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Think about it
Posted by: McQ on Friday, October 20, 2006

Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, reflects on some lessons which should be taken from the tragic shootings in the Nickel Mines Amish community. As he writes, they pointedly remind us of what we used to be, and how what they are was considered to be a strength of our national character.
The Amish responded to the Nickel Mines school massacre in the same way they deal with other forms of adversity —- quietly, maturely and responsibly. Unlike school shootings in other, more urban settings, the Amish community issued no clarion call for grief counselors to flood the area, hold their children's hands and serve as surrogate parents, and then submit large hourly fee statements to the school system. The Amish counseled their own children in their own way, as they have done for generations —- with prayer, parental love and sibling comfort.

The Amish, who do not believe in graven images but rather evince deep respect for simple structures and messages, constructed no makeshift shrines of the sort that crop up in other communities across America where tragedy strikes. No Mylar balloons imprinted with canned, commercial messages of faux grief were to be found; nor was there a run on pink teddy bears from the local Wal-Mart with which to create mounds of tacky toys as some bizarre expression of communal grief transference.


Apparently, the Amish elders gave no thought whatsoever to calling for a commission to conduct a feasible study of how best to create an appropriate edifice to recall and relive the tragedy of Oct. 2 for the entire nation. More importantly, perhaps, I suspect not one Amish citizen in that rural Pennsylvania community harbored a moment's thought about how many taxpayer dollars could or should be earmarked for such a monument.


No studies, no commissions, no rush to blame, no taxpayer dollars, no piles of dolls and balloons, no grief counselors, no monuments. Instead, reserved reflection steeped in private grief, public forgiveness and overarching reverence for continuing to live in what they view as God's vision and image, are the hallmarks of the Amish response to a tragedy that would surely break the back of weaker communities.

Yet this is the way the Amish live, in good times and bad. Indeed, this is how American communities from New England to the Pacific Northwest used to deal with and draw strength from adversity. This is how America used to be before the advent of public policies that witness declarations of "natural disaster areas" even before the "disaster" itself has formed into a "disaster."

This is how America used to be, in a far distant time, before the amount of "federal disaster relief" became the measure of responsibility for disaster response rather than the strength of individual and community character.
We argue a lot around here as to the role of the "state" in tragedies like this. But there is no question that our culture has changed dramatically from that which the Amish reflect to what we have now.

I won't argue that all the changes in our culture have been bad. But I will argue that we should sit back and reflect on how the Amish handled their tragedy.

It's easy to sit out here and make fun of a people who purposely choose to live in the 19th century and wouldn't know an Ipod from and Xbox or a Subaru from a Harley Davidson. It's easy to deride those that are different and nonconformist, especially when their non-conformity is grounded in religious faith.

But, as Barr does, it is instructive compare how they reacted to tragedy and how we, as a nation, now react to them. We seem compelled anymore to lay it all in someone else's lap. We require outside help. And we lay blame when their effort doesn't rise to our expectations, litigate our displeasure and loss and find solace in public displays of grief. We seem unable, anymore, to handle such tragedy without huge (and expected) government involvement and intervention.

The Amish community, supported by their faith and beliefs, quietly and maturely handled their tragedy, said their goodbyes, comforted their members and, without a single bit of outside help, carried on with their lives.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Why is "state" in question marks?
Written By: Bilwick
URL: http://
It is actually in quotation marks and I’m using it as a general term for the local, state or national goverments (not exclusively one of the 50 states or the national state).
Written By: McQ
The Amish represent America before it was overcome by post-modern, socialist movements.

If you’re a liberal politician, and you want a burgeoning welfare-constituency to provide your job security, then you don’t like the Amish.

These quiet, faithful people represent the self-reliant, sedentary life-style, firm religious belief, and close-knit community that together denecessitate the government-mediated schemes engineered by urban socialists (ie. the "State").

And the community-strength exhibited by their private grief is toxic to the trite "I-feel-your-pain" posturing that urban media and politicians utilize to underpin their progressive prognosticatiions. You’ll recall that progressives tried to leverage the Columbine-shooting into more gun "control."

As a populace becomes more urbanized, secularized, atomized, apathetic, and lethargic it becomes needy, and the progressive agenda gains currency.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
I admit that I cry every time I read about the Amish response to tragedy. I’m especially touched by their taking food to the family of the shooter and attending his funeral service.

But we have to be careful about what we learn from the Amish. This kind of entrenched commmunity value system can only happen in a very homogenous society. You have to be Amish to be a part of it.

The trouble is that homogenous societies can develop bad as well as good value sysstems. Remember the Salem witch burnings? The Mormon sect still practising polygamy depends heavily on welfate programs for their women and children. And it took intervention by the Federal government for the civil rights movement in the South to succeed.

It’s never that one size fits all situations.

Written By: Laime
URL: http://
"It’s never that one size fits all situations." Good point, Laime.

