Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Resisting the sale with Wendell Berry

At last I'm reading Wendell Berry for myself, beginning with his collection of essays from the early 90s: Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. Why did it take me so long?! Berry is dynamite! He constructs sentences that make we want to stand up and cheer. He's often described as an agrarian, but that doesn't do justice to the breadth of his concerns. This collection is worth getting just for the sarcasm-laden Preface "The Joy of Sales Resistance". I was hooked from the opening line: "This is a book about sales resistance." He goes on:

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion.

Reflect on that for a moment and see if you don't agree. With Berry as a guide I hope to take incremental steps in nudging myself and my family toward the joy of resisting the sale -- the sale of products we don't really need, and more, the sale of capitalized Ideas and Ideologies that come out looking like trite nonsense in the face of Berry's scrutiny. Like. . .

Preservation of Human Resources. Despite world-record advances in automation, robotification, and other "labor-saving" technologies, it is assumed that almost every human being may, at least in the Future, turn out to be useful for something, just like the members of other endangered species. Sometimes, after all, the Economy still requires a "human component." At such times, human resources are called "human components" and are highly esteemed in that capacity as long as their usefulness lasts. Therefore, don't quit taking care of human resources yet. See that the schools are run as ideal orphanages or, as ideal jails. Provide preschool and pre-preschool. Also postschool. Keep the children in institutions and away from home as much as possible—remember that their parents wanted children only because other people have them, and are much too busy to raise them. Only the government cares.


The Free Market. The free market sees to it that everything ends up in the right place—that is, it makes sure that only the worthy get rich. All millionaires and billionaires have worked hard for their money, and they deserve the rewards of their work. They need all the help they can get from the government and the universities. Having money stimulates the rich to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rest of us. Needing money stimulates the rest of us to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rich. The cardinal principle of the free market is unrestrained competition, which is a kind of tournament that will decide which is the world's champion corporation. Ultimately, thanks to this principle, there will be only one corporation, which will be wonderfully simplifying. After that, we will rest in peace.

That's a taste of Wendell Berry, self-described "Kentuckian-American" farmer and poet. Even as I find my family being pressed into the mold of contemporary paradigms that impoverish spirits and destroy communities, I can read Berry and be inspired by an alternative vision of the good life.

Quotes from Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (pp. xi, xv-xvii)

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