New at Reason

Jesse Walker reviews the new documentary Off the Grid, about a counterculture that thrives in 110 degree heat.

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  • M||

    Does the state have a compelling interest in regulating myspace film webpages with substandard loading speeds?

    But seriously folks, are we (kimo-sabe) of the dominant culture satisfied that market forces will sufficiently protect kids on the other side of the tracks from (theologically supported or not) neglect/abuse, or is it truly none of our damn business?

    I know, I know, the deperedations of gummint intervention, otherwise I wouldn't be here. But a few months back someone said libertarianism works great until children are affected, about which William Golding had a few memorable words.

    I want to believe. Help me in mine unbelief!

  • ||

    RE: Children

    Say the word 'parents'. Say it over and over.

    And when that doesn't work, remember that human brains exhibit a great deal of plasticity...if they didn't, we'd all be flies...whether our parents were there or not.

  • ||

    "someone said 'libertarianism works great until children are affected'"
    What a sanctimonious piece of crap. You could say that about anything that deals with liberty or the ability to make a personal choice. Say that often enough and you'll be inviting the police to run your life.

  • M||

    Okay, I put a gun to its head, so the trailer loaded.

    The representative on it speaks acceptingly of escalating aggression as their method of adjudicating disputes: "They do something harsh, you do something harsher; that's the way it goes." Hmmm. Proportionate penalties, due process, rules of evidence seem alien principles. Not sure if I trust cooler heads to prevail when someone's offended.

    I hate to say it, but moving from contemplating principles to viewing the practice, I lose the complacency of a substantive margin of error for, say, provocative language, let alone provactive or ambiguous gestures.

    jaijin, parents can be neglectful or abusive. And without a common sovereign
    to whom we relegate our right of violent self-defense (in non-emergencies), I have a hard time trusting that Mrs. Jones defending her kid against Mrs. Smith defending her kid leaves us all, especially the unpopular innocent, safer.

    C'mon guys, help me before Dan T. offers to!

  • Jesse Walker||

    Not sure if I trust cooler heads to prevail when someone's offended.

    The interesting thing is that cooler heads did prevail. When I watched the documentary I figured chances were good that it would end with a shootout. It didn't.

  • M||

    Jesse, they were preening for Big Camera ;-)

  • Jackson Kuhl||

    It looks like the filmmakers brought their "traditional mainstream liberal ideology" to the trailer, what with the creepy music and the guns and the dogs and dolls and the blurb about "chills down your spine." The only things missing were some graboids or maybe a chupacabra lurking outside the firelight ready to pounce on a Kerry voter.

    Still, nice review. These little opt-out communities make me think Turner was onto something with his Frontier Thesis.

  • First Little Pig||

    Couple of thoughts:

    1) Since I am in the process of building a home off the grid in the wilds of New Mexico I will never let my wife see this film.

    2) The community I am moving to us a much less wacky version of the Mesa one: more hippies and fewer gun enthusiasts (though we have both)

    3) The lack of government rules, regulations and space for personal freedom and expression -- and the fact that everyone who lives out there has a live-and-let-live mentality -- is what makes the lifestyle so very compelling.

    4) I have no doubt that this movie takes hundreds or hours of film and condenses it into showing only the parts that will make "normal people" freak out. I also believe lots of the mayhem was staged.

  • ||

    I liked this quote:

    "If you're not a good neighbor," he says, "then we'll band together and chase you out of here."


    Remember, it's not government if you don't call it government!

  • Jesse Walker||

    I have no doubt that this movie takes hundreds or hours of film and condenses it into showing only the parts that will make "normal people" freak out.

    Maybe my review wasn't as clear as it could have been, then. The film is very positive about the Mesa people. I asked the directors how audiences reacted to the picture, expecting there to be a wide range of responses -- from viewers who were completely repelled to people who wanted detailed directions on how to find the place and set up their own camp. They said that actually, almost everybody liked the folks onscreen. When they took one of the Mesa residents along to a film festival screening, people practically worshipped him. Some gave him money.

    The filmmakers also told me that while there are Mesa people who hate the movie, the ones who appear onscreen all approve of the finished product.

  • ||

    I figured chances were good that it would end with a shootout.

    You've been watching too many westerns. I'm not saying the world isn't full of dicks with guns. But when it comes down to actually deciding to start the bullets flying, that usually requires some sort of organization and conditioning.

  • First Little Pig||

    Jesse Walker,

    Then I will look forward to seeing it ... My new similar locale is populated with Salt Of The Earth ... I was afraid the flick would paint such people in a bad light.

