September 27, 2016
The pill and Massey Ferguson
The great moral questioning of the '60s is normally attributed to the contraceptive pill, which became generally available at that time. The pill did what conventional morality had long done: remove the risk of ex-nuptial births. So conventional morality lost its authority among the young. Whether any sexual restraint of any kind was warranted became questionable. So sexual promiscuity probably reached its peak at that time. I was there and was a cautious participant in the mood of the times.
And ALL morality, not only sexual morality, came into question at that time. There was a collapse of values and standards across the board at that time. If sexual restraint had become irrelevant, might not all forms of restraint be old-fashioned and irrelevant? So practices that had evolved over millennia for the guidance of society lost their authority and there was nothing to replace them. People were cast adrift from all guidance and had to figure out entirely from new how to live the good life. Nobody knew any longer what was wise.
Fortunately, however, Christians in particular kept the old moral thinking alive and showed by results that it gave a better balanced life. I was myself a fundamentalist Protestant throughout my teens (late '50's to early '60s) and that gave me a great set of rules to live by. I did not have to invent my own rules. I had the wisdom of the ages on my side.
So I got though my teens with no trauma at all and much happiness. I took no mind altering substances so was not damaged by them. I did not drink alcohol so avoided all the risks associated with that. I had friends who drank who died while drunk driving but I did not. I was celibate so avoided some nasty diseases. I kept clear of crime. So I arrived undamaged at adulthood and mental maturity.
And at around age 20 (1963) I became an atheist. But my teen-aged experience of a very puritanical lifestyle gave me strong habits of restraint so I participated in the sexual revolution from that time on only as part of affectionate relationships. A lot of my old Christian values stay with me to this day and even in the '60s casual sex had no attractions for me.
So I saw it all in the '60s and was sober enough to remember what I saw. Many of the people who glorify the life they had in the '60s can't actually remember much detail of what they did. They can't remember what they saw through a blur of drugs and alcohol.
So what I have given so far is a conventional explanation of the great break of the '60s. But the pill is in fact only half the story. It's not the whole explanation for that break. The other half is the Massey Ferguson tractor! How's that for a strange proposition? To understand that proposition we have to go back to what was behind the conventional morality of the pre-1960 era.
Conventional morality was heavily influenced by a shortage of food. In our present era of cheap and abundant food, we find it hard to comprehend that for most of human history, it was a struggle for most families to put enough bread on the table for their children. Most people were poor and the money often did not stretch far enough to buy all the food that the family wanted. They often had to make do with the cheapest possible food in order to eat at all. Oaten porridge was a lifesaver.
So in those circumstances men wanted to be absolutely certain that the children they were feeding were their own. "Cuckoos" were regarded as robbing the man's natural children of what was rightfully theirs. But the problem was how to tell who was the father of the various children. Women mostly had a pretty good idea of it but the men did not. And there is no doubt that both men and women sometimes "stray". In a moment of passion a woman might easily sleep with someone other than her husband and produce a child from that union.
So there was only one way a man could ensure that his scarce resources were spent on his own children: He had to convince his wife to sleep only with him. And all the persuasive resources of society were brought to bear on that need. Sexual restraint became the highest morality, with everything from ostracism to hellfire deployed to produce it.
And the pill did little to reduce that need. Sex became less perilous but the man still needed to know which children were his. So how come a highly functional morality broke down? Why did not the pill simply drive promiscuity underground?
And that's where we come to Massey Ferguson. The Massey Ferguson tractor was only one part of a broader phenonenon but it was a very visible one. The Massey Ferguson was a small, cheap tractor that was a remarkably tough machine. I remember seeing lots of them in Australia and I gather that they were equally popular in Britain. Massey Ferguson have made tractors of all shapes and sizes over the years but those small post-war models had a big impact.
With a Massey Ferguson farmers could pull bigger implements than a horse team could, could pull them for longer and could pull them more cheaply. A horse team was not cheap to maintain. You had farrier's bills, veterinary bills and feed bills. And a team of big working horses can go though a phenomenal amount of feed every day. For his Massey Ferguson the farmer just had to keep a drum of fuel handy.
So a farmer's productivity was at least doubled when he bought a Massey Ferguson. And what does a farmer's productivity add up to? Food. Along with other agricultural advances of the postwar era, the Massey Ferguson steadily drove down the price of food. In the USA it was probably John Deere who provided most of the tractors but the result was the same.
So by the time the '60s hit, feeding your family was a difficulty only for the very unfortunate. So it was no longer a tragedy if a man fed a child who was not his own. His other children were not deprived thereby. So the great need for the sexual control of women largely fell away. Conventional morality had lost its main function.
So the Massey Ferguson is at least as important as the pill as an explanation of the '60s moral revolution -- JR
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