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As a teenager at my parents’ small-town church, I heard men in business suits express relief that they made it out of the farm where they grew up. “I got out,” they would say. The implication: I moved up.
I don’t begrudge them that they found farming not to their liking. I believe in following one’s calling—my own father left the family farm to pursue his vocation as a teacher and theatre director. But I did find disquieting the implication that the work of farming wasn’t just not for them, but beneath them.
Introduction - Paradigm - Thinking - Work - Work
This was my introduction to the common paradigm that seems to undergird our societal thinking: that white-collar work is superior to blue-collar work, that farmwork and manual trades are beneath our dignity. We may wax sentimental about the small farm, but the disciplines of farming and housework are still treated as drudgery. Such things are for those we deem lower than us. This has guided mainstream political policy as well: if a few communities are destroyed and people’s livelihoods disrupted for the sake of (government and business-determined) higher profitability and efficiency, that’s a sacrifice rural and small-town Americans will have to make for the sake of businesses those rural people will never know.
My own college’s stated mission was to produce movers and shakers in the top levels of American meritocracy, in the strategic institutions of corporate business, government, and Broadway. But amidst the hustle of New York, I found myself thinking more and more about my grandpa’s farm in the Midwest. What, I wondered, had rural northern Minnesota to do with Manhattan? What had my family’s farm to do with Wall Street? (Even Wall Street brokers need to eat.) Wasn’t the world run by these black and grey suits that I passed by on my way to classes every...
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