Culture, family, nonfiction, politics

Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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American history, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

sex economy freedom community book

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry. Published in 1993. 208 pages.

I have always loved the commentary and writings of the insightful, prolific Wendell Berry. Reading his book, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community”, it became clearer why I find his perspective so refreshing. How often have we heard the connection made between our culture’s predilection to specialization and compartmentalization with the destruction of the economy, sexuality, marriage, family, community, and the nation?

Very rarely I submit, although it’s a connection which is hard to deny upon serious observation and even harder to address as our culture succumbs more and more to the seduction of the “me first” mentality. A mentality which is largely driven by our increasing focus on individual rights at the expense of everything and every one, up to and including our own parents, our own children, and their children.

In the book’s title essay, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community Berry attempts to piece together how our movement away from interdependence and local community standards and toward a tendency to think globally has impacted our most intimate relationships, and how sexual love in general and marriage in particular have been irreparably damaged as a result:

There are two kinds of sexuality that correspond to the two kinds of economy. The sexuality of community life, whatever its vagaries, is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven, and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity.

Our present sexual conduct, on the other hand, having “liberated” itself from the several trusts of community life, is public, like our present economy. It has forsaken trust, for it rests on the easy giving and breaking of promises. And having forsaken trust, it has predictably become political. “Losing kindness” as Lao-tzu said, they turn to justness.” (p. 134-135)

This is sadly correct. Sexual politics is a dominant and lucrative industry in America today. Divorce law, child support enforcement, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, health departments to deal with communicable diseases, sexual harassment, and on it goes. All of these institutions have grown in our misguided attempt to interject perfect justice and the semblance of safety into the necessarily murky business of male/female interpersonal relations. As a result, most women view every man as a potential aggressor and many men have grown to view every woman as a potential accuser of anything form date rape to dead beat fatherhood. This is supposed to liberating? Berry continues:

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice-though, of course, they all must try for it. They depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness-in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.

As soon as the parties to a marriage or a friendship begin to require strict justice, then that marriage or friendship begins to be destroyed…(p.135)

And this of course, is exactly what has happened on a grand scale. As sexuality has become a commodity to be consumed (think of the quest for hotness at all costs), coupled with the right to do whatever feels good to us without regard for anyone else, and we have all but destroyed the beauty of sexual love and marriage. Sex sells. There is even a new term for the atmosphere in which people pair off: the sexual marketplace. No longer are the terms “husband” or “wife” adequate to describe the person we share our most intimate relations with. The term is now sexual “partners” and we gauge others’ sexual morality not by their fidelity in marriage but by their “partner count.” The language of intimacy is now the language of the marketplace.

People enter into marriage under the spell of sexual infatuation, failing to recognize that the practice of love, rather than the mere feeling of love, is what keeps a marriage alive, growing and fulfilling. The values of the marketplace, of quid pro quo, has usurped the place of love and forgiveness, reducing marriage to nothing more than an arrangement that lasts as long as our arbitrary and fickle senses of satisfaction are appeased.

Sadly, Berry notes, we have moved into a culture that can only be described as nihilist, one where most people are not interested in or able to be contented with this diffusion of love. They want to continue to have love focused myopically on them and them alone, as this is what society has groomed us to believe that marriage is all about.

A society whose members are concerned only with themselves, their individual needs, and are slaves to their passions with no regard for the greater good can be described no other way than nihilist. Churchgoing, “civic minded” nihilists, but nihilists nonetheless because a life spent pursuing personal pleasure-no matter what euphemisms we use to make it seem otherwise- is a useless, hopeless life. Our selfish greed can never be truly satisfied. Fulfillment is found through service and love executed in practice, not as the pursuit of sensations. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if we call ourselves liberal or conservative, as Mr. Berry so eloquently states:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’ Some feminists are thus in the curious position of opposing the mistreatment of women and yet advocating their participation in an economy in which everything is mistreated.”

Most contemporary rhetoric about service and duty is nothing more than the demagoguery of hypocrites, playing on our emotions for the sake of their own ambitions:

There is no denying, of course, that “community” ranks with “family,” “our land,” and “our beloved country” as an icon of the public vocabulary; everybody is for it, and this means nothing. p. 132

Now that we have stated the problem, the next step is to work toward a solution. The question then, is how do those of us who yearn for community, family, respect for the land and love for country achieve even a semblance of either while surrounded by a culture for whom these things are nothing more than feel good rhetoric at best and obstacles to personal desire and ambitions at worst?

Berry offers solutions, but they are hard solutions for a culture of people comfortably entrenched in an easy, resistance-free way of life. Here, he gets credit for trying.

