Posts in: Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry, “Renewing Husbandry”:

I remember well a summer morning in about 1950 when my father sent a hired man with a McCormick High Gear No. 9 mowing machine and a team of mules to the field I was mowing with our nearly new Farmall A. That memory is a landmark in my mind and my history. I had been born into the way of farming represented by the mule team, and I loved it. I knew irresistibly that the mules were good ones. They were stepping along beautifully at a rate of speed in fact only a little slower than mine. But now I saw them suddenly from the vantage point of the tractor, and I remember how fiercely I resented their slowness. I saw them as “in my way.” For those who have had no similar experience, I was feeling exactly the outrage and the low-grade superiority of a hot-rodder caught behind an aged dawdler in urban traffic. It is undoubtedly significant that in the summer of 1950 I passed my sixteenth birthday and I became eligible to solve all my problems by driving an automobile.

Two things:

  1. When I drive I become a different person. I am normally a patient person—but not when I’m driving. I become aggressive. I call people assholes. I would never do that in person! (And not just because I wouldn’t want to get in a fight.) I offer this as a counterpoint to those who would suggest that our tools (using that word broadly) are morally neutral. They do, in fact, train us in certain ways of being.
  2. Berry’s story is another example of Illich’s ideas about the development of tools

“The Reassurer” by Wendell Berry

A people in the throes of national prosperity, who breathe poisoned air, drink poisoned water, eat poisoned food, who take poisoned medicines to heal them of the poisons that they breathe, drink, and eat, such a people crave the further poison of official reassurance. It is not logical, but it is understandable, perhaps, that they adore their President who tells them that all is well, all is better than ever. The President reassures the farmer and his wife who have exhausted their farm to pay for it, and have exhausted themselves to pay for it, and not have not paid for it, and have gone bankrupt for the sake of the free market, foreign trade, and the prosperity of corporations; he consoles the Navajos, who have been exiled from their place of exile, because the poor land contained something required for the national prosperity, after all; he consoles the young woman dying of cancer caused by a substance used in the normal course of national prosperity to make red apples redder; he consoles the couple in the Kentucky coalfields, who sit watching TV in their mobile home on the mud of the floor of a mined-out stripmine; from his smile they understand that the fortunate have a right to their fortunes, that the unfortunate have a right to their misfortunes, and that these are equal rights.

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Happy 88th birthday, Wendell Berry!

No one needs me to recount the greatness of a living legend like Wendell Berry. I’ll limit myself to describing his impact on my life. I heard of him about twenty years ago through the newsletter/website Christian CounterCulture. The first book of his I read was What Are People For?. But let’s back up for a second. As with many people, my intellectual life began in college. Up to that point, my thoughts and opinions were merely echoes of the adults in my life.

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