Everybody who has dealt with any minor amount of stress has had the fantasy of packing up and running away from all of their problems, disappearing from the modern world almost entirely.
Erik Hagerman, dubbed “The man who knew too little” by The New York Times, did just that. On Saturday, Hagerman was the focus of a newly published profile describing how, after the election of Donald Trump, he left his busy life behind and started up his own pig farm.
But Hagerman went much further than that — and much more selfish. He created what he calls “The Blockade,” a nearly total media blackout that has allowed him to stay 100 percent ignorant of the day’s news outside of the weather, local real estate listings, and how the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing.
He doesn’t know about the turmoil of Trump’s White House. He doesn’t know about the white supremacists and neo-Nazis that marched in Charlottesville. He doesn’t know about the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He doesn’t know who won out at the Oscars.
Ignorance, in Hagerman’s case, is bliss. But that bliss comes at the cost of not being a member of the democratic republic of the United States. And that bliss wouldn’t be possible without a lot of privilege and a lot of demands from family, friends, and strangers.
The privilege of ignorance
Not everyone gets to be ignorant. People whose families are being torn apart by the deportation tactics of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents don’t get to be ignorant. People who are affected by gun violence don’t get to be ignorant. People who require health care to live past the end of the month don’t get to be ignorant.
But Hagerman gets to be ignorant. As a white male who had the opportunity to make (and save) a lot of money, he isn’t directly affected by many of the things that happen inside his country and to his fellow citizens.
Opting out of the larger world completely is a kind of self-care that does more harm than good
His own sister Bonnie calls out that privilege, saying: “We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others.”
Hagerman’s Blockade means he doesn’t have to worry about the problems of his fellow citizens, his neighbors, or even some of his family members. He doesn’t even have to worry about his own money because he can afford to have a financial adviser managing all of his investments.
It’s OK to tune out every once in a while and unplug, maybe take a break from Twitter for a week, but opting out of the larger world completely is a kind of self-care that does more harm than good.
If everyone did what Hagerman did, there would be no United States. There would be no democracy. There would be no forward progress or people helping others in times of need. There would be nothing but complacency in the suffering and exploitation of others.
That kind of privilege isn’t easy to come by, but Hagerman was born lucky enough to have it, and he’s exploiting it to its fullest extent.
In order to keep up The Blockade, Hagerman asks a lot of the people around him. Not only does he not look at newspapers and listen to white noise when he hangs out at a local café, he has to ask his mom to not talk about current events when they chat on the phone.
In order to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers, he puts the TV on mute just in case the commentators say anything that could give him a clue into what’s going on in the world. He asked the people who work at his local café not to talk about the news with him, and they comply.
When he visited his brother on the West Coast, he left when his brother had people over, lest he hear about something that affects anyone except himself.
“It makes me a crappy citizen”
It takes a lot for Hagerman to ignore the plights of other people, not just from himself and the guilt that comes with it, but from everyone else around him. And as carefree as he says he is, that guilt still exists, Hagerman admitted.
“The first several months of this thing, I didn’t feel all that great about it,” he told the Times. “It makes me a crappy citizen. It’s the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to political outcomes you disagree with.”
At least he has a little project to help him feel a little better about himself and give back to world a little bit.
Give and take
For all that Hagerman asks of those around him, he gives one thing back: a lake.
His big project, his way of making up for not caring about anyone else in the world except himself, is a piece of land that used to be a coal mine, which he is slowly but surely developing into a vague sort of public space that he plans to donate to the community.
The Lake, as Hagerman calls it, sounds like it’s going to be some kind of a park that also has some artwork and structures on it, which sounds like a nice place for future people to hang out at. But does it make up for all his coming years of selfishness and lack of participation in our society?
No, probably not.