  • ||

    The interesting thing is that cooler heads did prevail. When I watched the documentary I figured chances were good that it would end with a shootout. It didn't.

    Sounds like the simple threat of violence did the trick. It's like having a police force, except it's not, because these guys don't believe in that kind of thing.

  • Jesse Walker||

    It's like having a police force, except it's not, because these guys don't believe in that kind of thing.

    It's like having a police force, except it's not, because a police force is permanent, professional body that specializes in law enforcement and has legal jurisdiction over a specific territory, whereas this is ... none of those things.

  • ||

    It's like having a police force, except it's not, because a police force is permanent, professional body that specializes in law enforcement and has legal jurisdiction over a specific territory, whereas this is ... none of those things.

    You forgot that the police wear uniforms, which the Mesa guys do not, either.

    But the point, of course, is that in both cases the citizens of an area will use force or the threat of force to make sure an individual or small group adheres to the societal norms they've established.

    The Mesa community creed should be, "You're free, as long as you behave how we like".

  • ||

    Where is the Clinton Justice department when you need it? This place obviously needs to be burned to the ground.

  • Jesse Walker||

    You forgot that the police wear uniforms, which the Mesa guys do not, either.

    But the point, of course, is that in both cases the citizens of an area will use force or the threat of force to make sure an individual or small group adheres to the societal norms they've established.

    The "point" is that the equation you drew doesn't add up. Yes, communities establish norms and enforce them. Thank you, Anthropology 101. That doesn't mean that every rule is a government edict or that everyone with a gun is a cop.

    Also, just for the record, there are lots of police officers who don't wear uniforms.

  • ||

    "Also, just for the record, there are lots of police officers who don't wear uniforms."

    For that matter, there are lots of police officers that live way above the law because they know that they'll get a free pass from their buddies if they get caught. I suspect that when everybody is contributing to maintaining order, there is a lower instance of such hypocritical behavior.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I should add two things:

    1. Contra Dan, it wasn't the threat of force that got the Nowhere Kids to back down. It was a deliberate de-escalation of the violent rhetoric. Watch the film for the details.

    2. The rule being enforced -- the one that prompts Dan to say "You're free, as long as you behave how we like" -- is "don't steal." That's a somewhat looser law code than the one I live under here in Maryland.

  • ||

    Fine, Jesse, you win. It's not a police force they use to bend others to their will, it's a lynch mob.

    But at least folks there are free. As long as you're, you know, a "good neighbor".

  • ||

    1. Contra Dan, it wasn't the threat of force that got the Nowhere Kids to back down. It was a deliberate de-escalation of the violent rhetoric. Watch the film for the details.

    I'll have to take your word for that, although I guess you have to take the filmmakers' word for that.

    But reading between the lines of your review it certainly sounded like the angry, gun-toting residents sent a couple of representatives to issue threats or ultimatims to the rowdy kids, who certainly weren't portrayed as the types who would be swayed by a "can't we all get along" speech.


    2. The rule being enforced -- the one that prompts Dan to say "You're free, as long as you behave how we like" -- is "don't steal." That's a somewhat looser law code than the one I live under here in Maryland.


    That's fine - I'm sure a handful of people living out in the middle of nowhere probably need fewer rules than in a popular and prosperous place like Maryland. By basic point however stands - the residents you describe brag about their freedom but it doesn't take long before they start organizing to compel a minority group from engaging in undesirable behavior. It's no different from any other society, really.

  • Mike Laursen||

    a common sovereign to whom we relegate our right of violent self-defense (in non-emergencies)

    I guess you never know what you're gonna get with an all-powerful common sovereign: might protect you, might ignore you, might crush you. It's always a great deal for the all-powerful common sovereign, though.

  • ||

    I guess you never know what you're gonna get with an all-powerful common sovereign: might protect you, might ignore you, might crush you. It's always a great deal for the all-powerful common sovereign, though.

    Yes, and it's amazing how all successful soceities can't see how the lynch mob system works better!

  • Jesse Walker||

    It's no different from any other society, really.

    It's no different, except for all the differences.

    Next up: Dan proves that blue and orange are the same thing, since they're both colors.

  • robc||

    This all sounds vaguely familiar.

    ...let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought....It is more than probable that their first laws will have the title only of Regulations and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem....

  • thoreau||

    Next up: Dan proves that blue and orange are the same thing, since they're both colors.

    Jesse is on fire!

    Which is the same as being ice cold, since they're both temperature conditions.

