Thursday, December 20, 2012

Utopia?

I asked this question today on my Facebook page and the response was so interesting. If you were told that tomorrow you could start a new life would you? The situation is as follows:

If you could give up all of your electronic entertainment in exchange for freedom from all personal debt and a life of physical labor outdoors, would you do it? The conditions are as follows:

You join a quasi-communal society where you work 10 hours outside six days a week (off holidays) doing hard, physical labor in a farming setting. Things like plowing, construction, livestock work, weeding, planting, shearing sheep and traveling distances to deliver messages by horse or foot. You do not receive a wage, as meals are prepared communally and your family's house is rent free. You basically work for room and board with the same people you share a house with now, but you each get a $200 a month stipend at the local bookstore to buy whatever books you want. Your evenings are your own. You can read novels, learn spanish, start a chess club, join a music group, or take on a apprenticeship with a craft or trade of your choice. There are no rules about religion and are free to believe as you wish. It is a democracy, where new leaders are voted every three years. This is your new life.

What you give up are things like television, the internet, email, cell phones, and outside communication by electric means. You can write distant family and friends letters, but can't travel to see them (they can come see you). So you get a life free of a desk job and stress from money, but you give up flashy entertainment, travel, and long-distance communication that isn't a letter.


Would you do this? Why? Why Not?

53 Comments:

Blogger Kira said...

Hell yes! As long as the animals I currently care for can come with me!

December 20, 2012 at 9:18 PM  
Blogger Bitha said...

That's a tough one. I would not only because my mother is afraid to drive and I couldn't give up seeing her. Now if it was in a town close to hers where she would feel comfortable traveling to see me, absolutely. In fact just today I have made the decision to give up tv, internet, and my home phone; I can afford those things but they take me away from many important things in my life. Now I will still have access to the internet at the library and I have a tv and dvd player but that is it. It is one step closer to the life I want to lead.

December 20, 2012 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger gooddogboy said...

I would. I am forty-nine this month, so would worry about ten hours manual labor each day, but am no fan of my computer, phone etc ... so sure. Great!

December 20, 2012 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger gooddogboy said...

Sure. I am forty-nine this month, so would worry about ten hours manual labor a day, but I have no great love for my computer, phone etc... so SURE! Great!

December 20, 2012 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger gooddogboy said...

I would. I am forty-nine this month, so would worry about ten hours manual labor each day, but am no fan of my computer, phone etc ... so sure. Great!

December 20, 2012 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

Ditto! If my cats are welcome, I am happy to come. Hard, honorable work is good for the soul.

December 20, 2012 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

Ditto to Kira's comment. If my cats are welcome---move over, here I come. Hard, honorable work is good for the soul.

December 20, 2012 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger David Shearer said...

No. It's a huge step backwards, at least for me. In real life this isn't a "either/or" proposition. It is possible to lead a relatively simple agrarian lifestyle and remain connected to the world at large. For me the trick is to remain debt free and use rerstraint in my access to electronic media in all it's forms. Still, an intertesting question...

December 20, 2012 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger sara amber said...

i'm already debt free and i adore my job...and if you take away my ability to travel all over this awesome world, i would not be a happy girl. so i guess i'm lucky, because i'm already somewhat close to my own personal little utopia down here in PA!

December 20, 2012 at 10:49 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I could never give up travel.

December 20, 2012 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger Kelly Rose said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 20, 2012 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Kelly Rose said...

Dear Jenna,
I just finished your book Barnheart. When I reached page 176, I broke into tears because I realized how hard your story hits home with mine. I can't thank you enough for the inspiration you've brought me! Farm on.
-Kelly

December 20, 2012 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Kelly Rose said...

Dear Jenna,
I just finished your book Barnheart. When I reached page 176, I broke into tears because I realized how hard your story hits home with mine. I can't thank you enough for the inspiration you've brought me! Farm on.
-Kelly

December 20, 2012 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Kelly Rose said...

Dear Jenna,
I just finished your book Barnheart. When I reached page 176, I broke into tears because I realized how hard your story hits home with mine. I can't thank you enough for the inspiration you've brought me! Farm on.
-Kelly

December 20, 2012 at 11:04 PM  
Blogger Sarah B. said...

