Off The Grid

Copyright Michael Bunker 2009

A Trip Through Time

In the next chapter, I want to begin our discussion about actual ways to live without electricity, but first we have to learn a little something about the history of electricity and electrification.  We just learned about the evils of the debt culture, and how debt has enslaved people to their own lusts.  In the last chapter I told you that debt was one of the biggest links in that chain of slavery.  But it is only one link.  Our dependence on grid utilities is another link in that slavery chain.  The problem I face as a writer is that most people today are profoundly ignorant of history.  History is an “off-grid” lamp by which we may guide our feet, and only knowledge and wisdom will set us free from our chains so that we can rightly use the lamp.

To begin our discussion on the electrical grid, I want to take you on a bit of a journey through time to the year 1752, the year that Benjamin Franklin was reputed to have flown a kite with a metal key on it in a dark and stormy Philadelphia sky.

Contrary to how life was still lived in the Old World, there had developed in the colonies a very broad and thriving middle-class in America.  As opposed to the very wide and stark chasm between the very rich and the very poor that existed in the Georgian era in Europe, in America, the large middle-class was considered well-off, landed, and substantially independent and self-sufficient.  Travelers through the colonies in the middle of the 18th Century reported that there were few great estates to be seen, and that the bulk of the people lived well and comfortably, even on the smallest land holdings.

Although there were a few, very rich people in the colonies in the 1750’s, the great mass of the people existed in the comfortable expanse of the middle-class.  Yet throughout that middle-class (even in its lower environs) most farmers considered themselves to be pretty well-off.  They answered to no human Lord or royalty.  They were masters of all they surveyed.  They were able to produce more than their family and their household could consume, and there were no government agents snooping around trying to micro-manage their lives.  In short, prior to the Industrial Revolution, the middle-class free land-holder in the American colonies did not live by fear.

In Europe, if you were not of the rich, landed and titled class, you were expected to live your life in the service and fear of rich men with power.  It is said that when poor men would see a man on the road wearing a wig, they would flee as if for their lives, because they knew that a wig was a representation of arbitrary political and economic power.  In the colonies, very few people (except slaves) knew anything of such fear.  In South Carolina, it was virtually impossible to find anyone who was willing to serve in the government, even with the promise of political power, because most men had land and comfort and were responsible to their God and to themselves; thus, they had no desire to exercise power over other men’s consciences.  In Europe, joining the military was not always voluntary, but it was considered a way to escape the desperation and squalor of abject poverty.  In Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, it became difficult to get men to commit to the military defense of the colonies at the behest of the King, because even the lower classes considered themselves free gentlemen and they lived good, comfortable lives.  Landed freemen had no desire to get themselves mixed up in the King’s intrigues when there were negligible benefits and everything to lose.  In the northern colonies, employers complained that they were forced to pay extraordinary high wages, even to low-skilled workers, to keep them at their work, even going so far as bringing employees to their homes to eat at their own tables, because any good man who was a hard worker could easily and inexpensively purchase his own land and begin his own estate as a gentleman farmer.  While there were some spectacularly rich and powerful estate and plantation owners who owned thousands, or tens of thousands of acres, 90% of male citizen farmers owned estates of less than 200 acres; in fact, many farms were around 40-50 acres, which was considered the maximum amount of land that a family could work without servants or slaves.

In 1752 in Virginia, virtually every farmer grew at least some tobacco for sale; usually just enough to provide for the next year’s cash needs; and almost every farmer had milk and beef cows, pigs, corn, vegetables, and a comfortable house.  Yet, we are told by modern educators in public schools and by many historians today that electricity was the great “equalizer” of men, and that all men, except the very rich, were poor, miserable, and downtrodden prior to the electrification of the country.

This is the point I really want to drive home with this chapter, because in the next chapter we will be discussing alternatives to the way we do things today.  The fact is that for 300 years in America there were people living healthy, happy, and productive lives without an electrical grid.  I think this is the thing that is the hardest for people to grasp, because modernists have been so brainwashed, corrupted, and colonized by less than 100 years of electrification.

