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The Amish Hackers
February 11, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

The Amish Hackers - How the Amish modify modern technology to meet their needs, and the motivation behind those needs.
posted by SpecialK (72 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have always suspected that the Amish and other "luddite" communities will be the Salvation Of America In It's Darkest Hour.
posted by Xoebe at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2009


Seems similar to the way Jews can use loopholes to obey commandments without obeying them, such as putting up string around a neighborhood so that the entire neighborhood counts as a single "home", or elevators that run continuously and stop at each floor.

Seriously though, it just seems simultaneously disingenious and wasteful. Gas-powered ice-cutters for iceboxes, but they won't just use electricity for modern refrigerators? Gas-powered generator to create pneumatic power for powertools? Refusing to drive, but happily accepting car, truck, or van rides on a regular basis? It doesn't seem like resisting technology at all, but just a bunch of weird loopholes to avoid breaking what seems like a very inconsistent code.

I'm not a religious person, but I'm especially wary of the way people obey the word, rather than the spirit, of commandments or laws.
posted by explosion at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


I'm not a religious person, but I'm especially wary of the way people obey the word, rather than the spirit, of commandments or laws

I'd suggest to you, explosion, that the fact that you are not a religious person makes you particularly ill-equiped to judge what is or isn't obeying the spirit of a religious law.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:02 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Homebuilt gas powered ice cutter to make ice for non-electric icebox.

This is the Platonic Form that cast the shadow that is kosher bacon.
posted by gurple at 10:02 AM on February 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm not too concerned about how the Amish use technology for themselves. Yes, some of the justifications can be a strain. I just like the side benefit: a greater diversity of choices in off-grid appliances and tools, with a focus on energy conservation. Of course, the Amish aren't necessarily conserving energy for the same reasons that most do, theirs is often out of necessity. Nonetheless, I like what it brings.

The ability to function independently is often a good thing.
posted by adipocere at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2009


I'd suggest to you, explosion, that the fact that you are not a religious person makes you particularly ill-equiped to judge what is or isn't obeying the spirit of a religious law.

That's bullshit. The whole "you're not from the culture, so you can't judge the culture" is a big fat fallacy meant to silence any sort of criticism from outside, and doesn't actually add to the conversation, constructive or otherwise.
posted by explosion at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2009 [36 favorites]


I'd suggest to you, explosion, that the fact that you are not a religious person makes you particularly ill-equiped to judge what is or isn't obeying the spirit of a religious law.

In my experience it is those who are most deeply involved in religion who are least capable of objectively assessing it.

Of course, that goes for nearly everything, not just religion.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:09 AM on February 11, 2009 [23 favorites]


The bishops were reluctant to give permission but suggested a compromise: keep the cell phones in the vans of the drivers. The van would be a mobile phone shanty. Then the community would watch the contractors. It seemed to work so others early adopters picked it up. But still at any time, even years later, the bishops can say no.

This is very similar to the Islamic fatwa^ system. Although I suppose in principle it could also be compared to the more hierarchical Catholic doctrinal teachings, Rome has really limited the scope of its interference in daily life for centuries.

It doesn't seem like resisting technology at all

It isn't about resisting technology. It's about resisting society. There's a difference.
posted by dhartung at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2009


"I'd suggest to you, explosion, that the fact that you are not a religious person makes you particularly ill-equiped to judge what is or isn't obeying the spirit of a religious law."

I'm not a chef, but I can tell when I'm being fed a plate of shit.
posted by mhoye at 10:14 AM on February 11, 2009 [17 favorites]


I dunno, Westringia F., I'd like to think that one doesn't need to be religious to grasp the spirit of a religious law. I mean, obviously following the tenets of a particular religion will give you some insight into it, but I don't think it's ever absolutely necessary to an understanding.

On preview, basically what explosion said.
posted by Nomiconic at 10:14 AM on February 11, 2009


True story here:

When I was young, pre-cell-phones-being-commonplace, I used to go to camping with my family in middle-ish Pennsylvania. Going there involved driving through some pretty heavily Amish areas, and my mom found herself completely unable to resist the charms (and unbeatable quality) of their handmade goods, ranging from maple syrup to wicker furniture.

Somehow, she ended up getting the business card of an Amish furniture-maker. She was amazed that he had a business card to begin with, and then even more amazed to see that it had a phone number and "business hours" on Mondays.

