Category Archives: Wendell Berry

“So what’d you hit–a deer? Coyote?”

A clear theme of T.C. Boyle’s novel The Tortilla Curtain is racism.  An emphasis on race, class privilege, and the relationship between the two are present in every moment of this story.  We watch two couples live, separated only be a few miles, and the vast expanses of race and class in capitalist America.  This book stands out from the rest we have read in class.  The emphasis is on human relationships rather than our relationship with the earth.  However, seeing as we are a part of the earth, the way we treat each other is the way we treat the earth.  It is easy to compare the colonization of the planet to the colonization of other races.  Those who have power use it to strip the colonized of everything, leaving them with nothing.  This is what we do to each other, this is what we do to our home.

We exist in a capitalistic society.  It is a fact, money is everything.  Money is what separates the character of Cándido with that of Delaney.  Their citizenship status, their race, and their backgrounds because of these things set them up to exist where they do in society.  In The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry wrote about racism and its relationship with industrialism.  He writes about our “contempt for work”.  This feeling that we are somehow above manual labor is very similar to the way the human race views its relationship with the rest of the planet.  We see ourselves as those who own the earth, not merely people who live here.  This is the same exact mentality that capitalist America wants us to believe in.  The idea that you must own, not work.  Berry writes, “Out of this contempt for work came the idea of a n*gger: at first some person, and later some thing to be used to relieve us of the burden of work.  If we began making n*ggers out of people, we have ended by making a n*gger out of the world”(12).  This is how the U.S. runs, even today.  The undocumented people who come to this country looking for something better, are used just as slaves were in America’s beginning.  They human beings who are not citizens, and therefor must do whatever they can to make it in a country that will not help them, even if that means preforming the hardest of physical labor for the lowest possible pay.  Throughout the novel The Tortilla Curtain, this is made very clear.  América must go find work, because her husband had been run over by Delaney.  She goes every day and watches the men work.  She knows that you must show up eager to work, while in competition with others who are just as desperate as you.  They wait to be picked out for jobs by rich, white people who underpay them because they can.  The competition means they can be severely under payed and not be able to do anything about it because this is the only possible way to eat.  

Throughout this novel, the traffic is often a topic of conversation between both the rich, white characters, and the undocumented immigrants.  The traffic is seen very differently by the two couples.  Kyra and Delaney exist as a part of it, with comments like, not caring if they had to be stuck in it.  América and Cándido on the other hand, see the traffic and marvel at the sheer amount and speed.  While the liberals add to the fast, noisy, dangerous stream of cars, the immigrant’s very lives are threatened by it.  The first interaction between the two worlds of the liberals and the immigrants was that of Delaney hitting Cándido with his car.  This was a jarring moment for both of them, Cándido, of course, suffering the most.  This moment was shocking, and I would say even slightly traumatizing for both of them.  In this moment Delaney was wrenched out of the safe world in which he exists.  He struck a person with his car.  However, his feelings about the situation change when he finds that Cándido is the person he has hit.  “Delaney felt a sense of relief wash over him–the man wasn’t going to die, he wasn’t going to sue, he was all right and it was over”(9).  Hitting another human being with your vehicle can be something that ruins your life forever.  Not only did Delaney hit Cándido, he sent him flying into the desert and nearly killed him.  If the hit had been fatal, and Cándido had been a white, legal citizen, Delaney’s life could very well be over.  However, as an illegal immigrant, Cándido could not even communicate with his perpetrator, let alone go to the doctor, or sue Delaney.  And, somehow, Cándido’s status relieved Delaney of any sort of human to human empathy or worry he would have had if Cándido had been someone else.  This shows the dehumanization of Mexican immigrants, even from the viewpoint of liberals who think they are enlightened on the subject of people’s lives.  When Delaney goes to his dealership to get his car fixed after the incident, he does not think twice about the fact that there is blood and hair and all sorts of evidence that he has just run down a human being.  His white, upper-middle class, privilege shields him from having to worry about being ‘found out’.  As soon as he walks in to the dealership the first question is, “‘So what’d you hit–a deer? Coyote?‘”(13).  There is not even a slight assumption that he could have hurt another person.  However, Cándido came out of this accident with brutal injuries, forcing him to stay at camp while América went out in search of work.  Delaney leaves him behind to suffer in the dirt, after depriving him of the only thing that could allow him to make money and better their situation–his body.  

