Why I Cut Up My Drivers License, Social Security Card and Debit Card

Robin Greenfield holding a cut up driver's license.
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Update: As of June of 2022 I no longer have any form of official identification. I no longer have a passport or birth certificate, which I continued to have for 7 years after I got ride of my driver’s license, social security card, bank account and credit cards. The below article is still relevant to understanding my reasoning for these actions and I have also written this updated article: Why I have No IDs – No Passport, Drives License, Social Security Card or Birth Certificate

On August 24th, 2016, I took a big step. I cut up my driver’s license, social security card, debit card, and checks. I canceled my bank account, vowed not to take social security, and made the plan of never having a drivers license again. For me, this was a huge step forward. For others, it would be considered a huge step backward. Some people think of me as on a path to ultimate freedom, others think I am making stupid choices. I understand both perspectives.

Earlier in 2017, I released a two-minute video that was filmed the day I cut up these items. Since then I’ve intended to write a longer explanation of why, but it slipped by on my list of projects, videos, and blogs to write. Today I’m excited to finally share more with you. I am going to share my philosophy to a much deeper extent than a two minute video can and answer most of the questions that have been asked over the last year on social media.

I’d like to start by saying that I cannot give a short, concise, simple answer that explains my actions in entirety. I’ve seen a common thread in humanity over the last few years, and that is to make issues black and white, and to want black and white answers. But the reality is that there is little to no black and white in the world. Instead, there are varying shades of grey. Nothing is perfect, perfection is imperfect in another light. Nothing is completely “wrong” or completely “right”. The different perspectives that exist between the seven+ billion living people are as varied as the infinite shades of color on Earth. With that being said, I would encourage you to go into this article, and life, without judgment and instead an open mind and listening ears.

I don’t aim to convert you to anything. I don’t aim to prove that I am right. I aim to simply provide my perspective, be of service to those that I can, and answer questions.
Cutting up my drivers license, social security card, debit card, and checks may seem bold. To some, it may seem abrupt. But there is plenty of background to this story. I did not just wake up one day, living the standard narrative, take out a pair of scissors, and start cutting up my IDs.

This story dates back to 2011. I was living a fairly normal US American life in many ways. I was working hard, in the way that is considered “work” by the mainstream narrative. In university, I had worked up to 90 hour weeks as a salesperson during my summer breaks. Afterwards, I got into selling advertising as an independent contractor, and in 2011 I started my own marketing company. I had a new car that I shined up every Sunday. I had a three bedroom apartment full of stuff and I had the biggest room in the apartment. One of my big goals was to be a millionaire by the time I was thirty. I was the center of my own world.

In other ways, I didn’t fit the standard narrative. I didn’t want a mortgage, large debt, to get married, or to bring children into the world. Of course, the “standard narrative” is an illusion anyway. It’s not standard. There is no standard. It’s a total inaccuracy portrayed by mainstream media and culture. We are too diverse of a race to have a standard.

Awakening to the “American Dream” Being the World’s Nightmare

In late 2011, I started to wake up to the world. I realized that in many ways my life was a lie. I wasn’t choosing my actions as much as I thought. I was doing what companies had sold and told me to do, with their multi-billion dollar advertising budgets. I was doing what I was doing because that’s what I saw around me. I was a product of the media I consumed, the society I was raised by, the people around me, and the government that governed my country, among other influences. I started to realize that my life was causing destruction to the world, to my fellow humans, to other species that share this earth, and to the Earth as a whole. Nearly every one of my daily actions, from the food I was eating to the gas I was pumping into my car, to the cheap products I was buying, were causing destruction to the Earth and supporting corporations that I didn’t ethically support. At that point, I decided I had to change my life. Over a period of five years, I made hundreds of changes in my life, big and small, to align my actions with my beliefs. (Read: My Timeline of Transformation From Drunk Dude to Dude Making a Difference).
To understand more of this story watch my TEDx- Be the Change in a Messed Up World

