A people who are entirely lacking in economic self-determination, either personal or local, and who are therefore entirely passive in dealing with the suppliers of all their goods, cannot be governed democratically–or not for long. –Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank
In this election season both sides are pouring huge amounts of money into ads designed to bypass our minds and grab our emotions. Most of those ads are negative, playing on our fears. They imply that we are in grave danger, that we ourselves are powerless, that one candidate’s election will save us from the threats of terror and economic, communal and ecological collapse while the other’s election will ruin us. When we buy into this message we become paranoid, despairing and easily manipulated by the advertisers. Working with our hands to supply our needs, and living by faith, can give us strength and clarity to keep living as good citizens and neighbors.
In simplifying our lives we resist the commercial ads that tell us we must buy their products in order to become happy, loved, attractive or successful. We build competence, we get to know our neighbors on a deeper level, we learn to take satisfaction in what we already have. These skills stand us in good stead during the season of political ads.
I don’t mean to imply that the choices we make as voters don’t matter. I have strong opinions about whose government is more likely to move us a little ways toward peace, justice and sustainability, and whose is apt to move us further away. But if my preferred candidates win, I doubt that they can legislate away the bitter divisions between people of different colors, creeds and classes, the destabilization of our climate, the meanness and meaninglessness in our public schools, the loss of good farmland and good farmers, or the breakdown of families and communities. And if the other candidates win, they cannot legislate away my ability to work, pray and talk with people from different countries, classes and faiths, to bike more and drive less, to help children learn life skills and listen for God’s voice in their souls, to tend my land well and build community with my neighbors, to live in accordance with Paul’s description of the apostolic life in 1 Corinthians 4:12-13: “We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it.”