Heirloom Skills

by Johnathan Storlie, PhD

Spring Grove ancestors were self-reliant through interdependence.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts…” Constitution of the United States, Section 8 (emphasis added)

Online advertisers know how to monitor the online pulse of internet users in any given population. We can see the keywords that anonymous people living in any particular region in the US are typing into Google, Bing, etc. In addition to exercise-related keywords, in the last few years there has been a massive resurrection of interest in words that were the staple of our ancestors lives for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years. People are craving heritage information on canning, farming, gardening, raising animals, hunting, etc.

For hundreds of generations parents have passed down practical skills to their children, such as how to start a fire.
For hundreds of generations parents have passed down practical skills to their children, such as how to start a fire.

What about Norwegian-Americans? We don’t typically like to rock the boat, or to appear different. We have become particularly concerned with what our neighbors are up to and thinking. So it might be of interest to us to learn that our neighbors are increasingly up to learning useful skills and controversial ideas. Our neighbors are apparently thinking that many of the crafts associated with being “a good Norwegian” American are probably more of a manifestation of late 20th century boredom and lack of heritage stewardship than of anything authentically Norwegian. Some of these finer ethnic arts might not even be very recognizable to our actual ancestors. Those crafts that our ancestors would most recognize would be more practical. Some of our practical ancestors would, no doubt, claim that a person didn’t know anything if they didn’t know how to tie a certain knot or fix a certain type of wheel or something idiosyncratic like that, just as there are people in Spring Grove today who call others idiots for not knowing much about the particular skills that they learned. However, in every generation there have been the more reflective of individuals who would see the principles behind the particulars. They would say that a reverance for the particulars without the guidance of principles was foolishness. After all, why should mere activities, or the things created by those activities receive more respect than the care and sense of responsibility that caused the people to want to do the activity? Activities should be imitated by successive generations only insofar as they are the most cost-effective means of completing each generation’s duties, as revealed by the light of each generation’s understanding of transcendental principles. If we fail to understand this, we become like those who have forgotten to “walk in the light” of their ancestors, as it is written,

Their land is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their fingers have made. (Isa 2:8)

Virtually all of our ancestors were concerned with practical activities six days a week. The seventh day was set aside for spiritually reflective or doctrinally interpretive activities. Our ancestors’ bodies and minds did not grow stagnant because their activities challenged them. Family and community elders, who were charged with stewarding culture were not afraid to provoke the population with ideas. And, because the Bible is so full of apparently conflicting ideas, they were exposed to a lot of different ideas in their religious studies. The prophets certainly were not afraid of provoking the people. For the most part, our ancestors were a people who read widely and discussed ideas while performing their chores. They knew from reading Isaiah and Jeremiah that true empowering heritage emerges out of a deliberation in which the participants all want to help “keep the most important thing the most important thing” for future generations. A deliberation without ideas cannot be one from which true heritage emerges.

Nonprofits abandon ideas, and turn to inoffensive entertainment

Today, nonprofits claiming to act as the vanguard of our cultural heritage (museums, churches, schools) are afraid of offending potential grant-givers with ideas that someone might possibly disagree with. Anything that could be deemed as too religious, too secular, too complicated, too practical, too serious, etc. must not enter into their vocabulary. They fear offending a potential donor more than they fear the judgment of their grandchildren, who will remember them as having caved on many important issues. For that reason, most nonprofits have found it safer to focus on the non-controversial, the innocuous, the entertaining, the useless, and the decadent.

The “artist” Nero fiddled while Rome burned

Why do we have to dumb down the intellectual inheritance we’ve received from our ancestors to the lowest common denominator? Does it make us feel better about ourselves to portray them as craft-making vegetables? For those of us who have talked with elders, and who have read their writings and diaries, we know that they often read widely, thought deeply, and exercised backbone, even in the face of privation and scorn. This is because they realized that what was at stake when they were defending, deconstructing, and reconstructing their culture was their children and grandchildren. How can they possibly be honored by nonprofit yes-men whose primary duty is to keep their jobs rather than to complete the higher mission of transmitting wisdom and guidance to future generations? How will history judge a generation of spineless ones who’ve disfigured our ancestors and represented them as craftmaking automatons who were devoid of ideas? Are the pots more to be revered than the potter? The 19th century was a century of ideas and, by far, more of our Norwegian and Norwegian-American ancestors read the works of philosophy, anthropology, biology, theology, and literature than carved giant wooden spoons. So why don’t we honor real culture these days?

