Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays

Wendell Berry provides insight into issues facing America from the perspective of an intellectual that is deeply connected to the land. The land is not something that is to be left in a "pristine" state to be admired. It is part of a larger ecosystem in which we live. Man must work with the land to provide sustenance. Sustainability is important on a global scale. 

Modern culture has sought to remove the intimate connection people have with the land. Rather than "husbandry", there is now "science". This implies that scientific control as we act on the land, rather than working with the land. This has resulted in massive increases in short term land productivity at the expense of long term sustainability. Science uncovers ways to mechanize and fertilize to increase productivity. Then science must work to find ways to fix the consequences that this damage has caused. These experiments are done on such a massive scale that the consequences are difficult to address.

Today we often have individual groups that attempt to address small aspects of the land degradation problem. Unfortunately, they are often narrowly focused and end up competing with each other. Some groups want pristine wilderness for recreation. Others want land to be used for cattle grazing. They end up fighting for chunks of the land for their purpose. A better solution would be to work together, keeping all the land open for both. If done right, the grazing can help restore and grow the land to make it a better experience for recreating. (Ironically, our national parks are often anything but pristine areas. They are often "protected", preventing some of the natural destruction and renewal from taking place.

Both the "center" and the periphery have their place in our society. We often see one pitted against the other, especially in our red vs. blue political dichotomy. However, it would be better to have "community" against absentee corporatism. The fast food chain on the freeway is just a blip on a corporate accounting book, while the local businesses in town are integrated in the community. The real effort should be to build up the local community with local resources, rather than to fight to see which foreign "savior" can fly in and provide local jobs in return for sucking up resources.

Religion and local knowledge also play important roles in our society. Individual farmers know their local land and have the generational experience to know how to best manage it for good. Religion can be a unifying force as well as provide a groundwork for positively relating towards other. (In one essay, Berry explores how he has worked through his understanding of Christianity.) Science, mechanism and technology can provide some benefit. However, we must look at the long term picture. We need to continue to work to increase our local connections to other people and the land.

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