Lessons From A Mennonite

Submitted by WS

It’s that time of year again. Dread fills me. The beast comes to life with a deep growl. It’s morning time, not too early though. At 8 is when something is expected from this giant lumbering animal. It takes time to warm itself up from the night. Its joints move freely. They’ve been supplemented with something that might be analogous to glucosamine in humans. Thick black grease has been pumped into its exposed articulating arms. The beast is a skeleton without a brain. Pure muscle without flesh. I am its brain and flesh. It’s master for the day. It’s master for weeks. This soulless beast is a massive 8 wheeled tractor with a blade on the front. It doesn’t steer like a traditional vehicle where the front wheels turn in the direction that the machine follows. Instead the entire machine is bisected like an enormous insect. It turns by articulating in the middle. It is much bigger than a normal tractor and it can turn much sharper angles. The blade on the front is functionally that of a bulldozer. 

To view this machine as a giant insect might be more accurate than a beast. For the day, and for weeks on end, it performs one repetitive function. It pushes chopped wheat. The packing tractor is subject to the demands of the hive during the operation. If the swathers —or “windrowers”—begins laying down wheat at 7 in the morning (a time when the dew is sure to be off the plant) and the chopper—more professionally bought and sold as a “self-propelled harvester”—begins picking up the laid down crop and metabolizing it to fill a semi-truck at around 7:30, then there will surely be wheat to push at the “pit” at 8.

The pit isn’t a pit at all. It’s a massive pile of wheat where the length of any bit of given material is no longer than a few inches. It’s finished size will be ~20,000 tons or 40 million pounds of material. If this pit were a pit of humans beings averaging 200 lbs, there would be 200,000 bodies piled up. This pile of bodies would make itself known for centuries.

Its stressful operating the packing tractor. It requires only a bit of skill to actually make a uniform pile. Most people can be trained to do it, but it is not a skill learned in only a week. What makes it stressful is stepping into a machine and knowing, “for the next 9 hours I will be glued to this seat and subject to whatever the chopper sends me.” Four hours pass and lunch is delivered to me. There is no real break. Five more hours pass and my brother will typically take the late shift which drags on for another 3 to 4 hours. Each hour is boring. Each hour the same task is performed ad nauseam.

There’s a minor insanity that washes over you when you have to do the same repetitive task for hours on end inside a piece of machinery. Many men suffer through this experience. Some can get by with a radio and the task at hand and grind the hours out with little complaint. Others, like myself, binge on podcasts and music. It’s unnatural to subject yourself to so many disparate emotions through out the day. If you’re feeling slightly melancholy, you can listen to a sad album, and feel sad out of all proportion. Then oddly enough, you’re stuck with that emotion for awhile. You can binge on information you will never retain. There is little meditation on what you’ve learned from a podcast because immediately after the podcast ends boredom sets in, and another stimulus is required. Soon the stimulus itself becomes intolerable. My dopamine receptors become fried. I’ll sit in silence for the last 2 hours of my shift feeling fidgety and frustrated. Only when I get home and walk outside for a bit do my nerves recover.

When I’m getting burnt out on the tractor I think often about a boy I met last year. We were having trouble at the tail end of the fall harvest, and I had to call a local Mennonite farmer for help. He sent his son in his place as he had other things to do. The boy was 15 years old, we’ll call him Carson. He had a beaming smile, and he had the unnerving habit of staring you right in the eyes constantly as you spoke. Unrelentingly. But he had a smile on his face the whole time. It was only slightly awkward, but he clearly thought nothing of it. I got to ride in the swather that he was operating for a good period of time and had a chance to grill him about all the rumors I heard about Mennonites.

Well, for starters, it was true. They had to take their radio out of their equipment. They sat in silence the entire time they worked. Whether they plowed for 12 hours during a day or swathed for 5. It was only the hum of the engine. He did have a smart phone, but he assured me his dad dowloaded software that prohibited the use of most of the internet and a few of the apps even. I rode with him in his swather and I felt that the silence was kind of strange, but Carson was never bothered by it. “So how do you deal with being stuck in a piece of equipment for hours on end with nothing to entertain you?” I pried. He was happy to answer the question, and I could tell he was brimming with pride in the simplicity of it. “You get used to it.”

On a few occasions I had to give him a ride in my truck when we were moving fields, and I respectfully turned whatever was playing from my radio off. On one ride I made the point to him that his life was surely harder than that of the traditional Amish. He respectfully asked what I meant with his big smile. “Well, you guys are straddling two worlds. You cut out TVs, the radio, music, and most technology, but yet you guys still farm on an industrial scale. You still use modern tractors, GPS, cell phones to communicate, and every other work related innovation, but you don’t get to pass the time easily with technology. That’s half the point of this stuff. A lot of technology helps entertain you to deal with the tedium of dealing with technology that supposedly makes your life easier. The Amish on the other hand, are whole heartedly traditional. Their work is small scaled and varied. There’s no need for a radio because the work isn’t nearly as repetitive or boring. You on the other hand are swathing the same crop for weeks on end stuck inside the cab of a machine.”

