I hereby call the bedrock understanding of Wendell Berry’s immensely articulate essay the deep background to all that we are doing/feeling/thinking/imagining here in Green Acres Village, as well as to all that I personally am doing and thinking and dreaming into being in my long life — as a philosopher, writer, and astrologer. To profoundly reconnect with the land — and, I would say, with the cosmos! — and with each other. Nothing less. And no small task. Above all, our reconnection — truly, our re-membrance, let us re-member ourselves, put ourselves back together again — is not accomplished by reducing identified issues to tiny components and then siloing them and ourselves to just deal with this cause or that. The entire living breathing universe in which we are immersed and nourished must be not just “taken into consideration” but honored, blessed, and thanked, with every heartbeat, every breath, every glance into the fathomless depths of another’s soul.
Thanks to my old Idaho activist friend, Bill Chisholm, for this one.
What we must do above all, I think, is try to see the problem in its full size and difficulty. If we are concerned about land abuse, then we must see that this is an economic problem. Every economy is, by definition, a land-using economy. If we are using our land wrong, then something is wrong with our economy. This is difficult. It becomes more difficult when we recognize that, in modern times, every one of us is a member of the economy of everybody else. Every one of us has given many proxies to the economy to use the land (and the air, the water, and other natural gifts) on our behalf. Adequately supervising those proxies is at present impossible; withdrawing them is for virtually all of us, as things now stand, unthinkable.
But if we are concerned about land abuse, we have begun a profound work of economic criticism. Study of the history of land use (and any local history will do) informs us that we have had for a long time an economy that thrives by undermining its own foundations. Industrialism, which is the name of our economy, and which is now virtually the only economy of the world, has been from its beginnings in a state of riot. It is based squarely upon the principle of violence toward everything on which it depends, and it has not mattered whether the form of industrialism was communist or capitalist or whatever; the violence toward nature, human communities, traditional agricultures, local economies has been constant. The bad news is coming in, literally, from all over the world. Can such an economy be fixed without being radically changed? I don’t think it can.
The Captains of Industry have always counseled the rest of us “to be realistic.” Let us, therefore, be realistic. Is it realistic to assume that the present economy would be just fine if only it would stop poisoning the air and water, or if only it would stop soil erosion, or if only it would stop degrading watersheds and forest ecosystems, or if only it would stop seducing children, or if only it would quit buying politicians, or if only it would give women and favored minorities an equitable share of the loot? Realism, I think, is a very limited program, but it informs us at least that we should not look for bird eggs in a cuckoo clock.
Or we can show the hopelessness of single-issue causes and single-issue movements by following a line of thought such as this: We need a continuous supply of uncontaminated water. Therefore, we need (among other things) soil-and-water-conserving ways of agriculture and forestry that are not dependent on monoculture, toxic chemicals, or the indifference and violence that always accompany big-scale industrial enterprises on the land. Therefore, we need diversified, small-scale land economies that are dependent on people. Therefore, we need people with the knowledge, skills, motives, and attitudes required by diversified, small-scale land economies. And all this is clear and comfortable enough, until we recognize the question we have come to: Where are the people?