Originally posted 2010-01-26 23:16:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
If you ever wanted to see where we’re likely headed with the economy, oil use, work life, and self-sustainability, you should look to the Amish and their culture. Their past represents our possible future, and provides some wonderful clues about how to deal with it.
Some surprising and interesting facts about the Amish people:
- A fine distinction has been made between ownership and use. They can ride in or hire combustion-powered vehicles (with non-Amish drivers) to travel in, as long as they don’t own or operate them without special permission of the church. Certain work crews (construction-related) have special permission to lease work vehicles, operate heavy equipment and electrically powered tools as necessary for their job, as long as they don’t tap into the power lines from outside, or the 110-volt power from outlets.
- Most families have scaled back or abandoned farming completely, due to skyrocketing prices of land, equipment, and supplies. Population strains within communities have placed a high demand for farmland, right along with developers from the encroaching “outside” world. Being penned-in by land availability and affordability, church, and family constraints, most have turned to business for their livelihood. Amish micro-enterprises abound in large cultural homelands such as Lancaster, PA and others.
- Education beyond 8th grade home schooling is forbidden. Training for a specific job or job component is allowed, as long as it isn’t formal (for a degree program), and is available by other means (OJT, apprenticeship, workshops/seminars, etc.), because it’s feared that a formal education would encourage leaving the farm and community. Any occupation requiring the use of force (military, police, etc.) is forbidden. Membership in unions and engaging in litigation is also forbidden; it is seen as a horrific waste of money and resources.
- Amish workers and employers are exempt from Social Security and Medicare tax. Their culture does not allow for paying into or drawing from the system, because extended family and the church serve as their means of social support in times of need or disability/old age. They are also exempt from military service because they believe in non-resistance.
- Most Amish micro-enterprises are home-based, providing for a family/culture/church woven network in their daily lives. Men and women are encouraged into business equally, but family and church must take priority over economic needs (time off for weddings/funerals/Amish holidays/barn-raisings, etc.). Business is considered a “sideline” to their traditional farming work, despite many families leaving farming as their mainstay.
- If some component of business requires the use of electronics or combustion, they can contract it out to other firms—even non-Amish ones. They are also allowed to use “non-native” materials (not found on the farm) such as plastics, fiberglass, etc. with church permission. By outsourcing such things, the boss can work right alongside the employees–ensuring immediate access to production, staff, and customers throughout the day. If an electrically-powered item is absolutely essential to their business, an electrical source is created through the in-line use of a diesel engine, hydraulic and air generators, and an inverter—this cumbersome arrangement is called “Amish electricity” because it produces the power they need, albeit inefficiently, without tapping into the forbidden power lines or outlets of the outside world.
- With the declining availability and outright extinction of some elements of their lives, such as buggy parts, horse plow equipment, etc., these people have made an ingenious bargain with the modern world: they can take modern equipment and “modify” it for their use, with church permission.
- Since most work takes place during the light hours, industrious use of solar energy abounds in the form of skylights. A few Amish families have been given church permission to explore the modification, refinement, and creation of solar panels to use and sell. For the most part, sweat equity, propane, kerosene, natural gas, and firewood remain their energy sources.
- Participation in local and regional business associations (Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.) is looked down on, but not forbidden, if used solely as a networking vehicle. Political participation is also looked down on, except when the goal is to become familiar with and voice concerns about regulations and ordinances. Voting at national elections is permitted and voluntary. Lobbying is forbidden. Local craft guilds are the preferred way of communing, networking, and learning.
Clever ingenuity has been the by-product of a population kept small and relatively quiet by church laws and cultural taboos…ingenuity we can all benefit from. Swaying church permissions, meant to keep people and businesses “small”, have helped rather than hindered their usher into the modern world, all in the name of encouraging enterprise.
It would seem to the average reader that the Amish have it together in the modern world, even though their lifestyle harkens back to the Elizabethan Era in Europe (1600’s). We would do a lot for ourselves by taking heed of what these fine people have to offer in the way of possible solutions to our impending problems–if only we’d look back in time for innovation inspiration. What DID people do before the advent of 110-volt power, refined oil, the various social service systems, and disposable “stuff”?
Perhaps the Amish hold many answers to some of our future pressing problems, like questionable oil supplies, environmental poisoning, Social Security and Medicare deficits, skyrocketing education costs, corporate greed, and self-sufficiency in general. Perhaps we outsiders need to look to the past for our future needs…or maybe the past is slowly, cleverly building itself to accommodate bits of the future on limited terms. So much of their “restrictions” make a lot of sense, and for logical reasons (church aside).
