Part 1: The Farmer and the Plow

This is the first post in a series of three that examine man’s place in the modern world

This man wore no shoes, not because he couldn’t afford it, but because he felt bare feet reduced the disruption of topsoil as he plowed. Money was scarce for a small family farmer with thirteen children, but he did own shoes. He wore his shoes to church at 4:00 in the morning before he began his work in the field. His name was Angelo Sammut (pronounced suh-moot), and he lived on the island country of Malta, 60 miles south of Sicily. Angelo was in his 50’s when he took this photo, the year was approximately 1965, and typical to that season, he was tilling his field in preparation for planting. He is my wife’s grandfather and he slipped the bonds of earth in 1993, at the age of 85.

Farmers till their soil in preparation for planting. The plow breaks up compacted topsoil, aerates, and improves drainage. It is remarkable that Angelo was about to guide his plow through the rocky fields of Malta, remarkable because a farmer employed the same tillage method 4000 years earlier. For 4000 years, a man tilled the earth with a blade, draft animal, and his own strength. After two industrial revolutions and the business acumen of John Deere, farmers stopped employing this method. The mule is now a green and yellow machine, the plow has dozens of blades, and the man sits in an air-conditioned cab.

If the cab is air-conditioned, and the machine, not his muscle, labors to break up the soil, what is the purpose of the man? Traditional tillage, using a draft animal and single moldboard (what you might think of as the “blade” of the plow), is labor intensive and requires strength and stamina. While it is not uncommon to see a woman working hard in the fields, it is less common to see a woman behind a traditional plow (try an image search). Men on average possess greater muscle mass than women, and therefore on average possess greater strength; it’s science. Women can operate a traditional plow, but efficiency and perhaps a little chivalry drove men to put on their boots (optional for Angelo) and get to work.

Both industrial revolutions dramatically altered humanity. The full mechanization of tillage is one poignant example. After 4000 years of consistent use, a tool changed and the purpose of man blurred. Mechanization is incredibly efficient, but that efficiency comes at a cost. As humanity journeys through the digital age, man’s overt purpose will fade. Unfortunately, the world harbors far too much strife to comfortably amble through life without purpose. Men, especially young men, crave adventure and purpose. They are less likely to find that purpose in their place of work.

The perception of purpose enables satisfaction; the lack thereof fuels depression, anxiety, and fear. These are curses of the modern man, and symptoms of a weakened humanity. The Centers for Disease Control reported a 50% increase in suicide rates among middle aged men during the recent decade. Statistics like this counter the partial truth that technology enables leisure, and leisure generates satisfaction. Men are likely the first casualty of mechanization. Women still nurture beautiful babies; men program their Husqvarna Auto Mower.

William Wisehart