Reading Wendell Berry in the 21st century is strange, mainly because much of what he wrote in the 1990s (and even the 1980s) is still relevant today. I think it’s relevant, even if only as a reminder of the way things were . . . as a kind time-capsule for a culture that sometimes seems hellbent on erasing particular parts of its history.
In his essay “Conserving Communities,” Berry recounts the continuing shift in the American mindset from the agrarian to the industrial, when “old and once-valued customers . . . find that they are known by category rather than character.” One of the most potent parts of the essay:
We are now pretty obviously facing the possibility of a world that the supranational corporations, and the governments and educational systems that serve them, will control entirely for their own enrichment– and, incidentally and inescapably, for the impoverishment of all the rest of us. This will be a world in which the cultures that preserve nature and rural life will simply be disallowed. It will be, as our experience already suggests, a post-agricultural world. But as we now begin to see, you cannot have a post-agricultural that is not also post-democratic, post-religious, post-natural– in other words, it will be post-human, contrary to the best that we have meant by “humanity.”
That is ultimately what is at stake in most of our conversations today: what it means to be human.
(image from nytimes.com)