The Farm as a Social Unit

I was thinking the other day about what it means to have a social life when you live on a farm, and just the kind of social lifeway a farmer has and the relationship with the land on which they inhabit. There is a myth that farmers are backwards folk who don’t really have any friends, are perpetually lonely, less educated and with a low intelligence. I think this is pretty far fetched, and a shot way clear of the mark. In speaking of these country dwellers, I mean to include the masculine and feminine in representation of the farmer archetype. Just a couple nights ago, I was asked by a dear friend if I felt lonely, on the farm, and who I take my company with, if not on my own. This kind of tangiered into a branching of different thoughts about my own social life,  and where a farmer finds their outlet for socializing.

For the urban population, it is common to mingle with hundreds of different people everyday, and each new day several other hundreds of individuals that can be come into contact with, each with their own unique persona, ideas, philosophies, ideologies, religions, beliefs, styles, professions, families, personal histories, karmas, relationships, associations, etc. This can be a dizzying perspective for a single person to grock. Bonds are loose and moral responsibility is thin to any one individual, because their relationships are diluted thinly to include a morass of others into their social circles, not to mention their online following, and long distance connections through social media. The staggering amount of base conversation that can occur in a single 24-hour time period is nearly overwhelming. We are deep into the communication age, and urban people are inundated with tremendous amounts of information and opinions, and quickened communication in their workplaces, that more often than not are just transitory and ephemeral voices that don’t impact on one’s psycheto any great importance. Then to fill this void, one will invite company, or “go out” to express their social mores in the metropolis in ways that can not be gleaned from going in. The social life of the city dweller is made with haste, like instant yeast, that swells to proportions in which inclusion of the other is extended beyond the emotionally sustainable limit, and leaves one feeling lonely even amongst the masses. The weariness of things unsaid, the deep and profound words that rarely get a space and time to be shared amongst bar room banter, office discourse and coffee shop chit chat do not seem to get to the root of the social beings that we are as humans. They leave us hungry for more, and often result in a kind of egoic identity that does not speak to share, and form unity but talks into order to hear oneself, and heighten ones self image. Observations are easy enough to see. City people speak faster and with less enunciation than rural farming folk, and only tend to linger over the commonalities of modern society, while making sure all words spoken are filtered through political correctness, and absolutely dissolved of any taboo or spiritual vein whatsoever.

In the absence of instantly available social hubs, and the lack of rapid communication systems, it frees up a lot of time to contemplate and appreciate life, rather than talk so much about it. It is regaled to the feeling senses more than the occupation of the mind. Gossip is not really a mainstay of a farmers social life because relatively speaking, connections are few but close, and it would be detrimental to acquire a bad reputation, there is less anonymity in a farming community, as opposed to an urban environment when anonymous encounters are commonplace. A homesteader friend of mine in Vermont once told me, “you get a lot done, without hi-speed internet”, he meant this in a practical workaday manner, but it also applies to social life. Without the crux of constantly being online, farmers and their friends turn to each other and talk over the days chores, while jarring maple syrup, collecting eggs, grooming cows, or weeding. Conversations tend to just pick up where they left off the last time, and there is no beginning or end to a subject discussed, only segways into many diverse topics.

A farmer will tend to make voice to their mind in a much slower fashion, speaking wise words or none at all, and find his company not in the bright lights of the night life, and novel thrills of the metropolis, but the slow motion appreciation of organic change on his/her homestead, and farm, with the circle of other farmers who just ‘get it’, and with those eclectic souls who live on the outskirts, and don’t mind provoking or speaking about the sensitive and tricky subjects that everyone thinks about. The genre of their tongue is altogether different. In any given day a farmer might talk about the weather, the plants and the animals, but also wax greatly on topics like like evolution, sex, travel, spiritual tradition, all the most interesting conversations really. On the farm, in the absence of authorities and public eyes, communication breaks from its culturally sanctioned shell and is allowed to be free of rules, time restrictions, or limitations.

A farmer does not experience loneliness in the same way a city person does. Where he may by all means feel alone, and experience vast amounts of solitude, he rarely needs to confront loneliness because he makes his company in the presence of his present companions, the animals, his work, the spiritual beings of the land, the moods of the weather share in his mindset, and the plants talk to him, in a metaphorical sense, when he takes a keen conservation of their own language. His friends are also near, maybe down the road, or the ones he sees on the weekends at the market, thus breeding a familiarity of context in their social sphere. The farmers social life is integral to where he is, as he makes a bio-regional pact to living and loving one place for a very long time, and commits himself to deepening the relationships with that place, carefully sliding into his niche wherein he finds the solace of a friend in those wild and cultivated spaces. This idea was also espoused by Thoreau, of making companion with ones home. Of course, there are social connections on the farm with other people, and these tend to be of the same type; interns, neighboring land keepers, local hunters and foragers in the area, travelers that visit the farm, or customers that loyally support the business. It can revolve around some aspect of planning, maybe discussing a planting calendar. A farmer learns practical things every time he trades words with another; where to find the edible berries, what animals are in season to hunt, the forecast for harvest, possible celestial events. The kind of dynamics of a farm social is usually practical, and happens simultaneously along with working, or as a result of the work. Thus there is a focalizing center, and even a brand of dialect on the farm, as it is an integral unit in and of itself.

In the case of the city person, it is hard to fathom these form of relations, they tend to a view that it is dull, boring, and limited, because they need constant communication, novelty and thrills, and silence remains a hard prospect to have. Ask any urban dweller to just do nothing, or be in complete solitude for even a few minutes, and they will start becoming unglued. The kind of questioning I often get is related to those I quoted earlier, “what do you do will all your time? is a big one, or “where are all of your friends?”. As someone that does not have a social media presence, outside of this journal, I am not a ‘collector’ of friends via the standard means used today (a.k.a. facebook, twitter, snapchat etc.) The lastingness of social media is so ephemeral, that there is even apps that instantly delete your conversation seconds after it happen. It can be argued if these are even true social means at all, because they are so incredibly new to us a communal species.

We all evolved and originated from small intensive tribal units, and some studies have shown that we are not even capable of forming lasting relationships with more than 50 individuals at any one time. This is because we adapted to be hard wired for closely knit clanic connections with our locality, tribal gatherings, small family hamlets, and so forth. Whereas in the digital age, it is not uncommon for someone to have upwards of thousands of ‘friends’ in their revolving social spheres, not to mention the co-workers, strangers, business associates, etc. that one intermingles with everyday. This creates a whole culture of alienation, where lasting relationships are extremely hard to come across, and unclaimed conversation never allows real and radical communication to flourish.

The reality of modern social life is rather illusory and ephemeral, as people feed on constant instant gratification reward circuits and this reflects back to intimate love partnerships as well. There is less time to process the thoughts and ideas, as they rush through and therefore don’t stay around long enough to be integrated or involved in any practical way in real life. Relationships fall apart because of broken communication. A societies social life is bound to only send shallow roots into the collective unconscious, rather than mining the deep well, for pure and original inspirations. City folk communicate in abbreviated tongues, fast flowing memes, and slang. A farmer distills the essence of what he wants to say when he wants to say it, and their is great weight and perspicacity in their words. On a farm, communication occurs naturally as a result of what is going on in a dynamic and holistic way, rather than preternaturally as a means to an end.

So these are just a few of my own biased visions I witness on the social life of a farmer, and the nature of communication that exists on a farm, in comparison to that of an urban dweller. You may have your own conceptions of this, and each perspective can have strong grains of truth in them. But it is my answer to the question of what kind of a social world a farmer lives in.

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