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by Wendell Berry

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-59376-000-0
Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Cagey uses of the essay as a town meeting to air threats to the commonweal.

Our times are uneasy, Berry (Jayber Crow, 2000, etc.) states; critical elements of the American democratic tradition are being lifted wholesale from the foundation and carted away in broad daylight. A case in point is our new national-security policy, which “depends on the acquiescence of a public kept fearful and ignorant, subject to manipulation by the executive power, and on the compliance of an intimidated and office-dependent legislature.” That ignorance will spell our doom, as will the “selfishness, wastefulness, and greed that we have legitimized here as economic virtues.” Berry doesn't flinch when exhorting us to meet “the responsibility to be as intelligent, principled, and practical as we can be.” His agrarian argument, which he has been making and remaking for decades, requires the recognition of our dependence on and responsibility to nature, and the concomitant responsibility for human culture. Likewise, Berry champions human-scale projects and an intimate knowledge of—not to mention reverence and gratitude for—our landscapes. “Consumers who understand their economy,” he contends, “will not tolerate the destruction of the local soil or ecosystem or watershed as a cost of production.” His refusal to abandon the local for the global, to sacrifice neighborliness, community integrity, and economic diversity for access to Wal-Mart, has never seemed more appealing, nor his questions of personal accountability more powerful. Where did the meat on our plates come from? Under what conditions were the clothes we’re wearing made? Does biotechnology make sense considering the unforeseeable consequences? Most blistering of all: “How many deaths of other people's children by bombing or starvation are we willing to accept in order that we may be free, affluent, and (supposedly) ‘at peace’?”

A clangor of worries, offering the antidotes of civility, responsibility, curiosity, skill, kindness, and an awareness of the homeplace.