Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Better Off Book Club: Section 2

Welcome to the second post of the Better Off Book Club! This is the second of three book club summary and discussion posts, covering the three sections of the book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende.

In Section 2: Growing, Eric gets to know the men in their community a lot better. When Eric goes to his first barn raising he not only gets to know many of the men and starts to feels like he's become a little more part of the community, but he also learns that he and his wife, Mary, aren't the only ones that argue about duties.

He also learns a lot more about individuals' beliefs and how they differ from one another, some leaning towards the more conservative and traditional religious ideals, while others are just more interested in the lifestyle and less on the strict religious aspect.

On the more practical side, Eric also finds that their milk cow is producing far more milk than they can consume either as cheese or in liquid form. Without a fridge, preserving it becomes a problem and, rather than throw it out, the neighbors' suggest they get a pig to take care of the extra.

In the first chapter in this section, Mary finds out that she's pregnant and becomes rather homesick. They take a road trip to scout out areas that they might end up once their 18 months are up but aren't satisfied with any of the places they visit.

Upon their return they decide to visit the local church in hopes of feeling more connected with the community. They were somewhat surprised at how interminable the service was but they felt like they were accepted into the group even though they clearly didn't belong. During the long service, a child begins wailing and the mother immediately takes it outside and spanks the girl for all to hear and the author offers some insight into the occasion:
What about this practice of spanking cranky children in church? I didn't dwell on it at the time, but later I reflected a little. For the most part, these young ones are supremely well-behaved. The reason is manifest. In the strict German tradition of child-rearing, which these immigrant-descendants retain, disobedience to parental will is simply not tolerated. The slightest lapse or transgression is roundly rewarded, so it takes only a few lessons before the child wises up. This unflinching submission to authority may help to explain why even Amish adults submit meekly to the regimentation of Old Order groups.

1. Were you surprised at Mary's pregnancy? Did you think that it would prevent them from finishing their stay?

2. When they were disappointed with the cities they visited when scouting out a place to live after the 18 months are done, did you think they would stay where they are or move out of the area as soon as possible?

3. What did you think about the whole section on spanking the kids in church? Is it something you agree with or not?

4. Eric argues that, in order to embrace simplicity, going motorless is critical. That the hidden costs of automated devices goes hand in hand with an upward spiral of material wants. Do you agree? Are machines the gateway drug to excessive materialism?

5. In this section, Cornelius claims that you couldn't do what they do without Christianity. That living simply would have no value without Christianity. What do you think?


Adrienne said...

I read this a while back, but let's see if I can remember enough to answer the questions...

1. I really feel that pregnancy should *never* be a surprise. I don't believe the author mentioned anything about birth control (or lack thereof) being part of their simple lifestyle... this is a pretty personal choice, though.

2. I thought they would stay rather than move to someplace that didn't seem suitable.

3. Honestly I wish more parents would take their kids out of someplace when they cry/ act out, and discipline them (assuming the child is old enough to know better.) I'm not anti-spanking but there are other methods that work.

4. I somewhat agree with this. Once you allow one motorized thing it'd be much easy to allow another. Of course it depends on the individual and how disciplined you can be about using/not using certain things.

5. Baloney. There are plenty of communities around the world that live simply. Many of them do have shared religious ideals but not all are Xian. I believe that having shared ideals is far more important than religion and certainly if religion is involved it does not have to be Christianity.

Annie Jones said...

My answers will be much like Adrienne's above.

1. With a young, newly married couple, I don't think it's ever much of a surprise when the woman gets pregnant. I didn't think it would have much of a bearing on their decision whether to stay or go.

2. I thought they would stay with the Minimites for as long as it took for them to find the location they were seeking.

3. I do not attend church, but in other public places, disciplining kids can be a touchy subject. Not enough discipline and you're considered too permissive and lax. Too heavy a hand, and you're abusing your child. It's a tough call.

4. Yes, in some cases, I think they are. I think most of us have grown up with automobiles and would have a hard time adapting to life without them. But, in my opinion, I think that mostly-useful devices such as home computers and basic cell phones have lead to mostly-extraneous devices such as MP3 players, "smart" phones, GPS systems, etc.

5. I don't agree. Perhaps that's because I consider myself agnostic and am still drawn to this type of lifestyle in many ways. I think a certain mindset is required to thrive in this kind of extreme simplicity, but I don't agree that religion is the only thing that can give it value.

Dea-chan said...