It’s interesting how some things in their world mesh with things in our world. Problems that we have incurred in the outside world have also been incurred and “cured” inside, such as:
- Corporate greed—when the Amish sense that they have too much (money, work, overhead), they either divide the business and sell divisions, turn divisions over to relatives, or sell off the entire business. The church lets them know when they’ve grown too big for their britches, but the church smiles upon success with humility. Unbridled growth is unsustainable, and only leads to waning demand and “Been-There-Done-That” Syndrome.
- Clutter and excess—drawing a fine line between ownership and use, they tend to keep down the number of things they own and may not use every day, keeping farm clutter to a minimum (as well as liability). Merely getting to use something to get a job done, rather than keeping around “just in case they need it again” saves space, money, and headaches.
- Over-education—in today’s world, more and more people spend more and more money to garner degrees for jobs that can be performed well without those pieces of paper…and then those jobs disappear, leading to yet more and different degrees. A basic education and hands-on training are sufficient for most jobs in this country, but it won’t make the kind of money we demand from the start for those jobs. A particular thorn in this area is the advent of women returning to the workplace…many women pursue expensive degrees, only to leave the workforce a few years later to raise children. At some point, we have to ask ourselves: is the return on education investment worth it in the end, or are we spending more for that degree than we wind up making in the workforce?
- Over-work—the Amish have made this part of their lives, yet we haven’t really begun to benefit in large numbers from the flexible hours and access to family that a home-based business brings. We prefer to indenture ourselves to corporations on their terms, and merely hope for the best when it comes to leaving our kids in the daycare and public school systems. Work has become the center of our lives, rather than the home and family.
- Insufficient government funds—we are currently facing a crisis of monumental proportion when it comes to the Boomer generation, retirement, and health care in regard to unfunded retirement and Medicare needs. Our current system is a pay-as-you-go one, meaning current workers pay taxes for current retirees and Medicare recipients to collect checks and benefits from. When the number of workers dwindles and the numbers of retirees and medically needy balloons, the payroll taxes will increase to accommodate their social service needs…and your paycheck decreases as a result. By relying less on others and more on our own resources, we can ease this burden somewhat, even though the money paid into the system already will be lost forever.
- Declining natural resources—there is talk that the current global oil supply will last for another 30 years or so, that oil drillers are already having a hard time finding and getting oil out of the ground, and OPEC certainly cannot keep up with current and future demands. If this is the case, we need to find large-scale inexpensive viable alternatives now, and something other than the expensive substitutes we currently have available as options.
By modifying existing equipment, the Amish have made clever use of hydraulics and pneumatics to avoid using the one power source forbidden by the church. By employing the use of modified equipment, and working with the sun, we would save tons of generated energy from outside and personal energy from within.
- Over-globalization–Rather than making contentious trade deals and questionable ad campaigns in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and succumbing to a 24-7 world in all its different time zones, perhaps we should be thinking about going back to work with nature and providing for ourselves what we really need right here at home. Over-technology, over-ownership, and unsustainability contribute to this need for global profit reach, and we need to ask ourselves what we’ll do with it all when the power goes out.
We need to get creative again, make ample use of what we already have, and satisfy demand here at home, rather than covering the globe with things nobody wants or needs (complete with culture-targeted slick marketing). Working efficiently within daylight hours and personal constraints leaves plenty of time to attend to other priorities, like family, home, and church, and working close to home insures easy access to family—the top priority.
- Over-regulation—by recognizing that government only serves as an interfering body when it comes to daily work, spiritual and home life, the Amish seceded from the outside world into one where their church and service to God is the regulator…no vote, no committee. Since coming to America to escape religious persecution by both Catholics and Protestants, a compact has been struck with Uncle Sam: no interference, except where elements of the outside world come onto the farm or into the business (zoning, health inspections for food-related businesses, sales taxes, business sign sizing, and payroll taxes for non-Amish employees). The church takes care of the rest.
Persecuted in Europe…settled and thriving in America…the Amish have been with us since before the Declaration of Independence was signed. They will likely still be here when the rest of us burn out and move on. Who knows? They may be our only guiding force in the end for flipping the dependency switch on technology once and for all.
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Wenchypoo writes for the Wenchwisdom blog
Article has been published with permission
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