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September 01, 2013

Comments

The prevalency of the European Marriage Pattern is illustrated nicely by fairy tales. Many a tale starts with a variation of: "There was a poor man/widow living in a small cottage with his one/two/three son(s). One day, the father/mother said to his/her son(s): 'Time has come for you to strike out to find your fortune in the world.' And the son(s) took with them [a variety of simple household or food items] and left their home."

This story-telling device requires the prevalence of the "European Marriage Pattern" to be believable, but it also reinforces it. When you grow up listening to such tales, you internalise the idea that growing up means leaving your home.

Quite interesting. I've never encountered "EMP" beyond Seattle Center. The transition to industrial capitalism was indeed brutal, and not wholly due to processes like the enclosure movement. Like the marxists, I feel you have overstated your case, and I look forward to the discussion.

PS: Yves Smith is a "she".

This system had been in existence since the Black Death, at least: it was ideal for getting industrial workers, but was much older than industrialization, or even capitalism as we understand it.

I understood Black Death to be the main driver, lots of peasants die, there is a shortage of labor and a rise in wages. link. The link mentions the possible link to marriage patterns, but I'm not sure if this is the EMP you are talking about or if this has been superseded by more recent research.

I'm not sure this is a case of either / or.

EMP or not EMP, it is also true that the tradition of common land provided an alternative to wage labor. That is, it made more resources available for folks who were not wealthy to provide for themselves. That may actually have included some amount of labor for hire, however when that was so, it put them in a better position when negotiating what their wage might be.

And, it's also true that the enclosure movement put an end to that, and that 'putting an end to that' was a large part of the motivation behind the enclosure movement.

That, and privatizing what had been commonly held resources.

Last but not least, there are folks who actually like farming, in spite of the fact that it's very hard and demanding work.

The early factories were often hellish: long hours and low pay under very dangerous working conditions. Farm work would have to pretty bad to compete.

But sometimes it was. There were periods when hired farm laborers were underfed, malnourished individuals who barely had the strength to do the required work.

Work as a domestic servant could be grueling as well. The worst domestic work was for middle class families. They hired fewer servants and expected them to do more, plus he middle class families were usually home. Rich people hired lots of servants, expected less work from each individual, and moved around a lot, leaving servants at home with little work to do at all.

I realize that the post is about broad trends over time. I also realize that my undisciplined readings of historical works gives me snapshots, but not the big picture. So I'm not disagreeing or drawing a conclusion.

A monograph I read in college on early industrialization in the US indicated that "work ethic" as we understand it today was partly a creation of factory owners, people were not accustomed to the regimentation of the factory work schedule. References to daily production logs included entries like "closed early, everyone went to beach"; if I recall correctly this would have been in the 1830s.

This is, after all, an extremely common phenomena. Everybody who has even the slightest unhappiness with the current world embraces some, highly romanticized, time in the past as an alternative.

If you are unhappy with industrialization, you romanticize the pre-industrial rural life. And ignore the reality of what life in agriculture is really like. If you are unhappy with what you see as current immorality, you romanticize the 1950s. And ignore the reality of how people actually behaved then.

I think Ivan Illich discusses that, noting that schooling, with the notions of schedules and time divisions is specifically designed not to educate in the sense of having student reach their full potential, but to train, in order to have students become accustomed to regimentation. If that sounds interesting, read Deschooling Society

ignore the reality of what life in agriculture is really like.

I don't want to make too much of this, but 'life in agriculture' is not and was not inherently some kind of living hell.

The kind of agriculture that was displaced by the loss of the commons was not large-scale farming for market. It was primarily small-scale farming to grow food for your own use. It's a lot of work, but it's not extraordinary, unbearable drudgery.

Just ask slarti, if I may volunteer his experience (what little I know of it) as an example.

There are a fairly large number of people in the US today who farm, for their own consumption and/or for local markets via CSA's, farmer's markets, or direct sale to restaurants. Many of them do it in addition to professional day jobs of one kind of another, and many of them do it as a kind of family cottage industry.

In season, I buy a lot of stuff from these people. They work holdings as small as 2 acres (those folks are, literally, half a mile from me, and they make spectacular pickles), up to a couple hundred acres.

