The early inhabitants of the New World, both Native Americans and European immigrants, had to be largely self reliant in meeting their needs. This affected what they did and how they did it. The industrial revolution changed all that. It changed our ability to obtain goods and it changed how we obtained them. It also changed society's ideas about the value of those goods, as well as work and money. While many would say we gained a lot thanks to technology, many would say we lost something as well. Something very important.
My observation, is that one major difference between then and now (besides the obvious fruits of technology and industrialization themselves), is how these things have changed our worldview, i.e. our mindset. By this I'm referring to our attitudes, expectations, and perception of the world, it's resources, our fellow humans, their purpose, and how these things interrelate.
My labels for these mindsets are "agrarian" and "consumer/profit." I'm not the first to write about them, and others have different names for the consumer/profit part. I'm choosing the term “mindset” because although agrarianism is often set forth as theory (social and/or political), that seems too superficial to me. Labeling it a theory is like trying to keep it into a box, which can either be set aside, or opened at will to examine and dissect the contents, as though they are not a part of what the human race is about. The heart of the matter goes beyond theory and politics.
At the core, both of these mindsets are about our relationship with the land, or the earth if you will. They are about the right to own it and how we interact with it. The question at the heart of it is, are we a part of the natural world, or are we a separate entity which simply uses and controls creation's resources?
The agrarian mindset is not specifically rural. Rather it is based on what a relationship with the land can provide. Neither is the consumer/profit mindset specifically urban. Rather, it is based on what technology and investments can provide. Many career farmers have bought into the consumer/profit worldview, much to their detriment. Even so, the agrarian mindset does focus on local and regional agriculture. The modern worldview on the other hand, focuses on consumerism and profit economics.
The little ditty,
use it up
wear it out
make it do
or do without
is an example of the agrarian mindset.
Cliches of the consumer/profit mindset on the other hand, include:
time is money
quick and easy
buy now, pay later
I'm worth it
Here are more examples, comparing the two. Their order isn't particularly logical, so bear with me on that. Also, I'm not so concerned about the individual examples as I am in trying to describe a whole, in this case a worldview, or mindset. As you read through them, try not to focus on them as stand alone statements, but see if you can get the gist of what I'm trying to describe.
An agrarian mindset considers the land a partner
A consumer/profit mindset considers it a possession
An agrarian thinks in terms of sustainable
A consumer/profit thinks in terms of expendable
The agrarian assumes there's value in the old
The C/P assumes new is always better
Some one with a consumer/profit mindset, will run to the store to meet a need
Some one with an agrarian mindset, makes do with what's on hand
In the agrarian mind, enough is enough
In the consumer/profit mind, more is better
An agrarian mindset thinks in terms of lifelong
A consumer/profit mindset thinks in terms of turnover
Security for the agrarian is in skills and the land
Security for the C/P is in job and investments
In the agrarian mind, a house is a home.
In the consumer/profit mind, a house is an investment.
An agrarian would prefer to pay their place off
A C/P mindset would prefer a tax write-off from the mortgage interest
An agrarian makes improvements based on meeting needs
A C/P makes improvements based on a return for the investment
The consumer/profit mind practices instant gratification
The agrarian mind waits and plans ahead
An agrarian mindset focuses on skills to meet needs.
A consumer/profit mindset focuses on money to meet them.
In a consumer/profit society, life's goal is happiness, fun and leisure.
In an agrarian society, life's goal is contentment and personal productivity.
An agrarian mind thinks in terms of community
A consumer/profit mind thinks in terms of demographics
The agrarian deems it a social responsibility to help others
The consumer/profit assumes that's the government's job
An agrarian based economy is about meeting real human needs
A consumer/profit economy is about making money
In an agrarian society, one's character deems one trustworthy.
In consumer/profit society, trustworthiness is based on credit rating.
The consumer/profit knowledge base relies on science and the experts.
The agrarian knowledge base relies on experience and common sense.
The agrarian mindset accepts life's uncertainties.
The consumer/profit mindset wants guarantees.
The C/P practices impulse buying
The agrarian practices planned purchasing
The C/P mindset assumes debt is a way of life
The agrarian sees debt as a means to an end
The agrarian looks for a fair price
The C/P looks for a fair profit
The agrarian is willing to share work, knowledge, and skills
The consumer/profit only looks to make a little money off them
The agrarian mindset looks to make a living
The consumer/profit mindset looks to make a fortune
The agrarian strives to be self-sustaining.
The profit mindset strives for consumer dependency
The agrarian thinks in terms of reusable
The consumer/profit thinks in terms of disposable
The agrarian mindset sees money as a tool.
The consumer/profit mindset sees it as personal importance and power.
To the agrarian, quality defines a product that lasts a lifetime
To the C/P, quality is a subjective interpretation
The C/P mindset determines value based on money; “how much is it worth”?
The agrarian mindset determines value based on utility; “is it useful?”
The profit minded business person says, 'This product is important. You need it. You need to be willing to sacrifice and pay a higher price for it.'
The agrarian minded business person says, 'This product is important. You need it. I'm willing to sacrifice profits to make it affordable for you.'
Some may see these as "modern" and "old-fashioned" mindsets and wonder, what's wrong with thus-and-such. After all, even agrarians consume things and some profit is necessary to buy things that can't be produced at home. That is true. However, it's neither the consumer nor the profit part that is the problem. The problem is in how we view these things. Both mindsets describe a means to an end. The question should not be which one is right or wrong, but rather, which end do you want to head towards?
I'm writing this because I have made an interesting observation. It is that despite our different social, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds, homesteaders have one significant thing in common, i.e. the sense that the modern, consumer/profit mindset is flawed. That it's forgotten things that are important. That it can provide neither true security, nor a sense of individual life purpose.
I sometimes get emails from folks who have a desire to homestead, but don't know how or where to start. While knowledge, skills, (and a little land) are obviously important, I believe that to be truly successful at homesteading (rural or urban), we need to change our way of thinking. Our success will depend on how we look at our needs and how we expect to meet them. It depends on where our sense of security lies. I do not believe that the consumer/profit mindset ultimately works for the homesteader. Not because homesteaders never buy or sell anything, but because homesteading is about simplifying our lives, not trying to replicate the modern 21st century lifestyle. It's not that the homesteader is opposed to buying or selling, but that one of our goals is to be able to live without buying or selling if we needed to.
My guess is that most of us are a mix of the two mindsets. Still, I see the importance (for us anyway) to leave the consumer/profit mindset behind, if we want to make our dream come true. We need to learn to rethink our needs, rethink how to meet them, and rethink the true value of things.
To those of you interested in homesteading, whether you are actually doing it, or just wanting to do it, tell me what you think. Tell me, what do you expect from your lifestyle? How do you determine your needs? Realistically, how do you expect them to be met? Where does your security lie? How do you determine the worth of a thing? The floor is yours.
Mindset: Key To Successful Homesteading? © January