Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wendell Berry and Necessary Wisdom

Photo by Pam Spaulding
In a powerful and passionate invitation, Wendell Berry continues to call us back into a relationship with one another and with our world that is more authentic. With too many lines fitting for critical reflection and sustained attention, Berry's 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture serves as a reminder of the dominance of a worldview that erodes another way of living and being. In one particular passage, Berry wrestles with the question about making sense of scale when issues are so large and abstract that they are simply numbers and not a felt and understood reality. He writes:
It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits. This brings us to an entirely practical question: Can we--and, if we can, how can we--make actual in our minds the sometimes urgent things we say we know? This obviously cannot be accomplished by a technological breakthrough, nor can it be accomplished by a big thought. Perhaps it cannot be accomplished at all.
Berry's hope (and mine) is that we might reclaim a way of life that connects us intimately with one another. I long for the world Berry tells about from his account of his family's history in the same place. The local economy. The connected lives.

We have a share in a local farm. We walk (sometimes). But I also want to send me things I've ordered in two days time. I want to have both realities: the manifestation of community that is idealized in my mind and which may not exist and the many conveniences I enjoy today. But Berry challenges me to think more deeply about my decisions. The "cost" of our market mentality goes beyond comprehension, especially when we (finally) acknowledge the irreparable damage we've made to the earth.

Without too much of my own reflections, I would suggest and recommend you take the time to read Berry's words. They are rich and powerful. They capture an essential element of our story as Americans and as human beings. It's important to be reminded of how we've lived and how we might change. It's important to acknowledge the loss of affection in relation to profit or objective answers.

For the text of Berry's lecture, go here. For the video, follow this link.