As it turned out, he would walk several miles to a local, non-Amish town that had a telephone booth by the side of the road. He'd go there, stand in it for 15 minutes, take orders, then leave for the week.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:17 AM on February 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Nthing explosion.
posted by odinsdream at 10:17 AM on February 11, 2009


Gas-powered generator to create pneumatic power for powertools?

Pneumatic power is not so far-fetched or archaic. I worked in a very modern power plant, so no qualms about electricity, and we had two compressed air systems: "Instrument air" provided very dry air which certain sensitive instruments required, while "service air" powered machines and valves and besides being piped to fixed equipment was piped to hoses and outlets for portable pneumatic power tools.

If they had a generator just to run an electric compressor to run pneumatic equipment, that's inefficient, but I think they're either using other electricity or the author just wasn't too particular about the difference between a generator and a compressor.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2009


Seems similar to the way Jews can use loopholes to obey commandments without obeying them, such as putting up string around a neighborhood so that the entire neighborhood counts as a single "home", or elevators that run continuously and stop at each floor...

I'm not a religious person, but I'm especially wary of the way people obey the word, rather than the spirit, of commandments or laws.


Look, the Amish aren't an entirely separate religion. They don't have their own scriptures. They don't have an eleventh commandment that says "thou shalt not use modern technology." There's no "law" that they're violating the "spirit" of. They're just careful about what kind of technology they use. It's a pragmatic position based on preserving their culture and their communities. If they judge that gas-powered icecutters are okay, but refrigerators aren't, it's because they believe the latter introduce more disruptive change--but there's no absolute rule that says they always have to avoid them.
posted by nasreddin at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'd suggest to you, explosion, that the fact that you are not a religious person makes you particularly ill-equiped to judge what is or isn't obeying the spirit of a religious law.

Begin the clitorectomys.
posted by pianomover at 10:22 AM on February 11, 2009


I am no neophobe, but I suspect that the Amish, like me, would draw the line at using the word"hack" to describe this.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:27 AM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


The farm technology adoption chart is very awesome. Is looks like they are really just about 20 years behind the times, at least on that front. And I was going to say that scornfully until I read the paragraph below it:
The Amish are steadily, slowing adopting technology. They are slow geeks. As one Amish man told Howard Rheingold, "We don't want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down," But their manner of slow adoption is instructive.

1) They are selective. They know how to say "no" and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.
2) They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
3) They have criteria by which to select choices: technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
4) The choices are not individual, but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.
Except for the selection of things specifically to distance themselves from the outside world, this is what *I* do (now). For one thing, I just don't have the time to play with all the cool gadgets and see all the new movies. I'll just wait for a year and see what everyone else is still talking about, then try it myself.

I'm neither the first nor the last to say: We could learn from these guys.
posted by DU at 10:28 AM on February 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


I'm not a religious person, but I'm especially wary of the way people obey the word, rather than the spirit, of commandments or laws.

I don't know anything special about the Amish, but after reading the article it strikes me that your idea of what the spirit & purpose of the restrictions are, is just vastly different from what the Amish's own idea of the spirit and purpose.

So they're doing a pretty fair job of keeping to what their ideas about the purpose of the restrictions are, while doing a terrible job of keeping to what your ideas are.
posted by flug at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think that it's disingenuous at all. The starting assumption is that they want to reinforce community while simultaneously limiting the influence of the outside world, so the solutions they come up with are more about pragmatic approaches to this problem and less about an idealistic rejection of technology. Farming and transportation always require a great deal of equipment and therefore require a manufacturing infrastructure, doubly so if you're out of step with what the rest of the world is using. Yes, they could reject seeming oddities such as pneumatic powertools, but then they'd lose some of their self sufficiency to make and repair their own equipment, so it seems that it comes down to working solutions rather than elegant ones. That's not to say that I completely agree with everything the Amish stand for, but I certainly don't fault them for their efforts.
posted by CheshireCat at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2009


Or, in the language of Anathem, they are Tenners or maybe Hundreders.
posted by DU at 10:37 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You been hacking, Mr. Munson?
posted by gman at 10:39 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The whole "you're not from the culture, so you can't judge the culture" is a big fat fallacy

The reason I took issue is that there's a difference between "the interpretation of this religious text by religious scholars/practitioners/&c is wrong" and "the interpretation is problematic because it has XYZ consequences." It seems to me that you're not criticizing the impact of a culture's laws or the impact of a culture's practices on those inside/outside the culture. Instead, what you are doing is criticizing their interpretation, saying that they're practicing their religion in a way that you find to be incongruous WRT their religion's tenets, and that's what I'd argue those who part of that culture are in a better position to judge.

