Friday, January 30, 2009

Wendell Berry: Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse

The following is an essay by one of my very favorite authors, Wendell Berry. He works have done a lot to shape my view of political action, community, and family.

Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse: Twenty-Seven Propositions about Global Thinking and the Sustainability of Cities (Taken from his collection of essays entitled Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community)

I. Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Those who have "thought globally" (and among them the most successful have been imperial governments and multinational corporations) have done so by means of simplifications too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought. Global thinkers tend to be dangerous also; we now have national thinkers in the northeastern United States who look upon Kentucky as a garbage dump.  II. Global thinking can only be statistical. Its shallowness is exposed by the least intention to do something. Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground. On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.  III. If we could think locally, we would do far better than we are doing now. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question "What will this do to our community?" tends toward the right answer for the world.  IV. If we want to put local life in proper relation to the globe, we must do so by imagination, charity, and forbearance, and by making local life as independent and sulf-sufficient as we can - not by the presumptuous abstractions of "global thought."  V. If we want to keep our thoughts and acts from destroying the globe, then we must see to it that we do not ask too much of the globe or any part of it. To make sure that we do not ask too much, we must learn to live at home, as independently and self-sufficiently as we can. That is the only way we can keep the land we are using, and its ecological limits, always in sight.  VI. The only sustainable city - and this, to me, is the indispensable ideal and goal - is a city in balance with its countryside: a city, that is, that would live off the net ecological income of its supporting region, paying as it goes all its ecological and human debts.  VII. The cities we now have are living off ecological principal, by economic assumptions that seem certain to destroy them. They do not live at home. They do not have their own supporting regions. They are out of balance with their supports, wherever on the globe their supports are.  VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.  IX. Since the Civil War, perhaps, and certainly since the Second World War, the norms of productivity have been set by the fossil-fuel industries.  X. Geographically, the sources of the fossil fuels are rural. Technically, however, the production of these fuels is industrial and urban. the facts and integrities of local life, and the principle of community, are considered as little as possible, for to consider them would not be quickly profitable. Fossil fuels have always been produced at the expense of local ecosystems and of local human communities. The fossil-fuel economy is the industrial economy par excellence, and it assigns no value to local life, natural or human.  XI. When the industrial principles exemplified in fossil-fuel production are applied to field and forest, the results are identical: local life, both natural and human, is destroyed.  XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.  XIII. Our present "leaders" - the people of wealth and power - do not know what it means to take a place seriously: to think it worthy, for its own sake, of love and study and careful work. They cannot take any place seriously because they must be ready at any moment, by the terms of power and wealth in the modern world, to destroy any place.  XIV. Ecological good sense will be opposed by all the most powerful economic entities of our time, because ecological good sense requires the reproduction or replacement of those entities. If ecological good sense is to prevail, it can do so only through the work and the will of the people and of the local communities.   XV. For this task our currently prevailing assumptions about knowledge, information, education, money, and political will are inadequate. All our institiutions with which I am familiar have adopted the organizational patterns and the quantitative measures of the industrial corporations. Both sides of the ecological debate, perhaps as a consequence, are alarmingly abstract.  XVI. But abstraction, of course, is what is wrong. The evil of the industrial economy (capitalist or communist) is the abstractness inherent in its procedures - its inability to distinguish one place or person or creature from another. William Blake saw this two hundred years ago. Anyone can see it now in almost any of our common tools and weapons.  XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.  XVIII. In order to make ecological good sense for the planet, you must make ecological good sense locally. You can't act locally by thinking globally. If you want to keep your local acts from destroying the globe, you must think locally.  XIX. No one can make ecological good sense for the planet. Everyone can make ecological good sense locally, if the affection, the scale, the knowledge, the tools, and the skills are right.  XX. The right scale in work gives power to affection. When one works beyond the reach of one's love for the place one is working in, and for the things and creatures one is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results. An adequate local culture, among other things, keeps work within the reach of love.  XXI. The question before us, then, is an extremely difficult one: How do we begin to remake, or to make, a local culture that will preserve our part of the world while we use it? We are talking here not just about a kind of knowledge that involves affection but also about a kind of knowledge that comes from or with affection - knowledge that is unavailable to the unaffectionate, and that is unavailable to anyone as what is called information.  XXII. What, for a start, might be the economic result of local affection? We don't know. Moreover, we are probably never going to know in any way that would satisfy the average dean or corporate executive. The ways of love tend to be secretive and, even to lovers themselves, somewhat inscrutable.  XXIII. The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.  XXIV. The great obstacle may be not greed but the modern hankering after glamour. A lot of our smartest, most concerned people want to come up with a big solution to a big problem. I don't think that planet-saving, if we take it seriously, can furnish employment to many such people.  XXV. When I think of the kind of worker the job requires, I think of Dorothy Day (if one can think of Dorothy Day herself, separate from the publicity that came as a result of her rarity), a person willing to go down and down into the daunting, humbling, almost hopeless local presence of the problem - to face the great problem one small life at a time.  XXVI. Some cities can never be sustainable, because they do not have a countryside around them, or near them, from which they can be sustained. New York City cannot be made sustainable, nor can Phoenix. Some cities in Kentucky or the Midwest, on the other hand, might reasonably hope to become sustainable.  XXVII. To make a sustainable city, one must begin somehow, and I think the beginning must be small and economic. A beginning could be made, for example, by increasing the amount of food bought from farmers in the local countryside by consumers in the city. As the food economy became more local, local farming would become more diverse; the farms would become smaller, more complex in structure, more productive; and some city people would be needed to work on the farms. Sooner or later, as a means of reducing expenses both ways, organic wastes from the city would go out to fertilize the farms of the supporting region; thus city people would have to assume an agricultural responsibility, and would be properly motivated to do so both by the wish to have a supply of excellent food and by the fear of contaminating that supply. The increase of economic intimacy between a city and its sources would change minds (assuming, of course, that the minds in question would stay put long enough to be changed). It would improve minds. The locality, by becoming partly sustainable, would produce the thought it would need to become more sustainable.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Escape, Manufactured Calls, and Patience