As I began to study these things, I was shocked by many of the things I learned.  But, I guess had I been paying attention, I should have been asking questions of my teachers back when I was in school.  Like, for example, why do you see so many pictures of southern gentleman and southern ladies dressed up in heavy clothes and coats, even in the summer?  Isn’t it unmanageably blazing hot in the South in the summer?  Without air-conditioning and electricity, wouldn’t they all be wearing shorts and t-shirts, standing under some magnolia tree in the shade, cursing the day they were born?  Is it possible that those southern plantation houses were actually designed to remain cool in the hot summer?  And what’s the deal with the lemonade?  Didn’t those southern rascals know that without refrigeration there could be no ice?  And without ice lemonade is just… icky?  And how did those Europeans have so many fine balls and dances after dark?  Is it possible that people who never knew anything about electricity, found brilliant ways to live good and comfortable lives without it?  We’ve been taught that people were just sitting around, poor and miserable in the dark for thousands of years until some precious industrial savior came along and flipped on the light. I found out in my studies that nothing could be farther from the truth.

Electrification was not, as is often advertised, the end of the dark ages of backwardness and discomfort, when millions of ignorant rubes climbed out from under the rocks of ignorance into the glorious light of Industrial genius and bliss.  Electrification was actually the beginning of a new spiritual dark age:  It was the enthronement of an old triumvirate: The unholy trinity made up of the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Electrification, for most of the world, happened towards the end of what is called the “Second Industrial Revolution.”  It was the crowning achievement of the whole Industrial Revolution, and brought to fruition the hopes and dreams of the industrialists, the bankers, and the prophets of the new consumer religion.

It is necessary, now, that we go through a quick overview of the Industrial Revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution, although it was really only one long, undivided industrialization process, is often bifurcated into two parts by historians (the First and Second Revolutions): The first part began in the 18th Century (roughly between 1760 and the 1780’s) with the advent of the factory; the invention of the Spinning Jenny for the mass production of yarn; the improvement of the steam engine; and the development of advanced methods of working iron and other metals.  This part of the “Revolution” saw the very beginnings of the factory system; smokestacks began to sprout from every city skyline like weeds, and masses of people abandoned the farms in large numbers and went to live near factories.  The main historical product of the First Industrial Revolution was that it moved masses of people off of the land and into an urban life.  It engendered specialization, so that even those who stayed on the land no longer provided most of the products and services they needed to survive.  People, even planters and farmers, became specialists.  Before the Industrial Revolution, a man might say “I am a farmer”, and it was understood that he produced most of the things he and his family needed from the earth.  It meant that he had cows, pigs, horses, chickens, gardens, crops, etc.  After the Industrial Revolution, a man would say “I am a tobacco farmer”, or “I am a cotton farmer”.  His land was given over to specialization, and he took the money he earned from his cash crop to the “store” to buy the things he needed to survive.

I cannot stress the importance of this understanding enough.  If you want to know how to live without electrical handcuffs and chains, you have to have a vision of what life was like when men and women were free.  Just as in ancient Rome, people moved in massive numbers from the farms to the cities, and as people became specialized cogs in the Industrial machine, they almost instantly began to lose their survival skills and sense.  The wisdom of thousands of years of off-grid living began to atrophy almost immediately.  Remember, only a few generations are required to remove valuable skills and knowledge from the collective memory.  Once specialization and urbanization began to take hold, the ground was paved for the rapid and radical advances of the Second Industrial Revolution.

The Second Industrial Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution, also called the “Technical Revolution”, began in the middle of the 19th Century as advancements in rail travel and transport accelerated, and as new shipping technologies (primarily advances in the manufacture of steam ships) multiplied opportunities in trade and commerce.  The old adage that “all roads lead to Rome” surpassed even its old literal meaning during this stage.  With the advent of mass transportation, urbanization accelerated at a frightening rate.  From here we see the rise of the mega-cities, and more and more people would begin to leave home looking for the fabled and mythological “good life” and riches in the city.  The New Rome rose up on the banks of the Thames and the Hudson, the Rhine and the Seine.  Any city with a port had the opportunity of becoming the new Rome, and most of them did.  Chicago, on the banks of Lake Michigan, went from a small village of 200 in 1833, to a city of 3.3 million people only 100 years later in 1933.   Almost 2 million of those people arrived in Chicago after the city “went electric” around the turn of the 20th Century.