  • stephen the goldberger||

    Obviously the threat of violence was essential in enabling a peace resolution. One of the things that truly bothers me about anarcho capitalist supporters is that they can't see the shear number of assholes out there who try to take as much as they can, and reasoning is seen as a sign of weakness. Unless they get the smack down by threats from a "lynch mob" or whatever you want to call it they will continue with the same strategy to accumlate resources, namely theft and coersion.

  • ||

    Next up: Dan proves that blue and orange are the same thing, since they're both colors.

    And Jesse will argue that orange is not a color since it's not blue.

  • ||

    That's fine - I'm sure a handful of people living out in the middle of nowhere probably need fewer rules than in a popular and prosperous place like Maryland. By basic point however stands - the residents you describe brag about their freedom but it doesn't take long before they start organizing to compel a minority group from engaging in undesirable behavior. It's no different from any other society, really.

    The difference Dan T, is that when a community does the policing (instead of a full time professional police force), they actually put themselves at risk.

    It is easy for armchair Stalins such as yourself to sit behind a computer and demand smoking bans, helmet laws, subsidized arts, and whatever trivial micromanagement of behavior gives you jollies, because you know you will never have to look those people in the eye and force them to do those things. You have a group of professional thugs to commit violence on your behalf.

    But, if you had to personally go to each and every member of a community, and put a gun to their head and demand that they fund your art project, my guess is that you would piss your pants at the prospect. The personal danger (or even just the dislike from your fellow member of the community), would calm you down quite a bit.

    If you had to do the policing yourself, chances are you would only resort to force in very rare occasions.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Yes, and it's amazing how all successful soceities can't see how the lynch mob system works better!

    Didn't mean to imply that I believe that. It's a fundamental fact of life that there are predatory people out there, and one has to defend oneself somehow. That may mean defending yourself or letting someone or something else to defend you (which means giving up power to that other entity).

    There are at least two bad, but common, memes in regards to this fundamental fact of life:
    1. A false dichotomy that we either have to have anarchy or give up all power to the government. It's better to retain the right to self defense, and make sure the power of government is limited, balanced and distributed.
    2. That one's protectors (that may mean a government), or yourself for that matter, can be trusted with a lot of power.

  • ||

    As much as I hate hippies, this place sounds awesome. I mean, I could really shoot my guns all day long and hassle a bunch of no-good teenagers? They need to get one of these in California.

  • ||

    All of these comments, and not one of you supposedly well-educated libertarians mentioned the word "Coventry."

  • ||

    I hear that Tachy likes the place...

  • ||

    But at least folks there are free. As long as you're, you know, a "good neighbor".

    Kinda like a condo association.

    I'm being absolutely serious when I say I'd love to find such a place. I'm going to start working on it today.

  • ||

    Jesse is on fire!

    Which is the same as being ice cold, since they're both temperature conditions.


    Well, either way, he might be cooler than cool.

  • ||

    thoreau | June 1, 2007, 11:11am | #

    Next up: Dan proves that blue and orange are the same thing, since they're both colors.

    Jesse is on fire!

    Which is the same as being ice cold, since they're both temperature conditions.


    It's all relative, Thoreau, and rather meaningless - unless you bring in a standard such as the concept of absolute zero. ;-)

  • ||

    But, if you had to personally go to each and every member of a community, and put a gun to their head and demand that they fund your art project, my guess is that you would piss your pants at the prospect. The personal danger (or even just the dislike from your fellow member of the community), would calm you down quite a bit.

    Perhaps that's why cops often won't live in the communities where they patrol.

  • ||

    J Golden Rockwell | June 1, 2007, 12:14pm | #

    All of these comments, and not one of you supposedly well-educated libertarians mentioned the word "Coventry."


    Perhaps they've never read Heinlein.

  • LarryA||

    Fine, Jesse, you win. It's not a police force they use to bend others to their will, it's a lynch mob.

    It's called "posse comitatus" and is well-enshrined in common law. (Not the same as the term hijacked by "Militia" groups.)

    The "hippies" could have set booby traps or just plugged the thieves and taken back their property. Instead they organized and handled the situation peacefully.

    The principle here is "You have the right to do whatever you want, as long as you respect my right to do the same." Stealing is incompatible with that philosophy.

  • ||

    Obviously the threat of violence was essential in enabling a peace resolution.

    As ever. The willful blindness of people to the utility, even necessity, of the credible threat in conflict resolution never ceases to amaze.

  • ||

    I would point out to someone insisting they have a right to take anything I am not presently using, that they are giving me a great rationale to use my supply of 9mm bullets, before they are taken from me because I am not using them.

