Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"They know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong..."

Blessed fellowship of likemindedness.

John, a longtime reader, sent me a link to a blog by a guy who is doing what I'm doing, and apparently for much the same reason. Brian Kaller is apparently trying to raise a daughter in a way that is not in keeping with the mainstream. It seems like a pretty good idea to me. I don't have a daughter, but I have got latent maternal instincts. I feel the urge to teach people the things I was taught. I'm more glad than I can say that I'm not the only one.

Let’s say we've lost most of the self-reliant skills and classical education that our forbears posessed. Let's say we have replaced them with a culture of buying and discarding things we don't value, and staring at glowing screens. Let's say you want to try to rediscover an older way of life, believing we will need such things again. And let’s say you have a daughter.

Restoring Mayberry

When I ask most modern people to remember a particular decade, they usually remember the television shows and video games that took up much of their young life, or the clothes and hairstyles that were fashionable. They remember what Hollywood celebrities were doing at the time more than their own lives. They don’t typically remember what my elderly neighbours do, like the wildflowers that grew in a particular meadow, or peeking as children into the nests of herons and listening to the eggs. They don’t remember playing children’s games, or exploring the woods, or swimming to an island in the middle of the pond, or declaring themselves kings and princesses of their newfound lands. Most of them never had the friendships to even have such adventures – people moved around too much, or were always playing video games - even if they had been allowed to roam, and even if there were any woods to explore.

Most people my age spent 20,000 hours of their best years warehoused in a school that looked like a prison, but few remember anything they learned. Most remember spending many more hours in the backseats of cars, but never rode a horse or sailed a boat as children, or did anything that depended on skill and subtlety. Most modern people grew up with enough toys to fill an orphanage, but remember few of them, no more than their own children can remember the fifteenth toy they received last Christmas.

Perhaps most importantly, most people my age don’t remember ever having done anything useful. As children they might have been indulged or ignored, but when I ask if they ever contributed to the family, most are confused even by the question. A few cleaned their room or raked leaves outside. But few people my age grew up feeling necessary, or learning any skills, or feeling alive.

As working adults, most people I know spend their waking hours moving electrons around a screen, but they are still not necessary, and they feel it. Most depend entirely on electricity, but have no idea where my electricity comes from. They depend on pressing a button to keep warm, but don’t know what the button does. They need purified water from the tap, but have no idea where it comes from, or how pure it really is, or how it could be cleaned.

They know the president, but not their mayor or councilman, and know more about their favourite movie star than the old lady down the road. Most, I expect, have spent far more time watching others make love than they have making love themselves, and have spent thousands of hours watching actors feign death but have never bathed a body for burial.

Many Americans these days see family only on uncomfortable holidays, have no traditions to pass down, and little knowledge of songs or stories older than their parents. Most have spent their lives drifting across an ocean of strangers, committed to nothing and no one. No wonder suicide, which was once rare, has become a common cause of death. Most people don’t kill themselves in any identifiable way, of course – but when I return to my native country, I see many people who have ballooned in size, or require drugs of one kind or another to get through another day.

Even those who are nominally successful – who live in houses the size of barns, drive trucks the size of school-buses and have enough toys to stuff an orphanage – remain deeply unhappy. One way or another, they grow angrier every year; they know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong.

Glad I'm not the only one to have noticed.

The more I think about the Beguine idea, the more I think if it is going to be useful, it has to encompass some kind of educational and hospitality aspect. The idea keeps coming back of having people to stay, receiving guests, according to the Holy Rule, is receiving Christ:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honour must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. 3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4 First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace...15 Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received...

And helping them reconnect with a more authentic way of life.

As this gentleman has pointed out, even the very materially wealthy people of Modernia are culturally impoverished to the point of absolute penury. As he says above, children are given toys and told to go away and stop bothering their parents. Anaesthetised by video games and screens, they are raised by machines who can teach them nothing useful, nor teach them how to be useful themselves. And I know young people feel this lack. I have friends younger than I who can't sew on a button or make a pot of tea.

There simply must be way not only to preserve this kind of life, but to help others discover and grow in it as well.