The Second Industrial Revolution saw major advances in chemistry (such as the refinement of petroleum products), which preceded and laid the groundwork for the oil-centered economy; the invention of the means of mass communication and advertising (telephone, telegraph, radio, etc.); and the invention and mass production of the means of rapid transit (cars, airplanes, etc.).  As the population became more mobile, the world shrank noticeably; and, just as men and women started to consider the rumors that life might be better near the cities, mass advertising and broadcasting arrived to reinforce that idea.  However, the prophets of industrialism knew that everyone wouldn’t move to the cities, and they didn’t necessarily want them to.  The new spiritual Rome is bigger than the walls of any city.  If you weren’t willing to go to the city, all of the new technologies would soon bring the city to you.  The Second Industrial Revolution saw the mass production of consumer items that would allow the lower and middle-classes the time to pursue other consumptive activities.  The advertisers would tell you what to buy, and the magazines and newspapers would show you what areas of “the good life” you were missing.  Towards the end of Second Industrial Revolution came the wide-scale use of machines replacing workers in those “industries” that were still considered somewhat “Agrarian”; and, of course, just in time, we would begin to see the electrification of even the most rural areas.

An Inconvenient Truth, and the Rise of Statism

Electrification, marketed by the world’s prophets as the “great equalizer” of men, and the magic solution to all of man’s problems, by any measure (especially in America) has had the opposite of its advertised effect, unless you want to consider that it has made slaves of virtually all men equally.  Between the late 1700’s and the 1930’s, America (and the whole world) stratified into very clearly delineated social and economic classes.  The rich had become richer, and the poor had become poorer.  More people had become landless, unskilled laborers, lost in the vast ghettos of the big cities.  Left-Wing, Socialist, Marxist, and other statist organizations were formed to protest the inequalities of the system that had promised them equal access to wealth and comfort.  Labor unions rose up everywhere, supposedly to protect these landless laborers from exploitation by the prophets and kings of Industrialism: the same prophets and kings who had promised them equality through electrification.  Right-Wing statists (akin to our modern neo-con movement) rose up to defend the Industrialists and the Bankers and to bring them under the sway of the more reactionary arms of the government.  Thus we have the modern political dialectic, where Leftists and Rightists (statists all) fight one another for the right to plunder the poor and the middle class.

Even today the lie that the Industrial Revolution “created” or expanded the middle-class and broke the power of the landed and the elite is still considered to be unquestionable gospel.  Wikipedia, on its Industrial Revolution page, under the category of “Social Effects” says this:

“In terms of social structure, the Industrial Revolution witnessed the triumph of a middle-class of industrialists and businessmen over a landed class of nobility and gentry.”

That statement is so absurd that I really cannot believe that anyone would seriously believe it.  This myth is THE BIG LIE still repeated in classrooms all over the world every day.  While it is true that the Industrial Revolution witnessed the triumph of the industrialists and businessmen over the landed class, it is not true that the industrialists and businessmen were “middle-class” while those in the landed class were the “nobility and gentry” (except in Europe).  According to virtually every honest history I have ever read of the middle 18th Century (which just preceded the Industrial Revolution), the vast middle-class of Americans prior to the Industrial Revolution were “landed”.  If Industrialization and Electrification was the victory of the “middle-class”, where did they end up and where did all their land go?  Who were these millions of poor factory workers swarming into the bulging cities of the Industrial world, and where did they come from?  The Industrial Revolution destroyed the landed middle-class, shifted millions of people from the country to the cities, and made mind-numbed consumers out of all of them; all the while making billionaires of the already wealthy bankers, businessmen, and industrialists.  Even the land went to the industrial farmers, who were (and are) just corporate country businessmen, fully owned and operated by the banks and the food merchants and conglomerates.