Like Barr, I was making an ideological statement, and while posing one enclave’s positives as a foil for progressive policies, it is easy to overlook the enclave’s negatives.

That said, I’m convinced the framers of the US Constitution recognized the usefulness of a plurality of cohabitating "societies" and they designed the document essentially to mediate this cohabitation.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
What do we need to be careful of?
Being self reliant?
Being forgiving if we can find the capacity for forgivness?

What media propelled need did you have to find some bad in what the Amish are doing so you can even begin to present the idea that we can’t be like them in a time of tragedy, because it’s somehow dangerous and narrow minded and ethnocentric?
What is this perpetual need to find bad in faith and fortitude?
Think about what you’re saying.
We need to be cautious of deriving any positive value from their actions?
Why for heavens sake?

The point Barr is trying to make is these people rely on themselves in trying times, not on psychobabble from outsiders in their tall towered cities and high priced suburban neighborhoods. Telling them how they ought to feel so they can ’help them get over it’, swooping in like seagulls to spread their sh*t all over everything in sight. Offering them money as some kind of cure all for their grief. Reminding them that the killer was responsible, but so was society, and the government, and probably George Bush. Insisting they all get consuling for deep seated, earth shattering grief, they may not (heaven forbid!) be feeling.

and just FYI - not that it really matters, other than to perhaps lay a stereotype to rest - Salem didn’t burn any witches. Hung, and pressed, but not burned, not that that makes it better, just accurate.
Written By: looker
URL: http://
"The trouble is that homogenous societies can develop bad as well as good value systems."

Exactly, like the homogenous socialist societies of Scandanavia.

Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Remember the Salem witch burnings?
No one was burned as a result of the Salem witch trials. They were all hanged, except for one who was boarded.

But the Salem trials were not a result of a homogenous society. In fact, if you look at the McMartin Pre-School trials of the late 1980s to early 1990s in Southern California, you will find a staggering number of similarities. And that was in a decidedly heterogenous population.
Written By: steverino
You can think anything you want about the Amish, but if the bad guys somehow manage to get a couple of nukes into Washington and New York one of these years, the Amish’s self-reliance and avoidance of modern culture is suddenly going to look a whole lot smarter.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
The stark differences in local community reactions to tragedy can be shown by the differences between New Orleans and the Mississippi coast after Katrina. (I was in MS the day after landfall to conduct power assessments for the Army Corps of Engineers, other personnel from my unit were spilt between MS and Louisiana.) The economies of both areas rely heavily on tourism (and oil), so neither one was isolated before the storm hit. The highest winds are on the east side of a hurricane, so the damage was greater in Mississippi than New Orleans. The federal response was nearly equal for both states, with some assets directed to Alabama, and some still in Florida from previous landfalls.

Immediately after the storm, the people in MS were checking on their neighbors. They were cooking every bit of food that might spoil and making it freely available while rationing their dry goods, and generally continuing to execute the disaster plan they had in place. The same was true for most of Louisiana. There hasn’t been much media attention to those areas for the last eleven months.

In New Orleans, a large segment of the community did not follow any disaster plan. Instead of turning to each other they turned to the cameras, which were more than happy to follow. Their mayor knew full well that evacuating the city and providing food and water in the first days after a disaster are local issues that the federal government had help plan for. I don’t know if the mayor or the populace still in New Orleans took the lead, but the attitude from both was "who’s going to come help us?"

The bulk of the infrastructure repair is still to come for both areas, and both have problems getting money from the insurance companies and the federal relief grants. Mississippi has been well past the stage of "why did this happen" (if they were ever in it) because they applied a similar attitude to the tragedy as the Amish, and are focused solely on rebuilding. Any national story of rebuilding in New Orleans inevitably mentions the ’slow’ immediate relief effort, because they’ve ignored the lessons from the Amish.
Written By: Ted
URL: http://
" This kind of entrenched commmunity value system can only happen in a very homogenous society. You have to be Amish to be a part of it."

Homogenous in what sense? True, you have to be Amish to be Amish, but the values are not their exclusive property. Humility, self-reliance, self-discipline and family are values that can be found in many cultures. In what situations are these values counter productive?

Written By: timactual
URL: http://

I think the Amish are grand.
I thinks striving to be self-reliant and responsible is grand.

I was reflecting on tangental issues:

- When we take this Amish story as a sna;shot of the past, I think we get only a partial picure.
Ture, rural communties were by necessity self-reliant. But self-reliant communities can be either just or unjust, tolerant or intolerant of individual differences, forgiving or retributionl, and so on. Self-reliant communities may be idyllic, but they are not necessarily so.

The question of being homogenous is also tangental.

-I was speculating that in order to maintain a single view ethic, the members have to be pretty hompgenous, as they all have to buy into that ethic Again, groups can develop admirable ethics, like the Amish, or they may develop deplorable ethics, like the Mormon sect living on welfare.

