This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a still-amazing book, Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings left city life in 1932 to homestead rural land in (first) Vermont and (later) Maine. They felt they had discovered the “good life,” and wrote several books both to describe how they lived and to encourage others toward greater simplicity and authenticity. They have been called “the great-grandparents of the back-to-the-land movement” and no doubt inspired many young people in the 1960s and 1970s. When I came to their books later, I was impressed that they were vegetarians and carried on their farming completely without the use of animals. Would that the 21st century homesteading movement would do likewise!
The Nearings’ books overflow with sincerity, compassion, and common sense. Here are examples:
“Ideas of ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe, or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange,–a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies that are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else . . .”
“‘Civilization,’ said Mark Twain, ‘is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.’ A market economy seeks by ballyhoo to bamboozle consumers into buying things they neither need nor want, thus compelling them to sell their labor power as a means of paying for their purchases. Since our aim was liberation from the exploitation accompanying the sale of labor power, we were as wary of market lures as a wise mouse is wary of other traps.”
“We do not eat animals, or their products, and do not exploit them . . . We believe all life is to be respected–non-human as well as human . . . Widespread and unwarranted exploitation of domestic animals includes robbing them of their milk or their eggs as well as harnessing them to labor for man. Domestic animals are slaves . . . Humans have the power of life or death over them . . .”
Scott Nearing died at age 100 in 1983; Helen in 1995. A few years before her death, Helen wrote: “When we are long gone, may the search for the good life go on in the lives of our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, and may our efforts in buildings and books remain for a while to help others along the way.”
Pick up one of their books and find out what they have to say to you today.