Monday, August 19, 2013


This is an excerpt from Wendell Berry's essay Word and Flesh. The full essay can be found here. It's worth the read even though the paragraph formatting went bye bye. What I excerpted is the conclusion. I'm posting this and will post a follow up.

“In his essay on Kipling, George Orwell wrote ‘all left wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something that they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which these aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are enlightened all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our enlightenment, demands that the robbery shall continue

This statement of Orwell’s is clearly applicable to our situation; all we need to do is change a few nouns. The religion and the environmentalism of the highly industrialized countries is at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something that they do no really wish to destroy. We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery continue.

We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less, we must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes we are inviting catastrophe to make.

The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that will not do.

How dependent in fact are we? How dependent are our neighborhoods and our communities? How might our dependencies be reduced? To answer these questions will require better thoughts and better deeds than we have been capable of so far.

We must have the sense and the courage, for example to see that the ability to transport food for hundreds or thousands of miles does not necessarily prove that we are well off. It means that the food supply is more vulnerable and more costly than a local food supply would be. It means that consumers do not control or influence the healthfulness of their food supply and that they are at the mercy of the people who have the control and the influence. It means that, in eating, people are using large quantities of petroleum that other people in another time are almost certain to need.

Our most serious problem, perhaps, is that we have become a nation of fantasists. We believe, apparently, in the infinite availability of finite resources. We persist in land use methods that reduce the infinite power of soil fertility to a finite quantity and then waste it as if it were an infinite quantity. We have an economy that depends not on the quality or quantity of necessary goods and services but on the whims of a few stock brokers. We believe that democratic freedom can be preserved by people ignorant of the history of democracy and indifferent to the responsibilities of freedom.

Our leaders have been as oblivious for many years to the realities and dangers of their times as George III and Lord North. They believe that the difference between war and peace is still the overriding political difference – when, in fact, the difference has diminished to the point of insignificance. How would you describe the difference between modern war and modern industry – say between bombing and strip mining, or between chemical warfare and chemical manufacturing? The difference seems to be only that in war the victimization of humans is directly intentional and in industry is ‘accepted’ as a ‘trade off.’

Were the catastrophes of Love Canal, Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdiz episodes of war or peace? They were in fact, peacetime acts of aggression, intentional to the extent that the risks were known and ignored.

We are involved unremittingly in a war not against ‘foreign enemies’ but against the world, against our freedom, and indeed against our very existence. Our so called industrial accidents should be looked upon as revenges of nature. We forget that nature is, necessarily, a party to all our enterprises and she imposes conditions of her own.

Now she is plainly saying to us: ’if you put the fates of whole communities or cities or regions or ecosystems at risk in single ships, or factories or power plants, then I will furnish the drunk or the fool or the imbecile who will make the necessary small mistake.


I know I've been referencing Berry a lot lately, but one) he's who I'm reading right now and two) he says what I want to say better than I can. I have some thoughts on this excerpt, mainly that not only has nothing changed in twenty five years; it's gotten worse much worse.

Dear blogger these formatting issudes are becomeing a real PITA.

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