5 out of 5 stars.

I originally wrote this read and reviewed this book in 2012, but it seems more relevant today than it did even when I first read it, so I’m featuring it here. Reviews for more recently read books are in draft and forth coming.

American history, children's books, Culture, intriguing authors, the business of books

Little House Books victim of woke hysteria.

There have been, throughout history, many great books written; books which have rightfully earned their spot on shelves as timeless classics. If we took a microscope to each and every one of those books with the express intent of removing any and all books with language in them which offends any particular group of people, we would have to remove the vast majority of books from the shelves.

If there was ever a set of books which finds me incredulous at the idea that they are harmful, it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. Our children love those books, and we have no intention of removing them from our shelves, despite being well aware of the “offensiveness” found within their pages. The Association of Library Services to Children cannot abide Wilder’s handling of Native Americans in her stories:

Laura Ingalls Wilder was on the brink of having an award named in her honor, from the Association for Library Service to Children, when in 1952 a reader complained to the publisher of “Little House on the Prairie” about what the reader found to be a deeply offensive statement about Native Americans.

The reader pointed specifically to the book’s opening chapter, “Going West.” The 1935 tale of a pioneering family seeking unvarnished, unoccupied land opens with a character named Pa, modeled after Wilder’s own father, who tells of his desire to go “where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” Where “the land was level, and there were no trees.”

And where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”

Although the complaint didn’t spark action at the time, the American Library Association has decided to make things right:

Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award.

The decision makes Wilder the latest target of efforts to purge from the cultural landscape symbols that honor historical figures who owned slaves, espoused racist views or engaged in racist practices.

Books, as well as their authors, are products of the time and place in which they are set and in which the author lives. All of these elements are an important part of what makes books rich and interesting, providing depth and context of history. If we strip away all evidence of cultural and linguistic markers which are out of step with our modern sensibilities, we lose far more than we gain.

In exchange for the temporary and shallow pride of being able to signal our postmodern virtue, we miss out on the opportunity to discuss the why, hows, and wherefores of the cultural past. We miss out on the opportunity to explain to our children cultural and linguistic evolution, including the things which we find objectionable today.

In our home, we do not shield our children from books which contain derogatory racial terms, including or even especially terms which may be personally offensive to us as a black family. Why should we forgo an opportunity for them to learn, grow, and acknowledge the amount of progress our country has made in its treatment of black Americans, something we believe is generally true against the recent backdrop of inflammatory headlines?

When reading the Little House books, or Peter Pan, or any number of books which refer to Native Americans in ways that our current cultural iteration finds offensive, our children inevitably ask questions. These questions open the door to dialogue and understanding.

Further, I find it offensive to hold authors or anyone else who lived 100 years ago to a standard of behavior which didn’t exist when they were alive so as to retroactively smear their work and exact punitive redress. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a product of her time, and her books reflected that.

To publicly flog her for a series of books which have an imperfect presentation of current ideology, while ignoring the virtues and morals within their pages is just another example of how “wokeness” is killing our humanity, our ability to enjoy life and our ability to enjoy truly great literature.

More than that, to emphasize a cultural negative at the expense of all the hard work, family togetherness, faith, charity and community the Little House books offer does more than shield us from the bad. It shields us from the good as well.

 

books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

Otherhood.

Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, by Melanie Notkin. Originally published in 2014. 320 pages.

The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one. However, we’ll start with an overview of what the book is about as opposed to what it purports to be about, which is how the increasing number of childless women in our culture can live fulfilling lives of contribution.

Otherhood, a title I ran across while reading an article somewhere, piqued my curiosity for reasons that have little to do with being a modern woman longing for a new kind of happiness. Perfectly content with my old-fashioned kind of happiness, I sought this book out because of my intense interest in what it takes to build community across all lines. Community, of the real life, flesh and blood variety, is something I think a lot about.

In our current culture, where marriage rates are plummeting for all kinds of reasons, how can families integrate single, childless people into our lives seamlessly in ways that increase cohesiveness, and perhaps even create opportunities for people of like faith and values to meet and form families? The fact that this author is reportedly a devout traditional Jewish woman came back to bite me because the tone of the book was anything but that of a traditional religious woman.

This tome was a big, long lament about the treacherous and unfriendly water that the New York City sexual marketplace is for a single woman looking for love and marriage. True love of course, and nothing less, and how her refusal to marry a man she doesn’t want to have sex with after 20 years of looking makes her a victim of “circumstantial infertility”. Mind you, however, none of this means she is looking for a Prince Charming (language alert):

“I mean, is Prince Charming really the kind of man who seems like he knows how to have great sex? Because he doesn’t seem like that to me.” He seems like a great-looking guy who got lucky being born into royalty. I’m not attracted to lucky. I’m attracted to hard work. Hard work is much more f*ck-able than luck-able.”