Kyra and Delaney live within miles of América and Cándido.  However, they are separated into different worlds because of the societal labels on their very bodies.  While the liberals can exist in this space, freely and privileged, the immigrants are exploited and ignored by their fellow human beings.  In the capitalistic society of the United Stated of America, our economy and way of life is based on the exploitation and oppression of others.  This narrative sounds so familiar.  It reflects the way we, as the human race, exploits the earth on which we live.  The level of comfort that we have come to require in our day to day lives–electricity, readily available water, cars, clean Buddhas(93-97)–can only exist at the expense of other races, places, animals, etc.  Whenever there is privilege, there is power imbalance, there is oppression, and there is exploitation.

 

Imperialism and The Unsettling of America

In The Unsettling of America, environmental writer and poet Wendell Berry traces the impact of the white race on society. Berry writes, “One of the peculiarities of the white race’s presence in America is how little intention has been applied to it. As a people, wherever we have been, we have never really intended to be” (Berry, 3). Discovered during the fifteenth century Age of Exploration, America has been viewed as an industrial resource by European colonists.

Similar to writers of the Transcendentalist period, Berry is also concerned with the displacement of other cultures during the European colonization of North America. Regarding the Indians’ perception of land ownership, Berry observes, “The Indians did, of course, experience movements of population, but in general their relation to place was based upon old usage and association, upon inherited memory, tradition, veneration. The land was their homeland” (Berry, 4). This concept of a “homeland” that Berry outlines is a major concept in the role of imperialism in the settling of America. Berry’s interest in the Native Americans’ relationship to nature may have been inspired by the works of Henry David Thoreau who was also intrigued with the Native Americans’ way of life. In his major work, Walden, Thoreau connects to the almost savage qualities of the Native Americans who understood how mankind could be connected to nature.

Berry echoes this sentiment regarding the savage nobility of the Native Americans outlined by Thoreau. In the first section of The Unsettling of America, Berry disagrees with the commonly perceived superiority of European imperialism in North America. He writes, “This supposedly fortunate citizen is therefore left with only two concerns: making money and entertaining himself. He earns money, typically, as a specialist, working an eight-hour day at a job for the quality or consequences of which somebody else-or, perhaps more typically, nobody else-will be responsible” (Berry, 20). This passage illustrates how Berry views the consumerist aspect of Western civilization as a more hollow way of living that leaves the individual and community removed from the natural environment. Berry furthers his argument by writing that, “The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything by money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away…” (Berry, 20). This statement outlines Berry’s view that the focus on consumerist agendas during the European conquest of the New World takes away from humanity’s relationship to nature due to the “average citizen’s” inability to be in direct contact with anything made with his own hands.

Berry defines to this way of life as the “specialist system” since everything is performed by an expert who can only do one thing which brings the quality of work down. He writes, “In living in the world by his own will and skill, the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent worker or technician or intellectual in a society of specialists” (Berry, 21). While the term “stupid” traditionally has a negative connotation, Berry seems to admire the simplicity of a “tribesman” or a “savage” in a Thoreauvian context. This section of The Unsettling of America formulates Berry’s thesis that the simplification of consumerism and economy is a primary concern in rebuilding humanity’s connection to nature since the dawn of European imperialism in North America.

One in The Same

Body, Health, Land – Connection = By hurting our land we are hurting our body

Quote: Berry –

Quote: Snyder –

Quote: Carson –

 

Our bodies are one with the land that surrounds us. By causing harm to the land and our environment, we are ultimately hurting our own bodies and health, physically and mentally. There is a connection with our psychological well being, and our physical bodies with the earth. There is also a connection between what we decide to put into our bodies along with the effect it has on not only ourselves but the earth as well.

Most of the time we consider ourselves healthy if we do not feel any pain. Berry suggests that the definition of being healthy is directly related to the concept of being whole. He states, “If the body is healthy, then it is whole. But how can it be whole and yet be dependent, as it obviously is, upon other bodies and upon the earth, upon all the rest of Creation, in fact?” (107 Berry). Our psychological and physical well beings depend upon the earth, similarly to how we depend on other human beings to survive. Unlike how the ocean and moon have a steady balance of push and pull, our connection to the land around us suffers by the way our society decides to treat it.

Another quote that really stood out to me was Berry’s quote, “The body cannot be whole alone” (107 Berry). We depend on the earth to support our overall well being, just like we depend on farmers to grow our food.

