Saturday, September 5, 2009

Amish Staying Off the Grid


The Amish are the ultimate paleoconservatives, not merely eschewing technology, as is sometimes supposed, but avoiding connectedness to the outside world, precisely because too much connectedness might erode their established social patterns (and displease God in the process).

Thus, online is probably the last place an Amish newspaper should be, and even if you question the wisdom of being Amish in the first place, you have to think one Amish paper’s decision not to go online is probably apt, despite the Net’s obvious efficiency. They’ll have to work a bit harder, though. And as Labor Day approaches, I’m reminded again that I think efficiency and the never-ending quest to do things the easy way are the real founts of human productivity and creativity, not the masochistic valorization of labor for its own sake. But again, the Amish aren’t just laboring — they’re working to preserve a specific mode of life. So be it.

Fortunately, the practice of rumspringa allows the young to spend some time in the non-Amish world, letting them make a slightly more informed choice about whether to remain in the community (most do). I think that was the topic of the entire hour of last night’s 20/20 broadcast, but I no longer have TV reception, so between that and the lack of cell phone or electronic social networking membership, I’m a little bit Amish-like myself, I suppose.

Which is more freedom-enhancing, I often anarchically ask myself: being off the grid or online? It’s hard to do both, and each has its advantages, one fostering the isolation that often maintains community (or individual autonomy) and the other fostering the efficiency that enables communities to form and spread and fulfill members’ desires. Perhaps best not to pretend we should all choose one or the other, like a war of Luddites vs. robots.

On a related note, I will mark Labor Day with a little look back at the most important paleo in my life so far.

P.S. I don’t think self-conscious irony, such as saying “We realize the irony in putting our Amish newspaper online,” would work for the Amish — but I really did correspond back in the 90s with contributors to an online neo-Luddite magazine called InFormation who took that self-consciously ironic approach — and not wholly hypocritically, since an important part of their argument was that we have little choice but to use tech if we want to keep up these days, and that’s often a grind in itself (I agree, as my late maternal grandfather, who lived in the same small farmhouse for eighty years, likely would too). Inevitably, though, it comes off sounding a bit like Sideshow Bob (a character from the television machine) saying he’s aware of the irony of condemning TV while he’s on the Jumbotron.

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