Stephen Scott, an excellent interpreter of Amish culture, has written that "the Amish faith is not bound to dead traditions. Instead it is a living faith that meets the challenges of contemporary society and is equipped with the godly traditions of their forebears to stabilize and guide them. They do not blindly accept the old ways. Rather, they scrutinize 'the way we always did it'..."
The carriage, or buggy as we non-Amish call it, may not have changed a great deal in design, but now the body of the carriage is mostly made of fiberglass rather than wood. I was at an auction a few years ago because I wanted to buy a buggy for display. I looked at several that were to be sold, a total of around 100. I was inspecting one when an Amishman came along, pulled up the carpet on the buggy floor, grunted the word "wood," and went on to look at the next one. I marked this one down as a buggy to bid on. As I expected, when that carriage came up for sale, I was able to get it cheaply, since few boys or men today want a buggy made entirely of wood!
In fact, the Amish have for many years been adopting, or perhaps better put, adapting new technologies. For me at least, it seems the Amish have more of a problem with the impact of the media than with the technology itself. Visitors would be surprised to find some of the "modern conveniences" that are used on the farm, in the home, and at Amish businesses. As many writers have noted, the Amish are "selective" in what they accept.
The Amish use fairly modern farm equipment, as long as horses pull it. Tractors were not accepted for fieldwork, just for stationary power, such as operating the ensilage cutter. But hay balers and other gasoline-powered equipment can be pulled through the fields by horses.
Likewise, while the Amish can ride in cars and buses, they cannot own them. Cars break down the family and community through their mobility, and are seen as a negative influence to be limited and controlled.
One major change came when the Lancaster Amish needed to cool their milk in bulk tanks rather than milk cans. Bargaining between the Amish and the milk companies resulted in a resolution in 1969. As described by Donald Kraybill, "The bishops would accept bulk tanks if their refrigeration units were powered by diesel engines. They also agreed to automatic agitators run by a 12-volt battery, recharged by small generators."
Almost any electrical appliance can be adapted to work off of alternate power, such as compressed air. Some Amish women have been using compressed air to power blenders in the kitchen for years. In one house, compressed air powers a water pump, sewing and washing machines, and drills and saws in the shop. Some Amish businesses have as their specialty adapting such appliances so they can be powered by compressed air.
Probably the most dramatic changes came with the rise of Amish cottage industries, especially woodworking and furniture making, where modern machinery is operated by sometimes ingenious combinations of diesel engines used to power hydraulic and air pumps that replace the electric motor. Now often dubbed "Amish electricity," it serves the Amish well.
An Amishman who does accounting operates his computer with car batteries. An inverter changes the 12-volt direct current to 110-volt alternating current for computer. A typewriter business adapts electronic typewriters to operate off car batteries in this way. An Amish library once did the same thing to power their microfilm reader.
He posed the question of whether we "moderns" make technology and machines our servants, or if it is the other way around? I find it interesting that many science fiction books and movies, from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to the TERMINATOR series, will focus on the threat of machines taking over our lives, and possibly destroying humanity. Certainly in the area of warfare, we have possessed that ability for decades.
But the Amish concern is not just over how technology might change the community, but also the individual. One man noted that it's not just what or how you use a technology, but "what kind of person you become when you use it." When I asked an Amishman why an electric refrigerator was not acceptable, but a propane gas one was, he simply said, "You've never seen a bottled gas television set, have you?" The implication here was not that electricity was bad. The concern was what would come with it --- TV, radio, computers, the internet, and all the influences of the modern world and media. "Electricity is a hotline to the modern world."
Some modern writers have suggested that many of us are "neo-Amish" or "techno-selectives." Like the Amish, we "draw the line" on technologies we will use, or try to put limits on them. But, rather than the community deciding on these things, as the Amish would, we each decide on our own what technologies we will and will not use, and how.
Gene Logsdon has written that our challenge is "to develop a humane and ecological technology where people and nature need not be sacrificed to speed and greed." We need to negotiate between humans and hardware. Some people head to the mountains or some isolated spot in the world to get away from modern life and its hectic pace, but they take their computers and modern equipment with them to stay in touch with the world they are leaving behind.
(Images from Toner - Serge melki-eebeejay-cindy47452-csyork65-yooperann-foxgirl- from Flickr )
|Amish Propane lamp|
So, are there things we can learn from the Amish, without actually becoming Amish? Surely. Here is one of my favorite Amish quotations, taken from the Small Farm Journal, Summer, 1993...
If you admire our faith --- strengthen yours.
If you admire our sense of commitment --- deepen yours.
If you admire our community spirit --- build your own.
If you admire the simple life --- cut back.
|Don't miss the next post from Jean as fire strikes her home !|