Being a member of mainstream society isn't for everyone. Some want out.
Societal vices have always been bountiful. Back in the ol' days, it was just the usual suspects. War. Violence. Greed. Corruption. Injustice. Propaganda. Lewdness. Alcoholism. To name a few. In today's world, still more scourges have joined in the mix. Consumerism. Drug abuse. Environmental damage. Monolithic bureaucracy. And plenty more.
There always have been some folks who elect to isolate themselves from the masses, to renounce their mainstream-ness, to protect themselves from all that nastiness. And there always will be. Nothing wrong with doing so.
However, there's a difference between protecting oneself from "the evils of society", and blinding oneself to their very existence. Sometimes this difference is a fine line. Particularly in the case of families, where parents choose to shield from the Big Bad World not only themselves, but also their children. Protection is noble and commendable. Blindfolding, in my opinion, is cowardly and futile.
How's the serenity?
Image source: greenskullz1031 on Photobucket.
There are plenty of examples from bygone times, of historical abstainers from mainstream society. Monks and nuns, who have for millenia sought serenity, spirituality, abstinence, and isolation from the material. Hermits of many varieties: witches, grumpy old men / women, and solitary island-dwellers.
Religion has long been an important motive for seclusion. Many have settled on a reclusive existence as their solution to avoiding widespread evils and being closer to G-d. Other than adult individuals who choose a monastic life, there are also whole communities, composed of families with children, who live in seclusion from the wider world. The Amish in rural USA are probably the most famous example, and also one of the longest-running such communities. Many ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, particularly within present-day Israel, could also be considered as secluded.
Amish people in a coach.
Image source: Wikipedia: Amish.
More recently, the "commune living" hippie phenomenon has seen tremendous growth worldwide. The hippie ideology is, of course, generally an anti-religious one, with its acceptance of open relationships, drug use, lack of hierarchy, and often a lack of any formal G-d. However, the secluded lifestyle of hippie communes is actually quite similar to that of secluded religious groups. It's usually characterised by living amidst, and in tune with, nature; rejecting modern technology; and maintaining a physical distance from regular urban areas. The left-leaning members of these communities tend to strongly shun consumerism, and to promote serenity and spirituality, much like their G-d fearing comrades.
In a bubble
Like the members of these communities, I too am repulsed by many of the "evils" within the society in which we live. Indeed, the idea of joining such a community is attractive to me. It would be a pleasure and a relief to shut myself out from the blight that threatens me, and from everyone that's "infected" by it. Life would be simpler, more peaceful, more wholesome.
I empathise with those who have chosen this path in life. Just as it's tempting to succumb to all the world's vices, so too is it tempting to flee from them. However, such people are also living in a bubble. An artificial world, from which the real world has been banished.
What bothers me is not so much the independent adult people who have elected for such an existence. Despite all the faults of the modern world, most of us do at least enjoy far-reaching liberty. So, it's a free land, and adults are free to live as they will, and to blind themselves to what they will.
What does bother me, is that children are born and raised in such an existence. The adult knows what it is that he or she is shut off from, and has experienced it before, and has decided to discontinue experiencing it. The child, on the other hand, has never been exposed to reality, he or she knows only the confines of the bubble. The child is blind, but to what, it knows not.
Child in a bubble.
Image source: CultureLab: Breaking out of the internet filter bubble.
This is a cowardly act on the part of the parents. It's cowardly because a child only develops the ability to combat and to reject the world's vices, such as consumerism or substance abuse, by being exposed to them, by possibly experimenting with them, and by making his or her own decisions. Parents that are serious about protecting their children do expose them to the Big Bad World, they do take risks; but they also do the hard yards in preparing their children for it: they ensure that their children are raised with education, discipline, and love.
Blindfolding children to the reality of wider society is also futile — because, sooner or later, whether still as children or later as adults, the Big Bad World exposes itself to all, whether you like it or not. No Amish countryside, no hippie commune, no far-flung island, is so far or so disconnected from civilisation that its inhabitants can be prevented from ever having contact with it. And when the day of exposure comes, those that have lived in their little bubble find themselves totally unprepared for the very "evils" that they've supposedly been protected from for all their lives.
Keep it balanced
In my opinion, the best way to protect children from the world's vices, is to expose them in moderation to the world's nasty underbelly, while maintaining a stable family unit, setting a strong example of rejecting the bad, and ensuring a solid education. That is, to do what the majority of the world's parents do. That's right: it's a formula that works reasonably well for billions of people, and that has been developed over thousands of years, so there must be some wisdom to it.
Obviously, children need to be protected from dangers that could completely overwhelm them. Bringing up a child in a favela environment is not ideal, and sometimes has horrific consequences, just watch City of G-d if you don't believe me. But then again, blindfolding is the opposite extreme; and one extreme can be as bad as the other. Getting the balance somewhere in between is the key.