On On Liberty

The Guardian recently ranked John Stuart Mill’s book On Liberty #61 on its list of the top 100 non-fiction books of all time.

Mill’s argument for the primacy of individual liberty continues to be important and worthy of reflection:

“(T)he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. (T)he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

***

“Such being the reasons which make it imperative that human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve; and such the baneful consequences to the intellectual, and through that to the moral nature of man, unless this liberty is either conceded, or asserted in spite of prohibition; let us next examine whether the same reasons do not require that men should be free to act upon their opinions – to carry these out in their lives without hindrance, either physical or moral, from their fellow men, so long as it is at their own risk and peril.”

Reading the Guardian’s review I was struck by how these quotes speak to our time, as we face the uncertain future that will follow our latest wave of creative destruction:

“It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery – by automatons in human form – it would be a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilised parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens of what nature can and will produce.”

***

“Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.”

***

“The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation to a little more of administrative skill, or of that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes – will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything will in the end avail it nothing.”

Wise words, then and now.

 

 

Spring Onions

When we first started gardening we planted our onions from sets in the spring. That’s the way we did it when I was growing up. But year after year I was disappointed that the bulbs didn’t get as big as I’d like.

Later we tried putting out transplants in the spring. The results were better, but still usually unsatisfactory.

Finally we settled on the method we use now–planting from sets in the fall and overwintering them. Now we get large bulbs, and while we do have some bolting, we harvest those as spring onions so it’s still a win.

This years onions are the best-looking that I can recall, likely another consequence of our very mild winter.

I’ve already decided to significantly increase the amount of onions we grow next year. We never have enough. To make room I’m going to reduce the amount of garlic we grow, as we always have way more of that than we need. Fiddling around with how we do things is part of the fun of gardening.

 

 

A Mild Winter Means…

Thanks to our very mild winter, we used a lot less firewood than normal. So I’ve got a good head already for next year.

Another consequence may turn out to be a decrease in the quality of our compost. On warm, dry days the goats prefer to sleep outside, rather than in their barn stalls. So this year they spent far fewer days inside, so that they did their business on their bedding far less often.

This is the time of year when I clean out the stalls and sheds and put the material into our compost pile, to produce the fertilizer for next years gardens. We start a new pile every fall with leaves, adding all our organic waste and animal bedding over the next year. We begin using the compost in the spring, eighteen months after we start the pile.

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This is the compost pile I’ve been working on lately. If the picture was clearer it would show the steam rising from the top of the pile, as the material cooks.

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This is what’s left of the mature pile we started in the fall of 2015, with a chicken atop it.

It’s also possible that the mild winter will mean we have more ticks and garden pests this year, but that may be an old wives tale.

The Kids Keep Coming

As of last night we’re up to twelve new kids over the last few days, and with no significant problems so far.

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Correction. Make that 13. While I was waiting for these pictures to load I went out to the barn and helped deliver yet another one.

It’s a great time of year.

Some Thoughts on Division

I heard a professor talking about visiting and getting to know a family in Montana. There were six children in the family and every one of them had served in the military, not because of the economic draft but rather because there is a tradition of military service in their community and family. The professor (from Harvard or somewhere like that) was reflecting on the fact that back at his campus he didn’t know anyone with a child who had served in the military.

Recently I heard Mark Halperin discussing talking with a group of Democratic donors in New York. He asked for a show of hands for how many of them had been to Europe in the past year, and lots of hands went up. Then he asked how many of them had been to Staten Island. Zero hands went up.

Maybe we’ve always been divided culturally, but it seems to be getting worse. Largely gone now are the regional/sectional divisions of the past. Last night we went to hear an American history professor from UNC give a talk about one of his books on the presidency. He said that nowadays (in contrast to the past) affluent suburban people outside of Atlanta vote the same way as affluent suburban people outside of Detroit. Our divisions seem to be increasingly socio-economic.

Among rural people who aren’t highly educated (meaning almost all of us), it seems that the dominant culture not only doesn’t share our values, but rejects and ridicules them. Basic traditional fundamental values like patriotism and religion are seen not as virtues, but indicia of ignorance.

And if this is to be a culture war, where does it leave me? Affluent and educated (at least by country standards), I don’t share many of the biases and political preferences of my friends and neighbors. But country-born and raised, with deep and profound roots here, I take offense at, and want nothing to do with, the contempt and derision being directed at my people by my socio-economic peers.

There is a great old song that asks the question on my mind: what do you do with good old boys like me?

When I was a kid Uncle Remus would put me to bed
With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head
Then daddy’d come in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand
He talked about honor and things I should know
Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head

When I was in school I ran with kid down the street
But I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed
But I was smarter than most and I could choose
Learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news
When I was eighteen, Lord, I hit the road
But it really doesn’t matter how far I go

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

And in these days, with folks like us cast as the villains of history (scapegoats might be a better word), Mr. Berry has wisdom to offer.

Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Men

Come, dear brothers
let us cheerfully acknowledge
that we are the last hope of the world,
for we have no excuses,
nobody to blame but ourselves.
Who is going to sit at our feet
and listen while we bewail
our historical sufferings? Who
will ever believe that we also
have wept in the night
with repressed longing to become
our real selves? Who will
stand forth and proclaim
that we have virtues and talents
peculiar to our category? Nobody,
and that is good. For here we are
at last with our real selves
in the real world. Therefore,
let us quiet our hearts, my brothers,
and settle down for a change
to picking up after ourselves
and a few centuries of honest work.

Wendell Berry
1997

These are growing pains I suppose–just another of the countless transitions humanity has experienced through the millennia. We’ll all come out of it just fine in the end, hopefully without unduly impoverishing our imaginations and our history.

In the meantime, if I could offer some advice from the perspective of someone who straddles both worlds (often uncomfortably) I would urge people to think charitably. That is, don’t assume the worst about the motives of those on the other side of the fence. In the end we’re shaped by things we have little control over. The vast majority of us want the same things ultimately–even if we disagree on how to achieve them. And for every fault we see in those with whom we don’t agree, we can find plenty of things to praise and admire if we only choose to look carefully for them.

It Begins

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Within in a few hours of my publishing yesterday’s post, our goat Sharona delivered triplets.

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Twelve hours later

They’re a fine looking trio–two males and a female.

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On another subject, the spring gardens are all in now. For some reason I do not understand, our English peas were a fail. We’ve always planted an entire garden of them in the past, but they’re so labor-intensive that this year we reduced it to just one row, for ourselves. Strangely, even though we had excellent germination with all the rest of our direct-seeded veggies, even the ones that are notoriously difficult, the peas (usually the easiest thing to grow in the spring) didn’t come up. Must have been bad seed. In any event, I replanted the row yesterday in broccoli.

Even as we’re watching the spring plantings mature, we’re starting to prep the summer gardens, which will planted in early May.

Lately we’ve been enjoying asparagus fresh from the garden.

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It’s a great time of year.