If you want to show how gas power or eruvs are harmful to anyone, I'm all ears, really... but it looks like what you're saying is that you think these are problematic only because you would interpret the spirit of Amish/Jewish/&c law differently.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been wondering recently what they spend all that fireplace mantle money: at $250/pop, they must be rolling in it...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:50 AM on February 11, 2009


As a Jew, I will say that "the way Jews can use loopholes to obey commandments without obeying them, such as putting up string around a neighborhood so that the entire neighborhood counts as a single "home", or elevators that run continuously and stop at each floor" is total fuckin' bull shit.
posted by gman at 10:51 AM on February 11, 2009


As always, I'm fascinated by the Amish, so I really enjoyed this article. And I just realized why, compared to other religious folks outside the mainstream, they don't raise my defenses; because they remove themselves from mainstream society in order to preserve their community, they manage to believe what they believe without infringing on my ability to the same.

I imagine I'd feel differently if they tried to take away my iPhone based on their religious beliefs and expected me to "tolerate" that.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:54 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't know how much comparison you can draw between Orthodox Judaism and Amish communities, but to the "spirit of the law" issue... the point for Jews isn't that eating pork is evil or shaving your face with a razor is inherently immoral, it's that God said not to do it. For the Amish, we non-Amish seem to have reduced their religion to Jesus + no technology. The realities of Amish life and the underlying philosophies seem to be much, much more complex. I think it's fair game to study and criticize, but let's not over-simplify. Personally, I think it's lovely and fascinating (though definitely not for me).

Also, I suspect that even if the ice cutter contraption is more wasteful than just using a regular refrigerator, my own typical car-driving, world-traveling, packaged-foods-consuming, electricity-using lifestyle is considerably worse for the planet than an ice cutter and crazy pneumatic-powerd appliances.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:55 AM on February 11, 2009


Thanks for the post; this is a really excellent article that does get at the reasons behind the peculiar relationship Amish people have with technology.
posted by epj at 10:57 AM on February 11, 2009


I received my eye-opening lesson on the Amish from a kid from Lancaster who lived downstairs from me once. He told me some stories that seemed ludicrous to me that the time - buggies with 200W bass tubes in the back, barn parties featuring Metallica on the boom box and cans of Bud, that Amish girls were teases, and so forth - none of which rung true to me. But I later learned about rumspringa, and figured these were the wild, bass-thumping, beer-drinking, head-banging flirty Amish barn parties he was attending. That, or he smoked way too much weed when he told these stories.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:00 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


total fuckin' bull shit

Sorry, just curious - you think the practice is bullshit or you don't believe that the practice actually happens?

Because there was Toronto Star article a few years back on the east-end erv (whatever it's called) and they were pretty serious about it.
posted by GuyZero at 11:03 AM on February 11, 2009


If you want to show how gas power or eruvs are harmful to anyone, I'm all ears, really...

God said (allegedly) "don't leave your house on the Sabbath".

Trying to game the definition of "house" so you're not breaking the law seems like a silly semantics game. VERSUS GOD. I mean, what if God really meant your house and not your arbitrarily defined eruv? If I was going to live by strict religious rules, I would not try to play God for a fool.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on February 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Seems similar to the way Jews can use loopholes to obey commandments without obeying them...

Dude, they are not finding loopholes, they are *hacking* the commandments!

I'll be going now.
posted by ghost of a past number at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Amish built my parents garage. For real. To get in touch with them, you'd call an answering machine at their neighbor's house and he would write down their messages and pass them along. Then the foreman would call you back from the phone booth down the street. It always felt like you were talking to the head of a crime syndicate.

They had a van driver (none of them drove) who would drop them and their equipment off around 6 am and pick them up around 2. They used a mix of hand tools and power tools. Hammers for driving nails, rather than nail guns, and circular saws and screw guns plugged into portable generators. Laying block and concrete work doesn't require any power, so it wasn't an issue.