When we forget the importance of the earth and all the wonders it is able to produce, it becomes the beginning of a chain reaction, unstoppable violence. “To damage the earth is to damage your children. To despise the ground is to despise its fruit; to despise the fruit is to despise its eaters” (Berry 110). When we begin to damage the earth we alter its appearance for our unborn children’s generation. We risk taking away the beautiful scenery we were able to grow up with, all because of industrialization. To think our future children may not be able to play in the same forests or lay by the same rivers we once did all because no one could speak up for our environment, becomes a very saddening thought. When we begin to add pesticides and other poisons to farms on our earth to get rid of small annoying insects, we fail to realize the long term and greater effects they start to have on our planet, slowly killing everything we should be constantly fighting to protect. If our modern society had the ability to care about our planet in the same way we care about our individual selves, we would make a rapid change to our environment. We are so obsessed with ourselves and our self image that we rarely take the time to consider the effect it has on others and our environment.

Humans are the Living Rot of Earth

We are creatures of comfort in our ignorances. When something is seemingly more difficult than we prefer we have the ability to do, we don’t do it. Or, we find someone or something else to get the job done. But why do we do this, when spending extra time to understand a task would just better ourself? A projection of character: What do we value more, our time or our money? And, is time equal to money? But why?
Why do some humans believe they should earn more than another being (for the same job!)? Where does one individual get away with feeling they are worth more than another? What does that say about us as a society? Yes, jobs of specialization most definitely require extra knowledge and therefore greater compensation. However, jobs of minimal mental skill (farm hands, shopkeepers, food service folk) are often talked down upon as lesser. Culturally, only “dropouts” are fit for jobs of manual labor. Who decided that Joe who picks the lettuce is lesser than Bob who eats the salad? Without Joe, there would be no lettuce. And without Juan, and Pablo, and their families in South America, lettuce would cost ten times more. But why would it be okay to pay Joe more, when the air he breathes is just as important as the air of Juan, Pablo, and Bob. We’re all equals: Why does this disgusting complexity even exist?
Wendell Berry is amazing at making us feel guilty. But honestly that is very good, very useful. If we feel guilty and wrong: CHANGE. If someone else is unphased, run because they’re an Evil Earth Hater™. We should never sit happily in destructive ignorance.
Hell, even environmentalism before reading Berry killed me to change. This strange antsiness all over the place: I crave stopping to recycle rogue water bottles, kindly shaming my plastic-loving, anti-recycling consumer pals, and living my future as a human of small carbon footprints. Even prior to Berry, I was self aware enough to also be repulsed by mankind. We’ve been on Earth for such a minute amount of time (in its grand scheme) it’s disgusting to see how far we’ve destroyed our rare solar oasis.
I took an astronomy course last year, and our final essay involved the possible Mars travel (and how it WILL be a ‘thing’ within that next ten years). I just cringe internally and wish I had a more influential voice to yell “STOP!” with. These are not wise choices for humanity. Destroy our own planet, and instead of changing to become more efficient, do the same to the next solar body. It’s not even like Mars is warm or has an atmosphere to anything. To successfully inhabit the small red planet, humans would have to install Greenhouse Gas emitters and heat up/destroy to outer planetary composition. How fucked. Humans are so lazy, they’d rather spend billions to risk human lives rather than admitting they hurt their own planet and try to fix things.
This is much like Berry’s Nurturer v. Exploiter ideas from 7 and 8. All of the scientists can be seen as specialists, and have been working their buns off at NASA and around the world. Those who are not specialists, just looking out for Earth, are the same who are looking for agriculture practices “(the answers are) to be found in our history” (15). Recently, I visited a working farm of 2 acres on a 40 acre plot, run by three working horses and two mid-aged nice folks. This was the first time I had been to a farm in a while, and to see it entirely handworked was so rewarding. The horses are the land equipment, grazers, and fertilizers. Industrial farmers and NASA Mars specialists don’t bat an eye at the historical ways of farming.
In a world where we’re constantly reminded why we, as the small but destructive opposable thumbed creatures, totally suck- we have the ability to be different. It’s within our personal power to be the change we wish to see. Berry is a bit forceful in it, but Frank, Kim, and their horses show a softer, kinder- yet diligent, side to this lifestyle change. After all, it doesn’t just affect you.

Photo of friendly Frank with his horses and one of his metal, antique equipment.

Wendell Berry: an Environmental Hammer.

