There are many resources our access to which is governed by adherence to the idea of a Grid. There are grids for energy, for lighting your home and cooking your food and powering your transport; there is a grid of water providing clean water for you to drink and bathe in; care grids exist for your sick and elderly and an education grid for your young. Grids provide all manner of foodstuffs and there are even transportation, information and communication grids. You could even say there are grids of thought and attention. Grids take natural resources and monopolise them, turn them into commodities and then sell them to consumers. Grids also take human energy and resources, monopolise them, turn them into commodities and sell them back to humans. This is very easy and very convenient. We find we are fed, clothed, housed, educated, nursed and entertained in exchange for money. Money, however, we need.
We get money through giving our labour. We exchange the hours and days of our lives for money so that we can exchange that money for all the things we need that we are unable to provide for ourselves. This can work quite well, so long as the labour of your days pays you enough for all the things you need. Some folks like the idea of living off grid, wild and free. Like skiers going off piste, those who venture off grid have to be inventive and resilient, finding ways to supply their own needs; they’ll need to use the financial grid to buy perhaps some solar panels and woodburners. They’ll run up against planning laws, for sure, and soon discover that the culture is hostile to the spirit of independence.
Grid culture is powered by dependency and passivity. It needs us to need: to be in need. It needs us to want and want and want. It takes hold best in a de-skilled and unimaginative population. For example one where human energy is so engaged in making enough money to pay the bills – and a bit freaked out about the future – to question the basic assumptions of why it should be the way it is. Why should it be that very few people own enough land to grow food for their families? Why do we not generate household energy in little local schemes rather than rely on ‘the big six’? Why don’t we even try? Dependency has been taken to such extremes in our culture that we are now in a condition so parlous we no longer know how to feed or clothe ourselves. We can eat (oh can we eat!) and we can get dressed. But we cannot hunt, gather and grow our own food or create clothing. Nor do most of us have the resources to do so should we wish to try, because they are enclosed and monopolised by corporations. This situation, absurdly, has had the western world defecating in its own water supply in the name of hygiene for the last 150 years. Funny old world. Still it all makes work for the working man to do.
In her book, Wild, Jay Griffiths quotes an amazonian tribal person commenting on contact with missionaries:
We learned things, though: we learned money and Spanish and work. We learned that we had to work for money for needs that we didn’t have before: matches, salt and sugar. Why were we civilised? For what were we civilised? To be taught that we needed sugar and oil and money and clothes from the markets, more and more.
We, in Britain today, want a lot more than sugar and oil, do we not? Griffiths comments that when populations do that thing that is so difficult for the civilised and live ‘for free’, off grid, as all indigenous populations do and always have done, they perceive themselves as having other fundamental freedoms too. But ‘once they are made dependent on money, their other, more conceptual, freedoms can be taken away: freedom of will, freedom of time and freedom of thought.’
Here is an interesting thought experiment. Do we retain and exercise freedoms such as these? Is your will free – are you self-determining and self-authorising, responsible for and to yourself? Do you know what you want to do; do you know your will? Do we even know what it might mean to have freedom of time? What would that look like? And what is freedom of thought, and what could be its preconditions?
From this perspective it seems we are giving a whole lot more than money for our basic needs, even given that money represents the labour of our bodies and minds and increasing amounts of the time of our lives. It seems to me we are in a state of collective hallucination and addiction: a kind of cultural psychosis. Our own indigenous ancestry is long distant. I don’t even have a notion of first-nation britons. But undoubtedly they were here on this island, speaking a lost (?) language (one I increasingly long to hear) that related to this landscape, feeding and clothing themselves, relating strongly, of necessity, to the genius loci; autonomous, resourceful and responsive to their own here and now. Our indigeneity is distant in time, but the elements, I feel sure, are long memoried – and they do live in us after all; we weave our lives out of them all the time, mundanely and beautifully. Here and now belong to us and are always essentially wild and free.
It feels like time for us to come out of our demented collective amnesia and recall that we are natural beings that depend utterly upon our land, this earth and its resources. ‘Freedom,’ Griffiths says, ‘is the absolute demand of the human spirit.’ It is necessary that we see the grids that monetise and commoditise resources and services for what they are: instruments of domination. In essence we are still wild and free, a feature of the natural world: the green fuse of the wild fizzes through us. Whatever our schemes and contingency plans, whatever the claims of our civilised materialistic culture, nature remains wild and free, and all of life participates in that wild freedom and all of culture is subject to it. Our bodies and the earth beneath our feet are speaking all the time of the crazy and fantastical meeting of nature and culture. If we seek meaning for our lives and times, we don’t need to pick greedily over the remnants of the more recently devastated first-nation cultures of elsewhere to heed the call of the wild within and without. We need to connect and relate to the spirits of this place and this time: to find autonomous, resourceful, authentic responses to our own here and now; to find a new and urgent indigeneity. Show up, listen up and, as they say, join the conversation.