Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blog Pimpin'

Yet another blog. This one Sarah and I are using to chronicle our journey towards our ultimate goal of working with the Yakama people by next year. Please check it out.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Localities: an introduction to Wendell Berry

I'm quickly becoming a disciple of Wendell Berry. He's one of those men of whom I believe every one - especially every Christian - ought to be familiar with. Even if you're not one to read fiction, especially of the more literary genre, you can skip that and go straight to his essays. He writes frankly, practically, and in a way that makes it impossible to argue with him because he is so obviously right. He's in a way more conservative than anyone I've ever heard of in his absolute disdain for big government and his distrust of it to answer any problems, yet his ideas are at the same time more completely anti-corporate than any liberal I have ever heard of. He is, in other words, a free thinker.

I recently finished his book of essays entitled "Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community," a collection of eight essays centering around the themes of ... well... you can probably guess. Berry's philosophy largely revolves around the importance of community as a counter against the unrelenting tide of globalism and unlimited growth. He's a farmer, making a living off his land in Kentucky, and preaches that the "new" (relatively speaking) global economy, which has replaced local economies to the point where one buys nearly everything they have from somewhere else and rarely ever knows the history of how it got to them, is slowly destroying the world through its disconnection of product from origin. This disconnection feeds into first, an apathy towards what we buy, since we have no way of knowing the story of how it came to us without exhaustive research, and second, a dependency on globalism to provide what we have forgotten how to produce ourselves. Such a gap between producer and consumer causes the human aspect to be lost, Berry says, and the consumer no longer cares what the cost of human life or environmental damage is for him to get the product he wants. And when corporations must think on a global scale and sever ties to any specific location, they also lose the accountability and restraint that "place" puts on them, thus making it justifiable to ship jobs out to locations where labor is cheaper, effectively killing communities in the process. This especially shows its ugliness in the agricultural market, since the globalization of food has killed farms all over the world, making formerly self-sufficient third-world farmers into global sharecroppers.

The answer Berry proposes, and one that makes utter sense, is this: reduce the distance between producer and consumer. Create local, sustainable economies that are as far as possible self-sufficient. Reject the idea of unlimited growth (for such a thing cannot exist when resources are limited) and move toward sustainable growth. Cities and urban centers ought to be able to support themselves with the countryside around them.

Of course such an idea would require massive change to pull off. First it would require an utter reversal of the American ideal of immediate gratification (not an easy accomplishment, since I think this almost more than any other principle is what America was built on). It would require an effort on the part of all who want to see the tide stemmed to buy locally, and produce themselves, whatever they can.

I already see steps being taken towards these ideals now. The upswing of CSAs - community-supported agriculture - farmers who sell shares to city dwellers who then get dividends paid in produce, is another sign that there may be a trend away from the current structure. With a little more effort, I think we could see a vast shift, especially in the current economic climate, away from what is an unstable, unsustainable system.

I'd encourage you to check out some of his essays here if you have never read him before.