I haven't read the book, so I cannot comment on much of this discussion, however, the fact that someone feels Christianity is a REQUIREMENT for anything is really discomforting. I believe that religion is one of those things that people often get upon their high horse for, and mine would be that Christianity has not place at all in the world to begin with! :-P

I hope that the theme of religion is not a major one in the book, as I had intended on reading it at some point. I'm going to assume that it's less in-your-face when it's put in context.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Dea-chan - No, religion doesn't really come off as an overwhelming part of the book.

Terra said...

1. Oh God, no, I wasn't surprised. Young and horny + faithful Catholics + anti-technology just screams pregnancy to me. I don't think they were surprised either. I never thought it would prevent them from finishing out their stay.

2. I assumed they'd move on. It was pretty clear they wanted to be near a more familiar religious community, and after the baby came that probably got stronger.

3. I think he brought it up to illustrate a point about how obedience is taught in that community. I think kids are under-disciplined these days. I won't say spanking is part of the solution, but never calling your kid out for bad behaviour is a problem. And I'm a parent - I remove my kids from situations when they aren't behaving; I don't make others suffer.

4. I somewhat agree. Well, I totally agree, I guess I just wish humans had enough willpower to use awesome automated devices without being addicted to them. But most of us don't.

5. Yeah, whatever. What horrifies me even more about this assertion is that, I think, Cornelius was a teacher. Apparently his world scope was extremely small - many non-Christians live this lifestyle. I can't even begin to understand or respond to what he meant about simply living having no value without being Christian. That's like saying there is no point in being an environmentalist, or wanting more time with your family, or anything, unless you are Christian.

Anonymous said...

I have not read the book but I have to say that it is not necessary to embrace Christianity in order to live simply and be content. I do think, however, it is necessary to embrace some overarching philosophy in order to do so. Whether it's Buddhism, certain of the Pagan sects, Judaism, Gaia-ism, or ecology, something has to drive you to make it a lifetime commitment or eventually you will just simply drift away. You need the community and support of other people who share your commitment,the sort of support you get from a religious or philosophical/ethical group like Christianity, and that's why the Amish have the church at the center of their community.

It's so easy to take the easy way, and it sneaks up on one just a little at a time. Especially in a worlds where living simply is so very challenging, and against the grain of society at large. Living in a community of other people who share the same goals can be a great help in resisting the little sneaky things - especially if they have to be 'legislated' by a group of elders before you can have them, or the threat of banishment hangs over one's head!

Greenpa said...

" In this section, Cornelius claims that you couldn't do what they do without Christianity. That living simply would have no value without Christianity. What do you think?"

I think you have a key insight into the value of all their thoughts and observations, there. They don't see, or think, from the bottom up; but from the top down.

Historically; that kind of thinking leads only to dogma; not new insights.

lazy susie said...

I read this book long ago. Then I sent it off to Africa with a friend who is running a farm the simple way, because that is the only way that he can do it. He was hoping to come back here to live with the Amish and learn their ways. That hasn't happened yet, but I think that we can learn from the Anabaptists. I really enjoyed following the author's learning journey. Something that is interesting is that this happened in my state, so I know what the author ended up doing after his experiment.

Rachel S said...

1. I honestly expected Mary to get pregnant. I felt the author was going for the most extreme/ overwhelming circumstances possible.

2. I thought they would move to a community of more like-minded families. People who didn't enjoy the everyday grind of of 40-60 hour work week,but who used moderate technology.

3. I don't have children so I'm not sure I'm the right person to weigh in on this, however, I would be in favor of spanking my child... maybe because of the way I grew up. Disobedience was not tolerated, regardless of the circumstances.

4. Yes, I agree. Every so often, much to the dismay of people trying to contact me, I simply have to disconnect from the outside world. I feel my most reflective times are when I'm not disturbed by outside forces, whether it be work, social commitmenst, keeping up on what's going on with FB, Twitter or blogs. I am happiest when I connect with people in person; albeit that usually involves a car.

5. Yeah... bullshit. I was raised Jewish and still attend synagogue. There is a sect of Judaism very similar to Amish, but Jewish. I don't think you have to have secular belief in order to attain what this community has. In my opinion, you can create a sense of community of people with the same principles as opposed to the same theological(?) beliefs. I would happily live in this type of community if it was accepting of all religous (or lack thereof) backgrounds. Fundamentally, I anyone as long as s/he believe that people are inherently well meaning.