Wendell Berry on America and life

My brother Paul, who is a big Wendell Berry fan, recently sent me some quotes he noticed particularly, gathered from Berry’s collection of essays entitled What Are People For. (1990).  I hadn’t realized that Berry is author of several novels, as well as the essays and poems he is famous for, but Paul is currently happily immersed in them.

“There is … the Territory of historical self-righteousness: If we had lived south of the Ohio in 1830, we would not have owned slaves; if we had lived on the frontier we would have killed no  Indians, violated no treaties, stolen no land.  The probability is overwhelming that if we had belonged to the generations we deplore, we too would have behaved deplorably.  The probability is overwhelming that we belong to a generation that will be found by its successors to have behaved deplorably….How can we imagine our situation in history if we think we are superior to it?”

from “Writer and  Region”

“his mind had never made the expedient separation of knowledge from value that has enabled so much industrial pillage, but has known with feeling and so has served with devotion–a possibility long disregarded by modern educators, who believe despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that education alone, “objective knowledge,” can produce beneficent results.”   fromHarry Caudill in the Cumberlands.”

“I know that “technological progress” can be defended, but I observe that the defenses are invariably quantitative–catalogs of statistics on the ownership of automobiles and television sets, for example, or on the increase of life expectancy–and I see that these statistics are always kept carefully apart from the related statistics of soil loss, pollution, social disintegration, and so forth,  That is to say, there is never an effort to determine the net results of this progress.  The voice of its defenders is not that of the responsible bookkeeper, but that of the propagandist or salesman, who says that the net gain is more than 100 percent–that the thing we have bought has perfectly replaced everything it has cost, and added a great deal more: “You just can’t lose!”  We thus have got rich by spending, just as the advertisers have told us we would, and the best of all possible worlds is getting better every day.”

from “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine”


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