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Small-Scale Question Sunday for April 14, 2024

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

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How does a social progressive respond to the Amish Question, namely that the Amish have a better quality of life according to nearly all objective indicators? (Including but not limited to: lower suicide risk, greater longevity, lower female depression risk, greater sense of purpose, greater community, lower cancer and diabetes risk, negligible drug and alcohol use, lower carbon footprint, and lower income inequality)

I've lived and worked around Amish and Mennonite communities my entire life. I admire their lifestyle, their community, and their philosophy. I think the world has a lot to learn from the Amish, especially in terms of the communal decision to adopt technological standards. I buy my produce from Amish farms whenever possible, I have worked alongside Mennonite contractors, I grew up around scoutmasters and farmers and distant uncles with PA dutch accents, I would guess that my interactions with Amish-and-adjacent folks is probably top-5 on this forum at the very least. I know and admire the hell out of the Amish, I highly recommend Knock's essay Utopia in Pennsylvania. That said, the refutation to the Amish question is pretty thorough and not particularly difficult:

  1. They're essentially parasitic on the USA. The Amish have no defense policy, they don't even really have a police force or a court system. They rely on the English for any of those things when they become necessary. Their safety from external threats is entirely dependent on the broader American nation. It's not really a scalable solution. Somebody needs to do all the things that allow the systems to exist by which Amish communities are protected, allowed to function.

  2. As a comparison they suffer from the Private School problem: private schools can expel students more or less at will for behavioral problems, while public schools have to educate every student. Amish communities don't have lots of drug use because if you start using drugs, you're cruisin' for a shunning. Assuming that the kind of person who wants to do drugs wouldn't simply leave the Amish community of his own accord. If you allowed any town to simply exile anyone who refuses to obey social rules, the statistical outcomes for the remaining residents would improve.

  3. The whole theological concept of Anabaptism is built on the core idea of informed adult choice, they reject infant baptism because they believe that people should choose to enter the faith in a fully informed way. All Amish have total free choice to stay or leave at any time, the only thing holding them there is social pressure. Statistics show that between 90-97% of Amish kids return from Rumspringa and join the church. ((I haven't dug into the statistics deeply, but I'm told that the stricter the community the more kids tend to leave permanently)) Imagine what NYC or SF or Seattle or your nightmare modern progressive hell-hole of choice would look like, if the bottom 3-10% of worst-behaved least socially adapted kids just left town at age 18 and never came back. Short of a federal prison, if you took the 3-10% of people who were most prone to choose something other than a peaceful happy life, whether in a slothful or a Faustian fashion, and removed them from the population, you would see massive improvements. Being Amish isn't just a status one is born into, it is also a set of choices one has made. If you narrowed the subset of the population in your statistics to people who have chosen to remain in the religion of their forebears, chosen to remain in their hometown, gotten married and had kids, had solid employment, I would bet the statistical gap narrows significantly.

  4. @f3zinker 's frank The Grand Inquisitor style elitism is probably not all that uncommon. Yes, all these things might be bad for the population but not for me. This is visible in the fact that there are very few converts. While it would be difficult to enter some of the more strictly closed communities, there are Mennonite churches where outsiders are welcome to worship, and over time if one bought a nearby farm converts are welcomed to join the community over time if they show good faith. We don't see that happening at scale. People, who have the option to live this way, mostly don't.

  5. From a progressive perspective: what about the oppressed within Amish communities? I've never met a gay affirming Amish community, though they'll deign to sell a gay couple some pies or quilts they're not about that kind of life. So what's a gay amish kid to do? The Amish are a community founded on religious dissent, but how does the religious dissenter fare? Where does the beaten Amish wife flee? Amish life is a mold by which most people who fit can be made happy, but some people by bad luck will not fit. What do they do? Where do they go? Well the answer in a world where the Amish community is parasitic upon the English community is: they leave the Amish. In an Amish world, that question may be more difficult to answer.

On 1) this is quite literally the historical default relationship between peasant communities and their lords. Peasants pay taxes, generally don’t have much say in the decisions of the lords but are entitled to protection and a certain amount of justice enforcement, and the two otherwise mostly ignore each other. This isn’t parasitism, and it also isn’t an argument against a 90% Amish country either- a country that’s 90% Amish and 10% modern American could in theory survive and still protect the Amish and enforce justice- although it would take heavy conscription from that 10% to fill the ranks of the military and police. That arrangement is the historical default of governance(although probably cushier for both sides).

The Amish are not parasitic for the simple reason that they pay more than they take out. This makes them less parasitic than other groups. They pay taxes, except social security, because they do their own thing for that, and they pool money for healthcare expenditures. They don’t really need roads in perfect conditions, they don’t spend a lot of time in jails, they don’t require a lot of policing, they don’t go into troublesome college debt, etc. They have solved the criminality problem without need for the military or police. And what makes them much less parasitic than normal American culture is that they don’t wastefully spend resources on fleeting pleasures. When a normal American makes a lot of money they might waste that money for their own pleasure; when an Amish makes a lot of money more of it goes into their community because they don’t do a lot of consumerism or debauchery.

The military point misses something important. There’s something called IW alternative service where conscientious observers aid the country in non-violent ways and the Amish used this during the Korean/Vietnam war. So the labor they would have spent as soldiers may be spent as factory workers. The economy does not stop when war occurs, even the deadliest wars need people to work factories, which the Amish work without committing to crimes or vice — possibly the best possible factory worker profile.

I found this study on Amish criminality and genetic selection . It argues that the Amish criminality rate is too low to be explained purely by criminal gene outflow and that there is also an element of cultural transmission. Another way we can measure this (which I don’t think has been done) is to search for homicide offenders in Ohio and filter for Amish-associated first and last names, as well as birthplace location. My intuition is that there are not a lot of formerly Amish homicide offenders.

Note that the question of gene outflow must answer to how America receives criminals. The Amish ostracize their criminals; were they the only people in America, the ostracized criminals would have to live in a makeshift criminal colony far away from Amish areas. If America lacks a solution to criminality like the Amish solution, that’s not an Amish problem, that’s again an America problem.

This is visible in the fact that there are very few converts

This is entirely explained by the lack of knowledge about Amish QoL. People don’t move to countries without knowing the job market and quality of life, neither do they buy kale without information about its health benefits. The average American might find the Amish quaint and cute, but they absolutely do not know how successful they are in terms of generating a high quality of life. (I, a 99th percentile Amish aficionado, was myself greatly surprised when I began checking all the metrics of Amish QoL. For instance, that the women are quite happy, feminism not included.)

Re: 5, I imagine the gay Amish can’t have sex and instead have to rely on loving platonic friendships with their male friends. Even so, we can imagine an Amish possible world where the gays get to form couples. My post is not intended to imply “let’s copy Amish 100%”, but rather to imply that all of our social progress since 1710 has not allowed us to live as good as our friends stuck in the past. In fact, it makes us and our progress-worshipping seem pretty silly and backwards. How much money and talent has been wasted on feminism when this does not appear to be a requirement for female happiness?

were they the only people in America, the ostracized criminals would have to live in a makeshift criminal colony far away from Amish areas.

if population density was allowing it, but if not, they would pretty soon get the need to have a prison system.