1.24.2006

wandering ruminations on "nice" re: our new rug and other things

in wendell berry's essay called "why i am not going to buy a computer" he made a list of "rules" he has for purchasing new tools. here is that list:

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

now, of course, this list really is about tools. it is not about a rug--which in a way could be considered a tool--but for my purposes here i don't want to bring that part up. if i compare our new rug purchase to berry list, what's the score?

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.

it was not.

2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.

na. being bigger was part of it's function.

3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.

it does.

4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.

it does (hand made).

5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.

wool and hand made, again.

6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

it is.

7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

it is. (although it had to shipped across the ocean, which makes it a miserable failure).

8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.

it did.

9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

i don't know enough about the production of most of these rugs to know whether their production and sales help or hurt a community. it is better, possibly, than a machine made rug from china. (there's a host of things to think about here, e.g. whether respectful child labor is better than pollution-producing behemoth machines.)

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now, really what this boils down to for me is did we really need that rug? and how far does need go? is it okay to simply buy something really nice for yourself mostly because it is beautiful? is this rug my version of a humvee?

all of these questions have their root....and just for the record i can spell the word "their,"
i just seem to have some muscle memory problem that always spells "thier"...anyway, all of these questions have their root in my schooling for furniture. it's a confusing swirl of information that i can't write out coherently without a lot of effort (not what this blog is about).

see, i wanted to start making wooden furniture because i respected the quality of hand work and i respected wood as a material (one of our few truly renewable resources among other reasons). it didn't take long before i noticed that most of what furniture is about has nothing to do with function. it is almost exclusively about style.

there was a television commercial i saw recently that had people sitting on the floor, walking in a door and dropping their keys on the floor (rather than the table you knew should have been there) etc. the punch line was "what would our lives be like without furniture?" well, hang your stupid keys on a hook, you know? we should sit on the floor. and on and on.

okay. to stay on point here, what develops next is the question of what constitutes function, right? so i was asked a good question along the way: performing beauty can be a function, can't it? the answer is absolutely. i like being surrounded by my version of beautiful objects. but then, are we back to consumptiveness? i condemn the person for owning a humvee, but pat myself on the back for owning a rug, or a pavoni espresso machine, or a rancillio coffee grinder.
i guess, for me, it all boils down to the conspicuous part of the consumption. what objects do i desire that make me appear beautiful to other people? (what would i still want to use/own if i lived on a desert island?) and, concerning things that i consider beautiful (and would take to the desert island), what cultural constructions have formed that perception of beauty? it's a slippery slope, man.

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back in the day, the craftsman movement tried to compete with machines. stickley furniture is one of the results of this attempt. i think it is relatively timeless. but then, is there a "timeless?" in other words, is there a platonic ideal? is there something that can rise above style? no. there isn't. So, then, are we to always be victims of the cult of the new?

i think it all boils down to a self-discipline. that's as far as i've gotten in this philosophical conundrum. i have to become an active member of my own life, trying to recognize all these conflicting folds of want and need. my mantra, most of the time, is do with less.

i've almost driven myself crazy at times by trying to achieve too much, too fast. there were a number of years there when i thought the only way out of this thing was "to move to the woods." in other words, the mantra was to be do with nothing. these days i've just accepted to slowly move to the woods. after all, a lot of the guilt i suffer for owning/using the things i do is...what do you call those people that beat themselves? stand in the creek and whip thier own backs?...anyway, i beat myself to pay for the consumptiveness of others.

i've heard that every man woman and child on earth, if placed shoulder to shoulder, could fit within the state of texas. now, let's be generous and say that it's really the entire western portion of the united states. that's still a lot of room left over. the point is, i figure there's more than enough room and enough stuff to go around, we just shouldn't most of us be so wasteful most of the time.

to close and in a nod to the self discipline comment above, i'll quote some more wendell. he's a loveable, humorous, brilliant and kind-hearted curmudgeon, that wendell berry:

My final and perhaps mv best reason for not owning a computer is that I do not wish to fool myself. I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil. I do not see why I should not be as scientific about this as the next fellow: when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante's, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of computers with a more respectful tone of voice, though I still will not buy one.

have a good day.

2 comments:

christiemckaskle said...

Re: the rug's score on #9. I thought you were scoring the purchase of the rug. One could say the rug is a thunderous success in that regard, because unlike a television that disrupts relationships and pulls focus away from the heart of a gathering and out toward a wall, it provides the same function as a warm, lovely campfire for the community to gather around. ...yeah, yeah, why not just have the campfire right? :)

Anonymous said...

flagelants (though I'm not sure about the spelling). Flagelents (?) flagelate/whip themselves on the back as a means to do penance. I'm not sure about the standing in the river part though.
I've been reading a book full of essays lately that you'd find interesting, Walter. It's not _Affluence_ thought that's an interesting one, too. The title escapes me just now (the cover is green and blue and the editors are Janet Shor and somebody, Mary Pipher has an essay in it I know). Anyway, all that specificity aside, the authors have some interesting things to say about sustainability and community and reducing consumption.
Personally, I'm a fan of the rug. It's gorgeous, handmade, and an item which has both beauty and function. What is it about the purchase of the rug that troubles you so? Is it the price? The size/bulk of the purchase? Vestiges of a monk-like devotion to a vow of poverty or the lure of living off the land, ala Thoreau/Berry? I keep wanting to hie, not to the woods, but to the land, to start an organic farm using sustainable methods. That's the vision of the ideal life that appeals most to me, and seems at the same time the least attainable.

I had a thought, too, about your post of several days ago. I don't know if it's true that every child raised in an evangelical house (or community) who grows to be a liberal (small l) adult deals with the same doubled and contradictory internal messages, but I know that the thoughts/feelings you expressed are ones Jeremy and I often think/work through/inhabit, too.
all best, deandra