That way of life was fairly normal 100 or even 75 or 80 years ago, as is evidenced by my parents' and grandparents' youth. People cobbled together a livelihood from combinations of some gardening and farming, maybe a professional job or maybe not, some casual labor, some artisanal craft work.

Hell, my mother's family had chickens in Brooklyn in the 30's. My father's family grew their own food, and traded eggs and other surplus for stuff they couldn't grow, like coffee and sugar. My father's father supplemented their cash flow by doing mechanical odd jobs.

Some folks hate it - my father couldn't get away from it fast enough. My uncle, his brother, kept a very large household garden until he was in his 80's. He'd spend a few hours at it every day, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

Modern day large-scale commercial agriculture is not the 'life of agriculture' that was displaced by enclosure etc. And there's no need to 'imagine what life in agriculture is really like', in most places you can go find an example quite near you and take a look.

There is a nearly endless list of benefits that has come to us from industrialization. (Likewise, a nearly endless list of things that are perhaps not so beneficial, but that's probably another thread). But saving us all from growing our own dinners if we care to do so is hardly one of them.

If anything, what's unfortunate is that everybody sinks so many hours into their day jobs nowadays that nobody has time to grow their own food.

It's a lot of work, but it's not extraordinary, unbearable drudgery.

That's true now. With modern technology and fertilizers. In the past, agricultural productivity was much lower, and farming was much more labour intensive, especially for those non-wealthy folks who had to subsist of marginal lands, which is to say, most everyone.

And there's no need to 'imagine what life in agriculture is really like', in most places you can go find an example quite near you and take a look.

If you go to a rural part of a developing country, you'll see better what farming looked like in former times.

Small scale farming (or large-scale gardening) to supplement the family food intake, and even to sell food at the farmer's market, can be very rewarding. Knowing that you won't eat if the crop fails is not so good. The weather can be your friend, or not. Insects, weeds, etc.... Good health is essential, or help (perhaps in the form of older children).

It's absolutely true that some people love farming, but very few people in the U.S. are subsistence farmers, and even they (most of them) have things like refrigeration and electricity, which helps a lot in food preservation. There are some subsistence farmers - many people try it for awhile. Many Amish have subsistence farms, and perhaps their lifestyle looks something like days gone by, but most people would never choose that life.

But saving us all from growing our own dinners if we care to do so is hardly one of them.

The key is "if we care to do so". A lot of people grow some of their own dinners because they care to do so. Hardly anyone in the United States will starve if they don't. That's the key difference.

due to the European marriage pattern (EMP), a very high proportion of the peasant population "left their land" to work for wages during their late teens and early twenties. In pre-industrial England, for instance, about about 60% of 15-24 year-olds worked as servants: unmarried and working for wages away from home.

Then as the new fangled factories opened their doors, one would expect to observe that the wages of servants increased since the factory owners and those with servants were bidding for the services of the same part of the population?

A awful lot of those Amish "subsistence" farmers in Pennsylvannia are earning substantial incomes from puppy mills in their barns.

The farm vs factory choice is a matter of personal preference. If I had to live as one of the working poor on a farm or in a factory in the mid ninetheeth century England I would pick the farm. But I'd rather live as a middle class American in 2013.

Just to refocus the 'farming sux!!' meme back in the direction of the original post -

The claim being made here is that there is some kind of romantic nostalgia for the pre-industrial rural communal lifestyle. Specifically, that this alleged nostalgia blinds folks to the fact that it did not afford non-wealthy rural people with a degree of self-sufficiency, and that in fact they had all already left the farm to go work for other people, so the industrial revolution wasn't that much of a leap.

I think that's actually not accurate. And, in places where commoning was practiced, it was a critical part of the culture as far as making a degree of self-sufficiency possible.

Yes, it's true that farming in pre-industrial days was a lot of work. So was everything else.

And yes, we aren't as susceptible to famines due to weather and blight as we were 500 years ago. We are also not susceptible to dying of infection if we get a splinter. Science is a good thing.

And no, land and other resources made available via commons was not exclusively, or even mainly, marginal land.

