We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
As our News Junkie has noted in a link to Ed Driscoll, the Left has been behaving in ways that seem oddly, well, conservative in recent years. This behavior has been especially pronounced in the area of agriculture, where the fanatical opposition to genetic engineering, antibiotic feed additives and modern methods of farming and animal husbandry seems bizarrely Luddite for a faction which likes to wear the badge of science on its chest when shouting down evangelicals.
Take Michael Pollan's recent book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, where the left-wing New Yorker, anti-corporate and anti-factory-farm Pollan finds his utopia not in some Berkeley commune or fetishized indigenous village, but on a Virginia farm - not too far from Monticello, incidentally - run by a right-wing Christian fellow. The anti-corporate and pro-animal welfare concerns of the left and the anti-government, pro-traditionalist views of the right approach each other and, for an instant, cross paths. In its hurried dash away from big agriculture, the Left does not run into Karl Marx, but into Thomas Jefferson and the image of the virtuous republican farmer, tending to his fields and animals without help from nitrogen fertilizer, tomatoes from Monsanto, or growth-promoting antibiotics.
In this ideological battle, the anti-agribusiness left has aspired to portray itself as latter day Jeffersonian faction, fighting the perceived intrusion of the Hamiltonian merchant and manufacturing class into the livelihood of the free and independent farmer.If it sounds too absurd to be true, consider Jefferson’s own articulation of the plight of the farmer versus that of the manufacturer:
“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. .... Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on casualties and caprice of customers. Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” –Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787
This statement seems hardly relevant at a time when less than two percent of Americans make their living through farming, and where those few remaining farmers are totally dependant on products designed by scientists and supplied by manufacturers.Even at the time Jefferson was writing it may have seemed more romantic wishfulness than sound economic reasoning.Today’s “Conservative Left,” however, seems determined not just to stop the clock, as Jefferson wished to do, but to grab hold of the hands and turn it back.Many technological advancements are spurned as being tools of corporate control, while the appeal to nature is invoked frequently to justify the adoption of traditional farming methods.
The libertarian successor to Jefferson merely wishes to be able to run his family farm as he wishes without burdensome federal regulations which disadvantage small farms and traditional methods.He does not seek to impose his farming methods on others.The conservative leftist, on the other hand, like his forebears, tends to view things in revolutionary terms, with a creeping capitalism as the age-old enemy.Rarely discussed are the potentially catastrophic consequences of serious state tampering with modern agricultural methods.The rather poor record of the Left in implementing agricultural revolutions during the past century – comrade Mugabe, in Zimbabwe, being only the latest in an undistinguished chain – does not inspire much confidence.
Where the two points of view do overlap, and the Conservative Leftist meets the nature-loving, self-sufficient Libertarian or Conservative, there are actually worthwhile insights.Michael Pollan’s work is an good starting point for these, and rather than continue, I will defer to his excellent book, linked above. For the moment, though, a few words from Joel Salatin, whose Staunton, VA farm was the object of Pollan's admiration:
"I don’t ask for a dime of government money. I don’t ask for government accreditation. I don’t want to register my animals with a global positioning tattoo. I don’t want to tell officials the names of my constituents. And I sure as the dickens don’t intend to hand over my firearms. I can’t even use the “U” word.
On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system — and it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength. The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe. The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers." -Joel Salatin, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal!, 2003.
Thanks for the Salatin link. He sounds a great deal like Gene Logsdon, the author of "The Contrary Farmer". It seems Mr. Salatin is scheduled to speak here in Ohio in September. I might just have to go see him ....