- There is also the question of ’group think’. When everyone in a community agrees on values and behaviors, there is the temptation to stop independent thinking and yield to the comfort of the group’s embrace. I speculate that it takes a bit of bravery to go against the flow when individual thinking contradicts the group’s norm
Now. this may be good or bad; just reflecting.
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Wish we could all be a little more like them. The world would be a much better place to live in.
Written By: Amish Furniture
I do indeed admire the Amish’s ability to forgive the deranged and shun the spotlight. But it’s not a clash of modernity vs. the good old America. You can read Mark Twain and understand that corruption, pompous spotlight hogging, poltiical demagoguery and general nastiness were present back when all they had was Amish-level technology.

Frankly, it is in some ways easier to form a commuinity of purists when you have a vacuous and materialist culture to stand apart from. Christians and Rome. And when the anti-model collapses, the idealists rot and replace it. Societal models don’t change.
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
You can read Mark Twain and understand that corruption, pompous spotlight hogging, poltiical demagoguery and general nastiness were present back when all they had was Amish-level technology.
Yup .. but they also all took care of themselves without turning to government.

Now it’s just the Amish that do so.
Written By: McQ
Yeah, yeah those Amish salt of the Earth...As one of my professors said, "When one is reduced to moral preachment as the sole means of discussion, you’re pretty much dead." I appreciate the Amish and their LOVE they manifested in the face of Evil.

But you know what I don’t see much wrong with what other folks do...This thread annoys me for some reason. Heaven Forfend we build shrines or memorials or have grief counselors..AND WHY EXACTLY?

This is "All or Nothing" Thinking....IF Therapeutic Man goes to far, that doesn’t amke the Amish and Stoicism right....Because we’re NOT like the Amish we’re WRONG? A little explication please?

And since when did turning to the Government become WRONG? By which I mean to say, if that had happened in YOUR home town what government services should we turn away..police, EMS, psychiatric counseling, Judicial? WHAT?

The Amish might NOT have needed to be so compassionate and Stoic, IF they’d had a gun, or IF they’d have had a ’cell’phone to CALL THE POLICE. The disaster they underwent was, in part made WORSE, by the Amish. This isn’t blame the victim day, but please let’s get beyond our hagiography of the Amish here.

Note the Amish flouirish WITHIN our modern society and all it’s socialist-collectivist ills and in fact benefit from that society. How long the Amish last you think, in Rwanda, Lebanon or Iraq?

I’m finished ranting...I just this just reminded me of the old timers lamenting how today’s ’Utes are all outs and society is going to HECK in a hand-basket...It ALWAYS is, we were those Louts and now our neighbors are, and we were hard-working self-reliant folk, but NOW this younger generation isn’t...

Here’s a news flash people were self-reliant 100 years ago because most everyone was DIRT POOR, if you didn’t have it more than likely your neighbor didn’t either, and the result was people died...Nowadays we’re a LOT richer if I need it I can get it and if I can’t quite afford it I can find someone to help me get it. Don’t confuse POVERTY with Moral Virtue...I’m pretty certain that most folks 100 years ago would be just as happy to put their hands out for the largesse available today as we are...
Written By: Joe
URL: http://

-Still, I was struck by the ’forgiveness’ part of the Amish story, a concept that might be helpful in our feverish culture wars.
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Joe, sometimes ya just gotta rant, I know. But, you missed the point of this thread entirely.

When you have a supportive extended family, church and community (a la the Amish), you have no need for "grief-couselors."

I agree with your point about an enclave’s need for a conducive national environment for it’s endurance. But we’d probably disagree about whether that environment should foster the continuance of distinct enclaves like the Amish, or actively work to dissolve them.

My guess is a Sharia-governed nation, like Sudan, would opt for dissolution. Which brings me to my ideological point: so would a nation ruled by urban Socialists.

I think Barr wrote his article to draw attention to the fact that the Amish system, with all its warts, throws a wrench into these engineers’ plans. And no-one so far has argued otherwise.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
My guess is a Sharia-governed nation, like Sudan, would opt for dissolution. Which brings me to my ideological point: so would a nation ruled by urban Socialists.

I think Barr wrote his article to draw attention to the fact that the Amish system, with all its warts, throws a wrench into these engineers’ plans. And no-one so far has argued otherwise.


Oh, come on Steve. Give me a break. Yes, the urban socialists are coming to force the Amish into the sea. How many ways do the urban socialists fear and loathe the amish for not having cell phones? too many to mention! Just look at Ted Kennedy’s discovered document archive - Final Solutions to the Amish, vol. #1 through #33!

+1 Joe, common sense. Joe, you’re not a libertarian, are you?
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
You countered my philosophizing with tart sarcasm.

Written By: Steve
URL: http://

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