Month: September 2014

The Lowest Common Denominator

 lowest common

Often and unfortunately our conversations concerning what we do land upon the lowest perch of human achievement: that of measuring all accomplishments by their economic consequences. This is what I refer to as the lowest common denominator. I cannot accept that the ultimate consideration of our acts is monetarily important at all. When discussing new movements in farming for example, as we are seeing in this country (the US) today, I cannot imagine that the people involved in the agricultural movement are involved only for economic gains and monetary profits.

I do not consider the profit received from my garden, and from buying locally produced meats to be measured monetarily. Rather, the rewards that I get from knowing where my food comes from and how it was treated overrides any economic cost. I would argue that those of us who take pride in learning new skillsets and in understanding concepts that society tends to take for granted are not motivated by possible profits, but by personal gains in knowledge, in peace of mind, in the understanding that what we do can have a virtuous aspect that cannot be bought and sold.

I would suggest that the food-movement not consider itself by the judgment of others that can only understand or are only interested in monetary motivations. It is difficult not to do so, especially when being considered from a public point of view. The phrases “there is no money in it” with regard to small-farming enterprises is easily dismissed with closer inspections of the facts. The argument that small-farms are in fact more profitable than large, agri-businesses if the subsidies to such businesses are taken out of the equation are beside the point. More important to the point is that most small-farm enterprises are not motivated by money alone. The point is that in not relying upon agricultural subsidies, small farms are more autonomous, offer a more honest product, and are not held accountable by faceless stockholders but by local consumers that many know by name.

While it is true that to live in this society, money is a necessary component; it is not true that money is the most important component. This viewpoint has led us to the deplorable situations that we find ourselves in today both in and outside of agriculture. The small-farming movement that seems ubiquitous in the country today reminds both those who are brave enough to venture out and those who are thoughtful enough to support such operations that money is the least important of all aspects of our lives. It is by the standards of bravery, of thoughtful action, of honesty and honest work that we ought to judge ourselves and expect others to judge us by.

While we cannot often fight the filth of large agribusiness we can battle the ignorance that allows such business to flourish. However, I would argue that we cannot do so by judging ourselves and what we do by the lowest common denominator. There is so much more that we are motivated by other than money. It is important for us involved in this movement to remember this fact and remind others that money is not always worth the trouble.

The Limitation of Money

money

When faced with decisions that have ultimate implications for your happiness, it is necessary to consider that happiness from as many different perspectives as possible, not just the economic perspective. Otherwise we become defined by the narrow and limiting perspective of money, not the actual limitations that we have. Perhaps, we must consider, it is more useful to make less money. As un-American as this may seem, our happiness as individuals and as a nation seems to be at stake, but not for the reasons that we might believe.

The more dependent upon money we become, the more impoverished we become. I am realizing that the ability to fend for myself, to provide for myself, and to be motivated not by the usefulness of my ability to make money but by the usefulness of my abilities is providing the richness of life that I need, the perspective that I need to be happy. It is indeed true that money cannot buy happiness. In fact, often times it purchases discontent.

For example, my wife said something to me that has stuck. She grew up on an eight-generation farm in Europe. She remembers having no money, but always having enough to do and enough to eat. The fear of poverty is still with her, but through our discussions she has come to realize that the poverty that her family endured was not because of the farm, but because of the motivation to make money. To farm, to homestead is to give up on our dependency upon money. However, in giving up on our dependency upon money, we do not become impoverished, but enriched.

As backward as this may seem to many, it is true. I am learning to live without money is unrealistic but only because I am realizing the limitations of my abilities. Money does not provide independence, but only dependence upon those with the abilities that I lack. It is not living without money that is unrealistic; it is living without knowing your own limitations.

A homestead provides ample opportunity for experiencing limitations, limitations that money cannot conquer. In cities across this nation I do not believe that it is the lack of money that is problematic, but only the lacking realization that we are limited. We cannot “do” what we want to “do” if we do not know how to “do” it. We can “think” what we want to “think” if we do not know how to “think”. In fact, I believe that money as a sole motivator lessens the ability to realize our own limitations and in doing so gives us a false sense of security; I have certainly experienced that in my own life.

I have also experienced the frustration of my own ignorance and short-comings with regard to my own limitations. In rebuilding a 1939 Farmall F-20 I learned that it will not start simply because it is supposed to start. It is the same with money actually. Simply because money is supposed to be able to buy you happiness does not mean that it actually will.