What is character to the human being? Do we create our own or does the character create us? The questions are a bit challenging. Wendell Berry titles the second chapter of his book The Unsettling of America: “The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Character”. We discussed in class what a crisis of character might be or how we might interpret an example of it. Wendell Berry does this in a direct condemnation of what we might consider a “crisis of character”: “The Sierra Club, for example, had owned stocks and bonds in Exxon, General Motors, Tenneco, steel companies “having the worst pollution records in the industry,” Public Service Company of Colorado, “strip-mining firms with 53 leases covering nearly 180,000 acres and pulp-mill operators cited by environmentalists for their poor water pollution controls.” (Berry 47). The aforementioned companies actions are a perfect example, as it shows that the Sierra Club, in a sense, compromised some of their ideals, as part to a building of their character.

Malicious intent often isn’t behind the “mask” of the men and women who commit the crisis of character. But it is sometimes through the ignorance of not knowing enough is when the actions are committed, often it is about circumstance. The idea that the members of these societies would profit off companies is such a abstract and strange thought. But nothing can be perfect right?  The later members would learn to understand they can only try to fix their mistakes, without erasing them, “These investments proved deeply embarrassing once they were made public, but the Club’s officers responded as quickly as possible by making appropriate changes in its investment policy. And so if it were only a question of policy, these investments could easily be forgotten, dismissed as aberrations of the sort that inevitably turn up now and again in the workings of organizations” (47). Even today, the deceitful ways still exist in an advertising-based world. Picking up most bottles of Dawn Dish Soap today, you might see a small animal, most likely being washed or in the process of drying from a bath of Dawn Soap. You might smile and get the bottle just for that reason. I distinctly remember this Ad campaign starting in reaction to a series of oil spills throughout the world. Although it is a noble cause to actively try to find the best way to clean all affected animal. One might wonder how much money is being made of a plight to fix a massive corporations error? These questions are addressed in The Unsettling of America, along with many of the problems that would plague the natural world in the coming decades.

First, to understand some of the statements Berry makes, one has to understand their role in the ecology of our world. Berry also discusses our reliance on conveniences of life, like fossil fuels and all the trades that play into the consumption of these resources. Our species has grown so reliant on our ways of life, that simple adjustments to the system, or the slightest lack of control can cause a severe backlash. This shows that we have to address our personal consumption problems before we can truly make progress. Some have already seen the cause and effect, and disregard the valuable information that could be used. Berry points out, it is often the heads of big companies that bury or seek to discredit this information.

“The split between what we think and what we do is profound. It is not just possible, it is altogether to be expected, that our society would produce conservationists who invest in strip-mining companies, just as it must inevitably produce asthmatic executives whose industries pollute the air and vice-presidents of pesticide corporations whose children are dying of cancer. And these people will tell you that this is the way the “real world” works. They will pride themselves on their sacrifices for “our standard of living.” They will call themselves “practical men” and “hardheaded realists.” And they will have their justifications in abundance from intellectuals, college professors, clergymen, politicians. The viciousness of a mentality that can look complacently upon disease as “part of the cost” would be obvious to any child. But this is the “realism” of millions of modern adult” (48). We saw this sort of opposing action meet Rachel Carson after the publication of Silent Spring, where people tried to discredit her and the years of research that produced Silent Spring. According to Linda Lear’s Introduction in Silent Spring, “Carson questioned the moral rights of government to leave it’s citizens unprotected from substances they could neither physically avoid or publicly question” (Carson xv). Berry incorporates some of the same messages about exposing the government for their corrupt and hypocritical practices. In essence, Berry’s The Unsettling of America is a similar rhetorical, informational piece, created to accurately educate about a growing problem.

 

Crisis of Character (Still writing this)

(This writing is still in progress, but here’s the gist. Any suggestions for direction of this piece is welcome!)

In Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, Berry claims that humans have lost sight of the world in front of them – that people can’t physically think about a world beyond themselves because they lack the materials. Although he might not have meant it this way, Berry  is basically saying we don’t have the capacity to think. His exact words are, “The good of the whole of Creation, the world and all its creatures together, is never a consideration because it is never thought of; our culture now simply lacks the means for thinking of it” (Berry 22). I don’t know about you, but I feel kind of offended. Berry is attacking our characters, and many of the people reading his book are actually trying to understand the world better. Even with reading his book, he’s arguing that we can’t think about it.

Point – This is the most knowledgeable generation and we have more materials than ever before. So I would argue that, actually, we can think about it, we just don’t do anything about it. The reason is that we don’t have the connection with the land that we should/used to.

