3 Aug 2012

Amish Expanding

The Amish are part of a cluster of Christian groups referred to an anabaptists, which includes Mennonites and Hutterites, who settled in the USA in the 18th century fleeing persecution from both Protestant and Catholic groups in Germany and Switzerland. The anabaptists were persecuted for not baptising babies; they believe that only adults can be baptised since it requires an informed decision to dedicate oneself to a Christian life.

There are some very attractive aspects of the Amish way of life. Not the religious convictions, but the attitude to community and technology.  There's a story on Science Blog which suggests that the Amish are expanding quite rapidly. Leaving aside the derogatory headline, the article describes a census and some speculation on why the Amish might be expanding. And interestingly they reckon:
"This means many Amish men will likely look for nonfarm jobs such as woodworking and construction trades, which could affect land prices and potentially enhance local economies through the establishment of business startups."
 So it might be a good thing to have Amish neighbours.

I became interested in the Amish after reading an early Wired Magazine article (1.06). They did a follow up a few years later (7.01). What emerges is an interesting attitude to technology in which the values of their society dictate the use of technology not the other way around. The Amish don't allow the use of the technology that will put a person out of work. So they will use a tractor to move stuff around the farm, but they will not use it to replace the horse team which ploughs the fields. This style of ploughing involves several men working together and that is one of the highest values of the community.

The other limit is that they do not allow the use of a technology if it will disrupt family or community life. As the Wired article explains the Amish were actually early adopters of  the telephone at the turn of the 20th century. The telephone is useful for arranging face time with friends and relatives, and for keeping in touch with relatives who live long distances away. But they decided not to have telephones in their homes where it would detract from family life. They will keep the phone outside in a shed and arrange times to call, or use an answer machine.

There's no doubt that the Amish are also an extreme religious sect which treats the Bible as literal truth. I don't admire their religious views, I admire aspects of their way of life. And there is an objective side to this because the Amish have the lowest rates of mental illness in the USA. They also have very low suicide rates.

They are a reminder of what a society based on shared values looks like. And as the world moves away from being based on values the value of their example seems to me to become increasingly valuable.

update 4 Aug.
There's a BBC show on about the Amish, available till 17 Aug 2012. 

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Keep is seemly & on-topic. Thanks.