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Hayes' homewreckers

Independent AmericanThe second chunk of Radical Homemakers continued the historical journey begun in the first two chapters, but I'd like to cut to the chase and instead discuss Hayes' conclusions.  She wrote that three "homewreckers" are responsible for many of the ills in modern American society: "the compulsion to overwork, the reckless pursuit of affluence, and the credo of individualism."

In my opinion, overworking and trying to get rich are closely related topics, and I've discussed them both in some depth before.  For example, Hayes agrees with others that income does not necessarily equate to happiness, and adds that despite the price tag attached to renewable energy, poor people in general tread more lightly on the earth.  If you haven't read about and thought this issue to death previously, I definitely recommend you look through Hayes' data to see if it speaks to you.

Although I agree with her about the problematic American work ethic, the most thought-provoking part of Hayes' argument came at the very end.  The dream household for a modern American, asserts Hayes, is large enough to allow each family member to hide away with a television in his or her own room, spending little time interacting with the rest of the family or community.  She relates that only seven percent of American families spend more than half an hour at family dinners and that the average American couple has only twelve minutes a day to converse.  As a nation, we are not only pursuing money, but also independent privacy at the expense of a society centered around skill-learning and social-capital-earning.

Mark and I are above average when it comes to building the health of our two-person household, but we still struggle with creating an interdependent community (one of our big goals for the next decade).  I'd be curious to hear which of these homewreckers you find most troublesome in your own life, and --- zooming back out to the larger picture --- I hope you'll chime in on whether you agree with Hayes' setup of the problem.  There were a lot Weekend Homesteaderof other things to think about in these two chapters as well, so feel free to bring up points I've skipped here.

We'll be discussing "Meet the Radical Homemakers" and chapter five next Wednesday, which will start to bring us back out of the land of theory.  (If you get sick of pure philosophy the way I often do, this might be a good place for you to start the book.)  Newcomers are always welcome to join the club!

The Weekend Homesteader is now in print!  (Your copy probably still won't arrive for a couple of months though.)

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I believe fear of not having enough leads to the compulsion of overworking and the reckless pursuit of affluence. Many are never comfortable with what they have. It is a shame.


Comment by ZenPresence Wed Sep 5 12:55:17 2012
ZenPresence --- I agree that fear is probably at the root of America's workaholism. I feel very lucky that my parents raised me below the poverty line, so I know it's not terrifying to be poor.
Comment by anna Wed Sep 5 14:06:22 2012

I personally enjoy the diversity in people. If someone's dream is truly to have numerous televisions and watch them, I have no problem with that. I only see a problem if somebody is working towards that and they do not enjoy it, that is when a change needs to be made. It may not float my boat, but then I am the only one responsible for that. I think it is incorrect though to say that people are not involved with others. If somebody works outside of the home, they can interact with people in their place of employment. Children can interact with others at school. With technology, I can sit here at my desk in New Mexico and talk to you in Virginia. Pretty cool, if you were to ask me.

I also find the dinner time and conversation time arguments somewhat specious. If I spend all day with my husband, conversation is but a small part of it. There is a lot of interaction and give and take and the biggest treat is just having his presence. I also find if you spend more than 30 minutes at dinner, the food is going to get cold.

I would say that the greatest homewreckers are that people not taking the time to understand who they are and what they want and sometimes not having the courage to make the changes necessary to make the lives they truly want a reality. There are some who are disadvantaged enough to where that is possible but there is a large portion of the first world on autopilot.

Comment by Tisha Wed Sep 5 14:13:53 2012

Tisha --- Your last paragraph seems very true. I think that what Hayes is arguing is that people can't take the time to understand who they are and what they want if they're stuck in a cycle of working long hours and never getting time with their loved ones. Breaking free of that cycle won't automatically get you there, but it at least gives you the possibility.

I can't agree with 30 minutes at dinner being too long, though. :-) Mark and I regularly spend an hour at lunch and dinner --- you eat the food and then you sit around and talk.

