disenfranchised from traditional and mainstream civilization, which are built with intertwined statism and authoritarian structures.

I am one of those outlying weird people. I have overcome a lot of my personal issues. But I met a lot of participants who were just as weird as me in different ways, that were suffering so much from their pasts, mental or physical health issues, that they outcasted me. When a person is suffering, they can get trapped in the illusion that we are all separate and distant from each other. I am fundamentally not alone in being an outcast; outcasting is not one-way; it is mutual. This is shared separateness. Recognizing when we all feel separate is the first step in recognizing you are not alone.

As spring turned into summer and the shit hit the fan for me personally, I started to really see how different my values were from those of most freestaters in my vicinity. The values espoused most often were of entrepreneurship, understanding economics, action over theory, loyalty to the movement, and the non-aggression principle. I could appreciate and empathize with many of these values, which gave opportunity for building bridges. But it all became pretty surface level except for my close friends, because I didn’t find people going deeper into values I believe are fundamental to the success of this kind of movement.

My core values start with autonomy, and active investment in relationships. The two basic needs I see as the foundation of all relationships are safety, and basic respect. To meet everyone’s need for safety, we each take an active role in trust-building. Lack of trust-building was a huge contributor to the perceived isolation and separateness in my conflicts. To meet everyone’s needs for basic respect we set boundaries and use negotiation instead of manipulation.

The simplest way to respect another’s autonomy is to take ownership of your autonomy. This includes taking ownership of your suffering and internal reactions. No external experience is the cause of your suffering. Other people and external situations can’t control your reactions; only you have that power and therefore, you’re responsible. Practicing consistent observation will help you separate the external situation from your internal reaction.

I am not advocating for politeness or putting on a nice persona. Nobody is obligated to do anything, this is fundamental to autonomy. If a person is nice and polite to disguise their obligations or demands, that’s manipulative and dishonest. Attempt at shaming is also disrespectful to autonomy and can cross a person’s boundaries. Shame is an internal emotion a person has, trying to make someone feel that way externally is taking responsibility for their reactions. Shame reinforces actions because it is deterministic, the accusation that a person is inherently bad, and doesn’t have autonomy. Take this quote:

“We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” – Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Reward and punishment are both extrinsic motivators that people use to get what they want from another person. And the more you use the extrinsic motivators of reward and punishment, the lower a person’s intrinsic motivation trends over time.

Instead of extrinsic motivators, seeking to understand the needs of each person in a situation separately can provide solutions that don’t require anyone to change. Decisions and solutions aren’t always easy or convenient, but are the best overall outcome for people who can successfully stop using manipulation and start using negotiation. The best indicator of how you will respond to conflict with other people, is how you deal with conflict within yourself.

Orienting Towards Inner Strength
The ethical and boundary-setting principles I talk about are so lacking in the FSP, I believe, because too many people did not prepare themselves internally for the adaptation and challenges of the movement. I see the movement as something greater than myself, than my peers, than the official FSP as an organization. This movement is one of the most important experiments in human history, and I saw far too many movers who did not understand or recognize the magnitude of what this movement was asking of them. You have to be a dandelion with roots in the sand coming up through the cracks of the concrete, unrelenting. Confronting your own inner evil and suffering must happen before any real peace can happen in the world.

Just after ego-death I happened upon a practice that was profoundly transformative to my inner strength, endurance and acceptance of my fundamental situation. I biked in New Hampshire winter over a huge hill to work five days a week, five miles there and back. At the time this started I discovered one of Wim Hof’s breathing methods from my best friend. The Wim Hof breathing method that I practice hyper-oxygenates your body in a short period of time, and takes in a lot of cold air. This is used to manually activate a typically involuntary mechanism of the sympathetic nervous system that prepares you for high-intensity or high-stress activities.

That breathing exercise and the intensity of that experience again and again and again brought me directly into the present moment and in connection with the intense stress and discomfort of my experience. This breathing method helped me take in the brutal cold air of the Manchester environment around me, and transform it into energy and warmth and deeper letting go.

This is transmutation. In Chemistry, transmutation is the true alchemy, by taking one element and transforming it into another element. In the path to foundational inner peace, transmutation is taking suffering and transmuting it into peace, is taking rejection and transmuting it into acceptance, taking chaos and transforming it into clarity. The first step to transmutation is recognizing what your fundamental situation is. If you cannot see that you are gripping life tightly in fear of loss constantly, you won’t ever have the opportunity to relax and let go. The moment you see that gripping and feel its fundamental pain is the moment you wake up and begin the path of inner peace.
Orient yourself on a path towards inner peace and becoming the alchemist. If you want to transmute the state into the market someday, start with your inner state first.

Orienting to The Highest Conceivable Good
I hit my breakthrough on my lifelong goals in a way that gives balance and clarity to decades of my life, allows me to achieve multiple goals, and gives me the opportunity to work on it everyday. The resource that provided my internal laser-focused direction comes from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s concept of the Highest Conceivable Good:

“Life is suffering…there’s malevolence in the world, there’s tragedy… If you’re not properly oriented with regards to life, the fact that… it’s full of suffering will bend and twist you until you become murderous and resentful… You have to learn how to strengthen yourself as an individual so you can bear the burden of being without becoming corrupt. You have to decide that is what you are aiming for…To wish on a star is to aim at the highest good…”
– Minute 7:39 to 8:30, “How to Change The World – Properly” by Dr. Jordan Peterson

I wasn’t a dandelion coming up through the concrete when I first moved, I did not fit this criteria until after the ego-death that my experiences in the first three months led to. But I was ready for that adaptation, as evidenced by the ego-death and all the skills I built rapidly thereafter. And that’s what you should be using as a gauge. It’s nonsensical to try being completely ready for everything before you move. Instead, predict what the moving adaptation will require, and orient yourself to take that adaptation as an opportunity for transformation.

You deserve better than perfection, you deserve the opportunity to live out the truest form of who you are. That means being completely transparent and leaning into suffering, into failure- into the fundamentals of reality.

Who are the Right People for the FSP?
Some people who aren’t ready or meant for the movement jump at the opportunity in hopes the FSP will give them a better life or provide them with a rare, well connected and flourishing community of libertarians. So perhaps they won’t be isolated anymore. The FSP is not going to make your state-free desires easier because it’s not even established. Don’t expect the FSP to give you a better life, expect yourself to give the FSP a better world.

New England is a very rural area north of Boston. Being independent from the state and just in general means taking on a lot of work and resource management to be very self-sufficient. The people I saw adapting the best were homesteaders, farmers, and their labor contractors. They not only enjoyed rural living, but also accepted the intense labor of creating a homestead.

When I first heard about the Free State Project in early 2013, my immediate thought was- wow, there’s actually a movement where people are making the changes to their lives to live by their moral principles and be independent of the state. It actually exists. That’s a low standard. And embedded in this low standard is the assumption that the people willing to move to the FSP are going to be of the highest quality advocates, participants and leaders. And that’s a tall assumption. This combined low standard and high assumption turned out to be completely wrong.

The FSP is full of authoritarian roots and imprints in the individuals, who are trying to figure out how to heal and live autonomously as much as anyone else. A freestater is not automatically more independent of the state, wiser on the right decisions and capable of making hard decisions.

The deciding factor in whether a person is “meant” for the FSP comes down to your own introspective reflection and preparation, including knowing what kinds of sacrifices you are willing to make for the movement. And, how deeply you surrender to transparent reality. To bear the burden of being without becoming corrupt, or face the real possibility of being destroyed.

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