Are you a Luddite?
“Okay.....NOW what’s happening? Why is it doing this?” (In place of “WTF?!”)
Anyone who ever used a computer before has uttered these words or something very similar in agonizing frustration. Even those of you who might consider yourselves “Lords” of the computer have probably said this on more than one occasion.
I think most of us often curse technology and wistfully long for past times of simplicity....times when there were no computers, when we didn’t have to pay for television reception, and we rarely (if ever) received a soliciting phone call. Hell, I’m still one of the few people I know who doesn’t even own a cell phone.
But at times like this we overlook the fact that these same technologies, which we denounce, usually make our lives so much more productive, rewarding and colorful. We just seem to forget that while we’re shouting out curses. For instance: In the old days, our TV’s only received three networks that shut down at 1:00 AM. So paying for cable or satellite might be worth it.
And you can always (like I do) simply tell those annoying phone solicitors that you are a police detective, that they’ve reached a murder scene, and that they are now part of a criminal investigation. I mean, have fun with it! When you ask them their name and other personal questions, they usually hang up. I read somewhere about doing this and I’ve tried it a few times. It really does freak ‘em out! But getting back to it, I really do have to remind myself that most new stuff is way better than the old stuff and the old ways of doing things.
In England, back in the early 1800’s, a movement was begun to protest and to actually sabotage new technology in the form of machinery that eliminated jobs of working people. These folks were called the “Luddites”. The term evolved to describe anyone who is against technological progress. I was pondering this the other day (the pros and cons of modern technology) while I was out on a long country putt.....
I eventually ended up on a gravel and dirt road, and I stopped on a shaded stone bridge overlooking a little whitewater creek to take a break and have a smoke. I was thinking about my sympathy for the Luddites, when by coincidence a little two-wheeled and topless Amish buggy came along, which isn’t that uncommon in my part of the state. As the young Amish man driving it nodded to me in his passing, his buggy chose that exact moment to break its axle. It must have been cracked and just decided then to give out.
I walked over to him as he climbed down mumbling Amish profanities, and I asked if there was any way I could help. He asked if I had a cell phone, and I replied, “No, sorry.” wondering if his beliefs allowed him to use a phone if I had one, and who would he call? I mean, do they have some kind of towing service? Then I realized of course they do. It’s called a horse. And one was standing right there looking back at us. Anyway, instead I offered him a roll of duct tape that I keep in my bags and suggested that might work. I then climbed under the buggy and supported the axle while he wrapped it up tight. Of course, to get himself and the broken buggy home, he’d have to keep weight off the axle by leading the horse on foot.
When we were finished with that very temporary roadside rigging, the Amish man and the (what they call) English man sat on the stone wall of the bridge for a few minutes bullshitting as we relaxed before he started home and before I climbed back on the scoot to continue my ride.
He had a beard, which indicated to me (from what little I knew about the Amish) that he was married. His name is Jacob Miller, his trade within his community is that of harness-maker, and he has a shop in Middlefield (a town close to where we were). I jokingly told him that he could sell lots of hand-made leather goods at motorcycle swap meets. But surprisingly he had already been told that by many of the local bikers who have patronized his shop for saddlebag and seat repairs. We only spoke for a little while, but in that short time I learned a few interesting things about his culture.
For instance: Though the younger ones usually speak plain English to each other and in public, their “old folks” usually speak a Dutch dialect. Yet oddly enough, they historically come from Swiss/German stock, not Dutch.
Amish do not play any musical instruments, nor do they even pay that much attention to music in any form. The reason for this is that their society frowns on any kind of attention drawn to the individual, and playing a musical instrument or singing certainly does that, as does dancing.
This is also why they have a problem with having their photo taken. I heard this when I was young (about not wanting tourists to take their pictures), but assumed it was a fear of participating in some kind of “technological sin” instead of their avoidance of any focus on the individual. They consider it a sin of vanity to allow themselves to be singled out in any way.
