Sunday, September 8, 2013

More reasons to be agrarian

Last time I tried to answer the question, "Why be agrarian?" I only managed to give one reason -- that land provides a measure of security that nothing else does, because land offers direct access to the goods of creation.  But there are a great many more reasons, so let's talk about a few of those.

First, I should define agrarian.  An agrarian is someone who values the small farm, and who believes in widespread land ownership to make farming possible for more people.

If you run a diversified small farm, you may be agrarian.

If you live on an acre or two and try to produce a little of your own food or other needs in your spare time, you're probably agrarian.

If you bypass the grocery store and buy your food from a local small farmer, that also counts as agrarian.

If you support legislation that supports small farms and encourages wider land ownership, you're agrarian -- whether you are looking for less regulation, like this law which I support, or more.

And if you deliberately avoid big-box stores and seek out small, local businesses, by analogy, I would still call you agrarian.  (I think the proper term here would be distributist, but I tend not to use that term because I am too free-market for most distributists.)

So why be agrarian?

*Because you want to be a producer, not a consumer.  If you desire to create things yourself instead of buying them, thus ending up with goods that have uniqueness and meaning instead of mass-produced articles, be agrarian.

*Because you don't want to be a wage slave.  I think it's funny that anarcho-capitalists think that having to pull over when a cop car flashes its lights is slavery, but having to wear a tie or lose your livelihood is simply employment.  When you have no property, you don't have a choice whether to work or not, and so you have to kiss up to the people you work for.  Some people don't mind that.  For some of us, it gets awfully old.

*Because you don't like the industrial food system and want to opt out.  The more you learn about it, the less you want to participate in it.  (I just finished The Omnivore's Dilemma and highly recommend it -- that is, if you want to never go to McDonalds again.  I'm afraid it will spoil your appetite for some kinds of food.)  There's the corn additives in almost everything we eat.  There's the cruelty to animals that takes place in feedlots and egg factories.  The quality of the food is also very low -- in fact, the industrial system ensures that it will remain low.  When an apple is sold without any reference to how it was produced, all apples, high and low quality, will sell for the same price.  Therefore there is zero incentive to grow a high-quality apple.

Last week, I bought a chicken from Aldi, as I always do, for 85 cents a pound.  This is an amazingly cheap price, but you get what you pay for.  When I unwrapped the chicken, I saw it had a massive bruise on one wing.  What happened to this poor chicken?  I'll never know, but it made me feel ill and not at all like eating any.  I want the chickens I eat to run around happily eating bugs to the very end -- not battered by rough treatment or its cage mates.

When you grow your own chicken, or you buy a chicken from someone you know and trust, you don't wonder about this stuff.

*Because industrialism is a Ring of Gyges.  In The Republic, Plato tells the story of a shepherd who finds a ring that makes him invisible.  Naturally he immediately forsakes all morality: since he has no fear of being caught, he murders and steals with abandon.

Some people would be good even if no one was watching them.  But it's a fact that many people behave much worse when no one is watching them.  You can read up a bit on colonialism, and see how those considered good citizens and family men at home in Europe were capable of committing horrible crimes in Africa or India.  The same thing happens when the supply chain for a product stretches halfway around the globe and money changes hands in complex and non-public ways.  In a small village, if the grocer added sand to the sugar, it wouldn't take long for the villagers to wise up and go to his competitor instead.  Nowadays, most people have no idea what goes into their food, so they keep buying it.  It's come out recently that most of what is sold as honey is adulterated with some other sweetener or contains no honey at all.  Many expensive kinds of fish turn out to be other, cheaper fish.  Olive oil also tends to be cut with cheaper oils.

To turn more serious, some products we buy from around the world come with a connection to exploitation and injustice.  I've been reading an eye-opening book called The Land Grabbers which details human-rights abuses around the world.  The most blatant I've read about so far has been the outright theft of land from Cambodian peasants to plant sugarcane plantations.  The owners of the plantations are making vast amounts of money selling the sugar to developed nations.  I want no part in this.  But I can't seem to find out if the sugar I buy is from Cambodia or not.  It sure as heck isn't printed on the label.

I am a strong believer in the power of the boycott to stop injustice in the market.  However, it can be awfully hard to keep track of all the boycotts.  Was this shirt I want to buy made in that sweatshop in Bangladesh that had that fire where so many died?  How can I know?  Why not make my own shirt?