And I don't need to go to a developing country to see what farming looked like in former times. I know from members of my own family what that lifestyle is like. It's hard work, it's not for everyone, but if you have access to land and you want to do the work, you can grow a lot of your own food. If you have any kind of artisanal skill, you can make a lot of your own stuff.

And if you're that kind of person, you don't have to go to town and live off of wage labor, unless you want to. Which, like my old man, lots of folks did, but not everyone.

You don't have to engage in ahistorical romanticism to recognize that rural people had a degree of self-sufficiency under the practice of commons that was lost after enclosure.

What commoning made available to rural people was greater means to do for themselves, if they wished to do so.

And none of this contradicts the discussion of EMP, the two things are orthogonal. Which is also my point.

russell, to the extent that you seem to be annoyed that people consider the "farming as the way to go" attitude to be questionable, let me offer this:

My grandparents were also farmers, having inherited land from subsistence farmers in Illinois. None of their progeny became farmers - no one in that line is a farmer now. They became engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, etc. There's a reason why they aren't farmers now - they were poor when they were farmers, and then they weren't.

If you have any kind of artisanal skill, you can make a lot of your own stuff.

I actually am that kind of person. I like making things and selling stuff that I make. I've actually done some of that, and I think I could make a reasonable living doing that. I still think about doing it in my old age.

However, if you're an artisan (not an artist0, doing it all by yourself gets extremely repetitive and boring. Not that you can't do it and watch TV at the same time, etc., but in order to make it really interesting, and make a good living, you'd have to make a business out of it: hire people to do some of the work, manage an enterprise, keep books, pay salaries and taxes, market product, etc. And that becomes something else - it's not living off the land. Really, I've dabbled in it. It's hard to make a living doing it.

I love Wendell Berry too. But, really - have you, yourself, given it a try? Not too many people do it for very long.

Hi Doc,

Some scholars would disagree with the more sweeping explanatory claims put forth by various EMP advocates. I have not had time to read all of it, but see here for an example.

Regards,

PS: Russell, Marx did not refer to the "idiocy of rural life" without reason, but your points are taken.

I think that rural folks have always gotten the short end of the stick in terms of ridicule. Homer made fun of the warriors from rural places, calling them something like 'wide walkers' because they had grown up stepping from row to row in their fields. (Though Hesiod's Works and Days might be basically a rant against the city slicker brother) Any fight about rural vs urban is going to be lost by the rural team cause there are so many more of the urbanites.

(footnote: I know that if I had to grow my own food, I'd starve because I've got a toxic thumb when dealing with plants, so I'm not denigrating the amount of work, organization and intelligence it takes to be a good farmer)

Any fight about rural vs urban is going to be lost by the rural team cause there are so many more of the urbanites.

That may be true now, in the industrialized nations, but for most of history (and much of the world even now) the countryside had far more people than the cities. And countryfolk still got mocked; cf. As You Like It

What the cities had was literacy and control of the "means of cultural production," as well as political clout. It's the ruling classes (and their tame scholars and artists) sneering at the ignorant masses; always has been, probably always will be.

Which is not to say it's wrong. ;}

The debate about the enclosure of commons is only relevant to a part of Europe. The commons was not the same as the current "public domain". It was mostly pretty regulated business, but the regulation was unformal and mostly unwritten but very often legally enforceable.

To take the example of Sweden, with a legal culture based on Germanic law, most fields and all pastures of non-noble land were held in common. They were the legal property of the village. However, the "village" did not mean the same as "everyone living there" but it meant "the owners of the farms". Each free-holder would have a very specifically determined share in each of the fields and pastures, and the relations between farms and villages were defined in extreme detail in the written law. The procedural law discussed widely suits by one village against another.

Yet, this meant that with growing population, those who did not inherit land did not have access to the "commons" and if they were granted such access, it was on contractual, not customary basis. While there was an enclosure-type development from 1750's onward, it did not change these existing power-relations.

I'm pretty sure that even the English commons was not a free-for-all. To be sustainable, it had to be rather regulated, with clear customs on the allowed use by each household. In fact, one of the best ways to force enclosure would have been not to enforce such customs. This would have resulted in the tragedy of commons, and paved way for enclosure. Because the manor-owners were also magistrates, that would have been very well in their power.