Comment by anna Wed Sep 5 14:59:29 2012
I was unable to get a copy of the book at my boondocks library. But I feel allot of people overwork just to get what they did not have at another time of their life. I grew up with a one parent love you mom household and we really never had nothing tangible but plenty of memory's and she still overworked then and now. I tell you what though having enough money to pay your bills does atleast relieve allot of stress. Bring back the barter system.
Comment by Olan Wed Sep 5 23:23:46 2012
Olan --- I do see a lot of that around here --- folks who were raised poor and then have kids want their children to have an easier life than they had. Since neither Mark nor I want kids, we don't get sucked into that, luckily. People who say that extra money doesn't make people happier are always quick to add the caveat that their studies only look at people who already live above the poverty line.
Comment by anna Thu Sep 6 14:41:22 2012
I overwork in response to having been poor - the "we only have $1 to our name this week" kind of poor. Also, I am in pursuit of wealth - specifically, land owned in full. It's fairly expensive...
Comment by Faith T Fri Sep 7 01:30:10 2012
Faith --- It can be hard to put into practice, but we found that tightening our belts and living below the poverty line for a few years gave us time to focus on becoming financially independent. Of course, if you have a lot of dependents, that can be a lot less feasible....
Comment by anna Fri Sep 7 08:08:13 2012

I thought her description of "homewreckers" was spot on ... for other people. I just don't quite see how we fit. We really CAN'T change our situation much. We are already living on the minimum. I was talking with my husband last night about the book, and somehow the poverty line came up. I was like, "Do you actually know where the poverty line is?" He said, "I don't know, but it's more than we've ever made!" Huh. I didn't realize that. His salary is okay, but we're a family of four living on that.

On the other hand, maybe we have already made the jump, so to speak. I stay home with the kids, which is the main reason we've always been poor. It was always more important for us that one of us be with the kids than that they have a lot of "stuff." Two things about us totally blow the minds of my husband's coworkers: that we live on one income, and that we don't have a TV. I don't know if they've put two and two together and realize that that is why!

The hard part here is that I get to be a radical homemaker and my husband doesn't. We're treading water now and barely making it as it is. He doesn't mind his job overall, but he misses us and would like to spend more time at home. He travels for work and it's just so, so hard. We're people with simple desires, but desire #1 for all of us is to be together as a family. There is absolutely nothing more important. And yet we can't always have that. We're searching the job markets -- my husband just got his masters so surely something will turn up eventually that will give us enough wiggle room to make a few more changes. But this economy is crap and graduating from college -- debt included -- in 2008 was no picnic.

We'd love to have a farm someday but we have nothing, literally nothing, in the bank. So for now it's a someday.

That is kind of far from the text, sorry. I guess my main point is, these homewreckers exist, sure, but they're more than simply cultural. Our terrible economy is partly to blame. And, as my economics-obsessed husband likes to remind me, with the rate of inflation what it is, it is easier to borrow than to save, and all anyone can do is work like crazy and hope they won't be laid off, because no one has any real backup plan.

Comment by Sheila Sun Sep 9 21:18:25 2012
Sheila --- That's the exact question I want to bring up for this Wednesday's discussion, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, in case you're curious, you can see a handy table at Assuming you don't live in Alaska or Hawaii, the poverty line for a family of 4 is $23,050.
Comment by anna Mon Sep 10 07:35:22 2012
Oh, I guess we're not under the poverty line after all. I did think we were awfully comfortable, especially considering how poor we've been in the past (and still kept afloat).
Comment by Sheila Sat Sep 15 09:22:02 2012
Sheila --- The poverty line does seem to be a pretty good guideline, for us at least. The years we were under the poverty line, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether we'd be able to pay basic bills. In Radical Homemakers, the average income is twice the poverty line, which in our experience is where you stop having to really worry about anything as long as you pay attention.
Comment by anna Sat Sep 15 09:44:55 2012

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