I did almost exactly this for two years. I learned so many lessons I never anticipated, and was a much stronger person when I started on the rest of my journey. I made the choice to leave community/the farm, and sometimes I question that, but I've since learned it's the attempt to find the quiet and be intentional in spaces promoting the opposite that strengthen my ability to create a life that honors my beliefs and ultimately affects the world around me in a positive way.

December 20, 2012 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

I just watched the barn tour on youtube. If your goatlings are not due til march you better get some bottles ready. That doe is having more than twins. I have helped deliver quads with goats. Just be prepared

December 20, 2012 at 11:37 PM  
Blogger Madcap said...

Not! A! Chance! Commune? No way! I've seen too much "community" to think that I'd ever want to live in one. This scenario doesn't sound substantially different than religious communities, and just as rigid/controlling. Nope! Give me neighbours, and let us help one another and contribute to our village, and we make our individual decisions, and that's happiness in this corner.

December 21, 2012 at 12:04 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

No, I like my life as it is. I'm older than you and finally am at a place where I do no gardening. I was so tired of it and let's not even talk about weeding. I'm ready to not do hard labor and take it easy. I love my iphone and computer on which I watch movies and TV shows. I'm being happy with my life as it is, not dreaming of things I don't have although I totally believe in chasing those desires of your heart. I guess I must have mine.

December 21, 2012 at 3:06 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

I was on board until I read about not being able to travel outside, that people would have to come to me. If I get holidays off, then you bet your butt I want to go and see my family. That stipulation, that we have to stay, sounds less like a democracy and more like a well iced indentured servitude system.

Other than that, sure.

December 21, 2012 at 4:19 AM  
Blogger E said...

Obviously only for young, able bodied folks.

In this "utopia" what happens to kids, older people, anyone who can't work 60 days a week?

In a word - no.

December 21, 2012 at 4:44 AM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

I don't think I could go the communal lifestyle. While I can pull off the friendly, chatty side, I'm really quite a bit of a loner.

December 21, 2012 at 5:55 AM  
Blogger ican said...

No, and for exactly the same reasons that David and Sara amber have given.

December 21, 2012 at 6:04 AM  
Blogger J.D. Collins said...

The scenario as presented doesn't appear utopian to me as I'd be living someone else's dream.

10 hours labor? I do that now. Unable to travel? I'm a caregiver. I get out an hour day, if that.

The reading part sounds great, but the stipend limits me to eight hardcovers or 13 paperbacks a month. No electronics = no e-reader. If I can't travel, then no trip to the library.

Of course after 10-manual-labor filled hours, I might be too tired to read, write, or anything else.

Nope, that's not my dream. My dream takes labor and love. The love's missing from the scenario. I'm not feeling it.

December 21, 2012 at 7:18 AM  
Blogger Roslyn Phipps said...

I agree with Madcap. Would have no problem giving up electronic gadgets, but I have a problem with the commune thing. A community of neighbors helping neighbors is what I would like to see happen again. It worked for my grandparents and for most of America until the age of technology hit then it seemed to disappear. In my area we are starting to see a little of that mentality creep back in and I am happy about that.

December 21, 2012 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Crisy said...

I would be open to that in a few years when my boys are off chasing their dreams! The only thing I would change would be the traveling part - perhaps there could be a rotation of schedule where one could be given 2 weeks off every quarter to ramble? Thank you again for all you do! Hey! I see you took down 2012 Workshops! That can only mean the 2013's are on the way!!! Yippeee!!!!

December 21, 2012 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger Bluebelle Quilts said...

Definitely not for me! While not afraid of hard work, I am too independent for a communal lifestyle. The inability to travel is also a no-go. Your "Utopia" description reminds me of the Shaker Village in Kentucky I toured a couple of summers ago. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

December 21, 2012 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

Nope, though I can definitely see the appeal. Here's what would stop me (personally)

1) Sharing a house - I've already been there and done that, and the only people I have an interest in living with are my immediate family.

2) Completely giving up the modern electronic era would represent turning my back on what has helped me learn so much about gardening, sustainable eating, etc.

3) I enjoy travel. I don't get to do it as much as I'd like, but my trip earlier this year to Japan had a profound impact on my understanding of myself.

That being said, I wouldn't begrudge people wanting to live this lifestyle - it does have its appeal, even to me ;)

December 21, 2012 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger K said...

"...but can't travel to see (your family)"

Hell no.

That's where this scenario lost me. I have no problem working for what is provided, but that last condition is a deal breaker for me.