All in all, they were fantastic workers and generally nice guys. Would buy barn from again, A++++!
posted by electroboy at 11:10 AM on February 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Sorry, just curious - you think the practice is bullshit or you don't believe that the practice actually happens?

Oh, it happens. And it's a frickin' cop out.
posted by gman at 11:13 AM on February 11, 2009



I'm not a religious person, but I'm especially wary of the way people obey the word, rather than the spirit, of commandments or laws.


Unfortunately, even the spirit of their religious law I find personally revolting. They are amongst the largest torturers of animals, namely dogs, in pursuit of income. The amish are responsible for approximately 70% of all puppy mill operations in this country (um, disclaimer here, that figure is from memory from something I read several months ago, and I haven't been able to find it again in a quick search).
From what I understand, this abuse is condoned by their religious law, and they have used this as a defense in animal abuse cases.


I've been wondering recently what they spend all that fireplace mantle money: at $250/pop, they must be rolling in it...


And their income from puppy mills far outweighs their fireplace mantle, or any of their artsy craftsy, shoofly pie or etc. money.

they manage to believe what they believe without infringing on my ability to the same.


yes , but not without infringing on your tax dollars, which pay for the public shelters in which millions of dogs get dumped into annually. Since puppy mills are the largest producers of dogs in this country (again, a quick search shows 200,000 dogs sold from Lancaster county Pa in one year), you have to reckon that you're footing the bill for a lot of those amish pups to either be cared for temporarily, or most likely, put down.

Sorry about my singlemindedness here, it's a pet cause of mine.
posted by newpotato at 11:13 AM on February 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Trying to game the definition of "house" so you're not breaking the law seems like a silly semantics game.

Yes, but the community agrees that they'll follow what God says in a particular way, not in the way GuyZero prescribes. If your community accepts that following the law of God as regulates your behavior means following the words God said, and that loopholes/hacks/adaptations are morally acceptable, then that is your religion. There's a clear difference between the moral implications of leaving your house and the moral implications of murdering someone: the former case allows for adaptations, according the religion (by which I mean the hundreds of years of developed consensus, not necessarily the original text). The same seems to go for the Amish: their religion is (partly) about an idea of how society should operate and a communal consensus around that is adapted through history--though those adaptations don't happen on the schedule or preferences of the outside world.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sorry about my singlemindedness here, it's a pet cause of mine.

ZING! Good one. But before you get all weepy about the poor, poor puppies, consider this: do you eat meat or dairy or eggs? Then you're benefiting directly from the existence of a massive factory-farming complex which is much more cruel and large-scale than the biggest puppy mill, and that the Amish shun completely. But of course cows and chickens aren't as cute.
posted by nasreddin at 11:20 AM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


GuyZero, I meant this-world harm. Unless we've got a statisticially significant increase in in-eruv lightning strikes, I say they're free to play all the dice with god that they want.

Or rather, what flug & Meg_Murry said.
posted by Westringia F. at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2009


Ah, but dogs are traditional friends and partners to humans, whereas large herd animals and birds are our prey. That we've managed to turn the hunting process into an automatic farming and slaughter process doesn't make cruelty to dogs any more acceptable. That, and there are plenty of non-Amish free-range farms with delicious, Hank-Hill-approved animal products.
posted by explosion at 11:27 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Newpotato, it's not quite like you make it sound. Yes, *some* Amish families in *some* Amish communities run puppy mills. Animal abuse is not condoned by Christianity in general or by Amish doctrine in particular. This doesn't stop some Amish people from abusing animals for profit, as has been documented, but the idea that every Amish person who breeds puppies is abusive (or that every Amish person is abusive to animals in general) is a tremendous overstatement.
posted by epj at 11:32 AM on February 11, 2009


GuyZero, I meant this-world harm.

So maybe I have totally gotten religion wrong all these years, but I am pretty sure that religious dictates are more about the next world rather than this world. Redefining words and using semantics seems to place the words of men above those of God. You're right that it's their culture and not mine, but they don't seem to have a lot of internal consistency going for them.

Unless we've got a statistically significant increase in in-eruv lightning strikes, I say they're free to play all the dice with god that they want.

