Posts Tagged ‘Montaigne’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As summer nears, my wife is outside in her garden all the time.  I have no idea what she is doing out there.  Well, that is not actually true; I know she is ‘working’ in the garden, but I don’t know what that really entails.  She comes inside with her hands, apron, knees, and shoes a mess.  But, she also walks through the front door with a sense of contentment on her The means of production. face.

Creating a vegetable garden is not my bag and I don’t have much desire to work out there. But, I am excited that the whole of our back and front yard will be used for a productive purpose. Though not as interested as her in urban farming, I do recognize the importance of her motivation.  She loves planting seeds, watering them, watching them grow, pulling weeds, and eventually, harvesting her rewards.  I appreciate that by doing this, she is fomenting rebellion.  By being a producer, she is opposing the ubiquitous life of the American conspicuous consumer.

Think about this for just a minute.  How many Americans today actually produce a physical object?  Unbelievably few.  I think you could perhaps say painters, writers, poets, playwrights and other artists. How many of these people make a living from their production?  Even fewer.  If we think artists are rare, that is nothing compared to the lost class of artisans that once marked the Western world.  Artisans were expert producers of goods for the commonweal. They fashioned an artifact through all the steps of creation. The loss of the artisan is due to our mass-produced society, and modern service economy.  People working in cubicles, both management and employees, ‘produce’ essentially nothing.   America’s biggest employer, Wal-Mart, produces nothing but self-proclaimed low prices. Their employees specialize in our most ‘revered’ trait, customer service.  Even those few Americans who still work in a factory setting produce few goods individually.  Sure, as a team, they may manufacture a product, but as one individual, each man and woman on the line has his/her own specialized role.  Not one person produces an end in itself.  Not one person even knows how to produce something as simple as a graphite pencil. Production as an end in itself is what my wife practices in the garden.

Though there are so few producers in America, there is a glut of consumers.  Actually, there are 300 million consumers in America.  This is unavoidable in today’s economy, but some of us take consumption far too far. Americans have made ‘Consumer’ our personal identity. Self-worth is based upon consumption.   Consumption becomes our spiritual path.  Americans are bombarded by the government, businesses and our peers to buy, buy, buy.  Americans are told we will find the “good life” by consuming.  Inner peace, happiness, wisdom are no longer searched for in work, learning, or meditation; we can simply get these virtues for $14.99 at the local big-box megastore.  Consumption then, affects our mental-health.  As 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put it, “Poverty of goods is easily cured; poverty of soul, impossible.”

And so, this is why my wife loves to work in the garden. She is producing food, by herself.  A poverty of goods in her life is not her concern; the production of food ensures that her soul is bursting with riches.  Complete production as an end in itself leads her to self- fulfillment.  The question then becomes, what do you produce?