Leave everything and disappear. Without telling anyone, without anyone knowing where you’ve gone. Who hasn’t fantasized about that?
There’s a long history of voluntary disappearances, both in reality and in fiction. It’s worth remembering the story of Wakefield — the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of the same name — who, one fine day, leaves his home and disappears for more than 20 years. The curious thing is that he only moves one street away from his old home. He then watches the world move on without him. When he returns home, the narrative is interrupted. What comes next is up to the reader’s imagination.
The case of Wakefield isn’t too different from many real-life scenarios. Such a phenomenon is especially prevalent nowadays, when “disappearing” has become fashionable.
“Each of us knows [that we] would never commit such folly… and yet, we sense that anyone else could do it,” says the narrator of Hawthorne’s story, regarding the act of disappearing. In contemporary society, the “anyone else” tends to almost always be a young man, who is usually seduced by the rhetoric of a self-help guru. The advice doesn’t tend to vary, regardless of who’s spouting it: “Disappear for six months and come back as an improved version of yourself.”
This challenge is spreading discreetly, but extensively. Just taking a look at some posts on X (formerly Twitter) offers us an idea about the fundamental principles of this movement. “Why disappear? Life is overwhelming… it gets better this way,” says @HombreReal96 (currently renamed @N0ticiasFutb0ll), who, on July 3, published a thread with the following heading: “Disappear for six months to progress 10 years in your life.”
So what do you do when you disappear? Several things. You can read, play sports, go for walks in the countryside, or give up drugs (if you were consuming them in the first place).
Other influencers advocate the practice of “visualizing life for at least 10 minutes a day,” or even giving up the majority of your friends. Three or four are more than enough, according to @HombreReal96. “You should never trust someone with too many friends.”
Theoretically, nothing is needed to disappear, other than the will to do so. But once you’re gone, you need somewhere else to go. Matt Gray — an entrepreneur and social media influencer — states: “Return not as you were, but what you’ve become.” Indeed, the desire for transformation embraced by these modern hermits has proven to be relentless. @Masculine Ego (another coach who claims to be able to change your life, who has nearly 240,000 followers) hopes to lead a happy and privileged life when he returns from his sabbatical. In the meantime, he will stop watching porn, wake up at 4:30 in the morning, give up sugar and swap his credit cards for cash when he goes out (being officially “missing” doesn’t necessarily mean being locked up at home).
More than a few people will think that voluntarily disappearing is a thing for the wealthy and privileged. Living without a cellphone, without social media, without family responsibilities and without having to go to an office isn’t within everyone’s reach. Saying goodbye to the world has a price… and a blogger nicknamed RK.KE has calculated what that price is.
The first thing, according to him, is to sacrifice friends and family. To do this, he recommends putting together a “rough timeline” and maintaining sobriety. “Getting drunk risks you snitching on yourself before you’ve even started,” he warns. After paying off all your debts, you need to change your name, your wardrobe, your appearance — you have to choose, in short, what your new life will be like. When almost all the preparations have been made, RK.KE recommends destroying all old documentation. “This won’t make a huge difference, legally speaking — but it will help you in psychologically leaving your past life behind,” he says. The post concludes with a somewhat bitter reflection on whether it’s worth disappearing, since the disappeared person will never be able to sleep peacefully again, given the fear of being discovered. “Hope it was worth it!” he concludes.
There are those who maintain that this movement (which perhaps mixes late-stage capitalism with the Parisian surrealism of the 1920s?) is actually nonsense. “It’s a meme,” wrote influencer Charles Miller, in a post on X. Ironically, though, this same user ended up acknowledging that he has practiced the semiannual disappearance on three occasions, obtaining “insane progress” each time.
He’s not the only one with contradictory opinions on the subject. A Reddit thread discusses the effectiveness of this measure. “I disappeared, reappeared and getting ready to disappear again, it really works for me,” one user declares. “I did this for about a year. And, honestly, it’s ongoing. So technically, I’m still doing this,” another person confesses. And then, there are the less enthusiastic commenters. One user admits that there are dangers when one lives an extremely social life, but he still cautions against becoming a hermit: “You don’t have [to give up] something altogether in order to obtain the other.”
Many of those who now dare to erase themselves from the map are motivated by the notion of recovering a certain idea of masculinity. This is much longed-for in certain online right-wing circles — there’s a desire to be a strong and virile man, who’s capable of confronting nature. Said narrative is reminiscent of the online incel subculture, which is made up of men who are “involuntarily celibate” and aspire to overcome their condition by becoming supposed “alpha males.” There’s reconstruction… and then there’s deconstruction. These men may want to return in a renewed state, but they also want to get rich. They may admire ascetics, but they’re also fans of Warren Buffet.
The influencers who have captured this audience tell their fans that they can help them make money. They quote Jordan Peterson; they perpetuate so-called “cryptobro” fantasies, forging a mythology that involves self-commitment, seclusion and growth.
However, this idea of disappearing — only to return — isn’t at all new. Jesus went into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. Long before him, in the 6th century BC, Prince Siddhārtha Gautama abandoned his life of wealth and withdrew from the world to seek spiritual enlightenment (he became Buddha). Didn’t they disappear — as the challenge indicates — to subsequently return as an improved version of themselves?
This isn’t the only point in common between the incel-cryptobro community and the traditions of Antiquity. A quick look on Amazon at the list of best-selling philosophy books reveals the extent to which stoicism has penetrated the minds of many young people, who have mostly discovered the concept through the writings of Marcus Aurelius (his Meditations is top of the best-selling list at the time of the publication of this article) or Seneca.
Famous figures who have disappeared
The writer Enrique Vila-Matas has dealt extensively with the topic of disappearance in his books. Melville compiled several experiences of authors who refused to write (which, in many cases, meant that they effectively vanished). J.D Salinger conveyed this experience through his massively successful The Catcher in the Rye.
Something similar happened to the famous Spanish writer Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, who — after winning a major price in 1956 — decided to lock himself in his house to study grammar and consume amphetamines, fleeing from the “grotesque role of a writer.” There are dozens of other literary examples: from Thomas Pynchon — who barely has a photograph of himself as a young man — to Patricia Highsmith, who (as revealed in her diaries) ended up prey to a misanthropic spirit.
At the heart of almost every disappearance is a longing for return. Most of the men practicing this trend are seeking the exact opposite of being forgotten. The members of this new community hope to return muscular, full of self-confidence… and with a second source of passive income. In no case do the temporary stoics contemplate permanent anonymity. Upon returning, many of them not only feel more empowered, but are ready to pass on the virtues of being a ghost to other men.
Tom Denning — now a successful entrepreneur — was lucky enough to disappear for a while when he was 20-years-old. He writes about the experience on his personal blog, where he encourages others to follow his path, “For those who are tired of dragging through the day, who want to get back the fire they once had, who are ready to reclaim your natural energy… this is your book,” he says at the end of the post, encouraging readers to purchase his work. Disappearing, clearly, isn’t cheap.
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