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The interior of an off-the-grid home.

Jonathan Taggart

The following is an excerpt from Off the Grid: Re-Assembling Domestic Life, by Phillip Vannini and Johnathan Taggart.

Hedonists like to enjoy life.

Alternative hedonists are equally keen on pur­suing pleasures, but enjoy doing it in socially and environmentally conscious ways.

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According to British social theorist Kate Soper, alternative hedo­nism "is premised on the idea that even if consumerism were indefinitely sustainable, it would not enhance human happiness and well-being."

So we need an alternative, in Soper's view, that promises a positive vision of the good life as well as a sustainable future for all – an alternative to con­sumerism, but also to the ascetic sanctimoniousness and gloomy defeat­ism present in some currents of the environmental movement.

Alternative hedonism, Soper writes, "points to new forms of desire, rather than fears of ecological disaster, as the most likely motivating force in any shift towards a more sustainable economic order."

As a form of alternative hedonism, onerous consumption negated the unchecked behaviour typical of consumer culture and criticized the pur­suit of a standard of living that forced a person to work more in order to spend more.

At the same time, oner­ous consumption affirmed the values of comfort, cleanliness and conve­nience, and the gratification drawn from the basic pleasures of domestic life.

Involvement was onerous, yes, but not unpleasant because it generated sense of self-reliance, self-efficacy, independence and a feeling of pride in one's ethical commitments.

"It's all about consumption," opined Simon, an off-gridder in Nova Scotia. "It's not hard to reduce what you consume, but there has to be a certain amount of self-control and self-discipline involved."

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"You have to want this way of living, you have to want it enough because there is no 'push-button instant technology,' " Simon's wife, Sue, added. "You have to work with nature."

We had heard these things, of course, but somehow they sounded differ­ent coming from Simon and Sue. Here and there throughout the country we had occasionally suspected that some off-gridders made virtue out of necessity – painting a somewhat rosier portrait of domestic life than the average middle-class citizen might have under the same circumstances – because of limited financial options or reduced opportunities.

Not that making virtue out of necessity would have lessened the significance of their lifestyle, or the validity of our arguments, but there was sometimes a feel­ing that it would have been difficult to "sell" this way of life – outhouses, lack of plumbing, hand-operated blenders and all – to a lot of people in our modern society.

But in a way it was houses like Simon and Sue's that strengthened the wider case for off-grid living as a hedonist and widely enviable lifestyle pursuit. Not that there was anything decadent about their 840-watt photovol­taic and 1-kilowatt wind-powered, 1,500-square-foot, ocean-facing villa, but it was the type of home that could have easily graced the pages of a home-and-garden magazine.

Excerpted from Off the Grid: Re-Assembling Domestic Life, by Phillip Vannini and Johnathan Taggart, with permission of Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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