Sunday, February 18, 2007


Anarchy, Technology, the Amish & Rumspringa

As part of thinking about technology and anarchism, I've been doing a mini-study of the Amish. They are so anti-state, i.e. anarchist, that they refuse to take up arms for it and generally separate themselves from civil authority as much as they can. Furthermore, they have chosen to forgo most of the technology that many Americans embrace readily, even recklessly. Contrary to popular opinion, the Amish don't reject all technology and they don't reject it for primarily religious reasons. They are keenly aware of the deleterious effects that technology can have on the social dynamics of their families and communities and they take these into consideration when evaluating technology.

In my study, I've read one book and watched two documentary films. The most recent of the films was Devil's Playground. When Amish children turn sixteen they are allowed to indulge for a period of years in the material and sensual pleasures of the surrounding "English" or American society. This period in their lives is called the rumspringa--lit. "running around"-- and is meant to afford them the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether they want to be Amish or not. Many Amish teens get jobs with non-Amish employers and, thereby, obtain the cash to buy cars, beer, cable TV, crystal meth, etc.

The question posed on the DVD cover (top right) is "Which path will they choose?" The interesting answer is that, according to the filmmakers, 90% of Amish youth reject 'the world'--mainstream American society--and choose to join the Amish church. "This retention rate," we are told, "is the highest ever since the founding of the Amish church in 1693."

To me, this is a powerful statement that people who have been exposed to viable alternatives will reject American society as morally and spiritually repugnant and vacuous, even after they've been exposed to all--which is really very little--it has to offer. It is this bankruptcy, in part, which fuels the fundamentalist and charismatic religious movements in the US. It also helps explain global resistance against the imposition of American culture and economic restructuring. The pity is that more Americans cannot imaginatively expose themselves to other ways of living and build just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives to stop the death machine that is America.

See also:
P.S. If you watch The Net DVD then be sure to also watch the interview with Paul Garrin in the special features.

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