Our founders were farmers: they provided for themselves through hard, honest physical labor. The dissolution of our society began when our ties to the land were ruptured.
Many of us are asking, and have been asking since the Blue Jackal was first crowned king, “So what comes next? Assume that voters continue to be cozened by a predator dyed in celestial coloring, and that they continue to like the sound of free health care and free food and free cell phones, and that they continue to believe debt payment a guilt trip concocted by fat-cat corporations, and that they continue—above all—to imbibe medicinal pot and Entertainment Tonight and The Jackass Trilogy. Assume that our culture is dead, whoever may get elected in two years or four years. Where do we, the living, go from here? How does one sustain life in a dead society?”
As I traveled the long road home last week from my in-laws in rural Georgia, I couldn’t help but think that agriculture is a large part of the answer. This is not even an observation made from the perspective of pure survival—though, of course, it is most obviously that. In a time of utter turmoil, you’ll need to feed your family. These prepper types who fill bunkers with Del Monte green beans and corn will eventually empty the last can, even though they may be able to shoot a figure-eight into the torso of any competitor for that can. Over the long haul, food is a resource that will clearly have to be replenished the old-fashioned way: i.e., by farming.
Yet agriculture, I suspect, is also very beneficial to the psyche—so much so that our republic only began to deteriorate when the link between man and soil was ruptured. The notion that frail individuals need Big Brother in order to survive would never have crossed a true farmer’s mind, and would surely have turned his strong stomach. (I speak not of agri-business, by the way—not here or anywhere else; most of what passes for farming today is just another species of statist boondoggle.) The Industrial Revolution, unfortunately, proceeded in a way that tore farmers from their land and held them hostage to meager wages in unwholesome cities. Things got pretty ugly. The industrialized North enslaved immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe every bit as much as Southern planters forced labor out of imported Africans (made available, note well, by northern shipping concerns). Indeed, our Civil War was essentially the result of ever more centralized and monopolistic industrial interests drawing an ever more dependent—but also more resistant—agrarian culture into their Charybdis of ambition. (It certainly was NOT about freeing all Africans, whom Mr. Lincoln himself believed inferior beings unworthy of the vote, of being jurors, or of receiving public education.)
We should have stayed where we were; or, since they say progress is irresistible, then we should devise a way to technologize the small family farm, even (or especially) in suburban circumstances. For farming, to repeat, is good for the soul as well as the body. Farmers understand cycle, for one thing. They therefore grasp viscerally that existential freedom has limits—that terrestrial freedom is really nothing other than the precious gift of choosing how to adapt oneself to the inevitable. All that lives in this world must someday die to this world. A farmer who should fail to understand as much would perish. Farmers survive within the rhythms of life and death. They need to know when to plant, when to harvest, and how to read the sky’s dozens of moods. Freedom without cost or boundary makes no sense to them. A free man is free to work, free to look after himself and his own—not free to sleep late and then have a government-issue card punched for his breakfast pizza.
My sister (who always votes for the utopian candidate) is indignant that I allow my son to shoot squirrels with an air rifle. But squirrels aren’t the cuddly little creatures that her favorite teddy bear used to be. They destroy fruit trees, they devour eggs and small songbirds, and they sometimes get into attics and chew up roofing and wiring. Their natural enemies—foxes, coyotes, tree snakes, etc.—have been driven far from man’s habitat, and so they have wildly overpopulated in back yards and public parks. Holding them in check isn’t wicked, but it may seem so to people who think that everything can and should live virtually forever unmolested beside everything else. Those who seem to think this way and are past the age of six are usually college-educated city-dwellers: in a word, progressives. They don’t accept the hard facts of life.
The farm also teaches you (as I’ve hinted already) what might be called the work cycle. You turn the earth, pull the weeds, plant your sprouting spuds, collect rainwater, give the garden a daily splash, pull more weeds, and finally dig your potatoes. Now you have something to eat. If you don’t work, you starve; but if you work exceptionally hard, you may build up a surplus—which you can then barter or sell if (like potatoes) it doesn’t store especially well. A person who refuses to work has no “right” to your produce. Common decency demands that you help a poor bloke who’s down on his luck, yet not at your children’s expense, and not if said ne’er-do-well keeps coming back for more.
We understood this when our sweat and toil translated directly into food on the table. When, however, we increasingly started to draw a wage for selling shoes or cars or stocks, our intellectuals and our clergy could no longer keep the former relationships in focus. Some people had so very much more than they needed, yet only broke a sweat when working out at the gym. Where did all that affluence come from? Why wasn’t it shared more evenly?
It wouldn’t be such a very bad thing, it seems to me, if our “economic recovery” and our nanny state’s time-out disciplining (also known as “austerity”) turned every ordinary citizen back into a gardener or farmer. Nature doesn’t lurch along with crisis-ridden news alerts, the popular romances of Climate Change and Bush-Engendered Tornadoes notwithstanding. Instead, she plays one cycle into another with patience, rhythm, and relative quiet. The spiral of being has not been, and cannot be, “straightened out” into a linear progression on a graph just because we are mapping genomes and sending remote-control trolleys around the Martian surface.
True, a Chernobyl may disrupt the smooth regenerative powers of nature for centuries. The irony about that particular case, you know, is that the most progressive regime on the planet at the time was responsible for the reactor’s meltdown. I think there may be some slight hope of getting old-school liberals—tree-huggers and anti-makeup feminists—to see that natural cycle and take-over-and-mismanage big government are enemies to the death. The very essence of the progressive program is to manhandle natural order so that we may one day call our own existential tune instead of dancing to the seasons we have inherited for time immemorial.
There is an axis hiding here that cuts right through party divisions. Big-government Republicans who never saw a seascape that wouldn’t look better with motels and casinos are of course no better than big-government Democrats who want to siphon millions of tax dollars into wind farms rather than design a less energy-hungry city. I know that Mother Earth is common ground for genuine conservatives and sincere environmentalists. I just don’t know how we get there on the Starship Enterprise.
In the meantime… cultivate your garden. The Secret Police can still kill you if they want to (or if the Master Puppeteer wants them to)—but, with apologies to my backwoods Georgia friends, they will always be able to. A hundred thousand rounds of ammo is no defense against a Drone. At least no one will starve you out. Yet the most important gift of all stems from the hard fact summarized thus by the Bard: “We all owe God a death.” A garden will keep you “grounded”, as we say these days. The idea behind freedom isn’t really to live forever in these rag-doll bodies, because we can’t: it’s to budget well the time we have, to sow in season, and to reap a bountiful harvest.