So, while the enclosure movement destroyed the small-time landholding in England, this was an English peculiarity, not a universal trend behind the European civilization.

It went deeper than just mocking the rurals. The very term 'pagan' literally means rural people. Christianity was foremost an urban (and thus implicitly elite) religion in those times* and the fatal trend of seeing non-Christians as subhuman brutes also began to rear its ugly head.

*when the term came up

russell, to the extent that you seem to be annoyed that people consider the "farming as the way to go" attitude to be questionable, let me offer this

I'm not annoyed. I don't have a 'farming is the way to go' attitude.

Clear?

I'm making a very small set of very specific points:

1. Doctor Science takes issue with Yasha Levine's argument about the effect of enclosure on rural life in the early industrial period, and characterizes Levine's and Smith's points as examples of ahistorical romanticism. I think she is wrong about that.

That isn't an argument that her statements about EMP are incorrect, it's simply a statement that the two things do not exclude each other.

2. I take issue with this, from wj:

If you are unhappy with industrialization, you romanticize the pre-industrial rural life. And ignore the reality of what life in agriculture is really like.

It's quite possible to be critical of many aspects of industrialization, without romanticizing pre-industrial rural life. And, it's quite possible to do all of that without being ignorant of the reality of what 'life in agriculture' is really like.

I somewhat regret bringing up examples of current day or near-current day agricultural practice, because I think those have obscured the basic points I was trying to make. My intent in bringing them up was simply to demonstrate that 'the reality of life in agriculture' is not that foreign to many folks, if they think about it for ten minutes.

Lastly:

have you, yourself, given it a try?

For the record:

I've not tried farming, but I have done physical labor in building trades. I actually quit a tech job to do so.

I enjoyed it quite a lot, it was really enjoyable to build stuff. Working outside in the winter is a b*tch but you actually do get used to it.

I left that and went back to software because (a) I discovered that I have no head for heights, which basically rules out making a career in building, and (b) I got into it too late, and didn't know enough, and so didn't really have a realistic shot at making a career of it.

But net/net, I enjoyed it quite a lot. It was hard work, but I didn't mind it.

None of that is on point, I'm just replying to your off-point question for the record.

Marx did not refer to the "idiocy of rural life" without reason

No doubt, however Marx was prone to idiocies of his own. We all have our blinders.

I'm pretty sure that even the English commons was not a free-for-all.

To Lurkers excellent and apt points -

Yes, all correct. Common land - and all other forms of common use such as rights to fish and hunt, gather fuel and wild food, etc - were absolutely not free for all.

They were not limited to freeholders in all places, but in many places they were. And their use absolutely was regulated, which is why the whole 'tragedy of the commons' argument is such utter horsesh*t.

The institution of the commons was not nirvana. And, especially as populations grew, it did not prevent the need for many people to, basically, find a way to make a living in some way other than cottaging.

Hence, the lack of conflict between the rural communal lifestyle and EMP. Some folks had to leave home and find something else to do.

And, with the growth in population, everybody raising their own food in their own small plot was likely an approach to farming that simply would not scale. So even absent enclosure, it's likely that the commons model would have come to an end in one way or another.

What the institution of the commons *did* provide, and what was lost with enclosure, was the ability of many many people, people who were village residents in places where common resources existed, and who did have right of access to common resources, to make their way without being dependent on wage labor.

Many of them likely also did hire themselves out at particular times - planting, harvest - to make some cash income, but they could often live without it if they wished. It gave them a degree of independence and self-sufficiency.

There is nothing ahistorical or romantic about it, it was just a different way of life.

It's quite possible to be critical of many aspects of industrialization, without romanticizing pre-industrial rural life.

Yes, russell, I know it is possible. But it is also (at least in my experience) quite common for those who are critical of industrialization to romanticize. As you say, it isn't necessary . . . but it seems to be what commonly happens.

And, I would note, my point was that those who romanticize prior eras are those who object to the current era. Not, necessarily, the reverse.

it isn't necessary . . . but it seems to be what commonly happens.

