Going Off Grid is not the Solution
For Most People
I had a conversation recently with a friend. He told me that the world is screwed up, everything is falling apart and that he was going to take his family, purchase some land and go off grid(paraphrased). He watched a bunch of YouTube videos and he was going to set up a off grid homestead and incorporate some clean energy technology. He was going to raise animals and finish his kids education via homeschooling. His property was going to be defended in various ways and he would have an assortment of firearms to defend his property if need be. He told me that his wife was in agreement with this and that she had been doing her own research in preparation.
I told him that the idea was very romantic and reminiscent of the Wild West days. I asked him how far away from civilization would he go? He told me as far away as he was able to get. I was cautiously supportive, it is his life to live after all. I asked him if he understood how much work that entails and that should things go bad he would have limited ways of seeking assistance. In fact the more I questioned how he would handle different difficult scenarios, the more agitated and upset he appeared to get. He had some good ideas but it became obvious to me that some areas had only been minimally explored. I asked him if he understood the mortality rate of pre-industrialized society. It was good that he was willing to mix some modern technology into his efforts but would that be enough? I asked him if he truly had a good relationship with his children and his wife. I told him that once winter set he most likely would not be able to leave his house very much and that not only would his food and water stores need to be topped up but could he really handle two or three months of constant, uninterrupted contact with his family? There is only so much reading, trivia pursuit, movies and small talk one can engage in. I asked him how his children would fare as they grew older and wanted more freedom to explore and develop their own identity.
By the end of the conversation he seemed resigned. He accused me of being so negative that I was trying to talk him out of it. I told him that I wasn’t trying to talk him out of it. I explained that the further he tried to move away from society the more risk he was going to have to take and were the benefits going to serve him and his family best? I asked him if he would consider instead an acreage near a small town instead. Something where he could get the privacy he wanted without having to completely compromise modern luxuries. If that did well he could sell the acreage and move farther out. Having lived in a few small towns myself previously I explained the challenges that come just with small town living much less an off the grid approach. In the end the topic moved onto something else, but the thought remained in my mind. Is going off grid the solution?
Off Grid YouTube Promises
As I said previously, there is a very romantic element to the idea of abandoning society, uprooting yourself and living off the land. Just imagining it can give oneself a sense of adventure, purpose and meaning. Shedding oneself of the burden of modernity to embrace a more naturalist approach more in line with our evolution as a species. We are an adventurist species, we are drawn to a sense of wonder and excitement. If you look at many space travelling series there are windows or an observation deck. In a potential craft capable of going beyond the speed of light, there is little need for windows, an advanced computer would do most of the detection needed and cameras would be able to provide the means to steer and maneuver. A window could be a potential weak point. Yet why do most of these series have a window or observation deck on the ships/stations? Even to peer out into the vast emptiness of space, there is something inherently romantic about it.
I feel like this is one of the driving factors behind the YouTube community surrounding topics like off grid living and minimalist living. Many channels have built entire fan bases and profit around these concepts. Some of them I believe know they are cashing in on the romantic element of true self determinism. There isn’t anything wrong with that but people are only getting one piece of the picture. They are seeing the smiling faces, sped up construction times, playful music and well edited B-roll footage. Even topics around the struggles these people face always have a silver lining. This in my opinion has led a group of people to believe that they too can live this lifestyle and that they will have a similar experience. The reality is that off grid living and its lesser forms in minimalist living and even the van living craze is extremely difficult and near impossible for most people.
I’m not trying to be a downer here, just a realist. Most people couldn’t handle it, I know I couldn’t. Small town living (less then 300 people) was as far as I would let myself go. I lived in a small town that connected people to cottage country in Saskatchewan. There was a Chinese restaurant, a small school, a dive bar, a small hardware/grocery store and a gas station. While the privacy and slower pace were perks I had to learn to do many tasks that would normally be farmed out to professionals. We made friends with neighbors that had experience in areas we didn’t and they helped us immensely. Things are also expensive and if you need professional services there are huge fees for travel added on. I learnt to garden and can food but that also came with unexpected expenses. Friends and family visited rarely due to the drive. My spouse and I love each other but being around each other all the time with limited friends has its way of making small issues turn into large ones. Roads in winter were dangerous and I had three wildlife collisions in one year. Internet connection was expensive and drops happened. As you can see, even being on grid in the fringes was difficult. Taking an extreme approach to things rarely ever yields a sustainable positive result.
The romantic element is further perpetuated by stories like Richard Proenneke who lived in the wilderness for most of his life building a cabin in the Alaskan Woods. In his films that he made to document his journey you can see the rustic beauty he experienced. One could imagine themselves faring against nature and conquering it. Escaping the mundane, the insane and the State machine. Is this a reality for most of us though?
