Tuesday, February 16, 2021

There Is No Way Out

Christopher Thomas Knight, aka the North Pond Hermit, in custody of beefy Maine game wardens, April 2013.  Knight spend 27 years without human contact in the Maine woods.  But did he really?

If you're at all like Thee Optimist, the times come when you despair of human company.  

Humans, man.  If they're not insisting things are true that aren't true (which, if you actually believe it, isn't the same as lying), they are using industrial strength glue to affix their own hair to their head.  

If they're not doing either of these things, just wait a few minutes.  It's only a matter of time before they're doing something worse.  Or they're just... I don't even know what they are.   And I don't want to.  

I could list many bad things about people, for days and days, but I won't.  You don't need me to tell you what people are like.  You already have a pretty good idea.  

So there arrives a moment when a person feels like they/she/he might like to escape.  

But is it actually possible?

Christopher Knight's shelter, where he survived 27 winters in the bitter Maine cold.  He kept the place well-camouflaged, but it was actually about a mile from some summer cabins.

The North Pond Hermit

Sometime in 1986, 20-year-old Maine native Christopher Thomas Knight decided he'd had enough.  There is no written record of the straw that broke the camel's back, and if Knight himself remembers what it was, he isn't saying.  

He had been living and working in Boston.  But one day, he drove home to Maine, abandoned his car along an old forest road, and disappeared.  No one he knew, including his family members, reported him missing.

What followed was an astonishing feat of hermitage, possibly unrivaled in modern history.  For 27 years, Knight was just gone.  He lived alone in a makeshift (it would be hard to call it a) cabin in the woods of central Maine, where he nearly froze to death on a regular basis.  

Except for saying "hi" to a hiker he encountered along a trail, and a brief conversation he had with a father and young son one night, Knight lived without human contact.

Knight's efforts demolished those of the man who quite literally wrote the book on being a hermit, Henry David Thoreau.  After all, Thoreau lived in a cabin on land owned by his mentor Emerson for a little over two years, about a mile and a half from the village of Concord.  Thoreau's aunt doted on him, and he often walked to her house in town for lunch.

Knight was out there, all by himself, beyond kindly mentors and doting aunts.  He became the North Pond Hermit, an urban legend, a phantom like Big Foot or the Jersey Devil, who locals half-believed inhabited the forest, they just didn't know where. 

But was he ever really by himself?  Can you be?

An image taken of Henry David Thoreau in 1856, using early daguerreotype photography. 

Far Away, So Close

Looked at another way, Christopher Knight never really went anywhere.  He was no further from human society than Thoreau, just in a different way.

Knight's camp was about a mile from the nearest summer cabins.  The North Pond is part of the Belgrade Lakes area, which is a popular tourist and outdoor resort destination.

By all accounts (including his own), Knight survived, not off the land, but by carrying out more than 1,000 burglaries and break-ins of cabins and resort hotels.  

He stole everything, including materials to build his own camp, bedding, canned and frozen food (including steaks), rope, canoes, propane for his (stolen) camp stove, and equipment of various kinds.  The reason local people suspected he existed was because he broke in to so many places, and took so many things.

By his own account, Knight is an avid reader, and passed the time with books and magazines that he snagged during his burglaries.  He went out there, but he stayed close enough to read about Beyonce in People Magazine.

Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, in federal custody.  Kaczynski was another one who tried to get away, and found that there was no escape.

No Exit

Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski is a mathematics genius, often considered to be one of the most intelligent people alive on Earth (in terms of IQ).  He is also one of the better-known victims of the CIA MK-ULTRA mind control program.

In 1969, Ted did what Christopher Knight did 17 years later.  He left.  He built himself a cabin deep in the Montana wilderness, miles from anywhere.  But humans would not leave him alone.  Over time, real estate developments and industrial projects crept closer and closer to him.

He describes the process like this:

"It's kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days' hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it..."

From 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski mailed or delivered home-made bombs to various individuals involved in promoting or developing the high-tech industry.  He killed three people and injured 23 others.  

Part of his goal was to take revenge on society.  But he was also deeply concerned.  He had come to believe that technological breakthroughs posed an existential threat, not just to humanity, but to all life on Earth. 

He had realized that it didn't matter how far away he went, or if anyone found him there.  There was no escape from what his fellow humans were doing.  So he tried to push back, slow them down, maybe even stop them.

Ultimately, he failed, but that isn't the point.  The point is he was trapped, locked in, and he knew it.

The west African (former) alpha-male chimpanzee Foudouko, first ostracized, then beaten, murdered and partially eaten by his chimp tribe-mates.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

It has been noted elsewhere in these pages that human behavior is strikingly similar to that of chimpanzees, our closest cousins in the animal kingdom.

An interesting fact about chimps is that unlike humans, they are not particularly innovative.  As a result, they still live in small uncivilized groupings, much the way our distant ancestors probably did.

Chimp society is almost completely dysfunctional.  Chimps are primarily selfish and underhanded, and most of their cooperation involves plotting against others.  

Violence is common, both within groups and between them.  In most cases, a chimp "alpha male" presides over a group, and enforces his rule through physical domination.  

On occasion, the alpha male is deposed by a new alpha male, or by a group of lesser males who gang up and attack the alpha.  When the alpha falls, he is kicked out of the group.

Despite how awful chimp society is, getting thrown out of it is the absolute worst thing that can happen.  A member who is ejected will eke out an existence on the edge of the group for years, and often try to negotiate a return, despite the inherent dangers.

This is because chimps have evolved as social animals.  It is impossible for them to escape this singular fact about themselves.  They are, and must be, related to the group in some way.

And we are the same.  

You can run away from humans, physically or emotionally, but you can never really get away from them.

Confronted with this news, probably the best thing to do is engage.


  1. Come to think of it, much of my energy is directed toward earning money, which then allows me to create a life of rather minimal engagement with only a few people. I'm afraid that if I did engage more, I would also become uncooperative and underhanded with my chimp tribemates (I wouldn't want to leave behind a slew of Foudoukos). Hmmm.

  2. Hell is other people.