December 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

In a heart beat! While visiting Common Sense Farm at Antlerstock, it was all I could talk of for days. True community is what I am sorely lacking in my life. The deal breaker- my pets. There is no way I could or would give up my dog and cat as the happiness they give me far out weighs most of the troubles of life. So I will just have to keep plowing through the life I create and make darn well sure my daily decisions support my idea of utopia.

December 21, 2012 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger enchantedhollow said...

I can't do the communal thing. You can have the electronics. And my job. Helping each other would be fine. I would give up all for my idea of utpoia though.

December 21, 2012 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger reach's games said...

Matt I didn't think of that you are so right about the electronic learning, questioning, etc. The Net really has condensed decades into days in many many ways

December 21, 2012 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger mom said...

Nope. I am debt free, and enjoy my job most days. Although I struggle with self-discipline in the electronics arena, I'd still rather have the ability to choose when and how to use them. And not traveling to see family? Not likely. They are my first and favorite community

December 21, 2012 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger mom said...

Nope. I am debt free, and enjoy my job most days. Although I struggle with self-discipline in the electronics arena, I'd still rather have the ability to choose when and how to use them. And not traveling to see family? Not likely. They are my first and favorite community

December 21, 2012 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

this is an interesting conversation!

December 21, 2012 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger RamblinHome said...

While I would enjoy it (so long as I was allowed my sewing machine), not leaving to visit family and friends would get to me. I think I prefer the melding of physical labor and technology.

December 21, 2012 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger just look said...

Your utopia conjures more the life of folks living in '50-80's USSR than a truly free democracy. The folks I crossed paths with during visits "behind the Iron Curtain", sacrificed even their lives sometimes to leave those countries. What struck me as most absent your description however was the omission of mutual affection or love between folks. Being in loving relationships would need to be at the top of the list for me.

December 21, 2012 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

In this scenario no one is living communally. You have your own place, pets, relationships, love life, etc. You just work and eat communally.

Folks this isn't my idea of a Utopia. I would not fit into this life at all. I live three miles from a commune much like this, and have no interest in joining up. My interest was how far folks are willing to go to get out of personal debt, and how dependent we are on electronic entertainment.


what interests me are folks reasons to abstain.

December 21, 2012 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Noël McNeil said...

There are aspects of that life that I say, "Of course! I'd live that way in a heartbeat." And then there are things about electricity, and outside life that I love. I like to occasionally enjoy a movie, I like driving, travel, and I love being able to flick on a switch. I do love to live earthy as well. Candles, fire, hard work, and etc. I feel blessed to have what we have in life, but definitely can live on less if need be. I enjoy pondering such thoughts though.

December 21, 2012 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Tiffrz-N-Kidz said...

No. I am too much of a free spirit to become that completely immersed in a single community and hence cut off from what the rest of the world has to offer. To that end, I am looking at ways of traveling either no- or low-impact style because I can not imagine willingly giving up the part of me that thrills at seeing what's around the next bend in the road.

For me it's a win/win that I can have a simple home life, lower my reliance on outside food sources and utilities, and still enjoy the conveniences and stimulation of modern society.

Now, if those were all to go away, a-la-"Dies The Fire" I rest assured in knowing that I have enough hands-on skills to be useful in a post-change world. (Thanks to you and others like you!)

December 21, 2012 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Tiffrz-N-Kidz said...

Following up - I used to live near the Amish and thought briefly in my youth about chucking it all and putting on the kapp. Then I realized that giving up the 'learning' part would be a deal breaker for me. I'd go nuts without being allowed the freedom to think (and do) outside the box.

December 21, 2012 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Madcap said...

The main issue for me is control. I think it's really important for people to call their own shots, as much as possible. What I see in situations where people are encouraged to let someone else take control of important aspects of their lives (work, food, communication)is that it fosters either enormous, seething resentment, or flaccid docility and unwillingness to assume responsibility beyond orders. On the other side of the equation, taking power over someone else's life is corrupting, both on a personal and community level. In my estimation, neither of these promotes the best sort of human development.

December 21, 2012 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger ican said...

@E - did you ever read The Giver? That should answer your questions about the elderly and disabled (and if you haven't, those individuals are "released").

Interesting that it's not your idea of utopia Jenna - how did you happen to select this scenario then?

December 21, 2012 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Patterson said...

