My name is Shawn Rutan. I was born in Paraguay to Baha’i pilgrims and raised in Davis, California. I’ve lived in this state for most of my life, but have traveled widely, both in the States and abroad.
I have been living a home-life on my father’s land in the countryside of west-central California for the past year and a bit, interacting and sharing work with a wide variety of rural-dwellers. Proximity to UC Davis–a fairly liberal agricultural college town–means this area has a pretty eclectic population. Small organic farmers, natural builders, inn-keepers, do-it-yourself handy-men, Psychonaut Phds. I thrive best when exposed to this kind of diversity and passionately seek it out if it’s not immediately accessible in my environment.
During my time here, I have worked to apply both my analytical talents and my moral compass to the projects I have undertaken. A tendency towards rational thought was sharpened by an education at California Polytechnic as a Mechanical Engineer and 3 years of working as an engineer in both the Space and Semiconductor industries as an intern, tech, and engineer (not necessarily in that order!).
Working in a “high” tech industry allowed me to live in a style and luxury that put me in the top 75%, income-wise. With my friends and partner, I would go rafting, skiing, or backpacking almost every weekend. I would eat out at upper-middle class restaurants at least 3 times a week, and upper class restaurants once or twice a month. I was paying off my student loans, was the pride of my family, and was able to afford the things I wanted–in both experiences and material possessions.
But I soon discovered that the things I valued most…were free. The time spent with friends, laughing and working our bodies at the urban-sustainability collective I lived at for a year and a half. The time spent with strangers, crafting music and magic from the Source at parties and gatherings around Oakland and the Bay Area. The time spent working for common good and mutual benefit at urban gardens and farms, hackerspaces and sustainable PLACE
Most of my time, however, was spent making money I didn’t want to buy luxuries I didn’t need. The products I was helping to manufacture did nothing obviously good for the world. And almost everyone I knew was UNHAPPY doing it too. Yet, no one I knew was doing anything about it. Sure, people were recycling and watching their footprint and buying fair-trade. People were sharing calls for action on Facebook. But they were still working, and they were still making, and they were still consuming. And so was I.
One night, I was walking around the dining room of our collective, looking at various knick-knacks and inspirational quotes and I stopped at one. The card had a picture of a skinny, bespeckled, robed man in a meditation pose with a beatific smile. I had seen the card before and largely dismissed it as a platitude–something to be agreed with wholeheartedly, but no cause for major change. Be the Change You Want to See in the World, it said. By Mahatma Ghandi.
No matter what it meant to me before, however I may have agreed and dismissed it, at that moment, and every moment since, it changed me. I felt a shift deep within me, and a loud, clear, silent Voice said “NO MORE.” No more would I work to strip the earth of it’s life, land, and liberty. No more would I labor in aid of the enemy of all landkind — Mankind.
So dramatic! So impassioned! I quit my job, and lost my life. I ate my savings away, half-heartedly seeking a way to make my way without money. I lost my partner, some close friends, and the respect of my younger siblings. I experimented with Time-banking, lived with post-Occupyers in Anarchic tension, and traveled the West coast as a Tramp-on-Wheels. I jammed with Merry Pranksters, and built with natural building Gurus. (humble aside: I toot my own horn well, don’t I? Sheesh. Trust me when I say that I recognize many of my faults and limitations and will get to them later). Did I do everything I could to minimize my impact? No. Did I still drive places and go to movies and eat out? Yes. But I tried. I thought about how to do things, and then I did them, and sometimes the outcomes were good, and sometimes not, but I tried again. I built and failed and traveled and stayed.
But nowhere did I find those who were doing it right, in love and triveability. No one I met could disconnect themselves entirely from the world wide web of global capitalism. Nowhere did I find anyone working well enough with enough others with enough resources to make a viable alternative WORK. Perhaps they are out there. Perhaps there is a whole underground network of them working steadily to unchain themselves from a System intent on destroying Our world and I merely haven’t met them yet. In fact, I know that there is. And I want to join them.
After all, The Revolution begins from within. The wooden horse is at the gates of the gated communities and it’s Us, their neighbors bringing home-grown goodness to share. I changed my mind. So will others.
Here I go in fits and starts to change myself to change the world.