The simplest way I’ve ever been able to reconcile a distinction between wanton self-sacrifice and heroism exists in the realm of values. To sacrifice yourself means, by definition, that you’re giving up a higher value (to you) for a lower value. Heroism involves values that you hold so dear that they may even outweigh your immediate safety, security, or your very life.
So for example, if you deny yourself or your loved ones basic security, shelter, or nutrition in order to help those far less worthy or valuable (to you), you’re engaging in sacrifice. On the other hand, you may find it utterly loathsome to even live in a world where certain things can persist unchecked, such as a woman, child, elderly person — or anyone clearly outmatched — being assaulted by some thug in front of your very eyes, but where to intervene might risk your life. I would consider such intervention to be heroic, not sacrificial.
So there’s the philosophical/social underpinnings and now to the story. I’ve seen a few of these, lately, but for one reason of another, didn’t engage them. This is different. And I think it’s because of Vernon Hershberger’s actions in the immediate and his demeanor over them. He’s an Amish subsistence farmer in Wisconsin. That is, he derives all of his subsistence values for himself, his wife, and nine children from his family farm, trading that which he produces by means of his hands & body, intellect, and leadership with other family members, friends, and close acquaintances which appear to number about 100 in total.
Via WAPF’s Twitter feed I originally got wind of this story from the Journal of Natural Food and Healing. There’s a good timeline there, quotes, updates and such. Check it out, but I will provide an additional link, to this local news story, with video. From the former link:
Another family dairy farm and their private store for their food ministry has been raided in Wisconsin by state/county health and agriculture agencies.
Be sure to click on the video link on the later and watch it. What you’re going to see is the heroic & courageous Vernon Hershberger proudly showcasing what appears to be quality product of the highest order. These are products I can identify immediately as among those I would be proud to acquire in trade with Mr. Hershberger. You too, I’d venture. And you’re also going to see those same refrigerators tagged by your "higher authorities and solemn protectors" as "evidence." Yea, they’re evidence alright — evidence of the profound bankruptcy in quality, wholesomeness, artisan pride, tradesmanship and self-sufficiency that’s wholly lacking from The Factory Farm…or from its billionaire DC law firm lobbyists, its former executives now sitting in politically appointed regulatory positions…from the entire tawdry, incestuous affair — from top to bottom and wall to wall.
Now at this point — and frankly, in deciding to do this post I had intended a typical vitriolic rant — I’d be naming all the names and assigning new, unflattering well-deserverd monikers to all those involved in this shameful, unnecessary, grandstanding undertaking. But I can’t do that. I have too much respect for Mr. Vernon Hershberger to subject him to the potential consequences of my behavior. Everyone’s Googling their own name, now. I harbor no illusions of what he’s up against and I certainly would not want to do anything that would in any way bring the crushing boot of state down upon him and his dear family any worse than it’s already likely to be…uh, cause he’s selling raw milk from his own family farm.
In short, and counting his likely religious views, I’m going to respect his right to not have my typical outrageous vulgarity associated with him or his just cause.
Here’s a few select quotes from the previously linked post at Natural Food.
The DATCP brought in the armed deputies for 6 hours to lock it up and take evidence. That does not stop Vernon.
“This is how I make a living,” Vernon Hershberger, a Loganville dairy farmer, said Thursday morning. “We are going to go right ahead and do business.”
Hershberger said roughly 100 families, including some Madison customers, purchase raw milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and ice cream from a store on his farm that is open for business Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Now pay attention here. He’s not just going to continue on in defiance. There’s more, but first:
The raid team took product samples for chemical and biological laboratory analysis. The raid team also went to the large dairy tank of fresh, farm certified organic wholesome milk and intentionally contaminated it. They dropped a blue dye in it such that it turns all the milk blue. It is not saleable or drinkable.
So they take more "evidence" and wantonly destroy his property; actually, the very self-produced whole food he and his nine children consume. And next…
After they left, Vernon and about two dozen friends, families and customers who arrived in ten cars during the six hour raid—BROKE THE SEALS (another criminal offense)—so that they could get to their milk, cream, butter, ice cream, yogurt and other products—that they produced and owned and needed so that their families can live and is required to maintain robust health and energy.
And now here, in particular, we come to Mr. Hershberger’s uncommon courage & heroism. Is is because he defied the law? In part, yes, but there’s way, way more to it than that — something I might refer to as a "golden helmet of moral righteousness."
I asked Vernon if it would be OK to report his crime in the Journal for all to see: that he defied the orders of the State by BREAKING THE SEALS of state evidence—so that they could get to their food needed to live. “No problem, go right ahead and tell”, he told me. “We have no other choice but to break the seals and take our food”.
This is the heart of a concept I’ll address in a minute, but note: he has no intention of not fully facing up to the legal consequences of his actions. In fact, he’s giving the green light to be reported.
The raid team also demanded computers and customer lists and business records. Between the time the health department showed up and when the deputies came with the warrant to search and seize, Vernon and his family took the computer drive and records and hid them in an undisclosed off-site location. I made doubly sure it would be OK to report this here and to the DATCP and county officials who will be reading this—and Vernon said it would be OK to report this. (It is as if it is an invitation to the State to come and play hide and seek. The customer and supplier lists are then used to interrogate and request surveys of them as to further widen the witch hunt—as in Minnesota).
Well so far, I’d say that an ambitious prosecutor might be able to get another notch towards a career promotion by putting Mr. Hershberger in a locked-away status from his nine children for an awfully long time. These are "serious crimes" — not to mention: selling raw milk from his own family farm.
And now, turning to the local news story previously linked…
…Now that the law is not on his side, he doesn’t know what to do.
"Entering into a form of civil disobedience or going out of business," he said. "This is all we do. This is to support our family. This is to support our farm. We have a debt to pay off and everything that goes with it."
If you ever get a chance to study Civil Disobedience, you of course begin with Henry David Thoreau, who held that there are three choices with respect to laws: obey them, amend them, or transgress them.
“Under a government that imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.”
A continuing study in civil disobedience might include Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Paramount are three principles:
- Maintaining a respect for rule of law even while disobeying a particular law you find unjust. In other words, resistance should be non-violent at all times. This could extend so far as to protect your oppressors from physical harm from those who might be sympathetic to your cause, but violently so.
- Plead guilty for your offense and accept the consequences. You remain non-violent and mount no legal defense.
- Instead, mount a moral defense which is predominantly be means of your non-violent resolve and secondarily, by means of rational appeal to natural law & common justice. The aim of this defense is not to save your own skin, but to convert your oppressors and opponents.
And while civil disobedience has been demonstrated a number of times to be very effective, you can probably see why it’s such a rare thing. I hope that Mr. Hershberger maintains the courage to see it through, though I could never fault him if he ultimately chose not too. He must hold no illusions: the state very well could chew him to pieces and leave his nine children with an imprisoned father.
But whatever the case, I raise a toast to him.
Raw Milk Toast to Vernon Hershberger from Richard Nikoley on Vimeo.
Oh, one more little tidbit, before I go, from the reportage.
Both houses of the Wisconsin legislature voted to legalize raw milk sales, until Governor Doyle vetoed it two weeks ago.
There’s just nothing like representative democracy, I guess. Perhaps Vernon Hershberger will get to demonstrate in living color and by loss of his physical freedom how "valuable" a lesson in civics can be.