Not being aware of the latest authority on cultural hot topics has come back to bite me on many occasions, and this was another one. If I had taken the time before reading this 300+ page whine-fest, I would have been fully aware of what I could expect from Otherhood and its author’s schtick.

Of the 28 chapters in this book, fully 19 of them were about the heartbreak and hazards of dating in NYC. Does the state of affairs in NYC surprise anyone besides the author and her friends who contributed stories to this book?

The only chapter which even began to touch on the subject I was interested in was near the end, titled “Savvy Aunties”. That particular chapter was about the ways that women whose maternal instinct was never allowed to give physical birth could be manifested in myriad ways to the children they know and love and even those they don’t who just need love.

To Notkin’s credit, she steadfastly refused to take the advice of her friends and colleagues who implored to either have a baby on her own, or marry a man with whom she had no desire to build a life whatsoever for the sake of having a baby. Unfortunately, she was so obsessed with first date chemistry that she dismissed a lot of men with whom she might have been able to build a beautiful traditional Jewish family.

In the end, despite all her protestations to the contrary, she wasn’t as traditional as she thought she was. And while I am fully convinced that there truly are women -and men!- out there who are “circumstantially infertile” in this culture does everything in its power to dissuade, marginalize, and isolate the very people who would be best equipped to pass on religious morals and values to the next generation, Notkin did not persuade me that she was among that number. She wasted a valuable opportunity.

Traditional Judaism with a side of Sex in the City is not a recipe that encourages family formation nor strong families.

Like said, the cognitive dissonance was strong in this one.

2 out of 5 stars.

content advisory: Smatterings of frank sex talk, but nothing overly graphic or over the top.

Culture, educational, nonfiction, philosophy

12 Rules for Life

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by [Peterson, Jordan B.]

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson. Published January, 2018. 409 pages.

I emphasized the page count in the book’s specifications because the length is very relevant to my thoughts on the book. Specifically, that it is too long and would have been a much better book had Mr. Peterson not taken readers along his long windy roads connecting Carl Jung, ancient motifs, religious themes and personal experiences to say what he could have said much more succinctly.

Brevity is the soul of wit, it’s been said, but it can also be the key to transmitting ideas which are more easily understood and widely accepted. It was impressive YouTube videos of Jordan Peterson, from lectures to media interviews to online Q and As, which first exposed me to his ideas. Most of them, as a commentator noted in my previous post, would be considered common sense to people in generations gone by. However, this is a new era, and people demand more than the simple “because I said so” or “because it’s right” to get on board with an idea, no matter how solid it’s validity has proven to be down through the ages.

Since this is true, I was thoroughly prepared to accept that an intellectual and psychologist offering rules for life that buck current cultural thought should include a fair amount of psychological jargon and even gobbledygook in his presentation. Still, 400 pages was 200 too many, and tiptoeing through the tulips of Peterson’s theories was often wearying, but I stuck it out. I stuck it out because I find his overarching ideas, if not all the details, to be of value. On to some of the 12 Rules, which were indicated by chapters.

Rules 1 and 2 were good rules, but those chapters were among the hardest for me to read. It’s hard for a woman who believes man was created in the image of God to read copious amounts of information on how we can learn to be so much more human by observing lobsters. There were also far too many pages of psychological minutiae in those chapters as well.

Nevertheless, the rules themselves are good. The first one was common sense that we all heard from our grandmas (stand up straight!), while the second should be common sense, but I applaud Peterson for saying it because few people, including me, do it (treat yourself as you would someone you are responsible for). I liked that he highlighted that most people get better medical care for their pets than they give themselves. I believe him.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll fill you in that you can find all 12 of the rules listed here (I have no affiliation with or further knowledge of this site and found the list via a Google search).

In his exposition of Rule 6 (get your house in order before trying to change the world), Peterson makes an astute observation that most anyone paying attention has also noted. Namely, that in the absence of religious beliefs and connections, people have attached religious devotion to all number of things, including atheism and social activism. It is this ingrained feature of the human heart which, I believe accounts for people’s tendency to get out there and change the world while their own world is a mess.

Pursuing meaning rather than expediency -Rule 7- was in my opinion the closest Peterson came to a semi-accurate understanding of Christian teaching. He is correct that when expediency and advantage are primary drivers behind the things we do, life is void of meaning and will plunge into despair at the first hint of suffering. And if there is one constant in life, it’s that we will all suffer. I appreciated that bit of wisdom which seems increasingly lost on so many.

