Agrarianism and shopping cheap

Eliza asked for a practical discussion of agrarianism in connection with modern times and I would like to respond in a series of short very focussed posts rather than trying to cover everything at once. For starters, then, the question is: does Agrarianism mean we should cease and desist from shopping for the best buy? Should we necessarily pay more for hand-made items made locally?

If the best deal on batteries is to be found at K-mart (including all factors such as the cost to the soul of the aesthetic insult of such surroundings, and the time to get there), then by all means buy your batteries at K-mart. We certainly don’t need every village to have a little hand-made battery-making shop. Give me mass-production and mass-distribution on something like this.

What about something where mass-production is not obviously desirable, and localism might seem better in the abstract? Should you go to Mimi’s Tavern to get a lovingly-prepared hamburger, even though you are in the mood for McDonald’s? I think not. There might be times when you would prefer the McDonald’s even if Mimi’s only cost the same as McDonald’s. So, let’s not turn agrarianism into yet another form of wearing a long face and doing things we don’t want to do.

My hypothesis is that cultivating and nurturing a taste for the richness of creation will gradually only be satisfied by production that is in the direction of individual creativity and local diversity, which is at least half of the agrarian vision. So, by metonymy, I freely interchange the term as referring to the inner motive and the external vision.

Never spend more than you need to, provided “need” is defined richly. On a special occasion, buy the best bottle of wine that matches your palate, but spend not a penny more. Pay more for stereo equipment as long as you can hear an improvement; the minute that point is reached, spend not a penny more.

Secular progress is not rejected by agrarianism: we distinguish the good from the bad. The point should never be imposition of a rule — “buy local” — but rather cultivation of an aesthetically rich life. Usually, then, dwelling over Mimi’s hamburger will be a satisfaction that McDonald’s would not be able to compete against.

That this will lead to greater creativity, diversity, and localism is a prediction not a rule.

8 thoughts on “Agrarianism and shopping cheap

  1. I think of Lexington, VA, as one example of a town which benefits from a split between local/community and big business/franchise. I have been there only once, but it’s a nice small town, except that it is moving toward, or maybe already is, PC regarding the War Between the States. Rockbridge Co. was not pro-South initially. But that aside. The town proper is an interesting college town/historic landmark village. The B&B’s have character and good cooking. The Ruby Tuesdays and Home Suites are outside the town on the highway. One feels that one can stay in one’s enclave and studiously avoid the hustle and bustle and mass production just by staying in town. It’s a nice feeling. Being served cider on a silver tray while browsing in a gift shop is something worth experiencing, and is a prompt to buy from such hospitable people. One assumes that the residents must have significantly fewer stress-related illnesses than those in more metro areas.

  2. My guess is that generally in such towns and communities cancer rates might be lower, no one needs therapy (let alone everyone), and sales on antidepressants are down.

    I would love to hear more on this subject.

  3. Tim,

    This is another provocative subject. Why? Because the word “agrarian” has a negative connotation. Why? Because it implies going backwards in time. We live in a world of technological prowess and “agrarianism”, as most people understand it, is something behind us nowadays, except for a few farmers. This is the public’s perception.

    Some Christians are criticized by both secular and church institutions alike for developing an Amish or isolationist (read: “intolerant”) life style. Christians can choose to rub shoulders with sinners (Jesus hang out with prostitutes!) or start exclusive clubs. I know no one here is advocating that (at least I hope not) but I’m talking here solely about public perception. Call it ignorance on their end, but why are they “ignorant” on this subject?

    Before making my final point, let me bring up one more example: home schooling. It also has a somewhat of a negative connotation, although this is changing slightly with the public school system row of fiascos and failures. For the public, home schooling equals to Christian fundamentalists, those rural, fanatic, judgmental, poor people with a lot of kids (more than 2!) and with long hair and no fashion style whatsoever. Moreover, home schooled kids are perceived as nerds. I’m NOT stating here what I believe – after all, my kids are home schooled – but solely what I see how the world (public) looks on us.

    So, what’s my point with all of this? Marketing. I don’t care what the home school movement is (I don’t follow a “movement”). Call it what you want, but usually when people ask me about my kids’ education I bring up the word “tutoring”. It’s all semantics, but tutoring has a different connotation than home schooling. Plus, I don’t want my kids to be home schooled in the strict sense of the word – again as the public perceives it – as my kids have a strong and healthy social life, they attend classes outside our home and we expose them to secular culture.

