Today I was thinking about how things would be in my ideal world, which I like to call the New Medieval Era.
You may wonder how it is that I have so much time to daydream about such things.
Not easy work, I tell ya.
But somebody’s got to do it.
As they say.
Alright, so try this on for size:
In this New Medieval Era, we’d go back to small. It would be distributism like you’ve never seen. I actually got so excited about this that I had to find my laptop really fast, just to start writing.
Every single man (who was not called to religious life) and every woman (who wasn’t inclined to find a spouse or join a religious order) would choose either a profession (here I define it as a career that involves offering a service instead of selling a product; i.e., or you could say, a career where you have only your head to offer the world) or a product type that he or she wanted to sell.
The catch is that you’d be allowed to sell only one kind of product at a time.
In other words, you would choose something, such as
outdoor patio tables and chairs
candles of all shapes and sizes
toys for children
knives and cutting boards
shovels spades and simple tools for the garden
and then you’d sell them. You could make them or build them or order them in from a manufacturer.
With this kind of scheme, everyone would be able to have a slice of the pie. It’s the same idea as my previous idea about churches selling objects related only to their own saint – specializing, in other words.
It would be fair, and it would mean that you’d really get an expert when you went to shop. The guy selling lawnmowers would really understand lawnmowers. You wouldn’t be questioning some lady at Home Depot who started last Thursday and who Couldn’t Care Less about the difference between this machine and that.
I think it would be so cool. You wouldn’t begrudge your neighbour his business, because he’s selling lamps while you’re selling veggies. No competition. Maybe some barter, but no resentment. Cooperation would be handy in this New Medieval Era. I wouldn’t ban money, of course, but cash (as opposed to credit and debit) would play a larger role.
I’m not the first one to daydream along these lines. The preppers have considered variations on this theme, and I know because I used to be one (nowadays there’s really no point; the danger is past; the climax has come and gone; if your magazine is named Crisis then I guess the joke is on you).
And the city planners and neighbourhood designers who think along New Urbanism lines have explored these ideas too – in particular, they’ve been interested in doing away with the Car. They want us to walk everywhere.
I wouldn’t ban the car myself. Whether the price of oil goes up down or sideways, that machine is most definitely here to stay, as are all the million of other ways of getting around.
Mind you, in Europe a lot of the very hippest people don’t ever get a driver’s license. It almost doesn’t occur to them, because they can get what they want by walking combined with a taxi once in a while.
That’s fine. In my spread-out city, access to a car is awfully handy, especially in the winter, and especially if you have children. I judge you not for getting behind the wheel. Not everyone lives in a squished up hemmed up city like Vancouver. Some of us live in cities where you can spread out and relax, kind of like sleeping diagonally on a bed, just because.
But anyway, as I was saying, imagine a world where every guy chose his thing. He could rent some space somewhere or sell from his garage. I think it would be neat. After a while, you’d know where to go if you wanted to buy a new set of speakers or a new winter parka. Boots? That’s on the next block – Al’s selling shoes and boots of all sizes.
I know what you’re saying. You’re saying it would take forever to shop!
Yeah! I retort. Wouldn’t it be great? :)
What I mean is, we’d think twice about loading up on everything and anything all the time. Consider the people living in Venice. Trust me: with the difficulty of moving merchandise along all of those canals, they don’t easily toss out the love-seat and pick up a new one. Things don’t seem so Entirely Disposable when they have been purchased with some deliberation. (Over there, you DO call a handyman to repair a washing machine, if you happen to own one, because the delivery charge on a new one is well, probably out of sight.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Venice is therefore a better place to live, I’m just saying that when it’s harder to do things, you think twice. As for Venice, I think it’s unnatural, inconvenient and dangerous for children. No plans to go back to that claustrophobic damp place – city on stilts.
But anyway, right now we live in a world where you walk into a drug store and you walk out with a hammock.
Things are currently about as far from distributism as you can get. Instead of everyone selling one or two things, you’ve got a few big players selling everything.
It’s all mixed up.
Look at the names of the stores and then compare that with what is sold in the store. Canadian Tire sells glassware and oven mitts. London Drugs sells computers and crap. Shopper’s Drug Mart sells cookies and umbrellas. How ridiculous! Grocery stores sell flowers and decorative wall clocks.
What chance, in a world such as that, does local Timothy have of making a living selling anything?