Occasionally, (to quote Wendell Berry)

"When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

Except, for my part, the peace of wild things is a larger vision encompassing many things, a farm in the Pacific Northwest, a coffee shop near a university teeming with ideas, wool, and color, and dreams streaming around the tastes and flavors of the rich earth of the the tropics, mountains and dark, moist, hot climes, perhaps, climbing the stairs in the back of this mapleoakbirchchestnut paneled breathing space, one would come to a different beeswaxy kind of stretch, soaked in sweet smelling sweat, the sweat that streams from the heads of lofty mountains at the birthing of the world, flying bodies twined in search of peace, flow and primal waters, chanting ancient words of power at the lowering skies, opening to the world in ways forbidden of the animals, the animals, the animals of mythos, nay of science, or running through fantastic forests feeling the mould of life that is slowly reincarnating into stone, not stone but powerconqueringconcretedeath, run, run, run away through the vanishing dream, it isn't gone, it hasn't left yet, remember, remember, wait, don't confuse life with speed and rush, rush, rush of productivity 'CAUSE IT ISN'T don't live the lie.
What, what, what else can it be than escape when, when, when it is all so interconnected and demanding of time, mind, body, full of hate, hate, hate and spite spitting spat in the face of love in the name of love. Ah, love, maimed beyond (beyond?) repair in this which was once its realm, province, feeling, breath of hope, breathe... breathe... slow... where, why, when NOW see, watch listen it is behind all that is, just look, hope is in what you don't know, do you know? Now live now peace now love because it is not in the future it is a memory in the past now now now is all you have enriched with dreams of what could be and what was. Dance dance dance, trip the light fantastic for whatelse is there to keep you you you going in the wild wild wild world of beings immortal naked, spandex, hair saliva eyes flashing eyes tread, tread, tread the wandering earth and the drip of sweat. 

Never give up is the cry of the postsuicide the one who, when all else fails looks and death and laughs in his overbearing sense of wild, wooly fantastic freedom that can say no even to the grim (grim?) reaper, don't give up, don't ever give up this is only the beginning of the the the dancing, tripping, dirty, wishing, licked, sucked life you lead on the edge of the prophetic knife of this world and the next, don't you see them wear through all the time in red, in the dance of running hair, the translucence of the redorangefire of the irish skin, the eyes (have you seen eyes?) trees green green green light of the immortalimprobablespirits in the of the the trees, trip trip trip on a stone because it is real (right?)... save the people save the people (people? what the rutting hell?) woman man that one the one I can know talk about can universals even work work work NO! it is in love and skin sweat dreams that we try to reach reach reach to the "other" naming a human human human is impossible impossible only know know know that it is the other the powerlovetranscendentpersondaughtersonmotherfatherstorylifecoffeecryrattlegreenblueMoscowSeattle you can't know just be in reverence breathe breathe "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul" the wonderawemajestyachieve of the thing THING I TELL YOU

Several Poems

All of these poems have been on my mind for reasons I'm still attempting to discern:

Muslin by Jane Hirshfield

"I never knew when he would come,"
my friend said of her lover,
"though often it was late in the afternoon."

Behind her back the first plum blossoms
had started to open,
few as the stars that salt the earliest dark.

"Finallyweeks would go by, then months,"
she added, "but I always let him in.
It made me strong, you see,"

"the gradual going without him.
I think it taught me a kind of surrender,
though of course I hated it too."

Why he would appear or stay away
she never fathomed - 
"I couldn't ask. And that also seemed only good."

A small bird fluttered silent behind her left shoulder,
then settled on some hidden branch.
"Do you ask the weather why it comes or goes?"

She was lovely, my friend, even the gray
of her hair was lovely. A listening rope-twist
half pity, half envy tightened its length in my chest.

"When he came, you see, I could trust
that was what he wanted.
What I wanted never mattered at all."

The hands on her lap seemed quiet,
even contented.
I noticed something unspoken begin to

billow and shimmer between us,
weightless as muslin,
but neither of us moved to lift it away.

A Story About the Body by Robert Hass

The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking mack from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, "I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,"  and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts." The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity - like music - withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I could." He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl - she must have swept them from the corners of her studio - was full of dead bees.

"My Last Breath" by Evanescence

hold on to me love
you know i can't stay long
all i wanted to say was i love you and i'm not afraid
can you hear me?
can you feel me in your arms?

holding my last breath
safe inside myself
are all my thoughts of you
sweet raptured light it ends here tonight

i'll miss the winter
a world of fragile things
look for me in the white forest
hiding in a hollow tree (come find me)
i know you hear me
i can taste it in your tears

holding my last breath
safe inside myself
are all my thoughts of you
sweet raptured light it ends here tonight

closing your eyes to disappear
you pray your dreams will leave you here
but still you wake and know the truth
no one's there

say goodnight
don't be afraid
calling me calling me as you fade to black

holding my last breath
safe inside myself
are all my thoughts of you
sweet raptured light it ends here tonight