My Journey of getting rid of my Car

and Cutting Up My Drivers License

One of the early changes i made was to ride my bike more and drive my car less. The more I rode my bike, and the less I drove my car, the happier and healthier I became. Instead of sitting in traffic on my butt, I was getting exercise. I no longer had a trunk to fill up with stuff, which meant I bought less stuff that I found out I didn’t need anyway. I started to shop more locally and stopped supporting the big multinational corporations that were wreaking havoc in the world. Eventually, in 2012, I decided to get rid of my car completely. This saved me about $7,000 per year by not having to pay for insurance, registration, maintenance, gas and other miscellaneous costs such as the occasional ticket. That meant I could work less and instead spend my time following my passions in life. That $7,000 is right in line with what the average US American spends per year on their car. This means that the average US American works January and February of every year just to pay for their car. It wasn’t until four years later that I decided to take the next step and get rid of my driver’s license. Considering what I had done already, this was just another small step forward for me. One more step forward in reducing my dependence on fossils fuels and reducing my involvement in the monetary system. Going driver’s license free is a step towards living in the service of others, rather than in service of car ownership. Through all of my life transitions, I am always aiming to move away from the ownership of resources and towards the sharing of resources. Many people live without a driver’s license. I am not unique in that sense.

I do still burn fossil fuels and I do still get into cars. But by not having a car or a license, it drastically reduces the frequency. I am not aiming for perfection. I am just aiming to live in higher integrity.. I am a hypocrite, yes. I’m fine with saying that because I have realized that we are all hypocrites. And I’ve realized that anyone who cares deeply about the Earth, animals, humanity or a social cause is probably always going to be a hypocrite to some extent. I want to affect change in society, not go live in the woods on my own (although that is tempting), and thus I must be a part of society. My goal is to reduce my level of hypocrisy and to be open and transparent with it. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing since I woke up in 2011.

My Journey of De-Monetizing My Life and

Closing My Bank Account

Now let’s talk about the bank account. Again, this was not a radical overnight change for me. Since I started to wake up to how my actions affected the world, I realized that spending money was often connected to destroying what I loved. Because of the globalized, industrialized society that we live in, it can be very hard to understand and trace the impacts that come as a result of our transactions. We have learned about children working in sweatshops to make our clothes, companies dumping toxic waste into our oceans and rivers and animals being tortured and treated horribly, all with our money and for our money. I’ve found that the best way to make sure that I’m not contributing to injustice with my money is to simply make far fewer transactions. The more transactions I make and the more places I make them, the harder it is to know the practices behind the scenes and the impact I am having on the world. So, over years I just stopped buying as much stuff, and thus needed a lot less money to exist. I have been slowly simplifying my life and removing myself from the monetary system.

In October of 2014, I took my money out of the big banks and switched to a local credit union. Prior to that, I had taken all my money out of investments that were causing environmental and human destruction. In summer of 2014, I canceled my last credit card.
The less convenient it was for me to make purchases, the less purchases I made. Also the more I removed myself from the financial system online, the more I started to purchase locally, from people who were connected to their food and their products. This made it much easier for me to ensure that I was causing less harm to the people, plants, animals and environment that I love.
All of that and more happened before I finally decided to go bank account free. This was just one step (again much smaller than the leading-up steps) that further reduced my personal involvement with money. But it’s not about what I gave up. It’s about what I gained through giving up. Canceling my bank account has allowed me to live a life of higher integrity that is not about material possessions or wealth but rather health, happiness, and freedom for myself, humanity and the millions of species we share the earth with. 

Addressing Independence versus Community Involvement

In the United States, there is a drive for independence. The mainstream mindset seems to be moving further away from community, heading deeper towards individualism and separation. We have this idea that we can be independent from one another, simply through money. However, I believe this to be a illusion. Money does take out the humanity and remove the human touch, but the reality is that on the other side of that money is a human. Money outsources our work and makes it appear that we are not dependent on someone else, but we indeed are. They are there. We are also dependent on this Earth and the millions of other species that we share this Earth with. Money again gives us the illusion that we are independent of all of this, but we are not. We live in a period of time where all of this can be an illusion for the privileged, but this will not last. This period of the human experience will be a blink of an eye in the timeline of the human race. We are all in this together on this little planet of ours. That may not be a lesson learned by everyone in this generation, but a future generation will likely become fully aware of this.

Because I have chosen to largely remove money from my life, my dependencies are more visible. I am dependent on humanity and the earth. I don’t outsource my dependency through money. Now, some people would think that through my actions I am dependent on others in a way that I take from them and am not able to return. A “mooch” some would say. However, it is the opposite. By living simply and reducing my needs, I have been able to take myself out of the center of my equation and instead put the wellbeing of my community and the people around me into the center my attention. I have the time to volunteer, to give my time, my resources, my care and my love to people and Earth. This is a concept that can be quite hard to understand for someone who’s life fully revolves around the outsourcing created through the monetary system. A few paragraphs aren’t going to explain it all but if you are interested, my website and many other resources go deeper.

