Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Of Small Places And Agrarianism

Friend to this blog Leigh Tate made a comment in the post Of Small Towns and Small Cities that made me think a great deal more than perhaps is wise in the early morning upon reading it: 

"It was the connectedness of today's reading list post that reminded me to comment. I sometimes mention agrarianism as a lifestyle, and it is interesting to me that the response is usually a variation of "yes but, not everybody wants to be a farmer." This post reminds me of what I am consistently unsuccessful at explaining, i.e. that agrarianism isn't farming, rather, it's a social and economic structure based on community and the land. The small town is the heart of such a structure because it's there that the community has the potential to to meet its needs. I would like to say that it has the potential to be self-reliant, but I get scolded for that term too, because it tends to be interpreted as isolationist.

Instead, I think I'll say, an agrarian community is more resilient, and able to weather whatever ups and downs happen in life. Of course, this will never happen because human nature strives against it. But I sincerely think it's the way things were designed to be.”

Well, that is a lot for 0500 wake call and cup of coffee, to be sure.

I believe I was originally introduced to the term of Agrarianism by Herrick Kimball (Formerly of The Deliberate Agrarian, now of HeavenStretch), although I really believe I came tor understand it earlier through the writing of the sadly now departed Gene Logsdon in The Contrary Farmer.  Logsdon's book was in principle about farming and self-sufficiency, but really what it was about was way of life that both valued the land that enabled it and the small environments that it created and thrived in - the social and economic structure based on community and land that Leigh refers to.  In a way, it was a call back to the small place that I had grown up - but really a call back to the small environment that I had grown up in, the place where I felt (and continue to feel) most connected to.

Small communities can be (but are not always) interdependent and resilient.  It is not just in the sort of Hallmark-ish concept of "taking care of each other"; it is in the real human connections that come from living and doing business with people that live in the same community that you do.  One comes to value that community because in a way, through its success comes one's own success - not measured necessarily in the wealth one possesses, but in the way one feels when one is finished with the day.  One has done business - be it a retail enterprise, a farm, or some other interactive contribution - instead of just "commuting to a job".

Interdependence.  Resilience.  These are phrases we - or at least I - have heard a great deal in recent years.  The surprising thing - or perhaps not so surprising - is what this terms have come to mean.

"Interdependence", in the modern parlance, has come to mean relying on the largest administrative body possible. Communities should not be interdependent, states should be.  Interdependence is always facing up and outward, not down and inward.  Not needing "The System" is seen as rebellious and a bit;ignorant:  States need each other because that is the best and highest use of the individual, communities should not to the exclusion of the state but subservient to it.

Resilience is the same.  States should be resilient, but not communities.  Communities need to look to the state for their resilience and show there dependency on those outside, not generate their resilience internally.

Why is the concept of agrarianism - interdependent, strong communities generally (but not exclusively) practicing agriculture and the basics of living not embraced by those that mouth such words?  Because such places are not reliant on the the state that exists above them, are not "plugged in" to the much larger urban units that they are expected somehow to support and defer to.   Small communities in the modern world - agrarian communities - are places that should be dying or kitschy places where large urban entity dwellers can go to shop and stay and eat and be catered to, not communities which are not reliant on the larger whole for survival.

I perhaps sound a bit out of sorts by this disconnect between what the modern world says it wants - for example, interdependence and resilience - and what the modern world is willing to accept.  My thought is that it is - again - based on the concept that there can be only one "right" answer, the one that is authorized by Our Political And Social Betters (OPASB).  Interdependence and resilience must be exercised in the approved fashion, as specified by the experts and accepted by the social masses, not run willy-nilly by people who think they know what is best for themselves.

There is one thing I will say for state-sanctioned or state enforced interdependence and resilience:  it is a fragile thing, a tropical flower sustained in an arctic environment only by the greenhouse of the state.  Remove that greenhouse - remove the official requirement to make people be interdependent and resilient via laws - and much of those things, I posited, would blow away with the wind of reality.  These sorts of things, to last, must come to fruition organically, not enforced.

We live today in a bifurcated world:  those that are interdependent and resilient (and this is not always in the "classic" way) and those that believe they are because the state says they are. Let the requirements fall away, and I suspect that true agrarians among us will shine like stars in the sky. 

