Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Off the Grid Living

While i have always had an appreciation (and perhaps a bit of a fascination) with what it takes to live off the grid, in the past it seemed to take on a more nostalgic feel. What i mean is that it was something that was great for others to do or it was adventurous for short periods of time, but not something practical in the long run. Yet time and experiences have demonstrated time and again several things:
  1. It is important to root oneself (one's positions, views, practices) in a clear analysis
  2. It is important to value life in such a way that balances quality of life with living with "all our relations"
  3. It is important to have the skills necessary to survive in various, potentially difficult, situations

Often people develop opinions on things that may not necessarily be rooted in a larger picture - a larger analysis involving race, class, gender, culture, ethnicity, etc.  Thinking and living one's life at the individual level or without a coherent worldview has its place, however it opens the door to a tendency to float...to follow the latest trend in this or that belief, thinking or practice. Or, in my case, to have a nostalgic view of living off the grid (idealizing it, making it an exotic thing) while not appreciating what it means to not be dependent on others, particularly those who care nothing about my life or the lives of others (e.g., profit-driven entities that destroy lives, families, communities, land, nations to bring a product to market).   In writing this, however, i recognize that going off the grid is not the answer to the major social, economic and ecological problems confronting humanity; but one of several potential responses leading toward solutions.

However, it has become ever more clear how unsustainable living has become in the United States.  Even the most economically disadvantaged among us depend on industrial produced goods shipped from hundreds to thousands of miles to meet our needs. Industrial production is heavily dependent on oil at all stages in the creation of whatever is being made...everything from toilet paper to cleaning products to clothing and food processing.  Oil is even used in products for hair and skin, as well as medicines, furniture, fabrics and many other items people buy and depend on each day. It is used to heat homes and water, pump water to homes, supply homes with electricity, etc.  Without access to oil, what will happen?  And so it goes, the wealthy nations - such as the United States - create wars in oil producing countries to secure access to those reserves.  In addition, they destabilize other nations, such as Senegal, Nigeria, Congo, etc. to exploit oil and other raw materials. 

These realities raise another issue about what it means to live off the grid or with reduced dependency on industrial produced items: those in industrialized nations live at a particular standard precisely because people in exploited nations have been prohibited from producing that which is necessary to meet their needs, employ their people, provide health care and tax subsidized education for their children and families, and so on. 

Having a clear analysis of living off the grid and/or being less dependent on "the machine" is important...of knowing what it means, understanding its significance in this particular moment in history, being clear about why you (or i) would do it and doing it for a particular purpose (i.e., toward what end would one be doing it?).  Doing things with purpose, having a clear aim/intent/direction leads toward some ultimate aim that you/i define. And in the course of working all of this out, intellectually and practically, fundamental questions are raised and, hopefully, addressed: what resources are controlled by whom? how did it get to be this way? what existed before and what might be possible after? who benefits from the current arrangements? who is harmed by these arrangements? how can African people/nations develop/advance economically, politically, and socio-culturally without following the same path of human and environmental violence and exploitation as European nations did? is such a course of development possible? 

There are, of course  many other questions to address. But the point in this section is to appreciate the importance of locating a desire to do something - such as living off the grid - within a broader historical, economic/social/political, human, and environmental context. I know that the argument was not presented strongly here, however i hope to go further in a separate article.

I didn't quite develop a full picture of this topic and the three items listed above.  However i will close with the following:  Marx once wrote that people don't give up what has already been won.  The level of development according to which people live in industrialized nations is one that they would fight to hold onto if threatened...regardless of the human and environmental costs.  That is why the United States, France, and England, for example, continue to support instability in African nations that have raw materials necessary in industrial production. 

Yet the masses can demand and fight for something different...not those who benefit from the exploitation, destabilization and destruction; but the people who have the most to gain by ending the exploitation, destabilization and destruction. But, they/we need to have a clear analysis on the problems - what they are, where they came from, what existed before - so that final solutions may be defined and carried out.

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