  • ||

    SuperMike | June 1, 2007, 12:11pm | #
    They need to get one of these in California




    lol...there are many of these in California...they just aren't advertised. I lived in an off grid community for over 15 years. The grid reached us ten years ago and the city slickers soon followed. I'd move again if I weren't so damn old.

  • ||

    All of these comments, and not one of you supposedly well-educated libertarians mentioned the word "Coventry."

    We didn't think it fit. Isn't the idea of "Coventry" that the government has sent you off to a penal colony to remove you from society? The movie is about an outlaw community trying to voluntarily isolate themselves from straight society. As Dan T. can tell you, we libertarians always make a huge-ass distinction between things done voluntarily and things done under coercion.

  • ||

    It's all relative, Thoreau, and rather meaningless - unless you bring in a standard such as the concept of absolute zero. ;-)

    That's easy, the Fonz is the absolute zero of cool. Heeeeeyyyyy.

  • ||

    test

  • Gregorio||

    Do the noble savages make their own clothes? Are they being crowded out by garbage, or do they truck the junk off site? How about toilet and bathing facilities, and health care? Are any of them disabled? Where does the water come from? This is not libertarianism. This is crowd dynamics amongst people too smart to fight it out.

  • ||

    What is the town nearest to this place?
    I want to see it on Google map.
    Thanks anybody.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Do the [Mesa residents] make their own clothes? Are they being crowded out by garbage, or do they truck the junk off site? How about toilet and bathing facilities, and health care? Are any of them disabled? Where does the water come from?

    Not to my knowledge, they seem to be fairly eco-conscious, they don't bathe very often (but can do so in a nearby body of water when they want to), one of the interviewees has cancer and another seems to have trouble walking, and they have to gather that precious water themselves.

    This is not libertarianism. This is crowd dynamics amongst people too smart to fight it out.

    "Crowd dynamics amongst people too smart to fight it out" is a pretty good definition of libertarianism, actually.

  • First Little Pig||

    As one about to embark on off the grid living, some answers:

    Water: Rain catchment/cistern + well or trucked in ... Most catch and truck it in in my community. One neighbor has used catchment for 10 years and only trucked in twice

    Sewage: septic common, sawdust toilet/compost happens too.

    Garbage: Most is recycled in one way or another (think walls made of bottles / various "art") and much of that is dumped into the local "freebox" (a depository for anything someone might want), some just piles up and some gets trucked out to regional landfill... It it burns clean, it burns.

    Health care? Livin out in the sticks amounts already to primary care: lots of exercise, fresh air, garden eatin', limited stress... you'd be surprised. Beyond that.. not much.

  • ||

    I think the general point is that police exist solely to go out and look for people doing 'bad shit', whereas in situations like mesa you only get mob enforcement when some group of people are impinging on others. the thing with having an established police force is that it provides an excuse/method for regulating behavior that doesn't really affect other people. its not hard to see that in 'off the grid' communtities (that have a concept of privacy/individuality) such enforcement is made much more difficult, since nosy ideologues don't have an easy way into the business of regulating nonviolent behavior.

    but thats not to say that you can't imagine other communities that use mob enforcement to hold up an arbitrary ideology. this is why nozick's last chapter in ASU is so brilliant: it correctly identifies the only coherent concept of 'anarchy' as a meta-society in which certain sub-societies might not fit the usual defintion of anarchy at all. so in THIS sense there really isn't anything that special about mesa, since it reflects just one possible configuration of an autonomous community (one that does have 'rules' which must be enforced somehow).

    so jesse is right that the MO of the enforcers in mesa is fundamentally different from normal american cops. but dan is also right in saying that mob enforcement could potentially mimic the behavior of 'official' police.

  • ||

    These people only think they are Americans. In all of the history of this country, it people were never without some government form or structure. The earliest colonists always had a government. And there were always those (think fur trappers) that sought to escape from it. No, these people are not real Americans, they are anarchists. That is, until some gang comes to town and threatens their backyard tomato and marijuana gardens. Then the true "state of nature" emerges: government in the form of neighbors organized for the betterment and protection of all against the same force anarchy that they so naively covet (worship?) for themselves. How ironic.

  • Mike Laursen||

    So, were fur trappers not real Americans?

  • ||

    Ya know, it's interesting: on the surface, this seems like anarchism. And certainly it is in a bunch of ways. But look how many of the people there are the broken leavings of the State--ex Gulf War veterans, violent teenagers probably ruined by the liberal controlled inner-cities. And yet as Jesse pointed out, the most violent people are the cops who occasionally raid as part of an effort that wouldn't even exist without the state.

    Might be quite nice without the state-run crap factories next door.