After the War against Southern Agrarianism, the northern cities, which had once virtually locked their doors against freed slaves or poor whites, threw open their doors to anyone willing to work long hours for very little in wages.  In the same northern cities and states where blacks had once been unceremoniously thrown into trains and wagons and driven south to advance the purposes of radical abolitionists, freed blacks and poor, disenfranchised whites were now welcomed back by the millions.  The cities themselves, and the industrialists who built them, needed two things in order to survive:  They needed consumers, and they needed low-skilled (and thus lowly paid) workers.  The grid was beginning to take form, and you could get just a glimpse of its outline if you looked closely at the tenements and apartments growing up towards the sky in the ghettos and slums of American cities, or the telegraph poles running along side the railroad tracks that steamed the commercial goods and products out of the city, out into the world.

In order for the mind to be satisfied in de-humanizing labor, it must first be fragmented and colonized.  It must be broken.  Workers were given very menial, repetitive tasks, and they were told (rightly so) that there were a thousand people lining up to take their jobs from them.  The carrot and the stick were ever-present.  There were always billboards and stores that displayed wondrous new products that you might be able to afford someday if only you could manage to work harder and move up in the world; and at the same time there was always the threat that if you slowed down for a minute, even to survey whether you were making any progress, you would lose everything and become a pauper or a vagrant.

Upton Sinclair exposed the inhumanity of this Industrial reality in his book “The Jungle” which displayed the horrible reality of life in the industrial packinghouses of Chicago:

“Here is a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances, immorality is exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it is under the system of chattel slavery.” (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)

“To be tracked by bloodhounds and torn to pieces is most certainly a merciful fate compared to that which falls to thousands every year in Packingtown–to be hunted for life by bitter poverty, to be ill-clothed and badly housed, to be weakened by starvation, cold and exposure, to be laid low by sickness or accident–and then to lie and watch, while the gaunt wolf of hunger creeps in upon you and gnaws out the heart of you, and tears up the bodies and souls of your wife and babies.” (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)

Of course, the response to the horrible working conditions of the 19th and early 20th Century was not, as we might have hoped, a widespread return to the land.  Instead, new power centers (the trade unions and others who claimed to stand for the worker), and political power blocks rose up, and along with power, as we can expect, came corruption.

If you’ll remember, when America was still Agrarian, wages were very high (disconcertingly so for many employers) because every worker could afford to (if he so desired) walk off of his job and go start his own farm.  But now the land was being bought up by speculators, by the railroads, and by commercial farming interests, so land prices were very high; not to mention that these urban workers had already abandoned that old life, putting all their eggs in one industrial basket.  There was no “home” to which they might return.

Most of the things being produced by the new industrial society were things that, only 30 years earlier, nobody knew they needed.  But the new world system would absolutely require that these unknown needs be made known; and not just these, but a million more needs would have to be created.  This “manufacture of needs” would multiply rapidly with the advent of electrification and the arrival of the oil-based economy.

In 1752, no one could have imagined the need for a cable that would bring electrical current into every house, farm, or business in America.  That spring, when Benjamin Franklin supposedly tied a key to that kite string and sent it up into that stormy Pennsylvania sky, he could not have imagined what would come down the line along with the electricity.  Safe, cheap, and readily available electricity would be the springboard for the “manufacture of needs”.  And it started so simply…

