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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

What Do You Know How To Do?

I mean, actually do? Not lord over. Not feast on. Not interpolate. Not pontificate about. Not sit astraddle until you’re given a piece. What can you do, and do productively enough to make it worth your while to do it, with at least something left over for others when you’re done?

My brethren the Celts were the first in Europe to figure out iron. Bronze folks couldn’t compete with iron when push came to shove (and stab). But societies can quickly become more sophisticated than a bellows, some mud, and a hammer — and what one man can do, another can learn. To achieve true sophistication is to swim forward, like a shark. If you stand still, you can’t breathe, never mind go backwards. Backwards is death.

Well, you can lard rather a lot of supervision on top of the iron age. The division of labor yields economies of scale that produce much greater wealth with less effort. The iron age version of fellows with green eyeshades can add value. Management and innovation increase yields. You can mass-produce pointy things to poke your neighbors if they invade and still have enough to eat. Pretty soon Bessemer is converting while Carnegie counts the beans.

But there’s a limit to it. Eventually people who aren’t adding anything to the finished products insinuate themselves between the goodies and the people that produce the goodies. They are parasitical. The parasitical are generally good at only one thing: Blame. It’s someone else’s fault that there are fewer pointy metal things than before they cashed their first paycheck, and why there’s less to eat, too, though they look like a dirigible while everyone else looks like broomsticks.

Sophisticated economies have a lot of places to hide in and around them. Not contributing, but not missing any meals because of it. The process from the genesis to the dissemination of wealth is obscured by the complexity that is required to avoid having everyone approximately as skilled at everything as everyone else — no more, no less.

Lots of people desire economies to be returned at least partway to a state of nature, so that they can understand them again. Gold bugs and communists have more in common than you might think. But I ask them, and you, once again, what exactly do you know how to do? That man in the video can make a pointy iron thing out of mud and sticks. If civilization goes pear-shaped, as so many seem to be fervently praying for, what use are you to him? Gisele Bundchen will be camped outside this guy’s door instead of Tom Brady’s if we go neolithic again. His only question to her might be, “How are you going to stomp straw into my mud with those stilettos on?” The rest is conversation.

The dogs have died, or run away. The fleas are abroad in the land. What do you know how to do?

18 Responses

  1. Love this! A group of us has had this discussion, and we have been taking inventory of our usefulness. I can assure you, there are more of us than one might think; and when the world goes splat, we'll be there to pick up and start rebuilding. And Gisele Bundchen can be down by the crick scrubbing linen. I'm sure she can figure that out.

  2. I have been rehabbing a house this year – I have learned many new skills. Some are more useful than others, but should it ever sell I have been planning on building a new outbuilding of stone and timbers. Just because I can. I think I'll include a fire place in it – heat would be welcome when electricity is unavailable.

  3. Yes. Cashing the check is precious little merit and it may be critical to many, but the privilege of making things is God's gift to a man.

  4. I make many and varied things. My house, my guitars, my shirt, and weld virtually anything from scratch or patch and repair. When chided by my friends about my activities I joke back, "on Gilligan's Island, I'd have the nicest house". Satisfaction is to be self sufficient as possible. An aside; years ago I inquired about joining the Peace Corps (or as someone in DC might say Peace Corpse) The Peace Corps representative told me I didn't qualify because I hadn't graduated college?

  5. I can do a lot of things. I can sometimes even teach those things to other people. I'm constantly learning new things as well.

    A lot of the things I know are useful in basic survival, because I used them or learned them during basic survival, living on farms with no power, little equipment, and not much outside help. Self sufficiency is a lost art, and our betters in Washington depend on that fact.

  6. I can make things beautiful. I can teach appreciation of such things. It is not much, but, it is something.

  7. Er, stop me if I'm wrong, but didn't you produce and raise worthwhile human beings? We're all pikers compared to that.

  8. When out all goes pear shaped may I suggest you skip the first few steps and start off with a car's leaf spring. They make really excellent pointy things and you'll have a jump start on the competition

  9. Those who work with metal,be it mining,refining or fabricating the product actually hold control over our modern societies. This is probably a subversive notion, but should those who do these things suddenly stop the whole world would come to a halt. Those who know nothing of these things and see them done think it's some kind of black magic or sorcery. Sorcerers or not we'll be around to build it up anew if it all goes sideways.

  10. I can do lots of things:

    Ceramics, I can throw pots, make my own glazes, fire in kilns or raku style. Have the plans for a Leach style wheel and other types of wheels(I was a art major with ceramics concentration in college back in the olden days before I got a job)

    Fabric arts: weaving, knitting, crochet,quilting, sewing, make clothes, can but not that good at carding and spinning.

    Canning and Preserving, drying fruit, smoking meats and fish.

    Gardening and seed harvesting. favorite activity.

    Make soap and some cosmetics given the fat, lye, herbs and oils

    Who knew all those hippy dippy skills from the 60's could come in handy.

    I know how to make a solar oven, solar hot shower (very short shower) purify water. But would need help with the heavy lifting on some things.

    Raise chickens. Kill and clean geese, ducks, chickens and rabbits (if I have to poor 'ittle bunnies but damn they taste good). I have shot and field dressed deer (barf) and with the help of some good strong backs carried it back to camp.

    I know how to reload shotgun shells.

    My husband is a very handy guy. Plumbing, carpentry, solar tech, welding (assumes we still have some power) water systems, hydro systems for power….Mr. Fixit.

  11. I have been rebuilding cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles for about 50 years and can weld, sew, fabricate metal and wood parts. I was a maintenance man for 150 buildings for 17 years and my own 5 renthouses and can roof, plumb, wire, repair locks, anything a building needs. I can also instruct others. I like to grow flowers bushes and trees.
    My name is Bruce Wayne. (Really!)

  12. I once spent two hours sitting next to a woman who could spin wool into yarn. She can do various weights, using different wools, and her stuff is raved over by serious knitters for its beauty and strength. Wool spinning is surprisingly complicated, and she is literally one of the best in the world.

    Her politics are wretched, a combination of statist glee at the prospect of telling others how to live and a woeful lack of insight as to how such a world would impact her life choices. But sitting next to her, watching her spin, was the most relaxing thing I've ever done. Anger, stress, worry and fear just drain away.

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