No, I wouldn't be able to seriously consider this. My multiple medical conditions would take me out of the fields quickly, possibly the first week, and I did not see a mention of how medical care including insurance, doctor visits, medication and the like would be covered. I also like the fact that when my house is paid off I will be able to use it as I please. I would horribly miss my e-reader, my computer, and I'm wondering how clothing and personal care items are covered. I would be willing to live in an intentional community where each person or family unit bought into the property and would own it. I think I wouldn't be a good fit for a commune.

December 21, 2012 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Patterson said...

No, I wouldn't be able to seriously consider this. My multiple medical conditions would take me out of the fields quickly, possibly the first week, and I did not see a mention of how medical care including insurance, doctor visits, medication and the like would be covered. I also like the fact that when my house is paid off I will be able to use it as I please. I would horribly miss my e-reader, my computer, and I'm wondering how clothing and personal care items are covered. I would be willing to live in an intentional community where each person or family unit bought into the property and would own it. I think I wouldn't be a good fit for a commune.

December 21, 2012 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger KiwiGirl said...

Travel broadens the mind, so not being able to experience new places, cultures (and becoming very insular as a result) would be a deal-breaker. My ancestors worked jobs in the Old World that sound just like the version described, and they moved half-way around the world for a better life to escape it.

December 21, 2012 at 6:47 PM  
Blogger Sage said...

I haven't read any other comments yet, so I am just posting off the cuff...
Yes!! But I would want to visit my mom, dad, and sister. Right now, my parents live an hour away and my sister lives 5 mintues away. If they would join me, it would be a no-brainer!

December 21, 2012 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger Sage said...

Ok, I have read all the comments...

I would still sign up for this way of living! I have a mortgage, but no ther debt. I use electronics, but can do without. I have great neighbors now, and I would love to live in a community where we were all closer!

I love my life right now (homesteading a little and teaching community college 10 minutes away), but I think I would love The Proposal too.

December 21, 2012 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Alix said...

Like Patterson one of my first thoughts was around the medical side of things. My medication currently runs ~$20,000/yr without insurance and I may have to double the dosage soon, which would mean ~$40,000/yr. Not sure how that would work in this sort of scenario.

Lots of aspects I have no issues with - the physical labour, working towards a common goal, living semi-communally. I could do with less technology, but would not want to give it up completely - video games are one of my guilty pleasures. Travel is also a big one too - as many others have said I would not want to give up the ability to see my family.

December 22, 2012 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Too hard a life for me. Maybe if I could do 5 hours a day 5 days a week preferably in a garden...and I would have to be able to travel. But I do wish I had a better sense of community/neighborhood for sure. Not just when someone needs to borrow something should I hear from my neighbors.

December 22, 2012 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger HawaiiWahine said...

Jenna, you wrote that this commune exists near you. What is their rationale for no travel and how do they enforce it?

December 22, 2012 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger gothicmuse said...

I have no problem with the hard labor, which is not all heavy-lifting, such as cooking, cleaning, etc.

I also have no problem with the lack of wages with two caveats. First, I would like access to the local library every 3 weeks. Second, I would like to be able to put my stipend towards purchasing yarn, fabrics, etc.

Sign me up!
Sign me up!

December 23, 2012 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Linzleh said...

My kids and I gave up TV four years ago but I would really miss NPR and my laptop... going phone-less would be fine though. We are totally library committed but no electronics means no audiobooks right? Tough question. I'm strong from years lifting packages at UPS but I really don't know much about completely raising my own food and digging is definitely not my favorite thing. Lack of debt here seems to be the motivator and I think if I really conserve and apply myself these next few years I'd be debt free anyway.I think I'll shoot for utopia on my own terms though. Thanks for the question.

December 23, 2012 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

What happens when you are too old, too sick, or too broken to work? You haven't saved for retirement, or paid into social security. Unless the commune supports their elderly, which would be a tax on the working farmers, it's an incomplete idea. Now if this is something to be done for a year or too, okay, but not for a lifetime. Life is too complex to try to escape everything. Trying to replicate a more historic and sustainable agrarian lifestyle is interesting, but societies need many different guilds so to speak, who is weaving cloth, or making books, or doctoring, or preaching. The people living in this community are still reliant on the outside world. Not that I don't appreciate the effort to reduce their effect on the world, just that mankinds reach is so large that it is impossible to have no impact on the world. I'd rather see a community who is more diverse, more connected with both worlds, but committed to a sustainable life.

December 25, 2012 at 2:02 AM  

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