What is the Rucksack Revolution?

Before setting off to live and write my travelogue, I was, like many young dreamers, inspired by the tales of Jack Kerouac and the rhythm of the Beats.  In his book The Dharma Bums, a poetic exploration into finding purpose in simplicity, two of the characters, discouraged by society’s unhealthy direction, discuss what they call “The Rucksack Revolution.”

“…see the whole thing is a world of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures…”

This passage stood out to me long before I started looking at this plague that was sweeping the nation called Attention Deficit Disorder. Since I had been finding it remarkably difficult to fit into the Ordered Attention of Normal Society (a syndrome I refer to as OANS), I decided to take my peculiar neurological framework and see if it might fit into this utopic vision Jack was describing.

You see, I came to a point where I realized that the journey toward a successful life that I’d seen in the hours upon hours of television programming I’d endured probably wasn’t going to reach its desired end by my trying to fit into the framework of normal society. For me, if I’d gone the regularly travelled route, using the tried and true methods that had helped forge the foundation for the culture we’d created, in the end I would still just be a part of the problem. As beautiful and wonderful as our culture is, and as efficiently as our society seems to run, the unnecessary side effects of environmental devastation, emotional distress, violent behavior, and dogmatic disconnections were not really things that I give fuel to. If my becoming a success in this society meant that I had to perpetuate these things, I knew that there must be a better way to meet my own personal goals, and in so doing hopefully help other people to discover what they really wanted out of life beyond the current trend of consumerism, misunderstanding, and separation.

When I finally worked up the courage to follow my own path, I saw it as a journey toward self actualization. Still disillusioned by my religious upbringing, I left on a leap of faith in that unknown Intelligence I still referred to as God in hopes that my journey would be of some benefit to the greater scheme of things and the Divine Plan I may never fully understand, but of which I knew I was an integral part. As the path has worn on, I’ve realized that, while the societal systems that we’ve constructed are excellent tools for administrating the basic needs of life, the needs themselves are actually attended to by a much more mysterious and celestial system. For the system we’re currently operating under is based on a limited, man-made currency, one that only allows for the flow of abundance to those who have mastered the ability to maneuver and direct its course. However, there are many more ways to abundance beyond the designs of men.

Setting out to write The Rucksack Letters, it wasn’t a direct intention to help inspire the literal movement of Jack’s Rucksack Revolution. However, it was my hope to inspire people to at least take an emotional and mental step back, look at the lives they are creating, and drop the things which are keeping them from the lives they imagine so they can start they journey toward it. And that is still my goal today.

“If you ever took a Psychology class, you may remember that Maslow’s hierarchy of basic human needs defines physiological needs as the most basic, followed by safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and finally, the need for self actualization. If you haven’t heard of this before, don’t feel bad.  I have a degree in Psychology and even I had to look it up.

Well, I’ve been living in the modern American/Judeo-Christian/Capitalist/Consumerist society for thirty years now. For the most part, my safety and health have always been provided for, thanks to wonderful parents who regard me with ample faith and limitless patience. And while I’ve often felt love, I have found no belonging, my life subject to that of a renegade and a dreamer. Without belonging, esteem has never been fully reached and self-actualization is a distant fantasy.

I will continue to write of my journeys for as long as words can describe them. I make no promises that my language will always be sweet. I can assure you that there will be times it will be as hard for you to read my tales as it will be for me to live them. If what I write offends you, know beforehand that it is not my intent. If you disagree with me, I only ask that you examine why. If I let you down, get in line with all the others I’ve disappointed. If I challenge you, I hope that you will meet it.”

Of course, seeing Aaron Heidemann out on his American Dream or Bust tour has given me a second thought as to whether the Rucksack Revolution may turn out the way Jack dreamed it after all…


Steve McAllister describes himself as a Renaissance Man. An author, filmmaker, songwriter, and perpetual artistic experimenter, he has recently re-released his second book The Rucksack Letters into paperback to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the journey. A journey of ink and soul, the book recounts his year and a half trek through 26 states, exploring the underbelly of America in order to better know himself. A pivotal first step for a generation in search of a new direction, The Rucksack Letters is available now.


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