Karen K said...

I'm a longtime reader, but almost never comment, but no, you're not the only one to have noticed, Hilary-- I absolutely hate most aspects of the modern world, and think that you and this gentleman articulate well why.

I've watched Victorian Slum, a show about a project in which modern people spend a month living like 19th century East London slum-dwellers. What struck me was that the kids seems HAPPY to be working, and did not want to go to school when they were finally mandated to by the state. I realized that this was probably the first time in their lives that they felt useful and necessary, and one actually said that he loved the idea that he was contributing to his family.

Thanks for featuring this blog, it's very cool.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Hi Karen,

I'm glad you decided to comment, and invite you to do so any time.

I have told the story many times of how much I hated every single minute of school from the first day of grade one in the already deeply hippified Victoria of 1973 (- or '74 I think) to the day I signed myself out in the middle of the tenth grade - without telling my mother - at nine am on the first day it became legal for me to do so; my 16th birthday.

(Oddly enough, I LOVED school in England. I had gone to some form of early primary school in Wythenshawe and there was nothing I loved more than putting on my uniform and learning arithmetic and penmanship. The other kids made fun of me because I didn't yet have the Manchester accent, but that didn't bother me then. For some reason I had yet to acquire my lifelong fearfulness of other kids that plagued me the instant we set foot back in Canada.)

I've told the story many times of the time my mother picked me up from school from my first day of grade one at James Bay Elementary and as we walked home I asked her how long I had to stay in school. She said, "Oh, about 12 years." I burst into tears at the horror of such a life sentence - a lifetime around those IDIOTS, those horrible, ignorant bullies ... and the other kids too! - and ran away from her and hid in the park, trying to work out how I could run away to Grandma's house. I never managed to forgive my mother for sending me to school every day, it was as if she had allied herself with my enemies. Horrifying.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of conversations my husband and I have, living in the country as we do. We do much labour- intensive work (cutting wood for the wood stoves, keeping a garden, canning) but we know how to do things. It's more worthwhile. We are so glad we spent our youth playing outside, fixing things, and learning to build.
- bread and bullets

La gallina said...

Oh, I can't believe it took me so long to read this post!!! (You are my favorite blogger/ writer, Hilary.) My oldest child is now 19 and youngest is 5, with another five children in between. When my first son was born in 1997, I knew that I couldn't bear to raise him the way kids were being raised. I longed to see him exploring, climbing, swimming, working; not sitting and staring at screens. I just knew (in my my bones) that he would be a depressed, unfulfilled person (like most people today) if he didn't have the chance to live life as children have always lived life -- interacting with the real world around them. It has not been easy to buck the system. But, THANKS BE TO GOD, we have been able to raise our children in that wonderful way. They camp out by themselves in the woods near our house, they build campfires, take care of the chickens and the cows, climb trees, swim... All of those wonderful things that children should be doing. When my oldest son was 7, I discovered the Catholic Faith and converted. That has added a whole wonderful dimension to our family life! Before I believed in God, I would try to figure out how to pass on family traditions to my children! My atheist peers were making up their own lame-o traditions, which I always thought corny! Now our family life is filled with Mass (TLM!), chant, litanies, Mary, Our Dear Lord Jesus, and of course the rhythm of the Liturgical Calendar (the old one). We even often have candle-lit rosary processions around our property, which is such a blast!

Most people think I am a bit crazy, and it is not always easy to be the odd mom. But it is so worth it. To see your kids go and (voluntary) practice their violin, then to go check for eggs in the henhouse, then to help get a meal on the table, then to spend the evening curled up with a good book, is absolutely more precious than all the money in the world. I encourage parents to let their kids have those wonderful opportunities. If you are ever in Texas, Dear Hilary, come down for a visit! We could practice our hospitality skills. (P.S. The first thing I did when my oldest son was 3 was I ditched the television and never looked back!)

Robert Berard said...

"Most people my age spent 20,000 hours of their best years warehoused in a school that looked like a prison,"

It wasn't just that it "looked like a prison"; a number of innocent buildings might do that; it was that it functioned like a prison.