In a world where an increasing number of people feel the many forms of tax they pay seem to increase as the benefits and safety nets society is supposed to provide are eroded, more and more are seeking to live outside of society.
There is a common view that Governments around the world have, in their desire to control economies for their own short term electoral objectives, blindly and irrevocably started to dismantle their own legitimacy. The gap between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots has so widened that it is said by those who subscribe to an inherently anti-government stance that those who are supposed to represent the populace have fatally increased the number of the disenfranchised. In this, they believe, lay the seeds of their downfall.
The accepted orthodoxy of people who like to think of themselves as rugged individualists goes something like this. If you can no longer get free access to treatment when you are ill, if you can no longer afford a home in the first place, if you can no longer get a job or receive help to obtain one, if you can no longer protest without being arrested, if your children are sent to fight in wars you did not vote for, if your life savings are not safe in the bank, if you are not taken care of when you get old, if your taxes rise whilst your bins remain un-emptied and your schools become the graveyards of ambition, if your leaders enrich themselves and the corporations that helped them into power and not society at large, if your children kill each other on the streets because they have no aspirations worth speaking of, if the authorities no longer police with consent, but suppress and collate your every movement and communication, if you cannot vote against any of these things because no party represents your desire, well then, why are you here and to what are you contributing? Well, that’s a question that may become more materially evident to them when they attempt to do without it. Home made antibiotics and amateur surgery anyone?
Human beings formed tribes, then villages, then parishes, then counties, then cities, then governments to draw warmth from the flames of the campfire and to support each other; to protect their children and to make decisions collectively for the greater benefit of the people, for the enrichment of that nebulous thing ‘society’. But increasingly many believe that if told that society can no longer afford any of these hard won basic rights to life, then people can rightly ask the question, ‘what is society for?’ They will increasingly reject and live outside of it. It is already happening. Some no longer see the point of contributing to a society that offers so little but requires so much of them. People are disengaging. But how easy is it and is it legal?
Firstly, it seems there are an interesting mix of political factions who choose to drop out of society. In America, a dominance by survivalist cults of gun-wielding anti-government black helicopter fearing paranoid conspiracy theorists seem closer to self-sufficient private militias than the British ‘Good Life’ style conservationists whose principal motivation seems to be to decrease their reliance on processed food and wasteful energy. Even the milder types simply trying to scratch a living in the loneliest of deserts in California are harassed and evicted through the use of ‘Nuisance Abatement’ when their independence threatens a future land development or road building scheme. This isn’t to say swathes of the great British public aren’t paranoid or anti-government. They just aren’t as heavily armed and they drink a lot more nettle tea.
It’s also true that separating yourself off into a wilderness that is public land and becoming self-sufficient is considerably easier in the US than it is in the UK where the proportion of what is known as common land decreases yearly. This may be something to do with the sheer size of the US in comparison or it may be that Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ is a classic of American literature outlining a model of hermit living albeit on land owned by his friend Emerson and with occasional trips to town for a decent meal. As we will see, compromise lurks around every corner on the road to nowhere.
If the aim is to be simply ‘off the grid’ in terms of power, water, phone, internet or sewage and waste disposal, then the process can be an expensive one. Even if you buy enough land to grow enough food, the UK planning laws will bite you in the behind when it comes to living on it, as one couple in Devon who fell foul of them can attest. It seems society would rather you were living off benefit in a council house than attempting self-sufficiency on your own plot with what is deemed to be an ‘inadequate business plan’. If you are allowed to exist in your own way on your own land, woe betides you simply seeking to survive. They want you to turn a profit.
Being British, you won’t only have the local and central government officials to deal with. The average UK citizen loves nothing more than to prove you are in some way sponging off the system rather than being truly independent. Therefore you will have to be pure in your self-sufficiency. Even barter will be seen as an engagement fraught with compromise. On the other hand, you are unlikely to see their splenetic criticisms on the web as you will be, by now, coping with a backed up composting toilet and wondering if your £20,000 wind generator will ever garner enough watts to let you watch the cup final.
However if your aim is not only to be independent but also to be invisible and private, then you are stuck with an intractable problem. The tax system allows you to be exempt from tax, but it does not allow you to be exempt from the tax system. It is not enough to have no taxable income; you must be registered and assessed as such. To truly disappear from government systems and databases, you run the risk of committing an illegal offence at every turn.
Forums offering advice on the topic reveal some hair-raising motivations and solutions. One plaintive contributor to a discussion of off-grid living asking what advice anyone had for ‘when the ‘sh*t gets real and I wanna drop out of society completely’ received the following responses:
‘Become a monk.
‘Council House, Benefits and day time TV.
‘Win lottery, buy island, and employ peasants...
‘Learn how to sail and buy a boat at least 30ft - more if you don't want to go alone.’
The more practical advice included the view that whatever you choose to do will be a compromise and that all manner of contortions will be necessary to stay within or outside the reach of the law. They also maintained that it would seriously decrease your lifespan although the quality of that life may be richer than you will find amongst the wage slaves on the 8.10 to the City every weekday.
So, you can be legal and compromised or a renegade and short-lived. Either way, it seems to confirm a truism that to be one of society’s outsiders is no easy occupation and something in me suggests that this feels wrong in what increasingly feels like a societal model that has lost its purpose.