Slaves to Progress: Thoughts from the New Plantation

How the Amish are thriving and growing in a violent and coercive world
A game of eck balle
Rob Ward, A game of eck balle

Having been lately fascinated with the Anabaptist way of life, I just watched the documentary “The Amish, A People of Preservation.”  The documentary had the strange allure of a home-made movie, and throughout the entire film a strong thread common to all Amish emerged: they do not want to become slaves to Progress at the expense of their families, communities and Faith.

A most paradoxical example of Amish rejection of progress is the use of gas-engine-driven machinery being pulled by horses.  While an image like that would prompt outsiders to ask questions and maybe even poke fun at the Amish mentality, to them the whole thing is fully in line with the fundamentals and the substance of their way of life: rather than being controlled by progress and technology, we are in control of them; rather than opting into a 21st century way of living which revolves around consumerism, arrogance, instant gratification and complex machines controlling all aspects of human behavior.

While the Amish view their lives as a living sacrifice to their Creator, families and communities, the English (as the Amish would call us) dedicate their lives to the 8 to 5 job, corporatism and a life-long pursuit of a career, all away from family and community.  As we are told, this is “the American dream,” to have a full time job so that can make money, so that we can purchase things.

This dichotomy is well-presented by Chuck Klosterman in his book, Eating the Dinosaur. He virtually dedicates an entire chapter to Ted Kaczsynki, the Unabomber. While not justifying his actions, Klosterman sees how Kaczsynki’s own rage against encroaching progress caused him to blow people up rather than finding ways to control progress.

Klosterman asks a seemingly inconsequential question: what does it take to keep my living room at 70 degrees in the middle of July?  Very little, if anything, is the first answer.  But to have air conditioning, one would have to live in a building with electricity and be connected to a society.  This requires money, which means a job, which means adapting and changing one’s life to meet certain parameters, like living in a certain place, around certain people, following the rules established by these people, working a job created by someone else for their own benefit.

Keeping my living room at 70 degrees in the middle of July would require me to give up everything, or nothing of consequence, concludes Klosterman.

I agree…the conclusions are startling and disturbing.  We have apparently become slaves to the machines we have created, slaves to Progress, to a life mentality that is abnormal, even inhuman, as we are surrounding ourselves with new ways of looking at reality through unreal means: Internet, TV, Blackberries, iPhones, Newspapers, etc.  However you feel about Kaczsynky, he recognized this when he wrote, “Technology is a more powerful force than the aspiration for freedom.”  A vast amount of what the modern human is consuming as “reality” is in fact the product of a system which is ever more controlling of our lives, families and communities.  For example, American children believe chicken meat comes from the freezer in the local supermarket, or that good entertainment entails playing baseball on a game console computer.  In contrast, Amish children would nurture and raise the chickens that would end up in the supermarket freezer and play  eck balle in person rather than a TV screen; the contrast is dramatic and the conclusions are clear: modern man is living ever more miserable and more stressful lives on a newer and larger plantation.  We all work jobs we hate so we can buy stuff we do not need; the true essence of the American dream perhaps?  Or is the dream to keep in motion an ever more corrupt political system which preys on the weak while making the strong stronger and the wealthy wealthier?  I certainly hope not.

As time is the most valuable thing one has, I would like to encourage you to look at the Amish tradition as an example of wisdom and resolved resistance to the pressures of greed, banks, politicians and Progress.  They have managed to overcome and have long ago took the underground railroad, the path to true economic, social and spiritual freedom.

I readily recognize the irony of writing this article for an Internet website, on an expensive laptop computer, using electronic tools to research and gather my thoughts.  So I use the irony as a prodding stick so I can daily ask myself the question: is today the day I walk away from the system?


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