Between Two Ways

“We can simplify our society–that is, make ourselves free–only by undertaking tasks of great mental and cultural complexity.” (Wendell Berry 49)

It’s a paradox, of course–a truth that seems counter-intuitive, even contradictory. But it’s neither. It’s just true. We are free when our lives are complex. And when we live lives of complexity, we obtain simple freedom.

Berry points out that, during simpler times (when most of us inhabited rural communities), our work was complex. We built our own houses, grew our own food, and made our own clothes. We navigated the world using a variety of skills.

A farmer–if you’ll forgive the cliche–seldom put his eggs in one basket. He had chickens for eggs and meat, cows for milk, and pigs for meat. He grew corn to feed the animals and himself. But he also grew alfalfa and cotton and wheat. He had a series of enterprises requiring various ways of working. He was not a specialist.

He rotated the crops to take care of the land. He knew that, without the land, there was no way to sustain life. His complex way of living brought simplicity that was freeing. He produced all or most of what he needed. He lived in community but independently.

When we moved to the city, we became specialists.

Our list of skills shrank. Our dependence on others grew. We stopped being producers and became consumers of goods others produced.

In the city, the essence of freedom changed and became something less responsible, more self-focused.

The change is something we attribute to advanced technology, to modernity. But it’s more than that. In our consumption, we lost meaning in our lives.

Loss of meaning changes our core beliefs as a people, a nation. The nature of our beliefs relies largely on where we come from. Two sets of beliefs spring from our different worlds, the countryside and the cityscape, and will not reconcile into a single way of thinking.

We can trace the differences in our core beliefs back to people moving from farmland to city.

In the nineteenth century, moving from the country to the city marked a huge shift in how we saw children.

On the farm, children had been blessings from heaven. Once they reached a certain age, they became helpful hands on the farm. One day they would become heirs of the land. Life in that place would go on as it had before.

In the complex life on a farm, everyone who was able worked. Children jumped in to help with chores as soon as they were old enough. And they somehow became older sooner out in the country.

At the dawn of the urban explosion in the city, men worked. Women stayed home with children whose contributions to sustaining the family were non-existent or small. If the man’s work provided a good living, the woman and children did not need employment. If the reward of his work was meager, his wife and children made their way into sweat-shops.

It was difficult to carry one’s own weight. Yet many found meaning even in such a place. They worked to make sure their own children would not bear a similar burden.

As a child, my father rose early and stood on a street corner selling newspapers every day. He never kept the reward of his work. He contributed his earnings to the household.

He made a better life for his children.

Now, we’ve reached a point where it’s hard to imagine a better life for our children. Is there a better place than the comfortable one we’ve made for ourselves?

Seeking more comfort–or for those in a world of pain because of abuse or neglect, some comfort–has brought us the drug crisis and school shootings.

Young people lack responsibility and self-control largely because they are more concerned about comfort than meaning. Yet they seek meaning. And they can never quite find enough comfort.

The long-yearned-for-prize of comfort revealed itself to be a plastic trinket.

In the countryside, fathers taught (and still teach) youngsters how to shoot a rifle and/or shotgun. Pre-teens hunted and fished (some still do), supplementing the family’s store of food. And these children were also prepared to defend the homestead and the livestock against wild animals or someone with evil intentions. Many still are so prepared without danger to their peers.

In the city, guns could have only two purposes–threat or protection. Today in cities where specialization reigns, only the police are supposed to protect. There is no place for private gun ownership in the minds of many city dwellers.

Such issues define our differences. There seems to be no solution in sight.

But perhaps a solution comes in making our lives more complex.

We are a long way from building our own houses, growing our own food, and making our own clothes.

But learning how to do some of the things that make us more independent can make us more responsible, more independent people. We can produce again rather than simply consume.

And by learning production ourselves, we pass along production, and with it responsibility, self-sufficiency, and meaning to the young.

Doing so can help us understand each other. Doing so can help us help each other. Doing so may make all the difference for someone disenchanted with a plastic trinket of meaningless comfort.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Red Parts of Blue States Looking to Split

The two teens stood across from me at the March for Life Expo in January. They weren’t yet old enough to vote. But perhaps when they are, they’ll cast their ballots to excise their part of Virginia to make it part of West Virginia–a harkening back to our Civil War. (Or our first Civil War?)

They are frustrated by legislators from the northern part of the state threatening to limit gun ownership and having voted to expand “abortion rights” more broadly than all but a few places around the world.

They are not alone in that way of thinking. Those hoping for Southern Virginia’s secession to West Virginia have company in Oregon, some of whose voters want to become part of Idaho. California also has its own initiative brewing. But that effort isn’t pushing to become part of an existing state. The plan calls for the establishment of the 51st state–New California.

Imagine what these efforts–if successful–might lead to.

Political pundits speak of the conservative part of my own Pennsylvania in terms of the T across the north and through the center with Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west–although Pittsburgh sometimes joins the T.

The T carried our Keystone State for Trump in 2016–even the heavily Democratic Cambria County–coal country.

If voters in the T decided to follow suit with southern Virginia voters, the bulk of Pennsylvania might also join West Virginia–or ally with rural voters in New York to form a 52nd state.

Even the bluing state of Texas could end up splitting over voter ideology.

It sounds far-fetched. But perhaps we are closer to making such dividing lines than we realize.

Rural voters want to keep their guns. On farms or in nearby forests, guns have practical purposes completely unrelated to crime and unfathomable to many city-dwellers.

Conservative and liberal voters can only remain at an impasse over abortion. Room for compromise on this issue is scant because the unborn one either lives or dies. There is no state of in-between.

While these proposals for state-splitting are still in their infancy–or perhaps in their early childhood–it seems a good time to consider some of the ramifications.

For example, would Philadelphia decide to become part of New Jersey? Could Jersey support the costs of the City of Brotherly Love that rural PA taxpayers have helped to bear for decades?

What if the rural/conservative voters of every state thought it best to cut themselves free from every city that wanted to limit guns and fund abortions at any time during gestation?

Would cities’ leaders moderate some of their views to stem the traffic moving to a new place? Would rural folks bend? Can both sides occupy a middle ground for long?

Beyond the disputes over abortion, gun control, and other divisive pursuits, both city and countryside struggle with opioid addiction, isolation, loss of purpose.

The answer is the same whether in unity or division. Shining light into the darkness. The darker the night, the easier it is to perceive the light.

Shine your light while you can. Where you can. All you can.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil

“My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility my uncle says.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
My copy of Voice of the Martyrs arrived the other day. The magazine features stories of people who are persecuted because of their Christian faith. This month’s cover photo was of a woman standing in front of a refugee tent. When we think of Christian martyrs, that’s how we imagine them. They are people in far off lands, as if they were from a different time, even from some other planet. Continue reading “BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil”