Thursday, January 08, 2009

"A" is For Amish Men Who Go Out To Work

And use technology there. The New York Times coins this change as the greatest cultural change for the Amish, the religious sect which stopped their acceptance of new technology to that point of time when its members first came to the New World. Buttons, for instance, were new-fangled inventions then and, as far as I know, are still frowned upon. Thus, the Amish don't have electricity or telephones inside their homes. Indeed the Amish reluctance of all things new encompasses the custom of not allowing their children to stay at school past age twelve.

All that was based on the ability of the Amish to make a living out of their self-contained farming communities, but farming is no longer sufficient for making a living. Hence the need for the Amish to go out to work or to start their own businesses:

The Amish move into the world of commerce has been more out of necessity than desire. Over the last 16 years, the Amish population in the United States — mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana — has nearly doubled, to 230,000, and the decreasing availability and increasing cost of farmland has forced many of these agrarian families, especially the younger generation, to gravitate to small business as their main source of income.

The businesses, which favor such Amish skills as furniture-making, quilting, construction work and cooking, have been remarkably successful. Despite a lack of even a high school education (the Amish leave school after the eighth grade), hundreds of Amish entrepreneurs have built profitable businesses based on the Amish values of high quality, integrity and hard work. A 2004 Goshen College study reported that the failure rate of Amish businesses is less than 5 percent, compared with a national small-business default rate that is far higher. (According to a federal study, only two-thirds of all small-business start-ups survive the first two years and fewer than half make it to four years.)

Hmm. Quilting is mentioned in that list of Amish skills. Their quilts are world-famous, and for a very good reason as they are superb works of art. I'm pointing this out, because that indirect reference to the Amish women (who are the makers of the quilts) seems to be the only part where women enter the story.

Well, they also enter it indirectly here:

Many Amish have dealt with the collision of modern business technology and old world values by keeping their home and work lives completely separate. Though they still drive horses and buggies, remain off the power grid and wear simple, handmade clothing, some are using computers and power tools and talking on cellphones at their jobs.

"Wear simple, handmade clothing?" And who makes that clothing, by hand?

Mr. Troyer grew up on a farm without electricity, automobiles, telephones or television. His home is still without these modern conveniences but he is comfortable using a phone and computer at work. He does not drive but is willing to ride in a car. He acknowledges that some Amish churches grapple with collision of the old and the new and will not allow their members to use a phone or ride in a car, even at work. "Our community is a little more liberal," Mr. Troyer said.

It is the women whose jobs are at home. So it is the women who still don't have access to modern technology in their work. They make the clothes by hand and cook without gas or electricity and how they wash the clothes I dread to imagine. It's useful to make that clear, among all the enthusing about the various ways the Amish manage to keep their family lives pure of modernistic influence. There's a big difference between wearing hand-made clothes while eating simple meals at home and making those clothes and those meals. The writer of this article took a man's view to the "A" in the Amish question.