It's Back -- The View from Waldo County
One of our best-liked columnists is returning, after five years! We are delighted to bring you, once again, the View from Waldo County with Lindy Davies.
My Struggle Against "Terror"ism
by Lindy Davies
I am an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, a firm believer in the virtue of creative stubbornness. So, I built my own house, insisting on doing almost everything myself, despite having no idea how to do any of it when I started. Yes, I had to rip out wiring and do it over; I had to install two toilets twice each — but I got it right, finally: I now know how to wire and plumb a home. When family and friends see what I've done, they express admiration -- a nice rub for my ego. Yet, the question always sort of tickled the back of my mind: what is it, really, that they so admire about this? After all, professional contractors could have built the house more quickly, with better fit-and-finish, and even cheaper, in a sense. I had to pay up front for everything -- but all one needs to climb aboard the conventional homeowner train is a modest down payment, and a promise to maintain an acceptably remunerative occupation for... thirty... years... Hmmm.
That's where the terror starts. There is something to admire in being able to get oneself a comfortable hearth & home, without promising to pay interest and principal for a long, long time. Oh, we gathered a bit of credit-card debt along the way, and we are having a bit of trouble securing homeowners' insurance -- but, yes, thanks: admiration. I'll accept it.
The next thing folks usually say is something like, "How did you learn to do all that yourself? I could never do that..." Well, I learned, as I said, by means of abject bullheadedness. I read books, got advice, obsessively scoped other buildings in various stages of construction, and -- most significantly, screwed things up and did them over. I suppose I do possess an unusual level of stubbornness -- but, that's hard to gauge from inside one's own bailiwick. It really does seem to me that most people give up a tad too easily. On the phone with my younger sister, flush from hard-won plumbing triumphs, I crowed, "I now know where the sh** goes, and how it gets there!" To which she replied "You and I are SO in a different space right now."
People make jokes about the high prices plumbers and electricians charge, but in reality they're happy to pay their prices, because they live in deepest fear. Water and electricity are supposed to come eagerly out of the wall when you summon them, at exactly the right temperature and pressure, not appear anywhere they shouldn't, and always be perfectly clean and safe. Food, likewise, is supposed to come sanitarily packaged from the supermarket, nutritiously predictable, pluggable into the standard recipes. Let's not think too much about how it gets there, or... what it actually... is. Our aches and pains are to be expertly diagnosed and remedied by qualified medical professionals. The ability to calculate the amount we must render annually to Caesar is, Lord knows, at least as mysterious and abstruse as the cycles of alternating current or the biochemistry of salmonella. We could not possibly handle that without the merciful dispensations of experts. Even our cars are controlled, nowadays, by computers. Our mechanics don't listen to the engines anymore; they hook them up to their computers for diagnosis. If Intelligence says Iraq has WMD, and Credentialed Experts repeat it on the network news, who are we to question it? They have experts in the field -- we have nothing more than a sense that something sounds fishy. Can passenger jets really knock down the World Trade Center? They said the burning jet fuel melted the steel beams. Some say the temperature of jet fuel burning in air is far lower than the melting point of steel beams, but -- how do we know? Are we experts on that? On anything? We have to depend on Experts for everything! Everything! Everything we know and depend on, and we cannot tell whether any one of them is lying: we live in Terror.
And so, because of thoughts like these, I have come to view do-it-yourselfing as more than just a practical way to get things done, more, even, than a satisfying hobby. I've come to think of do-it-yourselfing as a spiritual path. If I don't have to be afraid of the wires in the walls and what they're carrying, if I can figure out where the sh** goes and how it gets there, then perhaps I can also be less poorly equipped to deal with the bigger questions in life.
It may be relevant to mention, here, that I was raised a Catholic, in a family that was God-fearing, but unfervent. Our spiritual lives were most definitely left in the hands of the experts. We just didn't know what in the world to do with our sinful natures, but it was OK: the Priest was trained in the art and science of dispensing absolution; he was checked out on the equipment. When I was a child, I thought as a child, etc., and the system worked. As a young adult I rabidly hated the Catholic Church and came up with philosophical euphemera for the overburdened name of "God". Only much later in life did I come to see the peace and joy to be found in spiritual do-it-yourselfing. Heresies, Apostasies, Blasphemies -- well... Who's to say, really?
It seems to me that society would be far, far better off if schools would foster the spirit of DIY, rather than pretending to train every single kid to join the ranks of Credentialed Experts, all the while knowing damn good and well that most of them won't make it. But, that's probably too much to ask, at least at this benighted stage of civilization. At least, we can raise our kids to know the joy of stubbornly trying and learning for themselves.
If we don't, the terrorists have already won.
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute, an organization that encourages and facilitates high-quality DIY thinking in the area of economics!
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