Thursday, November 17, 2005

Preparing To Take the Plunge

It has been little over 6 months since I came to the conclusion that I had to make a change for myself and family as far as our life model goes. There has, in recent years been a slowly welling realization that something is not right in the prosperity I, and many of my people, are now enjoying. I am currently doing better than ever financially. We have a nice house in the suburbs of Washington DC with a decent plot of land; we have no debt except for our home mortgage; my income has been very respectable for the norms of this region; we lack neither food, nor clothing; we are on friendly terms with our neighbors and belong to a friendly, perfectly respectable church. For all these things, and even more importantly the health and wellness of my wife, children and me, I praise God. This should be enough to make any man a conservative – to want to maintain the status quo, right?

As much as I appreciate what we have, I believe the Lord has spoken to me through his Word (and in turn through many of his prophets here on earth) that our current prosperity is not to his liking. Our children see us “going to Church” on Sunday but living just as the pagans live, with God invisible or in a, very little, box. My children know Dad “goes to work” to pay for our needs and wants. When we need food we “go to the store” and there it is on the shelf. When we need money we “go to the bank”. Life seems not to be something we are experiencing but something we are watching pass us by. No wonder children abandon their parent’s lives; they are devoid of meaning. This whole transformation in my thinking gained great momentum based on my wife’s research on healthy eating. It has led us to look to the Bible for guidance on eating and on living – a guidance that is virtually ignored by the contemporary Church. In parallel with her research on food I continued to delve into socio-economic and political issues and eventually saw the crystal clear truth – that our whole contemporary situation, and much of our history is a sham. The world has been and is about an elite group of people obtaining, maintaining, and growing their wealth, fame, and power at the expense of any who are in their way. I suspect most people would acknowledge this point in the general sense but are unwilling to see the extent to which its truth makes our existence in this model untenable. The thread that was sticking up on a few issues I have pulled on and pulled on until the whole ‘garment’ is a pile of garbage. This whole issue I have touched on in other posts as have many minds greater than mine and though it deserves much greater discussion I will not do so here. I merely wanted to set that as a backdrop for why I, and maybe you, should consider being a new generation of pioneers.

What is the “model” I just referred to, this model that is untenable and we should consider leaving? It is the current Standard American Lifestyle. David, at his blog Covenant Corner recently captured it in a nutshell:

“The home has become a place consisting solely of consumerism. Because no one in the home makes whole goods, the family is made up purely of consumers. Workers go out away from the home to work and gain the financial ability to buy (consume) goods and services. Rather than being a place of industry, artistic expression and production, the home has become a place of idleness, boredom, and often times discontent.”

There is an economy to the world that this lifestyle is mocking; an economy that says you must produce to survive, REALLY produce, not sit at a desk, attend meetings, make loans, litigate, legislate, or otherwise just reshuffle the deck that our betters have created. How many people in America are real producers anymore? They are becoming less and less and as their numbers shrink their yoke is made heavier by the consuming classes who have the faux-power the establishment now shrewdly grants. Many forward thinking and Godly people have expressed this same truth. We Americans are sitting atop a worldwide economic plantation that is exploiting and raping the truly productive here and abroad. Our natural wonders, as well as our own bodies, minds, and spirits are ravaged by the current paradigm. How we (Americans) are still able to stay atop I don’t know yet. I have read bits and pieces that make sense but I have not been able to tie it together yet. But acknowledging that America is now on top of the world should not blind us into thinking that this will last. The world is a very competitive place and there are many well motivated and successful people groups that are rising fast (China and India being notable). Some establishment lackeys continue to blather about a rising tide lifting all boats. I don’t see this as being the case. Why will these competitors want to continue to shine our shoes when they are harder working, smarter, and tougher than we are? They won’t.