Cults and Off-Grid living
Cults and off-grid living seem to go hand in hand. I would recommend anyone considering living off grid with a group seriously consider the ramifications of those actions. While living with a group outside of society may seem like a good idea the group norms may be different then the ones that happen when people need to rely on each other less and practice more self reliance but come together for shared values. Cults usually conform around a few central leaders, those leaders may seem benevolent but countless stories exist of groups where the leadership takes more for themselves then the others. Many of these cults will used warped interpretations of biblical teachings and references to justify actions that would normally be considered immoral. From polygamy to pedophilia there is an inference of destructive norms that are often tied to cults and their leadership structure. Lord of the flies is a good example of the destructive norms and misaligned thinking of remote group structures. Even if the leadership is good and practices good governance, there may be someone lurking in the shadows, looking to gain power for not so positive reasons.
Some communities have managed to live successfully off grid. Amish, Mormons, Hutterites, etc. have managed to have some parallel society structure for years along side modern society. Even these groups have recognized that some overlap is required for them to have this symbiotic relationship. Although many practice a more traditional lifestyle involving less technology, from what I have seen it appears that more groups are adapting some technology into their lives. Many see these societies as a dying structure but in some ways they keep the old ways alive and they continue to survive living far more modestly then most of society, if things go bad in modern society, they have the means to continue on.
Interventions by the State
Another issue of course is that the State has guardrails that prevent people from going off grid. The State has a vested interest in your participation in society, even if the society is sick. The State accepts that people may not want to participate in society our jails and graveyards are full of people who have opted out of society and it’s broken contract for better or for worse. If you must forgo society the State still wants to control you. The State would rather you live in a tent in a downtown park meth’d out being assaulted, robbed or worse because they’re still in control, your fate is still determined by the whims of the State.
This must be a consideration for people considering going off grid. Your request to be left alone will not be honored by the State in Canada. You may go unnoticed in remote areas for quite some time but eventually the State wants you accounted for. What is interesting is that the less you engage in society, the more the State wants to know exactly what you are doing. There is a level of fear that if you cannot be accounted for that you are planning subversion, the act of not wanting to be accounted for is subversion to the machinery of the State.
Insulation Not Isolation
So I have tried to make an argument against going off-grid for most people. I want to emphasis that I am not against the idea and believe that people need to make the decision that is right for them. I made a twitter(X) post asking if going off grid is the solution and a few respondents are trying exactly that. Scouring the posts of one user, it seems he really is trying to make a wilderness go for him and his family and I commend him for that because it appears from what I have seen to be extremely difficult. He says that it is difficult, there is no sugar coating it but for him the reward is worth it. I hope that he and his family is rewarded for his efforts.
As I said earlier I don’t believe that going off grid is the solution for most people. I do think that we can take steps to insulate ourselves from the effects of modern living. As the price of everything goes up we should embrace that some of the old ways of living were not primitive but well in line with our species. Growing a garden and practicing preservation methods to limit our spending on some fruits and vegetables is a viable option that anyone can practice. Hunting is another skill I recommend that everyone should have a baseline knowledge of, even if they choose not to make it a lifestyle. If hunting isn’t someone’s preference, buying meat from a hunter and having it cut and wrapped then stored will still on average save people hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Buying milk from a local dairy farm and reusing the glass container will cost you far less money and it far better for you then the store bought variety. Some people have invested in backyard fowl but again this is difficult and requires considerable time and resources to have long term viability but for some the fruits will be worth the labor. These are only a couple of examples of how one can practice insulation without isolating themselves.
Every person should be prepared at minimum for 72hrs. In the end we are responsible for our safety and security, the State can not be relied upon to provide those for us. The term prepping often conjures up negative images but it is essential that everyone be prepared in case of emergencies. One should have a storage of essentials. This isn’t an article on prepping, perhaps I will do one another time but part of insulating oneself is to ensure that if modern luxuries fail that you have a backup plan that looks after your family and you.
Part of insulation is ensuring that you choose the amount of online exposure that works for you. Every person who goes online regularly is profiled. You may consider yourself unique but the algorithm knows you better then you do. Even subversion of the system is a chance to exploit you. Look up enough prepper stuff and the algorithm will feed you ads and resources that support your anti-Governmental efforts. This is because despite your lack of trust in the Government, you are still participating in the system and as long as you stay in the guardrails, the system doesn’t really care if you oppose it or not and will attempt to profit off of you. I would say that one should be intentional about their exposure online and recognize that everything back to the early days of the internet is archived.
Finally insulating oneself also involves making positive changes and being involved in your community. It isn’t going to be politicians that are going to get us out of this mess. The biggest changes that one can make is at the lowest level, the community level. Insulation means having the right people in power making good decisions with the participation of the community to assist. Pushing back against choices that disrupt good values and morality. Alleviating suffering and raising people up through charity. Your actions may seem small but they have ripple effects that extend into the wider community. When individuals are empowered and voluntarily come together over shared values to better society, we can slowly turn the tide making it largely unnecessary to have to isolate ourselves.
These are my thoughts on the concept of going off-grid and why I think it isn’t for most people and a few reasons why and why I believe we should insulate and not isolate. Agree or disagree? let me know what you think.
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