The Way of the Fence Post

Fence posts have long been used as a metaphor for personal boundaries. You might have been accused of being on the wrong side of the fence, or even worse, riding the fence. Conservatives often accuse liberals of changing their morals (i.e. moving their fence posts) based on their feelings, while failing to recognize that we, just as frequently, change our morals based on greed. And for some strange reason, maybe our puritan religious roots, Americans seem to judge each others sexuality in a much harsher way than we judge each others business practices. For example, many Christians will instinctively agree with the gospel teaching that to look at a woman with lust is to have committed adultery with her in your heart, while at the exact same time arguing that no amount of accumulated wealth is inherently sinful.

Let’s get back to fence posts for a moment, because they’re not just a metaphor in this story, but a real life example. Farmers used to regularly rotate crops and livestock on their fields, but with the development of more “efficient” forms of fertilizer and weed control, more and more farmers are turning to wide scale mono-cropping. “Mono-cropping is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops or livestock.” Without the need to keep livestock in their fields farmers quickly started taking down fences to maximize acreage and profits. Not only have fields gotten larger but the average farm size has tripled over the past hundred years.

According to the USDA agricultural census, “In 1900, just under 40 percent of the total US population lived on farms, and 60 percent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about 1 percent and 20 percent. The United States had between six and seven million farms from 1910 to 1940 . A sharp decline in the number of farms occurred from the 1940s to the 1980s. At the same time, the average farm size more than doubled, from about 150 acres to around 450 acres.” Along with this dramatic increase in the size of farms has been the increased number of corporately owned farms. Many were shocked when a 2021 article published in The Guardian revealed that Bill Gates was the largest private owner of farmland in the United States.

This wide scale transition from a “rural farming” to an “urban service” lifestyle has made large groups of people, and the cities they live in, dependent on corporations for not just employment but their day to day survival. It’s hard to deny that this change in economic structure and personal lifestyle has been a major contributor to our nation’s record setting corporate profits, but also the massive growth in income inequality and our devastating mental health crisis. It is bizarre, however, that this topic is rarely ever a part of either political party’s platform. You would think conservatives, who claim to be the champions of small government and small business, would be on the front lines calling for change, but instead we’re too busy blaming liberals for all our problems.

It’s easy to blame others when you’re unwilling to recognize the immorality of your own actions. Republican messaging for the past fifty years has been dominated by tax cuts, corporate deregulation, and increased military spending, all with the promise that the resulting increased corporate profits would “trickle down” to the working class. That strategy has failed, and it has failed miserably and repeatedly. Calls for nation wide boycotts of corporations have yet to gain traction, despite oil and gas companies continuing to make record setting profits while gasoline prices and inflation wreak havoc on the middle class. It is important, however, to not lose hope in direct action, especially now, because studies have shown that rising food prices can lead to increased social conflict and change. Despite everything, this might be the moment our society needs to reform itself.

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