...as an individual, I would have written but for the limit on subject length.
For most people in the first world, citizenships are vital to living and thriving in society. Think of all the times when some kind of identity check is necessary to passing some barrier or other, whether it be while in a car, at the bank, crossing a border; now try to imagine what it would be like to live your life without a valid citizenship to any country. All your documents would have to be forged, every electronically-tracked move you made might trace back somehow to your illegality, and (worst of all, for the mind, if not the greatest actual threat) you would have to worry about people turning you in. It's unlikely you'd be able to have anything close to a "normal" life.
Now think about living in a frontier community without any blessings of the state. (You would probably be under the jurisdiction of a independent-spirited family, or a millenarian cult, or somesuch ancient arrangement.) People can - and do - survive and thrive with enormous families under such circumstances. They might not get welfare, but they can make most of what they need, and trade itinerantly for what they can't make (or, just sift through the garbage - people throw out some damn useful stuff, even in towns in the middle of nowhere). This is assuming that they are smart and removed enough from prying eyes and soldiers' guns.
Now, what is a state, if it can't keep some sort of tally on its population? It ceases to be a government, as we understand it; it cannot govern in anything like a modern way. (It might govern in a post-modern way, at least for a while - look at the most catastrophically dysfunctional African states, such as Congo or Liberia. In such countries the state does not govern so much as control islands of resources, and periodically strike out on punitive raids into regions it does not control.) If no state is there, individuals either govern themselves, or become slaves.
All this is to say that - on the individual level - the state needs you to play along infinitely more that you need its perks. It is not terribly difficult for organised bands of people to live off of the land, provided they know what they're doing; access to technology is now so widely available that a trip to a town library is enough to have access to an awesome amount of information. What's more, technological artifacts are cast aside or priced at token levels, their applications often only limited by one's knowledge and imagination.
Most of the first world's population is now urbanised or semi-urbanised. (The latter means that while density on the the smaller scale is fairly low compared to traditional towns, on the higher scale it is huge, because suburbs now sprawl leagues beyond cities.) The most radical examples of this are Australia's handful of greatly populous cities, and parts of the US and Canada. This means that few first worlders still live in rural circumstances, much less in sparsely populated ones such as northern Scandinavia or the American wilds. Sparsely populated/developed regions are precisely where it is possible to live off the grid with little fear of being discovered by the state, and these areas are going away. The frightful capacity for satellites to find human settlements will only erode this further.
I stress that going off the grid is only beneficial to individuals, because, in the best circumstances, the state does do something useful for society - it protects individuals from arbitrary extortions in exchange for a regular, rational and predictable extortion. This exchange has been the "protection racket" since the first warrior class ever formed, and it has progressed to the point where, in the first world, warriors have been neutered and now serve merchants and intellectuals, and the state's coffers belong, in essence, to no one in particular.
Does this mean that Western urban progress since WWII, that of an ever-expanding miasma of low-density habitation, is some kind of deliberate effort to swallow up those habitable parts of the planet that are still left mostly untouched by man? Or that people living in places like Adelaide or Las Vegas which could only support a handful without industrialisation makes individuals constantly beholden to the state's blessing? I doubt it, but the fact remains that it is happening; it is the aggregate of human will to give up potential political independence in exchange for an anonymous, limited state. The problem is: what happens if the state changes its mind, and decides to do whatever it wants?
Last edited by swineeyedlamb on Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.