L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

02 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

Back to the Rustic Village Life?

James asked last night:

Would you - back to the rustic village life?

The only sane answer to this is


The hankering after a presumed idyllic rustic past seems to be something that townies of various sorts hanker after. It isn't a new desire either. From all those 18th century philosphers and the "noble savage" to Tolkein with his hobbits, the desire to throw off the shackles of nasty urban life and return to something simpler has a long literary tradition.

It is also, pardon my French, Nucking Futs. Rustic life requires one to be occupied in a way that is 100% opposite to Pterry's prefered job description (indoors and no heavy lifting). Rustic life is hard grind. The reason why 45 year old peasant women are wrinkled crones married to equally wrinkled hobbling husbands is that the wonderful rustic life has forced them to work long hours in the cold and wet spending hours or days doing things by hand that someone with a tractor could do in half an hour.

Me I'm all in favour of rustic village life, as long as I have tractors, combine harvesters, electricity, clean water and so on, but when people say they want the "simple rustic life" they don't usually mean that. They think of something rather more primitive and don't think about what it means. As John Ringo points out more than once in the Last Centurion, attempts to force townies to go back to the land have ended up killing large numbers of them (hint: In Cambodia it wasn't the Killing Factories),

I'll add an additional point. Over the couple of centuries since the industrial revolution kicked off millions of peasant farmers have left the land and sought their fortune in the big smoke. Comparatively few factory workers have left the cities and sought their fortunes in the fields. Given that urban slum life is generally pretty bad, the fact that historically people who have experienced the low tech rustic life prefer it should be a major hint as to just how awful slaving away in the fields is. As is the fact that in many cases the only way to keep people working in the fields is, in fact, slavery of one sort or another. Call it villeinage, call it serfdom or be honest and call it slavery, it doesn't matter, the fact is that the best way to keep people working in the fields has generally been to forbid them to leave and to enforce that rule with violence.

And for those who think that the problem is that farming rapes the landscape and that hunter-gathering is the way to go, this is in fact even worse. Despite research that claims that hunter-gatherers work only a couple of hours a day to gather the food they need, hunter gather tribes suffer from all the other trappings of civilization and hence die quicker than we do. From the obviously gory such as being seriously injured by the animal they were hunting to the insidious effect of parasites and diseases the life of a noble savage is no picnic. And it requires acres of land for a small band so if we all regressed that far we'd need about 100 planets like earth to maintain the current 6bn population.

Finally, if you think its bad as a man (and you should) then spare a moment's thought for the lot of the weaker sex in a rustic or savage life. Peasant families value male children because males are stronger and can therefore do more. Women are weaker and hence tend to have to work longer for the same result. They also get pregnant and in the rustic or savage world pregnancy is a high risk event. From this BMJ article:

Death in pregnancy and childbirth is the biggest killer of women of childbearing age in developing countries, according to Dr Adrian Brown, chairman of the charity Maternity Worldwide. One in 16 women die in pregnancy or childbirth in Africa, compared with 1 in 4600 in the United Kingdom.

And then there are the common childbirth related injuries such as fistula, which are common in the developing world and practically unheard of in the developed world.

No really the rustic life is a bad idea.