Options. We’re a culture that worships options, that considers an increase of options as a de facto good, and any stricture upon our options as (probably) a violation of an inalienable right. The world should be so ordered that everyone has the possibility of choosing any future for him-or her- (or some combination or negation of the two)-self. All food possibilities should be available to all people. Every education option open to every child. One’s marriage (or any other kind of) partner should be disposable, ditto babies, old people and people condemned by the ‘justice’ system. By contrast our own lifestyle, which every morning finds us going out to milk cows which must be milked, no exception, seems to eliminate every option except perhaps who milks which cow.
People sometimes ask us, only partly joking, why we bother to work so hard. Leaving aside the first answer that springs to our minds — ‘we like what we do’ — and the second and third and fourth, having to do with the fascinations of being part of a place and a community of living things and the endless possibilities for creativity, there are reasons of another sort, reasons that might be called anti-reasons: for every positive reason we love farming, there seems to be a negative in the culture to which our farming is the antidote.
True story: Parents with two children under ten told us recently that they’d given all the children’s toys to Goodwill. Reason? The toys were never getting played with because both children preferred just to ‘play’ on their tablets. Note: the discussion began with the observation that the children never played outside. Ever. Were the parents happy about this situation, did they consider it a good thing for their children? On the contrary, they were distressed at circumstances they knew, at least on some level, to be unhealthy, but they didn’t know what to do about it.
We don’t even know where to start with this. Who bought Googlechrome for a couple of kids barely into grade school, anyway? And what’s to get the kids away from the tablets and take them outside — the sandbox and swing set (if there are any)? Where do Mom and Dad take their relaxation? Are these real problems, or just bad judgement calls?
And where are we going with this train of thought?
Just here: The tidal surge of modern civilization has been setting in a particular direction for (humanly speaking) a long time now. Whether you put a name to it or not, you have only to keep your eyes half-open to note some characteristics: We’re moving further into the mechanized, computerized and man-made. Our food systems are inclining, some small resistance notwithstanding, toward the processed, the synthetic, the artificial, and the chemically-enhanced (Coca-cola now markets a bottled ‘super-milk’; the stuff mammals make apparently needed improvement). ‘Work’ means tapping computer keys and either eliminating actual physical exertion altogether or passing it on to the inferior classes (anyone who makes less per hour than we do). Beauty means new from Walmart. In every aspect of our lives what is natural and free and utterly simple (like breast milk) has been replaced with what is artificial, expensive and multiplex (like baby formula, and then specialized baby formula, and then hypoallergenic specialized baby formula, and then colic medicine and eighty-seven different immunizations). Hence our friends with no idea what to do about their avatar-bound tablet-enslaved children. Like it or not, along these lines lies the trajectory being mapped out for the collective ‘we’ by our powerful technocracies.
We are beginning to wonder if it’s not kind of late in the day to express one’s objections by buying organic. Any small act of defiance is meaningful, but will it serve? Do we want freedom? — want beauty, simplicity, community? Do we think it’s to be had in small coin, or picked up along with some chips and a soda at the gas station? What seems to be needed is some radical deviation. Let’s consider whether life isn’t short enough, and beauty worthy enough, to demand our complete commitment. This will take different forms for different people.
Let’s think about what we really think is worthy, what is good, or true, or beautiful. Think beyond what we already know to things we think may be unattainable. Let’s concentrate on these; study these. At the same time, make time in your day or week to do something that is 1) free, 2) unselfish, and 3) that makes you uncomfortable. Make friends with a neighbor. Volunteer at the Children’s Hospital. Join the old crocks making homebrew at the senior center. Go to church. Then, go to work and talk about these things and see who pays attention. Refuse to be normal; it gets easier with practice.
It isn’t going to be enough just to criticize the culture as we watch it crash and burn. (TBC)