The Amish Community: the Effects of Subsistence on Aspects of a Culture

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The Amish Community:
The Effects of Subsistence on Aspects of a Culture
Tristin Bovee
ANT 101
Ilda Jimenez y West
October 29, 2012

The Amish Community:
The Effects of Subsistence on Aspects of a Culture
Any person who observes an Amish community may catch a glimpse of a lifestyle that looks as if it adheres to no modicum of logic. Why would a whole group of people choose to live without the technology that makes life so much easier? The answer is simple and uncomplicated; cultural preservation. The Amish are culturally aware of themselves, and as such have put forth the effort to sustain their traditions and way of life for hundreds of years (Kraybill, 2001). The further technology advances in the world outside of the Amish community, the broader the Amish lifestyle becomes from the modern American culture amongst which they live. However, if the Amish belief system is viewed from an anthropological perspective, their values and reasoning is much more understandable to modern thinkers. There are many different sects of the Amish belief system but for the sake of simplicity, this paper will concentrate on the Old Order Amish.

The Amish faith sprung out of traditional Protestantism in the sixteenth century. Then referred to as Anabaptists, the Amish believed that baptism should not occur in children or infants, but only in adults that can make the decision for themselves (Kraybill, 2001). They also called for a separation between church and state, and a return to literal interpretation of the bible. Suffering extreme persecution for their beliefs, the Amish fled to northern Europe to escape harsh treatment from authorities and religious leaders alike (Fischetti, 1997). While living in these remote regions, the Amish grew dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture has been the primary mode of Amish life ever since. Many Amish beliefs today are stemmed from their subsistence strategy of emerging agriculture. Body

The most widely known belief of the Amish community involves the refusal to use electricity or modern technology, such as television, in their homes. The Amish belief system is centered around family and community values and as such, they hold a strong conviction that modern technology shatters those relationships (Fischetti, 1997). The use of electricity opens the doors for mass media influence which holds the possibility of fracturing Amish traditional values. The very values that the Amish hold are a result of their emerging agricultural subsistence. When livelihood depends on bringing in crops and dairying, community and family are the primary modes of labor, and cooperation is of the utmost importance in order to maintain their way of life. Some analysts argue that the individualism seen in modern cultures is caused primarily by industrialization (Kraybill, 2001). By avoiding modern technology and said industrialization, the Amish believe they are maintaining their closely knit communities. From the etic perspective, this may seem to limit the quality of life that the Amish live, especially their youth, but from an emic perspective, this is the lifestyle that they know works for them and does not challenge what they believe. Amish adults are only looking out for the wellbeing of their children on a spiritual level. Like band societies, the Amish do not believe in accumulating wealth; they believe in having what one needs to survive. Beyond enduring, what is important to them is helping each other, which is an aspect in most cultures that grow or forage for their own food (Marlow, 1996). Amish and band societies have much in common, such as their reciprocal economic system of general reciprocity. A reciprocal economic system is a variety of trade between family members (Nowak & Laird, 2010). General reciprocity is an exchange without an instant return or a determined value of the trade (Nowak & Laird, 2010); this is what the Amish community practices between members. Within...
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