    Back to “agrarianism”. Why this retrofitted name?! Before reading your article above I too thought you meant picking up the hoe, buy a lot of guns, put a huge fence around your property, and grow your own cucumbers. That’s agrarianism. I’m exaggerating a bit, but just to show how the word “agrarian” is perceived. I don’t know who came up with these terms, but agrarian doesn’t seem what you’re proposing. What I understand you propose with “agrarianism” is the emphasis on buying and living locally and not getting into frivolous, main stream spending. If I understood you correctly, an “agrarianist” could actually buy a high definition plasma TV and a Playstation 3 console. My whole point: “agrarian” is a poor choice of word and it has a negative perception. Try a new name, I don’t know, something like “localized life style”. Did I miss your point?


  4. Roger — interesting points. I like your substitution of “tutoring” for “home schooling.”

    On the other hand, I don’t want to base too much of our semantics on fear of undesired connotations. Part of our mission is to show how our rulers (both de jure and de facto) have corrupted the connotations of our language. Our solution is to fight back by recapturing our own language, and not letting ourselves be pushed around linguistically by those that want to destroy our people. Their getting us to walk on eggshells all the time is part of their technique of domination.

    On agrarianism, we are self-consciously tapping into the Vanderbilt agrarians. But it is a concept that needs to be refined and moved forward in an ongoing discussion. Unlike Lytle, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to actually live on a farm. But some should do so; everyone that reasonably can should try to raise vegetables and flowers; and the rest of us should try to integrate into the life of those that can take the full plunge.

    We have been too quick in rejecting the Amish way. Of course, they have mingled in a lot of works-righteousness nonsense. But their basic instinct is right, shorn of the elements that are not necessary.

    Certainly, everyone needs to unplug from the broadcast media, whether using a 10″ B&W TV or a wide-screen plasma. On the other hand, I have no problem with the latter if used for viewing operas and carefully-selected videos.

    As to mingling with sinners, that will happen more not less in an agrarian society. The modern loves his abstract Neighbor, but can’t stand his actual neighbors. For the last decade and a half, I have lived in apartment complexes, and have hardly ever even known my neighbors to the point of recognizing them by sight. I want that to change; but real change is going to have to entail more than knocking on the doors with a smiley face and saying “hi I’m Tim.” It is a matter of changing the ways of relating at every level — at work, during the coffee hour at church, in purchase decisions, casual conversations, leisure activity, hospitality.

    It is an ongoing task, and we are feeling our way. I am glad you have joined the discussion.

  5. Tim –

    Thanks for replying to my post. I agree that as a rule we shouldn’t feel pushed around on linguistic semantics, but… do you feel we can ever regain the true meaning of the word “gay”? Try the N- word, which I don’t want to spell it out here to avoid turning away new readers.

    We buy books on tape for our kids and a while back I bought the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Talk about a classic. However, sadly I couldn’t let my kids listen to it (not yet), because the N- word is prevalent in this book. My kids are still too young to understand this concept, so I’d simply d-i-e if at any gathering they saw a dark skinned person and then referred to him or her as N-. Really, I’d be embarrassed beyond belief. So, I can’t make a case there to recoup the true meaning of N- word.

    Enough about words, but you see my point. We can’t deny that marketing ourselves is important. Marketing our beliefs is just as important.

    As far as agrarianism goes, I look forward to more posts and discussions on it, especially when it comes to applying its proposed life style to urban life.

  6. John Stott has a book on birdwatching–he’s quite a fanatic about it and he believes Christians should be more in touch with nature, since we worship nature’s Creator. I agree. He suggests that every believer choose some area of nature as a study or a hobby–great thought that. I cringe a little when I hear of believers who have no interest in the natural world, people who are holed up near their TV or computer or even books (as good as the last can be). We psychologically need to physically interact with the world God made, if that makes sense. For me, it’s flowers.

  7. I’ve yet to read it, however, Outside Lies Magic has been recommended as another good read along those same lines.

  8. Thanks, jkb. I see my public library has the book. I’ll get it and read it soon!

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