When John Jacobi stepped to the altar of his Pentecostal church and the gift of tongues seized him, his mother heard prophecies — just a child and already blessed, she said. Someday, surely, her angelic blond boy would bring a light to the world, and maybe she wasn’t wrong. His quest began early. When he was 5, the Alabama child-welfare workers decided that his mother’s boyfriend — a drug dealer named Rock who had a red carpet leading to his trailer and plaster lions standing guard at the door — wasn’t providing a suitable environment for John and his sisters and little brother. Before they knew it, they were living with their father, an Army officer stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina. But two years later, when he was posted to Iraq, the social workers shipped the kids back to Alabama, where they stayed until their mother hanged herself from a tree in the yard. John was 14. In the tumultuous years that followed, he lost his faith, wrote mournful poems, took an interest in news reports about a lively new protest movement called Occupy Wall Street, and ran away from the home of the latest relative who’d taken him in — just for a night, but that was enough. As soon as he graduated from high school, he quit his job at McDonald’s, bought some camping gear, and set out in search of a better world.
When a young American lights out for the territories in the second decade of the 21st century, where does he go? For John Jacobi, the answer was Chapel Hill, North Carolina — Occupy had gotten him interested in anarchists, and he’d heard they were active there. He was camping out with the chickens in the backyard of their communal headquarters a few months later when a crusty old anarchist with dreadlocks and a piercing gaze handed him a dog-eared book called Industrial Society and Its Future. The author was FC, whoever that was. Jacobi glanced at the first line: “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”