What could be more offensive than an organization that disfigures your ancestors into people who neither read, nor thought, nor communally deliberated? While we might be a generation that fails to understand our responsibility to preserve, deconstruct, and refine that which we pass on to our children so that they can bring about the greatest good in life with their limited resources, we should not dishonor our ancestors by projecting our generationalist idiosyncrasies upon them. To require the absence of existential or theological ideas, as has become the norm, within any nonprofit that claims to be Heritage related is nothing short of an abomination. To require the absence of religious references, as has become the norm, in a heritage center’s writings, when religious leaders were frequently the ones charged with heritage stewardship for thousands of years, is the ultimate irony and a blatant form of revisionism.

In this ocean of nonprofit institutions that have caved in to all the powers that be to become innocuously idea-less, we need you to stand with us and help us maintain our integrity. Even if all the answers provided by us in this forum are wrong, you can be confident that as long as reason is free to combat them, a true heritage that empowers our descendants will emerge from the questions we ask. If we cave into demands that all ideas cease, then you will have nothing but more of the same innocuous, entertaining, ethnically-associated, useless, space taking-up, kitsch to idolize. Will Giants of the Earth stay true to its charge of bringing you heritage ideas and representing your ancestors and you as people who did not shy away from ideas? That is up to you.

From the writings of our ancestors, we know that some of them drank deeply from the fountains of wisdom, while others only gargled.

During their six days of work, our ancestors got plenty of exercise from their practical activities, which usually kept them healthy and fit. Crafty, sedentary activities after a long day of sedentary work, were fairly foreign to them. Although there were activities, like tatting and quilting, that enabled people to be somewhat productive during their “free” time, our ancestors did not necessarily see a need to generate all the items that we think are fun to show on our mantlepieces, walls, cupboards, crutch tables, shelves, and in our spare rooms, extra houses, etc. Realizing this, Midwestern Americans are increasingly asking themselves, after reading national bestselling books such as One Second After, “How much good will those 37 rosemalled bowls, spoons, and lefse turners do if times get rough?” Even if times don’t get rough, their keyword searches indicate that they now believe that they could be doing something else which would better help them to understand the skills and spiritual understanding of their ancestors?

Sabbath reflection gave meaning to the rest of the week’s work

How much does seeing those 37 rosemalled items on our walls really tell us about our Norwegian ancestors’ inner pioneer strengths?

How much does seeing those 37 rosemalled items on our walls really tell us about our Norwegian ancestors’ inner pioneer strengths and their convictions about the importance of living the life of simplicity, austerity, frugality, hard work, and service to family and extended family?

Most of us must remember at least one elderly person in our family who warned us about our generation’s focusing on “fluff” and “show” and spoke of the “crafts-race” and the “nicest vehicle race” as just as dangerous as the “arms-race.” This person usually reminded us that most people in our generation had their priorities mixed up. According to them, we wanted to seem more than to actually be. We want to seem wealthy, we want to seem like we have leisure time, we want to seem smart. We rationalize our imprudent spending by saying to ourselves, like Enron executives, that, because nothing succeeds like that which appears successful, we need to look successful. So, we tell ourselves, it is absolutely imperative that we look like we are succeeding. Most people in a small community who have been around for a while know that some of the poorest looking people are those who are the richest and the richest looking people are actually the poorest. When things go bad, the poorest looking people usually can pull out massive reserves and do just fine, while the richest looking people not only are in massive debt, but their creditors are pulling in the line. They have borrowed the money to buy the rope that is now around their necks. Just watch the recent movie, The Joneses.

Did you have a grandparent who reminded you of the kind of principles that Stephen Covey writes about in his 7 Habits of Highly Effecitve People?, Did he remind you that  “you can’t have trust without trustworthiness”? Did he or she tell you that “you can’t maintain wealth without prudent resource management”? Did they offend you by criticizing certain fun activities as “mere amusement.” Perhaps your grandparent seemed, back then, to be merely a crotchety old person. Well, judging from anonymous keyword searches conducted in the last two years by tens of millions of Americans, a lot of people are now secretly agreeing with him. Countries, like China, that allowed themselves to be ruled by crotchety old men stressing self-reliance and national self-control, now hold a disconcerting amount of America’s debt. We Americans, who pride ourselves on our wishful thinking and democratic responsiveness to generationalist whims, have let ourselves be led by those who have told us what we wanted to believe. We have ignored our crotchety old men and listened to our dreamers who appealed to our desire for instant gratification. We are now insanely in debt to countries who have a human rights records as bad as Egypt under the Pharoahs. We are now in more relative debt than the Hebrews were to the Egyptians before they were enslaved by them. This realization seems to trouble some Americans.