Fair enough.

My point overall is that Levine's comments as excerpted by Doc Science are not ahistorical romantic BS, but are in fact fairly accurate.

The issue about growing / hunting / otherwise obtaining your own food etc. being some kind of hideous unbearable hardship that no-one with any choice would ever choose to take on was sort of a sideline.

Folks have always done that, and many still do. No doubt most folks reading this blog don't, but folks who hang out on political blogs as a hobby are not necessarily a representative sample of the population.

It's a lot of work, but it's not extraordinary, unbearable drudgery.

Just ask slarti, if I may volunteer his experience (what little I know of it) as an example.

My experience is presently fairly limited, but I still feel an urge to chime in.

Growing your own food, in all or part, is a mixed bag. If it's your only basis for survival, and you're starting from scratch, it's probably tough going, especially if you happen to live in a time or place where you can't swap or sell your excess crops so that you can feed yourself in the off-season.

But these days, it doesn't need to be all or nothing, and I suspect that to some extent it hasn't had to be for quite some time.

What it really takes is a willingness to work to obtain the kind of food you like (e.g. tomatoes that have a better flavor and texture than a baseball), plus a certain interest in what you're doing, plus enough extra interest so that you take the time to think about making everything easier. Every book I've read on the topic stresses this point: work harder on thinking about how not to work so hard.

This last part is WAY under-rated IMO and is actually the key to successfully feeding yourself and your family.

There are quite a large number of books on permaculture out there that even if you don't have any desire to participate, still make for interesting reading.

Currently I only have about 124 square feet in cultivation, but I've still pulled about fifteen pounds (so far) of zipper cream peas out of it this summer, during a time when little else will survive the Florida sun. And I've put maybe a couple of hours total into that.

When I lived in Alabama, we had a couple of thousand square feet in cultivation, and wound up giving a lot of food away. And we only tended that in our off hours; we both worked full-time. I think if I had my preference, I'd have several acres partitioned off into fruit trees, berries, a few discrete garden patches, and a henhouse or three. The chickens would be for food, eggs and compost. We might not ever have to buy food again.

Being in Central Florida as I am, the toughest things about growing are bugs, fungus, heat and lack of soil amendments. Those more than make up for the lack of a real winter. Here, the real growing season is winter.

(e.g. tomatoes that have a better flavor and texture than a baseball)

You obviously lack the proper technique for stewing baseballs.

Here, the real growing season is winter.

I was just telling someone the other day, here in NJ, about the part of my life I spent in Phoenix, and how, opposite to NJ, everything is brown in the summer and green(er) in the winter. (I moved there as a kid in September, when everything was still very green in NJ, but burnt to a crisp in Phoenix, which made me feel like I had just moved to the Moon.)

Back on topic, at least meta-on topic - this is an intersting discussion, and I appreciate being disabused of my ahistorical notions. It's fertile territory, to which any number of blogs could likely be dedicated on a full-time basis without running out of ahistorical notions to disabuse me of.

And, I would note, my point was that those who romanticize prior eras are those who object to the current era. Not, necessarily, the reverse.

Certainly. And this became pronounced, I posit, with a school of thought associated with the early 19th century labeled (oddly enough) "Romanticism". This pining is well neigh universal across the current political spectrum with the possible exception of some die hard marxists and those few libertarians who are wise enough to not romanticize the Gilded Age.

It is also difficult to "object to" the past if one is using the term synonymously with the expressed desire to "change it".

A. Historically

I'm afraid I got distracted from this interesting thread by Russell's reference to practicing a rural life as "cottaging."

From Wikipedia:

Cottaging is a British gay slang term referring to anonymous sex between men in a public lavatory (a "cottage",[1] "tea-room"[2] or "beat"[3]), or cruising for sexual partners with the intention of having sex elsewhere.[4][5] The term has its roots in self-contained English toilet blocks resembling small cottages in their appearance; in the English cant language of Polari this became a double entendre by gay men referring to sexual encounters.[6]

"Cottage" is documented as having been in use during the Victorian era to refer to a public toilet and by the 1960s had become an exclusively homosexual slang term.[7][8] The word used in this sense is predominantly British (a cottage more commonly being a small, cosy, countryside home), though the term is occasionally used with the same meaning in other parts of the world.[9] Among gay men in America, lavatories used for this purpose are called tea rooms.[10][11]

(I happened to be reminded of this through watching the British legal drama "Silk" last night - highly recommended for those who can hack the accents. My wife and I actually turned on "Closed Captions" to make sure we weren't missing anything!)