Some would look at cutting up these documents as radical individualism. Some probably assume that I am anti-government. This is not about individualism. It’s about community. This is about removing the extraneous from my life so that I can focus on what really matters, which for me is a healthy and happy community of people and all creatures. I am not anti-government. I am very much against many of the things that our government is currently doing. But I am not against the concept of a just and equal government by and for the people.

My Commitment to Not Take Social Security and

Decision to Destroy My Social Security Card

This leads me to social security. Cutting up my social security card was not purely symbolic. It was much more. It was my commitment to further remove myself from that system. Yes, I do have a social security number still. That is something that I will have, at least for now. I do still use that number for verification for things online. However, one of the largest parts of cutting up my social security card is my decision to not accept social security in this lifetime. I am no longer paying into social security and thus have decided that I won’t be taking social security out (if it even exists when I am eligible for it, or if I live to the age of eligibility). It is unlikely that I will ever take a job that requires a social security card. My full-time job is to improve life on Earth. I don’t have a boss and I don’t need a social security card for my mission in life. I’ve chosen to live a simple life that is not centered around money. I consciously do not pay federal income taxes because I do not support war, where a huge sum of my taxes would go. I do not support the means of usage of tax money by the current administration of the US government.

Acknowledging My Privilege

What I am doing is not illegal. I do this legally by making very little money. I have vowed to a life of making below the financial “poverty line.” I would like to be clear that I am not trying to simulate poverty in any way. Billions of people live with serious daily challenges to just make enough money for their food and housing. This is very real. My hopes are to be of service to people in difficult situations and bring attention to the inequalities and problems in our system and the solutions to these problems. As a person with both white and Western privilege I can cut up these IDs, and I acknowledge this. I am not in any way saying that anyone can do what I’ve done or that this is even the right path for them. For people working on gaining citizenship in a new country, people experiencing homelessness trying to get identification, people working to make ends meet and needing a job, or many other situations, this action I’ve taken could be more harmful than beneficial to their mission in life.

I also want to acknowledge the absurdity that a person needs these ID’s to be able to function in society and the problems with this system. Countless people have trouble getting a job or apartment because of the inadequacies of this system. Basic human rights are lacking in our current systems. This is what I aim to draw attention to through my life and my activism. This is my path and cutting up all these documents is quite extreme. This isn’t designed for others to walk the same path as me. However, it is designed to get people thinking. It is designed to make many of us question what is typically never questioned and get us to deeply self-reflect on our own lives and the society in which we live in.

I’d also like to note that nothing is permanent. At the time of writing this in 2018, I am young, at the age of 31. It is possible that I will end up with a bank account later in life. But to go even ten years without one is more than just meaningful. Part of what I am doing is testing the boundaries of the human experience and seeing what is possible. Much of what I have done, I did not even know if it was possible as a younger me. Regardless of whether or not I have a bank account again in my lifetime, I am very certain that the overall path of my life will stay true. It will change some I’m sure , but I will stay true to my morals and always aim to live a life that is beyond myself.
I would like to say again that I am far from perfect, and that I acknowledge the hypocrisy that I do have as a 21st-century human being. However, nearly all of my actions are deeply thought out prior to taking them. I am on a path of living in the service of humanity, our fellow species on the Earth, and Earth itself. For me, simple and radically different living is the path that I’ve chosen to take. It’s not the only path, but for me, it’s the right path. My intentions are not for anyone to follow my path exactly, but I do intend to influence and inspire people to be truly aware and conscious of the impact of their actions and to make changes to align their actions with their beliefs and come into harmony with Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What about health insurance and old age?
I have written about this fairly extensively here: On Health Insurance, Age and Death
Of course, there are people worried that if I get injured that “they will be paying for it.” I can simply say that they do not understand how deeply I have thought out my actions and how convicted I am to my actions and beliefs. Taxpayers will not pay my medical bills if I ever have any. I would highly encourage reading On Health Insurance, Age and Death if you are wondering about this.

Even though you cut your drivers license, don’t you still have one?
No, by cutting it up and letting it expire, it means I really don’t have a drivers license. I cannot legally drive a car.