What chance, in a world such as that, does local Agnes have of making a living selling anything?
Too few stop at the local store because the big guns are hogging the market, on everything.
Such a shame.
Now I am not saying stop shopping altogether at Walmart or Costco or whatever.
I don’t judge you for loading up your cart. It’s not really your fault. You’re a regular person and you’ve already been burdened enough. You’ve been told far too many things about what not to do and what to do and what to eat and what not to eat and how to be Eco and how to be fit.
I’m just saying
Daydream with me.
In my daydream, a drug store would be a much tinier thing. You’d go there because you want medicine or vitamins. It would be a place entirely dull and uninteresting (except for the pharmacist, who would be fascinated by his products and what they can Theoretically Do. His right hand gives you the pills and his left hand gives you a paper listing all the side-effects, hey?)
But anyway, my imaginary world wouldn’t have stores like this modern-day London Drugs and Shopper’s Drug Mart. Nah. Places like that aren’t really good for the soul. They offer the “Consumer” (as if that’s all we are) a cornucopia of products – just enough to tempt, just enough to distract, just enough to stir up avarice and greed.
Indeed, eye candy is the name of the game.
Turn on the tunes and make the “Consumer” get enticed with his eyes. What’s the motto?
I came, I saw, I paid (or put it on credit).
Everything looks so new and clean and shiny and USEFUL.
Such a clever mix of things that you DO need in the moment and things that you didn’t even consider — until you see them Beckoning to You under Florescent Lights. (Or, in the case of a place like Lee Valley, until you read the clever infomercial write up.)
Ah, fellow human, aren’t we so weak?
And these retailers, shame on them, exploit us with impunity. They don’t care about us, but they do love our money.
They don’t care about the clutter in our homes, and they don’t care that we barely have time to look after what we’ve already bought.
Nope. They just want us to come back – sooner, rather than later – and they want us to bring our debit card, our Visa, our Mastercard. Hey, now you can just tap tap – so easy, so simple. Drain your bank account in one afternoon.
Places like Costco are, of course, pretty much the worst. The large industrial space with extra big carts is entirely where you get out of touch with the actual size of your home. The bigger the better the bigger the better the bigger the better, it seems.
Then you get home.
Where, exactly, are you going to put that 900 lb jar of banana pickles?
And did you really and truly need another set of stackable tubs?
Appliance number 407?
I don’t know man.
Seems like a little less shopping might do us all good.
Let the stores get a conscience and make themselves smaller, not bigger. Stop selling everything under the sun. Confine yourself, at least, to what you’re selling these days. Don’t add, next month, new product types and new services. Stop expanding (now they sell blinds, now they sell emergency auto help, now they sell insurance and so on and so forth). Go the other way. Scale back. Small is beautiful. That kind of thing. Leave room for the locals to sell to each other.
The next step is to consider what your original purpose was. Stop selling towels if you’re a tire store. Stop hawking flower-pots if you’re a grocery store. Stay out of photo printing if you’re already selling drugs.
And as for drugs, here’s a thought for you all. Doesn’t it seem like the medical ‘profession’ long ago became something entirely different from hands-on care and concern? It seems to me that those bright students who entered medical school have become pawns and salesman for the gigantic pharmaceutical chains.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid of medication and neither is my religion. I’m just saying, don’t we sometimes go a bit far? Don’t we sometimes put a bit too much faith in these chemicals we’ve made? How did civilization manage, before?
What is it you say?
They all just died really young?
Maybe they did, after they had – with their bodies all weakened and sick – a DOZEN or more robust children who worked in them fields everyone always seems to always be talking about.
And speaking of children, I’ve got an interesting twist that I didn’t see written in no prepper’s daydream.
Here it is.
Let me continue.
So you’ve got Papa, right, working in his garage, making furniture or ordering it in. Alongside him are some sons, but the deal is, each child added to his family creates an entitlement to introduce another business angle.
What I mean is, a father who is a baker can manage to produce, let’s say, buns and bread and maybe some bagels. He sells out fast, because everyone knows his stuff is to die for, and they even sometimes line up outside his door. He charges what’s fair, as everyone does.
Then along comes a son. Let the son, upon growing up, have his own specialty. He’ll watch his dad but he might have his own twist. Let him start young. He can work when he’s not studying math. He decides he wants to get into something different, and he orders in rings. He’s a jeweller. So cool. One house, two businesses. When the son moves away, he has his own thing.