Sorry: please carry on with your serious discussion, everybody, and try to ignore the large pedant in the room.

I happened to be reminded of this through watching the British legal drama "Silk" last night

LOL.

My wife and I watched "Silk" last night, I just thought I was totally misunderstanding the word due to some quirk of the accent.

They were a randy folk, those pre-industrial peasants!!

They were a randy folk, those pre-industrial peasants!!

That was also the opinion of (naturally urban) theologians that saw the rural folk in general and the peasants in particular as uncontrollable sex maniacs that rutted like rabbits even on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays what no proper Christian would do. Well...pagans (see my post above).

"It's fertile territory"

ISWYDT

I never ceased to be amazed at the human propensity to avoid the mention of sex and/or one's activities in the loo by sidetracking the discussing via metaphor and simile to some highly delicate activity.

We (meaning the population at OBWI) of course do little more then catch up on our Elmore Leonard, Moby Dick, and the Baseball Almanac in the room that shall not be mentioned.

At the other end of the language-in-company conundrum is the mostly male propensity to hear double entendre references to sex and the bathroom in just about every innocent utterance.

And so, at the risk of extreme naughtiness (a little late for me to apologize in that regard), I had a beloved in-law who at too many highway exit approaches and forks in the road would warn with sincere gravitas while I was at the wheel, like George Will warning of some constitutional infraction: "Whatever you do, don't let yourself get sucked off here!" , or "If we get sucked off to the right here, we'll be on the wrong track for hours!"

Indeed.

I would receive these directions with cheerful alacrity and make a show of two handedly gripping the wheel as if some ineluctable physical force was fighting for control of the car and say something along the lines of: "I assure one and all that I won't allow any of us to be sucked off because that way lies insanity and peril," in a bad voice impression of Ed Wynn or Stan Laurel or some other colorful personage.

Then I would hunt up eye contact in the rear view mirror with another passenger, probably the husband of said in-law or my wife at the time (I see now that my cracked sense of humor, cumulatively, may have taken its toll), and they would invariably be averting their gaze to the passing scenery with what appeared to be very studied indifference, except for the ghost of a smirk on their lips.

It was like a dream convergence of Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, Yogi Berra's advice regarding forks in the road and Linda Lovelace's regretful memoirs.

At any rate, dr. ngo's indispensable pedantry has put me off cottage cheese for awhile, not that it's a part of my diet anywho.


ISWYDT

Believe it or not, that was unintentional. (Even though part of me would prefer to let people think me wittier than I really am, the fact that it was unintentional is too worthy of sharing for me to keep it to myself.)

Following up a bit on the `but if you're really a subsistence farmer you starve in bad years'; true, but *also true* of going to the city to work, through most of history. I know I've read that London and Manchester couldn't reproduce their own populations for most of the early Industrial period -- the mortality rate was too high.

I know a couple families now in Nicaragua who split the risks among the children; some kids get a city education, and when there are jobs they send currency home; others inherit land, but when there aren't jobs in the city the sibs have a home there. (I don't know how formal the arrangement is, or how it will extend to the next generation.) Otherwise the farmers would get trapped when prices went wrong and the employees would get trapped when unemployment went up.

"It went deeper than just mocking the rurals. The very term 'pagan' literally means rural people. Christianity was foremost an urban (and thus implicitly elite) religion in those times* and the fatal trend of seeing non-Christians as subhuman brutes also began to rear its ugly head."

I would disagree with this assessment -- Christianity was not particularly an urban religion, in fact the cities were the last bastions of organized paganism. In any case cities represented 5% of the total population, so Christianity by definition had to be a rural religion once it became the majority religion of the Empire.

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