Well it just gets silly at some point. If they launched a ball of string into orbit and wrapped it around the earth, could they just go wherever they want? At what point does bending the rules become disobeying the rules? They seem content to come up with all sorts of new definitions of everything but completely avoid this fundamental question.
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, this:
The Amish call this pneumatic system "Amish electricity." At first pneumatics were devised for Amish workshops, but it was seen as so useful that air-power migrated to Amish households. In fact there is an entire cottage industry in retrofitting tools and appliances to Amish electricity. The retrofitters buy a heavy-duty blender, say, and yank out the electrical motor. They then substitute an air-powered motor of appropriate size, add pneumatic connectors, and bingo, your Amish mom now has a blender in her electrical-less kitchen.
is about the coolest thing I've ever heard.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And why are we picking on the Amish now? C'mon, guys. Don't flog the people who make me feel good about humanity.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:37 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]




ZING! Good one. But before you get all weepy about the poor, poor puppies, consider this: do you eat meat or dairy or eggs?


I do, but I pay craploads more money to buy grass fed beef, free range eggs, organic milk, etc. and I can't usually make myself pay $26 for a chicken, so chicken I live without mostly.

This is only when I eat at home. It's decidedly more difficult to practice this when I eat out, so I apparently only go so far for my principles.

You probably shouldn't make an assumption that a bleeding heart like myself condones or the mass industrial factory farming complex mess we've gotten ourselves into.

But of course cows and chickens aren't as cute.

I think cows are way cute. Chickens? I could probably love a chicken.
posted by newpotato at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure that religious dictates are more about the next world rather than this world.

Religion is, in many ways, how and why you order your life. Your life is in this world. Some* but definitely not all religions incentivize behavior and choices in this life by promising rewards or consequences in the next, but that doesn't change the fact that religion "happens" in this world.


*Particularly the louder voices in contemporary Protestant Christianity. This tends to distract from the actual functions and philosophies of other active religious ideas and practices.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2009


Sorry, I didn't mean to convey that every amish person is an animal abuser, just that the amish run a majority of the puppy mills in this country. Not every amish person runs a puppy mill.
posted by newpotato at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It doesn't seem like resisting technology at all, but just a bunch of weird loopholes to avoid breaking what seems like a very inconsistent code.

The goal is not resisting technology, the goal is seperation from society. The Amish don't forego technology as a form of self-punishment, they just want to keep their own identity as a distict religious community. Who cares if the code is inconsistent so long as they are consistently different than the rest of society.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2009


So maybe I have totally gotten religion wrong all these years, but I am pretty sure that religious dictates are more about the next world rather than this world.

Well, maybe you have gotten religion wrong all these years. Jewish doctrine pretty much exclusively addresses this world, and punishments (eg, getting stoned to death) that exist in this world. You're commanded to do X and Y lest the community punish you, or at most maybe God'll punish you directly with leprosy, but it's still all this-world stuff. There's very little discussion of what happens after death, and what there is, has no explicit or implicit "do this or go to hell." You follow commandments because you're a Jew (and, okay, because you don't want people to stone you, but these days that's not as much a going concern), not because God will actually be roasting you for eternity if you fuck up.

Nitpick: The eruv isn't about leaving your house during Shabbat, it's about carrying things, which you're not allowed to do outside the home. It's "Don't do work," for a semi-weird definition of 'work,' not "sequester yourself from everything from sundown to sundown."

Also, like it or not, Jews have always felt that the letter of the law is what's important; that the spirit of some of the laws is nothing more than "God said so, so you follow it." Kosher bacon is perfectly fine because God doesn't care whether you enjoy a delicious piggy taste, he cares whether or not you actually ate a pig. He doesn't object to you having a roaring fire, he just says don't light a fire on the Sabbath, and as long as you don't violate that specific requirement, you're fine. If God wanted some other restriction - like "Don't make anything that tastes like these forbidden foods" - well, he's God! He would have said so! Stereotypically-appropriately enough, Jews basically believe that God is a lawyer, and wrote a legal document, which is exactly as detailed as its author needed it to be.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