Massive online input of keywords related to practical and spiritual heirlooms? Why?

From Monday through Saturday, practical activities were a major part of our ancestors’ lives: if these activities had not been…their children would not have survived in tough times and, consequently, we would not be here today. On Sunday, our ancestors reflected, both as a group and individually, on stories that had been passed down in texts, covering issues of stewardship, sustainability, and duty. Their familiarity with scripture, and different doctinal interpretations of it, allowed them to understand a deeper meaning of the “double edged sword” they called the Word. These days, everyone appears to be typing in “The Lost Word” and Americans are gobbling up Dan Brown’s latest work, which hints of a deeper meaning to the parables–one that becomes evident only with scriptural familiarity and critical reflection. Whether or not Dan Brown actually understands this Lost Word is not apparent in his writings, but it is apparent that he has talked with people who are “in the know” and they have given him very descriptive hints which he has passed along. The deeper meaning of the Word is self-sealing in the sense that, when one discovers it, in very short order they also discover the reason to keep it semi-sealed in allegory. If Dan Brown is actually in the know, this may be the reason why there are so many red herrings in his writings, so as to apparently lead the unworthy astray. It is rare to find an exception to this, that is, someone in the know who is willing to share his pearls. Some might hold them guilty, but it is a case much like in Wag the Dog, when Robert DeNiro’s character (Brean) is released from questioning for faking a war, and he explains why he got them to release him: “…they just hadn’t thought it through…”

Parents provided hints for generations to their children to help them “think things through” and find a deeper meaning. Grandparents told grandchildren how to read between the lines and make connections to earlier scripture that would inoculate them from the dark winnowing sayings. Intelligent people who were familiar with scriptures understood from other passages in the Bible what passages such as Mark 16:18 meant when they read “they shall handle serpents, and if they drink any mortal poison, it shall do them no hurt.” They knew that handling poisonous snakes and drinking deadly poison had both a deeper meaning and a shallower meaning. Only those who fail to understand the deeper meaning feel the foolhardy need to handle actual poisonous snakes or drink actual poisons to prove their beliefs. And many, many have died from being bitten or drinking poison, indicating that they actually failed to understand the deeper meaning.

At some point, the ability of the spiritually actualized grandparents to direct the studies of the youth was broken by changes in social structure. A greater portion of our ancestors’ time was spent paying for a growing Federal government and interest on a growing Federal debt through taxes, or keeping up with a hidden tax known as inflation, in which the government devalued the people’s monetary savings by printing money out of thin air to pay for its consumption. A greater portion of their children’s time was spent doing homework and being involved with activities organized by a public education system. While these changes may have benefitted the majority of people in the short run, the activation energy necessary to uncover the esoteric meaning of The Word was lost and so to, the mature stewardship that stems from that deeper understanding. Today, Americans are googling like never before to find that “Lost Word.” How will they find the meaning that allowed their spiritually actualized ancestors to do those simple, practical things that just a few years ago, in our confidence in steady progress, seemed so insignificant to us? Will they, in their anger against the failings of the secular way, introduce their children to a literal interpretation of the gospel and begin handling literal snakes? Or will they, in their love for their children, repeat the words of Solomon

“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight…” Proverbs 3:21

Today, kids are baraged with advice to listen to their hearts from commercials and commercialized entertainment rather than to follow the dictates of sound judgment. Of course, our ancestors always had the temptation to squander money on the impractical and showy, but back then, there was no short supply of starving families who exemplified the story of the grasshopper and the ant. Thus, when our ancestors settled in Spring Grove, they built a simple cabin and barn to keep their families alive, but, before they built a nice house for themselves, they helped build a church–because they knew that empowering self-control, community cooperation, and wisdom were far more important than living in a luxurious house during hard times and even during easy times. Most people today say publicly that they are not concerned about hard times and that everything will be fine in the future. We computer administrators know, however, that many of those same people must be going back home and typing in keywords to learn about self-reliance, just in case.

It is pretty safe to say that we all desire a sustainable higher quality of life for ourselves and our descendants, under all potential future conditions. We italicize the word “sustainable” because history has taught us that just when people have smugly believed they could predict the future, they fall flat on their face because a paradigm shift occurs that upsets those things upon which they assumed they could always rely. Today we want to appear confident and optimistic-like the attractive, successful people we see in clothing advertisements. Yet never before have communities been so dependent upon technologies that no one fully understands or can fix without other fragile technologies, should they fail. Never before have the supply lines for those things we need to keep our loved ones alive been so long and delicate. Just think of where most of our suppliers get their medicine, their food, their fuel for heat. How long they could continue to supply us if they were not resupplied, on a daily or weekly?