-Terrarium quote. Although nature is scenery, we still see it. We still appreciate it and notice it’s there.

-Exploitive vs nurturing mind to show the difference of how we were raised to think. We have the capability to think it, we just need to see nature first. Maybe take a vacation. If we saw nature, we’d understand it more. Then we can think about it more.

– Haven’t worked or lived it quotes. That’s why it’s hard to see the difference and make a change. We do notice though, we do recycle because we see things wrong, we just don’t apply it. Maybe we recycle a bottle, but we don’t recycle a tissue. Why? Because a tissue is small and we don’t see the big deal. We’ve read books and see the issue, but we don’t care the way we should because we can’t do anything about it. We’re even reading this book on paper that is probably wasting trees.

We see the problems, but they’re not engrained in us so we don’t feel the need to do anything about it.

Quotes I’ll Use:

P. 48 “What can I do with what I know? Without at the same time asking, How can I be responsible for what I know?”

“Only if we know how the land was can we tell how it is. Records, figures, statistics will not suffice; to know, in the true sense is to see. We must see the difference — in rates of erosion, for instance, or in soil structure or fertility — in order to keep it indispensable” (Berry 30).

“The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own his family’s, his community’s his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much more complex and difficult: What is its carrying capacity?” (Berry p. 7 and 8)

Quote from David Budbill of Wolcott, Vermont – “Terrarium View of the World: nature always at a distance, under a glass” (Berry 28).

But just stop for a minute and think about what it means to live in a land where 95 percent for the people can be freed from the drudgery of preparing their own food (Berry 96).

 

The Specialization Sensation

 

We are mostly all guilty in the ills overconsumption of energy and living through a “Specialized lens”, especially if you are an American citizen.  Simply being aware of it and sympathetic to the problem does not cause an affect. It is apparent we are out of tune with the world from tangibles such as the environment, to intangibles such as our being.

In Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America”, we are introduced with an essential question of what ecological crisis has to do in correlation to character. For starters, Berry explains how the human mentality is quite contradictory in terms of what we say and do, more specifically, corporations, lobbyists, politicians and doctors. There are countless instances of groups who politically stand for something such as environmental preservation, yet would for example be in business partnership with a company who drills oil holes to contract fossil fuels. This is undoubtedly a bad look, but since we live in a capitalistic government with a free economy and private business, it is still legal. Berry states “…the possibility of the world’s health will have to be defined in the characters of persons as clearly and as urgently as the possibility of personal “success’ is now so defined. Organizations may promote this sort of forebearance and care but they cannot provide it.” (Berry 29).

Furthermore, we as a society tend to see places outside of consistent human visitation that have no economical value and as “scenic” areas. This whole concept is skewed in the sense that these places are part of us as for all the land we may seek out to explore. Our wholeness and connectedness with the land is lacking at best. When we see that we are all interdependent among one another in this habitat, more respect, care, and caution should naturally follow. Being mindful of this is very important and is an essential way of looking at the world as a living and breathing interconnected ecosystem.

 

Part of the whole problem with our lack of interconnectedness as a whole has part to do with specialization. I found Berry’s social commentary on specialization in our society quite fascinating. Basically, he says how people are raised in society to be a specialized component, competent to do one thing. This will occupy much of a persons time thus having them depend on other specialists such as farmers for food, or actors for entertainment. Everyone is interdependent on each other, yet ironically this creates a bigger gap between us and ourselves as a person. Subconsciously, this process enables us to be dependent, which causes a sense of hopelessness. Even though living standards are phenomenal, happiness seems to be lacking. Berry states, “The specialist system fails from a personal point of view because a person who can do only one thing can do virtually nothing for himself. In living in the word by his own will and skill, the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more intelligent than the most competent worker or technician or intellectual in a society of specialists. What happens under the rule of specialization is that, though society becomes more and more intricate, it has less and less structure. It becomes more and more organized, but less and less orderly” (Berry 23). Along with this, it can be especially dangerous when specialists have no interest in human advancement, yet just want job security and do bare minimum. Or even more terrifying is when specialists are involved with interest groups to make profit and regress advancement such as doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

The world has come to an interesting place and it is easy to dismiss or refrain from the fact that there are ills in our society. As far as specialization and how we think about the habitat we live in, it can be dangerous to be ignorant and passive. There is an ecological crisis in our environment for it is apparent we are not fully connected with the natural world, each other, or even ourselves. When this happens, it is particularly easy to be passive about these things. But in order to live in a more orderly and connected world; knowledge, understanding, and action to better our environment and ourselves is essential.

