Just before he left the US forever to live in a remote jungle in the south of India, Chad Haag returned to CU Boulder’s campus one last time. He wanted to say goodbye to the department where he’d earned his graduate degree in comparative literature.
But when he got there, the place had been gutted.
“The building that once housed my department had been renovated,” Haag says. “There was no trace left of it; it was kind of like a physical metaphor for what had happened to my field of study as a whole.”
Haag studied philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado during his undergraduate degree, and then went to CU to study comparative literature for his graduate degree. When he finished school he was saddled with $20,000 in student debt and no prospective job opportunities in the fields of philosophy or comparative literature. The only realistic option for someone with his degrees was to work at a university as an adjunct professor, he says.
Which, he quickly found, wasn’t exactly lucrative work.
“These ‘jobs’ are an absolute disgrace,” he tells me. “One year I adjuncted and made less than $2,000 for the whole year as an adjunct (obviously I had to work other jobs on the side so the adjuncting was more like volunteer work).”
He couldn’t afford his $300 per month loan payments, on top of the cost of living in Denver and commuting to and from work. They were paying him what he calls “starving wages” and eventually he had to quit in order to take a better job: working at a truck stop.
“At the truck stop, I made far more money than I ever had as an adjunct, with better working conditions, and more stability,” he says. “That's when I realized that the educational system in the USA is broken beyond repair.”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, according Chad Haag. It’s the reason that he now lives in Uchakkada, India — a remote Indian village on the southern tip of that far-away subcontinent peninsula; a place where only recently, the main mode of transportation was ox-drawn carts. He traded his life in Colorado for one on the opposite side of the planet, where his loans would feel more like a bad dream than anything real.
And he says he’s very happy he did so.
Chad and his wife Minu, wearing the traditional garb of India.
“Here in India, I am able to teach students. Also, I've written a few books and will release a few more next year as well,” he says. “Here I can get fresh produce grown by local farmers for a very low price … I can get a whole week's worth of vegetables for 3 dollars.”
Not only is the food cheaper, it’s fresher, more local and healthier, he says. And the water’s better too, he assures me. Haag has a well on his land that he gets fresh groundwater from, he has chickens, coconut trees and banana trees in his yard and he has an Indian wife named Minu. He has everything he needs in India and he has all of it for next-to-nothing cheap.
“As for missing Boulder, I certainly appreciate getting to have spent time there but I am pretty content with where I am now,” he says. “In the USA due to degree inflation, automation, and outsourcing, it has become next to impossible to find a job after graduation that uses what you learned.”
That’s particularly true for comparative literature and philosophy grads. But it isn’t inaccurate for other graduates, either — only 27 percent of college graduates actually have a job related to the field they studied. And a whopping 44 percent are working in jobs that don’t even require a college degree. Which really makes one wonder: is the debt really worth it for those people? Was higher education really the wisest choice for that 44 percent who aren’t even using their degree? Who are often saddled with far more than $20,000 in student debt?
The answer is no, if you ask Haag.
“The college industry is charging exorbitant tuition rates, paying their workers slave wages, and then going to the media to pretend that they are in desperate need of more money,” he says. “Grade inflation is the norm, entertainment has replaced education, and the administrators are far more interested in making money than they are in the future employment prospects of the students.”
It’s the kind of situation that can drive a person to extreme ends; the kind of situation that can make someone want flee society, go live in a cabin, isolated deep in the woods, surrounded only by books and their own thoughts. A lot like the guy Haag has in his Facebook profile’s cover photo: Ted Kaczynski.
Wait what? The Unabomber? The college mathematics professor turned domestic terrorist? The guy who wrote a manifesto about how life in the post-industrial world has been drained of meaning, and bent out of shape and led to widespread psychological suffering that will only continue to worsen as technology develops into the future? Who retreated to the woods to live a primitive life in a comically small cabin and who mailed 16 bombs to 16 different addresses around the country, killing three people and injuring 23 more in an attempt to start a revolution?
The same. For whatever reason, Haag seems to have an affinity for the late Kaczynski. Enough to use an iconic picture of the man in front of his cabin as a cover photo for his Facebook profile. Enough even to write a book about the guy’s cynical philosophy on life in the post-industrial age.
“I am finishing up my third book right now. It will be released on Amazon in the next few days. It's called the Philosophy of Ted Kaczynski: Why the Unabomber was right about Modern Technology,” Haag tells me. “The media has tried very hard to portray him as either clinically insane or as pure evil. The irony is that he is the most overexposed person at the level of crass media attention and yet the most underexposed person in terms of doing justice to the substance of his ideas.”
Though, he clarifies that he doesn't support Kaczynski's violent methods whatsoever. "my only interest in his philosophical texts," Haag says.
Haag’s first two books are titled, Being and Oil: Volume One: Peak Oil Philosophy and the Ontology of Limitation and A Critique of Transcendental Memology: A Peak Oil Philosophy of Truth.
When he isn’t writing manifestos, or praising Kaczynski’s ideology, Hagg tells me he enjoys playing the ukulele, riding buses around India, and spending time with his wife. Currently, he says, he is unable to work because of his Visa, but still teaches occasionally on a volunteer basis (not so-unlike he was doing here in the US).
Chad uking it up.
Haag and I spoke via Facebook Messenger. It was the only way we could. Apparently, it’s monsoon season in Uchakkada, India, and the rain was so bad in Haag’s village, it downed a banana tree in his front yard, partially flooded his house and crippled his wifi signal.
Still, Haag maintained a hopeful outlook.
“The main thing I want to dispel is this myth that going to India means ‘dropping down to a Third World standard of living’ and ‘giving up all the benefits of a First World standard of living,’” Haag says. “In all the categories that really matter, my quality of life is MUCH better here.”
Haag is not the only US college graduate who’s made this kind of move, either. Many American grads are fleeing the country in an effort to slip out from underneath their crushing student debt. A debt which has skyrocketed to $1.5 billion dollars nationally, and which is dragging the millennial generation down like a lead life-vest.
Some are fleeing to Europe, others to Central and South America, or Asia. Some are just hiding out, making “payments” of $0 a month and biding their time until their loans are forgiven (in a short 20 years) when they can return state-side, debt-free.
But then there are others, like Haag, who aren’t ever going to return. They’ve happily accepted the moniker of “ex-pat” and have no intention of forfeiting it. They’re gone for good and they aren’t looking back.
No matter how you slice it, that’s a bad symptom for a society to have. The cost of education shouldn’t be forcing student borrowers to flee the country. It shouldn’t be financially crippling the nation’s ambitious youth.
That’s a good way to instill an entire generation of intellects with resentment for the very system that educated them.