Most American farmers are now hirelings to corporate giants like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Monsanto, Tyson, etc. The farmer is the serf producing an undifferentiated commodity that then relies on the ‘value added’ supplements provided by the corporation, be they hormones/steroids, chemicals, economies of scale, ‘efficiency’, seed stock, name recognition, and/or slick ads. The farmer must toe the company line as Massa commands. Massa makes the bucks and pulls the strings; farmer does the work. The situation is just like the movie A Bug’s Life whereby our farmers are the Ants and Massa is the Grasshopper, only our farmers don’t see this – at least most of them don’t. Renegades like Joel Salatin (Polyface Farm), Lynn Miller (Small Farmers Journal), and the folks at Acres USA, to name just a few, are out there but they are greatly outnumbered and outgunned. They emphasize the farmer (or any producer) as free and artisanal, directly dealing with his customer, and cutting out the parasitic and enslaving middle man. Is the tide turning? I don’t know but we can make a difference.

Though, these are by no means exhaustive explanations as to “why” I think leaving the Standard American Life is prudent they are seed-thoughts to motivate the change. If you were to conclude that a change is desirable, maybe even necessary, then what? I have been investigating this for only a few months now so my current thoughts may still change a bit but here’s where I am at right now. This is not ‘advice’, only my germinating plans.

Be Productive. Engage in enterprises where something raw is transformed into something directly usable. There are many options here: food production (crops, orchards, dairy, meats, etc.), animal by-products (leather, wool, etc.), clothing production, wood-crafting, blacksmithing, and many others. If/when things turn down in the macro-economy these skills will be in demand, not only so that we produce for our own families, but also produce things people will really need.

Be Diverse. Enterprises must have symbiosis; that is, multiple activities need to be undertaken that collectively are more productive and efficient, than if they were done alone. For example, beekeeping and orchards are better together than by themselves, since each benefits from the other. Diversity also is more interesting and more adaptable to changing market conditions than specialization, such as only raising beef cows.

Emphasize Sustainability. Building something and emphasizing methods that will last is important in several ways. First, we are being good stewards of the domain God has blessed us with: we are being true to him. Second, we are not negatively impacting our neighbors with externalities (those side effects that others have to pay for due to our sloth or greed): we are being true to our fellow man. Third, sustainability involves pulling our children directly into the production process, as early as makes sense, so that they inherit it and ultimately improve upon it: we are being true to our posterity.

Be Flexible. Whatever I end up doing will initially be based on my best guesses and intuition. Though this may provide a decent starting point, it will no doubt require correction as failures occur and experience is gained. One of things that strikes me about people who live off the land is how adaptable they are, since nature can be cruel and very unpredictable. We must learn to adjust as is required.

Be Communitarian. Just like a diverse operation helps to ensure success, being part of a healthy community does as well. It is the ultimate insurance policy since a good community should be there when catastrophe strikes. We cannot, alone, deal with the worst that may hit us in this fallen world. The virtual insurance, normative today, that has outsourced community to extremely rich and powerful outsiders is a poor (though sometimes needed) substitute. Community not only provides for these practical needs but also provides much of the richness to life and will continue to be rewoven through intermarriage.

With all those concepts in mind where I am currently leaning is towards a home centered on a wood-working enterprise. Preferable is sufficient land with timber to harvest, sustainably, this wood and use it to make furniture and other products for the home, barter, and sale. In addition to this we would free-range chickens, for meat and also raise our own eggs. For milk I would prefer goats though my wife prefers a cow but we’d end up with one or the other. The other things I’d like to do include modest orchards for apples and beekeeping. Pickling will be a must along with other creative types of fermentation to deal with the cycles of natural production. I’m hoping my daughters would eventually develop the skill to make clothing. There are many possibilities, especially for secondary activities.

Lynn Miller emphasizes getting ‘off the grid’ as much as possible. That is, becoming independent of non-sustainable inputs, which come from outside the community and can only be obtained with cash. I believe this is a good objective to strive towards but in the short term I know I would use electricity as well as some petrol. I strive to reduce the amount we use but not elimination; I have too many other things to learn without that as well.

There are still a lot of things to work out but I am aspiring to make a move within the next year or so. Caution and ignorance are being replaced by urgency and knowledge.

If you are contemplating anything similar please let me know your thoughts.