Sunday, May 29, 2016


Living among and working with the Amish as we do we have ample opportunity to visit many of the Amish small businesses that dot the landscape. From large sawmills and shops that employ dozens with a large sign out front to little single owner stores selling a variety of stuff that you would never know was there unless someone else told you. One of the most surprising things we have learned about real Amish contrasted with the pop culture image of them is that few of the Amish around here are especially skilled craftsmen. Sure they can build houses and barns but virtually all of the work crews in construction have an "English" driver who takes them to  the work-site and once on site they use all manner of means to circumvent their general aversion to technology, using generators and air compressors to run power tools like saws and nail guns. Many Amish businesses run off of huge diesel generators, from dairies and chicken barns to sawmills. It is a common sight to see a team of draft horses pulling a farm implement that runs off of a gas motor being guided by an Amish guy talking on a cell phone. Most Amish farms have a skid loader or three to haul manure and do other tasks that you might assume they would do by hand.

There are Amish who are still actual craftsmen, guys who use the older methods that are slower but tend to be more durable. One of my favorites is a harness maker. His work bench is pictured above and you can see all of the tools of his trade. Around and behind me are very old tools like a foot operated hole punch and a manual sewing machine that looks like it is 100 years old and weighs 100 pounds. I love going to his shop, he is a good natured curmudgeon most of the time but it is a joy to watch him work with leather, real and synthetic, using tools and techniques that are generations old. He has hundreds of little boxes and drawers containing buckles, snaps and who knows what else but he seems to know exactly where everything he needs is. His shop smells of leather and feel as though you have stepped back in time when you are there. While he and others are the exception it is still wonderful to watch someone make something by hand.

The loss of craftsmanship among the Amish is a reflection of the world around us. We live in a day of the disposable, of the cheap and temporary. Very few people buy stuff with any expectation of it lasting very long. Many of the more "durable" items we own are so expensive to fix that it is just easier to throw them away and buy new when something breaks. Being a skilled worker in our society is repugnant to many people. Who wants to learn to weld or build houses or wire a home or fix plumbing? Those are hard and you get dirty so instead of teaching younger generations how to do stuff, we insist that every kid goes to college or face a life of poverty, as if those are the only two choices. This mindset has left us with a huge demand for skilled workers on the one hand and generations of kids who had no real reason to go to college working service industry jobs that don't require the degree they went tens of thousands of dollars in debt to acquire. How many people do you know that come home from work feeling a sense of accomplishment? Don't most people come home dreading the knowledge that they have to go right back to work the next day or if they are lucky it is the weekend and they get a few precious hours off before shuffling back to their jobs on Monday? Work is a terrible drudgery for most people but they have to do it so they can pay for a house that is more lavish than they need, for a new iPhone, for the occasional vacation and for the college education of their kids who can follow in their footsteps. It is little wonder people are so depressed. Very few jobs in our service economy lend themselves to feelings of accomplishment. Sure every job can be a way to glorify God but it almost seems as if our work world is designed to keep people soporific and pliable and of course dependent.

We need to reclaim work, for the sake of ourselves and our children. We need to find and embrace ways to make work meaningful again, to find work that we can take pride in. You don't need to make leather harnesses by hand or build a barn with just a hammer and a saw but you can still be a craftsmen in a myriad of professions. It might mean, well it will mean, getting off the hamster wheel of American vocational drudgery and finding a path other than that which the world says we must not stray from. Our dependence on the institutions that run our lives in education, business and entertainment has left us depressed and diminished as a people. It is time for a new Declaration of Independence, independence from the forces that seek to make captive an entire civilization with false promises of security and the facade of freedom while profiting in gold and power from the labor of the people of America. We shouldn't have to be trapped in an endless cycle of debt and dependence. It is time for We The People to take back our legacy and our identity but only we can do this. It won't be easy but even though we have forgotten this, nothing worthwhile ever is.


Irv Cobb said...

There are many Amish living in northern New York State (St. Lawrence County) who live more distanced from the new ways, at least from my observation. Very seldom do you see the diesel generators or cell phones.

Arthur Sido said...

Hey Irv

I am not as familiar with the Amish up that far but I have been to the community near Mt. Morris in Livingston County, they are an off-shoot of our settlement so they have a similar Ordnung but even these off-shoot settlements can have pretty radically different rules governing the community. It seems in our local settlement that many older Amish are afraid they have let the genie out of the bottle and don't know how to put it back.