(As a side note, John told me about a solution to this problem described in The End is Near, and it's Going to Be Awesome: a credit card that keeps track of all your boycotts for you.  It does the research, lets you select what sorts of things you want to boycott (environmental degradation, human-rights abuses, abortion supporters, whatever you want) and then declines your purchases if you try to buy something you're boycotting.  Then it automatically sends an email to the producer of the item saying, "One of our customers wanted to buy X, but they won't because they are upset about how your company did Y."  After a few hundred letters like this, a company would start to change its ways.  This is an awesome idea and I only wish it were available in reality.)

*Because you care about the earth.  I believe that we are stewards of the earth, not owners.  That means we have to tend it so that it is still useable for future generations.  Industrial farming doesn't do that, because of the intense drive to increase profits now.  We can't leave a little land fallow for a year, because we need to produce more.  We can't add organic matter to the soil, because it's quicker to spray ammonia.  Margins are slim and they have to squeeze every penny.  Many farmers are on rented land; there is no profit in giving anything back to land you don't own.  A small farmer who hopes to hand down his land to his children has a vested interest in caring for his land.

*Because you care about animal cruelty.  The only reason Americans eat so much meat is because they don't know much about where it comes from.  A common reaction on seeing a feedlot is to become a vegetarian for life.  Industrial animals are fed corn, because that's what we have a lot of.  (Oh, how I loathe thee, subsidies.)  Cows aren't intended to eat corn, and they become terribly sick on it.  Chickens and pigs are better off, but they're crammed into disgustingly tight quarters where they don't thrive.

However, there's a world of difference between eating meat that comes from a lifetime of misery and eating meat that comes from an animal that lived a happy life doing what it should do.  Not everyone considers the happiness of animals to be important -- but if you do, you should be agrarian.

*Because you care about your health.  Of course we know that industrial food isn't good for you; it's not produced with health in mind, and it is full of additives which may be harmful.  If you make it yourself, you know what's in it.  My latest shift has been baking my own bread exclusively.  We eat less bread, and better bread -- and I know that it is made from flour, water, and salt, not corn syrup and soy lecithin.  That matters to me.

*Because the industrial world is lacking in so many things.  We sit in chairs in front of computer screens all day -- but we all know that sitting in a chair all day will kill you.  We lack deep connections to others, and some people seem to fall through the cracks and lack connections to anyone.  Depression, anxiety, tension are all more common than colds; and total breakdowns, suicide, mass shootings happen frighteningly often.  We know what is good for a human being, but we can't seem to make it happen.  It's good for kids to have two involved parents, but many have one overworked parent.  It's good for them to play outside, but there's nowhere safe to play.  It's good for families to eat a homecooked dinner together every night, but there's just too much work and too many activities for anyone to have time for that.

It's madness to me to say it's a good thing that we have developed so far away from drudgery that we can work with our minds instead of our hands -- and then have to spend another hour after work, and some of our hard-earned money, to go work out.  What a racket -- they've gotten us to pay for the privilege of lifting heavy things and running!  Someday, some smart person will stick generators in the exercise bikes and make a killing.

*Because you want to create a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul.  Why do we slave, day in and day out, to do things that we don't enjoy, while there are things we do enjoy that might make us a living instead?  If you want to make crafts and sell them, what does it matter if you never make a fortune and your friends ask you when you're getting a real job?  If you find a way to make ends meet doing something you love, you should do that thing.

Those are the reasons I can come up with off the top of my head.  Can you think of any more?

2 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Actually, stationary bikes attached to generators already have been developed! There's a gym in New York where the spin class produces 10% of the electricity and a hotel in Copenhagen whose stats I don't know. Having discussed this technology with an engineer, however, I know hogw impractical it is. (The hotel has an electric fan next to one stationary bike. The engineer chuckled as he told me that no human could pedal fast enough to power the fan--even if it were all he needed to run.) And I'm impressed, in a grim way, whenever I think about my own family's energy consumption.

It's health-related reasons which are getting me to look for alternatives to commercial products. I'm simply floored by all the weird chemicals that we can't seem to opt out of if we stay in the system. Take honey. I was not amused when I learned that some companies add (*Cue drumroll, please*) high fructose corn syrup to their honey and then never say so on the label. So now I'm trying to find a good local supplier.

Sheila said...

Real honey might be hard to find. Bees are dying in droves lately and scientists are struggling to figure out why. Considering bees range all over, and a lot of fields are sprayed with insecticides, I don't think it should be such a difficult puzzle, but there it is.

If you want to know what's in your food, you just have to know who made it. I wish that weren't such a difficult thing to do! I just did some research and found dozens of small sustainable farms fairly close to me -- but I can't understand why, then, our local farmers' market has only five stalls on an average Saturday.

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