The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

But Can You Take the Country out of the People?

I was cruising around some blogs that I visit with irregular regularity and found an interesting discussion (stemming out of the need of Tsunami survivors, I think) about the best way to get technology to rural areas. At the first read, I made some lame comment about technology improving the lives of rural folk by improving the speed and/or efficiency of the work that they do: a tractor rather than oxen to pull implements through the fields; heat lamps to keep hatched chicks warm. That sort of thing. The writer of the original blog went on to speak about bringing progress to these folks, how important he felt it was that the rural folk have all the advantages of the 'citified' modern folk.

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if we are doing anyone a favor, trying and succeeding to modernize them, 'progress' them into what we deem is a more productive life.

Do we really have to stick our noses into everyone's business? I feel those rurals who want to progress into a more mechanized world will make themselves known, come up to some city guy and say, "Hey - I hear you have a tractor for sale. I am tired of caring for oxen. Show me what you've got."

I look at 'progress' as industry driven. When I visit Heritage Village, a local park kept in its rural glory, I marvel at the things I see. Baby clothing hand made in neat and economical stitches, so finely done that it exists today, over a hundred years since it was created and worn time and time again. You see the kitchen as it was then - no refrigeration, no electric oven or microwave. Outside is a smokehouse, not a bar-b-que grill. I am thinking of the old methods of washing clothes, of rug beaters, not vacuum cleaners. Diapers were cloth, not disposable creations.

Today children argue over whose turn it is to load or unload the dishwasher. We grumble if it takes too long to warm up a dinner (made by someone else) in our microwave ovens. Yet with all our time-saving devices, few of us has the time to do things like the fine stitching to dress a child, the making of lace; we haven't the time for knitting winterwear, reading good books, helping our neighbors. What happened to all the time we saved by our adapting to progress? Do we love our families more? (When we can find them) Are we more devout in our faith? And why are we so stressed when we have all these conveniences, and don't even have to rush to preserve our food when it is taken from the fields?

I am not a big fan of progress, although I must admit I am rather fond of my computer and its wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. I am pleased that there is a formulation of cat food that helps keep my cat's teeth clean, prevents most hairballs, and keeps her coat shiny and soft. It allows me to have a pet in my apartment, whereas without it she would be running the streets like her forebears seeking out mice and rats and other anti-societal creatures. I would not want to share my bed with her, under those circumstances.

It has something to do with attitude, I think. At county fairs there used to be competitions among neighbors of real everyday skills: quilting, woodworking, that sort of thing. At fairs now, the only ones to enter those contests are hobbyists. People go to the fair to show off their best, and progress makes that best a more level playing field. Real skill isn't at task any more.

And now I think I have come full circle. Those who want to 'progress' the rurals - whether those displaced due to Tsunami or those who just live out of city limits - want them to have a level playing field. I would say this is something that should be offered as an alternative. I bet there are some who wouldn't trade in the hard work and its rewards for the 'easier' life 'progress' presents, with all its stress and related ills.

I don't want to see 'progress' being forced on anyone. If we do "take the people out of the country" and citify them - will they not lose some of the best parts of themselves to the city? Over generations we have shown it is possible to take the country out of the people and now they are just like us.

I hate the arrogant idea that everyone wants to be just like us. Everybody doesn't. Help is one thing. We need to help with the kind of help they ask from us. We need to let them decide how much 'progress' they want to accept. And we need to respect the choices they make.

I need to take a nap now. Technology wears me out.

The soapbox is now open.



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