On a slightly different, but interconnected note, we might add that never before have people’s primary source of experiences been through technological mediums. Communication through many of these technological mediums are recorded for electronic phishing analysis (like your cell phone conversations and your internet communications) so that your all-benevolent government can protect you from yourself, or, in the case of emails, so advertisers can find you. Advertisers have access to all sorts of your activities, and not just the ones you do online. Once you buy your first diaper using a credit card it seems you go on a list to receive 20 lbs of junk mail a week for newborn parents. People’s behaviors and opinions have never been more monitored, as you can see in the beginning of this article, anyone can monitor online keyword popularity in a region. Further, our sense of reality no longer comes from interacting with people, but through a television-induced pseudoreality in which whole groups of people can be demonized with ease and in which activities that are dangerous or unsustainable can be glamorized. We recreate these scenes in our daily interactions, much like children replay the activities they see in their shows. By the time a generation has learned how little free will it has exercised and how much it has been a puppet, the next generation enters in, just as foolhardy and susceptible to the siren songs of the media.

This generation is more susceptible than ever to subversion because of our unhealthy dependency on others who don’t care about us. The recognition of our dependency makes us conscious of the fact that we are in a state of heteronomy.

heteronomy: the state or condition of being under the influence or domination, in a moral, spiritual, or similar sense, of another person, entity, force, etc. Cf. autonomy.heteronomous, adj (Free Online Dictionary)

Our recognition that we are in a state of heteronomy then leads us to recognize the inauthenticity of our actions. Many believe themselves capable of a life of irony, claiming to be a patriot while habitually compromising on our founding principles. In the end, each compromise leads them closer to the slippery slope from which no patriot ever returns. Down this slope go the type of sychophants that Samuel Adams spoke about when he said:

“If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel… Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.” – Samuel Adams

Unhealthy dependency leads to insecurity; heteronomy leads people to stop thinking for themselves and start posturing themselves in a way that they believe those monitoring them would most desire; inauthenticity leads people to become out of touch with reality and have unrealistic expectations. If one of the greatest parts of our heritage, as Ole Rolvaag spoke of, is our freedom, then we must act to safeguard that freedom by promoting the capacity for healthy local interdependent self-sufficiency, as well as the capacity for autonomy, in order to promote authenticity, without which there is no freedom.

Who Mourned the Loss of Interdependent Self-Reliance, Autonomy, Authenticity?

Even our incumbent leaders tell us that the future is very uncertain, with problems ranging from dysfunctional, perhaps criminal, stewardship of national monetary policy; to age-old geopolitical subversion entering new technological mediums; to new threats such as electro-magnetic pulse weapons-which could easily wipe out nearly all of America’s electronic devices and the vehicles that depend on them. The recent best seller, One Second After, portrays graphically American’s absolute dependence on electronic equipment that would fail all across America one second after the detonation of three small EMPs at strategic locations in the atmosphere. Realizing most Americans’ absolute dependence upon transportation and electricity for their survival and security, hundreds of thousands of families are quietly getting prepared by following FEMA guidelines to stock 3 days of food. Stewardship-conscious small communities are recognizing that it will take much longer than 3 days to recover from an EMP and that true self-reliance can only happen at the community level. Further, looking at Hurricane Katrina, or areas around the world where UN police actions have occurred, some people in small town America aren’t sure if the response wouldn’t be as bad as the problem. They are trying to understand what they can do now to preserve those things that they hold dearest, no matter what conditions may come. Further, as tyrants from days of old have never let a crisis go to unexploited, one of our best defenses against tyrrany would be to minimize the chances of a crisis that would temporarily blind the people’s eyes to the dangers of forfeiting their rights.

Thus, to promote freedom and a quality of life, for ourselves and our children, at a time when almost nothing can be taken for granted, we are looking to the past, to glean from the actions of our ancestors the principles and skills that allowed them to succeed and raise their family while still passing the torch of freedom. Despite the great uncertainties that they faced, they were Giants of the Earth. For generations, our ancestors used technology to improve their security. Today, our complete dependence on technology might be the greatest threat to our security. To regain a healthy amount of local self-sufficiency, we plan on:

1. Providing fun community entertainment and social arts for our members to promote the intergenerational family and community dialogue, trust, and friendships that are each important for optimizing local interdependence and cooperation. Further, these activities can be performed for their own sake, unconditionally and without the requirement that members affirm any particular institution-serving dogma.