How much more expensive is it to buy diesel fuel for x amount of electricity than getting it from the grid? Not meant as a criticism, just curious. One other thing: it would seem that this article is too quick to draw conclusions about purpose of these policies, I bet there are many converging and subtle reasons for most of them, it seems silly to say that they don't buy cars just so that people don't visit other towns, although it may be a part of it.
posted by rainy at 12:17 PM on February 11, 2009


newpotato: I have to disagree here.. You say that traditionally dogs were friends and companions and cows and birds were prey, but that's a completely separate thing. There's tradition and there's cruelty. Tradition may or may not be cruel, and cruelty may or may not be traditional. A cow is as capable of experiencing pain as a dog. If I get my arm chopped off, I will not care in the least if it was done as a part of a tradition or on the spur of a moment, it's still going to hurt like hell. Also, there's probably less than one percent of Amish who are in dog breeding business, and probably most of them are not being cruel.
posted by rainy at 12:27 PM on February 11, 2009


Since Comcast felt it was necessary to to turn off the internet at midnight, I can appreciate a desire to live independent of the grid.
posted by Cranberry at 12:27 PM on February 11, 2009


@newpotato - Puppy mills are a huge problem, but I don't think you could claim that 70% of the puppy mills in the country are run by (or 70% of the puppies produced as mill puppies are from) the Amish. What you point out about "Amish animal abusers" is social/religious bias masquerading as the increasingly broad rural/urban divide in our country. People in rural areas who produce the animals that you consume (whether as pets or as food, or products that are produced downstream in the food chain, such as a farmer who uses animal power for the majority of their mechanical power needs) tend to consider animals as utility items as opposed to valued members of one's family. I do a lot of dog rescue work in rural south Texas, and there are a huge number of puppy mills in the area that are run by people who are definitely not Amish. Don't be a bigot because PETA (who kills 97% of the dogs they take in) says it's popular.

That being said, there are good and bad families and communities in every identifiable group.

I'm mostly fascinated about the Amish because I've been continuously seeking to simplify my own life and to learn the skills necessary to live off the grid without completely separating myself from it. Different mentalities apply, and as the article illustrates, the Amish have pioneered a lot of the technology that's going into sustainable products. There's something to be said for a simple but practical and industrious life. The amazing part is how well they've managed their stewardship of their communities with their long-term goals in mind.
posted by SpecialK at 12:40 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


But before you get all weepy about the poor, poor puppies, consider this: do you eat meat or dairy or eggs?

That's a Chewbacca defense. Animal care practices in factory farms have no bearing on care practices in pet breeding facilities. There are comparisons to be made, yes, but that still doesn't change the fact that factory pet breeding has poor ethical standards.

Anyways, cows are awful cute, but chickens are just plain nasty creatures.
posted by bonehead at 12:43 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


but chickens are just plain nasty creatures.

Nurture, not nature. My friend's chickens will happily let you pick them up and cuddle them. Then again, she's on her fifth or sixth generation. She produces her own eggs, and "naturally" selects the mean ones for the dinner table.
posted by SpecialK at 12:50 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been wondering recently what they spend all that fireplace mantle money: at $250/pop, they must be rolling in it...

Ogre lawless: Land. As the Amish population grows, and as farmland which they have rented in the past gets sold for housing developments, the Amish are trying to acquire the land they need to sustain their community and way of life (more recently covered in From Plows to Profits).

In general, the Young Centre for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies and their subsite on Amish culture are good places to start for all things Amish.

disclaimer: I assisted the Young Centre in a variety of ways in 2004 and 05
posted by honest knave at 12:54 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Things I learned from the article: The Amish are so clever that they can bale hay with a combine.
posted by stet at 2:00 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I never knew they avoided technology to strengthen community. Without knowing that I always thought what they did and didn't approve seemed so arbitrary.

But at the same time, why compressed air? Especially when it's generated by a generator? Are they cool with wind turbines? What about stuff like geothermal heating? there's a weird disconnect in my head their.
posted by lazlo_80 at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2009


I admire the Amish way of limiting technology that splinters the community. I despise the Amish for their pulling children out of school after 8th grade. If your ideas are not good enough to compete with a high school education, I don't have much sympathy for you. (A threadjack, I know, I appologize.)

The letter of the law seems to be to keep the community together, not to object to technology in principle. I can appreciate and understand that. If only they didn't screw up their kids...
posted by Hactar at 2:11 PM on February 11, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, some of the young Amish in Lancaster County used to drive their buggies to a mall on the outskirts of Lancaster . There, they'd trade their plain garb for "English" wear and a few of them would hop into their "English" friends' cars to take them for a spin.

