Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Law of the Harvest

The Law of the Harvest is simple. We reap what we sow. If we plant tomatoes, we harvest tomatoes. If we habitually spend less than we make, we’ll gain wealth. The Golden Rule is an extension of this law. Hillel (as recorded in the Babylonian Talmud) expressed it in negative terms: what is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. Jesus (as recorded in the New Testament) expressed it in positive terms: do unto others what you would have others do to you. These are basic principles that have been known for thousands of years. But, of course, they are only part of the Law of the Harvest.

The other part, that is hardly ever mentioned, is just as important. It’s also less appealing to most people. It asserts that there will be no harvest without work and that there are no immediate gratifications. A long time ago, when most of us raised our own food, these were not truths to ignore. We might not have liked them, but we had to plan our lives around them anyway. They are laws, after all.

If you lived in a rainy place you didn’t have to worry about irrigating. Nature took care of that for you. But if you ignored your crops, weeds would soon choke them to death. If you lived in a dry region and forgot to irrigate, your crops wilted and died.

It takes work to reap a harvest and it takes a lot of it. You have to work long hours sometimes and then get up and work long hours again. Sometimes you do all this and then lose your crop on top of it all. Sometimes you lose your crop more than one year in a row and have to move.

The Law of the Harvest is obviously not a law of mercy. It’s also obvious why we have tried to mitigate it as much as possible. In fact to have not tried would be to demonstrate our own lack of mercy. But it is one thing to mitigate suffering by abiding by the Law of the Harvest itself - and quite another thing to ignore it outright.

Today, with our trust in technology, we hardly even have opportunity to think of such troublesome things. And why should we? Food is easy enough to get whenever we want it. One might even be tempted to argue that we have outgrown the Law of the Harvest - at least in its strict agricultural sense. Maybe it is only a historic artifact anymore. We might be tempted to think this way even if we were not thinking about farming. Why delay buying an expensive toy when we can get it now on credit? The principle is the same.

But nothing could be further from the truth. People that fail to work productively and that can’t delay gratification may get by one way or another but they will never reap a harvest. Harvest time is a time of plenty, of abundance. It is a time of satiety, of running over. It is a time of rejoicing. And there is joy because work has been invested and born fruit.

The Law of the Harvest is joyous when it is lived. It can be disastrous when it is ignored. Taken to extremes, it leads to war. If we find ourselves without enough to sustain the basic needs of life, we have the choice to either borrow what we need from others or to take what we need - by stealth or by force. We might fake things for a while, but ultimately, justice will have her due.

When a society is based on a culture of responsibility - a culture abiding by the Law of the Harvest - needs will be met humanely and morally. A society lacking in responsible culture cannot be trusted to do so.

If needs are real, irresponsibility leads to theft. If the level of irresponsibility is great enough, mere wants will lead to the same end. If enough people find themselves destitute, then wholesale plundering occurs. If this is unorganized, it is anarchy. If it is organized, it is war.

Now all of this might seem a bit much to extrapolate from a lack of interest in gardening. And so it is, but not entirely. Certainly, the Law of the Harvest is part of every enduring culture. Without it, things must unavoidably fall apart. It is also true that the Law of the Harvest can be learned and lived outside of a farm. Care for one’s home, yard or even apartment may suffice. In fact it can be lived in the thoughtful way that we care for others.

But it needs to be remembered that these alternatives have never been enough, by themselves, to sustain a culture. For culture to endure, it must be based in religion and the cultivation and care of the land. Unfortunately, our society is trying to be civilized without either of these. We’re trying to be civilized without culture. This can never be sustained. In the end we will pay the price for this. And our children will too.

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