by Carolyn Baker on 25 July 2008 in http://carolynbaker.net
Anyone who has read my autobiography knows that there is much in my family history of which I am not proud. However, as with most human beings, there is at least one aspect of my heritage for which I am deeply grateful: having ancestors and relatives in the Amish community. Although I do not have frequent contact with the community, earlier in my life I spent years in close proximity and have learned a great deal firsthand about and from these amazing human beings and their
This past week I had the opportunity, while visiting family in Northern Indiana, to spend a day with Amish relatives. Unlike my associations with them previously, this visit was colored by my acute awareness of civilization's collapse and the ramifications of that reality for most of us. With that in mind, I keenly observed and discussed their lifestyle with them as gas prices now loom toward $5 per gallon. I came away from the experience with an unprecedented conviction
that in order to survive and perhaps even thrive in the throes of collapse, it will be necessary to adopt a number of aspects of the Amish lifestyle.
Perhaps most obvious is the reality that the Amish do not own or drive cars although they are not averse to riding in them or using public transportation. It should be understood that Amish practices vary according to geographic location. For example, Amish in Pennsylvania have different practices than those in Indiana or Ohio; however, no authentically Amish person anywhere in North America owns or drives a car. For local transportation, the horse and buggy are used, and
for long-distance travel, busses, trains, or the hiring of drivers of vans or cars is commonplace. Thus, the Amish are not impacted as we are by high gas prices. They use sparse amounts of gasoline to power small motors around their homes and farms that power refrigerators, washing machines, and pump running water. Many Amish farms have giant windmills that also pump water for home and farm animal consumption.
The meal I shared with my Amish relatives a few days ago consisted of a delicious salad comprised of vegetables from their garden, chicken butchered on their farm, and an assortment of other foods all raised and prepared by them.
After dark the Amish rely on Coleman lanterns for light; however, some communities use only candles and kerosene lamps. In any event, all are off the grid and do not utilize electricity, natural gas, or home heating oil. Woodstoves provide heating, and wood fuels the kitchen stove on which meals are cooked. For small meals a Coleman camping stove may be used which is fueled by propane canisters. Some more conservative
branches of the community do not have indoor plumbing at all, do not use gasoline-powered motors, do not have refrigerators, couches, or stuffed chairs. They use no running water, but only windmills and hand pumps.
The principal occupation of the Amish community is farming, but over the decades, higher prices for land and equipment have necessitated their having jobs off the farm. Amish men frequently work in a nearby town, and many men and women have small home businesses such as harness making, furniture building, weaving, and a variety of other crafts that they sell on the farm or in town at flea markets or may place in stores on consignment. They take enormous pride in making
things and doing so with extraordinary care and craftsmanship. For the most part, the Amish cherish self-sufficiency and not having to depend on working outside the home for their sustenance.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Amish community is their commitment to taking care of each other. Just as no authentic Amish person drives a car, none has insurance of any kind. Amish 'insurance', as they are fond of saying, is their community. If a member of the community accumulates enormous medical bills, a collection is taken, and with it, the bills are paid. If a house or barn burns, the community rebuilds it. Litigation in their community is unknown in terms
of their taking anyone to court as they do not believe in lawsuits. Moreover, the Amish are pacifists who do not believe in retaliation of any kind, physical, emotional, or legal.
One may be tempted to assume that Amish separateness from the non-Amish community causes them to be isolated or uninformed, but quite the opposite is true. They read local newspapers and have one of their own the Sugarcreek Budget, established in 1890, with circulation throughout the North American Amish community. While the Amish do not own computers, they may use them in work outside the home, and some are familiar with the Internet.
Almost every Amish family is aware of and practices some form of alternative medicine. The use of herbs, home made salves, poultices, and massage therapy permeates the community. While they utilize traditional medicine, they also rely on other modalities such as chiropractic medicine.
The Amish community in North America is generally aware of where the non-Amish world is headed. They see collapse writ large and have a variety of opinions about it. Some fear that as the collapse of civilization accelerates, the non-Amish world will beat down their doors to steal their food and other resources. Other Amish people look forward to teaching the non-Amish about sustainable living if they are asked to do so. When I asked one Amish man recently how he would
feel if the non-Amish came to him in droves asking to be taught how to survive, he smiled and replied, 'That would be our greatest pleasure.' Overall, the Amish do not experience as much anxiety about collapse as non-Amish collapse-watchers may simply because they have a very long history of self-sufficiency and taking care of their families and community members, and they rely on that experience to sustain them in exceedingly difficult times.
I do not mean to idealize the Amish community or imply that it is without its flaws. I recoil at its gender roles and divisions of labor according to gender, as well as the enormous size of families in the community, parents typically producing eight to ten children. The Amish only provide education for their children through the eighth grade, but speaking as they do both English and a German dialect, they graduate young people who are both very well-educated and bilingual.
Each time I am privileged to associate with the Amish I am deeply touched by their warmth, generosity, and well-I really can't think of a more apt word than love. Despite their rigid gender roles and proliferating birth rate, I know that if I were in dire straights, I could turn to them and be given what I need. In that sense the movie 'Witness' was spot-on in its portrayal of one Pennsylvania Amish family who gave respite and healing to a severely wounded Philadelphia
detective being pursued by colleagues in his homicide unit whose corruption he had courageously uncovered.
The Amish live, rather than merely teach or preach, the values of Christ and other great spiritual teachers. They demonstrate the Golden Rule daily and seek to live peaceably with all beings. In the days of the military draft, young Amish men registered as conscientious objectors and worked in hospitals to serve their country as medical assistants rather than participate in war. Every Amish man and woman's life is about some aspect of service whether in a formally structured
setting or simply living a life of service in relation to his/her fellow humans. And while their religion is Christian and not animistic, they revere the earth as a gift from the creator-a gift which they cherish and endeavor to consciously protect and preserve.
An extraordinary book offering a deeper, unbiased understanding of the Amish community is Joe Mackall's Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among The Amish. Like me, Mackall stands in awe of the bonds of community that sustain the Amish, and their world view, which I believe has caused them to endure and equips them with the individual and social qualities necessary for navigating the collapse of civilization.
While I believe that the Amish will be impacted by severe economic meltdown, climate change, and all other aspects of empire's unraveling, I suspect that they will suffer less physical and emotional loss than their non-Amish neighbors because of the values and behaviors that have sustained them for centuries. In my opinion, they are consummate role models of simplicity, sustainability, and compassionate service to the earth community.