An Amish woman I knew moved into a house that her husband had reverse-hacked: It was decorated with religious sayings and art, and all of the electric fixtures had been removed. They had a phone in their (separate) barn, though. She worked in an Amish-run store that used air compressors to run the checkout counters and kerosene lanterns to light the aisles.

I bought cat food there once, explaining that my cats would eat me if I didn't feed them. She was shocked that I allowed them inside. Cats, dogs, livestock, horses-- they are livestock to the Amish, rather than pets. (This does not excuse cruelty. But they don't love animals the way many of us do, generally speaking. Puppy mills are one more way that the Amish can use their farm to make money, as opposed to working off the farm, although many of the men do.)

The mistake, I think, is to regard the Amish in a romantic light. They are people. They have a belief system that differs sharply from that of their contemporaries. They're business-savvy at the same time that they're observant and highly aware of their Amish neighbors' opinions -- and not all that interested in ours.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:11 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


While all you maniacs enjoy your massive, soul-crushing thread derailment, I just wanted to pipe in and say that this is one of the few articles by Kevin Kelly I've enjoyed, since it's not filled with crazy-ass Uncle Kevin speculation and fairy-land logic-bridging, but seems to be an honest to god (so to speak) coverage of an event from an interesting angle, utilizing Kelly's first-hand observation and experience.

It's like a beautiful soap bubble. Can't we all just enjoy it, before he goes back to his usual approach of making up crazy talk like True Fans and Better Than Free?
posted by jscott at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The mistake, I think, is to regard the Amish in a romantic light. They are people.

I'm aware the Amish are people, but at the time Lancaster Boy told me these stories, my knowledge of the Amish was confined to Kelly McGillis movies.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:20 PM on February 11, 2009


nasreddin: do you eat meat or dairy or eggs? Then you're benefiting directly from the existence of a massive factory-farming complex which is much more cruel and large-scale than the biggest puppy mill, and that the Amish shun completely.

A year or two back, I would drive just outside town to buy eggs from Mennonites. At some point I got to wondering how exactly they're produced, as I'd never seen any chickens at the several farms (despite it being summer) and as the price was something ridiculous like $1.50 a dozen. I got my answer the next time I looked for a cardboard sign for eggs. Along the gravel driveway was a barn with a tiny opening on the side a few meters up, and through this window I could see a large concentration of chickens in cages.

So it may not be agribusiness, but it's certainly not what you might assume.
posted by parudox at 3:26 PM on February 11, 2009


@newpotato - Puppy mills are a huge problem, but I don't think you could claim that 70% of the puppy mills in the country are run by (or 70% of the puppies produced as mill puppies are from) the Amish. What you point out about "Amish animal abusers" is social/religious bias masquerading as the increasingly broad rural/urban divide in our country. People in rural areas who produce the animals that you consume (whether as pets or as food, or products that are produced downstream in the food chain, such as a farmer who uses animal power for the majority of their mechanical power needs) tend to consider animals as utility items as opposed to valued members of one's family. I do a lot of dog rescue work in rural south Texas, and there are a huge number of puppy mills in the area that are run by people who are definitely not Amish. Don't be a bigot because PETA (who kills 97% of the dogs they take in) says it's popular.

Yes, as I stated in my post, that number may be off, I do remember reading a figure like that, but since I now can't seem to find any figures on puppymills, I'll give that figure a rest. However, anecdotal research (google) tells me that the amish are a major source of puppy mills.
Golly gee, shucks, you mean city people think things differently than country folk? Who knew? I am both, I grew up rural, and still spend a fair amount of time in the country. I also live in the city. My country dwelling family and friends are as equally disgusted by puppymills as my urban friends. You are not seriously equating working animals with the conditions of the puppymills? The wholesale manufacture of dogs solely for profit keeping them in deplorable conditions to increase the profit margin is not overworking a field horse.
I don't recall ever purposely reading anything from PETA, and you tossing in that little snark discredits both you and your comment.
I am biased against the amish, yes, because their society/religion as a whole condone an act that I find reprehensible. How does that bias manifest itself? I don't buy anything amish. I don't support them. I don't think that they are quaint or charming, and I open my mouth about puppymills whenever they get brought up.
And they certainly don't make me feel good about humanity.
Sorry for the derail. I'll shut up now
posted by newpotato at 3:40 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Their mechanical skill is quite impressive, particularly since none went beyond the 8th grade.

this statement makes no sense, especially since there are very few mechanics classes offered in today's high schools. yeah, okay *granted*, the Amish are not so into intellectual shit, but please remember that stopping schooling at 8th grade does not equal stopping learning at 8th grade. (school≠learning. when will you people understand that learning happens every waking moment from birth to death?) i think what they're really saying is that they've got more important things to learn/teach their young'uns than what passes for an education in today's schools. (i'm feeling even *more* snarky and depressed about the state of secondary education since i started subbing more. WTF, America?)

i love getting my Lehman's catalog, for all its well-made Amish goods.

