Having finished the Nearings’ story and researched a bit more into their unconventional lives I’ve found myself again comparing our little experiment with their grandiose one.  Such a curious couple, but is that where our similarities end?  Do I flatter us in even making such a comparison?  After all, they were the true pioneers in modern homesteading, though in reading about those days in the back hills of Vermont and of others’ perceptions of their queer ways, I do also feel we are strangers in a strange land, unlikely to ever truly integrate despite decades of effort.

But that is probably the most striking similarity between us.  I am hung-up now on the question of self-discipline, to which the Nearings held themselves a very rigorous standard.  I sometimes get comments from others that I appear to be quite disciplined–working from home, without a boss, with no schedule, no real reason to do anything besides eat bonbons and watch soaps all day if I chose–yet I choose to study and write and garden and cook for no one, quite often, except myself and the dog (whom, I might add, is developing quite the pretentious palate and has come to prefer his home-cooked meals lightly seasoned–the Nearings would be appalled).  I explain to them very plainly that this is not self-discipline at all, because for me, to drag myself to an office everyday through grid-lock and sit behind a desk for 8 to 10 hours would require exorbitantly more discipline than I have.  Handy hubby has leagues more discipline, because as I’ve mentioned before, mine is often mood dependent, and he has no moods.  Still, in my defense, while discipline may be a key feature in military careers and those in control of the life and death or even health of others, I purposely did not choose such a path, for that very reason, including motherhood.  So then, am I to believe the Nearings, that to society we more Dionysian types are of poorer overall moral character?

The Nearings entire lives were centered around discipline at every level.  Their work was extremely regimented, as was their diet and lifestyle.  They were vegans, they shunned all mood altering substances including coffee and alcohol at all times, they did their “bread labor” for four hours a day, six days a week, no matter what.  They scheduled everything, from their hours of personal leisure, to their short and long-term goals, to their time for socializing and performing civic duties.  They seem to have been so obsessed with discipline that I am now forced to seriously question my own, because while I have more than some, I have never wanted as much as others, which fits quite conveniently considering the hard work it would take to acquire more.   I’ve always excused myself easily, I have enough of it to be happy with myself and cultivating any more of it seems dangerously close to conforming–it is certainly for society’s benefit that an excess of self-discipline is considered the bedrock of good character–and must I really give up every single pleasure and vice for the good of society?  In any case, is that really what “they” would wish of me?  Not having adequate mental capacity to unravel this mystery on my own, I’ve found myself turning to Nietzsche.  Big mistake.

We know of course that he drove himself to madness with his brilliant and oft-misunderstood musings.  I couldn’t help but wonder, was this because of too much self-discipline, or could it have actually been from too little?  Unfortunately, I haven’t found that answer yet, but I’ve only got about 10,000 more pages to go.  What I did find so far was some interesting foreshadowing about America, or at least what I’ve concluded must be foreshadowing.

Our blind optimism and general push for positive thinking and maniacal drive for self-improvement  at every turn is quite often at the expense of reality.  We can democratize the world, we can feed all the world’s hungry, we can end poverty, we can inhabit other planets, we can forever be the super-power, we can control nature, end corruption, all while providing universal health care and perfect health and well-being and low unemployment and reduced crime and happiness and welfare for all.  Can we?  Really?  All at the same time?  Is there not one goal we might as a nation agree to tackle first?  There is no doubt that we discourage and even shun the pessimist, who is often not a pessimist at all, but rather simply, a realist.  Is not excessive optimism a sign of immaturity?  I believe it is, and so far, it seems Nietzsche would agree.

So, a little lagniappe from me to you for the holidays, and quite possibly the perfect singular goal for our nation:  Focus on yourself first, then your family, and once you’ve gotten that perfectly figured out, just maybe I’ll let you tell me how to live, laugh, and love.  In return, I’ll be sure to show you the same respect.  But never let that mean I don’t always appreciate some healthy, friendly debate.  You’re welcome!