What does it really mean to be or live off-grid? Society would have you believe that people who live or have a desire to live off-grid are the very fringe of culture. They are backwards and mistrustful of everything and everyone. Off-griders are even considered possible domestic terrorists. In order to fully explore this idea we first have to establish what does it mean to be on the grid.
What is living on the grid?
Living on the grid is simply being reliant on all of the current systems of support. What are systems of support? This one could take a really long time, but I’ll be as brief as I can. The current systems of support that we see in most of the industrialized world include things like the electrical grid, the communications grid, the banking system, the food system, the medical system, etc to ad nauseum.
A person that is 100% on grid has to depend on someone else for everything in their lives. The ultimate example of a person who might be 100% on grid would be someone who is severely disabled or who lives on government aid. There are people who either cannot or do not work for a living. That means that the sum totality of their existence is dependent on the governments ability to either extract or print money to give to them so they can purchase everything they need. There is no judgement here, just stating the facts.
Even a person who works and works hard can be 100% on grid. My job is dependent on people spending money with a certain company. I earn that money, but if the company wasn’t doing enough business to merit my position I wouldn’t be there for very long. When I am paid my wages there are responsibilities that must be taken care of and bills that must be paid. The electric bill, phone bill, garbage bill…… Most of our income has been marked for a specific purpose that is non negotiable under the current system.
Most people are on grid at least at some level. We are on grid and I admit it, but we are working toward becoming more independent (read off-gird here if you wish).
The grid is not just about electricity though that is the first thing we think about when someone says the word. You wouldn’t be reading or listening to this if it weren’t for the gird and I mean several of them. The electricity to power our devices, the internet to connect these devices, you may be reading this in a different language than I am writing, this is possible because of translating services. You get the idea.
Moving toward off-grid living.
You may look around and decide that some of the systems of support or the grid are fragile and you may wish to limit your dependence on those systems. To some degree and in certain areas this is fine, just don’t try to do so in a subdivision or community with an HOA. Most people just aren’t comfortable with someone that doesn’t fit their expectations. Oh we as a society claim that we are tolerant, but we really aren’t. We will begrudgingly accept all kinds of behavior as long as it doesn’t make us feel too uncomfortable or force us to evaluate ourselves. There are several examples and I will let you figure those out for yourself, if you are reading this you are most likely a thinker anyway.
As you move away from the systems of support you will find all kinds of roadblocks in your way. There are cities and communities where clothes lines are illegal. That just blew my mind when I found that out. There are lots of places where rules prevent a person from having a garden. Not far from where I am it is illegal to have a home that is not hooked up to the electrical grid. There are towns where it is illegal to not be hooked to the sewer. All of these laws, regulations, and rules are claimed to be for our own safety or to ensure the continuity of the community. But are they really?
The machine needs its batteries.
Yes, I really am making a reference to the movie The Matrix. The system needs its batteries and we are those batteries. The system wants everything you do to be something that feeds it. You working toward uncoupling from this system is dangerous. Oh if one person unplugs its not a horrible deal, but it is never just one person. Every time someone decides they no longer wish to participate there is a voltage drop in the system (I am speaking figuratively). When to many batteries withdraw themselves from the system a section of the machine suffers. We can’t have that so participation is compulsory.
In the little town we live in, if you have city water you have to pay for sewer. It doesn’t matter if your not hooked up to the system, you have to pay anyway. If you don’t want to pay for sewer you have to be completely on well water and not be hooked to their system at all. Its a lot bigger expense to have a well drilled, build a pump house, buy the pump, have the water tested, and everything you have to do. There are a few people who have done so and we will be one of those soon, but these restrictions prevent too many from leaving the system.
Electricity in our area is even worse. If you have an alternative electric system you must be either completely tied to the system or face a substantial price increase on any energy used. Allow me to explain. If I were to put solar panels on my house and keep it tied to the grid, the electric company would buy any additional power generated as long as there is no electrical storage in place. Why is that? The federal government requires them to do so. If we were to have electrical storage and only used the grid power when absolutely necessary we would be charged at a different rate than everyone else. Right now our energy rates are $0.084 per 750 kwH. If we were on an alternative energy system and only used the grid when needed that cost would go up to $5.00 per 750 kwH. Not only that, they have the right to inspect your equipment whenever they want. Think they are trying to keep people on the system?
I don’t know about you but I don’t have $20k dollars to install a solar energy system that will replace all of the energy we use from the grid. At least not right now.
How society views off-gridders.
I know, this is just a commercial, but this is the way people who want to go off grid are being portrayed. Backwoods, dirty, uneducated, pick any number of adjectives here. It drives me crazy when people act like that.
Why are they so afraid?
Our economic system requires continual expansion of inputs. If a company makes the same amount of money this year as they did last year their stock will plunge.There has to be a continual increase in production, spending, and sales. There has to be constant expansion for there to be prosperity under the current economic paradigm.