Nothing But the Spring

future

The fall is coming and with the coming cold, change. The bees are readying the hive for winter; the garden is beginning to show signs of age. Harvest continues but the nights are getting a bit colder and the mornings are darker. Change is a cold reality as it is a reminder that all that we hold dear is temporary, and the seasons continue to march on, counted only by us.

I am reminded of the cycles of the seasons, of life in general. When I was young these cycles were nothing more than an old wife’s tale. But when I began to notice my own age, these cycles began to become recognizable from years before. The cycle of seasons became the cycles of life: Spring, Summer, Fall, and finally Winter.

It is almost as if all change is the same. It begins as an exciting possibility and grows into a busy reality becoming the aches and pains in the morning, the nematodes in the soil, the repairs on the house, the mileage on the equipment and on myself, the goals achieved and the dreams that never were. These things are not bad, but simply the reality of living. Things wear out, ideas disappear and so do we.

As I get older I begin to notice that my parents are old.   This realization is painful and soon I am reminded of the relentless seasons not only by my own age but also by the needs of my parents. The child becomes the parent. This too is the cycle of the seasons. Winter comes for us all and all the while I think of nothing but the spring.

Focus

focus

I’ve read a rather telling aphorism once: the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged on how it treats its animals. I think Gandhi was quoted as saying it. Nevertheless, the aphorism both horrified me and struck me as very true. I wonder, as Wendell Berry and others like him have often done in the pages of their essays, if the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged on how it treats its land? At the very least, I believe that how we treat animals and the land around us is a consequence of what we think of each other and ourselves.

Up to this point, this blog has considered perspectives that do not put human beings as a centered focal point but rather as a part of a greater reality, one which is grounded in objectivism. That being said, I would like to explore the homesteading theme, the environmental and creative themes that have been addressed from a perspective that does consider human beings as a center focal point. First, look outside of your window and consider what is important to human beings. Secondly, consider the cost of putting a value on that human importance.

Homesteading, small-scale farming (whatever it may be called) seems to be one of those human endeavors that shifts importance from the farmer to the farm: its environment and its animals. Of course, there are exceptions. However, those exceptions aside, I believe that this desire of some to be a part of an environment that is greater than themselves rather than to think themselves as greater than their environment comes from a deep-seated understanding that whatever our convictions the reality remains: we are not important.

Some view this as humanistic blasphemy. However, viewed from the point of view that we are part of a greater whole, the admission that we are not important leads us to ask: what is? I believe that those that have discovered the possibility of homesteading on a small-scale sustainable farm have realized what is important. Truth is important and sustainable practices in all their forms are a part of this truth. This is often presented within the framework of environmental arguments, but those arguments assume that the environment is somehow innately important. I would have to disagree: the environment is important because it reminds us that we are completely and absolutely dependent upon it for happiness not to mention our survival. The truth is, we are not important to the environment, but our environment is of utmost importance to us.

However, we do not seem to be interested in the truth of our situation: our total and utter dependence upon the environment for our happiness and survival. It seems that we put importance upon the façade of independence and the fascia of truth. The façade and fascia of independence and truth are much easier for us to achieve than is the achievement of true independence and the realization of Truth (capital T intended).

If we value comfort, then comfort will be prioritized over all else as will ease and wealth and whatever else we deem as valuable. I think that how we treat animals and the environment as a whole does mirror our false assumption that we are the focal point of the world we live in. Although the world cannot and does not care, we can and perhaps we need to start valuing our capacity to do just that.

Twist

twist 

The twist in my gut; that deep-seated pain; that long needle in my eye.

And as I lie about not knowing, feeling the hurt wind through the veins of my life,

There is no worry as to what the end will be.

There is no need to know that; it will come soon enough.

Doubt

That demon seed of our desires, with wryly fingers and wilting laughter,

It curls the vines of time around our gasping lungs, our mouths gaping open,

Our face contorted by the screw.

One day after another, this seems to never end, and in the end, we call it

Life.

The time of consciousness, the time of being aware of what is possible, and

What we are capable of.

Living consciousness and losing our grip as the coil tightens.

Going on, worsens, or is better; hard to see the difference in the end.

Twist

And writhe in the loop of life

No cycle of right, dead-end of wrong, just the twist of life

And that old forgotten lyric that we use to sing.