Also, they don’t have or use churches. They take turns using their big farm houses to congregate. I’ve always thought that in our culture, spending big bucks on stone and stained glass churches and cathedrals is sinful and a huge waste of money that should be spent on the poor, or at least on buildings that would be better used as homeless shelters. After all, originally in biblical times, a “House of God” was a tent. Soon the clergy started wanting temples, then cathedrals, and so forth. Seems to me that the “House of God” has become a “House of Religion” for the clergy to use how they see fit and I bet God rarely goes there. But, that’s enough of my twisted opinions for now. (I guess I shoulda been a preacher.)
A few months ago I cracked a very tasteful joke in a column about an audience of bikers being unimpressed with a talk I once gave (because the microphone was turned off). I compared them to a room full of stern Amish men with moustaches. After meeting Jacob and then doing a bit of research on Amish for this column, I found that the reason they never wear moustaches with their beards is due to the customary moustaches that military personnel wore when the Amish and Mennonite sects were first formed in Europe hundreds of years ago. Way back then they showed their distaste and separation from anything military by not growing them. And they’ve since maintained the practice. Obviously they don’t readily accept change.
Ya know I am probably one of the most self-indulgent people in the world. If it feels good: I wanna feel it. If it’s fun: I wanna do it. If I can do something the easy way as opposed to the hard: I choose the former. To me, that all just makes common sense. And I’ve never been ashamed of this because I try to make sure my self-indulgence never negatively affects anyone other than myself. I believe I’ve pulled my own weight through life and haven’t ever really asked for anything I haven’t earned.
The very concept of someone intentionally denying themselves even basic comforts, let alone wanting to work hard for absolute necessities in this day and age, astounds and mystifies me. Because of this, I can’t even imagine anyone willing to go outside to an outhouse on a cold and snowy night when they could use a heated, clean, well-lit bathroom with hot and cold running water. Or HAVING to chop wood, or doing any of the other things required for survival the hard and tedious way as the Amish do. But that’s their choice. And though sometimes I might NOT admire a person’s culture or beliefs, I try to respect their choices and not condemn them.....as long as those choices are made voluntarily and don’t hurt anyone else.
All Amish are given the choice to live that life when they approach maturity, and are (more or less) urged to act and look like (what we think of as normal) teenagers before they become full-fledged adult members of the Amish community. This is called “Rumspringa”.
You might have heard stories of how Amish teens put on “cool” clothes, smoke cigarettes and drink on Saturday nights without realizing that their families are expecting, condoning, and actually urging and promoting this behavior to get it all out of their systems before the teen makes his or her permanent choice to remain Amish. After that, if they stray in ANY way they are “shunned”, which means that the rest of the community can’t do business with, or even look at or talk to them. Apparently there are currently a few television reality shows about all that.
Prior to Rumspringa, as children growing up as they do, well it must be like a little kid being raised as some kind of pioneer child. It might even be kinda fun with all those brothers and sisters. And Amish families ARE huge. I know whenever a bike passes a slew of Amish kids playing in their front yard, the kids always wave enthusiastically at the bikers, and they appear to be happy. At least they’re not glued to a TV or a video game blissfully imagining themselves to be blood thirsty monsters and/or violent street gangsters with automatic weapons murdering everyone in sight. But unfortunately, their education does seem to lack much sophistication.
There are currently over 249,000 Amish and over 323,000 Mennonites in the United States alone. That’s over ˝ million people! And many more that we never hear about are scattered all over the world. It just baffles me that so many decide to stay Amish (90%) when given the choice after tasting that period of independence. But a lot of shit baffles me. Always has.
Yet one thing that I AM sure of is if we ever pulled a “reverse” Rumspringa by sending OUR kids (who are accustomed to OUR self-indulgent culture) to live on an Amish farm for a month or two (sort of an Amish “boot-camp”), they’d come back to us MUCH more appreciative of what they have and what they can do. And, they’d even probably come home speaking plainer English!
Well, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and I’m outta here. I just thank MY God that instead of Jacob’s little ONE horse powered buggy, I got me a SIXTY-EIGHT horse powered scoot!