 

The Unsettling Thoughts of Wendell Berry

The beginning of agriculture within a group of people is often considered the beginning of a civilization. It’s the point at which the group settles down, to build a life in one space. When agriculture begins it means that the days of a nomadic lifestyle are gone, the days of hunter-gathering begins to diminish in favor of farming and ranches. Agriculture and the rise of culture are often have developed hand in hand and without agriculture life on Earth, today may have been very different to how it currently is. According to the article titled Early Agriculture and the Rise of Civilization (Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery) published on encyclopedia.com “As agriculture evolved in these locations, so did the social, economic, and cultural practices that led to what is known as civilization”.

Wendell Berry in his collection of Essays entitled The Unsettling of America concurs with this thought and believes that the loss of the common practice of agriculture has created a huge history for America and the common man. He believes in the disappearance the farmer and the farm. Although, for man, the idea of the disappearance of the American farmer brings up an important question to the average man: “If the American farmer has disappeared then where has he gone?”. The obvious answer is that the farmer did not suddenly disappear in some farmer based rapture that only affected those who wore overalls and rode tractors, but instead the farmer did what humans often do, they evolved. The sons and daughters of farmers soon realized that they did not need to follow in the footsteps of their parents, as Herbert Hoover said “But the son of the farmer will be a doctor or a worker or even a banker, and his daughter a teacher. The son of a worker will be an employer – or maybe president”. And that is exactly what they did; they moved on and became the future that they wanted. Although Berry determines this to be a turning point for the worst, he believes the world to be in two categories: The Exploiters (A specialist or expert) and the Nurturers (Those who care about the earth and health). He believes the model exploiter to be someone like a strip miner while the model nurturer to be a farmer (one can already see which of the two categories he prefers). He states “The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiters goal is money, profit; the nurturers goal is health – his land, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s” (9). Berry believes that the common man is an exploiter rather than a nurturer; by this thought he is diminishing the common man to be someone who cares for nothing but himself and money rather than his family, community, or country. He goes on in his essay titled The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Character to state “American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists and ‘agribusinessmen’” (22). He later goes on to talk about the day to day life of the average American citizen and how he relies on other experts to go about his day to day life. Though he makes the statement “The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide for himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people” (22). He then continues to make a lot of statements on why this man is unhappy and why his life is actually terrible rather than the happy person they appear to be on the outside. He is blinded by the thought that the movement onto an intelligence based society rather than a labor based society as we once were. But has the movement onto a society in which we are specialists really created a country in which we have become unhappy? The answer is no, the average man has not become depressed simply because they make money instead of tending to the land, if anything the average man and society has in fact become happier because they are now doing what they want in their life rather than having to do anything. A man can now choose their path, their life, they do not have to wake up at the crack of dawn to begin their work or break their back shoveling and lifting. It’s created a society where you don’t have to be an able bodied person to survive. Wendell Berry may believe that the answers to all life’s problems exist within a packet of seeds but this is not the case. We have not abandoned agriculture but rather simplified the process and created a more efficient way to grow our food. We went against the ideas of Berry and turned farming, basis for nurturing, become a product of the “exploiter”, this statement might terrify Berry but has created a better world for us in the process.

Surviving the Disintegration

Culture: “the arts and other manifestations
of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”

Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America shows the disintegration of culture and agriculture; two things that must exist together to exist well.  We are living in the era of modernization in which humans have manifested a way to run the art of agriculture via machines. The laws and restriction have resulted in the “displacement of millions of people.” Berry said this in his essay, “The Agricultural Crisis as a Crisis of Culture.” He talks about how something that used to be in the hands of the people and gave a direct benefited to those who produced the goods and those who consumed the goods has now fallen into the cruel hands of the mechanical society, “and along with the rest of society, the established agriculture has shifted its emphasis, and its interest, from quality to quantity, having failed to see that in the long run, the two ideas are inseparable.”

So you must ask, what are the consequences of moral ignorance?
The ignorance that has allowed the agribusinessmen to overlook the fact that
“food is a cultural product; it cannot be produced by technology alone.”

