Friday, August 23, 2013

Hard Working Liberal


A recent commenter wrote: "Where did you get the idea that working hard is a strictly conservative value? Do you honestly think that political liberals know nothing about hard work? This is just basic good stuff, neither left nor right." 

I thought about this.  I never ever said that liberals DON'T work hard or value hard work, or that working hard is only a conservative value.  More than half of my Facebook friends that I know in real life are liberals.  All of them have gone to school and have worked hard at jobs and raising families. The family I grew up in would be considered liberal, and in fact my grandfather was a card carrying union member. He worked hard on the farm and then  as a welder. My grandmother worked the farm and was a church secretary and mom was a public school teacher.  The first 30 years or so of my life, I identified myself as a liberal, as did Mr. Pete and we've always been working class folks. 

So I don't think that liberalism is anti-work, or that liberals know nothing of hard work.  However, now as a conservative and re-verted Catholic for 24 years, I think there is a difference in the ways that liberals and conservatives work and what they choose to put their efforts into.

Case in point- The Farm. Long time readers will know that I have a lot of respect for Ina Mae Gaskin and all that she has done for midwifery over the last two decades. I recently wrote a review of the new movie, Birth Story- Ina Mae Gaskin and the Farm Midwives. So I started wondering about whatever happened to the people that lived on The Farm?  What happened to that big cultural movement that had these hundreds of young, college educated, liberals moving across the country to settle the land and live in a Utopian society - the ultimate socialist experiment in America? 

I found some answers  in the Birth Story movie. One of the older midwives said when she turned 30 she didn't want to live in poverty any more. Some of the others seemed to be dissatisfied with the spirituality of life on the farm.  This made me investigate a bit more and  I came across the article, Why We Left the Farm  by Kevin Kelly and also this website with e-books, Voluntary Peasants.

From the view inside of The Farm experience we see a lot of energetic, excited, hard-working, well-educated young folks coming to work the land in Tennessee.  It's very clear that hard work was a big part of what they signed up for. 

From Voluntary Peasants, which gives a pretty positive perspective of The Farm experience:

We lived simply; ate vegan; had a  school, clinic, doctors, midwives, soy dairy,bakery, motor pool, radio station and hippie Peace Corps. We worked hard and were happy—friends sharing life and a vision of how the world can be.
Imagine never worrying about money; living in the country with friends, growing your own food; building a life in which your work and play are seamless—in harmony with your beliefs and sensibilities. In the words of John Lennon—“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Climax of the 60s, genesis of a bold, social experiment—
Imagine never worrying about money; living in the country with friends, growing your own food; building a life in which your work and play are seamless—in harmony with your beliefs and sensibilities. In the words of John Lennon—“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Climax of the 60s, genesis of a bold, social experiment—a close-knit society of dedicated people working together to save the world—living simply; pooling resources. Told by a founder, builder, 13-year resident member of the extraordinary, collective village—a 24/7 peace demonstration on land twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Fascinating modern, American history, told with humor and far-out perspective.
Often when we hear or read the word commune we think of a lot of people all crowded into one big house. We were that—times 100!  At our peak, The Farm had 1,400 people living in 100 houses. I lived two years in a house with 36 people—men, women, children and babies. The wordcommune, may evoke images of unbathed, lazy hippies, free love, all kinds of drugs, spaciness and anarchy. We believed in marriage and family and worked diligently to be quite the opposite of the lazy hippie stereotype, and we got good results—clean, well-groomed, clear-eyed, on-deck, productive people who gave up all drugs and alcohol, except “the organics,” chiefly—marijuana.



The Why We Left The Farm piece also talks a lot about hard work.  

John: We were trying to create a society with a graceful lifestyle, one that wasn't too rich, where nobody would get hurt. We were trying to set an example for the whole planet. We were trying to arrive at a lifestyle that was within the reach of everybody in the Third World, We did everything we could to live as simple a lifestyle as possible. What we wanted to say was, We are educated people, we're graceful, we are comfortable (that was hedging), and you can be this way too, if you will only care about your brother enough to come down off your high horse and get rid of your Cadillac. 

We were doing it, living communally, brotherhood, love, peace and all that, doing it for everybody. We built the biggest commune of the time - 1,500 people at one point, with a dozen satellite farms around the country. A whole bunch of people learned to grow food, and build houses, and we learned to live with a bunch of other people and what it was like to take care of your own medical trip. And doing it.together made it so a lot of us could do stuff that we wouldn't have been able to do if we?d done it individually. If you had something to do, then you had the strength of a whole lot of people behind you to do it. 



