There’s this myth of the lonely kingdom.

We catch it like a disease, and I do mean “we” – the scared weird little guys, who don’t trust Twitter and sometimes wonder where chalk comes from. We’re prone to it. We’re prone to a lot of things.

(Once I even caught conspiracy. It’s a terrible sickness, conspiracy – all hallucinations and cold sweats, rich white men everywhere. You start arguing with the television.

Don’t worry. I got better.)

But if these really are lifestyle diseases, what hope do we have? Our “style” is storms and pictures of bombs, news stories about the banking industry. We imagine concrete a hundred years in the future, ragged and useless. This is life-without-style. We’d rather play Angry Kurds.

Such heavy brains, soggy with the gloom of it all, have always attracted strange ideas – sometimes quite the collection, like mounds of jagged little shells. No wonder we’re anarchists and libertarians, fascists and acid-munchers, all just blips on the fringe radar.

But we all, at some stage, contract the lonely kingdom.

It thrives amongst doomsters, ever more baroque with each re-imagining.

Someone from the IT department – or, like, insurance – wants to buy a shotgun. They want a little place in the mountains with fruit trees and plenty of water. They’ll build a lonely kingdom up there, safe at last.

It’s all planned.

The first year’s the hardest. They’ll have to clear a bit of land, sort out the fences, get started on a veggie patch before the shops close forever. Just start off slowly, you know, easy stuff like potatoes and herbs. Then it’s time to step it up, plant some trees, look into getting solar panels. Find some chickens.

It’s grim (that gun isn’t just for rabbits, you know?) but refreshingly real.

Whatever appeal the lonely kingdom may have, it isn’t a new phenomenon. The urge for solitude, for hermitage, has always been with us. Life amongst others depends on compromise, an enormously sensible give and take. It’s boring.

Pilgrims? They dream of progress. The roots will set them free.

So why do I call the lonely kingdom a myth? It’s certainly possible to live off the land – in fact, that’s been the default mode for much of human history. Old skills may be bleached and forgotten, but they can be relearned; muscle memory dies hard.

This isn’t about failure, about the lost science of water purification, the dying art of fire-starting. If you actually want a lonely kingdom, you probably know all about that stuff.

No, this is about the cost of success.

I’ve spent the last six weeks living with a host family in the Republic of Georgia. While perhaps lacking the resolute solitude of a lonely kingdom, life in Georgia remains… kingdom-esque.

Marabda is a village of subsistence farmers. Several generations live in each house, and it’s quite possible to go weeks at a time without spending any money. Every meal is prepared from scratch using food grown right outside, from beans and cheese to apples and juice.

With a few exceptions (flour, salt, sugar) Georgian villagers are profoundly self sufficient. They are also, by any measure, extremely successful. My host family keeps hundreds of litres of wine in the basement, along with a massive, terrifying barrel of cha cha – moonshine so strong I’m sure it’s a fire hazard. Only the gypsies go hungry in Georgia.

Like I said, this isn’t a post about failure. It’s about success.

The land truly can be bountiful. The Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter this Sunday and, for the first time in my life, I’m beginning to understand. Chocolate isn’t a metaphor for Jesus; Jesus is a metaphor for soil, dark and rich, born again.

I spent an afternoon in the graveyard drizzling wine over dead ancestors.

The first vineyards in the world were Georgian. Here, grapes represent the truth of life – the abundance of time, of land, of effort and friendship and love. But the dead are thirsty.

The past can be sticky.

My host mother hasn’t left the village in the last six weeks. I once talked to a shepherd who, in his entire life, had never been more than an hour from home. Every geography has a flavour and nothing comes for free.

The moneyless economy is built on relationships, blood and promises, a certain firmness of character. You can work the land for twenty or thirty years, but what then? You’ll need children, and those children need the knowledge. Little by little, family emerges as a natural bedrock. It swallows small rights.

But enough exoticism. You know what this looks like.

Eventually, life close to the land always demands total commitment. It implies an implacable conservatism. All those freedoms – of speech, religion, even simple movement – were never really free.

In the future, they may become ever more expensive.

So you can always have your lonely kingdom, but never your loneliness.

Sheer force of context nudges and hints, demanding ceaseless compromise. Shot, starved, or traded piecemeal for the next meal: the modern west cannot, by definition, survive its apocalypse.

Still… plant a tree.

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