Status and the Amish

Who knew. But, people being people, it’s not too surprising:

“Some Amish bishops in Indiana weakened restrictions on the use of telephones. Fax machines became commonplace in Amish-owned businesses. Web sites marketing Amish furniture began to crop up. Although the sites were run by non-Amish third parties, they nevertheless intensified a feeling of competition, says Casper Hochstetler, a 70-year-old Amish bishop who lives in Shipshewana.

‘People wanted bigger weddings, newer carriages,’ Mr. Lehman says. ‘They were buying things they didn’t need.’ Mr. Lehman spent several hundred dollars on a model-train and truck hobby, and about $4,000 on annual family vacations, he says. This year, there will be no vacation.

“It became common practice for families to leave their carriages home and take taxis on shopping trips and to dinners out.

“Some Amish families had bought second homes on the west coast of Florida and expensive Dutch Harness Horses, with their distinctive, prancing gait. Others lined their carriages in dark velvet and illuminated them with battery-powered LED lighting.

“Even the tradition of helping each other out began to unravel, Bishop Hochstetler says. Instead of asking neighbors for help, well-to-do Amish began hiring outsiders so they wouldn’t have to reciprocate. ‘Factory work doesn’t eliminate fellowship, but it does not encourage togetherness,’ the bishop says.”

The question I wonder about is, is this a fundamental change or not? Was there always rivalry and status competition among community members, but acted out on a less conspicuous, more subtle, level, or perhaps desire for status was satisfied, instead of by consumer items, by a clear sense of having a high community standing or being viewed as a spiritual elder — and is it that more weight is given to other values now?*; or,  is it the increase in 9-5 jobs and higher incomes, and concomitant decrease in leisure and communal time, that has really brought about a fundamental change?

More at WSJ: “A Bank Run Teaches the ‘Plain People’ About the Risks of Modernity”

* this reminds me of this from James Alison’s The Joy of Being Wrong:

“The skandalon is all kinds of destructive  additction, drugs, sex, power, and above all morbid competitiveness, professional, sexual, political, intellectual, and, spiritual, especially spiritual.”

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