All of the rules are useful, and had Peterson and his editor been more vicious and used more precision when it came to eliminating irrelevant information, this would have been a much better book. I am certain that no portions of the book were meant to be construed as stream of consciousness, but there were sections that felt that way as I read them. It could be that Peterson is such a smart man with so many ideas that parts of it were just over my head, but even if that were the case, it underscores my point.

When a college professor writes a book to help a generation of young people, and especially young men, tap into the antidote to chaos, a little simplicity goes a long way. Nevertheless, Peterson’s rules are good if unoriginal, and many of them are brand new information to this generation of young adults.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Culture, nonfiction, tales from the local library

The ABCs of Adulthood

The ABCs of Adulthood: An Alphabet of Life Lessons, by Deborah Copaken. Hardcover, published in 2016. 72 pages.

While browsing the library’s shelves this morning (a very relaxing activity for me), I ran across this little book. Since I was momentarily between books and this one is extremely short, I grabbed it and read through it. It took all of twenty minutes.

This little book is exactly what it implies: an A to Z quick view list of little and not so little things the emerging adult might do well to remember. Put an emphasis on might, in my opinion, as some of the advice is downright awful.

Beginning with the letter A for anger, which the author calls a useless emotion, to the letter Z for Zzzzs, to remind the reader the importance of getting enough sleep, Copaken offers a book written with her children in mind. Indeed, some of the advice is quite good.

Anger is often -if not always- useless, but everyone would do well to pause and reflect before acting out in blind rage. Advising her readers to keep in mind that having children (letter C) shouldn’t be an afterthought and that prime childbearing years have an expiration date is also a good reminder at a time when these decisions are often pushed off to the last and most risky minute as people chase other dreams.

Despite the good advice this book offers wih regard to health and getting on with forming a family, it undercuts it with dichotomous, destructive sex advice (letter S). The cognitive dissonance involved in telling young people that they should feel free to enjoy sex with any person  they like and are attracted to as often as they want, without guilt, but take care of their health and emotional well being is the kind of thing that makes this book worthless. If the last 60 years has taught us anything, it’s the danger and destructive fallout that comes of trivializing sex.

J was for Jung, which I found partiuclarly intriguing given that I am in the process of reviewing Jordan Peterson’s latest book. Peterson draws heavily on the psychological research and philosophy of Carl Jung, whom this author also strongly recommends young people read if they really want to learn how to think. I’ve only read a bit of Jung, but the intersectionality of his work with the present trend towards finding sanity and liberation from the cultural madness makes me a bit more curious about what he had to say. We’ll see.

If the worst advice was on sexuality, the best advice, particularly in this current culutral climate, was O for Offline. I’m sure no further explanation is required on that. There were in fact, several valauable bits of information that might not be glaringly obvious to a young person being launched into the adult world. Unfortunately, that same lack of experience makes the bad advice that much worse.

If  I was rating this one purely on the scale of my own belief system, I’d probably consider it below average. But I’ll give it an average grade since it does get some things right.

 2.5 out of 5 stars.

 

children's books, Culture, tales from the local library

Feminist Baby: The Sequel

A while back, gripped by incredulity, I mentioned this book which I ran across while in Barnes and Noble, the Feminist Baby.

Because I was incredulous, it never occurred to me that such a silly book as Feminist Baby could evolve into a series of note, but apparently, it has. My incredulity is more symptomatic of how out of touch I am. This lately occurs more often than I realized, but I digress.

Feminist Baby is back, and finding her voice, no less:

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

Feminist Baby is learning to talk
She says what she thinks and it totally rocks!
Feminist Babies stand up tall
“Equal rights and toys for all!”

Let’s disregard for the moment my sincere and well known problems with the ideology of feminism as a whole. This increase in political “literature” for toddlers combined with feminist “fashion” for toddlers (yes I’ve seen it in the flesh), raises a larger question for me, and it’s this:

With so many things in the larger culture encroaching on the innocence and wonder of childhood, why would anyone choose to read this to their toddler in lieu of real, living books which highlight wonder and beauty? How are children served by political indoctrination as early as possible?  In whose universe does a bull horn toting, equal rights clamoring baby belong aside the likes of:

Cover image - Goodnight Moon

Image result for the very hungry caterpillar

Image result for The Snowy Day

Image result for Madeline

Image result for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

It doesn’t.

There will be time to infuse our kids with our political thoughts and ideologies. They’ll pick most of it by osmosis anyway. There’s no need to infect them with adult cares before they can even understand what they mean.

Real books never get old and they speak to us, young and old alike, across the generations.

Nonsense is only good for a fixed point in time, such as this nonsensical Feminist Baby series.