Finally, we had to chainsaw our way through some godforsaken rattlesnake-ridden woods and we stayed there for a few months until we bought some land right down the road. We moved onto it with the school buses. Everybody lived in school buses. A lot of the single people just moved out into their pup tents or little plastic shelters and spent the rest of the fall there. For the first two winters we lived in a school bus, which often was impossible to heat. You'd wake up in the morning with icicles.

: I think you had to have completely lost all faith in America, the whole straight society, and 
everything else to go do something like the Farm. We were saying everything was so totally fucked that you couldn't do anything. You have to start absolutely from scratch with a piece of bare dirt and build everything, including your culture, 

Matthew: There were three cottage industries we were hoping we could make a living with. One was solar electronics and TV satellite dishes, another was the Book Publishing Company, and another was Farm Foods. 

Cliff: Our first year we built a sorghum mill to make sorghum molasses. We called it "Old Beatnik Sorghum Molasses." We cut sugarcane, just like the Venceremos Brigades in Cuba. Machetes and cane knives. All the kids and everyone would pile in the trucks and go out to the fields, cut sorghum cane all day, and bring it back to make Old Beatnik Sorghum Molasses. That lasted for the first three years, until we realized that wasn't going to do it for us. 


Then of course there was also Ina Mae and her midwives delivering babies for strangers, for free.

I think this is the perfect illustration of liberal thinkers who are not afraid of hard work for the sake of everyone living together in peace and fairness.  

The problem of course is that it never works.  13 years after it started, it was mainly over.  The Farm that exists today is entirely different from the one that started in 1971

Again from the Why I Left the Farm article:

Matthew: Everyone wasn't working so hard. Only a couple hundred or so were really earning money.There were 1,500 people there at one point, about half of them children.

Daniel: There were always only 40 or so guys who  were supporting the Farm in terms of cash, but we were still getting more single mothers, still more psychotics; and those same people, who once were supporting maybe 600 people, five years later were supporting 1,500 people.

Sound familiar?


Walter: We weren't covering the bases. We weren't supporting ourselves. The medical care was marginal. There were no boots for the kids in the winter. Roads were so far down the list of priorities that they never got much attention. That's an example of one thing that discouraged and frustrated a lot of people - after ten years there, we still had funky dirt roads and poor sanitation. We were providing homes for lots of people who needed them


John: We weren't really building a community like we should with proper sanitation, housing, a good school and the kind of things that we needed, but we were taking on all these welfare cases. Stephen would talk on Sunday morning about how you can't close your heart, don't get square, because with the good karma, doing good deeds, it'll balance out and blah blah blah. But it didn't really work that way


And then it started degrading into something from Animal Farm or the former Soviet Union

If somebody asked me what I learned from the Farm experience, I would say I learned to kiss ass. To keep my position in Stephen's inner circle I had to learn what to say, but more importantly what not to say. For me, Stephen went from being the best friend I had to being someone that was impossible for me to talk to.

John: The Farm was a diversion of energy in a lot of ways. That energy got diverted to Stephen and taken to Tennessee and isolated so that it continued going while the rest of that culture died, evolved, and went on. There were a bunch of things built into the Farm that made it so the Farm couldn't learn from its mistakes. If we'd bean able to learn from our mistakes and evolve it^d still be happening.


and finally back to reality

Walter: As I understand it now, things have changed, and they seem to be doing a little bit better. Their population is down to around 280. It isn't a collective any more; it's a cooperative. People are working for themselves. Independent families in their own houses on the land, which is just about paid off. It's not really the Farm any longer.

John: Another thing I wouldn't do is have the idea that you are somehow responsible for the whole world. Everybody on the Farm carried around the idea on their shoulders of being responsible for the whole world. Every act, everything you said, everything you did, the way you lived, the way you dressed, everything was having a vast effect all over the planet, and you had to take that into considera tion all the time. With everything you were doing! I think that's nuts. And this was also another thing that prevented us from trying a lot of things. 


So do I believe liberals are hard working?  Absolutely.  But as The Farm experience clearly shows, the way liberal progressives tend to work towards these ideals is always destined to fail.  And that's  probably why The Farm, the great experiment, is just a footnote in 20th century history - if that.  

Except... for the pro-life, wholesome holistic progress made by the midwives - which I think is also very telling. 



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1 comment:

Janette said...

Would you consider the Amish conservative or liberal? They live "the farm" in a cooperative way.
Truly, most of the real liberals I know are in one of three groups.
First are the ultra rich. They didn't make the money. They have figured out ways around giving money back to the government- but they are happy to spend the government's money so they don't have to pay too much to continue their fortune.
Second are the union members. Actually, in reality, most union members I know are very conservative- but they are afraid of losing ground in their wages so they vote liberal.
Last are the college kids, unemployed and poor. Why would you vote to cut your own aide?
I guess last are the die hard abortion/gay rights people....they just want to scream they want what everyone else has---in their own idea of what everyone else has.

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