Month: January 2016

Contrariness

Reading Wendell Berry’s “Mad Farmer” poems is not much different from reading a few of his essays.  Of the 17 pieces, I read four, the most poetic of which may be The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.  In Bill Moyers’ interview with Berry, Moyers expressed that “maybe the mad farmer is getting a little madder, a little more radical.”  The theme of “going against men” in Contrariness confirms this idea that Berry is growing more intense in his environmentalism.

The poem begins with a simple, defiant “I am done with apologies.”  Berry accepts that his views are often very uncommon and opposite the majority.  He says, “if contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it.”  He embraces his contrariness.  If he is different, then he will be outrageously and unapologetically different.  This may be largely due to his religion, which is yet another example of his contrariness.  He has relied on luck and “Heaven’s favor” rather than listening to the advice of others.  He lives by God despite anything telling him to do otherwise.

His religion is perhaps the most significant part of Contrariness, as Berry makes it seem that he will defy even his religion to prove that he will keep his own ideas.  When asked to dance, Berry stands still.  When told to pray, Berry laughs.  When reminded “[his] Redeemer liveth,” Berry says that God is dead.  He will go to the greatest lengths to remain independent.  However, at the end of the day, Berry always finds his own way.  He will dance, but only when everyone else is still.  He will pray, but he will pray in his own way, not when instructed.  He knows that God lives, but insists only when told otherwise.  He believes that if his contrariness is what people see, then he should embrace it and be the mad farmer many think him to be.

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Wendell Berry #4

As a homebody and a man uninterested in media, Berry has kept away from television and the like, but when seeing it as an opportunity to spread the word about his views, he agreed to meet Bill Moyers for an interview.  His passion for protecting the environment is clear in the interview, and it is more personal and meaningful to me than any of his essays I have read so far, leading me to believe that he effectively conveyed his message and accomplished his purpose.

The first thing I noticed was that Berry spoke of his faith.  I had known that he was a religious man, but I had not realized that his care for the earth was so largely influenced by his Christian beliefs.  He spoke of the earth like destroying it was sinful.  His audience during the interview was composed of all ages, ethnicities, and religions, people from all over who had come to hear him speak.  Everyone there wanted to hear him, no matter their beliefs.

As often is the theme in his essays, Berry speaks of our duty to the earth to protect and preserve it.  He says that we live on this earth under the understood condition that we will take care of it, and to do so, “We have to know it, and we have to know how to take care of it.  And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.”  He encourages people to remember this, that to live here, we must treat the earth with as much care as it treats us.

Perhaps most importantly, Berry makes us question how to fix the things he warns us about.  However, as we ask for a solution, he tells us to slow down.  While I read his essays and admire his ideas, I wonder how we can bring about change and positively affect the world around us, but I have learned from Wendell Berry that there is not always a simple fix.  There will not always be an immediate solution, no matter how hard we may try to find one.  This is a time when we must wait patiently and take in everything we can about our world.

“The important thing to do is to learn all you can about where you are… Resign in yourself, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time, and then what you do is increase the possibility that you will make a good example.  And what we’re looking for in this is good examples.”

Why I Will Not Buy Berry’s Argument

Wendell Berry’s Why I Will Not Buy A Computer states plainly all of his reasons for distancing himself from new technologies.  I am glad that Berry encourages his readers to disagree with his ideas because I find them quite hard to agree with.

Berry refuses to buy a computer because he knows it will not make him any better of a writer.  He says that “when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante’s… Then [he] will speak of computers with a more respectful tone of voice.”  While he is absolutely correct in the fact that a computer is no piece of magic that can improve one’s writing, it can, however, make writing a whole lot easier.  With computers and other kinds of technology, the physical act of writing can be faster and simpler.  Computers have every advantage over typewriters.  Today, the Internet provides us with incredibly quick communication and an infinite amount of knowledge.  These tools give us unique opportunities unavailable in years past, leading to  quicker, more efficient writing.

Berry values his wife’s part in his writing, as she types his essays and edits along the way.  In another example of his stubborn views, he would not give up this ritual for a computer, as he believes he would have to sacrifice his wife’s role in his writing process.  However, replacing a typewriter with a computer would not disrupt any “family and community relationships.”  A computer can perform the same tasks as a typewriter.  Essentially, his views on technology all reside around the idea that it is “yet another way to make people pay dearly for what they already have.”  He does not see a need for new technology when we are already managing fine without it.  He does not see how things can be not disrupted or destroyed, but improved by change.  For a man so keen on changing American’s views and economy, he does not easily adapt to the changing world around him.

Wendell Berry on Tobacco

The Problem of Tobacco challenges anyone unsupportive of the tobacco industry, or rather, the tobacco program.  Having lived off the profits of his own tobacco farming, Berry is strong voiced on the topic. His reliance on the crop provides pathos and ethos both, adding to his compelling argument and near irrefutable logic.

The “problem of tobacco” is that while it is a dangerous and unhealthy crop, it provides thousands of farmers and their families with the money to survive.  Because “people continue to use [tobacco], other people will continue to grow it.”  The demand for it isn’t going away anytime soon.  Therefore, we cannot stop selling the crop, and we cannot take farmers out of the equation without hurting them.

Berry also points out that tobacco is often the sole blame for diseases it may only have a small part in causing.  Although the harmful use of the product is inexcusable, other causes of “tobacco-caused” diseases are often ignored, all fingers pointing to Berry’s crop.  Berry mentions that his crop is a small part of the “addictive society” in which we live.  “Our people are rushing from one expensive and dangerous fix to another, from drugs to war to useless merchandise to various commercial thrills.”

Berry argues that tobacco cannot be attacked while other, more harmful substances are ignored, and “the ruin of farmers solves no problem and makes many.”

Wendell Berry

My first impression of the man was something like: “I like this guy.  He gets it.”  Just into the start of Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, I was already agreeing with Berry and his value of the earth and nature.  Now, having read the first chapter, “Conservation and Local Economy,” I can only admire his satirical yet passionate writing even more.

Berry understands the importance of local economy and the destructive force that is a large government.   Everything is a business, and everyone is in it for the money.  In his words, “the interests of local communities and economies are relentlessly subordinated to the interests of ‘business.'”  While he challenges his readers’ opinions, dares us to ask questions and decide for ourselves what we will believe, he offers ideas that cannot be ignored.