I have been traveling more lately and reading such diverse works as The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, an interesting but long-winded testament to the glories of unfettered Capitalism and Technology, published in 2007. Simultaneously I’m reading what could easily be classified as the polar opposite in ideology and practice: Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing, widely considered as the original book on homesteading and the forerunner of the back-to-the-land movement, published in 1954.
I try to approach each of these works as open-mindedly as possible. I am, after all, a big fan of technology: It provides part of our livelihood and sanity, considering I work entirely online, and my only real sense of “local” community exists only in the cyber-world. Thanks to Friedman I also finally understand why in India, China, Japan, and most of the rest of the world they have cheaper, faster, and more reliable cell phone and Internet service than we poor rural folks in America do, and why that won’t be changing any time soon.
Conversely, I see handy hubby and I have much in common with the Nearings. Like me, they lost their teaching jobs – where I lost mine thanks to Hurricane Katrina, they lost theirs thanks to the Depression. They also left the city for a try at self-sufficient living after many years dealing with the disillusionment stemming from hypocritical American politics and a society rampantly chasing materialistic dreams. The Nearings chose their “experiment,” as they themselves called it, not to get away from working hard, but to embrace more meaningful work which was more directly related to “real” life. They also would have preferred a more cooperative or communal environment for themselves, but found there was none that existed in which they could “happily and effectively fit.” Just like us, when they started their adventure they were far from spring chickens, and had no experience at living such a life.
The Nearings were at odds with the 60s hippie “counter culture” as well as with the ideologies and lifestyles of the locals in Vermont. Still, they welcomed them regularly as guests and lodgers, understanding that a real community is not made-up entirely of like-minded individuals, and if it were, I’d be inclined to add, it would be torturously colorless and bland.
Unfortunately, the Nearings and the very many who followed in their footsteps in the 60s never did become part of the mainstream, or even close to it. Many expected it would, and felt even that it was inevitable. Now, 80 years after they first made their move, American politics has in fact become more war-mongering, and mainstream America ever-more materialistic.
Friedman, on the other hand, makes a very cogent argument regarding the market brilliance of Wal-mart, one apt to convince even me that I may have unfairly boycotted them years ago. Still, I won’t go back, as long as I can help it.
So, what exactly is my point? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. But, when I think with my head, I see maybe there is good reason why we need the world to become flat again, and allow the materialism and corrupt values of the American lifestyle to infiltrate the world, since that is what they seem to be screaming for. But when I think with my heart, I’m glad we’re whittling down the ways in which we are collaborators in this insanity.