Monday, December 30, 2013

Antifragile Amish

Eccentric columnists are one thing. The infamously hedonistic Amish are quite another. While Thompson urged the young people of this fair nation to flirt with the weird, our dulcet domestic Dutch diaspora demands nothing from us English. Nothing beyond ordinary peaceable recognition of property rights anyway. From the wool I've gathered, the yarn I see spun is that the Appia Amish is one of family and community first. Their take on technology is that alienation is the tip-top cardinal error. Gazing into the unblinking eye of the television (or, egads, Buzzfeed) bears the opportunity cost of foregone time forging social bonds. No and no, and no again. Nein. Neen. Stem tegen.

Incidentally, the rite of rumspringa is of interest to euvoluntary exchangeurs on its own merits, questioning what counts as coercion. Nominally, kids who've finished sowing their wild oats have the option of abandoning the community for good. Few elect to do so. Why? From what I gather, the practice of strengthening community bonds is extremely effective. There appears to be a nice thick margin where the (relative) nihilism of the English Ways is sufficiently terrifying that the home community retains a strong appeal, privations notwithstanding. Does this count as a flavor of coercion? "Sure you can move to Austin and work in an office with people you don't know, an outsider for the rest of your life. Or, you can come back home where everyone you've ever known (for better or worse) is waiting for you." Coercion by... what? Love? Community? Uncertainty aversion? It's definitely (probably? possibly?) not a coercion likely to engage the moralizing sentiments of the moderate English (for those not in the know, "English" is the term the Amish use to describe non-Amish, so even my blushing full-blood direct immigrant Lithuanian bride would be English to Amish folks). But enough digressing, people. I'd like to consider the larger upshot of a robust Amish community.

And that upshot is the preservation of a not-horrendous aggregate BATNA. Amish communities preserve heirloom seed stock, a fine hedge against a tightly-wound GMO monoculture disaster. They retain vast stores of knowledge of animal husbandry, carpentry, masonry... well, pretty much all the skilled trades you need to run a fully-functioning community minus a nationwide power grid or electronic communications network. Should some great gnashing non-ergodic event wipe out global power distribution, the odds that the world would end up looking like a Kevin Costner movie would be at least somewhat hedged by trade in physical goods as well as skill capital between the Amish and the English.

So then to the moral intuition. It's my general impression that most workaday Americans, when they take a moment to even think about the Amish (and I don't mean to focus on them specifically, I think the moral intuitions could apply to Mennonites, Quakers, or other plain-style religious Diasporas) find the notion behind opting out on a community scale to be perfectly hunky-dory, offensive "Amish Mafia"-style nonsense television programming notwithstanding. Question then: is the intuition behind this similar to what I posited for truck systems? Or is it thanks to a widespread appreciation for the First Amendment? Something else entirely? I'm hesitant to pin my hopes on people's appreciation for my BATNA preservation argument. I think that this sort of reasoning appeals to people who support more funding for near-earth collision monitoring, but not to the median voter.

What of it then, my cherished readers? Do you think the various Pennsylvania Dutch are euvoluntary? Why or why not? If not, how far should political paternalism extend into the community? Does your answer to that last question encourage you to think about how far political paternalism should extend into any community? What's the difference?

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?