  • ||

    Dan T. said:

    "That's fine - I'm sure a handful of people living out in the middle of nowhere probably need fewer rules than in a popular and prosperous place like Maryland. By basic point however stands - the residents you describe brag about their freedom but it doesn't take long before they start organizing to compel a minority group from engaging in undesirable behavior. It's no different from any other society, really."

    I wonder what libertarian ever said that it was bad to organize to stop violence.

  • ||

    Sounds interesting though I think I'd fit in better with anarchic community that was sort of an Amish/carny hybrid

  • ||

    I wish I'd remembered this earlier:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard81.html

    Murray Rothbard on pennsylvania's ten years of anarchy.

  • dr2pks||

    This pseudo "documentary" has no point. It is bi-polar. The producers don't know whether they're documenting life in an anarchic paradise or a forbidding sagebrush jungle. One suspects it is actually neither. Give free vodka to some people with borderline personality disorders and they'll say anything. Then edit with considerable spin. One suspects this indie exploitation effort is telling a very myopic, exaggerated and misleading story of this rural community. Are these few people truly representative of the mesa? Undoubtedly not. Is there not a relatively straight side to the mesa that would be/is troubled by this narrow view. Undoubtedly. By only emphasizing the misfits in any community it is possible to create a sensational, if valueless, film - be it the South Bronx or Santa Fe. I would rate this film fair for production values, good for rural New Mexico vistas but schlock on subject matter. Unless you're into aerials of New Mexico sagebrush save your pesos.
    (PS: I live in the middle of the Mesa)

  • dr2pks||

    http://www.2pks.com/

  • ||

    Bobo wrote:


    >> All of these comments, and not one of you supposedly well-educated libertarians mentioned the word "Coventry."

    > Perhaps they've never read Heinlein.

    Then they're not as educated as they think.

  • ||

    libertarians wrote:


    >> All of these comments, and not one of you supposedly well-educated libertarians mentioned the word "Coventry."

    > We didn't think it fit. Isn't the idea of "Coventry" that the government has sent you off to a penal colony to remove you from society? The movie is about an outlaw community trying to voluntarily isolate themselves from straight society. As Dan T. can tell you, we libertarians always make a huge-ass distinction between things done voluntarily and things done under coercion.


    Conventry was entered voluntarily by criminals as the alternative to psychological treatment, but also was available to any malcontent who felt that he could do better without government.

    This is the essence of Libertarianism -- the complete and utter opt-out from a society with which you disapprove.

  • ||

    JH:

    Remember that the definition of revolution is throwing out the old bastards and putting in new bastards.

  • Mike Reason||

    About the BS quote, "Libertarianism is great until children get involved." First of all, our philosophy only applies to rational adults. Children aren't rational and that is why their legal status is that of "ward." Libertarianism trusts that previously mentioned rational adults take proper care of their children. Whoever made that BS quote should read their Locke.

  • ||

    Ok. A bunch of people wallowing in their own filth that have to seek productive people to survive. That's "new"? They're "different"? Without somebody productive to suck blood from, they would all be dead in a short order. Those were always called "deadbeats". Nothing revolutionary about that.

  • ||

    I saw this documentary. I was sorely disappointed in the people. The don't want to be a part of the government, yet how many of them get a government check every month?
    They are not self sufficient at all. Perhaps they don't claim to be.
    They looked like a trashy mess.

  • leesus||

    I watched the movie and was very intrigued. You cant put it one way or the other. The people are fascinating and captivating and are living what i have always preached.

    bui dont care about the drugs, or the weapons, but food stamps and trash everywhere kinda sucked. some of them were pretty nasty.

  • ||

    The originator of this review is misleading on a number of points and it is apparently because he wants everyone to believe the way he does. We do not hate the government but we despise their unnecessary intervention into the lives of the American people and we want no part of that. Yes Jean, some of us do get a government check. I for one earned my government check in the Marines. I own the land I live on and the deed is recorded in my name.

    The land here was bought by an investor to be given out as door prizes at the Seattle Worlds Fair many years ago. The legitimacy of the buyer was questioned a few years later but it never really went anywhere. Yes, many of the residents are squatters but some of us also own land here as well and pay the property taxes.

    All we want is to be left alone, nothing more, is that asking too much? We are not concerned about your opinion of how we live, we don't expect you to move next door. I've seen some criticized our method of dealing with problems here but have failed to comprehend that we have very few problem here as a result of the way we deal with things.

    We don't expect mainstream society to want to live here and many of us have fought and sacrificed so that you could make that choice. Those same sacrifices also give us the right to live the way we chose and as long as we don't try to shove each others ideas down each others throat there should be no problem.

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