2. Collecting meaningful stories from our citizens through oral history video interviews, particularly our senior citizens, in order to preserve and share the wisdom they have as individuals and groups as they reflect on the many experiences of life.

3. Making those video stories widely available to younger family members and community members for generations to come through our large online family tree, by linking those stories to people and events recorded in that tree.

4. Providing online and in-person small group forums and discussions where people of all ages can hear and interpret these stories and extrapolate core values that they hope will not be lost in the changing times.

5. Acting to promote the sustainability of each person’s, each family’s, and each community’s commitment to their core principles by imagining and preparing for times and conditions that would most test their ability to remain true to their commitment. We hope to preserve and share practical heirloom skills that have sustained small communities through hard times. These are the skills that allowed for community and family self-reliance and self-sufficiency for generations: harvesting maple syrup, animal husbandry, milking cows, making flour, butchering animals, gardening, cooking from scratch, and bartering locally. Looking at hurricane Katrina, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Sarajevo (remember what happened to that pretty little town that hosted the 1984 Olympics?), it is easy to understand the fragility of values in the face of insecurity (real or imagined). We hope to prepare to ensure the lower Maslowian needs can be met at a familial and hopefully a community level in all conceivable situations. We hope to pass down to our children and grandchildren the virtues that helped our pioneer ancestors make it through rough times: physical stamina, practical skills, positive mental attitude, realistic expectations, neighborliness, and the practical intelligence that understands how values arise out of a committment to principles. We want future generations to make the best of whatever hand fate deals to them. Further, as mentioned above with respect to autonomy vs. heteronomoy, a healthy self-reliance has been shown to be important for the integrity of a democratic republic, as desperate individuals who are overly dependent upon others, especially foreign powers, tend to be easily coerced with the mere withholding of staples, such as food or energy resources.

6. Honoring our ancestors by being better stewards of those things that they have entrusted to us. Since good stewardship requires good understanding of reality rather than wishful thinking and positivity-posturing, we will be researching our ancestors’ diaries and other writings to help us deconstruct our current assumptions about reality. If history has shown us one thing, it is that “reality”, among the various human herds, is a slippery notion, more dependent upon what people “believe” others expect of them than an authentic critical/rational interaction with physical/objective realities. In every community there are numerous colloquialisms that have arisen through chance, laziness, or mere stupidity. These are not easy to do battle with. Thus, we seek authoritative and objective data with which to shape our common notions of reality, with the hopes of cultivating a better understanding of: 1) the genes we are born with, 2) the habits that are conditioned into us, and 3) the mind that can either merely find homeostasis between the id and the superego, or transcend those particular appetites and subsume them (using the Logos) under abstract transcendental principles. Thus, it is our minds that have the potential to give us free will, which is relative freedom from both our nature and our nurture.

To free ourselves from dogmatic slumber, our center is using state of the art genetic ancestral research, genetic relative finding, written & oral histories, family tree indexing, collaborative sharing, and heirloom technical and interpretive decryption. The latter will allow us share esoteric interpretations of texts and stories that have been passed down through the ages.

7. Recognizing that some of the most dysfunctional core values we hold arose through more nefarious means, also known as black magic, wizardry, active subversion, or psychological warfare, we hope to promote a better way to understand and free ourselves from the dark sayings that have been bugs in our people’s ear for centuries. These dark sayings have been around far longer than even Sun Tzu’s 5th century BCE chapter covering subversion in his famous Art of War. As subversive strategists, like Sun Tzu, tend to be extremely good chess players, they always can predict a community’s next move to counteract the toxic effects of their initial move. Brilliantly, they create memetic viruses that are designed to induce conflicting phenomenologies within a community and thus lead to pandemonium. Then, they use phenomenological judo to turn one element of a community against another element.

Psychological viruses not only infect and cripple families and communities in the short term, but they are designed to actively destroy the means by which families and communities can regain health by ensuring that feedback mechanisms that would normally restore health, such as the wisdom of elders, not be cultivated or, if cultivated, not be respected by younger members of the community. The means of doing this are dark–very dark. Venture no further, unless you are good at chess and are not easily coerced by empty flattery or empty threats. If you are good at chess, and love your community, then we welcome you to enter through the narrowest of gates and become familiar with the esoteric interpretations of texts we once thought we understood.

Local self-sufficiency is only possible if we are not afraid to get our hands dirty and learn heirloom skills.

One Reply to “Heirloom Skills”

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