How, Then, Shall We Live? — What we might learn from the Amish

I grew up in the 1940s and 50s, a time that I consider to be the Golden Age of prosperity and promise, a time when the middle-class was growing larger and more prosperous and it seemed that things would only continue to get better. It was a time when a family could manage quite nicely, as mine did, on a single modest income. My dad was a “debit agent” for a big mutual insurance company, selling life insurance and collecting the premiums from policy holders within his territory, or “debit.” On his modest income he was able to provide us with a nice home, put both my sister and me through college, and allow my mother to remain at home to take care of us kids, keep house, and prepare our meals as middle-class wives typically did in those days.

The social revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought some massive cultural changes, including the rise of the environmental, civil rights, human potential, feminist, gay-rights, back-to-the-land, and peace movements, along with a relaxation of sexual mores, a shift to more casual modes of dress, the hippies, the flower children, experimentation with psycho-active substances, and experiments in communal and cooperative living.

The leveling of class distinctions and income distributions that characterized the post-World War II era continued up until about 1980. Around that time many of those earlier trends seemed to run out of energy, and reactionary forces threw many of them into reverse. Notable among the latter has been the massive reversal of economic fortunes of the middle and lower classes. Despite huge increases in productivity and increased material abundance, class and wealth differences again began to increase and have by now reached unprecedented proportions. For most families, the income from one job is no longer sufficient.

But my purpose here is not to recapitulate the history of that era, nor to critique it, but simply to introduce the reader to a drastically different way of living that has been thriving for decades, if not centuries right alongside the high-tech, consumerist, debt-ridden rat-race that most of us are caught up in, and to suggest that there may be something important to be learned from the Amish as we try to reinvent civilization amidst the present intensifying chaos. 

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Given my interest in social justice, economic equity, personal freedom, intentional communities, and the social phenomena of the 60s and 70s, it is not surprising that I would discover Donald  Kraybill’s book, The Riddle of Amish Culture, which for me was an eye-opener that showed me a much different way in which people were able to thrive. That was sometime in the 1980s, the same time as my involvement with the School of Living which caused me to make frequent trips into Pennsylvania where School of Living headquarters were then located. Those trips took me through parts of the state where Amish farms and businesses were numerous.

Recently, as I was sorting through some of the many boxes containing my archives and personal records, I came across a photocopy of an article titled, Amish Economics by Gene Logsdon that appeared in the September-October 1986 issue of Community Service Newsletter. Rereading that article after so many years and in the present day context of social, economic and political upheaval, it struck me as being even more pertinent now as we struggle to reimagine how we ought to be living on this finite planet. I’ve scanned that article, converted it to a PDF file, and am making it available here for your edification.

In spite of what many consider to be their backward ways and their inclination to eschew much of modern technology, the Amish have managed to thrive both as a religious and social community as well as economically while many in the conventional world have struggled to survive. According to Wikipedia, “The Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world.” Between 1920 and 2019, the Amish population in the United States increased from about 5,000 to 350,000, and they have spread beyond Pennsylvania into many other states, notably Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan.

Now I am not advocating that we all live as the Amish do, but I think we might do well cultivate some of their attitudes about community and mutual support, and adopt some of their agricultural, land stewardship, and small business practices. Amish communities also enjoy certain freedoms from government policies and dictates because of their religious beliefs and practices.    

If you’d like to dig deeper into what the Amish might teach the rest of us, you can learn a lot from the links in this article and from the Amish Times.

Your comments on this article would be welcomed.

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4 responses to “How, Then, Shall We Live? — What we might learn from the Amish

  1. Pingback: Newsletter May 2021. Upcoming podcast series on “Our Money System,” and other news | Beyond Money

  2. kalikaloscentre

    Nice post Tom, thank you.
    Last week I happened to have a need to check on some Raw Food resources on the web for a bridge student of mine who has an autoimmune disease and who has been told she has only 6 months to live. When I worked as a naturopath in Scotland for about 15 years I had several excellent books on “nature cure”, which included juice fasting and 100% raw food diets. These old naturopaths attested to many cures of so called incurable diseases that mainstream medicine had nothing to offer other than paliative drugs.
    Even as recently as 2 years ago, if ever I wanted to refer somebody to a few food institute or a reference to read testimonials from people who actually got cured, I could do it with a Google search. I know that mainstream medicine always pooh poohed these kinds of natural therapeutics, but people could still learn about them. And get inspired by reading what they had to say. One of the most famous institutes was in Boston and another big one was obliged to be in Mexico because they couldnt operate in the USA without harrassment.
    Last week when I went on Google to look for some references for my student, I could not find the material I was familiar with. All I could find were third hand articles by sites saying that “such and such claims for raw food have been made”. Apparently Google has purged all the original material and all that is politically correct now is to write in a “neutral” way since only mainstream medical science methods of statistical analysis are now allowed.
    Now, I have a hard science background, I know about control groups and matched populations and that is by far not the only valid method of establishing Truth. Any practitioner who has been working for some years and is using a particular protocol knows quite well how well it works, or if it does or doesnt. If she or he has seen 50 patients over the years and observed dramatic results in cases that mainstream medicine has given up, that is important information to take seriously. And also, the enthousiasm that such a practitioner or some of his/her patients might communicate to others on the web is part of how we assess something we might want to try.
    But now we have made a religion of a particular kind of science. The science used to test agricultural fields when 10 acres are sewn with x seeds and 10 other acres are sewn with y seeds. This is the R. A. Fisher science and its perfectly valid for such trials and also quite useful for drug treaments with hundreds or thousands of people, matched for age and other variables. But its by no means the only method we can use to gain valid information about our world.
    Now it seems that Google, which was once a terrific tool to learn more about options of all sorts, is only allowing what our main stream media and Gevernment want us to learn about.
    We live in difficult dark times. And they are getting darker and darker from where I sit and watch.
    In 2017 you turned me on to Paul Craig Roberts and the world of alternative news. For many years I read him daily and other sources that I got from links he posted. However, for the last year his articles have mostly been about how “white people” are being disenfranchised by “non-white” people. I still check his website every few days but for a long time I’ve found nothing on it that I can relate to. Some of the other alternative sites have either been kicked off the internet altogether, or like “Russia Today”, once it was forced to accept the designation of a “foreign agent”, is also no longer a source of what Russians think about the world. Its all about American news. Al Jezerra out of Qatar was once a great indepenent source of news of the world from the Ara point of view. Then it sold itself out to Rupert Murdock and is now nothing more than another sounding board for main stream western media. As soon as they talk about the “regime” in Syria, I know full well I will not be getting news, rather I will be getting the garbage put out by the evil empire and its vassels.
    Depressing really. I guess it is especially depressing to me because I sit here in a California care home unable to participate in working for the kind of cooperative world I want, “peace, partnership and sustainability”. This takes energy and you still have plenty of it. All I can do is play cards and wait for my personal end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jock,
      Thank you so much for your testimony. You can still write and speak your truth, as can I and everyone who still has breath. Do not discount the importance of that. Like drops of water falling on stone truth erodes error and falsehood. Wishing you peace, joy and contentment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Tom. My grand mother who was my dads mom was from Wooster, Ohio and I have ben there. She lived to be 102 and I live in her old home here where you came to visit. She was Methodist but this is a great article and a lesson to us all. Always good to hear from you and one of these days real soon we will get it I pray, before this system tanks. (Someone once called our money system “the drug of choice.” Mike

    Liked by 1 person

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