I'll start with this poem by Wendell Berry:
Wendell Berry wrote this poem, called “Questionnaire” for The Progressive Magazine.
How much poison are you willingThat is a good way to set the mood. Read on below and an old man will share some thoughts with you.
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.
For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.
What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.
In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.
State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
When I was told I had bladder cancer in September, I took my age a little more seriously even though I am well aware I have lived far longer than I will live. Three surgeries later I await the next scoping to see if it is really gone this time.
Meanwhile our book is out there and we hope people will give it a try. It is much in the spirit of Wendell Berry's poem and his monumental book: The Unsettling of America Culture and Agriculture
Since its original publication in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. But today's agribusiness takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families, and as a nation we are thus more estranged from the land - from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.Having written well over 600 diaries here I find it hard to think of anything new to say. Like Berry I write and hope and watch. I see very little to be hopeful about even though I believe we can be so much better than we are.
Sadly, as Berry notes in this edition, his arguments and observations are even more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economics dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although "this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong," Berry writes, there are good people working "to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth." Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction.
More books and articles about the coming end of civilization are signs that more and more others are seeing the world as we do. The responses are usually some form of denial or of giving up hope. The reasons vary, but they all stem from a recognition that we have gone to far and that we are unable to govern ourselves.
My own take is from a system's analysis perspective for I have spent my intellectual life trying to understand and this is what I have learned. System's theory is a form of complexity theory. That is my field. The most sophisticated systems ideas are non-mechanistic and quite different from what reductionist science has come up with. Real complex systems can not be modeled on computers, for example. The documentation for this is now very extensive but still largely ignored and/or denied.
The basic idea of real complex systems is actually quite simple. A system is either stable or it does not survive. Successful systems survive by taking any challenge to their existence and either incorporating it and using it to become even more stable or by destroying it.
We live in a nested set of subsystems all part of one big one: the Earth System. Nested in it are the earth, and the atmosphere, and biosystems. Among the biosystems, one species Homo sapiens has become a major factor. Our book is about how that species has evolved to a stage of rigidity that may even mark it for extinction. That is not the point it is the inability to see and correct self-destructive behavior that is. The book traces that rigidity to the very factors that were supposed to make things so good: Enlightenment thinking and science. I won't go further into that here. It is hard to condense a book into a few sentences.
Rather I want to focus on a small but significant aspect of human activity, namely the way we attempt to govern ourselves in this country. For a few hundred years our system has held up pretty well, resisting fundamental change while making it seem like we have actually governed ourselves. We have developed science and technology along with the rest of the world and have consumed very much.
We are proud of what we have done even though reality creeps in now and then raising serious fundamental questions. You know what they are. We have been without vision and have created a cesspool for our children to live in.
We have a political system that has many faces, two of which are totally contradictory. We claim to govern with input from the people while the people are actually led like lemmings to support an unsustainable consumer economy built on waste and excess.
The two party electoral system is an illusion of decisions based on the will of the people within a very unified system of service to the consumer driven economy and a plutocratic real governing entity.
Like all systems, the individual humans that are considered the key to what happens are the cover for the "man behind the curtain". That "man" is no single entity, but the systems core workings. They are complex, circular, interconnected, and basically invisible.
Names and personalities and political parties are all part of a very effective smokescreen that blinds us to what we are really up against. We work, we struggle and we win and lose symbolic battles while the real system uses our activity to feed itself and become even more stable and closer to the point of collapse under its own weight.
So as each day passes I write and hope and watch. I see little to give me hope, but I am as human as my kind who all live in a self created dream world. Meanwhile we really don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.