Alternatively, the son does something similar to bun-making, and he works closer to Pa. (Dad’s work is inspiring.) He becomes a pastry chef and is soon known for his creations. Young grooms with their brides look through his catalogue to see what he can do. Their jaws drop, amazed at the gravity-defying layer cakes that he’s built. When pastry chef son decides that he’s moving from home, he can choose a new garage close by or across town, because even if he’s close to his Pa, there’s no competition. Each man has his own deal.
As for the daughters, call me sexist, but I’d put no pressure on them. Let each choose a profession or a product to sell. All I ask is that you count “Mother” as being a legitimate choice. For too long it has been the sad story that a girl is discounted if that’s her daydream. We let them have dolls and we think it’s all sweet, until
Until it’s for real.
Somehow we always act as if dreams of babies and motherhood and marriage are, well, not Entirely Worthy.
Ah! We say to such beautiful children and youth: but what do you really want to DO when you Grow Up?
So what kind of choice do we give, when we eliminate or ridicule or second-guess one of the most noble and dignified of choices in life? How supportive are we being when a girl or a woman is discouraged from wanting to be a Woman at home with her own?
It’s time to acknowledge that it’s a fair choice, a good choice, and it’s time to acknowledge that some of the most talented, beautiful and intelligent women on the face of the planet are choosing this. Power to them, I say. Our Blessed Mother was one such woman, and God could have set it up differently, if he so chose.
Really. Think on that.
And don’t say, “That’s how things were, back then. Women didn’t used to have Such Choices as they do now.”
(“Back then”! What do you know about “back then”? I mean, really! You just repeat what you’ve heard, as if those who started the rumours of How Things Were came back from the dead, after having taken a tour of the past. So many guesses, so much speculation! Chesterton always was confronting those odd versions of events, those stories of human behaviour so-out-of-sync with how people behave think and function. The ‘modern’ person can be so condescending of past generations.)
The truth is, women have always had choices. You cannot measure life’s choices simply by the percentage of women in this or that career. Most of the people on earth are prevented from pursuing an unlimited range of career options, yet we don’t whine for them. We don’t weep for the man in Gabon, Africa, who cannot become a helicopter pilot. Yet that’s normal. It is normal for people to have a fairly modest selection of options.
I apologize for my rather this-way-and-that-way thinking-talking process, but it seems to me that I zig-zag because I must, to chase down the illogical biases of our day. We use one standard for the North American Woman and another standard for the rest of humanity across history and geography. We weep for the woman of 1880 but not for the man of 1990 even if the first was rich and second is poor.
And besides, even if Nowadays things are So Entirely Better because a woman can become a Butcher or a LifeGuard or a Soldier or Sailor, it doesn’t mean we are therefore entitled to act as though choosing to be a Mother is not quite Up to Snuff. That’s just not right and it’s not fair.
Let’s leave the Mother choice on the table and applaud a girl who has the bravery, nowadays, to calmly announce that as her choice.
In any case, to finish comparing the past to the present, it has always been the case that some women dreamed of motherhood and some wanted something else, noble or not. Even two thousand years ago, women apportioned their time to reflect their personal priorities. Some busied themselves with worthy pursuits, and some frittered away their day gossiping and doing exactly the things that they knew they shouldn’t do.
God always leaves plenty of room for you to make your life reflect what you love and/or whom you love.
Keep that in mind as you head to the store. That Big Box Place, that All You Can Want Shop-‘Til-You-Drop Mart looks like it is full of good things, but God offers you more, and most of them aren’t here.
Most of them you left behind when you stepped under these florescent lights.
So don’t stay here long. Consult, if you like, a written-down list. Stay focused.
Studies show, retailers know, that the longer you linger, the stupider you’ll get. The longer you linger, the more likely you are to make those impulse purchases.
So, keep your visits short. Grab what you need and get out. Be quick. Be efficient. Pay and let’s go.
Let’s ensure our lives show we spend more time loving people than things.
Or even better . . .
How about you skip that trip to the store, that trip to the gym.
How about an afternoon in?
Stay home with the kids, Pa.
Stay home with the kids, Ma.
It’s hailing anyway.
Say a Hail Mary.
It goes like this:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.