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54

Back to the Land

Wendell Berry in the path of modernity

(missing author)

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by George Scialabba

? (2020). Back to the Land. The Baffler, 49, pp. 54-61

calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation

56

It’s an equal feat, traversing registers: the droll, meditative equanimity of his fiction, and the ardor, sometimes anger, of his nonfiction.

—p.56 missing author
notable
1 year ago

It’s an equal feat, traversing registers: the droll, meditative equanimity of his fiction, and the ardor, sometimes anger, of his nonfiction.

—p.56 missing author
notable
1 year ago
59

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is “studying” and funding and organizing its Big Thoughts, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem.

This is splendid prose. It is disastrous advice. Leave aside the implicit belittling of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and other examples of “plan-making” and “law-making” that tens of millions of Americans have felt very grateful for. Look to the present balance of forces: the structures of legislative, electoral, ideological, and financial control in the United States are deeply entrenched, highly resistant to citizen initiative, and virtually without exception geared to the needs of the country’s largest industries and banks. Nothing those plutocrats do not wish to be done will be done in America, even if a hundred million Little Thinkers “go ahead on their own.” Only if that hundred million organize themselves and coordinate their efforts—in other words, become Big Thinkers—is there the slightest hope for wresting control of our country from this corporate/financial oligarchy. Berry himself has been an exemplary activist in his day, especially in opposing the strip mining that has disfigured much of his lovely region. Unfortunately, the coal industry out-strategized the activists—not to mention deploying vastly greater financial resources. But would any degree of uncoordinated private individual virtue have had better luck stopping them?

No amount of recycling, farming right, eating right, being neighborly, or being personally responsible in other ways will matter much if we don’t subsidize solar and wind power, raise mileage requirements, steeply tax carbon, drastically reduce plastic production, kill coal, and provide jobs for all those whom these measures would disemploy. (We could put them to work on infrastructure and renewables, which we would invest in with the proceeds of steep wealth and corporate—especially energy—taxes.) In a face-to-face society, virtue is the right lever. Unfortunately, we live in a mass society, thoroughly bureaucratized and institutionalized, dense with complex systems, which only large aggregations of people (or money) can move. We need more, not fewer, plans, laws, and policies, but democratically formulated ones.

amen

—p.59 missing author 1 year ago

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is “studying” and funding and organizing its Big Thoughts, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem.

This is splendid prose. It is disastrous advice. Leave aside the implicit belittling of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and other examples of “plan-making” and “law-making” that tens of millions of Americans have felt very grateful for. Look to the present balance of forces: the structures of legislative, electoral, ideological, and financial control in the United States are deeply entrenched, highly resistant to citizen initiative, and virtually without exception geared to the needs of the country’s largest industries and banks. Nothing those plutocrats do not wish to be done will be done in America, even if a hundred million Little Thinkers “go ahead on their own.” Only if that hundred million organize themselves and coordinate their efforts—in other words, become Big Thinkers—is there the slightest hope for wresting control of our country from this corporate/financial oligarchy. Berry himself has been an exemplary activist in his day, especially in opposing the strip mining that has disfigured much of his lovely region. Unfortunately, the coal industry out-strategized the activists—not to mention deploying vastly greater financial resources. But would any degree of uncoordinated private individual virtue have had better luck stopping them?

No amount of recycling, farming right, eating right, being neighborly, or being personally responsible in other ways will matter much if we don’t subsidize solar and wind power, raise mileage requirements, steeply tax carbon, drastically reduce plastic production, kill coal, and provide jobs for all those whom these measures would disemploy. (We could put them to work on infrastructure and renewables, which we would invest in with the proceeds of steep wealth and corporate—especially energy—taxes.) In a face-to-face society, virtue is the right lever. Unfortunately, we live in a mass society, thoroughly bureaucratized and institutionalized, dense with complex systems, which only large aggregations of people (or money) can move. We need more, not fewer, plans, laws, and policies, but democratically formulated ones.

amen

—p.59 missing author 1 year ago