In the video, you say you don’t want to drive fossil fuel powered vehicles. What about electric?
In the USA about 80% of our electricity is generated by fossil fuels, which means most electric cars at this point are ultimately powered by fossil fuels. It’s more efficient than using the fossil fuels directly in the car, but indirectly still burning fossil fuels. I have also committed to a life of mostly non-ownership, thus I would not own an electric car either. I did use an electric car share program for a few years when I lived in San Diego, which I find to be a far better use of resources. But today I have found the benefits of having no drivers license to far outweigh the benefits of having one. I am also very supportive of public transportation that creates a more equal society, rather than private vehicles.

What if there’s an emergency and you need to drive?
The odds are that in an emergency that would require a car there would be someone else who could drive it. If not, and there’s a real emergency that requires me to drive then I would hop in the car and drive without even hesitating at not having a license. I believe in using common sense and I don’t follow laws blindly. If in the unlikely scenario I got in trouble, I’d be fine with that for saving a life.

What ID’s do I have?
I still have my passport and birth certificate. The video was not intended to make it appear that I have no forms of ID. You can see them at the beginning of the video. For now, I will continue to have those forms of identification but it is possible that I will decide to have no identification in the future. 
I’d like to note that a drivers license is used as ID, but it is first and foremost a license to drive, and second an ID. For most people, it seems the drivers license is synonymous with an ID. I don’t need the drivers license aspect so I can simply use other forms of ID.

Update: As of 2022, I no longer have a passport or birth certificate.

Am I independently wealthy?
No, I grew up very low income. My mom made under $20,000 per year to support my three siblings and I. I never had a trust fund or anything of that sort. I have made vows to live with very little money.

Am I moving completely out of society?
No, absolutely not. I am not trying to remove myself from society at all. I aim to wedge myself deeply into it, but in a way that causes positive change within society. I aim to be an example that can affect positive change, and removing myself from society would not do that. For me, it’s a balance of removing the parts of my life that cause inequality, while adding to my life in a way that creates benefit for society and Earth.

What about housing?
I don’t intend to ever rent an apartment or buy a home. In 2015 I lived off the grid in a tiny house and did a work trade for the small piece of land to put my house on (you can learn more about that here). For 2016 to 2017 I traveled and did service projects and stayed in over 200 places. I have just moved to Orlando and will set up a tiny house homestead and do a work exchange for a backyard to set up in. If I decide to go the monetary route for a place to stay, then I could rent a room in someone’s house or apartment and pay cash. It’s more likely I will do volunteer and work exchange for simple housing.

How do you pay for this website?
At this point, I run a nonprofit. Costs such as running this website go through the nonprofit bank account. The account is with a local credit union and the nonprofit does not have a credit card. I would like to move away from having a nonprofit, however, my goal is to position myself to have the most positive impact that I can, and running a nonprofit allows me to do that at this point. Of course the nonprofit follows a mission statement so I can not use that money for anything outside of that. My goal is not to completely remove myself from the monetary system, but to minimize my involvement and use it in ways that create benefit and not destruction. 
I don’t have any personal monthly bills as I live very simply. My cell phone was my last bill but I canceled that in January 2015. (Read: Why I got rid of my cell phone.)

UPDATE: My current nonprofit is Regeneration, Equity and Justice 

Why did you keep your passport and birth certificate? Why not go the “whole way?”
My goal is to position myself to live in a way that I provide the most benefit to society and Earth. Simplifying my life to live more fully in the service of others is an instrumental part of that. I have been on this path for about seven years and I have never jumped off the deep end into anything I do. I am taking everything one step at a time. It’s possible that I will get rid of these IDs in my lifetime, but at this time it’s not what I want to do. I still travel internationally on and I need my passport for that, but I don’t need the things I’ve gotten rid of to do that.
Some people have this idea of “all or nothing” but I don’t live like that. That thinking goes along with what I wrote earlier about the tendency to make issues black and white. There is only grey, no black and white. And there is no “all or nothing,” only varying levels.
I also kept two forms of identification because that allows me to get identification such as a state ID if I decide to. 

Update: As of 2022, I no longer have a passport or birth certificate 

There has been some talk on social media about my identity being stolen because my drivers license is online.
That drivers license is expired by sixteen months so nothing can be done with it as far as I know. I have not lived at the address on the card for three years. In late 2017 I checked my credit and I have no credit score. Because I canceled all my last credit cards in summer of 2014, enough time has passed where I have no credit score. I don’t believe a credit thief would have much success with my credit. Also, my credit is locked which prevents most theft. People that are more within the system have a much higher likelihood of their credit being stolen than I do. 

Did you burn the cards? That’s not environmentally friendly.
I did not burn the plastic cards, just the paper.

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