Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: Surviving Off Off Grid

When my wife had her old Granny Miller site, (the infamous one that crashed) we received a free prepublication copy of Surviving Off Off-Grid: Decolonizing the Industrial Mind for our review. I wrote the following review back then, and recently dug it off the old computer to  revive it here because the Author has been donating royalties towards a new film. The film is called Beyond Off Grid.As we are now entering a new post-literate age, a film may have greater impacts upon many more people than a book. If you have not read this book, consider ordering it before the end of the month and help support the Beyond Off Grid. (I realize this is late, but better late than never). I am late because I fretted  about changing the original review essay a bit. Were I to write this review today, I would probability be more nuanced in my discussion of the relationship between agrarianism and Christianity, but I decided to let the original review stand. I think its  underscores the point that this is a very worthwhile book.  The central thesis about decolonizing the industrial mind is more pertinent today than when Mr. Bunker wrote the book.
I did not want to like this book. The author, Michael Bunker, is a self described “Christian Agrarian Separatist.” From my understanding of Mr, Bunker’s beliefs, he advocates that Christian believers should separate from the World around them. I am a Christian, and believe that agrarianism offers an excellent basis for a nation’s political economy. I also believe that the Bible has a lot to say about our relationship with nature and other people.  However, I get uncomfortable mixing my faith in Christ crucified with any other political, economic or social agenda. History seems to be on my side in this regard.  From Byzantine “symphony” between church and state, to Cromwell’s Commonwealth, to the 19th Century Anglo Catholic Socialists, Christian vegetarianism, the “Dutch Christian Goat Breeders Society”, and liberation theology, the church has been there and done that. I also live in the graveyard of failed Christian agrarian separatist ventures (Zoarites, Harmonists, etc). Only the Amish/Mennonites have survived, but that is the subject of another essay. My objections to Mr. Bunker’s theology are not pertinent to why I think this book is important. Furthermore, I do not debate religion on the Internet. If Mr. Bunker would ever come to Pennsylvania, I invite him to discuss this topic at leisure on my porch over some beer or milk.

As the reader may suspect at this point, I like this book very much. This book is not an apologia for Mr. Bunker’s theology (though it informs him and is found throughout the book). This work is otherwise hard to categorize. It is part history, part cultural criticism, with some biography. It is explicitly not another “how to” book, but the intelligent reader will extract many practical ideas. The best way I can characterize this book, is that it is about mindset. Mindset is what lets the soldier, policeman or armed citizen win a fight. Mindset is the most important difference between the dead and the survivors in any crisis. Mr. Bunker’s thesis is that industrialism and urbanity have “colonized” the human mind in 21st Century America, and he has set out to de-colonize it. This de-colonizing will create a mindset that will allow families to thrive in what may become an increasingly difficult future. 

While dealing with the lofty subject of human thought, this book is anything but academic. The style is very readable and conversational. The prepper or survivalist will find some serious tests to determine just how prepared he really is (starting with some discussion about what the word “Survival” really means). A person who has never thought deeply about how our nation devolved into the present mess will hopefully read this as a needed alarm call. The homesteader or small farmer of any level of experience will find keys to better his endeavors by thinking in new ways.

While I am not an advocate of agrarian separatism, I believe Mr. Bunker may be one of the few people who could write this book. His separatism gives him a perspective of distance from the “grid” (which is much more than mere electric power, including debt and wage slavery, and the omnipresent corporate/government alliance).

This book is also refreshing in its practicality. The Internet has spawned some self-proclaimed survival experts who lack any significant real world experience but the ability for noisy self-promotion. There is also a horde of romanticized back to the land resources that make the agrarian life seem like a breeze. Michael Bunker fits neither of these classes.  When discussing land, water, light, heat, building, tools, and food, the author speaks from a remarkable personal experience.  He understands that the old paths he has chosen lead to inevitable physical discomfort and a heap of hard work. Yet his realism does not deny the pleasures of an agrarian life. As a stockman, I especially appreciate his understanding of land and livestock that counsels how to make the two fit together wherever the reader might live, not just the author’s central Texas home.

He also directly confronts common objections anyone who sets out on a path of greater self-support will encounter. One is the charge that any uses of technology by an off grid agrarian represent hypocrisy. He demolishes the myth that a robust agrarian society means everyone must be a farmer. He also supports a host of “intermediate means” as an integral part of one’s journey, so the reader need not feel compelled to go naked into the wilderness and build a homestead overnight. Yet use of these intermediate means must be accompanied by thought. This part of the book is important for any homesteader who needs to explain to his consumerist friends why he has chosen this life. It also offers encouragement at any stage in the journey to independence.

The reader should be forewarned that the author is very opinionated. This is a consequence of his independency from the said grid. A free man can speak his mind without worrying about what a boss or customer might think. Sadly, America was once full of open speaking farmers like this. Maybe if enough people read this book it will be again. While this book is thought provoking and challenging, it is in no way offensive.

This is not a perfect book. There is some incorrect historical data. The author asserts on page 10 that the Romans “skipped the step” of respect for farm life (that the ancient Greeks had) making a statement that ignores the agrarianism of the early Roman Republic. There are a few others, but they are quibbles that could be corrected by a good editor. The bibliography is also very skimpy for such a wide-ranging work, amounting to only thirteen books (among which are books by the Christian gentlemen of the survivalist movement  James Wesley, Rawles, and Herrick Kimball whom I regard as an agrarian philosopher king.

Mr. Bunker has made compelling case about why this book is for everyone, and I agree.
This book deserved serious engagement, and more attention that it will probably get. I am hoping that the film may bring greater serious discussion of these serious ideas for our times.  

Link to Michael Bunker's Author Page 


Anonymous said...

I remember reading your review when you originally posted it! I purchased several copies and donated one to my local library. Although Mr. Bunker is a very controversial person, and I don't agree with all of his beliefs (but a large portion of them), I do respect his knowledge of off-grid living. It's an excellent book that I, too, highly recommend! Your review is very well done.

Anonymous said...

I guess my big issue is how he says he "loves him some Amazon". Just a huge my way of thinking. I bought his book when it first came out and ended up donating it to our local library. Touting living off-grid to the extreme but making his living (and more) via internet and Amazon.

Anonymous said...

It is a great book, probably one of his best before he got into "Amish Sci-Fi" and all that nonsense. As far as his separatism and the theology he espouses in SOOG, I think it's probably gone by the wayside. He's pretty much hooked up with the world now and the whole Amish thing is a farce. But, a book I'd recommend nonetheless.