Freedom and independence have always gone hand in hand. The less you have to rely on others for life’s basic needs, the more free you are. This was the idea espoused by proto-libertarians like Henry David Thoreau, whose back-to-nature philosophy wedded the rugged individualism of the right with the ecological consciousness of the left.
If Thoreau has a modern-day equivalent, it might well be Thomas Massie, the Kentucky congressman who manages to be both down-to-Earth and sensible while appearing to outside observers like a mass of contradictions. An MIT graduate who initially made a living inventing new forms of virtual reality tech, Massie now lives on a remote farm with his wife and children, completely disconnected from the U.S. electrical grid on which the rest of us depend for our very lives.
Solar panels power the farm; a mountaintop lake provides gravity-fed water pressure in more than sufficient quantities; and much of the food consumed is grown on the property. Massie drives a Tesla, and personally built his impressive home from stones and timber harvested from the surrounding forest.
Kentuckians have known about Massie for years now, but the rest of us can now get an up close view of his uncompromising lifestyle and remarkable personal story in the documentary Off the Grid, winner of the coveted Audience Choice Award at the 2018 Anthem Film Festival.
From the above description, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Congressman must be some kind of radical environmentalist well to the left of Jill Stein, but he’s actually a Republican who was voted into office as part of the tea party wave in 2012. It may seem like a contradiction, but it’s actually wholly consistent with Massie’s governing philosophy. “You don’t worry about what someone else is doing in their holler, if they don’t worry about what you’re doing in your holler” the libertarian-leaning Congressman says. In Washington, DC, he applies that same standard to his votes, believing that the best government is one that stays out of people’s private business and lets them get on with their lives in peace.
Apart from being an interesting story in its own right, Off the Grid challenges popular notions of partisanship, showing that lawmakers may not necessarily fit into the boxes we assign for them.
A tea party Republican who raises cattle may be easy enough to fit into our stereotypical vision of what that term means, but one who lives so close to nature with minimal fossil fuel consumption, as well as a live-and-let-live attitude, well, we don’t have a category for that.
Off the Grid is an invitation to take a step back from the tribalism that has come to increasingly dominate American politics, and view people once more as individuals, with own hopes, dreams, and eccentricities. As frustrated as we may all get with politics from time to time, it’s important to remember that people are just people. Nobody’s perfect, but everybody’s interesting if you take the time to listen.