Carson bobbed his head thoughtfully. I felt guilty even introducing this line of reasoning to him. It’s rare you come across such a holistic human being at such a young age. This kid arguably knew more about farming than I did. He could match me in mechanical prowess at his young age. He had a religious community that backed his ideas and beliefs and a father who was going to lead him seamlessly into a farming career. I had a twinge of regret bringing up any element of doubt into his life. It dawned on me suddenly that there was nothing I could tell this kid that would enrich his life. At best I could tell him the importance of lifting—he was gangly and approaching 6 foot already—but really, there was nothing an outsider like me could bring to his life. He didn’t really know how to respond to what I said. All he managed to say was, “You’re probably right” with a big smile on his face.

This interaction with Carson left me with a lot to think about. One of which was this— Mennonites surely are the true inheritors of Stoic philosophy. I’m reminded of The Golden Sayings of Epictetus:

“Nevertheless a man should also be prepared to be sufficient unto himself—to dwell with himself alone, even as God dwells with Himself alone, shares His repose with none, and considers the nature of His own administration, intent upon such thoughts as are meet unto Himself. So should we also be able to converse with ourselves, to need none else beside, to sigh for no distraction, to bend our thoughts upon the Divine Administration, and how we stand related to all else; to observe how human accidents touched us of old, and how they touch us now; what things they are that still have power to hurt us, and how they may be cured or removed; to perfect what needs perfecting as Reason would direct.”

Other than that, the concept of community and expectations became a littler clearer. Carson is being asked to do something difficult and he does so willingly and happily because it’s asked of him. People are capable of doing difficult things if you ask difficult things from them. I challenge anybody to take a road trip that exceeds 9 hours in silence by yourself. This kid does it regularly.

It should be noted that these people have powerful communities. This particular Mennonite sect is impressive in its cohesion (and perhaps most sects are). They migrated from Russia to Canada, then finally to the Southwest. It’s not an insignificant feat to stay together for such a long journey while keeping your initial religious principles intact. When I look at the Mennonites there are lessons to be learned. First, simple community rules that must be abided by are tantamount to a community. Similar to what Edward Dutton said about the Trinity in Catholicism. If you believe in the logical absurdity, and don’t question it, then you’re part of the group. If you submit to the absurdity of bouncing around in a tractor all day with nothing to entertain you, then you’re part of the group. Secondly, their particular set of rules precludes them from engaging with the modern world and gaining any political power. This isn’t their goal so it doesn’t really matter to them.

The biggest hiccup in community building on the Right is what rules should be followed. Logically, the rules should enhance one’s life and protect them from some danger, but there is a lot to argue about here. If I say, “No more technology!” It must be defined in what instances. The Mennonites have figured that out for themselves and it serves them. People on the Right will recognize that technology is necessary to engage politically, and so it will have to be further explained when and where technology is justified. Just saying “limit technology” isn’t a rule. It’s just advice, and communities don’t function on advice. Furthermore, I doubt there’s any common opinion on technology among the Right to be agreed upon. And lastly, I’m reminded of the fact that “the Right” doesn’t exist within proximity to itself. Imposing rules is meaningless if you can’t really enforce them. And “community building” is useless if you don’t have an actual community to interact with personally.

All roads leak back to local engagement. But I do believe some “common rules” of the Right to differentiate our broader community from others would be a huge first step in nation building within the borders of the USA. Of course some identifiable rules have already budded. Some include: no being anti-white for political clout, no sucking up to Jews, no sexual deviancy, and no race mixing. These are the only identifiable rules of being part of the so-called Right that seem to be enforced. There’s little more in the way of religion, technology, fitness, consumer choices, drug/alcohol use, etc.

The most obvious question is, should there be hard “rules” for any of these things? Probably not. I wouldn’t want there to be anyways. But some rule regarding some thing will most likely have to be unreasonable and slightly ridiculous, but it will have to exist as a signifier that “Yes, I am making a sacrifice, and I’m part of the group.” How this develops, I have no idea. It will have to be organic—or perhaps I could put my finger on the scale?

If I could propose to codify one non-negotiable rule, it would be physical fitness. If you’re not physically fit, you’re not right wing. The nice thing about this rule is that to my knowledge, no public figure is really violating it. And it allows a level of “no true Scotsman” fallacy to be leveraged in our favor. If someone sends their “God rod” to someone and is getting #metooed, well, was that person even physically fit? If they weren’t then they simply weren’t right wing, and we take no ownership of their actions.

Some hard rules will eventually have to be laid down, we aren’t anarchists. They ought to be attainable with only bit of difficulty and sacrifice. Perhaps when we win, and the ecosystem of our idea flourishes to more complex domains, we can make a rule about industrial agriculture. State mandated private gardens and no food exportation. Maybe I’m reaching (I certainly am), but I’m really sick of sitting in this packing tractor, and I’m sure Carson would enjoy doing something else as well.

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