Consider the State of Life
…consider the state of life in this country today, it is bound to appear to reasonable people ……that in some way a great commonwealth has gone wrong.
There are those among us who defend and rejoice in this miscarriage , saying we are more prosperous. They tell us – and we are ready to believe – that collectively we are possessed of enormous wealth and that this in itself is compensation for whatever has been lost. But when we, as individuals, set out to find and enjoy this wealth, it becomes elusive and its goods escape us. We then reflect, no matter how great it may be collectively, if individually we do not profit by it, we have lost by the exchange. This becomes more apparent with the realization that, as its benefits elude us, the labor and pains of its acquisition multiply.
To be caught unwittingly in this unhappy condition is calamitous; but to make obeisance before it, after learning how barren is its rule, is to be eunuched.
From: “The Hind Tit” 1930 Andrew Nelson Lytle
My employer gave me a book of historic agrarian writings from 1780 through the present. It may not have cost him much, possibly nothing, except for listening to me, and knowing my buying patterns well enough, that when he came upon it in a book catalog he thought of me, and made the effort to procure it. Isn’t that how thoughtful gifts often come about? Something strikes our eye because it reminds us of someone, and knowing it would please them, we obtain it for them. That thoughtfulness and a living wage and reasonable benefits makes him a pretty extraordinary employer these days.
Lytle was talking about the effects of industrialism and home economics. Industrialization changed the home from a source of life, to a source of money. Home no longer produced the goods needed for a happy life, but became the repository of the consumers goods and the consumers, and was in itself a consumer good.
Think of how we are taught to view our homes according to their resale value more than by how well they suit our individual needs.
This essay can also speak to power. And how well we have learned that money is power. In an agrarian community a family had its own seat of power. Decisions on planting and production were made at the family level, and there were multiple levels of power. Ma for the kitchen garden and Pa in the fields. Of course the ability and success varied. Some families were dictatorships and others more egalitarian. Yes the more successful homesteads had more power in the community, but generally it was community based, not run by some “patriot” from his offshore, tax haven digs.
We are told how much better off we are because most of us don’t do back breaking labor anymore. But mindless idleness is not often preferable to self imposed labor. Those that do heavy labor are now often held to unreasonable standards of production leading to injury and lifelong pain. And then the corporations complain about the high cost of health insurance and workman’s compensation.
The agrarian family based economic/power base is perhaps the first casualty of the American experiment. The attempt to construct a more perfect union fell to the forces that had devised the feudal system and would devise the plantation system, and the company store.