When a person leaves the system, their friends and family watch them. From the system’s point of view if they fail great. If after a short period of time their friends and family see them and the are healthier and happier or have more savings or their not as stressed out, the system has a problem. When a single person succeeds in something others will try. Some of them will succeed and they will inspire others. It’s not long before this becomes a fad. If the fad lasts long enough it is deemed a Movement. Then finally a movement becomes a trend. Trends like this are dangerous. It is only one step away from being a lifestyle. “Oh no, we have to be tolerant of lifestyles.”
How to society tries to stop things
Society really doesn’t act very much different from people, which makes sense because it is made up of people, it just has more tools than the individual. There are groups of people that have a greater amount of control than others in installing expectations and reactions than others and yes I used the term installing on purpose. We are being programed through a consent of inaction. News organizations, political and entertainment figures, music, and television shows are all pieces of the programing. When society is uncomfortable with an activity what does it do?
If we ignore the problem, maybe it will go away. When this comes to off gird living or even living more self sustainably the first reaction is nearly always “Well, this is just a few fruitcakes. It will never gain any traction. We will just leave them alone.”
Ridiculing an idea or lifestyle is the next step. It doesn’t take very many people to get to this point, but it does take more to force society to notice. If an ideal gets to this point there have been too many people what have begun to work towards a goal to ignore any longer. You will run into people who will ridicule organic gardening, preparedness, religion of any type, and this list goes on. This is actually a little dangerous. You have no doubt heard that all publicity is good publicity. By ridiculing something, you are drawing the attention of people who would have otherwise been oblivious. Many will accept the premise of the ridicule without question, but there are those people who will look at a situation or idea and honestly judge it by its merits.
We are seeing this in the preparedness community big time and to be honest we have brought part of this on ourselves. We have too many that espouse the idea that if something happens I will have enough guns and ammo to take what I need. Even without those few people, anything out of the ordinary goes through this stage. Organic agriculture is going through this now as well. I had a gentleman tell me that traditional agriculture has never killed anyone including agriculture that is heavily GMO based, but organic agriculture would kill thousands if not millions. I have read countless studies on both sides of this debate and I am not going to get into an argument with anyone on them. For me and the veggies I grow, they are beyond organic, nuff said.
Regulate or Outlaw it
Okay, so a behavior has gotten so popular that it has at least reached the subculture or trend status and it is something that members of the controlling groups are concerned about. At this point it has become clear that just making fun of and demonizing the idea is just not effective. Enter regulations and/or laws.
Regulations are the sneaky way of doing things, but they can have the greatest backlash. A regulation can be added or changed with very little press or fanfare. The only way the public realizes a regulation has been changed is when someone with enough popularity or social capital is fined. Regulations allow for selective enforcement. I know that laws are used the same way, but it is much less obvious when this is done through regulations. Regulation changes are also more anonymous, a lawmaker doesn’t have to have their name attached. Regulations have a drawback from the view point of the officials as well. They are a lot easier to ignore. They do not necessarily have the full force of law and can be fought a little easier in court.
Laws are more involved. The political figures have to go on record as opposing a behavior. Doing this can create an uncomfortable environment for politicians. Normally the only time they take this route for something that is not harmful to life and liberty is when they believe that there has been enough ridicule and demonizing that there will not be enough negative impact for them to be reelected.
What is being off grid really?
Like so many things being off grid should be measured in stages or percentages. As you eliminate your dependence on a system of support, you have moved off grid in relation to that system. We have been programmed to think in extremes. Very few things are really that cut and dried. I have a couple of friends that are what I would consider as close to being 100% off grid without being Amish. They generate their own power, produce over 90% of the food their family consumes a year, have a well, and everything else. But you know what? Both of them have cell phones. Both of them have automobiles that require gasoline. I respect both of these people greatly and aspire to achieve what they have, but by societal definition they are not “off grid”. What they have done is limit their dependence on systems of support.
The Challenge and Getting Started
If you every complain about the government or corporations running everything I want you to realize that everything you do that is in that system is giving them power. Even if you think by doing this over this other you are supporting one side versus the other you are still supporting the system. So how can you begin to uncouple yourself and slowly move to a more sustainable or off grid life?
Pay off debt
This one is tough and my wife and I are working at it ourselves. I am not necessarily telling you to avoid all debt. Just reduce your dependence.
Grow a garden or Join a CSA
I will preach this till I am blue if I that is what is required. Grow something you consume. Do more next year. If you have very little space, start with herbs.
A CSA is community supported agriculture. You buy shares in a farm. You pay this amount upfront. Each month during the growing season the CSA will give you your percentage of the food they grew.
Hunt or Grow Your Own Meat Animals
There is no question that the meat production system in the industrialized world has problems. If we really want to we can look up the videos. By taking control of this area of our personal food system, we can take a lot of power back for ourselves.
Find places to cut
Things like carpooling, couponing, cutting cable television, bargain shopping, bulk shopping, reducing electricity or water consumption are all baby steps toward going off grid.
Come on. You know you want to be more self reliant.
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