She produces her own eggs, and "naturally" selects the mean ones for the dinner table.

as someone who's become intimately acquainted with a small flock of chickens, i speculate that "cuddling" is a way to persuade the human/chicken killer to find a new victim.
posted by RedEmma at 7:10 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


as someone who's become intimately acquainted with a small flock of chickens, i speculate that "cuddling" is a way to persuade the human/chicken killer to find a new victim.
I didn't say it wasn't. ;)
I am biased against the amish, yes, because their society/religion as a whole condone an act that I find reprehensible. How does that bias manifest itself? I don't buy anything amish. I don't support them. I don't think that they are quaint or charming, and I open my mouth about puppymills whenever they get brought up.
You answered your own question quite nicely. Without any proof except a speciously remembered citation of an uncited statistic, you spread propaganda that condemns someone else's lifestyle.
posted by SpecialK at 8:09 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am biased against the amish, yes, because their society/religion as a whole condone an act that I find reprehensible. How does that bias manifest itself? I don't buy anything amish. I don't support them. I don't think that they are quaint or charming, and I open my mouth about puppymills whenever they get brought up.

So then, if you're going to be consistent, are you now going to escew BBQ and start slandering Texans every time they're raised in conversation?
posted by coriolisdave at 10:17 PM on February 11, 2009


*sigh*
s/escew/eschew

posted by coriolisdave at 10:31 PM on February 11, 2009


stet :

Good catch on the "combine". That is a particularly bad example for the article because a 20 HP Wisconsin gas (not Diesel) motor used to be a standard option on hay balers, so no hacking was involved. They should have found a picture of one of the the forecarts the Amish make that have a motor running hydraulic remotes and a PTO shaft, creating a horse-drawn tractor.
posted by rfs at 10:49 PM on February 11, 2009


@coriolisdave: Pass the brisket, please.
posted by SpecialK at 11:17 PM on February 11, 2009


This really sounds like the kind of community Captain Kirk would beam into, discover the half million dollar computer milling machine behind the shed, and talk it to death.
posted by Harry at 3:21 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


How much more expensive is it to buy diesel fuel for x amount of electricity than getting it from the grid?

Good question.

Assuming a small, relatively inefficient generator (not a stationary turbine, for example), using current spot prices for diesel, I get about 18-20¢/kWh. Average grid prices in the central Atlantic US are about 7-9¢/kWh (DOE average prices central Atlantic US, generator efficiency of 0.3L/kWh, which is probably too generous). They're paying about 100% more for electricity this way. Also, they're producing a fair bit more CO2, NOX and particle emissions. Small engines are much worse polluters than large plants can be.
posted by bonehead at 6:17 AM on February 12, 2009


One clever Amish fellow spent a half hour telling me the igneous way he hacked up a mechanism to make a buggy turn signal automatically turn off when the turn was finished, just as it does in your car.
What, did he use obsidian?
posted by Spatch at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great article, I went in expecting LULXtians and came out all "these people are amazing." The article seemed to keep pointing out how the policies for technology are less religious and more "damage control" motivated. It would have deserved some kind of metafilter level discussion upthread anyway, but at least it reminded me to re-read "The Dispossessed" by Ursula K. LeGuin. It's mostly the "use (share), not own" anarchist angle these Amish seem to have, and just even more about cheating on technology! As we know, everyone else is totally hooked on technology, in good relationships with your various pushers of exquisite totally poisonous shit (and drugs) enjoying their privileged shit already with an eye on that upcoming massive cold turkey, god let there be weed, anyway those Amish and Ursula K Le Guin seem to have pointers in how to get the best of technology without it all going Mad Max. That is all
posted by yoHighness at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2009


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