Think of it.  Electricity was easy to sell.  Probably one of the easiest sales jobs ever.  With electricity in your house and barn, you won’t have to produce, make, store, or buy candles, fat, or kerosene.  Imagine just walking up and pulling on a chain and having your room flooded with artificial light!  Think of getting up at night to go to the restroom, and not having to light a candle or a lantern.  Then, think of all the things you can do now that it won’t be dark all night.  Your day can start earlier and end later!  Think of all the time you will save! (ching, ching! Goes the time bank)  And, if you already have power coming to your house to provide electric light, think of what a refrigerator will do for you… and a freezer… and a washer and dryer… and an electric stove; I mean, you already have electricity, why would you deny yourself the “good things in life?”  All of these can be added for a nominal fee, and each (on its own) is really cheap to operate.  And if you cannot afford them all right now, you can get credit at the store or from the manufacturer.  You can pay it off by the month in easy payments.  Of course, you’ll have to work harder and longer hours, but that should be easy with all that electric light at your fingertips.  If it gets to the point where your farm will not support all the new payments, you can always get a job in town… but you’ll need a car… and insurance… and your taxes will go up so you can have a nice road to drive on…

Electrification was supposed to make everyone equal, but it precipitated the largest transfer of real wealth in all of history.  Electrification was supposed to save everyone time and money, but it caused people to work harder and longer hours, and eventually necessitated that both parents go to work in order to finance the costs of all those newly manufactured needs.  Electrification was supposed to broaden horizons and educate and free the masses, but instead it shrunk the world and, through specialization, created generations of ignorant, unviable, colonized, debt-burdened slaves.  Electrification destroyed the concept of local community, and replaced it with a faceless global metropolis operating by a soulless global morality.

The most important victim of electrification and the industrial revolution was the Biblical concept of family.  In 1752, most Americans would live their entire lives and rarely travel more than a county away from their homes.  Most children, when they were in need of care, instruction, or wisdom, had both parents around them all of the time.  If they needed older wisdom, or some historical perspective, they could usually walk less than a mile and talk to aunts, uncles, grandma or grandpa, and usually great-grandma or great-grandpa (who probably remembered what life was like in the “old world”).

By 1852, the destruction of a distinct way of life was on its way, but it was only then on the horizon.  The war against Agrarianism and the old paths was still on the drawing board in 1852, but it was as inevitable as the sunrise.  The winds of war were already blowing through the boardrooms of Yankee corporations, and the sanctuaries of the corporate churches.  The prophets of syncretism and were already stirring the pot of greed and covetousness.  The factories were already belching black smoke into the skies over hundreds of cities, and the power elite were growing ever richer as the trickle of country folk moving into the cities became a flood.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the march towards global slavery was just becoming a full gallop.  In ten short years, mankind would leap farther forward technologically than he had in the previous 3000 years put together.  By 1910, the world had seen the invention, or the widespread adoption of: readily available consumer electricity, air-conditioning, commercial refrigeration of meats and food, the telephone, the radio, the automobile, and the airplane.

By 1952, 200 years after Franklin flew his kite, the transformation was mostly complete.  A couple of world wars had put an end to what was left of America’s once dominant farming heritage, and most Americans had lost any cultural memory of the old Agrarian world that had given birth to so much freedom and wealth.  Many people claim that the last Confederate veteran died that year, and only a few years later, in 1956, the last Union veteran died.  With them died any memory of what life had been like before they decided to fight over it.

In the 200 years covered in this chapter, America went from a land peopled with strong, intelligent, and virtuous farmers; a people who had benevolently conquered the land and the elements, and who lived lives of relative peace and freedom; to a land of consumer slaves and thoughtless eaters; a nation of people who allowed the land and their most sacred cultural traditions to be raped and destroyed for the benefit of the very rich and powerful.

Today, when I speak to people about living without electricity, the eyes of most of the people glaze over and I can see that they have no concept of their own history.  They are intellectual, cultural, and moral bastards, orphaned in the land of their fathers.  “How can anyone live without electric light?” they say, “Without air-conditioning?  Without refrigeration?  And, who would want to?  Impossible!  Only a fool or a sadist would even entertain such a thought.”  By such thoughts and ignorant statements, we have become a nation of slanderers, defaming our own ancestors; a nation of wasters who squander the intellectual, moral, and social resources of a people who were far greater than we are.

In the next chapter, we are going to begin to learn how to live successfully without being attached to the “grid”.  Specifically, we will talk about light and heat.

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