When it is removed from the hands of the people it loses its importance and hurts the community in which the culture thrives around. It takes the unity away from the consumer, the farmer, and the land. Berry discusses how when you fragment agriculture you in turn fragment culture. This division is not only shown through modern agriculture and today’s society but also in relation to the body and the earth. Later in the collection of essay’s Berry focuses on this form disintegration in “The Body and the Earth.”

He starts this essay by questioning what effort we put forth in the connection between our bodies and the earth; the earth that includes the land and those that farm upon it.  The soulful connection is lost when agriculture becomes machine run. The chemicals and immoral ways to mass produce our food disconnects us further and this disconnect hinders our culture. Those who can acknowledge this and survived through this era of ignorant should be praised and followed.

In Berry’s essay, “Organic Farms,” he builds division between the popularized method of agriculture and those that possess strong moral belief; the organic farmers that reject societal norms and the modernization cop-outs.  “The attitudes and values of traditional agriculture still survive in our time.” Berry considers those that still poses these ideals as the survivors and “they are connected by a sort of network that one travels by hearsay and friendship.” These friendships are still budding today, over forty years after this book was published. The sense of community associated with organic farming and living a lifestyle free of “chemical shortcuts,” it to my hometown of Keene. Every Saturday morning there is the same gathering of people at the Farmer’s Market. There is a sense of trust in these people, the vendors, and their product.

What happens when a culture loses the capacity to think particular questions?

The particular question presented to me in this chapter is why has mainstreaming agriculture and farming become inorganic, and why are people content with this new norm? The result of our culture’s unwillingness to leave normality and or their naivety to the harm it’s causing is scary. Perhaps it has been my upbringing and those I associate with that allow me to ask these questions, and find comfort in the challenge of buy product from agricultural businesses that have gone organic. The family members that believe my lifestyle choice of being a vegetarian and eating organic is crazy or “too hard” as my uncle says. Why is it too hard? Perhaps because the new style of agriculture has forced those producing organic to become in high demand because it is harder to mass produce and the intense labor that is involved makes it financially inaccessible to the average family.

Berry asks, “What can I do with what I know? without at the same time asking, How can I be responsible for what I know?” This question gave me an unsettling feeling that was further triggered by reading on in this collection of essays. Thinking back to the sarcastic criticisms I have received from my uncle, I have to wonder what effort I have put forth in showing him why I make the choices I do to be able to afford and eat what I do. I have taken very little responsibility for what I know. Berry pushes me to claim the knowledge I have and allow other to indulge in the healthier lifestyle.

Berry’s language to describe an organic farmer is thoughtful and straight to the point. They are independent thinkers. When he visited a farm in Iowa, he prompted questions about if the laws and regulations created by the Secretary of Agriculture had impacted his farm, and the farmer said, “that it had not done so in the least.” This man and those alike have a system of beliefs about their food and their lifestyle, and they do not let others in our destructive culture influence them.

The strength derived from Berry’s use of independence aroused a way of thinking for me. Thinking about the integrity these farmers possess and the unity they have between their bodies and their land is something to celebrate. Survivor is a fitting term for these people.

Berry writes about some organic farms that he had the opportunity to visit and learn about and considers them just as modern as any other. This presents the, “Where am I?” question. A question I believe has a simple answer,

            The modern era of agriculture and within a system partaking in moral ignorance and disintegration. But, when asked Who am I?
A magnificent answer could be a survivor.

Destructive Consiousness

“Some people are less destructive than others, and some are more conscious of their destructiveness than others” (20 Berry).

“For some, their involvement in pollution, soil depletion, strip-mining, deforestation, industrial and commercial waste is simply a “practical” compromise, a necessary “reality” the price of modern comfort and convenience” (21 Berry).

 

We have many choices when it comes to making decisions about our environment. As a society we can continue to live on pretending that we are not destroying our environment, or we can fight back, take action, and do something about it.

It is nearly impossible to not be causing destruction in our every day lives. As Wendell Berry states in his book, The Unsettling of America, “I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction” (20 Berry). Many people find it very hard, if not impossible, to completely separate ourselves from the technologies and powers that our damaging our environment.

The best way that people can begin to make the distinctions about how to stop causing harm to our environment is to simply start to be aware of it. Take into consideration your everyday activities, and be conscious of what you are doing that you can change. Wendell Berry suggests, “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live” (Berry 21). It all comes back to this one important decision, are we able to make a change, that could in the long term be life changing ?

Depending on who you are and how you decide to live your life, it may vary how conscious you are of the destruction you may cause.