Self Reliance Is A Lost Art

I recently read an article on the Legends of Appalachia: The Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center. The Foxfire Museum is located in Mountain City, GA, and is home to most of the history collected as part of the Foxfire project conducted back in the 1960′s. As a fan of the Foxfire books, I was interested to learn more about the museum, and would someday like to visit with my kids. Where better to instill in them a spirit of self reliance, something that seems lost on most of us these days.

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Photo by rjones0856

This post has undergone many revisions, mostly because earlier versions were too politically-charged, or too much of a rant against one political party or the other. A dizzying news cycle also kept me from posting, because I wanted to include recent examples of our dependence on government, and that government’s lack of fiscal discipline, which has an affect on all our financial lives.

However, it became clear to me that I was taking the wrong approach. Suffices to say, both political parties are equally guilty of being fiscally irresponsible. Members of Congress have yet to fully recognize a truth many of us have learned the hard way; you can’t spend more than you have coming in without accumulating debt, and you cannot spend your way out of that debt.

While more and more people are clamoring for more protections, more benefits, and more intrusions into their lives, I wondered what the people featured in those Foxfire books would have thought. These were the type of people who didn’t eat if they didn’t work to grow and harvest the food, or raise and kill the hogs. These were the type of people who turned to their neighbors, and their family, and their churches when they needed help. They were off the grid well before, and long after, there even was a grid!

So what changed? Why did this life of simplicity not take hold? The article I mentioned in the opening cites the Foxfire Museum director as saying during tough economic times their attendance tends to increase. Why is that? Are we only concerned with taking care of ourselves in rough times? Should we not also be concerned with it in good times, so we don’t have to be worried about it in the tough times?

I’ve always been a fan of self reliance, and though I am not the most “green” person around, I enjoy finding more and more ways to take care of my family, and myself, without depending on others. But “dependence” is a tough thing to define.

I depend on my employer to provide me with a job so that I can buy food I cannot grow to feed my family. I depend on many of you, my readers, to supplement the salary from my employer so that I can provide shelter, and clothes and a other things for my family. I depend on a fire department to come if I need them to help put out a fire in my home. I don’t grow enough food to live off, and I don’t produce anything to sell for money (other than the lines I write here). I certainly don’t have the ability to stop a raging inferno in my attic. So to say that I do not rely on others is a farce.

Even those living a caveman-like existence, or a life tucked away in a remote stretch of New Zealand, rely on others for their land, food, and basic medical services, should they need them. I am certainly not advocating we all return to a life of such meager existence, though such an existence seems appealing to those of us surrounded by mortgages, car payments and sky-rocketing utility payments.

Soon we will likely see the end of this recession, and along with it, an end to a renewed interest in living a simple, frugal lifestyle. Most in our society will again find “the good times” an opportunity to spend money frivolously today, and be much less concerned with tomorrow. Savings rates will dip. Consumer debt will increase. The price to own a home, go to college, or buy a loaf of bread, will resume its steady upward march.

It is sad, in a way, that we have forgotten the lessons of our founders, and more recently, our grandparents and great-grandparents. They lived by the motto, “cash on the barrel,” avoiding debt, and buying things only if they had the money up front. They took pride in accepting the least amount of help possible, but gave generously to help those in their immediate community who fell on hard times.

My answer to what happened: debt happened. Readily available credit changed the face of our society forever. From the everday consumer to the highest levels of government. The easier it became accumulate debt, the more we sank ourselves into it. And the more we relied on institutions (banks, government, etc.) to provide those things we once took care of ourselves.

Some will argue that debt helped us grow our economy to the size it is today. Others will point out that without debt, few of us could afford to be in a home. Defenders of recent government stimulus plans and bailouts will cite a need to spend and grow deficits to reverse the recessionary trends we saw in 2008 and 2009.

My question is this:  What would have happened if we did nothing? Would we be any worse off in ten years? Would we be any worse off today?

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