13 comments:

  1. I guess more than interdependent or resilient, I tend to think of communities as being more cyclic. We started off as an agrarian society. As we became populated, that went away but came again in waves as we progressed westward across the landscape. Eventually that all went away and all those agrarian based towns out here in the rural parts of America were left to rot on the vine. I think as we have come to realize that we are consuming our resources, agrarianism has started to come back again. It is more in vogue these days. People are actually moving from the cities back out into the countryside. But as I said, I think it will only be temporary until the next cycle starts. What that next cycle is, I'm not sure. Perhaps it will be us plugging into the Metaverse and checking out of the reality of this world.

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    1. Ed, cyclic is not a bad way to look at things either - although it does make me ponder the ideas of cities as being cyclic (and does gentrification count as a cycle?).

      I would posit that it is not completely due to resource consumption that the idea is being revisited. I think it also has more than a little to do with modern society as a whole. Some people move from the large urban areas due to costs; others flee the large urban areas due to conditions or simply a sense that they want some greater aspect of control of their own lives that a large urban area will allow them.

      Fortunately virtual reality has never really appealed to me - although, mine may be the last generation.

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  2. Anonymous2:41 AM

    I enjoyed reading Gene Logsden books as well as Wendell Berry's writings as well. I think a lot of that line of thinking of living on the land you practiced 'real conservation' on disappeared when the population left the farms and ranches to live on a 'real wage' in the urbans. We forgot how much giving up paper wealth for spiritual wealth of living beyond the sidewalks has. Its the same wind, same stars free for the taking if you decided to go out and enjoy it. Blood pressure medications would be far less required if we all tried that path.

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    1. Wendell Berry is also an excellent writer (although my preference still tips to Logsdon; his sotto voce irascibility appeals to me). I do find it interesting that "both sides" of the political divide claim Berry and Logsdon as their own; there are some things that transcend politics.

      Modernism and technology made great promises to individuals about what life it could give them. What it did not always make plain is what it would cost them.

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  3. Nylon122:48 AM

    Excellent post TB, those that believe they are interdependent and resilient because they are told that by the state seem to ignore/don't care what the OPASB are doing. Heaven forbid that people think they know what is best for themselves. More and more people are thinking "leave me the $%^& alone!" Sorry for that so early in the morning but some in government want to give you a colonoscopy every....single....day.

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  4. I grew up near a small farming town. It was a slower life than the nearest "big" city. Our self-reliance was pretty well established as a family. I think that is the basic unit of the small town. The squad in the platoon. We grew a lot of our own food, we mined our own water, and we fixed our own stuff. We had an eye out for trouble, whether on the ground or in the sky, I don't remember the sheriff ever driving by our house, tornado sirens were too far away to be of any use to us. We learned a lot.

    Rugged individualism has been undermined to develop the needy individual and the nanny state. I figure the current system was designed over time for just that purpose. Going from a lifetime of neediness to self-reliance, in my mind, isn't an easy road.

    My personal trajectory isn't looking so good right now (very narrow data set). If everything falls to dookie in my current situation, I'm hoping I can uproot to a place like I grew up. But I'm not sure how likely that will be.... But the search is on.

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    1. STxAR, yours is very much a less and less common tale - most people are much less reliant on themselves than the old days (your host included).

      I concur that the system as currently constructed is designed to encourage and strengthen neediness and reliance on the system and government rather than interdependence on those around us and especially not self reliant people. Self reliant people have no need for those programs and practices that our government (both Red and Blue) seem to want to force on us.

      The fact that you are aware and looking is more than most can say.

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    2. My childhood and STxAR's were virtually identical. Our thoughts about moving back if the world "falls to dookie" are also similar. Fortunately I have access to the land to do so but I really need to stock up on some ammunition so I can supplement all the vegetables with some venison, rabbit and squirrel.

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    3. Ed, the ability to do such things is true wealth in my book.

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  5. The past couple of years have, in my opinion, exposed a lot of the folly of the top-down "resilience" that you refer to. We have seen how the supposedly wonderful interconnectedness of everything is so very fragile, not resilient at all. The kind of community connectivity is much more preferable to the elite impositions.

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    1. Will, "Just in Time" is (in theory) a great example of interconnectedness which is a mile wide and a millimeter deep. Just a single interruption anywhere destroys the whole chain. Add to it the overall message of "We are all together in this (whatever this is)" when we clearly are not "all together", and the folly becomes clear.

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  6. robehr orinsky3:09 PM

    Louis Bromfield lit my agrarian fire many years ago and Herrick watered it down with Holy Water until it burnt brightly like a Hanukkah menorah . Gawd bless them both .

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    1. Robehr, I was not familiar with Louis Bromfield until your mention (and a quick trip to Wikipedia). He appears to be (yet) another author I need to delve into.

      I appreciated Herrick's writings and am sorry he posts less often these days.

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