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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I am not wise enough to rule so small a thing

These words from "The ballad of the White Horse" illustrate great wisdom, and the great humility that comes from knowing your limitations.  We tend to think in terms of bigger is better.  This is not necessarily the case.  It takes much more wisdom to rule a small piece of land than a large one.  A large farm has room for waste, has areas that can be used improperly, and has a great ability to be misused.  A small farm on the other hand has little of this.  A small farm must be managed well, or it will fail.  The effects of misuse become more evident, more quickly when concentrated in a few acres rather than spread over hundreds. 
In a similar way it is easier to manage a business when there are huge amounts of capital and labor than when these are scarce.  Those who survive and are poor are much better managers of what they have than even the wealthiest in the world.  We as a society have seem to have forgotten this.  We view all things as a competition, and that the victors gain the spoils.  So whoever has the most spoils must be the victor.  Whoever has the most things, or the most money must be the best at using it.  Yet I have never seen where this is the case.  Having the most means that you cannot give things the attention that they deserve, and can afford to be careless. 
We have turned wealth from the production of something valuable, from the gainful employment of people, into a game.  We have made wealth a game played for its own sake, with the players competing for the best possible score, and then claiming that the best score makes them the best people.  We have lost sight of what wealth was meant to do, and have instead promoted wealth for its own sake, leading many to seek the growth of wealth at the expense of everything else. 
We have replaced people with machines, but do these machines benefit people?  The modern myth is that because machines multiply labor, they must make everyone's life easier.  Is this the case?  Look at the use of robotics in auto factories.  Do they simply make the workers lives more pleasant and less dangerous.  Typically, they make less workers.  The workers who are employed are no better off than when the machines didn't exist, and the other workers must find other employment or starve.  How is this beneficial?  It allows things to be produced cheaper, but for the displaced workers this is of no help at all.  They cannot afford the products.  The benefits do not go to the workers, but to the owners. 
Or look at farming machines  The Machines that allowed farmers to farm more land, or farm quicker did not result in farmers having an easier life or more leisure time, rather these machines resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of farmers.  These machines themselves often limit the number of farmers, because people believe that to make a living at farming, they must have the machines, and in order to have the machines they must have an amount of capital that makes farming appear to be a bad investment.  Family farms are all but gone, and there are almost no general farms anymore.  Farmers specialize and seek to gain the most production as possible with one specialty,  often because it doesn't pay to purchase a wide variety of equipment for a wide variety of crops.  So farmers increasingly specialize, leading to extreme risk if a single crop fails.
We have failed in wisdom.  We no longer see how foolish it is to simply seek size, or production, or income, or any one goal.  We seek after larger and larger things, not seeing how these things put us at risk, or harm those around us.  We have created large groups of people who are without purpose, and who feel dispossessed.  Perhaps we need to admit our ignorance, and return to the small.  At least in the small scale, we can recognize that we are not wise.  Instead we have ignorance masquerading as wisdom, and size masquerading as success.

Live a hands on life

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